- The Farm
- The Alliance
Mountains and Waters Alliance has a new website! Please take a look around – it is now much easier to find the pictures, the people, the events – and you can subscribe to everything or just to your particular interests.
I’ll be adding more information in the next weeks and months – starting with stories and thoughts from my recent month-long retreat. Eventually, the resource page will be a referral library with web links, book recommendations, and more.
October 7, 9:30 am, in Northfield: My friend Beth Goldring gives the Dharma talk at Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center, 313 ½ S Division Street, Northfield, MN. Beth is retired after founding Brahmavihara Cambodia, which for many years provided chaplaincy services to AIDS and TB patients in Cambodia. She is a dharma heir of Gil Fronsdale, a lifelong activist, and one of my mentors.
October 14, 9 am, in St. Paul. I give the Dharma talk at Clouds in Water Zen Center, 445 Farrington Street, St. Paul. Meditation starts at 9 am, talk at 10:30.
October 26-28: Land Care Retreat: Spiritual Practice with the Natural World. At the farm.
November 30-December 8: Rohatsu sesshin, at the farm. (Simplified Zen meditation retreat, honoring when Buddha sat for 7 days and attained enlightenment.
We are with iGive instead of Amazon Smile – a higher donation and you are supporting a wide and healthy marketplace instead of a monopoly. Right now, you can send us $3 just by signing up with them. They put a button on your desktop, and you just do your shopping as always. Major airlines are included, which means that your travel can help us.
We won’t be using the blog any more – everything will be here. I’m excited about this site. Hope it serves you well.
Last week there was an onslaught of events that lead to feeling hopeless. I wrote a list, didn’t want to start with it, then knew it was necessary. Skip it if you need.
I don’t have an answer. So here is what I’m doing, day by day.
Imagine living in a culture in which there was enough for everyone. Enough safety. Enough food, of good quality. Enough access to the natural world. Enough love.
On Saturday I went into the streets about immigration, with a couple hundred people in Northfield. Not liking protests, I thought that sometimes you just have to visibly say no – and that this is such a time. I’m encouraged by the tenor of that conversation – people recognized there’s something bigger here – and by the hundreds of thousands of people across the country who showed up in the street. If Trump was testing the waters to see how far he could go, he didn’t get an “all clear.”
I’m encouraged by some other things too:
Martin Prechtel, in The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic: The Parallel Lives of People as Plants: Keeping the Seeds Alive. His teacher, at dying, sent him to the United States to keep the sacred seeds alive. Finally he writes: “For ever after that, the seeds I was trying to keep viable were no longer “my” seeds of the Seeds of Tzutujil spirituality, but the seeds that every citizen of the Earth has somewhere tucked away inside themselves, or outside in their lives, or somewhere in the ground, or lurking around the family baggage, or hidden in their bodies. In dreams or inexplicable proclivities, but always somewhere they never look or know anything about. These seeds were the seeds of that very precious thing we all have that contains embryonic caches of possible understandings of how to live ritually and intactly with an indigenous mind, seeds that have been bequeathed to us all from our own more intactly earth-rooted ancestral origins from millennia previous.
… But, how can we find our seeds if they are hidden in a place we know nothing about, a place we cannot see or touch without the indigenous ancestral mind? The truth is, the seeds do not need to be found because they are already found. We are the ones who need to be found, for the seeds are wherever we go….We have been adrift for four thousand years, floating on people-centered rafts of provisional civilizations that have convinced themselves they are the real thing and the cutting edge of human evolution… the spirits…are effortlessly coursing right along with us….trying their best to get our attention and tow us home to our real selves…while we drift along figuring that the anxiety of civilizations’ never-ending feeling of emergency is normal.”
“figuring that the anxiety of civilizations’ never-ending feeling of emergency is normal.” If that makes no sense to you – if the whole quotation makes no sense – you are normal in this culture. But if it calls to you, whether clearly or faintly, that is the action of the spirits trying “to get our attention and tow us home to our real selves.”
It is our real selves that will find a way. Please listen deeply within for your real self. And please listen outside as well, to the you that is in other people, in lands, in animals, in plants – everything around you is also your Self.
We live in difficult times. It is harder to find the joy in life – and always more essential.
Still, life goes on. The plants don’t stop. I’m putting out an invitation for Saturday morning, July 7, 9-12 at the farm:
Temperature will be 70-77 degrees and sunny. RSVP for address, directions, and so I can expect you. Shodo.email@example.com. (“Maybe” is also helpful information.) Between Faribault and Northfield, MN.
The essential nature of life is offering. Some people, and some cultures, still know this. Modern Americans, not so much.
One of the first things that caught my attention in Zen practice was a meal chant which began, “Innumerable labors have brought us this food; we should know how it comes to us,” continued with “This food is for the Three Treasures”, for the four benefactors, and for all beings in the six worlds, and ended with “We eat this food with everyone. We eat to end all evil, to practice good, to save all sentient beings, and to accomplish the Buddha Way.”
I didn’t know anything about offering, but that chant included everything. And it told me I was in the right place, in a holy place, home. (The translation was changed decades ago, but these are the words that opened my heart.)
Martin Prechtel’s 2012 book The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic: The parallel lives of people as plants: keeping the seeds alive takes us into a world where the whole people know that way of offering, of responding to every single thing, every gift from the gods. He describes the offerings that must be made for something so simple as making a knife – the ore from the earth is just a beginning.
The American way of life sees everything around us as resources to be used for our own benefit. Martin refers to this way as hollow, stealing, empty, destructive – and observes that such a life results in destruction.
I wrote a little more here. And if you are nearby (southern Minnesota), I invite you to two occasions to study and practice the way of offering.
SUNDAY, JUNE 17, SUMMER SOLSTICE GATHERING
This happens in three parts; you may come to one or all, and friends are welcome. But please let me know…our address is 16922 Cabot Ave, Faribault, MN, and when you arrive you come to the house that looks like a barn (parking on the left).
WEDNESDAY EVENING, JUNE 20, “ZEN AS RELIGION”
This concludes the “Introduction to Zen” series, with a look at the chants and ceremonies, and a discussion of the classic question “Is Zen a religion? A philosophy? Or what?” (I promise there will not be an answer to the question.) We’ll particularly look at all of these things as the Zen style of making offerings.
And it concludes the Wednesday evening sittings. See below under Zen News.
We had a week-long volunteer, Celeste Pinheiro, who knows gardening and jumped right in. Thus we
have some photos of how the garden looks afterward. She’s also an artist, and started work on a logo for us.
Last week my housemate TR asked if I had some work, on behalf of a college student friend. Well, Harry Edstrom came Wednesday afternoon and kept coming back through Saturday. On Friday Cassidy Carlisle came with him, and on Saturday Essam Elkorgle joined them.
So we have lots of things planted, big areas mulched, strawberries moved, trees in protective cages, and three tiny Korean nut pines safely in the ground. We also have another guest room! Funny how that happened: it was raining on Friday, so I asked Harry and Cassidy to do a very small painting job in the guest room. They liked it. It kept raining. I really, really wanted to get that place cleaned up. So they kept painting, I kept moving furniture so they could keep painting, and we wound up turning the junk room into a very nice space (photos!). The next day, with Essam, we moved furniture to turn it into a bedroom. Today Laurel Carrington (Buddhist center friend) promised to bring a real bed! I know some visitors will be very happy.
The most fun thing, unless it was transforming the basement, was working with the hand-powered two-person saw. Here’s a picture of Cassidy and Harry cutting wood with it.
For a few years I’ve hosted a Zen group in Northfield, meeting two or three times a month, while carrying on a daily practice here at the farm (morning sitting and chanting, monthly retreats) and sometimes having Zen-practice visitors.
The Wednesday night group will end with the June 20 discussion. I’m hoping that people who want some form of Zen practice will contact me, and we’ll talk about what we want to do. Northfield has a very solid Buddhist presence, with sittings 6 days a week and monthly speakers, so nobody will be left hanging.
With the new guest room, the option of coming for retreats or longer practice opportunities is much improved. We also have a tent space in the nearby pines, created by Celeste.
We’re working on a better website, date some time this summer.
In mid-July I begin travels to visit some people, some of the mountains/waters members of the Alliance, and to attend a 2-week retreat at the Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center. The first week will be just meditation together in the mountains, with a solo time outdoors; the second half will include conversation with other serious environmental activists and meditators. I’m really looking forward to this.
I continue to offer psychotherapy services in Minneapolis, which is a lovely way to make a living and be able to support the Alliance. I am gradually shifting this work to an office in Northfield, which will be more convenient.
And that is all for now. Please be well and happy in every way.
We look forward to a summer solstice celebration, Sunday June 17, in the spirit of gratitude for the gifts of the earth and making an offering in return. More information.
You’re invited to a gardening day Saturday, June 2, in the spirit of offering, of loving the land, of befriending our plant and earth neighbors – we’ll be planting vegetables, mulching, moving some berry plants. You may take home some strawberry or raspberry plants. Lunch is provided if you RSVP. Come any time 10-5!
Journal: I’ve been thinking about chanting, what it is, what it means, and our whole relationship to the earth and beings around us. Read here.
News: This is brief; the more interesting things have gone to Journal and Study Group. But at the end of April I taught in Columbus, Ohio. There was a workshop on facing the coming challenges, and a day-long sitting focusing on basic Zen teachings. I look forward to returning. I spent five days studying with my teacher and two others, and came away feeling much nourished.
I’m continuing to work as a psychotherapist to support this work; now I see clients in Northfield and by “teletherapy.”
A week-long visitor, Celeste Pinhiero, is helping with the garden, camping in the pines, and bringing a wonderful energy, more land-based than I have ever been – and bringing in new flowers, tidying, sitting with me in the mornings. Susan Schoenberg visited for a day and hopes to return. T.R. McKenzie still lives here, works full time but we manage occasional fruitful conversations.
Plans for the summer include a month-long journey, centered around a two-week meditation and activism retreat in Colorado. Plus more time with the land, and continuing the deeper work of studying what it is I have to offer. Writing will not be happening so fast.
There are still spaces for short visits for practice, work, and Dharma conversation.
Please keep this work in your heart. And write if you wish.
Mountains and Waters Alliance newsletter: April 7, 2018
Please see new thoughts at “Journal”, which includes ramblings, responses to things in the news, links, and miscellaneous – unedited.
Neither will have notifications at this time. At the moment there are new writings in Journal.
A Thousand True Fans
This is an ask for money. It’s hard for me to do, but if I don’t ask you will never know.
The article was written for artists, who are famous for not having enough money. It proposed that rather than trying to make it big, an artist could survive with 1000 true fans – people who went to every concert or bought everything you produced. The idea was that such fans spend about one day’s income per year on your work. If that amount is $100, you have an excellent income.
My adaptation of it is like this: Instead of chasing foundation grants, which takes a lot of time and produces usually nothing, I’ve chosen to earn a living – which takes a lot of time and produces enough to live but not enough to move forward with the Alliance.
I’m inviting you to offer support to the Alliance, at whatever level would feel good to you. You can donate yearly, monthly, even daily. You can donate $5, $10, $100, $1000, any amount. Fees are small. There are over 200 subscribers to this blog; I don’t know many of you or even why you’re here. But if 20 people chose to donate one day’s income per year, and you averaged $36,500 income, I would have $2000, which would cover Internet fees, brochure printing, the accountant, and some more. If 200 people donated $20 per year, I would have $4000 and could actually move forward slowly. 200x$50 and I can go back to full time Alliance work – or we can pay our debts or something.
There are lots of other kinds of support (ask me, especially if you are good at internet stuff) but this is for people are short on time – perhaps for all those of you who send something every time I ask – would you consider making a commitment? Go here for more information or to make that donation. Here are some ways we would like to spend it:
Internet access, phone use, travel for meetings/teaching/study, printing brochures.
Growing food sustainably, restoring the land
Turning the farm into a gathering place; making it a place for residential practice
Repaying loans, beginning with the solar panel loan, then the loans from people, last loans from me.
So that’s it. I’m asking you for financial help if it works for you. The energy is growing, and I’m doing my best to give it what space I can.
Meanwhile at the farm – we have maple syrup and box elder syrup (this is less time-extravagant if we cook it inside on the propane stove; we are making vinegar from apples, pears, strawberries, pineapples, and pretty much anything that comes by, and drinking it for health and taste. “We” means me and T.R., a friend who is staying for several months. A different “we” is me and Perry, doing nursery plant stuff because he knows how to grow and also to sell. We’ll have more plants and hopefully some income. I’m trying to save my time for the deeper spiritual work, but the land tempts. We’re below freezing and snow-covered at the moment. Like lots of places. Climate change!
I hope you are all well.
April 15 MWA potluck day including work 2-4, ritual 5-6, potluck supper and gathering
April 21 FARM 12-3 grafting workshop with Sarah Claasen, registration required, fee, two spots left.
April 21 FARM all day work day (might go to Earth Day celebrations late afternoon, might keep grafting until dark)
April 18 ZEN 6:10 Intro to Zen “What’s it good for?” – Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center.
27-29 ZEN and MWA – Shodo is teaching in Columbus, OH. Friday evening workshop, Saturday morning sitting and discussion, Sunday all-day sitting with 2 pm talk. For more information contact Don Brewer.
May 2 ZEN no gathering
May 1-5: studying with my teacher in Bloomington, Indiana.
May 16 ZEN 6:10 Intro to Zen – “Spiritual community” – Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center.
May 18 FARM all day work day
May 19 MWA potluck day including work 2-4, ritual 5-6, potluck supper and gathering
May 25-28 MWA Land Care Retreat – includes meditation, work as practice, dharma talks and discussions, community building.
Silent retreats are held almost monthly. If you would like to come to one of these, please contact Shodo directly. An Intro to Zen retreat will be arranged when there are a few requests.
Midsummer: I will be traveling to Colorado and could arrange to be available in Colorado, northern New Mexico, and points along the way from Minnesota.
Late September: I will be in upstate New York and could arrange to be available.
October 26-28: Land care retreat – same as May
For Zen and farm events, see here.
We’ll begin with a few event announcements, then continue with guidance – this time, an introductory essay.
Retreats in Minnesota:
May 25-28: Land care retreat – includes meditation, work as practice, dharma talks and discussions, community building.
October 26-28: Land care retreat.
To be determined: Intro to Zen retreat – a full day at the farm, or a half day in Northfield.
Silent retreats are on the calendar, not shown here.
Travel & Teaching:
April 27-29: Teaching in Columbus, Ohio.
Midsummer: I will be traveling to Colorado and could arrange to be available in Colorado, northern New Mexico, and points along the way from Minnesota.
Late September: I will be in upstate New York and could arrange to be available.
For farm events including workshops, volunteer days, and potlucks, please see the calendar.
For local Zen teaching schedule, please see the same calendar.
We’ll begin with a few words on what Buddhist practice means, as a foundation for more later.
For me, Buddhist practice is about living as part of the earth, fully sustained and embraced in joy.
Usually we think of Buddhism as a philosophy – intellectual, disembodied – or a religion. “Religion” might actually fit, if we understand it correctly. It’s based on Latin words meaning “respect for the sacred” or “reconnecting with the gods,” and until the 1500’s religion was not separate from secular life – even in Europe.
Buddhism calls us back to the ancient or indigenous way of relating to the world and to the sacred. It asks us to let go of these ways of life and thought that have been trained into us from birth: humans as special, nature as resource, greed and hate as normal. In Buddhism, greed, hate, and the sense of separation are called the Three Poisons. They’re not natural at all, but it’s difficult to become free of them because of long training and the incessant harping of industrial civilization.
The way Life actually works is that each one of us is created by everything around us, past and present, and we in turn give life to everything else, present and future. We are a speck on the wave of Life, never lonely while in a way profoundly alone.
Knowing this is freedom. We can drop our burdens, whether those burdens are saving the planet or making a successful career. Life takes care of itself. Our job as individuals is to respond to the movement of Life in and around us. This requires dropping ingrained beliefs, which is why Buddhist practice can be arduous: before we can respond to Life we must be able to see/hear/feel it. Fortunately, even a glimpse is enlivening and energizing, and glimpses are common.
This way is joyful. Its hope is not the hope that something will change, but hope that embraces things as they are, joins with them enthusiastically, and responds in kind, with gratitude, creating resiliency without expectation.
This way is open to anyone who wants it.
We live in difficult times. Words fail. 2018 has seen seven significant school shootings in 55 days. For the moment, I am chanting on behalf of Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin, Alfonso Calderon, Sara Chadwick, founders of the Never Again movement. If you pray in any way, I invite you to join me in supporting these young leaders as they call us to take our children’s lives seriously.
We need to look deeply into the nature of our society. Why are we the only country on earth with this problem of mass shootings including children? It has something to do with our attitude toward guns, yet there’s more: 50 or 150 years ago guns were ordinary and mass shootings were unthinkable.
I’m looking at two long essays that describe how we got here. The first is a 2001 interview with Martin Prechtel, offering a completely different way of relating to the world. The second is notes on the concept of wetiko, described in Jack Forbes’ Columbus and Other Cannibals, and elaborated though not named in Kirkpatrick Sale’s The Conquest of Paradise. Both point to a profound dysfunction in society, and Prechtel makes it clear how this leads to destroying our own selves.
My question, and the business of the Alliance, is how we change this in ourselves and in the broader culture. For our own survival, it needs to change. I’m not yet ready to write, but will. Meanwhile, praying for the leaders, and doing my best to carry out the work that has called me, which faces and addresses the nature of our shared mind. Yes, it’s about climate change. It’s also about who we are.
Looking for those who are called to this same work
Everything I want to say is on this website page. Very briefly, if you feel like this work is your work, join this community for support in action, by becoming a member. If you would like to offer financial support there’s a discussion at the bottom of the page, and a link for single or repeat donations of any size.
We’re quitting email lists in favor of blog posts. If you’re not already signed up, please go to the lower right corner of the page and “follow.” (If you can’t find it, email me and I’ll set you up.)
The blog will be more active, probably weekly. It will include events, essays, and teaching – guidance in ways to participate in this work. I’m gradually adding more information in other pages, and will announce when a new page is ready. Hoping to create a sort of library.
The 2018 schedule of events is coming soon, including farm retreats, Zen sesshins, potlucks and workdays – if you’re in the area, I hope you’ll come. If you’d like to spend time at the farm, please contact me. (A few items: next potluck is Sunday March 19, honoring the spring equinox; Intro to Zen class in Northfield, third Wednesdays at 6:10 pm through June; orchard grafting workshop Saturday morning April 14.)
And personal notes: we’re having winter storms, my car is snowed in, the house is comfortable, a second resident is in a try-out period, and my psychotherapy practice is going well.
Warmly and with thanks,
Yesterday morning I was moved to offer prayers for calming the wildfires. What took me so long, I don’t know. My attention was on California and South Dakota, but I tried to include everywhere – and today learned about the New Mexico blaze. And I kept thinking of “the fires of war” raging alongside of physical fires. Seeing too many pictures from Gaza. So this morning I offered prayers for “peace with dignity for all.”
What do I mean by prayer? Well, nearly every morning I sit in meditation and follow it with chanting; the chanting is dedicated for the benefit of all beings and a whole list of specifics. I’ve written about that before. After that, I do an energy healing practice adapted from David Lasocki’s work:
Mentally invoke a powerful healing vortex. Strengthen and heal myself, then name a topic. What I did today was this:
Wrote: “Peace with dignity for all.” Underlined it and made a big circle. In the circle wrote supporting factors, as they were given to me. This was the list:
Then, mentally, I strengthened each one on the list, and their relationships with each other in twos, threes, and so forth. Continued until intuition said finished.
I started writing this letter at the full moon of December, 2017. The moon was brilliant. Since then, sun and moon together have been sliding gently toward the dark. Except for the quietness, it feels like a match for the state of the world: colder, harder, as the actions of “our” government instigate fear and disgust while relentlessly removing human rights and waging war on the natural world including many humans. I’m personally privileged and not much a target in this war, yet. Still, a part of me thinks my primary safety is in the land, the orchard, and the seeds – and in people. Not in laws, elections, governments, and the like, though I dare not ignore them. None of which means I assume I will survive when/if things get hard.
Daniel Quinn, in Ishmael, wrote about two kinds of peoples. One knows the difference between good and evil. The other lives in the hands of the gods. I wish to be one of the latter, but am not. I recall Einstein’s question: “Is the world a friendly place, or not?” My childhood answer was “the natural world yes, humans not” is still strong in me, even in my rational adult mind.
Yes, there have been terrible natural disasters this year, and many we haven’t even noticed. Puerto Rico is still too much without safe water and electricity, and damages to nearby islands are invisible to us in the U.S. Mudslides, floods, earthquakes, droughts, starvation, refugees – only the human response is visible. The last round of wildfires started after I first wrote, and they’re getting attention. Meanwhile the Oval Office provides a circus complete with death-defying acts, while Congress quietly removes civil rights and transfers money from poor to rich. It doesn’t look good.
Except for points of light here and there, acts of kindness, bursts of creativity. And except for a growing resistance to imperialism, to colonization, to oligarchy, to empire – most recently in the #metoo upwelling, but also Black Lives Matter, the indigenous-led pipeline resistance, and more. Here and there court decisions favor people and land: An Oregon judge allowed Our Children’s Trust to sue the federal government for their “constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property” about environmental harm. https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/us/federal-lawsuit/; a Minnesota court allowed the “necessity defense” for some peaceful water protectors https://www.commondreams.org/news/2017/10/17/victory-valve-turners-judge-allows-necessity-defense-climate-trial; finally a court sentenced a police officer to prison for shooting an unarmed black man in the back during a routine traffic stop. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/08/us/south-carolina-officer-is-charged-with-murder-in-black-mans-death.html
More people are speaking in defense of the future, and a little support is showing in low and middle levels of government. There are elections next year and some dream of change. The future is not set.
Mountains and Waters Alliance in 2017
Here at Mountains and Waters Alliance, at Mountains and Waters Farm, we’re seeking to face this situation wholeheartedly and fearlessly. Our premise is that humans are not the only conscious beings, nor are we the only power. We are not alone in our wish to protect the living earth, in our intention to clean up our mess, our will for life to flourish. But as the ones who have done the damage, we need to abandon the colonial mindset and join with the other beings of the earth.
Our will is to listen to those other beings, to become their allies, and together to protect all of us. The whole thing began for me in 2015 when I walked the hillside here asking earth, trees, shrubs, and waters to protect this place from development – and felt their response. In 2016 flowers, trees, and mountains spoke to me during a retreat, and they have not stopped. In summer 2017 an ancient carving on an old hill said to me, “We’ve got it covered. We don’t need your help.” It turned my world upside down. I went home to lie in bed sick for a month, wondering what was left for me, this person, and all of us, to do.
Donations: Things require money. Right now, Mountains and Waters Alliance is a guest at Shodo’s home. It pays for Internet, paid the bulk of the solar panels, and not much else unless there’s travel to do for teaching or learning. To be more active will involve more money.
And what can we offer in appreciation? The most important thing is to be a part of this work for the benefit of all beings. Some additional things would include being part of creating the farm as a sanctuary for many, a residence for some; making this your spiritual home; - creating a counterpart wherever you are, in community together. Last, we can create an online community where we encourage each other, foster creativity, share ideas, possibly have world-linking ceremonies and events, and relate to other communities of similar heart.
Thank you to everyone who has supported this work in the past – the Sakyadhita trip, the solar panels, and everyone who just sent or handed a check without even being asked. This inspires. As it inspires to have partners, allies in the work, mentors, supporters of all kinds.
May you be at ease, joyful and at peace.
May you be safe physically and mentally.
May you be protected from natural disaster, war, epidemic, and hunger. May you have work that gives meaning. May you love and be loved. May you be unafraid.
May you find yourself completely at home in this world, with our great and wide family of conscious beings.
With deep respect and love,
It’s mid-summer. We started strong, selling extra strawberry plants and a few raspberry starts, planting a garden, putting in some mushroom patches. John Hatch brought a barrel of biochar and a pint of wood vinegar, with instructions, and I used some of each. I set up a watering system, to water plants every day, and John came out and watered them and the house plants. Perry Post, who has dreams for this land, did a lot of work on the things mentioned above, then got busy at home. I went away to the conference – in midsummer: what kind of farmer does that? When I came back the critters had eaten most of the plants I’d started near the house, and reed canary grass was stronger than anything.
Fast forward: some watering, some weeding. Few tomatoes (too close to the box elder, maybe?), many black raspberries, and some red and yellow ones. The strawberries are starting their second round. There are more vegetables near the house than I thought. I’m trimming back the raspberries. AND…..
DEER FENCE TIME. Of all the essential things to do, I picked the deer fence because the deer really like to eat our
little trees. Copying the one built by Peter and Keith, my permaculture teachers. I spent an afternoon with Nick, experimenting and planning. Then two days with students from the Heart of the Heartland program – they spent six weeks learning about small farms, having workshops and working on farms. They’re in the photo, and they were really a lot of fun. (On the rainy day they also cleaned my barn/garage, which desperately needed it.
DEER FENCE SATURDAY AUGUST 5. We have a half day, 1-5, to continue building the deer fence. It would be really wonderful to finish it – many hands and all that.
I noticed, suddenly, that I am at war with the way things are.
Last summer, I noticed being at war with buckthorn, grasses, and pocket gophers – beings of nature that act like civilized humans, taking all the space, destroying what gets in their way – and interfering with my food supply. This was a disturbing realization, and I’ve been studying it.
Now it’s clear that my war is bigger. I’m at war with the whole way things are, particularly the human world. I’ve made a noble cause of it, called “healing the mind of separation,” and “releasing human arrogance,” but truth is I really really want the civilization around me to change or perhaps self-destruct before it destroys life on earth.
Suddenly I saw my own war, saw how I am just like the system that shaped me – not free – and still part of the problem.
Actually, it’s a relief. As I wrote beautiful words about what the problem is and how we need to change, there was a little uneasiness. Now I know why. Something inside me had to move. I had to fall down, had to lose my hubris. So I’m glad to be present with this uncomfortable awareness.
So I write today from the middle of uncertainty and unraveling. If I waited for the answers to become clear, that would be waiting to return to hubris. But I can meet you here in the empty space; we’ll see what offers itself. Meanwhile, life continues.
Requests and practical things
Housesitter wanted June 11-July 1, while I’m at the Sakyadhita Conference. A little work, a wonderful space, and garden vegies or foraging. Otherwise, someone to do a little work (house plants and mowing) during that time – volunteer, barter, or paid.
Donations: If you would like to support my travel to Sakyadhita, anything will help. Seriously – from a $20 donation we get $19.12; from $5 we get $4.55. Here’s the link for donating, and much more information.
A ride to the plane (for Sakyadhita) June 11 morning, and back July 1 about 9 pm.
Residents and/or farm managers – Possibilities are still open. Please contact me if tempted.
Strawberry plants, raspberry plants, and various other things are available for purchase – or freely given to volunteers. Just ask.
Farming and volunteering.
These are dates for group volunteering. You can arrange to come at other times. PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN TO COME.
May 27-28 Planting garden, pulling buckthorn, maybe weeding. Take home healthy berry plants for your own garden.
June 10 A short day, 9-2 or so. More of the same.
July 8-9 We’ll start at 10 am with a 2-hour presentation on permaculture. Then get to work – after lunch.
July 17 & 26 A student group will be working here 9-5. Your company is welcome.
August 5-6 Early harvest? Stockade fence? More orchard work?
Sept 9-10 same as August.
Oct 14-15 Definitely harvest.
Nov 11-12 Late harvest and closing down for the season.
How it works:
The projects named may change. If you have a particular skill or crave a particular kind of work (chain saw, building, digging, planting….) let me know. Ask if you need carpool help. There’s a serious possibility you might go home with berry starts, herbs, or something else, if you want. AND LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN TO COME.
Retreats and teaching activities
June: No retreats because I’m traveling.
July: retreat at the farm July 15-19 (ends at noon). Please note: when alone, I just sit zazen all day. When people join me, I can offer zazen instruction, introduction to Zen, dialogue, and mindful work opportunities.
August: retreat at the farm August 19-23.
September: retreat at the farm September 16-20
October: retreat at the farm, October 21-26.
November-December: to be arranged.
June 7, July 5 & 19, August 2, 16, & 30: The Northfield group will meet less formally during the summer, open to questions, discussion, and topics. We’ll still meet 6:25-8:30, with sitting meditation at beginning and end. Please bring your questions. Located at Northfield Buddhist Center, 313½ Division St, Northfield (park in rear).
June 24 or 25: At Sakyadhita International Conference of Buddhist Women, I’ll be offering a workshop. It’s in Hong Kong, so you probably don’t want to come.
Sept 1-4: I will offer at least one workshop at Gathering of the Guilds, a Midwest permaculture gathering held just three miles from here.
January 13, 2018: One-day retreat with Red Clay Sangha in Atlanta, Georgia.
January 14, 2018: Dharma talk, Red Clay Sangha.
I’ll post other scheduled talks on the calendar here. If your group would like to arrange a talk, workshop, or retreat, please get in touch.
As the world changes, as despair threatens, the vision of Mountains and Waters Alliance is being deeply tested and clarified.
Climate change becomes increasingly obvious; violence, wars, and the war on the environment continue to escalate, and the incoming government is not a cause for encouragement. Refugees, wars, refusal of refugees, pictures of hurt and hungry children – these are our daily news. The human capacity to cause suffering is unavoidable. The arctic is sixty degrees above normal now; the summer saw unprecedented wildfires and droughts, and I was grateful to be in a place where climate change meant only fierce storms, fallen trees, raging rivers and floods, and ruined crops. The conflict between corporate greed and a culture based in the earth is playing itself out at Standing Rock, and still unfinished. In a small way I participated in that, first organizing prayer vigil support at home, then spending five days at the Standing Rock camps, joining in prayers and also sitting with other Buddhists. I expect to return when needed, and I do expect we will be needed again.
The plan of offering an example of community based in practice with the earth seems like it belongs to a gentler time, with slower change. The other side of the vision – allying with trees, mountains, and forces larger than human – becomes essential, and that is where most of my time has gone this year. In July, a wilderness retreat with David Loy and Johann Robinson led to profoundly deepened understanding of communicating and allying with the nonhumans – especially mountains and alpine flowers. My following visit to the Black Hills was more of the same, and forging a conscious alliance. This is the work difficult to discuss, that gives Mountains and Waters Alliance its name. If there is any hope in this time, it lies in giving up the illusion that humans are separate, better, or in control, and in casting our lot with all sentient beings.
A brief report on activities:
The primary work has been learning and unlearning. Pulling out invasive plants, I see the mind of war inside myself. I’ve apprenticed myself to the land, to learn in body that which I’m called to teach about becoming part of the family of life. I seek another mind – parental mind or collegial mind – in my relationship with these difficult plants. In this, the land becomes a learning laboratory. This is what I intend to teach to others, but at this time I can only express it through Zen language.
In addition to this learning, daily sitting and retreats at the land, and the wilderness retreat mentioned above, I participated in a Bearing Witness retreat this fall with local Dakota leaders. My December retreat time went to Standing Rock, and was followed by lying in bed waiting for body and heart-mind to recover. It’s been a time of working underground, enriching the soil to be fruitful later. That deep work is still in process, changing me into someone who will be actually able to offer it fully.
On the farm, we’ve protected the orchard from deer and rodents, tended and harvested berries, continued woodland restoration, and repaired storm damage. The farm house now has wood heat and cooking, solar panels, additional space, and a year’s supply of firewood. The Advisory Council meets monthly, volunteers and other supporters have helped with many projects. Office organizing and accounting is improved, and appliction for tax status is on the to-do list. I’m looking for farmers to lease part of the land, and there are a couple of conversations in process.
I’ve taught and led retreats at the farm, had guest teachers, welcomed volunteers, and networked with other farmers as well as activists and Buddhists. I’ve also taught at Buddhist and other groups, and at the Soto Zen Buddhist Association. The sitting and study group in nearby Northfield has doubled in size. My essay “Right Action: The world is my body” was published in The Eightfold Path (ed. Jikyo Wolfer, Temple Ground Press 2016) And as mentioned, I’ve been involved in peaceful activism on environmental and indigenous issues.
I think a time will come when this farm is needed as a place of refuge and sanctuary. This, in addition to being a source of deep nourishment for the inner work, and a place for teaching, is a reason to keep it and cultivate it in spite of the expense.
The most important work has been nearly invisible. Thus I haven’t asked for money. Yet $1400 has come in unsolicited, much appreciated. For those who want to be quiet partners in this work, you are welcome to support it here. If you want to join in this practice, whether here, at your home or anywhere, please contact me.
Much warmth to you, as the dark of the year turns toward light again.
Love, Shodo – for Mountains and Waters Alliance
Here are two of the many writings that sustain me these days of difficulty. My own voice is still.
The Descent, by Thanissara. https://thanissaradharma.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/the-descent/
and this, from 1968:
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things”
Our work is to heal the mind of separation, the cause of our time’s unthinkable violence, and to ally with forces of nature to protect and restore the wholeness of life. Releasing human arrogance, with love and beyond conventional wisdom, we seek and follow guidance from those forces: land care, growing food, teaching, writing, retreats, and whatever is required. This is our intervention on climate catastrophe, while we prepare to offer hospice if needed.
Working on a grant application, some things clarified themselves. The first paragraph is above.
A key clarification is that the alliance with all beings is in fact the center. The land is a learning center, a place to begin that relationship, and a place to take in climate refugees if and when that happens. But the most important thing is changing our relationship with the rest of the planet – collectively. Thus, when asked “what if you don’t get the funding you need?” I answered that the shape of the work will change, but it will continue.
Please look here, for better language. Reading the first few paragraphs will be plenty for most people.
Since I last wrote,
There’s some traveling coming up in my life:
A Zen student arrives in June for a few months; I expect another shortly after he leaves in the fall – good news, not to be alone here. This is meant to be a place of community.
Teachings: I’ve updated the calendar, will just mention a few:
And I don’t even know what’s happening in today’s election.
Here are some pictures.
We’re offering a workshop on making flower essences, followed by a four-day gentle meditation retreat, Sunday to Wednesday, as our closing for the 40-day intensive practice time called “Living with the Earth.”
For us, the point of the flower essence workshop is deepening our ability to connect with the land and nonhuman beings. For Martin, the teacher, flower essences are about deep and subtle healing. The meditation retreat, starting Sunday, will follow on that, including short meditative work periods with gardens and woods, earth-based outdoor meditation, and sitting meditation indoors.
We will continue to practice with the earth through summer, fall, and winter. Visitors and interns are still welcome.
Day-long workshop on making flower essences.
Saturday May 21, 9:30-3:30, at Mountains and Waters Farm
As part of our commitment to connect more deeply with the natural world, we invite you to join us in this work which connects flowers and humans in a healing way.
Flower essences are highly effective and subtle remedies made from medicinal flowers for working with psycho-emotional problems in people’s lives. This beginning workshop, taught by flower essence consultant and maker Martin Bulgerin, is an opportunity to get acquainted with these powerful remedies, and to actually make an essence from a flower blooming here on the land.
The 6-hour workshop includes Martin’s two-session introduction to flower essences, plus actually making a remedy together.
Martin has been active in the area of natural healing for 26 years. He is locally recognized as a skilled expert in flower essence therapy, and has created his own line of essences. For more information see the website, www.BioPscInst.com/bpi/FERoot.html, or contact Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time: 9:30-3:30 (bring a lunch)
Location: near Faribault, about an hour south of Minneapolis, in a beautiful natural setting of meadows, bluffs, and woods, by the Cannon River. Directions will be given, including carpooling assistance.
Fee: $50, plus optional $5 materials fee if you would like a bottle of the essence we make. (If you need a scholarship, please ask.) Checks will be made out to Martin Bulgerin, and all money goes directly to him.
Class size is limited and registration is essential.
Please register through Mountains and Waters Alliance, email@example.com, or 507-384-8541.
The meditation retreat, Sunday-Wednesday, will include short meditative work periods with gardens and woods, earth-based outdoor meditation, and sitting meditation indoors.
Come for all or part. To cover food and lodging expenses, we ask for $20/day or in-kind donations.
You’re encouraged to make a donation to the teacher as well.
Pre-registration is essential. For information or registration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 507-384-8541.
Last night I took a walk and scattered seeds in the forest. To walk through the woods is a blessing. Every time, I see more new plants, and want to know their names. I see where tiny buckthorn have come back, or larger ones were missed last time.
It seems like I hear them singing to me, and if I would slow down more I could really join in. There will be a note from a single wild plum tree, or a fern, or a chorus from a whole group of ferns. Sometimes I reply – but the reply is always a little off, I still carry too much noise. Perhaps, as I work in the woods every day, my voice will become clearer. Perhaps trying to imitate is not the point.
This way of being began after Myo-O’s voice workshop, where we spent time with the trees at the end. We’ll be doing it again, probably this fall, probably a whole retreat. But the other guest teacher, Martin Bulgerin, will teach us a different way of listening to plants, by making flower essences. That will be near the end of the 40-day intensive, and followed by a sesshin (meditation retreat). Some of my sesshin time will be in the woods. And that is my healing.
A few months ago I said that this “Living with the Earth” time (also known as “Earth-based Zen Practice”) would set the course for the Mountains and Waters Alliance – defined as “we ally ourselves with mountains, waters, and everything that lives” – getting it into our bodies and hearts. I hoped a core group would participate in this learning with me.
Working in the woods, I notice my preferences for plum over buckthorn, maple over box elder, hazelnut over honeysuckle, and anything over prickly ash. I say those preferences are about whether the plant cooperates with its neighbors, but have to admit that really there is a lot about human convenience. Do they scratch me? Do they give berries in return? I am still human-centered.
Patience is beginning to arise. Zen is full of stories of monks or nuns who spent 60 years living alone in the forest, and eventually students started to seek them out. Suddenly the question occurred: “Did any of them wonder why nobody noticed them? Maybe they were not noble and perfect, maybe they had their miserable days too.” Mostly, thus, I’m able to accept that my own learning and practice is the core. Others may come, or not, but I am finding my core teaching.
And because I have not taken the role of teacher here, I don’t know what others are thinking. I coordinate, solicit, publicize, and do heavy labor – and wonderful conversations happen, and the result is completely unknown. But sometimes a voice comes up in me, and it seems I have words worth saying.
I came back from that walk to learn that Trump had already been declared winner in Indiana. Soon I realized that Cruz had dropped out; it took longer to find that Sanders had won. Imagining Trump as president, I notice fear. Already people who speak a foreign language or can be mistaken for Muslims are being thrown off airplanes, refused entry to things, and sometimes beaten on the streets. Those of us working for change will, I think, be obligated to spend much more time interrupting such things, attending to the basic necessities in our own towns, keeping people alive.
And then I learned of the fire in Fort MacMurray, the evacuation of that whole town, and saw pictures of the place where I had been, 2012 and 2013, to walk with First Nations people in the Healing Walk. Climate change, yes, but how is it? And people are talking about karma, absurdly and cruelly, as if it were the individuals living and working there who were causing the devastation.
What will we become, when we have lost everything? Syrian refugees, Palestinian ordinary people – go back in time to Vietnamese boat people, further back to Tibetan people, whether they fled or stayed – now 70,000 people burned out in North America – what do you become when everything is gone except life and maybe family? Will we finally wake up? You see me searching for meaning. But as always, the people injured are not particularly the people who did the damage, no more than you or me.
There’s a phrase from a Zen story, “Just this, from birth to death.” It’s burned into my mind, but I can never find the story when I actually want to discuss it. Today it is in hiding, but in my mind. Not to do anything special, just be here. Like Daniel Berrigan: “Presente.”
Now – a few photos from last weekend, and some upcoming events briefly.
the plan was to replace pulled-out buckthorn with native trees, 100 of them, and later to add small plants to keep the forest floor healthy. It was amazing to see all the many plants. Maybe they were hidden by buckthorn, honeysuckle, and grasses; maybe they actually multiplied in just one winter.
The Saturday groups (total 4 people plus me, in 2 shifts) pulled up buckthorn in a new area. I cut down tops of plants we will remove, which makes it easier to see what’s happening. We never got to planting the serviceberry, which were donated. Later.
On Sunday I was determined to have a day off. Two of us worked most of the day on the “island” next to the swamp. Nick moved stepping stones for crossing the creek, and half-built a walkway across the swamp to the island, so now it’s easier to get around. The place almost looks like a park now. I left tools and work projects to finish.
Monday I went alone to the island and planted a lot more trees – and found a lot more buckthorn to remove. (For the non-local: if you have buckthorn, you only have buckthorn.) Likewise, if you have bush honeysuckle, or reed canary grass, you have only them – and you either submit or fight. I refuse to use chemical poisons, but watching my mind in its preferences is a challenge. Anyway, its shape is beginning to show itself.
Tuesday I planted a few hundred seeds. Hope they survive. The bare ground under the trees is vulnerable to anything – and we don’t need more take-over plants. And, on the farm, Justin and I looked at the gardens and orchards, pulled a lot of weeds, and planted a lot of potatoes. Thursday we get a load of compost, and get ready for this weekend’s orchard/garden work.
I said I couldn’t afford to hire people this year, but not hiring them was worse. A bunch of fabulous people have turned up. We have Juli, office manager, 15-16 hours a week, helping me get organized and also find volunteers and sell produce. (Besides the farmer’s market of course.) Justin, farm, 15-20 hours a week, and a natural. Paul, high school student, farm. Carpenters for a couple of projects. My money is worth more here than in the bank – though I can’t cut too close. Mentally I’m writing grant proposals, but don’t have time to really write them. Maybe another YouCaring, some time.
In July I am traveling for two things: first, a “thinktank” about environmental activism that actually supports the environment rather than becoming part of the corporate structure. Second, a long retreat in the mountains, for activists and meditators, for which I received a full scholarship. I need it. In June I return to my teacher’s temple in Indiana, Sanshinji, for ceremonies and to help welcome his successor.
For local people, Facebook page is now the best place to find up-to-date information. But I will keep the event page updated here too.
May 6-7: “Tending the Gardens” – mostly, we’ll work with moving supportive plants into the orchard, from the berry patch and elsewhere, and weed and tend both of them. The annual gardens take second place. For people who would like to stay overnight, you can make this a retreat and join us for morning meditation. Just working is fine too
Saturday, May 21: Flower essence workshop – about 5 hours, including a class on making flower essences, a talk and demonstration of prescribing an essence for someone, and – what’s special – actually making a remedy from one flower, which includes meditative time outside. There will be a fee, and there will be scholarships.
Martin Bulgerin, the teacher, has been practicing natural healing for decades, and is locally recognized for his work with flower essences. His website is here. More information later.
Saturday -Wednesday, May 21-25: closing retreat – Concluding our 40 days of living close to the earth, we will create a closing retreat that includes meditation (zazen), land care, celebration, and simple ceremony. You’re encouraged to start with the flower essence workshop.
There’s still volunteer work available most of the time, and we’re still looking for carpool connections from Twin Cities.
Dates are not set.
May or June: Luca Valentino, a Zen person with decades of experience teaching and doing cabinetmaking, will offer some kind of teaching.
Fall (?): Myo-O Habermas-Scher, Minneapolis Zen teacher and voice teacher, will offer a retreat involving work with voice, chanting with trees, and meditation.
Fall (?): Lee Lewis, a Minneapolis Zen teacher, will offer a 5-day sesshin (meditation retreat) here, with teaching relating to the environment and with some outdoor work, nature walks, or other connection with the land.
And that is all for now. Blessings to all of you. Please continue to support us and the whole earth with your prayers, meditations, and everything.
Living With the Earth spring 2016 events
(Our first event, the chanting workshop with Myo-O Habermas-Scher, was a lovely time with 9 guests. We’re planning a longer one for this fall. People have been doing things in the woods, which are starting to bloom.)
The heart of each retreat is walking, listening, and opening to the land, a meditative practice which will guide every part of our work.
May Day Weekend – Playing in the Woods
We’ll take care of a small wooded area (in the picture), replacing problem plants with Sugar Maple, Plum, Serviceberry and Hazelnut.
Mother’s Day Weekend – Tending the Gardens
In the orchard, berry patch, and vegetable gardens – pruning, planting, transplanting, mulching, even weeding. Friday and Saturday
May 21 – Flower Essences
The deep work of intimately engaging with a flower spirit, through the meditative practice of making a flower essence remedy. Guided by Martin Bulgerin.
May 22-25: Zen Meditation Retreat
The retreat will include silent meditation periods, walking meditation indoors and out, teaching, council time, and a little community work.
These retreats combine teaching and meditative time with conscious work, and also play and celebration. Donations are welcome but your labor is the primary donation. Registration is essential.
May Day Weekend – April 29-May 1 – Friday 6:30 pm – Sunday 6 pm
Focus is on helping to return balance to the land – carefully attending to what it requests. We will be digging, cutting, and pulling up buckthorn and honeysuckle; no poisons. If conditions are favorable, we might do a controlled burn. We add plants that will fit in well. We move about the land in a way that creates a harmonious space.
Mother’s Day Weekend – May 6-7 – Friday 6:30 pm – Saturday 6 pm
Focus: Last year we planted an orchard and a berry patch; this year it’s time to take care of them. We’ll be checking on their health, pruning and transplanting some of the berries, adding companion plants to the orchard trees (apple, pear, plum, elderberry, hazelnut), and mulching/weeding/mowing as time allows.
You can come for the weekend, or come and go. (Sleeping space on floor or outside) You can enter at any of the walking/listening orientation times, which will be followed by a work period. It would help to know your plans!
Meditation and Spiritual Practice
This will be a day-long teaching workshop. The practice of making a flower remedy is an intense and intimate meditative process, an opportunity to learn a new language and find a way of being with the plant world.
Schedules and fees are not yet set. (Regular volunteers please request a scholarship.) Limited space, please inquire early.
About the teacher: Martin Bulgerin has been making, teaching, and prescribing flower essences for many years. He considers this class as an introduction to working with subtle energies.
Zen Meditation Retreat – May 22-25 – Sunday 6 am – Wed 6 pm
(orientation Saturday evening. Partial participation is an option.)
Zazen, Zen sitting meditation, is a way of realizing our life together with all beings. This can be a time to allow our meetings with the trees and land to settle into our bodies. Or it can simply be a gentle time to sit together with all beings. Mostly silent, with a few talks and a closing circle.
About the teacher: Shodo Spring is a local Zen teacher, founder of Mountains and Waters Alliance, and a Dharma heir of Rev. Shohaku Okumura. She led the 2013 Compassionate Earth Walk.
These offerings are part of our 40-day intensive period of living with the earth as spiritual practice, seeking to learn and listen to the voices of nonhuman beings, joining them in finding appropriate response to the present crisis.
For all events:
Let us know:
Internships, personal retreats, and additional volunteer times are available; please feel free to ask.