- The Farm
- The Alliance
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.
This is a quick note to let you know about some things happening that I haven’t mentioned before.
Today, Friday July 17, at 2:50 pm Central Time, some of us will be gathering online to chant on behalf of Dustin Honken, who is scheduled for Federal execution at that time. If you want a copy of the chants, email me, but it’s also fine to just witness. We’ll chant for about 20 minutes, and perhaps gather briefly afterward.
Sunday morning, July 19, I will give the Dharma talk at Clouds in Water Zen Center, in St. Paul, Minnesota. The talk will be online. We begin with a half hour of sitting meditation, 9:00 Central Time; the talk is at 9:30 am. Subject will be the Five Remembrances, with particular attention to death, racism, George Floyd, and the state of our culture.
These have already been announced; consider yourself invited:
has been modified so that we can come together safely. Each of us (person or family) will spend most of their time in relationship with a particular part of the land. That may be deep in the woods, up the hill, down by the creek, in the orchard or garden or right near the house. You’re invited to find yourself in that piece of ground, to fall in love with it, to care for it, and to let it nourish and heal you. We’ll come together on the lawn for meals, discussion, and sitting zazen together.
Fees are minimal, only covering outright expenses, yet there could be some work exchange.
Local people are welcome to come out and spend time on the land. You can walk in the meadow, orchard, woods, or by the creeks. If you’d like to do a land care project, you’re most welcome.
Personal visits, unless brief, usually involve working together in the garden or something. It’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. (It could involve harvesting, canning, freezing, or whatever we think is safe to do together.)
I’m also interested in hiring some people to do work, which mostly involves either gardening skills, muscles, or chain saws.
For any of these, email is best.
We’re now sitting together in the morning, Monday through Friday at 6 am Central Time (7 Eastern, 5 Mountain, 4 Pacific), and you are invited. Here is detailed information.
The Gift of Fearlessness: Sunday evenings at 4-5:15 pm Central Time. This discussion group started in response to the pandemic, and is now also contemplating the uprisings over racism and injustice. Best way to join is by emailing Shodo.
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.
The Sunday discussion group is settling into a lovely pattern and a comfortable size. New people are still welcome, especially your friends; we won’t be doing broad publicity right now.
The reading for this week is Charles Eisenstein’s “The Coronation” which offers deep hope about what the coronavirus could become, while not denying realistic worries. We’ll read it to each other in the group, but you’re invited to read it now as well.
Meanwhile, the Introduction to Zen group will have its last Wednesday meeting, and will decide whether to continue as a study group.
I’m considering starting online zazen, once a week, Monday morning 6 am Central Time. Let me know if you’re interested. (I sit every morning, but this would mean committing to the exact time and to setting up a Zoom room.)
The Navajo Nation is experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19, and has asked for prayers this weekend, Easter weekend.
They started at sunrise Saturday with fires, drumming, prayers, and songs. Please join in any way and time that works for you, and please share. I am including them in my morning chanting, have a fire going outdoors, and am inviting others to this prayer.
I wasn’t able to post their beautiful graphic, but here are words from it:
An enemy has hit the Navajo Rez, called COVID -19. Over 500 testing positive, 22 deaths, both increasing. They have established a mitigation plan, a 57 Hour CURFEW, from Friday 8 pm to Monday 5 am, April 10-13.
Our medicines are stronger than a virus. We don’t need another Trail of Tears or Long Walk.
The request is to light our Medicines, sage, cedar, sweetgrass, pipes, sweats, prayers, lite a fire, make offerings, keep fire going all weekend, sing our songs, let our drums be heard.
Pulses of Spiritual prayers sent all weekend long directed to the Navajo Nation, all day Saturday, throughout Saturday night, all day Sunday until Sunset.
Please send this on to all your contacts worldwide. We want thousands, in all languages, to pray. We are all interconnected.
I know you will do this, because of the intergenerational trauma we all know about. Please…..Please…Please!
I’d like to invite you to either or both of two Zoom groups:
Sundays at 4 pm Central Time beginning today, March 22. Details here; link to the meeting room is here: https://www.zoom.us/meeting/180323263. If you don’t already have Zoom on your computer, come early and install it.
Wednesday evenings starting 3/25, 6:30-8 pm Central Time, replacing the retreat we weren’t able to have. Details here.
I’m still learning to work with Zoom, so I’ll post the link soon, and send to you if you register. I believe it will be the same as the other one.
Both groups are offered freely. Their website pages have a donation link for those who wish.
Thank you all!
So alive. So warmly connected, deeply peaceful. I was a little in love with the group and especially the speakers and leaders of the ceremony this morning. The space was timeless.
It was called “Faith Action at the Capitol.” Mentioned the 227 water crossings of the planned Line 3 pipeline, a bigger replacement for the crumbling Line 3 pipeline, bigger and traveling through new places, lakes and streams and wild rice beds, through watersheds draining into Lake Superior (to all the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean) and the Mississippi (to the Gulf of Mexico). Minnesota Department of Commerce says we don’t need this, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency can still ask for more information, but Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is determined to go forward with an unneeded pipeline.
We read the watersheds, the streams and lakes, and the names of animals and plants endangered by this poison of civilization. We passed ribbons back symbolizing the streams of water. Thirteen of us read, nearly a hundred listened and prayed along with us. Sometimes we came to a place I knew, and sometimes I wept, seeing others weeping as well. When we reached the Nemadji River I just completely lost it. I had lived on that river for a year, visited it for several more, built a cabin, expected to make my home there. I wept with my whole body.
And at the close the sense of peace, the sense of warm, loving energy. I can’t find words.
There’s a video of that whole part of the ritual. It’s over an hour long, but you can listen to what parts you want. The reading of water crossings begins about twenty minutes in. Video of the whole ceremony is found on the Facebook page; scroll down to “all videos” and look for February 19.
Does prayer change anything? I assert that it does, that prayer and ceremony, including the stillness of meditation, restructure the nature of reality. Gratitude does this. Love does this. Yet I would never say to only do prayer and not do lobbying, voting, civil resistance, and tangible acts creating the new world (such as foraging, gardening, building soils, helping each other, every act of community.)
And there we are. I encourage you to watch at least some of the video. If you have 80 minutes, watching it all could be a way of participating, of spreading the ceremony across days and miles.
There’s an invitation from MNIPL for more Line 3 action:
Minnesotans – sign the Climate Emergency online petition
Look here for other action options, including submitting a comment to the MPCA (which could halt the pipeline), attending public hearings March 17 or 18, or joining the Water Protector Tour March 27-29.
Here is a comprehensive 80-minute talk on climate risks and reality, by Kritee (Kanko), a climate scientist and Zen teacher. It’s really clear. Having talked deeply with Kritee, I trust her. It’s okay to share the talk. I encourage viewing parties.
Potlucks are thriving; March 15 and April 19 are the next – at the farm, 5:30 Sunday evenings, followed by a film or speaker.
Introduction to Zen – a short weekend-retreat, March 21 and 22. Saturday morning workshop can stand alone or is followed by a weekend of meditation, work, eating together, and so forth. If you like what I’ve been offering, you might come to part or all of this to learn the roots.
If you want to tap sugar maples, help make meditation cushions, garden or forage or get involved in local prayer activism, please contact Shodo about getting onto the local email list.
Donation requests: So many groups are doing so many good things – here are two groups doing pipeline resistance, protecting earth and water, up north and here in Minnesota.
Please vote: For climate, environment, justice, human rights, please do vote in your primary or caucus.
Thank you all for being there. Especially I thank those of you who donate or give time and thoughts.
Shodo for Mountains and Waters Alliance
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.
I spent the weekend at Winyan Awanyankapi,“Protecting the Lifegivers” – a conference about missing and murdered indigenous women. While there were painful stories, my experience was more about healing and hope – and connecting with people of like heart.
Something important happened for me, that I want to share. I was in a workshop by Phyllis Cole-Dai, author of the new novel about the 1862 U.S.-Dakota war, Beneath the Same Stars, well-researched and highly recommended – and by Darlene Renville-Pipeboy, a Dakota elder who became her advisor on language, history, and culture.
The Dakota people remember a story from the time when women, children, and old people were imprisoned on the river flats below Fort Snelling on the flats along the river. After a forced march to the camp, they had been imprisoned there all winter with little warmth, minimal food, much disease and no medical care, frequent rape and occasional gunshots by the soldiers supposedly protecting them. Once during this time the women went and danced together at the stockade gate, led by an elder with a hand drum. Suddenly the chains fell off the gates, the gates swung open, and they could see the Mdote – the sacred land where the two rivers came together, the land where they had lived and once been free. Everything changed in that moment, even as the soldiers rushed to close the gates again.
Phyllis asked us this question:
“What would it mean to dance at the stockade gates in this time?”
That question stirred up something in my heart. Some others felt it too, we’ll be having an email conversation, and you’re invited to join us.
The answer cannot be given, only lived. Yet I have some thoughts, guesses actually, that might be helpful.
The women, imprisoned and starving, gathered together to do sacred dance and prayer in their tradition. They did it together. They didn’t rush the gates. I don’t think they expected the chains to fall. But the gates opened, they saw Life outside, and Life gave them heart again.
They were all women. I don’t know whether it was a women’s dance they did; there were very few men in the stockades. I’m guessing that a dance including all genders would be equally powerful, perhaps different.
The story reminds me of some actions that are becoming part of the new tradition of protecting water and land – an indigenous-led tradition. Build a healing camp in the path of a pipeline (Unistoten Camp, British Columbia). Meditate and pray outside a prison when an execution will take place. (San Quentin, California). Pray, make offerings, create a community life, in the path of death (Standing Rock, Unistoten, and many more). Do a sacred walk through the land that is slated for destruction (how many now? Sharon Day leads a Water Walk every year. Compassionate Earth Walk was one of dozens or hundreds.) Plant sacred corn in the path of the pipeline (the Ponca tribe and Bold Nebraska). I want to include the valve turners – simply turning off the flow of oil, then staying for the arrest, seems like a sacred act of its own kind.
Do sacred acts in the face of violence. In the place where you may be imprisoned, killed, or worse for doing them. Dance the sacred, pray, return our own humanity to proper relationship with the earth, through the offering of dance and ceremony, and the chains of imprisonment drop away.
Those of us at less risk because of our white skins or other privilege – what possibility opens to us, when we consider dancing at the gates?
At first, this question stopped me from action. I don’t feel imprisoned. Limited, yes, by my early training in how to be a woman, and by the sexist discrimination that still exists – and yet as an older white woman I move pretty freely in the industrial growth society. This society, here in the United States, North America. (One measure of how much I’m not a target is how easy it is to go through airport security. Or to interact with police.) Am I inside the stockade? How dare I claim the right to dance to oppression.
And yet – I face climate change along with everyone, though later than many. And I could become a target easily enough, if I broke more openly with industrial growth society. For me the fantasy of benevolent government and unconditional safety disappeared in the 1970’s, when I started paying attention. Yes, I am inside the stockade along with my red, brown, and black sisters and brothers, along with my queer and trans siblings, along with Muslims and ecoterrorists and refugees. I actually doubt anyone is outside, though some are guarding the gates or profiting – but that’s a different discussion.
What does it mean to dance at the gates? It’s a Zen koan, a question for study, not something that can be answered once. I’m making words to cultivate the ground on which our lives make the answer.
When I “bought” this land, I sought a place of sanctuary, where you can actually feel the sacredness of the earth. It’s not noticeably threatened by pipeline, mining even development – yet could be easily damaged by zoning changes or even the neighbors. It’s both fragile and privileged. Yet it’s a moment of safety, just as an urban church basement or community hall can offer a safe spot for our gatherings. It’s meant to be a place to learn and listen, to discover/remember what the dance of this place is – without copying or stealing. I imagine the women at the stockade gates danced a way known for centuries. I dream that here and now we might open our hearts and bodies to the voice and movement of the earth.
So we learn to dance and pray together, we honor the sacred together, we get very deep in dancing the dance of holy life together, and then we dance in the face of the enemy, the frozen face of unlife, whatever that may be. What walls imprison us, what gates are there?
My wish is to come together first, in a sacred manner. Together we can find out the nature of the dance and where it belongs. We will be told. I believe that.
If this calls you, please let me know.
It’s spring. Things are moving and melting.
We like this, sometimes. I spent half of Friday outside in the garden, and came back happy. And we don’t like it, sometimes. In Mogadishu (Somalia) people are dying in the floods. Nebraska has had such flood damage that food prices will be way higher this fall, if not sooner. There will be more hunger among humans. Vast numbers of other species have died in those floods, plants and animals both, but we don’t think of them the same way.
It makes me think of hubris. “To the Greeks, hubris referred to extreme pride, especially pride and ambition so great that they offend the gods and lead to one’s downfall.” Merriam-Webster. I add, a common characteristic of the Industrial Growth Society, in sincerely believing that all material limits can be conquered by human ingenuity and technology. Hubris leads to ruin. The hubris of industrial agriculture, ignoring the ways water, earth, and wind naturally move, has led to the opposite of resilience in these fields. Chemical toxins and radioactive wastes, assumed safely stored but now flooded, compound the problem.
I also wonder about my own hubris, daring to think I can talk with rocks and rivers and forests. Only I know that millions of people have done this before me. It was called prayer, mostly, and ridiculed by moderns. How dare I go against the teachings of my culture? Can I say, simply, because my culture is so obviously mistaken that it is destroying itself? Would that be enough? (These days, I have plenty of company in my heresy anyway.)
Yesterday this came to my attention: https://www.souland.org/blog/declare-climate-emergency. It’s a Buddhist call to action. Declare that climate emergency is real, and organize to take steps around it. The essay was written mainly by Thanissara Mary Weinberg, and promoted by Joanna Macy. (Because she has name recognition, I’m sure.)
They are proposing we gather at Wesak, a Buddhist festival in May that celebrates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death, all in one day. Gathering to declare climate emergency, and talk with each other, and consider our actions.
This seems to me a good thing. It also happens on a weekend with some other good things already planned. So we will have the Land Care Retreat, May 17-19, then Sunday afternoon gather in council to Declare Climate Emergency and consider moving forward together. The Sunday evening potluck will be a chance to continue the conversation.
I’ll prepare for that by being available at the Northfield Earth Day celebration April 27, hosting a table where talk of climate emergency is welcome, along with all the emotions, and offering lead-ins for this event and other ways of connecting.
If anyone out there wants to talk about promoting Declare Climate Emergency where you are, please get in touch. I’m happy to do what I can.
In my life, it feels like spring. Just like the cold weather, my insides have been frozen too long. I’m happy to be moving.
Love to you all.