- The Farm
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“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.
It is only by consistently re-grounding ourselves to the Earth, silently in order to listen, that we can allow the grief of these times to wash through us. And then, may we be clear-eyed and able to act with the conviction required by these times. Dahr Jamail, July 2019
In early August, fourteen of us came together to practice with the land, listening to the earth and caring for it, sitting zazen in the new zendo and walking meditation outdoors, working and laughing together. It felt like a new beginning.
Although the point of the work times was to engage with the land, not to accomplish things, things were accomplished.
One of the work groups was asked to make a trail through the woods; last fall’s tornado damage has made it very difficult to walk in the woods, and I’ve been feeling more and more need to reconnect. When I came down the path they’d made, I found myself face to face with the most beautiful part of the bluff at the large creek. I caught my breath. Looked at the faces in the rock cliff, one face and another and another and a whole mass of beings like an audience down below. Felt the space. Stayed for a while, and promised myself to come back every day. To listen, to honor, to be made whole again. It’s nearly at the center of the land we “own.” That feels good to me. There was an altar in each direction: north, east, south, west at the river. Most of these are inaccessible since last September’s tornado took down so many trees. But now I can walk to the central altar and be connected – feel the connection that is always there, actually.
I asked the place for permission to post a photo, but there was no yes. So no picture, I just invite you to come, to make your offering here at this altar, to receive its blessing, to meet directly.
Meanwhile, the work of the summer has been making the zendo, the meditation hall as the heart of the house. And some work with gardens and outdoors, mostly maintenance, but tomatoes are starting to ripen and the zucchinis are already feeding us. Gifts from Eileen, from Karen, Beth, Jaime, Iris and Hosshin and Hoko and so many other volunteers, guests, sincere practitioners. And the steady work of Damien, weeding, mowing, hauling, whatever is needed for several hours a week, helping the land be in better shape than it has for a while.
It feels like things are coming together, after five years here. People are coming more; the house is a workable space for retreats; the beauty of the land is coming forth. The potlucks offer steady space for listening and deepening, the three-hour sits, the workdays, and the weekend sesshins – things are settling. It’s fortunate, because just at this time the emergency in the world is becoming clearer.
Observing the World:
The emergency in the world – I see that I wrote about this last month. Happy not to say more, except to remind you that this is that state recommended for practice: “Practice as if your head is on fire.”
Meanwhile, I’m happy to see so much waking up, so many people learning to follow the lead of indigenous people, so many following spiritual paths.
And here’s a thought: Sometimes you hear of a people who have a ritual that must be done for the world to continue. For instance, “I have to offer this prayer in the morning for the sun to come up.” Colonized mind thinks it’s silly. Very few are doing those rituals any more; colonialism has decimated native religions even worse than native peoples. What if those peoples were right? What if what would save us is not science but prayers and rituals for the earth, for earth spirits? Not proposing that we abandon other actions, but that we look deeply at the nature of our relationship with all beings.
That’s where I’m putting my time, because even though my imagination can’t go there, I’m certain that we need to go beyond the rational mind. What matters is to come home to our family, of the whole earth including humans. That’s more important than survival.
The question is always: What is needed? What can this person and this group offer that will be beneficial to the whole, including every individual. So there will be an “Introduction to Zen” workshop and retreat in October, because people have been asking.
I’d also like to invite you to listen to one of my Dharma talks, where I look more deeply into the matters I discuss here. Two of the talks posted on the website are based on Dogen’s “Body and Mind Study of the Way”: “The whole world is nothing but the true human body” and “A single hand held out freely.” Each is a bit under an hour. On the same page are two very short clips, one on walking meditation and one on work.
I look forward to posting a talk by my teacher, Shohaku Okumura, at the Land Care Retreat, and a talk by Beth Goldring at Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center.
August/September and upcoming events (more detail in August 13 posting):
Thank you to donors. You know who you are. Another person has added an automated monthly donation to MWA. This is easy for you and of enormous benefit to us, allowing a bit of planning and less hunting for money. A few people are also signed up with iGive.com, which creates donations of significant percentages with online shopping – automated if you put a button on your website. All options are here.
Blessings and Love to you all,
Looking ahead to September:
Directions and practical information are at this page.
The newsletter will come out separately.
One: This is an odd thing: I listened to the Democratic primary debates, in spite of my better judgment. Twenty imperfect but passionate people spoke, and I thought most of them were more alike than different. A week later, it struck me: twenty people are touring around the United States, giving talks to whoever will listen, speaking on behalf of kindness, peace, fairness, and so forth – proposing a return to basic decency. When one says something brilliant (for instance, Julian Castro on decriminalizing undocumented immigration), others pick it up.
This is not a competition. This is a team. They are speaking against greed, racism, sexism, and environmental stupidity, and for returning to being decent ordinary human beings again. I almost don’t care whether any particular one is sincere. The voices are out there, and they are speaking truth – most of them – in varying degrees. This is abundance. (May the few corporate or militaristic shills among them drop out soon.) This is the most positive I’ve felt about elections in a long time.
Two: Looking for a talk to share with the potluck group next week, I noticed that I was considering three men. And more than half of the past talks have been by men. I have been complicit in putting men’s voices first. And yet the mind was blank when wondering about talks by women. So I asked the community – in the form of a facebook page called Permaculture Women.
The responses flooded in. I was reminded of women teachers I’d forgotten: Ursula LeGuin, Starhawk, Terry Tempest Williams, Winona LaDuke…. And women I’d never heard of, and beautiful talks. Now I have a whole page of names, and I want to schedule listening groups every week instead of every month. I’ve started looking them up, listening to talks, being inspired. I want to share them all right now. Some day, they’ll be on that website resource page.
I haven’t been writing much. There’s a kind of leisure that I haven’t had, that allows the mental noise to settle and something else to come forth. When I find it again, it will be to join the chorus of beautiful, creative, brave voices that’s already there – not to say the desperately needed thing that nobody else knows.
This is abundance. Hundreds of voices are speaking. They are saying beautiful, incredible things. They are confronting fascism (with bodies as well as with words), they are speaking the beautiful truth of the world, they are inspiring, healing, creating a vision of the community we could become. In our work, in our alliance with the mountains and waters and myriad beings, we are in the company of thousands. The thought that I should be the first to speak – that comes from loneliness, from broken community, from personal woundedness and from hubris – may it heal.
Three: And then there are the others. The central point of Mountains and Waters Alliance is becoming allies to those who are not human – trees, flowers, insects, birds, animals, rocks and bluffs and creeks and rain – listening to them, learning from them, protecting them, and asking and accepting their support and wisdom. I promise to take the time for this as well. And here too, other humans are already doing this work, have been doing it for decades, centuries, the whole of human existence – and they’ve been writing about it in English for many decades as well. We join a beautiful community.
There are still a few spots left for this retreat. It includes formal and informal Zen practice, meeting the love of all sentient beings in physical expression, walking with and working with the land.
There will be a Saturday evening talk by the respected teacher Shohaku Okumura-roshi. If you’re interested in just coming to that talk, email me. I’ll get back to you when I know how many spaces we have for the talk.
If you are not familiar with Zen practice and want some basic background before coming to the Land Care Retreat, we’ll set something up. Email Shodo if interested, and we will arrange a 2-3 hour time in early August. No charge.
July 20 Saturday work day – we could really use your help, preparing for the Land Care Retreat (tent spots, trails, and whatever’s needed indoors as we get ready to move the zendo into the cool place. 9-5, or 1-5 if you want a half day. Lunch at noon, watermelon for afternoon break. And it’s fine to come for just a couple hours. It helps to know that you’re coming.
July 21 2-5 pm, three-hour sit. Third Sunday.
July 21 5:30-8:30, potluck and discussion. Third Sunday.
July 26-28, weekend sesshin. Last weekend each month, except November/December.
August 9-11, Land Care Retreat. (See above)
August 17, Saturday work day.
August 18, 3-hour sit and potluck
August 23-25, weekend sesshin.
Looking ahead – women’s retreat in Indiana, October 11-13.
July 20, August 17, September 14, October 19, November 16, and maybe December 14. More information at Visitor Information. We really have fun, and it really helps.
Thank you to donors. You know who you are. I’d like to also solicit donations for Sanshinji, which is sending four people here to support the Land Care Retreat, at its own expense. Here.
The vegetable garden is doing well, because of summer guest Eileen Jones (was here for about three weeks, gardening every day) and local worker Damien Williams. We have many potatoes, small tomato plants, and beans, squash, and more. Strawberries are ending and raspberries beginning. The new fruit trees are all alive. And, wonder of wonders, the lawn is mowed!
I’ve started saying “this is what societal collapse looks like” and hearing the same from many directions. A president who is a laughingstock around the world; random official killings of people for various reasons or none, though apparently based on skin color, religion, immigration status, or simply being inconvenient for the corporate state.
There are bits of hope. A court has said no to putting a citizenship question on the census, and the president backed down (sort of) – still thinks he can get the data. Once, creating Social Security, this nation refused to create a national ID card – they were aware then. Now, I won’t be surprised if they soon put religious and ethnic information on our driver’s licenses – check out The Handmaid’s Tale for what comes next. Another court has declared the imprisonment and neglect (and abuse) of immigrant children illegal. Here and there, courts do what they’re supposed to do – limit abuses by the other branches. Some Congress members are speaking up and even taking action on the horrors of the day. And listening to the Democratic primary debates, I suddenly had the imagine of a team, working together with powerful voice, to educate the public, to put forth a vision – because their words are (mostly) beautiful. What if they came to think of themselves as a team, to actually lead away from the corporate state and into something better?
Yet, as someone said, “If you’ve ever wondered what you would have done in Nazi Germany, look at what you’re doing now.” To count on the courts, or on Congress, or on a future president over a year from now, is to abdicate, to choose victimhood over citizenship. I say that to myself as much as to anyone else.
We don’t know how soon actual hunger will come to us right here in the United States. I mean middle-class white people, of course – there are plenty of hungry or malnourished children already, look around. I remember 2008 and the very long lines at the food shelf. That was economic; this year there will be less actual food (and less ethanol for gasoline, so higher travel costs). Though still at the top of the privilege heap, the U.S. joins the world in food insecurity.
Sometimes people don’t like me to talk about this stuff. It’s uncomfortable. Not as uncomfortable as being imprisoned or shot – as is already happening to some people. This is about life, not comfort.
What to say? Plant food, of course. Organize, of course. And this other thing: learn to talk with the food, food plants you grow and those you eat, try to find out about a different kind of relationship with the world of plants and animals that sustain us. The easiest introduction to this would be Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael; the most beautiful – there are so many!
Forget guilt. Ask forgiveness if you need, then act, and let the world of living beings support you as you act.
Blessings and Love to you all,
First, on this summer solstice day, a poem from Gary Snyder. “After a Mohawk prayer,” he says.
Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through
night and day –
and to her soil; rich, rare and
in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing, light-changing
leaf and fine root-hairs;
standing still through wind and
rain; their dance is In the
flowering spiral grain
in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and
silent Owl at dawn. Breath of
clear spirit breeze
in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers (and sisters),
teaching secrets, freedoms, and
ways; who share with us their
milk; self-complete, brave and
in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers,
glaciers, holding or releasing;
streaming through all our bodies
in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to the Sun: blinding, pulsing light
through trunks of trees, through
mists, warming caves where
bears and snakes sleep – he who
wakes us –
in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to the Great Sky
who holds billions of stars – and
beyond that – beyond all powers
and is yet within us –
The Mind is his Wife.
so be it.
It’s still possible to register for the June sesshin, June 28-30, or the July sesshin, July 26-28, Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. More sesshin dates here.
Three-hour sits are 2-5 pm on the day of the potluck. July 21, August 18, September 15, October 20, November 17, December 22.
Land care retreat August 9-11, please register early. We expect a large group and will be preparing particularly with the July 20 work day.
Looking ahead – women’s retreat in Indiana, October 11-13.
are changing slightly to include an optional monthly work retreat. This is a direct result of how much we liked the Land Care Retreat. Here’s the deal:
You know who you are. We now have enough regular donations to cover the internet fee plus a little.
There’s been some planting. Three apple and three pair trees, two Korean nut pines and one sweet black cherry (looking a little weak, I need to learn). Donated rhubarb is looking great, five plants. Strawberries just started to produce. Tomato plants – Cherokee Purple – look healthy. Some other annuals are just starting – while the renters’ garden is close to producing already! I’ve just harvested the first milkweed for eating; milkweed is abundant so we can harvest freely. Mints and catnip are also abundant, and flowers. Eileen, a gardener, has just arrived for the summer, and I look forward to showing her things and growing food and beauty together.
Instead of recounting the latest horrors, I want to offer another way to meet the world. A Facebook friend sent me his new website. It has a whole page of people’s faces, people he considers heroes for their level of commitment and love – along with links to their writings or speaking or stories. Let us remember that there are people like this, in every time including the worst. We can be people like this. I invite you to read their stories, and see how you are like them.
“Greed, anger, and ignorance rise endlessly. Cut off the mind-road.”
It’s anger that tempts me the most. It has effects on the body. Tense jaw, tense shoulders, fists, stomach. Loss of appetite. Effects on life: putting the worst interpretation on events and on people – falling into blaming. But what’s actually happening? The world as we know it is falling apart – and it needed to fall apart. It still hurts. The man in the White House is a symptom of the collapse of a social system that was never sustainable. It’s not the individuals who are the problem.
Life doesn’t work when obsessed by anger, or distracted by shiny objects, or just denying the problems. So there are some kinds of mental/emotional first aid. Take three breaths with attention. Look deeply, even lose yourself in a flower or grasses or insects, whatever life is available. Put your hands into the soil. Go to the woods or the waters. Play with a small child. Have some social time. On a longer time frame, get your life into a sustainable routine, with enough sleep, nutritious food, exercise, people, and not too much electronics or sugar or alcohol.
And then – stay stable, keep doing those things. Calming, or samatha, in Buddhist terms, is the ground for everything else. It’s followed by insight (vipassana) and action or morality. (Morality also comes first, actually, and then it grows naturally out of the calm, insightful place.) This is all hard when disasters are everywhere.
Stay calm, continue self-care, and respond to what is needed – what calls to you most urgently. There’s no shortage. Rather than trying to do everything, find something you can do well. And do it. Meditation, understanding, action.
Blessings and Love to you all,
Newsletters will be monthly! From now on, that is. Last week was supposed to be the monthly newsletter, but I forgot to tell you, and there is news anyway. So here we go.
Zen retreats: Two changes.
Monthly work days are changing slightly to include an optional monthly work retreat. This is a direct result of how much we liked the Land Care Retreat.
Dates: 2nd or 3rd Saturday: June 8, July 20, August 17, September 14, October 19, November 16, and maybe December 14.
Next land care retreat is August 9-11. My teacher, the respected scholar Shohaku Okumura, will give a talk Saturday evening. If the retreat doesn’t fill, there might be some spaces just for the talk. But please read below for what the May retreat was like. It felt much like the Sanshinji “Community-building Retreats” which include silent periods, Dharma talks, sitting, working together, and time to talk.
Thank you to donors. You know who you are.
Reflections on the weekend retreat.
Only three people were registered, and the weather was looking terrible – cold and rain. I nearly canceled; on Thursday I checked to see whether people were still planning to come. They were. And my morel-hunting teacher was up for it, rain or shine. So we met – three of us, Friday night – and planned a schedule that would respond to the weather, going outdoors when it was least likely to rain, scheduling sitting and talks when it looked bad.
We did zazen instruction Friday night, and some words setting a shared intention, and sat together. Saturday morning we
sat at 6 am, walked outside at 7 am down the old road in the woods, and I came back to make breakfast which we ate at 8 am. Instead of the planned sitting and Dharma talk, we did our work practice outdoors in the morning, beginning with some words by Martin Prechtel about how to honor the plants – right relationship, in Buddhist terms. Together we chose where to plant the ferns. We introduced them to the plants that were already there, and asked them to befriend each other (feeling just a little silly, I will admit), and we cooperatively put them in the ground in three chosen places. (There are a few left, and today I found where the others should go – the “island” near the big creek, where the ferns from some years ago are vigorous.
There was time for rest before Perry came (Perry Post, a permaculturist and landscape gardener, who does some projects here) to lead the mushroom expedition.
Me, I can be looking right at a morel and not see it. Angie, she saw them everywhere. Dave did about as badly as me, and Perry guided expertly with just a little personal success. Looking for food in the woods is a spiritual practice of its own. So of course we came back and cooked them for lunch, along with garden walking onions, hostas, and dandelions (and rice and tofu).
It was mid-afternoon, we were tired, and the schedule said Dharma talk plus sitting. So we did – and I don’t even know whether any of that sitting became sleeping or if they were out in the woods again.
Sunday we started again at 6; Doreen just slipped in quietly after driving from Minneapolis; we had more of a schedule because of the rain; I remembered to offer private interviews, and we did cleanup together.
So I had done this crazy thing, scheduling the “Declare Climate Emergency” meeting for 4:00 after closing the retreat at 3. The meeting had five of us, two had been at the retreat. The conversation went deep, and didn’t end on time. We talked of not using internet, phones, email, Skype, electronics to connect with each other, but finding another way. We talked of telepathy and intuition and old ways of connecting. We talked of spiritual working together. And then one of us said, “I do ritual at every new moon and full moon, you can connect with me then.” So it was said. No formal meetings, just a spider-web-like thing of “do this together, without being physically together.”
I’m not accustomed to being with people who understand this way of being. It felt very good. I invite you, too, at the new and full moon, within a day before or after, to offer your own prayer or chanting or ceremony on behalf of whatever moves you. We didn’t even say anything specific, but of course the official subject was climate change.
Something was said then that echoed in something I read today: in ancient cultures, a person with a disability was assumed to be a holy person; their community role was to predict or heal or whatever that might be. How different from this culture, and how different all our lives if we held that understanding.
So the potluck, because of various reasons, had just three of us, who had all been at that meeting. We did listen to a talk, going back to our beginning to Martin Prechtel’s “Grief and Praise,” part 3 but then another one until sleepiness won. Felt like family.
And here I am, not alone any more, with a spiritual community that recognizes mystery, that practices zazen, that is engaged with the world. People are coming here to sit and to engage with the land in a holy way. Mountains and Waters Alliance is.
what do you love?
Not as an abstraction or an ideal
What do you love enough to take action to defend it?
it is under immediate threat
by taking action to defend it, nurture it, grow it
you grow into the person you were meant to be
anger tempered by love becomes purpose
fear tempered by love becomes resolve
why are you here
from the poem “Why are you here?” by Andy Mahler
Forgive my silence. It’s been a time of changes, and writing just didn’t work. Finally, I’m healing from the compulsion to do everything.
Last year my focus was on getting professional work with a stable income. That’s done. I now work 2 days a week in Northfield, in private practice as a psychotherapist, and have enough to invest a little money in the farm. Last year I took a 5-week pilgrimage to sacred spaces and inspiring Buddhist community. This year I’m staying home on the land, this land, caring for it and letting it nourish me. I’m also upgrading the buildings to be more welcoming for retreats and guests, and the hypothetical future residents. Peter Bane, my permaculture teacher, came to do a day-long consult, made a host of recommendations, and left me with a surge of creative energy. The energy is fading a bit, but the vision inspires and I’m taking slow steps. And that workday when four people with a wood splitter put up enough firewood for next year in a shed built by a hired carpenter. 8 hours of heavy work, I was sore for a bit, but happy to have a working body again. Planting small trees now.
And there’s a magic happening at the potlucks, twice now. I don’t even know what made it happen, only remember Jenny asking why I called everybody here, and a series of deep questions from a whole bunch of different people.
I have little to say, it’s too depressing. The likelihood of war with Iran, the increase in authoritarian rulers around the world (including the United States), and a series of increasingly oppressive state laws (Georgia on abortion, South Dakota on criminalizing protest). Yet there is also the growing edge of life, I can’t describe, and the strength of resistance to the death culture.
Climate change is now so obvious it’s mentioned in mainstream news. That’s a fairly random example, I see new ones every day.
And people keep writing wonderful books. The one I want to mention now is not new, though. Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell, describes the way ordinary human beings help each other in catastrophe, when not prevented. And a very old movie about nuclear disaster: Threads. Found in several libraries, lead author Barry Hines, originally from the 1970’s. If you’re not adequately worried, take a look and get really scared about how bad things could be. How important it is to take action – whatever that action might be.
What might I recommend?
Always, sitting meditation. Always, get outdoors, walk on the earth, under trees if you can, listen to birds or water or whatever is available.
And then – I just listened to an 80-minute video of Derrick Jensen, maybe 11-12 years ago, discussing the state of civilization and so forth. It was motivating. Also, he was funny. He does use a lot of bad language.
Work days at the farm (a way to support us, while learning, good times, and good food):
We’re getting by, covering the minimal expenses, and I’m committed to support the Alliance financially as long as necessary. Several of you did sign up for the iGive automatic donation thing, thank you. If a few more people would commit $5/month – or $10/year – we’d be able to do more. If that’s you, look here.
Volunteers are also great. At the farm, or maybe internet help. Email me.
There’s a thing about dancing: it’s an act of life, it expresses being alive in body as well as in heart, and it’s a way of connecting with the world around us. For about ten years of my life, I lived to dance. Then, I went down to the Women’s Coffeehouse whenever they were open and danced until they closed, danced with my full body and attention, through exhaustion and beyond – and it gave me life.
Last weekend I was at a dance sesshin, sponsored by Clouds in Water Zen Center and by Don’t You Feel It Too? And was reminded of that matter of bringing our aliveness and joy into every situation. And I was reminded of Malvina Reynolds’ 1966 song “God Bless the Grass.”.
Dance gives life. Malvina writes about life here. In hard times, when we think society might collapse, when we see fascism in every news item, the most important action is to be alive, to love each other and every thing and every one, to be passionate and fully present – and so we have Dancing at the Gates, the expression of love and spirit that has no specifics yet. The details will evolve.
God bless the grass that grows thru the crack.
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru,
And God bless the grass.
God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
They roll the lies over it and think that it is done.
It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
And after a while it is growing everywhere,
And God bless the grass.
God bless the grass that grows through cement.
It’s green and it’s tender and it’s easily bent.
But after a while it lifts up its head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead,
And God bless the grass.
God bless the grass that’s gentle and low,
Its roots they are deep and its will is to grow.
And God bless the truth, the friend of the poor,
And the wild grass growing at the poor man’s door,
And God bless the grass.
I have not much to say today about the world. Julian Assange has been arrested and might be extradited; my friends are of different opinions about him; I’m of the opinion that freedom of the press is more important than specifics of personality or judgment. We have big snow storms here, and across the Midwest, for the second April in a row. I wonder whether this will be the new normal – and how to manage growing food. It has been pointed out that societal collapse has happened everywhere that European civilization met indigenous cultures, and it is going on now not just in Venezuela but everywhere, with the U.S. as a prime example. Most of us are waiting for it to get to us.
I recommend the book by Phyllis Cole-Dai, Beneath the Same Stars: a novel of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War. Deeply researched, it’s an exploration of what it might have been like for one white woman in that time and place, and includes lots of cultural information as well.
While I’m here, let me also recommend another well-researched fictional series, The Irish Century by Morgan Llywelyn, which begins with the novel 1916 and ends with 1999.
And for lived study/action, please look into dance.
Work days at the farm (please register, it really helps):
This is a space for news and events from groups we’re working with or just things we’d like you to know.
Million Hazelnut Campaign: They are part of the movement to physically interfere with collapse (climate, food, and other) by planting hazelnut trees – which then become the ideal setting for chickens to live, along with a group of other plants and animals. They are asking people to donate $7 to support a single hazelnut tree, to be planted at a farm where they will take care of it. Using this link generates $1 for MWA (us) for each donation – and the trees get planted.
OneEarthSangha: They have been doing webinars about climate emergency from a Buddhist perspective for some years now. The next one is at 11 am Central Time, May 18, the festival of Wesak, and can be found here:
Souland: I just discovered this group in Totnes, England. They seem to be doing beautiful things.
There’s a way to support MWA for almost free. Instead of Amazon Smile, you can use iGive to shop at many online stores with a percentage going to us. Right now, they’re adding $3 just for signing up by May 10 and making a single purchase by May 25. The easiest way is to install their button on your computer; when you shop at an included store the discount will happen automatically with no bother.
And thank you to all who are making a monthly or annual donation – it really helps. What if 20 people gave us $5 a month? It would be incredible! Do that here.