- Mountains And Waters
One World in Dialogue and Zen Peacemakers invite us to a 24-hour worldwide meditation vigil on December 7 and 8. I will participate for what time I can; I invite you also.
It’s so much easier and more pleasant to just go on as if nothing were different. The weather is a little weird. There are a lot of wildfires, and the storms are fierce. Why on earth did [fill in your choice of country] elect a [crazy, extremist, fascist, narcissist,….] for [president, prime minister]? Oh, I don’t know. People are funny.
I propose that those things in the news are part of something bigger, and it’s most accurately called collapse. That’s a strong word. Here I’m following Professor Jem Bendell, of Positive Deep Adaptation, who says that when the house is burning down, it’s no longer time to work on fire prevention strategies. I recommend his talk about this.
Bendell divides collapse into categories, and thinks some are inevitable while others aren’t. We don’t need unanimous agreement to take useful action. My summary below is an attempt to stay brief while including links for further information.
Social: In the United States, grade schools have “active shooter drills” the way we used to do tornado drills, because there are shooters in schools – unthinkable before the 1999 Columbine massacre. Churches are targets too. Polarization is strong: read the comments on any mildly controversial news article – say, something about indigenous rights in Canada – and see the hate. This is a beginning of social collapse. When it gets worse, people flee. About that, Warsan Shire offers (a fragment of a poem):
Meanwhile indigenous people everywhere point out that this has been their reality for generations. To some of us, it’s collapse. To others, normal life since the arrival of the colonizers.
Political: Right now, United States people are polarized over impeachment, Democrats argue about progressive versus centrist candidates, and the Left argues with itself about nonviolence versus armed struggle. (I wonder what the Right argues about.) People protesting in Hong Kong just to keep their civil liberties have been shot and jailed. Evo Morales stepped down in Bolivia and a right-wing senator took charge, peaceful protestors being shot in the streets. A series of world governments have been been taken over by isolationist or fascist leaders, many through illegal or fraudulent elections, many openly encouraging hate toward some minority and/or openly destroying the environment (United States; Bolivia; Brazil; United Kingdom, and lots of small powerless countries…) The government of my country has been involved in overthrowing smaller governments of all kinds, whenever economic interests suggest it. (No link, over 100 years of stories, ask me.)
Economic: The top three people in the United States, the top eight in the world, hold most of everything, while the poor are desperate. Real wages in the U.S. haven’t risen in years, though the economy is considered strong and expenses have gone up considerably.
Climate and environmental collapse: Fires and floods are dramatic and visible. Droughts, the warming of the ocean, the death of species, the loss of nutrients in everyday foods are less obvious but very real. This is why we have refugees, and why more people are sick, and it contributes to violence at many levels. Finally people are talking about it. Greta Thunberg is a heroine to the same people who have ridiculed and denied climate change for decades now, but people who take action are still tear gassed, imprisoned, labeled terrorists – and in much of the world simply murdered. Big Oil and Big Coal have been caught covering up advance knowledge decades ago – just like Big Tobacco.
I don’t like writing about this. Usually I write about the dream, the vision, the cultural and spiritual change that we need to become whole again. I just feel the need to mention the problem; the spiritual change is not just for fun, not entertainment, it’s necessary. Today I’m particularly excited after a conversation with Courtney Work, an anthropologist who studies indigenous people in Southeast Asia, whose stories have given me a feeling for a life full of the sacred, embraced by mountains and forests and all living beings, a way that people have actually lived. Because she too sees that way of life as a the way of healing, we can talk.
The schedule will be much simpler this year, because I’m taking time off to write a book. I can’t leave my paid work, but I can cut back on making flyers and sending out notices. On the other hand, giving talks or having deep conversations will be helpful. So here are planned events, and below are some informal ways to connect. (Most are not posted on the website yet. Feel free to email Shodo for information.) And partial participation is nearly always possible.
January 4, Atlanta: One-day retreat with Red Clay Sangha, Saturday noon to 8 pm, and Sunday morning talk.
January 10-11, Atlanta: Two-day sesshin with Midtown Atlanta Zen, Friday and Saturday.
March or April: Introduction to Zen, a 2-day retreat with a Saturday morning option. Will be scheduled based on the first three inquiries; please email Shodo to help mobilize this.
June 25-30, sesshin at Hokyoji (SE Minnesota), co-led with two other teachers. Very beautiful place, great food, and the increased cost supports the oldest Zen retreat center in the Midwest.
July or August, Land Care Retreat will be scheduled later. A weekend.
September 25-29, sesshin at the farm.
November 30-December 8, Rohatsu sesshin, at the farm. The traditional week-long sesshin honoring Buddha’s enlightenment, deep in winter and snow with fire heat.
The farm events will be posted on the website later.
There will still be potlucks, mostly the 3rd Sunday evening. They’ll be organized by email, so let me know if you want to get reminders. In addition, if you are interested in hosting a potluck at your house, talk with me. I’m happy to support you, including sharing the planned talk or video. The next three: talk by Courtney Work at Northfield Buddhist Center, talk by Beth Goldring at Northfield Buddhist Center, and interview of Joanna Macy by Jem Bendell.
If you’d like to come to work days, email me to get on the list (for instance maple syrup in late winter) and I’ll let you know – or contact me and set up a time. If you want an email when there’s a project, tell me now and I’ll put you on the list.
A tiny fundraiser: We were given some quilts from Sanshinji – my teacher’s temple – and they have become mats
in the meditation hall. Now we could use some more cushions. Want to donate? We can buy 8 zafu covers for $240 from these people, and stuff them with old socks as I always do. If donations are more, we can buy whole cushions at a discounted rate. (You can also donate an actual zafu, if you have extra.) We chose the supplier because of environmental and labor standards.
What else can I say? Winter is here. It took me only 2 hours to shovel the driveway and walk, clean the wood stove, throw ashes on the hilly part of the drive, and and start the next fire.
Please be safe and well as the seasons change. Please hold your heart open to the whole world.
Love to you all,
There’s a tricky thing about letting go of things. At the farm, mostly my attention is focused not on letting go but on things that are here that I don’t want – pocket gophers, Japanese beetles (new this year), buckthorn, black walnuts, quackgrass, honeysuckle…. As I write now, I remember that it’s really about losing things – losing orchard trees and potatoes, losing raspberries and tomatoes, losing flowers and the other native plants displaced by these… yet in my mind it still feels like having to accept that those others are here. And I’m working with it.
Looking at the black walnut trees everywhere, I’m starting to let go. I’d meant to confine them to their present one-acre territory and remove them elsewhere. There are too many; I would be in endless war; there must be a way to coexist. They are, after all, native, medicinal plants, high-quality food, and source of many other things used by humans. This year, I’ve started harvesting nuts and will actually follow through and eat them. Fall or spring, tapping for the sweet sap, alongside the regular tapping of box elder and maple. And tend them as lumber, to grow straight and tall. All this is looking for a way out of hate or victimization – the two modes I know the best. Is this exploitation or co-existence? And how, likewise, do we learn to have relationships with difficult people? Work with them somehow, negotiate, even team with them? I’ve had to do it before in communities and workplaces, when necessary. This with the walnuts and others is also necessary; can I find the heart to do it? (If I can work together with the walnuts, might I possibly work together with difficult humans? Suddenly the walnuts seem easy. I don’t ascribe intention to them.)
On the other side – things have changed, mostly for the better – or let me say, it’s mostly in ways that I like. The land care retreat, which felt like a new beginning at the time, seems to actually have begun some changes. People are coming for sesshin regularly. I had three weeks of house guests who practiced sincerely, worked mindfully and joyfully, and made sangha. “I could live this way,” I thought once near the middle of that time. And toward the end we began a practice of reading together, discussing, and then sitting until bedtime, which meets my needs for sangha in another way. Now I’m alone again, looking toward the weekend and the next sesshin.
We’re harvesting tomatoes, zucchini, herbs, raspberries, and the first walnuts. We planted several small sugar maple trees near the driveway, intending to make a grove for sugaring ten or twenty years in the future. There are more small maples to plant after removing the piles of firewood and weeds in that area. We could add the larger, faster maples that grow here like weeds and do produce some sap; I don’t know yet.
The nine trees I planted this spring – pear, apple, nut pine, and cherry – are all doing well, except one has lost its leaves already. The orchard is in neglect, and I hope to visit and prune while fall weather holds.
And yesterday we cleared an area near the back door, moving, burning, digging, making space for the firewood spaces that Chris is building against the barn. It’s like housecleaning – I can breathe more easily now.
Listening to a Public Radio show about melting ice in the Arctic, I note that more and more I’m hearing climate change in mainstream news. Now that it’s probably too late. I recommend this article: “What if we stopped pretending?” about the realities of climate change. What some of us are thinking about is how to act compassionately, ethically, and for the best possible outcomes, in a time when the bad news is so powerful and the forces destroying the planet are stronger and louder than ever. It feels like a war, and I haven’t figured out what to do except spiritual practice. I’m reading the book Why Civil Resistance Works (Chenoweth and Stephan), heavily researched, showing why nonviolent resistance is generally more successful than violent resistance, with no guarantees either way. Hopefully that will be helpful in some way.
I almost forgot to mention – The Global Climate Strike includes actions around the world. This is one of those “everybody show up” occasions. Look for what’s in your area and find a way to get yourself there.
This morning, instead of sitting in the new zendo, I went to the central altar and sat by the creek and bluff for a while. It was easy in this new-fall weather, yet that reminds me that it won’t be easy long. My practice now is to be present with what is, not dislike the coming cold.
My feeling about winter is perhaps something like my feeling about climate change – about losing the regular movement of the seasons, about possibly being hungry – and that is from my very privileged position in a location where there’s been little change. Here, I prepare for refugees, not for floods and wildfires. Yet our vulnerability is much more clear since last fall’s tornado. “Not to get rid of things, but to accept that they go away.”
I was talking yesterday with a Dharma brother, and the topic of medicine came up. Neither of us normally goes to doctors. But for him it’s a matter of accepting that life moves along, not trying to fight aging. I fight aging like mad, just not with conventional medicine. Listening to him humbles me. Equanimity makes life better. Is it just because I’ve committed to engage with the protection of the world around me, that I attach to my own body? Or is my engagement a reflection of my personal attachment? I’ll watch that question for a while, not expecting an easy answer.
September 14, workday – clearing tangled spaces, moving firewood to make room for sugar maples, and more, depending on weather and number of people. If weather keeps us indoors, we might make comfrey salve, crack walnuts, play with woodworking, or clean the masonry heater and build the first fire. It’s fine to come for part of the day or all, 9-5 total.
And see this page for the next few things. Below are the “special” ones.
October 26-27: Introduction to Zen retreat
November 24, Sunday morning talk at NBMC by Courtney Work, an anthropologist studying Buddhism in rural Cambodia. I can’t say enough how excited I am about this.
November 30-December 5, Rohatsu sesshin (Saturday 7 pm – Thursday 3 pm)
Thank you to donors. You know who you are. This month’s new donation supports transcription of my past talks, which will help me publish a book. All options are here, including the way to support us for free.
I should mention first that this conversation is going to move from WordPress to Wheedu. The place you can find it will be http://www.wheedu.com/groups/vairochana-farm#/. You can join there, and get regular updates and have conversations. Once everybody has switched, I’ll discontinue the WordPress blog. It will be better on spam and several other matters. (If you have trouble, please message me here or somehow.)
Even though the goats sort of captured my attention, there’s lots else going on. The first harvest from the garden has had me freezing, cooking, and pickling, and I’d be drying but the drying rack isn’t built yet. Pulling and whacking down weeds is more fun than building and moving fences – and they have to be moved every few days. Fixing the mower myself felt good, though I’d rather have my hands in the dirt. There’s excitement in the first tomatoes, first zucchini, and so forth. (I started really late so I still have firsts – nobody else still has peas.)
There are so many things to do – each one exciting, each one leading to many hours more than I thought. There’s a hillside by the driveway, where we first pulled out invasives and planted mulberry, hazelnuts, aronia, and a few flowers. I went back and pulled out more invasives. I want to cut down some extra trees, use downed trees and manure to turn it into a hugelkultur terraced garden, and plant a full complement of edible, nitrogen-fixing, 7-layered plants. I did water, and will come back to see when the grapes are ready. But building the goat house comes before that, and so does helping the potatoes (I did something wrong) and harvesting more nettles for the freezer. And I’d rather not use the chainsaw alone, though I do. (A chainsaw may be the best use of fossil fuels ever invented.)
I met with the architects today. The plan (just for the house, not the greenhouse/work building) will cost twice what I have. But I can afford to switch to a wood masonry stove and create a couple of extra bedrooms so people can come here. This is tricky: on the one hand, I need to be patient and take time to create what this place is, so people know what they’re coming to and we can work on that together. On the other hand, I’m paying people to do things that would naturally be done by residents – and things like cleaning the shop (and erosion control, cutting firewood, canning, most garden work, the long term design, the grant for buckthorn removal, and, and…) are just not happening. And people who were paying rent somewhere else are likely to bring some money. So I balance the two, and intend to get the house ready for more people for when the time is right.
Meanwhile, out in the world – there’s Palestine, Israel, Gaza, bombings, anguish, and over here just people shouting at each other about who’s right and what to do. There are little news items like an Ontario blockade of a pipeline, another pipeline failing for loss of investors, people being arrested for this and that, the Climate March. If I weren’t here I could be out there with them, and that thought brings a rush of nostalgia for last year when I was out there with the Compassionate Earth Walk. But it feels like my job now is to establish this space, really get it going, and maybe later there will be something else to do. Or maybe later the task will be simply to take care of whoever comes our way. I do not have confidence that there will be propane next year to heat the house. So I plan not to need it, to be one of those not thrown into panic if things fall apart, one of those available to help.
That seems like a gloomy note. I want to add that living this close to the earth is incredibly joyful, and I expect that others will find it so too when/if the time comes. And I still have trouble finding words. The sun is down and it will wake me early; good night.