- The Farm
- The Alliance
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 .)
I’m reaching out to ask for chanting and prayers for the protection of northern Minnesota.
Here’s the story: I went outside to visit the Central Altar – a magnificent rock face at the creek, with dozens of faces that sometimes show themselves. What offering to make? Sometimes I chant the Dai Hi Shin Dharani; the rock people seem to like it.
And then this thought: I could chant and ask the rock people here to send the blessing all the way up to Line 3, where waters and rice beds and Lake Superior and the Mississippi River are in danger, where humans are in danger from man camp workers and from toxicity, where treaty rights need to be enforced, where urgently needed water is diverted from living things to be used for drilling, where water protectors are locking themselves to drilling equipment as Enbridge moves forward with consent of both governor and President – I asked them to send the blessing, and I chanted, and the energy was strong.
DAI HI SHIN DHARANI
namu kara tan no tora ya ya namu ori ya boryo ki chi shifu ra ya
fuji sato bo ya moko sato bo ya
mo ko kya runi kya ya en sa hara ha e shu tan no ton sha
namu shiki ri
toi mo ori ya boryo ki chi shifu ra
rin to bo na mu no ra kin ji ki ri mo ko ho do sha mi sa bo o to jo shu ben
o shu in sa bo sa to no mo bo gya mo ha te cho to ji to en
o bo ryo ki ru gya chi kya ra chi i kiri mo ko fuji
sa to sa bo sa bo mo ra mo ra mo ki mo ki ri to in
ku ryo ku ryo ke mo to ryo to ryo ho ja ya chi mo ko ho ja ya chi
to ra to ra chiri ni shifu ra ya sha ro sha ro mo mo ha mo ra ho chi ri
yu ki yu ki shi no shi no ora san fura sha ri
ha za ha zan fura sha ya ku ryo ku ryo mo ra ku ryo ku ryo ki ri
sha ro sha ro shi ri shi ri su ryo su ryo
fuji ya fuji ya fudo ya fudo ya mi chiri ya nora kin ji
chiri shuni no hoya mono somo ko
shido ya somo ko
moko shido ya somo ko
shido yu ki shifu ra ya somo ko nora kin ji somo ko
mo ra no ra somo ko shira su omo gya ya somo ko
sobo moko shido ya somo ko shaki ra oshi do ya somo ko
hodo mogya shido ya
somo ko nora kin ji ha gyara ya somo ko mo hori shin gyara ya
somo ko namu kara tan no tora ya ya
namu ori ya boryo ki chi shifu ra ya
somo ko shite do modo ra ho do ya so mo ko.
(Here is my very long dedication from today; I included everything, of course you will change it:)
May all awakened beings manifest through the three treasures their luminous mirror wisdom. Having chanted the Dharani of Great Compassion, we dedicate its merit and virtue to:
The original teacher Shakyamuni Buddha, the first woman ancestor Mahapajapati, the first master in China Bodhidharma, the eminent ancestor Dogen, the great ancestor Keizan, and all ancestors who have transmitted the Way,
to all dharma-protecting devas, to the dharma-protecting saints, to the protectors of the whole earth, to the earth spirit of this place, and to the monastery-protecting spirits,
to mountains, oceans, and soils, to forests, meadows, and prairies, to land, water, and sky, to the whole earth and all her peoples.
We pray for peace in the land, harmony among nations, protection from natural disaster, prosperity and longevity for donors, tranquility within the sangha, and ample sustenance for the community.
In particular we offer this energy to the safety and well-being of the lands in northern Minnesota where the pipeline threatens everything; to the encouragement, safety, and well-being of the human beings protecting those lands, to the structures of treaties, international agreements, and laws that offer protection, to Sheriff Darin Halverson, may his example be followed by other local police, to the governmental powers who could honor those treaties, agreements, and laws, including President Joseph Biden, Governor Tim Walz, and Attorney General Keith Ellison, to the pipeline workers that they may quit their jobs and become water defenders themselves, and finally to the hearts and minds of the owners of Enbridge, that they may wake up and abandon doing harm.
All Buddhas throughout space and time, All honored ones, bodhisattva-mahasattvas, wisdom beyond wisdom, maha-prajnaparamita.
Do you ever feel like your chanting is answered, your offering received? That’s how it felt today. I’ll be doing it again. Indoors or out. Would love to hear if you do it too.
Spring has burst forth in the past two weeks. Everything in me welcomes it. So today just this, with Wendell Berry:
We don’t know what will happen next, though things seem to be improving as more people are vaccinated. We discuss expectations at the beginning of each event (and in advance by email). Summer activities are mostly outdoors. We expect people to be responsible if they’ve been exposed, recently traveled, have vulnerable people to protect, and so forth. Expect standard safety protocols appropriate to the situation.
May 15, Saturday, we will be planting the garden, which has been prepped by several people on May 1 and other days. Tomatoes, potatoes, butternut squash, green peppers, canteloupe, and some herbs. Morning, afternoon, or both. Send an email to Shodo, and we’ll coordinate start and stop times, lunch, what you might need, directions, and carpooling. If we get everything in, there are a few other projects involving berries, fruit trees, and foraging.
Future dates to be arranged.
We probably start in June, depending on the building permit. I’m gathering names of people, and their availability and skill levels. (Support staff is good too – for instance cooking.) Email me here, and I’ll keep you posted. We expect coming and going of people, with enough stability to help it flow smoothly. Morning zazen is offered at 6 am, optional.
The project is opening up the main floor of the house, for added sun, more space, and an extra bedroom. The main point is to create a good south wall so we can attach a solar greenhouse and stop heating with fossil fuels. A second point is an additional nice bedroom for long-term guests or residents. Because the plan is still six residents.
June 17-22 is planned for a sesshin – an intensive meditation retreat in complete silence. This may be shortened or altered in some way if construction is still going on; advance registrations will make sure that it remains in full.
For all retreats: if interested, please either click above to register, or email for information.
Wednesday night study group, Sunday afternoon discussion group, and Monday morning zazen continue as usual.
I’ve had some lovely conversations about the world. Here are links to one talk, two four-way discussions, and one interview:
Dharma talk, Everything around me is my refuge
“Simple Sacred Solutions” is a series of dialogues from Green Yoga Project. Two interviews are posted each day May 1-7, and on their website afterward. Mine will be available Wednesday, May 5 (any time). Register here; you’ll receive an email with a link, to access the talks on the given day.
And if you are engaged in the struggle for justice and human rights; if you are embraced by soil and water and growing food; if you are deep in silent meditation; if you are disheartened by your own life or discouraged by the changes in the world; if you are filled with gratitude; if you are afraid; if you are angry – whoever you are and in whatever state, know that you are held.
If you would like us to chant on behalf of yourself or a loved one, someone in danger, sick, missing, in prison, passed over, or for a cause or a concern, please ask.
In spite of Covid-19, we will offer some in-person options for this year. Things may change if the pandemic worsens. Meanwhile we have online events.
Spring Work/Practice Period is an extended time for meditation, dharma discussion, and work as practice, in the context of community and the natural world. We’d like to welcome two or three people for an extended time, with more later when the weather warms. You can arrive April 1 or later, and stay to late summer. Well, for the hardy March is an option; we have plants to start indoors and maple trees to tap. Please read the more detailed description here, and plan to talk with me before you actually come. Also take a look at the visitor information.
Self-quarantine on site for up to two weeks, depending on individual circumstances. That self-quarantine can be done mostly outdoors, or in your room, with meals and other activities organized in a safe way. Like the traditional Zen tangaryo (which consists of simply sitting meditation all day), it provides a chance to get settled in this place while not having a lot of obligations. After a few days we’ll likely be able to find some kinds of solo work for you.
Volunteers are also welcome during this time.
This includes a volunteer weekend April 16-20 (come for part or all). Schedules are still in flux with weather, there will be other weekend opportunities.
Please see the calendar for later events:
Even in this pandemic time, I hope several of you will be able to come.
In this time of fear, when so many people are literally refugees and when any one of us might join them. How do we find refuge, and how do we offer refuge?
Refuge means shelter from danger. It comes from “to flee,” “back,” and “a place for.” The danger is unspecified, just fleeing back to a place.
We will start by recognizing that we are all refugees in some way.
There are people who have been burned out of their homes, flooded out of their communities, or who are running from war, starvation, gang violence, and the rest and are turned away at borders of all kinds, or imprisoned, raped, separated from their children… the things done in the name of “protecting our own people” are cruel beyond imagining. The average American, in the richest large country in the world, is one paycheck or one medical disaster away from financial catastrophe, which I mean homelessness and hunger.
But we also seek refuge from trouble in our minds; fear and anger, confusion, not knowing what to do next, looking for someone to trust. Dealing with external danger goes better when we address our internal troubles.
You can’t take refuge in denial, but that’s what people try to do. Buddhism has been mistaken for a means of escape, and is often misunderstood as: “Calm down and you will be all right.” Or “Nothing is real, it’s all created by your mind.” Neither of those is Buddhism, even though calming down is always a good idea and thought has a powerful influence. Refuge is not escape.
Traditionally Buddhists take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
“Buddha” is shorthand for “being awake.” People think we take refuge in a person who is awake, but that’s just symbolism for being awake ourselves. That’s more than the politically-correct “woke” but they have a connection. “Dharma” has three meanings: the teaching, truth, and phenomena. It’s translated into Japanese as Ho, meaning law – the natural law of how things work. You can take refuge in things being as they are: simple enough, difficult enough. And “Sangha” means group, means community, generally referring to the community of beings who are on this path of awakening. Not the people we like, but the ones who will support each other when the need comes. Just as in a blizzard people all go and shovel out stuck cars, in a flood those with boats go rescue those without, in a power outage we gather in places that still have heat – sangha every day means commitment to help each other take refuge from our own mental illusions, from selfishness and anger and everything that ruins life. Like pebbles in a rock tumbler, we
are not necessarily comfortable in sangha, but it’s what we need.
I was sitting zazen this morning, and thoughts were wandering. Then I noticed, and looked at the thought of the moment. Looked at it with kindness. I didn’t try to fix it, I admitted it was there, a self-criticism, and I just sat with it for a while.
You can take refuge in the way things are. Take refuge in kindness. Take refuge in knowing you’re not alone.
That’s a start.
Next weekend I’m offering a one-day retreat on Refuge on Saturday, and a talk on Refuge Sunday morning. You can find both here: https://redclaysangha.org/. “Sunday morning service” takes you to the link for the talk. register for the retreat ($20) lower on the page “Retreat with Shodo Spring.”
The campground picture was a physical place of refuge during the Compassionate Earth Walk in 2013 – refuge from heat and thirst. We now have some photos and blog posts from that walk, here. The large picture is Eagle Springs Lodge, northern Nebraska, which offered walkers a much-needed refuge later.
The Unist’ot’en Camp picture shows the first building that hosted indigenous people defending the land to which they belong. http://unistoten.camp/
If you’re not already subscribed to the blog, know that we’ve fixed the glitch and you can sign up to receive posts through email.
Events will be posted on the website soon.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
The problems with the online groups have been resolved. The links on the website now work for joining Zoom groups. Briefly, here’s what’s coming up.
Wednesday April 29, 6:30-8 pm – Zen study group. Here is the Zoom link We are currently working with the book Living by Vow; details on the event page. If you would like to come for the first time, please email Shodo. It’s okay to come before you have the book. Please note that we’re skipping a week.
Life has been intense and busy; I’m working from home, offering additional groups, and writing. Here are some thoughts on the pandemic; there will be more.
We’ve reached the 50th anniversary of the original Earth Day. I was there 50 years ago, with my husband and infant daughter, in the college gym. Senator Gaylord Nelson had said “The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment.” Zero Population Growth was pushing for people to have just two children. There was so much enthusiasm, so much hope, so much energy.
It seems lifetimes ago. If I’d even remotely imagined that we would be HERE, now, I would have done something. But I believed that government worked, business leaders were honest, and technology could solve everything.
I wish I could have those simple easy beliefs back, but reality intervened. We are now paying the price for that naivete that we all preferred – and for not saying NO to things that were obviously unworkable.
We are facing life and death. Sure, we always have, but now it’s impossible to ignore. Things are uncertain and unpredictable – they always have been, but the scale is worse. Sooner or later, each of us will die, as will those we love – we cannot rely on anyone or anything. Taking care of our actions is a way to be steady, to be stable, to be calm – as well as to contribute to our world.
The Coronavirus attacks the lungs. Lungs are grief – in Chinese medicine. Grief is frozen sorrow, piercing sadness with a cause. There’s an association with injustice in the history of the word.
I was thinking about our collective grief, our unspoken mourning for the loss of the world we once lived in, for the liveliness that we remember in our daily lives, for the many individuals dying and species ending. Here now, with the virus, here is a mourning, here is a whole people mourning with our bodies. Here is a whole people giving up our entertainments (reluctantly) and contemplating how we might care for each other, how we might collectively survive and heal…. We are mourning with our lungs, with our coughs, with our fevers.
We live in a time of immense grief, and also fear.
Some grief is obvious. Climate change may kill us all, we mourn the loss of a future, or of a beautiful future for our children and grandchildren. I miss drinking water directly from a lake, I miss the woods where I grew up roaming wild, and the safety to do so as a child. So many have much more to grieve: murdered indigenous women; Covid-19 striking African-Americans hardest; chronic illnesses related to environmental factors. Wars. Health problems. Poverty. Violence against immigrants, against people of color, against women, against trans people.
But I want to go back further, and deeper. I want to say,
The core grief is that we don’t trust the world in which we live. We think we have to manage it. Like Adam and Eve, we want to be like God. We have to be God, because we no longer trust the gods – or God, or the spirits, or the plants and animals and mountains and rivers. We are on our own. We are orphans. There is no mystery, no unknowable. And we are not God, or gods. We are humans with powerful technology who deny that anything is still holy.
I don’t mean that you and I deny it. I mean our culture denies it.
This is tragic. We are cut off from most of life.
In this culture, humans are like gods. We have the right to use everything, consume what we want, build, pave, ship, plow, create. We even create new forms of life through genetic engineering. And we are the only ones that matter. If we kill other humans en masse, we call it genocide; if we kill animals en masse we call it food production, and if we kill forests, prairies, ecosystems en masse we call it progress.
Most of the people in the history of the world have lived a different way. We call them hunter-gatherers, or pastoralists, or horticulturalists. The Garden of Eden gives a picture of that way of life. Being thrown out to do agriculture was a curse, but it was the natural result of trying to be gods, refusing the gifts freely offered.
“Living in the hands of the gods” is a term invented by Daniel Quinn to describe these people. In the hands of the gods, you are part of a community that includes more that just human beings. You have a right to exist, and so does everything else. You can compete with the other beings for food and space, but you can’t wage war on them.
Humans lived well in this way for millennia. Like other top predators, they lived by culling the old and sick from the herds of other animals around them, and from gathering the surplus of plants, while carefully maintaining the well-being of the host population. Like other animals and plants, in case of drought, flood, or blizzard some of them would die. They did not expect otherwise.
In a recent example, the Menomonie of Wisconsin have profitably managed a forest for timber products since 1860. The forest is healthier now than when they began. Humans know how to do this. Our culture does not. A few of us do, as a whole we have not a clue. We know how to control, not how to participate. And this is our great sadness.
We live in a culture that does not know how to be part of the family. We are estranged. We are desperate for control, because we can’t trust. The tragedy is that, like a traumatized child grown up, we can’t see that there is kindness and love in the world. And so collectively, for survival, we become the bullies of the world, where personally we would never willingly bully anyone.
(I have a smart phone. I know it’s made unsustainably with rare earths. I know it’s made by child slaves who are poisoned by the elements in it. I know that someone invented a cell phone that was neither of these, and it’s being test marketed in Europe. And my phone is incredibly convenient. It exceeds the most extreme fantasies of the science fiction I read in the 1960’s. The science fiction didn’t usually mention slaves or sustainability. I make excuses for having the phone. My guilt helps no one.)
Deaths of people, animals, and oceans are woven into our daily life so deeply that avoiding them would be a full time job. This is pain. This is the hole in our society, the hole in our hearts, the reason lung problems and heart problems are the major killers in America. This is the hole we have to cover up in order to go on with our lives.
The pandemic is helping us with that. It gives us permission to be sad about dying, sad about the people who are taking risks, and permission to be angry at the injustice of who does and who doesn’t get help, angry at those who profit. And some of us are stuck at home, with our families or alone, with time. Time to read, time to create, and time to give to others. Mask making, mutual aid societies, free concerts and donations of all kinds – something is flowering, in the middle of stress and of death.
It may be that great changes will come, as they did after the Black Death in Europe. May they be changes of more kindness and not of more control. May we act in a way that creates more kindness.
We live this day as well as we can. With kindness for ourselves and others. Taking care of what needs to be done – make food, wash the dishes – who needs attention – our families, our selves – and letting that create our lives. Today’s actions create the self who wakes up the next morning.
Here is where we come back to the Five Remembrances. I am of the nature to grow old, to have ill health, to die. Everything and everyone around me will change and I will lose them. Only my actions are reliable. My deeds are the ground on which I can stand.
That sounds a little solitary. “My deeds are the ground on which I stand.” We might understand that our friends and children and husbands and wives are with us. We might understand that our congregation is with us. We might organize a community mutual aid society, or feel grateful or angry at the actions of the state or the nation. But mostly we don’t think of ourselves as part of a family that includes flies and ground squirrels, deer and maple trees, the Cannon River, the Great Plains, the wheat and the buckthorn and the clouds in the sky. It just doesn’t occur to us.
There have been people – through most of the history of earth, actually – who did experience themselves as part of that family. Some of the relatives were annoying and troublesome, some were kind and generous, some had to be appeased or pacified and then they would be kind or helpful.
I propose that as we take our individual and family and community actions, we understand that we are not acting alone. And I can’t tell you what action is yours. I can only observe. A whole group of people here are checking in with other members every week. A whole group of people are doing heroic work in making services happen online – nine people met yesterday for over an hour to make today happen. Kristin gave us another year so we don’t have to search for a new minister during this time. A lot of people are sewing masks and giving them away. I know someone who recovered from the virus and is going back to work on an ambulance. Doctors, nurses, custodians, bus drivers, grocery workers, shoppers are keeping things going. Farmers are growing food, and organizing to get it to people – they’re building an alternative economy that will be more trustworthy than the centralized one. And so many people are simply changing their lives in very uncomfortable ways, to not endanger people they love.
Organizations and unions are agitating to protect those workers from the risks that wouldn’t be happening if we had decent government – and state governments are stepping up to the challenge. There are quiet conversations everywhere about what to do if martial law is declared, if how to resist the outrages already happening. People are singing in the streets, having dance parties, taking care of each other, staying home to protect each other. People are offering classes and meditation and concerts online free, for donations. Water protectors and land defenders are finding creative ways to continue resisting; Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light continues to work on stopping Line 3 in northern Minnesota. People are gathering online to talk with each other; I’m hosting one of those gatherings every week, and a Zen study group. People are studying and sharing ideas: Barbara’s last blog post was about this, I’m writing about it. We do whatever we do. We’ll never be the same.
Our actions create our selves, and so do the actions of those around us, including people, plants, animals, stars… we’re all creating each other, that’s how the world works. Our deeds – all together – our deeds create the ground on which we stand, and on which our future can be built. Our deeds are building that future – all of us.
I’d like to end with a quotation from David Abram, which says this in very poetic language:
The animate earth around us is far lovelier than any heaven we can dream up. But if we wish to awaken to its richness, we’ll need to give up our detached, spectator perspective, and the illusion of control that it gives us. That is a terrifying move for most over-civilized folks today — since to renounce control means noticing that we really are vulnerable: to loss, to disease, to death. Yet also steadily vulnerable to wonder, and unexpected joy.
For all its mind-shattering beauty, this earth is hardly safe; it is filled with uncertainties, and shadows — with beings that can eat us, and ultimately will. I suppose that’s why contemporary civilization seems so terrified to drop the pretense of the view from outside, the God trick, the odd belief that we can master and manage the earth.
But we can’t master it — never have, never will. What we can do is to participate more deeply, respectfully, and creatively in the manifold life of this breathing mystery we’re a part of.
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.)
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!
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.