- The Farm
- The Alliance
About two days ago, a shooting war began between Russia and Ukraine. Everyone knows who is right and wrong, except me. People have sent essays and speeches, and I can add a few bits of information or links. Here is just one source of many: a talk by Vladimir Pozner. There are some common themes in these alternative voices: that Western powers promised that NATO wouldn’t expand eastward, and then it did; that Putin once wanted to join NATO and was turned down. I do not support Putin or the invasion, but the media has gotten into that cheerleading mode that I cannot join.
War is never good. Claims of innocence are always suspect, though innocence does exist in the world. What to do? Praying for peace is always a good thing; meditating for justice is also safe. That’s all I’m going to say. You’re invited to add a comment with your favorite information source.
Meanwhile, life goes on here, far from the war. It’s a little disconcerting, being aware that all our lives are in the balance and not quite sure what to do. But really, not so different from dealing with global warming, or violent racism, or most things: what can we do? Joanna Macy describes three kinds of action: holding actions, building the new future, and spiritual work. I’m mostly involved in the latter two, living in a present and working for a future spiritually based and connected with all of life.
It would be great if people who are doing things add a link or a short comment – especially about these very immediate events including the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
A local reporter came to do a story, and did this beautiful and wise description of what we’re doing here:
There seems to be a paywall. They told me people could generally access the article once or twice before the paywall came up, but some people are having difficulty. I am trying to arrange access.
In response to this welcome, I will offer some introductory afternoons later this year, summer or fall.
Spring 2022 Events:
We expect to have construction in April, dates unknown, and there will be a chance for volunteers to help – especially with moving furniture, possibly with painting and other work.
Last, I want to leave you with this poem by Wendell Berry. It’s from 1977; I can’t say it’s still true 45 years later. I still offer it.
Sending blessings to you. Inviting you to pray for peace, love, and joy, for justice and freedom. Inviting you to stop by the nearest old tree, or meadow, or creek, to greet them warmly, bring an offering of any kind (a song? A cookie?) and speak to them the same prayers, share with them, consider them as friends and allies.
The IPCC climate report triggered a lot of thoughts about how to get to action.
Given the scale of the problem – climate change is being driven by enormous corporate, military, and government offenses, while our personal consumption has very little effect – why bother changing your own life?
This is why: so you can be ready to live without the destructiveness of fossil fuels and much more.
That’s enough examples. If our lives depend directly on use of fossil fuels, lithium mining, or the like, nearly all of us will protect our lives first. And our children’s immediate lives, even if we are sacrificing their futures to do it. We need to get off that dependence – every one of us – or we will not be free to interfere with the system that is plunging us into climate disaster.
That’s about it on personal lifestyle – and it’s a lot to do. Every single person who claims to be worried about climate change needs to get rid of this dependence, or they will be an enemy at crucial moments.
There is more.
Roger Hallam, a founder of Extinction Rebellion, gave an in-your-face talk about what it takes to make change. First, effective strategy involves material disruption of the machine – political or industrial machine, that is. Protests and marches raise energy, feel good, help with networking – but they don’t interrupt the machine. Interrupting the machine actually does interrupt the machine. Like that well-known tactic of the strike. Like the Valve Turners who safely shut down the pipelines bringing Canadian oil into the U.S. Like every person who has ever blocked a road or locked themselves to a drilling rig.
When you begin resisting, the authorities call you ridiculous, terrorists, and your demands unthinkable. If you’re effective, they arrest you. At some point, they quietly begin negotiations.
Hallam suggests that 500 people in jail or 3000 arrests is what it would take (for the UK); he gave historical examples including the US Civil Rights Movement. He points out the difference between a protest and actual disruption: it’s disruption that works.
Right now in Minnesota at Line 3 (StopLine3.org) people are showing up, disrupting the drilling of the pipeline under the rivers. They’re also filing court actions, publicizing the leaks, pointing out the disastrous social consequences of man camps, pointing out the many ways the drilling is illegal, petitioning any public official who has clout, pressuring the banks that fund these projects and the insurance companies that protect them – materially interfering with the pipeline construction in every possible way.
People specialize in things they can do. Some people physically block the machinery, which gets them arrested and often abused. For each such person there are five or six support people. Some people write letters or phone their legislators.Some send money, or raise money. And everything you can imagine in between. Look at your options – and get ready to live without fossil fuel. Stop thinking electric cars will save our way of life: they won’t.
If we’re going to stop fossil fuels, we have to want to actually stop them. That means some of us have to be doing the other work, securing food, transportation, health care, education, community, shelter, and safety for after we succeed.
Hallam observes that, just like in military strategy, it works to focus on one target at a time, and be overwhelming there. Line 3 is happening now, the team is strong, and although Minnesota’s official actions are closer to its worst stereotypes than its best, it’s far from the worst place to be in jail. (Maybe it’s not possible, maybe we are strong enough to overwhelm them in multiple places at once – the point is to think strategically and work together.)
Finally, Hallam says there are practically no excuses for not getting out there.
I’ll say, about this other work, that the only people excused are the ones at the front lines or those working 80 hours a week (yes, they do that) on legal, lobbying, fundraising, and the like. The rest of us – well, do we want to be allies of the earth or allies of fossil fuels? Let’s get to work on that sustainable infrastructure called food, shelter, transportation, health care. And community.
This is an update on the events calendar I sent out last month. It seems like a good idea to be more careful with the unknowns on the new Covid variants. The uncertainty of life is requiring us to pay attention.
When you register for any event, please let me know whether you are vaccinated, which seems to give considerable protection. Also let me know if you are especially vulnerable or live with vulnerable people. We did this safely twice last year, before vaccines, adjusting precautions as we went.
specifically designed as a space to care for ourselves and each other around the challenges in today’s world. We will resume in September. Email me if you’re considering joining. We’ve been meeting Sunday evenings. Details here.
Mondays, 6 am Central Time, details here.
11-5, lunch and snacks offered. We have garden projects and building projects. I have been out of state (returned August 3), so consider what feels safe to you. Probably entirely outdoors. Details here.
Combines sitting meditation with outdoor work as sacred ceremony. Garden, land care, and possibly some building. Free to past volunteers. Please register – we’ll go ahead if there are three registrations by the 15th. Details and registration here.
(Thursday night to Tuesday afternoon): Sitting silently together, in the zendo or outdoors. Probably cancelled, but let me know if you plan to come. We may just wait for December. Registration required; fee or work exchange. Details and registration here.
We have raspberries to prune and move, rhubarb to divide and plant, possibly hazelnut bushes, strawberries, and who knows what else.
All the workdays are Saturday but could be extended on request. All come with a great lunch, free camping and so forth for those who stay extra – and probably veggies or plants if you would like some to take home.
This will definitely happen, but possibly online.
Seven days of silent meditation, honoring the enlightenment of Dogen (founder of Soto Zen). A very quiet kind of adventure. Requires registration plus fee or work exchange. If you have not done sesshin here, we’ll need to talk first.
The construction, the protests, and the arrests continue at Line 3 in northern Minnesota. A central information source is http://stopline3.org. They are asking people to come now, but there’s plenty of other support to offer, especially contacting your legislators, the governor, and the President.
I don’t need to tell you about wildfires, floods, heat waves, disasters, and deaths continuing. We live in difficult times. Please take heart. (Note The Gift of Fearlessness group as a space to hold this .)
Over 2000 people gathered in northern Minnesota June 5-8 to protect land, water, and treaty rights against Enbridge Energy’s Line 3. Over 200 of us were arrested in the process, and hundreds stayed at Camp Fire Light, at the place where Enbridge plans to drill under the Mississippi River near its very beginning. Now the center of action is at Red Lake Treaty Camp, where drilling seems imminent.
The most important thing I have to offer here is comments on the importance of treaty rights, a paradigm-changing teaching from attorneys Frank Bibeau and Joe Plumer. I’ll follow that with a brief outline from the Treaty People Gathering, action steps, a personal report from a friend who risked arrest, and a million links if you want to go farther. For background information, you can read the first two paragraphs on each of these: https://www.stopline3.org/issues/ and https://www.stopline3.org/chronicles
It’s important to understand treaty rights and what they mean. The bold comments are direct statements from Frank and Joe in the Sunday morning training.
We have to understand current events in terms of the treaties.
They said it so clearly that I finally understood.
Those treaties were made between the ancestors of indigenous people and the ancestors of the white people.
Even though my personal ancestors arrived much later, I too am a treaty person.
We are all governed by the many treaties made on this land, by our mutual ancestors. This is a shared history, white and indigenous, and it binds us together.
The whites did not understand the indigenous relationship with the land. They assumed that tribes owned land, and could sign it over.
Right off this tells you something was wrong with them. Owning land? Well, they also thought they could own people. Now they pretend not to own people, and they are very confused when we talk about land as a being with its own rights, its own existence, as everyone used to know.
Whites also did not seem to understand the meaning of a treaty. In a treaty, the two parties are separate and remain separate. Neither acquires the right to dominate the other. Another problem is the white understanding that the only thing reliable is what’s on paper, even though they were making agreements with people who had no history of writing and sometimes did not speak English. One such treaty is expressed in a wampum belt, showing two bands extending side by side, never crossing over, separate and equal. This is how treaties are.
For many decades, whites didn’t even honor their own version of the treaties, reneging on promises such as food and supplies, leading to disputes such as the Dakota War of 1862. The current dis-honoring involves the right to hunt, fish, and gather – what good are those rights if the waters are poisoned, the fish dead, the forests paved? No tribe agreed to have its lands destroyed.
Treaties are the supreme law of the land, above the Constitution. They cannot be changed without agreement of both parties.
If a bully can make an agreement and ignore it, there is no international law, no community of respect, and no protection against the force of the strongest weapon in the hands of the most brutal invader. Respecting treaties is essential.
For those who want to go deeper, this link has a detailed discussion of treaties in the Great Lakes area, rights, history, and common misunderstandings: http://glifwc.org/publications/pdf/2018TreatyRights.pdf
As I listen to the attorneys talk about treaty rights, I sense something going on that I can’t quite name. It feels like being on the edge of a cliff, needing just a slight push to go over. After – the right to mine, drill, and destroy ends, and the power of bullies gives way to the power of relationship. Human communities and inter-species communities are able to make our way.
Frank Bibeau says, “Every time Line 3 gets closer to happening, it pushes our treaty rights closer to the front, and now we’ve gotten to that place with the litigation starting with the Corps of Engineers.” (https://grist.org/food/line-3-pipeline-protests-enbridge-wild-rice-treaty-rights/ )
The matter of indigenous people being arrested for trespassing – on land that was stolen from their ancestors historically, that is supposed to be public land, and that was turned over to a private corporation with only token concern for the damage they will do – it shows how everything is wrong-side-up. The matter of using helicopter and sonic booms (can cause permanent physical and mental damage)
We stand at a turning point in history. And the whole world is watching. (The international press was visibly present.)
And now some stories from that weekend and after.
Most of us arrived Saturday, either at the main camp or the MNIPL camp (Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light). The main camp had a welcoming ceremony Saturday afternoon, while at the MNIPL camp a dozen people were making signs and others helped us all find our cabins or tent spots. After a Gandhi Mahal dinner we (MNIPL) gathered on the beach for talks, prayer circle, and an end-the-Sabbath ceremony.
Sunday was a long day of training at the main camp – and was hot, dry, and more hot.
We were divided into three groups: red, yellow, and green. Red meant you planned to get arrested. Yellow meant willing to be arrested. Green meant staying as safe as possible, understanding there are no guarantees. After the morning speakers, each group received its own training.
Very early on Monday, about half of us went to the pumping station. That’s described in Ann’s report below. MNIPL hosted a prayer circle at a different location, then most of us went on to the bridge – the main action spot, a road crossing of the tiny Mississippi. The red group headed for the planned pipeline crossing (near Mississipi headwaters) and stayed there. The yellow group chalked on the bridge: “President Biden, Honor the Treaties, Stop Line 3.” The green group marched, chanted, listened to speakers, chanted some more, and waited for news. It was hot. Teams brought water and snacks.
Mid-afternoon the leaders announced that we had no arrests here, and that work was stopped at the pumping station for a whole day. The red group began building Camp Fire Light. The rest of us dispersed – many to take a dip in the Mississippi Headwaters at Lake Itasca. Back at camp, we relaxed, recovered, heard of the first hundred arrests, and eventually had a closing circle. Night brought the gift of a cooling thunderstorm.
From Monday to Monday was a long ceremony at Camp Fire Light. Then, Sheriff Darin Halverson came to carry out Enbridge’s eviction notice. After peaceful negotiations, the protestors left as a procession with drums and singing. Here’s a writing about that from Tuesday night:
from Neo Gabo Benais: “The right to have ceremony under the treaties protection was honored by a county sheriff… The Northern lights task force [coordinated police response to protests]… was quick to mobilize and try to take over the easement but the sheriff held them off for 3 days. …the sheriff honored our treaties and let us have ceremony and leave in peace with zero arrests…. we ended up with 50 people choosing citations to fight for our treaties as we demand to be seen in federal court. Now that’s how you fight the black snake, together. Everyone left this action energized and not traumatized. Everyone is waiting for the next one. Howah!!!! Miigwech!!!”
Also Monday, June 15, a court decided in favor of Enbridge continuing to build. The dissent from Judge Reyes was priceless:
‘This case is about substitution. Substituting supply for demand. Substituting ‘shippers’ for ‘refineries.’ Substituting ‘pipeline capacity’ for ‘crude oil.’ Substituting conclusory, unsupported demand assumptions for reviewable ‘long-range energy demand forecasts.’ And substituting an agency’s will for its judgment.’
I’ll end this with a first-person account from the action at the pumping station. Ann Schulman writes about her own experience.
Dozens of people had been in the field all morning, dragging logs, dead trees, and rocks, onto the road and digging ditches. About eight of us, mostly Seniors, were sitting on a slab of concrete thirty yards away and drinking water in the shade of some metal structure. It was hot, over 90 degrees and none of us were inclined towards heavy lifting.
A helicopter, somebody said that it was ICE (probably so), had been flying over the area for a while and kicking up a lot of dust. After a time, people had trickled away from the field. Not everyone. Three people (that I could see) were still in it when the helicopter began a vertical decent directly onto their heads. I panicked. Didn’t the pilot see that there were people underneath him? How could he be landing? It wasn’t an empty field! I stood up and saw two figures run off to the right, somebody said that it was a woman and a girl. But a male figure disappeared in a cloud of dust beneath the helicopter. Where was he? I fought the sand and dirt blowing into my face to keep my eyes on the disappeared person. After three or four brutal seconds, a running figure darted from the haze with a helicopter a body length from the top of his head.
As I watched this person run, I remembered an image from the movie The Fog of War. Only this wasn’t a war, or a war zone. It was a peaceful protest with over a thousand civilians at the Enbridge pump house site.
My friends shook their heads in disgust. They had had enough. Machines flying into human beings, who are protecting the water through peaceful protest was way more than they wanted to see. I was too frozen inside from what had happened to notice that it was time for me to go too. My eyes had become irritated and swollen and had begun to water. And water. And water.
The next day my friends drove my car the four hours back to St. Paul, while I scheduled an emergency appointment. The closest eye clinic that could see me on such short notice was another forty-five minutes away.
The doctor asked how the dust and sand had blown into my face. I said, “It was a helicopter.” She stared for a second, not quite comprehending. “You got too close to a helicopter?” she asked. “No,” I answered. “A helicopter got too close to me. “ I added. “It was a Line 3 protest.”
She remained silent, turned her back, and typed into the computer.
Maybe she knew how dirty tar sands are. Maybe she understood about Tribal Sovereignty and genocide and wild rice, maybe she knew that the modified pipeline would cross under the headlands of the Mississippi twice, under twenty two rivers, and over two hundred bodies of water on indigenous land before arriving on the shore of Lake Superior. Probably she understood that spills happen regularly from these pipelines and the Great Lakes and world might not recover. Maybe the silence that I found deafening was actually compliance with a clinic rule about not getting involved?
“Its irritation, not abrasion,” she said after the exam. “Use water drops four times a day.”
Water. Healing. Helicopters.
Water is Life.
I wanted to post spring flowers and updates on the garden. But too much is happening here.
I was following the processes at Line 3, the not-yet-approved pipeline that is being built rapidly anyway, to take tar sands oil through Minnesota to a Wisconsin refinery for export. Indigenous-led resistance is meeting harsh police action, paid for by Enbridge. (It’s like a cash cow for the local police.) If you want to make one phone call, or do more, here’s the link for information. (The simplest action is a call to President Biden)
And I hosted some activists for a couple of weeks after their arrests, while they quarantined for the Covid that eventually two of them had. They were ultra-cautious about contagion, extremely respectful, volunteered some labor. I learned just a little about how much work it is to be arrested, and the lives of those who make it their primary calling. Sonja Birthisel, Johnny Sanchez (taking the photo), Leif Taranta, Cody Pajic, Julie Macuga, Darius Jordan (not in picture).
Remember George Floyd, killed May 25, 2020? The next day’s peaceful memorial march was met by police brutality (and right-wing violence) and a worldwide summer of protests followed, including a lot of property damage and continuing police brutality. Next week the jury on the Derek Chauvin trial (he killed George Floyd, in Minneapolis) will receive final instructions and produce a verdict. Officials prepared for the trial and protests by erecting barricades and calling in extra forces.
It never stops. Last Sunday in Brooklyn Center (a Minneapolis suburb) Daunte Wright was shot in what should have been a routine traffic stop. This four-minute video shows a peaceful and spiritual march two days later. Every day there were protests at the police station, and on Friday with hundreds of people.
The next morning, Louie Tran says on Facebook “to my white friends who still don’t get it”
“Can’t sleep because of what happened in BC last night.
Please make a phone call or several. I would think that out-of-state calls would have extra impact as they recognize it’s a national issue. It doesn’t take long, you’ll probably talk to a machine. Here:
So there we are. I’m remembering a long-ago spring that included tulips by the sidewalk and a nuclear power plant (Three-Mile Island) at risk of melting down – and what would we do to be safe? This spring feels the same. I’m not directly in danger, but this mentally ill society, this white supremacist society endangers all of us.
Be well, be at peace, and quietly consider your own contribution to the well-being of the planet.
You’re already doing something – acknowledge yourself for it,
and if you want to do more, please do.
As we weary of the pandemic and look forward to spring – forgive my rambling. And note the recording and the events at the bottom of the page.
A gunman has shot and killed ten people in a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado. Less than a week earlier a gunman shot and killed eight people in massage parlors in Atlanta. Now, the state of Georgia has passed a draconian voter suppression law, and yesterday arrested a Black legislator for knocking on a door so she could witness the governor’s photo op. In Washington DC The US Senate cannot organize itself to stop minority rule (the filibuster). The Voting Rights Act is moving strictly on partisan lines, because Republicans admit they can’t win an election honestly.
The State of Minnesota has seated a jury for the trial of Derek Chauvin, who was filmed killing George Floyd, which started enormous protests, some violence, and became the occasion for more violence by police against protesters and journalists. The State has invested enormous sums in policing, fencing.
Official violence continues against people resisting Line 3 in northern Minnesota; sheriff departments are raking in the cash as Enbridge makes the mandated payments for pipeline “protection.” Line 3 is in court again and there’s some hope of legal victory. At Thacker Pass, the protest against lithium mining enters its third month of calling environmentalists to account along with mining companies.
Geneen Marie Haugen writes “I am stunned each time another hideous event exposes human depravity or psychosis or indifference for the lives of others. Every time, I (perhaps foolishly) anticipate some kind of collective awakening. …My belly aches with longing to mend what has gone awry, if only I could identify it. I want to be able to say, ‘Here is a way.’
I’m reading a book called They Thought They Were Free: the Germans, 1933-45. The stories of ordinary individuals who joined the Nazi party are chilling; the way they manipulate truth and memory is uncomfortably familiar. But here is a comment from the author’s academic friend about his own choices. On taking the loyalty oath, “That day the world was lost, and it was I who lost it.” Although it had enabled him to hide fugitives and save lives, he said “If I had refused to take the oath in 1935, it would have meant that thousands and thousands like me, all over Germany, were refusing to take it. Their refusal would have heartened millions. Thus the regime would have been overthrown.” He speaks about not being ready, not having enough faith that he might make a difference, and so he took the easier path.
We know people who took the harder path. Daniel Ellsberg escaped life in prison (unlike Reality Winner, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and even Edward Snowden in exile). Others have paid a different kind of price: Peter Norman, Australian runner supporting Carlos and Smith’s 1968 Olympic protest, lost his career and more – depression, alcoholism, and painkiller addiction after an injury. In 2000 he had no regret for standing up. Hugh Thompson, after stopping his soldiers from participating in the My Lai massacre, “was denounced as a traitor, and spent much of his life suffering from depression, PTSD, and nightmares.” And young Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans were executed by the Nazis. “Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go.”
What is appropriate action? What does each of us do, in a time when things are so ? And then how do we become the people who can take the risk? When I walked along the KXL route in 2013, there was no way to predict what the results would be – and it is still not possible to say what we contributed to the eventual protection of the land. But doing it made me alive. It was hard. Afterward it was hard to go back to ordinary life. Mountains and Waters Alliance, here on the farm and writing online, feels more mundane. But if I abandoned it, I would no longer feel alive.
Spring is in the air; amid the ruins of authorized violence and voter suppression, life renews. Line 3 protests with sacred ceremony mixed with arrests and legal battles. Buddhist Justice Reporter looks deeply at the Derrick Chauvin trial. Protect Thacker Pass asks hard questions and confronts the self-deception of the environmental movement. Part of the great upswelling on behalf of the earth and our humanity, Mountains and Waters Alliance asks us to become allies with forests, mountains, and rivers instead of trying to be gods.
It’s a frightening time. So always is labor and birth. Be alive.
The months of April through June will be a work-practice period at MWA; come for what time you can, join us in zazen and in work. Covid safety continues as a priority,including quarantining in place, limited numbers, etc. In May we do construction, the first step toward solarizing the house. Meditation retreats and work retreats follow through the year; online groups, classes, and zazen continue.
Take heart. Something is rising. We are part of it, we are alive.
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.