- The Farm
- The Alliance
Yesterday armed white supremacists stormed the Capitol to stop the certification of electoral college votes.
Washington police, well skilled in crowd control, offered no advance resistance; things were allowed to escalate beyond control. After fact-checking: It may or may not be true that police opened barricades to let in the mob; one police posed for selfies with an invader.
Only one invader was killed, while fourteen police were wounded. Rather than arresting the invaders, tasing, teargassing, firehosing, or shooting them as they would with peaceful protesters of color, they gently pressured them to leave after hours of vandalism. Of course they didn’t want to create martyrs. They could have done much better. The Right is blaming the whole thing on Antifa.
And most of the worst public officials and politicians abandoned Trump at the last, along with several of his staff resigning. I expect the man will be removed, one way or another.
“Choose Democracy” calls it a failed coup attempt: the structures held. The fact that judges denied all of the efforts to overturn the vote by legal maneuvers, that the National Guard finally was called and that the process continued in Congress – they rank these as essential.
Van Jones says the question is whether this is an end or a beginning: the end of something bad, or the beginning of something worse. Our collective actions will decide that. Choose Democracy does not recommend public rallies at this time, while the supremacists are so volatile.
I found myself relieved when the police finally showed up. Learning from history: Hitler suspended civil liberties after the Reichstag Fire provided an excuse – and there’s some evidence that the Reichstag Fire was set or encouraged by Nazis. Let us not allow this to be our Reichstag Fire, in which we encourage Pence toward draconian measures which will later be used everywhere. (Civil liberties were never restored during the Nazi Regime.) We need to keep this in mind as we move forward.
Crisis is opportunity. Might this be a time of turning toward a humane society? As the inherent violence in the status quo is so very visible – coming from people who sincerely believe they are launching the next American Revolution – may we begin to dismantle its foundations in hate, in the illusion of being masters of the world, in juvenile insistence on getting what we want no matter what cost to others? (Seen: “Your health is not more important than my liberty” – seriously, about masks.) May we begin? And how?
I don’t know a lot. I’m sure of a few things: Arguing with neighbors and family will not help; presenting information will not help because they won’t believe it. Being human with those you already know might help. Being human and kind with all of those we are close to, with our families and friends, with co-workers for change, will surely help; look for what you can praise rather than what to criticize. Be the resourced one, not the panicked one. Take care of yourself with rest, meditation, physical care. Support your body with protein and vegetables, not sugar and alcohol. Ask for kindness from each other, especially when panic, rage, or distrust try to take over. And pray, meditate, and again. Whether you pray with tobacco, incense, holy water, movement, song, or just words, pray. We are not alone. The key mistake of the culture that once walked away from an authoritarian God-image was to choose itself as replacement god. We are not gods, and we don’t have to be. Every living thing supports us. Let us go home, return to our family among trees and grasses, mountains and streams, seek help from them.
We need to learn this. Pandemics and climate change are waiting in the wings, and will require even more of us. Find the still place deep within, and nourish it with all you have. Practice.
The year called 2020 will probably be remembered for a long time for its hardship. May our descendants know it also as a key point in the Great Turning. We don’t know yet.
We may recognize the feelings of William Butler Yeats when he wrote in 1919 after The Great War (WWI) ended, while his Ireland home was still in turmoil, while the future was unknown:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
It seems now, as 2021 begins, that the center is holding; yet there is still no certainty. I expect Biden and Harris to be sworn in and a new administration to begin the task of re-establishing a level of stability. But we can’t be sure about all those Americans who are waving guns, threatening or shooting people in the name of liberty, calling themselves militia – or sometimes police. We don’t know what’s happened to the mood of the country. And we don’t yet know whether the Senate will change hands, and whether the change of power will be peaceful. Not knowing.
We have both a vaccine and a new strain of the virus. Tired as we are of lockdowns and deaths, it’s not over. We don’t know when. Nor when another might arise, because industrial civilization continues to create the situations that give rise to these dangerous beings. Not knowing.
Meanwhile, racism is in the open. The insistence on destroying the planet for profit is revealed. And years of resistance costing lives and dollars begin to be rewarded in court, and by banks and investors dropping fossil fuel projects, and by mainstream news and the general public learning to say the words. It was hard but necessary. Much more not-knowing ahead.
Of course it’s hard. I’d like to be as naive as when I was a child, but the world is not secure. It never was, except in the minds of privileged people who didn’t know their lives were based on enslavement and death of others.
So my hope for a return from near-anarchy is balanced by certainty that the old “normal” is not good enough; that old ways of thinking will take us back to inequality, death, and climate change. That the Industrial Growth Society (Joanna Macy 2009) must end. Whatever it takes.
To those who lost loved ones, or health, or jobs, or small businesses, or their homes – I apologize for what may sound uncaring. We don’t know what comes next, or who will yet lose what. Our actions create the world. If we are willing to throw away a single life, those actions will lead back to what we are hoping to escape.
Everything has changed. An “Introduction to Zen” weekend retreat turned into an online class that still meets weekly. The “Gift of Fearlessness” group, originally a response to the pandemic, continues to meet, supporting each other as we face what we cannot know. We’ve had online zazen (now only Mondays) and two in-person retreats in this spacious place – “land care” and Zen sesshin. People are donating, and some volunteers have come in spite of the pandemic. Today we have several inches of snow, glittering in the sunlight. It’s been a good time for quiet, and for working on the book.
Plans for this coming year are necessarily uncertain. But here is a rough outline. It includes some things happening elsewhere, that I recommend and plan to attend.
Thursday, January 7, “The New Ecosattva Path” talk by David Loy. 5:30-7:30 Central Time, at Zen Center North Shore in Massachusetts: The link is on that page, and they request registration and donation.
January 10: online talk at Sanshin Zen Community, topic “Embrace and sustain all beings”. Zazen 8:10, talk 9:10 Central Time. Look here for the link.
February 20: one-day retreat with Red Clay Sangha in Atlanta – topic “Refuge.” Register here.
February 21: dharma talk with Red Clay Sangha in Atlanta. Sitting starts 8 am or after; talk begins 9:30 Central Time. Information and link is here.
Wednesday evenings 6:30-8 “Introduction to Zen” class, about 6-7 participants, studying Okumura’s Living by Vow. We’ll finish the book by spring, and then make a decision. (Ask to be added to the email list.)
Sunday evenings 4:30-5:45 “The Gift of Fearlessness” reading and discussing various offerings, related to current events. (Ask to be added to the email list.)
Third Sunday evening 6:00-8 Heart Sutra, advanced class, taught by Luca Valentino with assistance from Shodo. (by invitation only)
Maple sugaring – tapping trees and boiling sap – early spring (February – April, depending on weather)
Construction – late spring/summer – making the building more sustainable. There may be volunteer opportunities connected with this.
Fall work weekend, probably in October – harvest, land care, firewood, or as needed
Sewing retreat – probably in 2021 – for people preparing to receive the Buddhist precepts
April 16-20: land care retreat, or just work time – buckthorn management, part 1 – cutting
April-May (weather dependent): buckthorn management, part 2 – burning, with professional supervision
May 13-23: Shodo away studying – covid-dependent
June 18-22: sesshin (limited to 5 people, or online, covid-dependent)
July 16-20: Shodo will be on private retreat
August 13-16: land care retreat – specifics to be determined
September 17-21: sesshin (limited to 5 people, or online, covid-dependent)
November 11-22: Shodo away studying – covid-dependent
December 1-8: Rohatsu sesshin: Hope we can be indoors and sit together peacefully.
Not-knowing is most intimate. As we make our way through what we hope will be a public health recovery and a return to stable though still corporate governance , we are surfing on unknowable waves. Those of us who are not hungry or being shot at, it is ours to move carefully, with respect for those who are at great risk. Never in my life have I felt less sure of what will come next, except maybe that time when my bicycle went out of control going downhill.
This is what Zen master Dizang was addressing when he said “not-knowing is most intimate.” It’s a way of life, highly recommended. Yet, when forced into it, simply admitting it is so can help us make our way.
As I write, we are already in the longest night. Winter solstice officially happens this year at 4:03 am, Central Time, Monday, December 21.
We are also in a worldwide crisis, and a national crisis here in the United States, the likes of which have not been seen for a very long time. It’s not only the unbelievable actions of the President. Not only the pandemic killing hundreds of thousands of people and the impoverishment of millions. There is also an environmental crisis that is not going away, and climate change is galloping right along. The Biden election is supposed to be a return to normal, with a few improvements. To many of us, it’s doubtful whether we’ll ever return – or that we should. We need a new and different normal, for the benefit of all life on earth.
Some of us intend to find a way of life that belongs to the natural world instead of battling it. This will be a huge change in the ways that we live. Convenience can no longer be a priority. We, of course, mostly don’t know how to forage for food or any other activities of living without our massive industries. Yet people have lived this way before, and generally preferred it. And some of us are re-membering, re-learning, or learning new.
Just now, it also feels like something is moving on another level. Three examples in four weeks: “Federal land manager pulls plug on Utah tar sand lease” because a contractor in their own office had a conflict of interest – which they’d ignored for at least ten years. Alaska’s Pebble Mine was finally denied a permit by the Army Corps of Engineers. An offshore oil drilling project in the Arctic was stopped by the U.S. Court of Appeals. I begin to expect the end of Minnesota’s Line 3 project too, while dozens of people are freezing and praying to block it. (Here’s a link for Line 3 resistance.)
Solstice is always a time for making change. This beautiful essay by Sarah Sunshine Manning of the NDN Collective invites us to it as a blessing.
This year, there’s something extra beyond the annual tradition. This year, we’re invited to set intentions for the coming twenty years. The Saturn-Jupiter conjunction is here, will influence the whole day Monday, focused at 12:18 pm Central Time. scary times. Imagine creating the next twenty years.
Reflect on how the country, the world, the state, your local community and family, might be in 2040, if blessed by the full power of our love and intention, our joining with every conscious being – whether that be plants, animals, spirits, rivers, mountains – or one divine being of your own belief. Take some quiet time, whatever you can, and offer your prayer, your ceremony, your sacred fire, your sacred intention, and give your own heart to creating that way.
Then follow those intentions and prayers with actions. All of us. Together let us create the new world.
These are tumultuous times. We may think we have come through the storm. We may think the storm is just beginning as a certain man and his supporters resist the election results.
If neither of those happens, there is still this:
The Democratic Party is still committed to corporate profits and willing to destroy both our lives (especially BIPOC lives) and the whole planet in exchange. Or perhaps they are committed to losing – since they now push to abandon the very issues (Medicare for All) that won districts for their advocates. That is the beginning of a rant; I’ll refrain.
As I was moving mulch in the garden, this morning before the rain and cold arrive, I thought that these meditation verses might be relevant for our dealings with the political world and the transition. From Sawyer Hitchcock, who lived and worked here for two weeks.
For my European settler-colonist people, regardless of how long we’ve been here, I wish this specifically: together with all beings, may we return to our true home. Wherever that may be – but there is this: for as long as European settlers have been on this continent, we have collectively treated it as a colony to exploit rather than as a home to embrace. I think we treated Europe that way too, and – knowing something of Europe’s indigenous peoples – I wonder when that began and why it prevailed. So my wish means “May we recognize that our true home is on this earth, may we stop discounting it as a short interruption on the road to heaven, may we be willing to belong here, may we finally join the family of life.” And may we make amends.
As you can dear souls, Hold the Center and Be Peace. Whatever outcomes, there will be much work to be done, to either prevent more wreckage, or to dive into the wreck and retrieve the treasures and repair them.
That is where Undiminishable Love and Inextinguishable Light flow: to within one’s reach, to prevent further wreckage of matters dear; to dive and retrieve the treasures within your reach, and to help to mend those you bring up held close to your heart.
Just this tiny storycito. In letter to Corinthians, a small village of people long ago, was writ something that is usually translated as ‘we will all be changed,’ [by the upheaval].
But that’s not quite what it actually says in the original ancient language. First of all, that quote leaves out the salient words that preceded it. They are these:
‘Listen! I am telling you a mystery. We will not all fall asleep but we will all be changed.’
That is what the translation into English says. But/and here is what it actually says in the ancient words carefully considered:
‘Behold this, you, see this! I am showing you an initiation [musterion] that comes from standing in silence within your holy nature.’
[in other words, clear instruction is being given to us to shed the old and step into a new strong reality of strength and vision. It’s saying wake up! you are in the midst of an initiation; you will not be the same after this…stand in a centered holy silence –more precise instruction about how to live the holy way on a day to day basis ]
Furthermore it says, with attention to the actual meanings of the old words:
‘we will not all slumber, that is, decrease in power, seem as though dead [koimao]… Rather
‘moreover, we will in a whole way, make things different [as a result of being passed through initiation]’
Id like to offer these ancient instructions to you as the place to stand to hold the Center. Your Center, and the Center of the World Tree. You see how this fits or you, this standing in holy silence, each of you being a customized job.
Steady she goes. Easy does it.
We are together.
Blessings to you all in this time. Together with all beings, may we open the ground for new life.
“When I sit zazen, feelings of anger and even rage come up. What can I do?” was the question. I didn’t have an answer, but a response came anyway, from the depths of Buddhist tradition. Because so many of us have this situation, I’m offering it here now.
There’s a practice called tonglen, from Tibetan Buddhism. There are many ways to describe it. Its basis is the act of taking in negativity, allowing it to enter and purify your heart, and sending out pure loving and healing energy. Here is a more detailed description:
Sit comfortably; settle your physical body and let your breathing become steady. Bring your attention to the event, person, or emotion that troubles you. It could be a matter of injustice in the world, something that affects you personally, a person or group in pain, or your own inability to calm down. Beginning, it’s easier to begin with something outside yourself, something specific, especially an individual person.
Let yourself be aware of their distress. With every inbreath, breathe it into your heart. You might imagine it as an ugly or dark cloud, a poisonous gas, an acrid smoke, extreme heat – whatever is unpleasant to you. Bring it toward your heart, staying objective and just observing.
Allow this toxic thing to penetrate your heart and cleanse it. You might imagine there is a thick shield around your heart, that requires a very strong acid to penetrate. Or visualize the heart itself as clogged, rigid, thick, dead. As if you were using a powerful cleaning substance, bring the smoke in and let it dissolve the hindrances, making your heart clear again, open and flexible.
Breathing out, let this clear and open heart send a beautiful light, clear, cool, radiant, out and toward the original object. Imagine that it has the power to actually heal the situation or person.
Do this as long as you like. It won’t be instant; your first breath may barely begin the process, and the first exhale may seem puny. Just let it come a little farther in each time. Let the poison be the medicine. You will learn that your heart has the ability to transform negativity into healing and life.
After describing this process in the class, I realized how desperately I need to do it myself. For a while now, it will be my core practice for daily sitting meditation and occasional other times. Whatever comes into my mind can be a focus. Now, along with chanting for people and causes, I’m sending tonglen. To this land where I live: it feels like a living being underneath my body; on my way to sleep I felt its presence and sent this embrace. To a friend. To the places of wildfires, and the places of floods, to the humans, animals, insects, plants, soil-dwellers, soils and rocks and mountains and streams and air impacted by those natural disasters whether caused naturally or not. To the people facing prison for environmental activism. To the Mi’kmaw people in Nova Scotia as they resist violent attacks by white lobster organizations. To Gretchen Whitmore, and to the “Wolverine Watchmen” who attempted to kidnap her. To immigrant children held in cages. Personally hardest – a certain neighbor who has harmed me and probably will again.
It’s harder to do this practice with the perpetrators of violence. It’s a beneficial practice anyway. In the past I’ve said to people criticizing those wo do evil, “Would you want to live in that mind?” They never would. Yet it’s more comfortable to divide the world, to divide human beings into good and bad, right and wrong, our people and the enemy. And when we make that division, hate wins.
I say that very carefully. To suggest that the perpetrators are still human, probably acting from trauma, seems to offer permission for them to do their harm. No. Definitely not. When we look at someone acting clearly out of hate, or worse for simple profit, we are looking at someone severely damaged by this culture. The damage may come through obvious trauma in their family, through societal conditioning in grade school, or from subtle conditioning of an insane, wetiko social culture.
Wetiko is a Cree word that means cannibal monsters that devour everything, and that make others be like them. It’s a mental illness set loose in Europe centuries ago; my ancestors had to adapt, submit or join. Those who joined the best became the rulers of our (white people, industrial civilization, capitalist) culture.
Just briefly, I want to encourage you to vote, and to get engaged in activities that support people to vote and to protect the vote. Here’s a website with a lot of information: https://paceebene.org/election-action
People are doing things to get out the vote, to protect voters from intimidation, and to make sure votes are counted. Afterward, there is probably work to do for peace, for protection, and to protect the election results. You can find that at this information too.
Very small things can help. You can help safely. Please do something.
The idea of a “management team” has come up and I’m looking for a few people who’d like to do a little more. The team would get together with me occasionally to make detailed decisions.
For example, I’d love some folks to think with me about the 2021 schedule, and help me write a budget .
Some of the team would take on ongoing roles – something you would enjoy doing for a few hours per month, or sporadically for projects. Here’s a list.
If you are tempted, please call or email me, and we can talk. I won’t pressure. I’d love your help.
We are in a perilous time as a country, and as a world. The pandemic combined with climate change combined with serious economic hardships for many of us – and the polarization, open violence and open white supremacy, the signs of pending fascism – let us practice calm, let us offer prayers and chanting and kindness in every way we can. Do not despair.
The meditation offered above is one possibility. Loving-kindness meditation, if you do that, is another. And here is a poem I love, offering a way to be, regardless of the times.
“what if our religion was each other,
if our practice was our life,
if prayer, our words.
what if the temple was the earth,
if forests were our church,
if holy water—the rivers, lakes, and oceans.
what if meditation was our relationships,
if the teacher was life,
if wisdom was self-knowledge,
if love was the center of our being.”
Please be well and care for each other.
“Go ahead, light your candles, burn your incense, ring your bells and call out to the Gods but watch out, because the Gods will come. And they will put you on the anvil and fire up the forge and beat you and beat you until they turn brass into pure gold.” (The quote seems to be adapted from Sant Keshavadas)
Well, I did. I called to the gods and the nature spirits, the waterfalls and bluffs, rocks and soils and plants of all kinds. And here they are.
I’m having a difficult time. Thinking about leaving the land – just when it might be needed. Thinking about how nice it would be to retire from the Alliance – just as more people are showing interest. Let’s not mention writer’s block, thoughts about the worst decisions of my life, and fears of impending fascism right here, soon. The lawn tractor keeps breaking. The people to the north are building a house in what was the buffer zone to “my” private woods, and I see walking paths in the state land, where nobody else went before. When I went up there, I found myself asking permission to leave. They didn’t quite answer. And I don’t see anywhere to go, yet.
So my friend Kate Greenway, who has known me for over 30 years, reminded me of this quotation, and said “They’re beating you.” And that makes it just a little bit easier to be patient. I’m willing to be changed.
I spent a week up north, on the North Shore and then in a yurt on an off-grid farm, surrounded by brilliant red and yellow sugar maples. I visited old-friend waterfalls and rock bluffs. I talked with them, and they promised me. Standing at Middle Falls at Gooseberry – a loved place for half my life – I wept. And I chanted. Offered a Zen blessing chant to the small yellow bushes in the meditation spot outside the yurt, and then to the falls, and finally just before leaving Lake Superior, at Brighton Beach. I need to make that offering in the holy places here too. Today. I promise.
The bluffs, off my napping point at Shovel Point (an old holy place) told me they could carry my grief. It was like a weight lifted.
I came home to two guests for sesshin, Jaime and Sawyer, and Alex just getting ready to leave after a month here. Alex cooked dinner and then breakfast, and we said good-bye and he traveled on to a community in Utah where he will probably stay. Three of us sat in the zendo, 12 hours a day, together, and it was like sesshin has always been – the mind went everywhere and even settled down sometimes, but I felt the holy place of community practice.
And came out of that to feel excruciating pain, thoughts of leaving, not knowing what to do. Thus it was that I came to be talking with Kate, and also with Linne, and Joy, and to Beth and there are a few more promises. Don offered his thoughts and encouragement without being asked. Sawyer, who only met me two weeks ago, is steady and spacious, and his committed and regular practice is making the container for me that in some times I have made for others.
I had another poem, for difficult times, and I can’t find it. What it says, basically, is just take one step forward, and another, and another. But I remember some related words from Chris Hedges, in his book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. First he wrote about how in war each side claims victim, each side shouts about the atrocities of the other side, and they get more and more fierce about it, stirring up hatred and fear. I’m participated in that, but now I won’t. I won’t deny the atrocities, and I refuse to be one of the agitators. And he wrote of those few people, in the middle of war, who reached across to a human being on the other side with humanity. A farmer who brought milk for a starving baby, when the whole village said “that family is monsters, let them die.” This, he suggests, is the act of healing, when nothing large can be done. If I have written about this before, forgive me – it is worth saying again.
So I’m doing one step at a time, and taking some rest and allowing kindness in to me. And offering chanting and prayers to bless the nature spirits here.
The next in-person event will be Rohatsu sesshin, November 30 to December 8, seven days of silent sitting facing the wall. If the Covid situation doesn’t change, I feel safe having 5 people in our space – four plus me – and we can share cooking and firewood tasks as we did in September. You can register, or you can email me to ask questions. We’ll have advance conversation about safety and other matters.
Be sure to vote. Whatever is hard now will be affected by the election. Chant or pray for the well-being of this country, our people (particularly indigenous, Black, people of color, poor people, disabled people, and all of us) and the structures that so desperately need healing. I don’t need to mention people all around the world, and peoples who are not human. (The chants I do are here.)
Please take care, take heart, and stay close to love. I’ll see you later.
A Zen story: The monk asked the master, “How do we practice in difficult times?” The master replied “Welcome.”
Suggested direction from an email exchange: “At last, a challenge worthy of our intelligence and abilities.”
The people thriving in this time are those made alive by throwing themselves into the collective change needed. Whether they are registering voters, doing legislation, fighting fires, consciously building the new society, or offering hospice as old ways and hopes die, they find meaning in their lives through engagement. Not everyone can do such things – many people need to take care of their health, their families, or something very immediate – but I wonder whether it might be possible to connect those necessities with the energy that moves toward life – to find the sense of completeness that comes from engagement.
In the Gift of Fearlessness group, we are having increasingly interesting conversations, working with an article “How to grow liveable worlds: Ten (not-so-easy) steps for life in the Planthroposcene”
The writer’s proposal is about our relationship with plants, about decolonizing, and much more. I suggest that you read it as a poem or a fantasy, then think that it’s utterly real and ask how life becomes different with this thinking. Reflect on the last line: “Whatever you do, conspire with the plants to make art like your life depends on disrupting the colonial common sense that would leave us all to die in the Anthropocene.”
We honor the firefighters who risk their lives, yet we don’t do the actions that would prevent the necessity – taking care of the forests in advance, the small fires, indigenous wisdom. When Australia was burning, lands under indigenous care did better. It’s still climate change (caused by human/ colonizer hubris) but it’s also aggravated by human/colonizer ways of ignoring the natural ways of forests.
I don’t know what term to use, and I’m choosing colonizer to indicate the kind of mindset that looks at a land and sees only resources for exploitation, or things that get in the way. It looks at people that way too, and enslaves or kills them. It’s happening now, ask any Black or indigenous person, any refugee. It’s not new – just read some history.
Related books: Thus Spoke the Plant, by Monica Gagliano, and Greening the Paranormal, edited by Dr. Jack Hunter. Apparently there are many more books of this sort, stories or research or analysis about the world not being quite the way we imagine it, and how that might open up our way of living.
We are in fear, appropriately, about climate change, about the virus (and likely future ones), about economic collapse which includes probable food shortages and personal disasters for millions of people. Our politicians are failing us – actually many of them are actively hurting us. Those of us who always trusted the police are having second thoughts. We wonder whether the election will happen, whether it will be honest, and whether its results will be respected. We imagine a coup. While among us, Black, brown, Red Nations, and poor people are thinking, perhaps saying, “told you so.” There’s nothing new here except an unveiling – becoming visible – apocalypse.
For me, the missing piece in all this work is the matter of asking for help. All the attempts at solutions are attempts by humans alone. Often they’re by colonizers alone – indigenous wisdom in forest care and everything else has not even been considered – though recently that’s starting to change. Still, most of us don’t think of asking for help from the forests themselves – or from the soils, the mycelial networks, the rain, the air. We assume they are inanimate, even while science increasingly observes their aliveness and their consciousness.
It’s a long habit, hard to break, and an essential part of freeing our minds from their colonized existence.
Try this: Ask the air for help, with whatever problem comes to your attention next. Personal health, family troubles, fascism, climate collapse, racism – ask for help from that which is closest to us, which creates us on a daily basis.
And then see what happens. Inside of you, or around you.
Last month’s newsletter had nearly everything from the farm and the practice schedule, including invitations to participate. I’ll add just a few things:
We’re having visitors, spending time outdoors. One person is seriously considering becoming a resident.
A hard thing: The people to the north of me are building a house in the woods, which I’d thought of as my woods. Briefly I went into anger and despair. I thought of leaving and becoming a traveler. Then the thought came up “first world problems.” I considered the difficulties ahead of us. This place will be needed, growing food and practicing sanity, even with one of its holy places harmed.
“When difficulty comes, practice with it.”
Please ask for help.
Love to you all.
We live in a time that calls for something larger and deeper than I can actually imagine.
So I thought I would start with Buddhism’s Five Remembrances.
These are so ordinary and so obvious, and we live in a culture that forgets them, that fights against them. I’m saying “the culture” because there are many people among us who have not forgotten. I am a white privileged person, and I can usually forget these things. I don’t get sick often. Most of the people in my life who have died, have died when it was their time. And basically I’m escaping a lot of things. And that’s what we’ve been trained into. That technology can save us. The people who know otherwise are mostly people of color, and poor people, and people in other places in the world.
Old age, ill health, death, and loss – that’s the nature of human life, in every circumstance, in every situation – and we have been trained not to believe these things. We have huge industries delaying death. We have huge industries fighting sickness. We have huge industries helping people to stay young longer. And – look here we are, we’re together, because we have technology that helps us to minimize the separation.
But now we’re in this time when technology is not helping us. Our technology is a hundred years old. The fact that we live in a country where the leaders are refusing to use that technology means we’re having more deaths. it helps me to remember that we cannot quite say it is their fault. We cannot quite say “You caused these deaths.” We can say various things but death is part of being human.
And then in the middle of that, because a young woman took a video of the murder of George Floyd, something has changed about our knowledge of the society in which we live. Instead of it being one of those deaths recognized by and criticized by a relatively small group of people in this society, it has become seen by everyone. There was a video, there was the peaceful memorial invaded by Minneapolis police with brutality, with violence, and finally eventually, a response that included, I won’t say violence but destruction of property. From this distance it seemed like a war in South Minneapolis, where I no longer live, but “uprising” is the better term.
And so this is called an uncovering, a lifting of the veil, an apocalypse. At one time two things are being seen. One is that we are not the masters of life and death. The other is the violence inherent in this society.
I ask myself about that violence, and I think about trauma. As a psychotherapist I’ve taken trainings in how to help people heal from trauma. People are now working with generational trauma, and I also think about the trauma in the lives of the people who are hateful, who are murdering, who are causing violence, who are showing up with guns to defend their right not to wear a mask, who are hanging Black people (and the police call it suicide until enough people scream about it).
So things are being uncovered, and I ask “How did we get to be this way?” A lot of people have asked how did those people, those white people who came here from Europe, how did they get to be this way?
You know, the American Revolution was in large part fought for the right to commit genocide among Native Americans and the right to hold slaves, because the English, bad as they were, were a little nicer than the colonists. And in the past few years, I’ve been recognizing more history and coming to terms with my ancestors. As a child of Germans, I’ve had some more recent history to come to terms with. But then I ask, how do people come to be that way?
The book by Mary Trump (Too Much and Never Enough), which I don’t think any of us have read yet, seems to talk about that.
In following the three Federal executions this past week, and the legal defense and the stories told about those men, it was clear that all of them were traumatized in their childhoods. And I thought about my own ancestors. About two thousand years ago the Romans invaded Germany. They looked at the Germans and said these are savages, these are barbarians. They don’t even have villages, they move around. They have nothing to give us. And so we’ll exterminate them. So they came in, with their armies, with their slave soldiers, and they killed, and they wiped out, and what I thought about is that those of my ancestors who survived, made a decision to go with the program. They decided to become like the Romans, even if it was only to save their lives.
In 1865, Chief Little Thunder and sixty lodges of the Brules made the decision to surrender to the white soldiers in order to save the lives of the people who were in front of them. The people he knew and who he saw, he had to make the decision to let them become slaves, or to let them become dead. (I actually don’t know whether they decided together or whether he made the decision. I do know that only months later his son led a mutiny because of abuses by the white soldiers.) reference
One cannot criticize a decision like that, and the heartbreak that goes with it. All around us people are making those decisions. They’re deciding whether to go along with the program of the militaristic bullies, of capitalism, of the forces of death, or whether to be dead. And their descendants will forget, because it’s more comfortable to forget.
So I’m trying to say to myself, the neighbor who shouts at me, Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, the attorney general – those people are coming from a history of trauma, and that trauma goes way back. And it depends – I can imagine two thousand years, maybe. I can’t imagine back to the agricultural revolution so well. When because they started planting and saving grain, some people were enslaved, and some people were masters and had luxuries, and could do things like philosophy and art and study, and so there was a division among human beings. I can’t imagine that time, or why it happened, I just know that that’s the foundation of the society we live in now. This doesn’t excuse the individuals who pass on violence and trauma, but it might guide us in thinking how to create a different future – from our own traumatized bodies and minds.
Add to those two ancient traumas the Industrial Revolution, the discovery of oil, coal, and gas, the ability to take from the earth what took millions of years to put into it, to use it all up, to seem to control our environment. Those are our heritage and our trauma.
Why do I call the Industrial Revolution trauma? Well, I chose to live in the country. There are gravel pits a few miles away from me, and every now and then we gravel the driveway. Gravel pits are ugly, and they keep growing, and if I’m going to drive a vehicle out here I need to gravel the driveway and the road, so to be here I’m helping destroy the local earth. In the city you have paved roads – what’s the cost of that? There’s a cost to the earth, and there’s a cost to the human beings, that you live among pavement instead of waking up to the trees and the birds, and in a living thriving natural world.
When I think about the time that we’re in, which includes massive demonstrations, it includes people who come in and exploit those demonstrations for whatever purpose, it includes repression, and it includes some amazing responses. The Minneapolis City Council deciding to defund the police, and then they have to figure out what that means. There are very exciting things happening now, and there are very painful and scary things happening now. And those of us who did not know about this, because of technology, now we can know about it. Because of a cell phone camera, we know one, and we’ve learned to be suspicious about all the rest.
So we’re in a time of change, and whether that feels like more loss or more opportunity to hope, that is different with each person. There certainly are quite a few people who see it only as loss, who are shouting about their right not to wear a mask, who are waving guns. Some of us watch these people and we try not to celebrate when one of them dies from the virus. They are, after all, individuals with lives and families – they are more than just threats.
Anyway, we’re in a time of change. The Buddha didn’t talk about any of the external things happening in his world. Zen Master Dogen didn’t either. He was in a somewhat turbulent time, a time of change, and he said to his monks “don’t talk about politics.”
But he also said a lay person can be enlightened just as much as a monk can, there’s no difference. And he said “The entire world of the ten directions is nothing but the true human body.” The world we live in – not some other world, not the world of 1200, but the world we live in now. Including violence, including uprisings, including sharp words being said. THIS world is our true human body. We were made by it and we make it.
I remember a boy who came into my therapy office, twenty or thirty years ago now. It seems his father was physically abusing him, and saying terrible things to him – you know what that does to a child. So I got both parents into the office, and asked, and the father said “It was good enough for me.”
There is so much of just passing on what we know, with no imagination that things could be better.
Here in Buddhism, we have an imagination that things can be better internally. And we can improve our conduct once we recognize there are options. We don’t usually talk about the external world. I’m saying now, as that world creates us, and we create it, we have a responsibility.
So Dogen says “To study the way with body means to study the way with your own body. It is to study the way with your own body, using this lump of red flesh. The body comes forth from the study of the way; everything that comes forth from the study of the way is the true human body.”
And so here in the middle of whatever is happening in our world, still we study the Way, and we practice the Way.
I think what practicing the Way means – I’m struggling with this a great deal. We know that sitting zazen is practicing the Way. We know that practicing kind speech is practicing the way, and that practicing kind speech can be pretty difficult. We know that kind action is practicing the Way. There’s been so much kind action in these days. I’m thinking of people who came down to Powderhorn, down to Lake Street, and helped clean up. They came from elsewhere. I’m thinking about the people who set up medic stations, who found housing for homeless people, and then set up an encampment at Powderhorn Park.
People who organized food and people who organized medical help. And people who organized counseling help and then people were looking for something that will last because staying in tents at Powderhorn Park just doesn’t last. I’m thinking of people who took to policing their own neighborhood when the police didn’t come. There are so many ways to serve, so many ways to do Right Action, so many ways in this time. What I found myself doing was suddenly teaching classes online, which I’d never even thought of. Offering the Dharma is always a way of practice.
This time is calling for something to stop. At the violence by police and the violence by white supremacists and the uprisings, we can see that there’s a calling to stop white supremacy to stop racism, in all its forms, and classism, I think capitalism, but anyway, to stop the brutality in which the billionaires have received more government funds than all the people who actually needed the money.
It’s an upside down world and we’re living through it. Some of us might feel at risk in it. We might feel like it’s dangerous to act. Danielle Frazier, the young woman who took the video of George Floyd – apparently she’s received a lot of criticism because she didn’t go over there and interfere with the police. She’s seventeen years old, African American, a high school student, and she said back to them, “Are you kidding? I would have been killed.”
Apparently that’s what all the other people watching thought too, I would have been killed. Or they thought, well, you can trust the police. But, but that one act that she did, putting on her phone to record what happened, it changed the world. I doubt that she had that in mind. But because whatever made her film and keep filming, because we have that film of clear and obvious criminality. Because of her action, we are seeing the rising of the New World. We are seeing white people trying to join in what people of color knew all along. And for us to recognize, we don’t know what specific action will matter. But to stop, To recognize that our actions do matter. And the text says, I am the beneficiary of my deeds, my deeds are the ground on which I stand. I’m adding, my deeds create the world in which I live,. My deeds create the true human body.
So there’s something that’s changing, there’s something that’s being called on to stop and right now we don’t know what will come of it. I think we’re called to act with kindness and with courage.
I never criticize people who take up guns on behalf of liberation. I don’t think it’s a wise course, but it’s not my life, it’s their life. I am unable to see what they are seeing.
Our actions create our selves. Our actions create the world. And the actions of people around us also create each other. It’s a fundamental Buddhist teaching.
I want to remember three people who’ve been killed recently.
First is my friend who was executed on Friday. His name is Dustin Honkin. He’d been in federal prison for maybe 20 years. He was trying to avoid being imprisoned for making and selling methamphetamine, which he was doing because he wanted more money because he had desires which resulted in too many children who he was trying to support – a clear link of causation. And to avoid prison he and his girlfriend killed five people including two children. I was his spiritual advisor for a while, when I lived in Indiana. His last letter says some things that I want to read.
Many people in life don’t get to say goodbye to their loved ones, they are snatched from life in an instant. I’m fortunate for this, and have done my best to utilize this time to let everyone know how I feel, and that my life was worth living because of them. Tomorrow I will go with love in my heart, and with a peace of mind that I love many, and am loved by many.
Sure, there have been hard times, but life itself is hard, whether in here or out there. I have had a chance to study, to self-introspect, to learn about many things and most importantly come to understand myself…. It is true I didn’t have the life I wanted to have, but the life I have had IS a life, one with many blessings from many places that I wouldn’t have ever expected.
There was a time in this civilization when it was considered a good thing to have a long illness before you died, because it gave you time to get ready. Dustin had that. He was executed for something he actually did. He was uncomfortable. He was relatively safe, and he was able to use that time to change.
George Floyd was murdered by the police on May 25. He had been into sports in high school and college, he was a rapper. Some time in those early days he said to his family “I’m going to change the world.” I don’t know what happened, but he spent some time in jail and prison for various offenses, the worst of them being armed robbery – he never killed anyone. And he kind of got religion. In his forties he was all about doing good things, being kind ot people, mentoring youth, volunteering. He left Texas to work in Minnesota with people he already knew up here. He was living, as far as I know an honest and upright life, or anyway an ordinary life, until that incident in which he was killed by Derek Chauvin. If it hadn’t been filmed we wouldn’t know. He didn’t have years to contemplate his life, though he clearly did some contemplating. He didn’t have lawyers filing lawsuits for months and years to delay his death. There were people shouting, but none of them intervened. The other police didn’t intervene. The medics did not come to offer first aid while he was dying on the pavement. There was not a minister to offer comfort in his last moments.
Privilege. Lack of privilege. Being murdered on the street. No matter by whom, is the opposite of the benefits that Dustin had. And the responses to George Floyd have included, on the one hand, beautiful creative activities, creation of community, fabulous art work, writing, and people learning. White people learning about racism, starting to actually listen to the Black people telling them about it, actually believing they don’t know everything and they have something to learn. And on the other hand we have white supremacy becoming more open than it has been for at least fifty years, institutional racism more overt. We have the Federal government using protests and lies about left-wing violence as an excuse to institute a police state, while their own evidence shows without a doubt that it’s the right wing causing the violence including actual killings. https://theintercept.com/2020/07/15/george-floyd-protests-police-far-right-antifa/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=The+Intercept+Newsletter&fbclid=IwAR06mwXGMxvj_4gWKwvHVQtoeb7qwGfGnh5j-ezvptxfwhv3svrVD0auVDM
And then I want to mention the third person. His name is Domingo Choc. He was from Chimoy, Guatemala. He was in traditional healer, an expert in plant medicine and a practitioner of traditional Mayan religion.
“He was widely recognized for his contribution in the field of science and medicine and was a part of an international scientific research project on ancient Mayan medicines, He was working with the University of Zurich in Switzerland and the University College London in England, to document traditional Mayan knowledge of medicinal plants and herbal remedies.” reference
So he was killed for doing good. The people who killed them, they say, were fundamentalist Christians, both Evangelicals and Catholics, who said he was doing witchcraft. He was staying at a relatives. They came in the night, they pulled him out of the house, beat him all night, and set him on fire. He burned to death. And there were people who saw it and nobody came to rescue him. Probably because they would have been next. Fundamentalist Christians have been doing this kind of thing in Guatamala for decades. I happen to have read some things about the 1970’s – nothing so brutal, but I probably just missed it.
He had no minister, he had no medical help, he had no time to write beautiful statements. His whole life was a gift, it seems to me. And it seems like there’s an international outcry and some things might change, but any change that happens will be because of who he was, not because of brutality to a simple human being. Which is different from George Floyd, who was an ordinary guy with family and loved ones, murdered on the street.
A person like Domingo Choc, who was indigenous in the way that all of our ancestors once were indigenous, totally rooted in the earth, communicating with with plants – That’s dangerous to the machine. It’s dangerous. to what is ruling us now that pretends to be a democracy. He was more dangerous than the others, and he was punished more brutally. And the state didn’t even have to do it. Volunteers who thought they were Christian center thought he was a witch.
Let me go back to the Remembrances.
Growing old is ordinary. Getting sick is ordinary. Dying is ordinary. Everything changes. One of the things I think we can do in this time is accept that things change, and to use our actions to help those changes move in the direction of something more full of life. Joanna Macy talks about three levels of activism. One of them is stopping the machine, getting in its way, One of them is creating the new world, and one is just basic spiritual practice. To create the ground on which we can all stand. I think we need meditation more than ever in this time. Our sitting creates a ground that is less vulnerable to the violence, to the uncertainties – I don’t mean it’s physically less vulnerable. I mean that we create a field, we create the true human body as we allow it to create us. Our authentic response is called for. Our fear is part of that response. But this word from the Twelve Steps – they don’t say “we accept.”
This word from the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. They don’t say they accept. Buddhism talks about accepting what’s offered. But in the first step they say “I admitted that I was powerless over alcohol and my life had become unmanageable.”
I like that term admit because it’s being willing to know that things are the way they are. As my teacher says, to place your body on the ground of reality. Accepting can sound like not doing anything about it, just leaving it alone and minding my own business. But I think that to admit what’s happening, to support ourselves with zazen, to look for kind actions, to continue educating ourselves so that we can stop being the sources of trauma.
I ask you to join in the practice that is meeting the world that we’re in, in whatever way is your way.
Note: This is a talk I gave July 20, at Clouds in Water Zen Center, St. Paul, Minnesota. It’s edited only for accuracy and for references.
Today is Juneteenth, the anniversary of the freeing of the last slaves in the U.S. South. The Emancipation Proclamation was two and a half years earlier; the South fought on, and after Lee surrendered it still took two months for the news to reach Galveston, Texas. Black people have been celebrating this date ever since.
This year, in sobriety, respect, and hope, many are honoring this day regardless of color.
Sobriety: people who thought racism was in the distant past have been forced to see it alive and well. Despite having achieved perceived milestones in the war against racism like electing a Black president, we have seen the senseless killings of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and others in under a month’s time, plus hangings of six Black people between May 27 and June 18. And the absurd labeling of the hangings as suicides. And police brutality, finally visible to more than just its victims. Collectively,we are waking up from a dream that things were okay, a dream that Black, Indigenous, or any people of color were not able to join in. White people are looking into racism more deeply than before, probably more than since the early days of Reconstruction.
Respect for the conduct of so many people involved in the protests and memorials. While a few set fires or wave guns, thousands of people gather peacefully, and hundreds provide support services to protesters and to the people whose lives are changed by what’s happening.
And respect for the people from all parts of life, quietly making changes, studying, asking themselves what they can do differently, talking to their neighbors and family. I’m seeing a lot of serious work by people in the facebook “Whiteness and Anti-Racism Learning Group.” And elsewhere. Businesses calling the day off for study and reflection. Organizations dissociating themselves with racism. And respect for all the people who are making their best effort.
Hope: This is personal. I find hope in the creation of community in the midst of disaster, as people meet daily at Powderhorn Park throughout the crisis, as organizations provide food and basic needs, set up medic tents, share information, schedule community patrolling when the police are absent, create ceremony and art and beauty. I say, “This is who we are. We can do this.”
I find hope when the Parks Board declares that its parks are sanctuaries and refuges, open to those activities and to people made homeless one way or another.
Hope when City Council moves to deeply address problems of violence and racism in the department – and the media discuss how social services prevent crime. I find hope when support comes from unexpected places, from mayors taking down Confederate statues to businesses honoring Juneteenth to (seriously!) Popular Mechanics explaining how to safely topple a statue, Forbes running a series of articles against racism.
I find hope in the worldwide response, marches and protests against racism everywhere. I find hope in the media response, naming white supremacists and outside agitators, not immediately assuming they were all Antifa or anarchists.
A vision is forming, of a world in which every person’s dignity is respected, people are safe, and power comes more from people than from guns. It’s an old dream – but it’s shared in a new way, and that gives me hope. It won’t happen naturally; the backlash is visible and loud.
The dream of the Mountains and Waters Alliance names something beyond: “to heal the deep cause of the climate emergency in the rift between the dominant human culture and the whole of life on earth. Together with all beings, we protect and restore the living earth.” While the healing of racism wasn’t specifically named – and that was a mistake – it is inherent in our vision.
Acting with respect
Each of us finds our own way, specific to who we are and where we are. I’m doing these things:
I’m working to be anti-racist because I don’t think nonracism is a real thing. I follow the leadership of people of color. Rather than putting forth my own theories about what is happening, I’m listening closely to people who are actually from the neighborhood, and sharing their words when it seems appropriate. Rather than centering myself, I’m watching and listening while others lead.
May we be at peace. May we find joy in loving each other. May we respect each other’s freedom and dignity. May we find our home in the whole of humanity – and in all of life itself. May we be able to do what is needed, when the time comes. May we have freedom in our hearts.
It may be that 2019 will be remembered as the year climate disaster became real for ordinary people in the United States. Because the news media brought us Australia burning, in a way they have not brought Asia and Africa as they burn or drown or starve. Naturally, 2020 must then be the year we take action. On climate, but also on the fascism creeping around the globe. Will we?
These questions come from Derrick Jensen, fifteen years ago. I offer them to you.
I spent too much of my life thinking I was too small to make change, being afraid of what would happen if I stood up, and every now and then had a miserable failure. Then, just once, I followed the voice in my heart that said “do this.” In 2004 I led a public sitting outside of both political conventions (Boston and New York) and walked from one to another with a group of anarchists. It was hard. I was exhausted. And I learned what it was like to follow the inner calling instead of ignoring it.
The result was that later, when I had mental images of walking along the KXL route, I was able to do it. The preparation was miserable, the walk was wonderful, miserable, and often both at once. And I was alive, so alive that I barely knew how to cope when the walk ended.
Now I’m engaged in this great, unreasonable undertaking: to heal the consciousness of my civilized world, and to form a powerful alliance with beings that I used to think of as resources. I’ve wanted to give up so often – sometimes it’s only the Advisory Council that keeps me going – but here I am. And things are beginning to turn, just a bit. In books, poems, essays, organizations, I hear so many of my own thoughts and words. The wind is blowing us all, leaves on the wind.
Once you’ve tasted this way of life – embracing the largest most pressing problem – nothing else will satisfy.
I’m working on a book, and am setting aside as many other activities as I can. Hemera Foundation gave me a small grant to support study and teaching; I’ll use it for both. At the same time, opportunities to work with other humans are exploding: Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light in support of Honor the Earth and indigenous pipeline resistance; an informal group of Zen priests concerned about climate disaster; an online discussion group about “what to do about climate”, and more. Not alone. And you are there, too.
Here are 2020 events and plans, updated from the November listing. They’ll be on the website soon. March 21-22: Introduction to Zen. April 30-May 4: 5-day sesshin. June 25-30: 5-day sesshin at Hokyoji. July 24-26 land care retreat, September 24-29: 5-day sesshin. November 30-December 7: Rohatsu sesshin. Plus monthly potlucks (sign up for email reminders), a few work projects like maple sugaring and some plantings, and who knows? Visitors (one is planning now, others welcome), and the regular practice of morning zazen, outdoor time, and daily life. Local talks are also on the website.
In January I led two retreats in Atlanta, speaking about practicing with climate change, and the first talk is on the website now.
I invite you to donate to something that could matter a lot in the world of protecting land and water. Ken Ward, one of the “valve turners” – people who physically cut off the flow of oil on certain cross-border pipelines and then wait to be arrested – will be on trial February 10-14. He will be allowed to present the “necessity defense” – the defense of breaking a law because a greater good is being served. If you follow environmental legal affairs, you know that it’s exceptional to be able to present the necessity defense. It’s a great opportunity.
They need to raise another $8-10k to cover experts’ expenses, and other trial support. “Please add a note designating the donation for Ken Ward’s legal fund.” https://climatedefenseproject.org/donate/
And they are asking for supporters in the courtroom, February 10-14, 9-5 at Skagit County Superior Court, 205 W Kincaid St, Mount Vernon, Washington 98273 See the Facebook page.
Take a few minutes each day to settle into your body, enjoy your breath, offer patience to your faults and to your difficulties. Step outdoors and say hello to a tree, a bird, a raindrop, a stone – recognizing them as fellow beings. (It’s okay if you have to pretend to recognize them. Try it.) Let them say hello to you too. If you find yourself in conversation with them, follow it. Know that we are all in this together.
for Mountains and Waters Alliance
There’s a tricky thing about letting go of things. At the farm, mostly my attention is focused not on letting go but on things that are here that I don’t want – pocket gophers, Japanese beetles (new this year), buckthorn, black walnuts, quackgrass, honeysuckle…. As I write now, I remember that it’s really about losing things – losing orchard trees and potatoes, losing raspberries and tomatoes, losing flowers and the other native plants displaced by these… yet in my mind it still feels like having to accept that those others are here. And I’m working with it.
Looking at the black walnut trees everywhere, I’m starting to let go. I’d meant to confine them to their present one-acre territory and remove them elsewhere. There are too many; I would be in endless war; there must be a way to coexist. They are, after all, native, medicinal plants, high-quality food, and source of many other things used by humans. This year, I’ve started harvesting nuts and will actually follow through and eat them. Fall or spring, tapping for the sweet sap, alongside the regular tapping of box elder and maple. And tend them as lumber, to grow straight and tall. All this is looking for a way out of hate or victimization – the two modes I know the best. Is this exploitation or co-existence? And how, likewise, do we learn to have relationships with difficult people? Work with them somehow, negotiate, even team with them? I’ve had to do it before in communities and workplaces, when necessary. This with the walnuts and others is also necessary; can I find the heart to do it? (If I can work together with the walnuts, might I possibly work together with difficult humans? Suddenly the walnuts seem easy. I don’t ascribe intention to them.)
On the other side – things have changed, mostly for the better – or let me say, it’s mostly in ways that I like. The land care retreat, which felt like a new beginning at the time, seems to actually have begun some changes. People are coming for sesshin regularly. I had three weeks of house guests who practiced sincerely, worked mindfully and joyfully, and made sangha. “I could live this way,” I thought once near the middle of that time. And toward the end we began a practice of reading together, discussing, and then sitting until bedtime, which meets my needs for sangha in another way. Now I’m alone again, looking toward the weekend and the next sesshin.
We’re harvesting tomatoes, zucchini, herbs, raspberries, and the first walnuts. We planted several small sugar maple trees near the driveway, intending to make a grove for sugaring ten or twenty years in the future. There are more small maples to plant after removing the piles of firewood and weeds in that area. We could add the larger, faster maples that grow here like weeds and do produce some sap; I don’t know yet.
The nine trees I planted this spring – pear, apple, nut pine, and cherry – are all doing well, except one has lost its leaves already. The orchard is in neglect, and I hope to visit and prune while fall weather holds.
And yesterday we cleared an area near the back door, moving, burning, digging, making space for the firewood spaces that Chris is building against the barn. It’s like housecleaning – I can breathe more easily now.
Listening to a Public Radio show about melting ice in the Arctic, I note that more and more I’m hearing climate change in mainstream news. Now that it’s probably too late. I recommend this article: “What if we stopped pretending?” about the realities of climate change. What some of us are thinking about is how to act compassionately, ethically, and for the best possible outcomes, in a time when the bad news is so powerful and the forces destroying the planet are stronger and louder than ever. It feels like a war, and I haven’t figured out what to do except spiritual practice. I’m reading the book Why Civil Resistance Works (Chenoweth and Stephan), heavily researched, showing why nonviolent resistance is generally more successful than violent resistance, with no guarantees either way. Hopefully that will be helpful in some way.
I almost forgot to mention – The Global Climate Strike includes actions around the world. This is one of those “everybody show up” occasions. Look for what’s in your area and find a way to get yourself there.
This morning, instead of sitting in the new zendo, I went to the central altar and sat by the creek and bluff for a while. It was easy in this new-fall weather, yet that reminds me that it won’t be easy long. My practice now is to be present with what is, not dislike the coming cold.
My feeling about winter is perhaps something like my feeling about climate change – about losing the regular movement of the seasons, about possibly being hungry – and that is from my very privileged position in a location where there’s been little change. Here, I prepare for refugees, not for floods and wildfires. Yet our vulnerability is much more clear since last fall’s tornado. “Not to get rid of things, but to accept that they go away.”
I was talking yesterday with a Dharma brother, and the topic of medicine came up. Neither of us normally goes to doctors. But for him it’s a matter of accepting that life moves along, not trying to fight aging. I fight aging like mad, just not with conventional medicine. Listening to him humbles me. Equanimity makes life better. Is it just because I’ve committed to engage with the protection of the world around me, that I attach to my own body? Or is my engagement a reflection of my personal attachment? I’ll watch that question for a while, not expecting an easy answer.
September 14, workday – clearing tangled spaces, moving firewood to make room for sugar maples, and more, depending on weather and number of people. If weather keeps us indoors, we might make comfrey salve, crack walnuts, play with woodworking, or clean the masonry heater and build the first fire. It’s fine to come for part of the day or all, 9-5 total.
And see this page for the next few things. Below are the “special” ones.
October 26-27: Introduction to Zen retreat
November 24, Sunday morning talk at NBMC by Courtney Work, an anthropologist studying Buddhism in rural Cambodia. I can’t say enough how excited I am about this.
November 30-December 5, Rohatsu sesshin (Saturday 7 pm – Thursday 3 pm)
Thank you to donors. You know who you are. This month’s new donation supports transcription of my past talks, which will help me publish a book. All options are here, including the way to support us for free.
It is only by consistently re-grounding ourselves to the Earth, silently in order to listen, that we can allow the grief of these times to wash through us. And then, may we be clear-eyed and able to act with the conviction required by these times. Dahr Jamail, July 2019
In early August, fourteen of us came together to practice with the land, listening to the earth and caring for it, sitting zazen in the new zendo and walking meditation outdoors, working and laughing together. It felt like a new beginning.
Although the point of the work times was to engage with the land, not to accomplish things, things were accomplished.
One of the work groups was asked to make a trail through the woods; last fall’s tornado damage has made it very difficult to walk in the woods, and I’ve been feeling more and more need to reconnect. When I came down the path they’d made, I found myself face to face with the most beautiful part of the bluff at the large creek. I caught my breath. Looked at the faces in the rock cliff, one face and another and another and a whole mass of beings like an audience down below. Felt the space. Stayed for a while, and promised myself to come back every day. To listen, to honor, to be made whole again. It’s nearly at the center of the land we “own.” That feels good to me. There was an altar in each direction: north, east, south, west at the river. Most of these are inaccessible since last September’s tornado took down so many trees. But now I can walk to the central altar and be connected – feel the connection that is always there, actually.
I asked the place for permission to post a photo, but there was no yes. So no picture, I just invite you to come, to make your offering here at this altar, to receive its blessing, to meet directly.
Meanwhile, the work of the summer has been making the zendo, the meditation hall as the heart of the house. And some work with gardens and outdoors, mostly maintenance, but tomatoes are starting to ripen and the zucchinis are already feeding us. Gifts from Eileen, from Karen, Beth, Jaime, Iris and Hosshin and Hoko and so many other volunteers, guests, sincere practitioners. And the steady work of Damien, weeding, mowing, hauling, whatever is needed for several hours a week, helping the land be in better shape than it has for a while.
It feels like things are coming together, after five years here. People are coming more; the house is a workable space for retreats; the beauty of the land is coming forth. The potlucks offer steady space for listening and deepening, the three-hour sits, the workdays, and the weekend sesshins – things are settling. It’s fortunate, because just at this time the emergency in the world is becoming clearer.
Observing the World:
The emergency in the world – I see that I wrote about this last month. Happy not to say more, except to remind you that this is that state recommended for practice: “Practice as if your head is on fire.”
Meanwhile, I’m happy to see so much waking up, so many people learning to follow the lead of indigenous people, so many following spiritual paths.
And here’s a thought: Sometimes you hear of a people who have a ritual that must be done for the world to continue. For instance, “I have to offer this prayer in the morning for the sun to come up.” Colonized mind thinks it’s silly. Very few are doing those rituals any more; colonialism has decimated native religions even worse than native peoples. What if those peoples were right? What if what would save us is not science but prayers and rituals for the earth, for earth spirits? Not proposing that we abandon other actions, but that we look deeply at the nature of our relationship with all beings.
That’s where I’m putting my time, because even though my imagination can’t go there, I’m certain that we need to go beyond the rational mind. What matters is to come home to our family, of the whole earth including humans. That’s more important than survival.
The question is always: What is needed? What can this person and this group offer that will be beneficial to the whole, including every individual. So there will be an “Introduction to Zen” workshop and retreat in October, because people have been asking.
I’d also like to invite you to listen to one of my Dharma talks, where I look more deeply into the matters I discuss here. Two of the talks posted on the website are based on Dogen’s “Body and Mind Study of the Way”: “The whole world is nothing but the true human body” and “A single hand held out freely.” Each is a bit under an hour. On the same page are two very short clips, one on walking meditation and one on work.
I look forward to posting a talk by my teacher, Shohaku Okumura, at the Land Care Retreat, and a talk by Beth Goldring at Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center.
August/September and upcoming events (more detail in August 13 posting):
Thank you to donors. You know who you are. Another person has added an automated monthly donation to MWA. This is easy for you and of enormous benefit to us, allowing a bit of planning and less hunting for money. A few people are also signed up with iGive.com, which creates donations of significant percentages with online shopping – automated if you put a button on your website. All options are here.
Blessings and Love to you all,
One: This is an odd thing: I listened to the Democratic primary debates, in spite of my better judgment. Twenty imperfect but passionate people spoke, and I thought most of them were more alike than different. A week later, it struck me: twenty people are touring around the United States, giving talks to whoever will listen, speaking on behalf of kindness, peace, fairness, and so forth – proposing a return to basic decency. When one says something brilliant (for instance, Julian Castro on decriminalizing undocumented immigration), others pick it up.
This is not a competition. This is a team. They are speaking against greed, racism, sexism, and environmental stupidity, and for returning to being decent ordinary human beings again. I almost don’t care whether any particular one is sincere. The voices are out there, and they are speaking truth – most of them – in varying degrees. This is abundance. (May the few corporate or militaristic shills among them drop out soon.) This is the most positive I’ve felt about elections in a long time.
Two: Looking for a talk to share with the potluck group next week, I noticed that I was considering three men. And more than half of the past talks have been by men. I have been complicit in putting men’s voices first. And yet the mind was blank when wondering about talks by women. So I asked the community – in the form of a facebook page called Permaculture Women.
The responses flooded in. I was reminded of women teachers I’d forgotten: Ursula LeGuin, Starhawk, Terry Tempest Williams, Winona LaDuke…. And women I’d never heard of, and beautiful talks. Now I have a whole page of names, and I want to schedule listening groups every week instead of every month. I’ve started looking them up, listening to talks, being inspired. I want to share them all right now. Some day, they’ll be on that website resource page.
I haven’t been writing much. There’s a kind of leisure that I haven’t had, that allows the mental noise to settle and something else to come forth. When I find it again, it will be to join the chorus of beautiful, creative, brave voices that’s already there – not to say the desperately needed thing that nobody else knows.
This is abundance. Hundreds of voices are speaking. They are saying beautiful, incredible things. They are confronting fascism (with bodies as well as with words), they are speaking the beautiful truth of the world, they are inspiring, healing, creating a vision of the community we could become. In our work, in our alliance with the mountains and waters and myriad beings, we are in the company of thousands. The thought that I should be the first to speak – that comes from loneliness, from broken community, from personal woundedness and from hubris – may it heal.
Three: And then there are the others. The central point of Mountains and Waters Alliance is becoming allies to those who are not human – trees, flowers, insects, birds, animals, rocks and bluffs and creeks and rain – listening to them, learning from them, protecting them, and asking and accepting their support and wisdom. I promise to take the time for this as well. And here too, other humans are already doing this work, have been doing it for decades, centuries, the whole of human existence – and they’ve been writing about it in English for many decades as well. We join a beautiful community.
There are still a few spots left for this retreat. It includes formal and informal Zen practice, meeting the love of all sentient beings in physical expression, walking with and working with the land.
There will be a Saturday evening talk by the respected teacher Shohaku Okumura-roshi. If you’re interested in just coming to that talk, email me. I’ll get back to you when I know how many spaces we have for the talk.
If you are not familiar with Zen practice and want some basic background before coming to the Land Care Retreat, we’ll set something up. Email Shodo if interested, and we will arrange a 2-3 hour time in early August. No charge.
July 20 Saturday work day – we could really use your help, preparing for the Land Care Retreat (tent spots, trails, and whatever’s needed indoors as we get ready to move the zendo into the cool place. 9-5, or 1-5 if you want a half day. Lunch at noon, watermelon for afternoon break. And it’s fine to come for just a couple hours. It helps to know that you’re coming.
July 21 2-5 pm, three-hour sit. Third Sunday.
July 21 5:30-8:30, potluck and discussion. Third Sunday.
July 26-28, weekend sesshin. Last weekend each month, except November/December.
August 9-11, Land Care Retreat. (See above)
August 17, Saturday work day.
August 18, 3-hour sit and potluck
August 23-25, weekend sesshin.
Looking ahead – women’s retreat in Indiana, October 11-13.
July 20, August 17, September 14, October 19, November 16, and maybe December 14. More information at Visitor Information. We really have fun, and it really helps.
Thank you to donors. You know who you are. I’d like to also solicit donations for Sanshinji, which is sending four people here to support the Land Care Retreat, at its own expense. Here.
The vegetable garden is doing well, because of summer guest Eileen Jones (was here for about three weeks, gardening every day) and local worker Damien Williams. We have many potatoes, small tomato plants, and beans, squash, and more. Strawberries are ending and raspberries beginning. The new fruit trees are all alive. And, wonder of wonders, the lawn is mowed!
I’ve started saying “this is what societal collapse looks like” and hearing the same from many directions. A president who is a laughingstock around the world; random official killings of people for various reasons or none, though apparently based on skin color, religion, immigration status, or simply being inconvenient for the corporate state.
There are bits of hope. A court has said no to putting a citizenship question on the census, and the president backed down (sort of) – still thinks he can get the data. Once, creating Social Security, this nation refused to create a national ID card – they were aware then. Now, I won’t be surprised if they soon put religious and ethnic information on our driver’s licenses – check out The Handmaid’s Tale for what comes next. Another court has declared the imprisonment and neglect (and abuse) of immigrant children illegal. Here and there, courts do what they’re supposed to do – limit abuses by the other branches. Some Congress members are speaking up and even taking action on the horrors of the day. And listening to the Democratic primary debates, I suddenly had the imagine of a team, working together with powerful voice, to educate the public, to put forth a vision – because their words are (mostly) beautiful. What if they came to think of themselves as a team, to actually lead away from the corporate state and into something better?
Yet, as someone said, “If you’ve ever wondered what you would have done in Nazi Germany, look at what you’re doing now.” To count on the courts, or on Congress, or on a future president over a year from now, is to abdicate, to choose victimhood over citizenship. I say that to myself as much as to anyone else.
We don’t know how soon actual hunger will come to us right here in the United States. I mean middle-class white people, of course – there are plenty of hungry or malnourished children already, look around. I remember 2008 and the very long lines at the food shelf. That was economic; this year there will be less actual food (and less ethanol for gasoline, so higher travel costs). Though still at the top of the privilege heap, the U.S. joins the world in food insecurity.
Sometimes people don’t like me to talk about this stuff. It’s uncomfortable. Not as uncomfortable as being imprisoned or shot – as is already happening to some people. This is about life, not comfort.
What to say? Plant food, of course. Organize, of course. And this other thing: learn to talk with the food, food plants you grow and those you eat, try to find out about a different kind of relationship with the world of plants and animals that sustain us. The easiest introduction to this would be Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael; the most beautiful – there are so many!
Forget guilt. Ask forgiveness if you need, then act, and let the world of living beings support you as you act.
Blessings and Love to you all,
what do you love?
Not as an abstraction or an ideal
What do you love enough to take action to defend it?
it is under immediate threat
by taking action to defend it, nurture it, grow it
you grow into the person you were meant to be
anger tempered by love becomes purpose
fear tempered by love becomes resolve
why are you here
from the poem “Why are you here?” by Andy Mahler
Forgive my silence. It’s been a time of changes, and writing just didn’t work. Finally, I’m healing from the compulsion to do everything.
Last year my focus was on getting professional work with a stable income. That’s done. I now work 2 days a week in Northfield, in private practice as a psychotherapist, and have enough to invest a little money in the farm. Last year I took a 5-week pilgrimage to sacred spaces and inspiring Buddhist community. This year I’m staying home on the land, this land, caring for it and letting it nourish me. I’m also upgrading the buildings to be more welcoming for retreats and guests, and the hypothetical future residents. Peter Bane, my permaculture teacher, came to do a day-long consult, made a host of recommendations, and left me with a surge of creative energy. The energy is fading a bit, but the vision inspires and I’m taking slow steps. And that workday when four people with a wood splitter put up enough firewood for next year in a shed built by a hired carpenter. 8 hours of heavy work, I was sore for a bit, but happy to have a working body again. Planting small trees now.
And there’s a magic happening at the potlucks, twice now. I don’t even know what made it happen, only remember Jenny asking why I called everybody here, and a series of deep questions from a whole bunch of different people.
I have little to say, it’s too depressing. The likelihood of war with Iran, the increase in authoritarian rulers around the world (including the United States), and a series of increasingly oppressive state laws (Georgia on abortion, South Dakota on criminalizing protest). Yet there is also the growing edge of life, I can’t describe, and the strength of resistance to the death culture.
Climate change is now so obvious it’s mentioned in mainstream news. That’s a fairly random example, I see new ones every day.
And people keep writing wonderful books. The one I want to mention now is not new, though. Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell, describes the way ordinary human beings help each other in catastrophe, when not prevented. And a very old movie about nuclear disaster: Threads. Found in several libraries, lead author Barry Hines, originally from the 1970’s. If you’re not adequately worried, take a look and get really scared about how bad things could be. How important it is to take action – whatever that action might be.
What might I recommend?
Always, sitting meditation. Always, get outdoors, walk on the earth, under trees if you can, listen to birds or water or whatever is available.
And then – I just listened to an 80-minute video of Derrick Jensen, maybe 11-12 years ago, discussing the state of civilization and so forth. It was motivating. Also, he was funny. He does use a lot of bad language.
Work days at the farm (a way to support us, while learning, good times, and good food):
We’re getting by, covering the minimal expenses, and I’m committed to support the Alliance financially as long as necessary. Several of you did sign up for the iGive automatic donation thing, thank you. If a few more people would commit $5/month – or $10/year – we’d be able to do more. If that’s you, look here.
Volunteers are also great. At the farm, or maybe internet help. Email me.
There’s a thing about dancing: it’s an act of life, it expresses being alive in body as well as in heart, and it’s a way of connecting with the world around us. For about ten years of my life, I lived to dance. Then, I went down to the Women’s Coffeehouse whenever they were open and danced until they closed, danced with my full body and attention, through exhaustion and beyond – and it gave me life.
Last weekend I was at a dance sesshin, sponsored by Clouds in Water Zen Center and by Don’t You Feel It Too? And was reminded of that matter of bringing our aliveness and joy into every situation. And I was reminded of Malvina Reynolds’ 1966 song “God Bless the Grass.”.
Dance gives life. Malvina writes about life here. In hard times, when we think society might collapse, when we see fascism in every news item, the most important action is to be alive, to love each other and every thing and every one, to be passionate and fully present – and so we have Dancing at the Gates, the expression of love and spirit that has no specifics yet. The details will evolve.
God bless the grass that grows thru the crack.
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru,
And God bless the grass.
God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
They roll the lies over it and think that it is done.
It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
And after a while it is growing everywhere,
And God bless the grass.
God bless the grass that grows through cement.
It’s green and it’s tender and it’s easily bent.
But after a while it lifts up its head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead,
And God bless the grass.
God bless the grass that’s gentle and low,
Its roots they are deep and its will is to grow.
And God bless the truth, the friend of the poor,
And the wild grass growing at the poor man’s door,
And God bless the grass.
I have not much to say today about the world. Julian Assange has been arrested and might be extradited; my friends are of different opinions about him; I’m of the opinion that freedom of the press is more important than specifics of personality or judgment. We have big snow storms here, and across the Midwest, for the second April in a row. I wonder whether this will be the new normal – and how to manage growing food. It has been pointed out that societal collapse has happened everywhere that European civilization met indigenous cultures, and it is going on now not just in Venezuela but everywhere, with the U.S. as a prime example. Most of us are waiting for it to get to us.
I recommend the book by Phyllis Cole-Dai, Beneath the Same Stars: a novel of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War. Deeply researched, it’s an exploration of what it might have been like for one white woman in that time and place, and includes lots of cultural information as well.
While I’m here, let me also recommend another well-researched fictional series, The Irish Century by Morgan Llywelyn, which begins with the novel 1916 and ends with 1999.
And for lived study/action, please look into dance.
Work days at the farm (please register, it really helps):
This is a space for news and events from groups we’re working with or just things we’d like you to know.
Million Hazelnut Campaign: They are part of the movement to physically interfere with collapse (climate, food, and other) by planting hazelnut trees – which then become the ideal setting for chickens to live, along with a group of other plants and animals. They are asking people to donate $7 to support a single hazelnut tree, to be planted at a farm where they will take care of it. Using this link generates $1 for MWA (us) for each donation – and the trees get planted.
OneEarthSangha: They have been doing webinars about climate emergency from a Buddhist perspective for some years now. The next one is at 11 am Central Time, May 18, the festival of Wesak, and can be found here:
Souland: I just discovered this group in Totnes, England. They seem to be doing beautiful things.
There’s a way to support MWA for almost free. Instead of Amazon Smile, you can use iGive to shop at many online stores with a percentage going to us. Right now, they’re adding $3 just for signing up by May 10 and making a single purchase by May 25. The easiest way is to install their button on your computer; when you shop at an included store the discount will happen automatically with no bother.
And thank you to all who are making a monthly or annual donation – it really helps. What if 20 people gave us $5 a month? It would be incredible! Do that here.