- Mountains And Waters
Years ago, a teacher at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, said to me “We each have to find our own way.” There, when entering monastic practice for the first time, we would first sit in silence for five days. This was called “clarifying the mind.” Now, seeing more clearly, I recognize that this means dropping ideas and letting the Great Way find us.
Some things are now clear enough that I can share them with you. It seems like a direction change, but it’s not.
The most important thing that I am doing is my practice, also known as my work. At this time that means to carry on the combination of zazen (sitting meditation: just sitting with the whole universe as we all create each other) and intimate relationship with all beings of the earth. Those are actually the same, but one looks like sitting still and the other like walking outdoors, making ceremony and offerings, visiting sacred places.
To make space for this, I am dropping some activities. Most of them involve efforts to get people to join me in my work. I’m going to the “attraction rather than promotion” model.
Here are two talks that I liked, from 2016.
“The whole world is the true human body.”
“A single hand held out freely.”
From my childhood I remember going on walks in the woods with my father. He would take me and my sister to the “real woods” – not the overgrown orchard where we played all the time – and would talk about things, and he always brought cookies. It was a special time. Once we found a rotted tree stump, and he said “peat moss” and the next time he brought a bag to take it home for the garden.
Yesterday I went out to the woods on probably our last warm day for the season. I went to heal, to renew my connection with the land, damaged as it was from the tornado. I hadn’t noticed I was hiding indoors, but there it was. I found tiny sugar maples, and praised them; one Korean nut pine is alive and well, and I spoke encouraging words. And in the many, many fallen trees I noticed how many were hollow, or aging, or beginning to rot inside. Peat moss.
Some places are barely recognizable. The ancient cedar tree is standing but tilted. The old paths, sometimes, are covered with fallen branches or giant trees. The woods are more open – and I can feel the possibility of change, of renewal. Remembering the image of storms as cleansing. New things will happen here. I will be able to allow them.
Some of the old sacred places are simply buried. I can’t get to the East Gate at all, and the North Gate now requires a long walk. But the river still sings, and the favorite place on the bluffs is open and beautiful. The higher places are changed. By the creek, the bluffs are radiant.
This time I was able to take pictures. Because I begin to be ready to move forward, to let the land recover, to let it be.
I gave a talk recently, and have found some old talks that aren’t posted yet. I don’t know how to put them in the proper web page, but I’m temporarily putting the new one here. And the potluck group has started listening to talks by Martin Prechtel, here.
I was asked “So what is true?” These things came up immediately, in this order. I remember who said each one to me, though they’re not unique to those people.
And this, for moments of discouragement: Trust the Way, trust that you are in the Way, from Eihei Dogen.
And I want to invite you to listen to three talks by Martin Prechtel, who I’ve referenced before. They’re now linked here.
Please continue your practice.
Loss has my attention today. I was out walking the land with a dear friend that has never been here before. I came back to learn that the Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court by two votes. If both Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin had voted “no”, we would be looking toward a less scary future.
Even then, it’s scary. The Amazon rainforest is no longer a carbon sink. https://e360.yale.edu/digest/study-finds-tropical-forests-are-no-longer-carbon-sinks. The Arctic is melting – https://physicsworld.com/a/arctic-thaw-imperils-climate-goals/. And hate, fear, partisanship rule the day in more countries than our own. 2400 children are now in that immigrant camp in Texas, and families are not being reunited. Within five or ten years we likely face a world far different from even the one we know now – let along the green and abundant world of my childhood.
My past week has mostly been about the tornado. My house was close to the path of the strongest of several tornadoes that came through Rice County. It missed the house and took down dozens of trees. I’m still shocked when I look at the fallen and twisted trees. But also now, with much clearing done, I’m looking forward to what might be possible. I have little trees looking for homes – they will tell me where to plant them.
I’d been planning for the land care retreat, just three weeks away, planning to work with some of Martín Prechtel’s teachings. I’d thought of making a sacred compost pile; Martín talks about composting as honoring death and decay. Now it’s more likely that we’ll work with wildness, making an offering to the wild beings (deer, gophers, quackgrass) that threaten the orchard, as we also nurture the trees and spaces that support them. The orchard is weak because of neglect, not the storm; its weakness is influenced by conventional agriculture, erratic weather (climate change), and all the rest – and it longs for human attention too.
The grief of that neglect, and the grief of climate change, of tornado losses, of everyone we’ve loved who has died, of creeping fascism in politics here and in so much of the world – we’ll allow our grief to nourish the orchard as we do weeding, mulching, planting, cutting. And wildness will be welcome in this time. Because the gardens will not be strong unless the wilderness is stronger, and our habit of trying to control it leads to an inevitable end. We’ll allow the grief of lost trees and loss of control, and move toward our natural place in the family of living beings. Which means receiving gifts and giving them, in the spirit of offering, giving back to the earth which gives us our lives.
I’ve been promising to write about my summer’s retreat, but that will wait for the moment. Life is moving, alive, growing. I will write about that later, and also about the conference two weeks ago that was so exciting.
I have one simple request, though. During a solo in the wilderness, I made a vow to support the pine trees of the world – trees that are being attacked by pine bark beetles and blister rust, that are going up in flames. The beetles attach when the trees are stressed by drought or fire. Their attacks make the trees more susceptible to wildfire, which both heats directly and adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. My vow was to strengthen the trees so they will not burn. At one moment, I could sense that the trees had already accomplished this; at another I knew they needed our help.
Please support your local pine trees. I can’t tell you how. Currently I’m offering chanting and prayers and healing energy; do whatever comes to you.
I’m joining a local group working on stopping Line 3, the tar sands pipeline through northern Minnesota – defending our shared home and confronting the state government that I know best. While my strongest draw is toward the plants and earth, I am compelled to join with other human beings as well.
I recommend this article, which as I was reading about the Kavanaugh hearing reminded me of balance.
Howard Zinn in 2005: https://progressive.org/op-eds/howard-zinn-despair-supreme-court/.
“Our culture – the media, the educational system – tries to crowd out of our political consciousness everything except who will be elected President and who will be on the Supreme Court, as if these are the most important decisions we make. They are not. They deflect us from the most important job citizens have, which is to bring democracy alive by organizing, protesting, engaging in acts of civil disobedience that shake up the system.”
Bless you all. I hope you’re voting, this year of all years – please make sure you’re registered. Please love your humans and your earth-beings, and please be well and happy.
I have posted a number of links to articles or talks here for your reading or listening. What they have in common:
Comments are encouraged – in great part because this is my first writing here and I’d like to see if it works.
I want to be thoughtful, give this page my best. Because I’m overcommitted, this results in not writing. It would help me if I knew that people were following this – I just know of one. Please let me know if you read this, if you want to read more. Thanks.
I just wanted to invite you to look at the new writing. These will be about once a week, and will not have notifications except through the monthly newsletter (until we get the new website).
If you are reading here, you probably are aware of climate change, species extinction, long-term racism, and (to be brief) a disastrous political and economic situation.
I offer a poem by Andy Mahler, a friend and forest activist from southern Indiana.
the shit hitting the fan
we have warned
and been warned
since at least the sixties
that if we did not find a more harmonious and peaceful way to live on this beautiful planet that this day would come
and now it is here
a clusterbundle of reasons for anger and fear
but that doesn’t mean we have to be angry or fearful
anger says do something
(hit somebody, hurt somebody, hate somebody)
fear says pay attention
(or run like hell)
anger and fear are the emotional equivalent of junk food
bacon fried coke
love is that strange paradox
where the more you give
the more you receive
you get it when you give it away
someone said to love your neighbor as yourself
said to love your enemy
said love the creator
love the creation
why are you here?
Did you ever wonder
why you are here?
Let me make it simple for you
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
What do you love?
What do you love enough to defend it, to take action to defend it, to risk your life protecting and nourishing it?
Ask yourself this question at least once a day, and notice the answers. If you’re a person who journals, you can write down the answer each time.
There might be additional results of asking this question. You may want to spend more time with the beloved. You may want to tell them your love. You might find yourself contemplating what you see threatening them, what you wish to change, how you might take action.
All of this is fruitful. Trust that it will evolve and deepen as you go on.
You might want to give gentle attention to how it feels to ask this question and to answer it. To do that, come into a quiet and mindful state, away from distractions, and notice how your body feels. If you’ve ever done a body scan or guided relaxation, you can use those methods to help your awareness. Otherwise, let your attention move through your body – forehead, throat, shoulders, heart, belly, etc. – and just check for tension/relaxation, warm/cold, comfortable/not, and anything else. If you don’t like this part, just skip it.
Whatever you find can be private or shared.
If you would like to share something with the group here, please email it to me next weekend. I can share it here, or just respond to you, as you like. (When we have a better website you will be able to post directly.)
I’ll do the exercise along with you.
It helps me to know who and how many people are here. Let me know, please.
Future study group offering will include small daily mindfulness exercises like this one, poems and other thoughts for your consideration, larger experiments, and recommended readings.
For people who are not familiar with Buddhism, look at this book online The Way of Liberation by Adyashanti – nonsectarian and succinct – for basic orientation.
For all: see if you can find a copy of this book: Kinship with All Life, by J. Allen Boone (1954!). This is a beginner’s primer for communicating with nonhuman animals. Those of us who grew up in civilization probably need something this simple. I got it through interlibrary loan. It might be hard to find.
For me, Buddhist practice is about living as part of the earth, fully sustained and embraced in joy.
Usually we think of Buddhism as a philosophy – intellectual, disembodied – or a religion. “Religion” might actually fit, if we understand it correctly. It’s based on Latin words meaning “respect for the sacred” or “reconnecting with the gods,” and until the 1500’s religion was not separate from secular life – even in Europe.
Buddhism calls us back to the ancient or indigenous way of relating to the world and to the sacred. It asks us to let go of these ways of life and thought that have been trained into us from birth: humans as special, nature as resource, greed and hate as normal. In Buddhism, greed, hate, and the sense of separation are called the Three Poisons. They’re not natural at all, but it’s difficult to become free of them because of long training and the incessant harping of industrial civilization.
The way Life actually works is that each one of us is created by everything around us, past and present, and we in turn give life to everything else, present and future. We are a speck on the wave of Life, never lonely while in a way profoundly alone.
Knowing this is freedom. We can drop our burdens, whether those burdens are saving the planet or making a successful career. Life takes care of itself. Our job as individuals is to respond to the movement of Life in and around us. This requires dropping ingrained beliefs, which is why Buddhist practice can be arduous: before we can respond to Life we must be able to see/hear/feel it. Fortunately, even a glimpse is enlivening and energizing, and glimpses are common.
This way is joyful. Its hope is not the hope that something will change, but hope that embraces things as they are, joins with them enthusiastically, and responds in kind, with gratitude, creating resiliency without expectation.
This way is open to anyone who wants it.