- The Farm
- The Alliance
Our work is to heal the mind of separation, the cause of our time’s unthinkable violence, and to ally with forces of nature to protect and restore the wholeness of life. Releasing human arrogance, with love and beyond conventional wisdom, we seek and follow guidance from those forces: land care, growing food, teaching, writing, retreats, and whatever is required. This is our intervention on climate catastrophe, while we prepare to offer hospice if needed.
Working on a grant application, some things clarified themselves. The first paragraph is above.
A key clarification is that the alliance with all beings is in fact the center. The land is a learning center, a place to begin that relationship, and a place to take in climate refugees if and when that happens. But the most important thing is changing our relationship with the rest of the planet – collectively. Thus, when asked “what if you don’t get the funding you need?” I answered that the shape of the work will change, but it will continue.
Please look here, for better language. Reading the first few paragraphs will be plenty for most people.
Since I last wrote,
There’s some traveling coming up in my life:
A Zen student arrives in June for a few months; I expect another shortly after he leaves in the fall – good news, not to be alone here. This is meant to be a place of community.
Teachings: I’ve updated the calendar, will just mention a few:
And I don’t even know what’s happening in today’s election.
Here are some pictures.
Last Wednesday I took 6 half-pound batches of nettles to my local food coop, packaged in plastic boxes recycled from my daughter’s salad and greens buying. I included two recipes and promised more recipes online – so they’re posted now, under “Recipes.” I recommend the Swedish soup, but they’re all good. (I sell nettles! Next year fiddleheads. Morels, when I find them.)
The solar panels are up and waiting for the inspector. In India, people are dying from extreme heat. In Alberta, the wildfire rages on. Temperatures are changing. Electoral politics is tragic. The names on my altar, of people recently passed, includes both Blanche Hartman and Daniel Berrigan. The heroes and heroines of my youth are leaving, gradually, as I finally learn to be an adult.
This afternoon there was the thought of bringing over Jack-in-the-pulpit flowers to join the (hopeful) ginseng plants under my deck. I took a shovel and pails and found the place where the Jack-in-the-pulpits are growing in the path, just asking to be stepped on. With their permission, I dug up each one, plus a few violets and a little moss, and took them back to plant in the place where the ginseng seeds are completely invisible. After all was planted and watered, it just felt good. And I felt good – happy, after an afternoon of hassles trying to get both phone and internet to work at once. (I think it’s worked out, but am not sure yet. The explanation is not worth it.)
This morning was my weekly “lesson” with the plant communities at the East Gate. This time I went to the area where three men have been digging up buckthorn – paid by me, in hopes of being able to complete the “buckthorn contract” and get the county’s cost-sharing money. I also planted two small sugar maples, cut some honeysuckle and pollarded three black locust trees. (Pollarding is cutting them off at 5-6′ tall, so they keep producing small wood to use for burning, stakes, or whatnot. I’m happy I know this tree is excellent wood and not just a nuisance as some think.)
As I packed up the tools, I looked across the creek at some utterly beautiful large buckthorn bushes, and felt sad. There is too much killing, on my land and in my heart. I listened for the voice of the buckthorn. I wondered whether I could negotiate for it to occupy a particular area. Not the state land, where it is hated. But what about a circle on top of the hill – what about a sacred circle that also has room for honeysuckle, garlic mustard, reed canary grass and the whole host of unwanteds. And it seemed to me that the buckthorn sang in chorus, in joy. I imagined we might actually do something beautiful together, and then remembered Carly’s dream in which the buckthorn became a fence protecting an entire farm. (But my image was a smaller circle. We’ll see.)
I also imagine an entirely different relationship with the plants we harvest to eat, different from trying to destroy them; imagine they are willing to support us. So I’m checking out the wild parsnip, and studying garlic mustard, as I wait for strawberries to move from bloom to fruit. And, oh yes, some of us planted garlic and chives and strawberries under the orchard trees, and removed some of their tubes, and we begin to encourage a lively community in that area as well – wishing for more comfrey, some borage, some rhubarb, and whatever the usual plants are for the fruit tree guilds. All in time, in time. And, oh yes, a hundred million potatoes, half planted, because I didn’t eat them all last winter and now they sprout. Mints and catnip and lemon balm, bravely planted in the area where nothing will grow except weeds. Promising to harvest them, if they’ll grow.
The Jack-in-the pulpit is still in my mind. I think I should make a flower essence from it. When I walk through the woods or fields, it seems as if I can hear all the plants, like a community of different voices, together, and they ask me to slow down and listen more, and I am too busy. It’s a story, even though it feels more real every day. But we live in story, not in the Absolute, and this is a story that seems a good way to live. So I don’t say “true” or “false” but just let it be there.
My old Zen friend Luca has been visiting for two weeks now. He’s fixed several things, sharpened tools, and finished the impossible job – removing the staples from some beautiful oak flooring that I recycled last year. And we talk Dharma, and I try to let my busy mind slow down so I can just be here for that conversation, that person. He’s brought a very interesting awareness to my groups of friends, activist groups, young people living in commitment. He asks questions, and gives respect, and it’s very interesting. Some of us looked at the moon and Jupiter through his telescopes on a dark clear night. I never know what will happen next. We’re halfway through our visit.
The flower essence workshop is being moved, because there are four people (including me) who definitely want to come and we can make that happen. I’ll announce the new date. Maybe others will come too. But this Sunday to Wednesday, we’ll sit sesshin in a new way. My usual is Antaiji-style: just sitting, no chanting or services or work, just face the wall. This will include Dharma conversation, a rest time, work practice, and an option for outdoor meditative practice as well as indoors on the cushion. There will be two or three of us – like a crowd, as usually I sit alone. It will be my rest time.
Both June and July retreats are canceled because I will be traveling; June, to my teacher’s temple for ceremonies and community; July, to a small “thinktank” and then a ten-day wilderness retreat which I hope will offer the rest and re-creation I need.
October sesshin will be led by Lee Lewis, with a focus on environment, and will include working with the plants as part of our zazen.
Love to you all. Good night.
We’re offering a workshop on making flower essences, followed by a four-day gentle meditation retreat, Sunday to Wednesday, as our closing for the 40-day intensive practice time called “Living with the Earth.”
For us, the point of the flower essence workshop is deepening our ability to connect with the land and nonhuman beings. For Martin, the teacher, flower essences are about deep and subtle healing. The meditation retreat, starting Sunday, will follow on that, including short meditative work periods with gardens and woods, earth-based outdoor meditation, and sitting meditation indoors.
We will continue to practice with the earth through summer, fall, and winter. Visitors and interns are still welcome.
Day-long workshop on making flower essences.
Saturday May 21, 9:30-3:30, at Mountains and Waters Farm
As part of our commitment to connect more deeply with the natural world, we invite you to join us in this work which connects flowers and humans in a healing way.
Flower essences are highly effective and subtle remedies made from medicinal flowers for working with psycho-emotional problems in people’s lives. This beginning workshop, taught by flower essence consultant and maker Martin Bulgerin, is an opportunity to get acquainted with these powerful remedies, and to actually make an essence from a flower blooming here on the land.
The 6-hour workshop includes Martin’s two-session introduction to flower essences, plus actually making a remedy together.
Martin has been active in the area of natural healing for 26 years. He is locally recognized as a skilled expert in flower essence therapy, and has created his own line of essences. For more information see the website, www.BioPscInst.com/bpi/FERoot.html, or contact Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time: 9:30-3:30 (bring a lunch)
Location: near Faribault, about an hour south of Minneapolis, in a beautiful natural setting of meadows, bluffs, and woods, by the Cannon River. Directions will be given, including carpooling assistance.
Fee: $50, plus optional $5 materials fee if you would like a bottle of the essence we make. (If you need a scholarship, please ask.) Checks will be made out to Martin Bulgerin, and all money goes directly to him.
Class size is limited and registration is essential.
Please register through Mountains and Waters Alliance, email@example.com, or 507-384-8541.
The meditation retreat, Sunday-Wednesday, will include short meditative work periods with gardens and woods, earth-based outdoor meditation, and sitting meditation indoors.
Come for all or part. To cover food and lodging expenses, we ask for $20/day or in-kind donations.
You’re encouraged to make a donation to the teacher as well.
Pre-registration is essential. For information or registration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 507-384-8541.
Last night I took a walk and scattered seeds in the forest. To walk through the woods is a blessing. Every time, I see more new plants, and want to know their names. I see where tiny buckthorn have come back, or larger ones were missed last time.
It seems like I hear them singing to me, and if I would slow down more I could really join in. There will be a note from a single wild plum tree, or a fern, or a chorus from a whole group of ferns. Sometimes I reply – but the reply is always a little off, I still carry too much noise. Perhaps, as I work in the woods every day, my voice will become clearer. Perhaps trying to imitate is not the point.
This way of being began after Myo-O’s voice workshop, where we spent time with the trees at the end. We’ll be doing it again, probably this fall, probably a whole retreat. But the other guest teacher, Martin Bulgerin, will teach us a different way of listening to plants, by making flower essences. That will be near the end of the 40-day intensive, and followed by a sesshin (meditation retreat). Some of my sesshin time will be in the woods. And that is my healing.
A few months ago I said that this “Living with the Earth” time (also known as “Earth-based Zen Practice”) would set the course for the Mountains and Waters Alliance – defined as “we ally ourselves with mountains, waters, and everything that lives” – getting it into our bodies and hearts. I hoped a core group would participate in this learning with me.
Working in the woods, I notice my preferences for plum over buckthorn, maple over box elder, hazelnut over honeysuckle, and anything over prickly ash. I say those preferences are about whether the plant cooperates with its neighbors, but have to admit that really there is a lot about human convenience. Do they scratch me? Do they give berries in return? I am still human-centered.
Patience is beginning to arise. Zen is full of stories of monks or nuns who spent 60 years living alone in the forest, and eventually students started to seek them out. Suddenly the question occurred: “Did any of them wonder why nobody noticed them? Maybe they were not noble and perfect, maybe they had their miserable days too.” Mostly, thus, I’m able to accept that my own learning and practice is the core. Others may come, or not, but I am finding my core teaching.
And because I have not taken the role of teacher here, I don’t know what others are thinking. I coordinate, solicit, publicize, and do heavy labor – and wonderful conversations happen, and the result is completely unknown. But sometimes a voice comes up in me, and it seems I have words worth saying.
I came back from that walk to learn that Trump had already been declared winner in Indiana. Soon I realized that Cruz had dropped out; it took longer to find that Sanders had won. Imagining Trump as president, I notice fear. Already people who speak a foreign language or can be mistaken for Muslims are being thrown off airplanes, refused entry to things, and sometimes beaten on the streets. Those of us working for change will, I think, be obligated to spend much more time interrupting such things, attending to the basic necessities in our own towns, keeping people alive.
And then I learned of the fire in Fort MacMurray, the evacuation of that whole town, and saw pictures of the place where I had been, 2012 and 2013, to walk with First Nations people in the Healing Walk. Climate change, yes, but how is it? And people are talking about karma, absurdly and cruelly, as if it were the individuals living and working there who were causing the devastation.
What will we become, when we have lost everything? Syrian refugees, Palestinian ordinary people – go back in time to Vietnamese boat people, further back to Tibetan people, whether they fled or stayed – now 70,000 people burned out in North America – what do you become when everything is gone except life and maybe family? Will we finally wake up? You see me searching for meaning. But as always, the people injured are not particularly the people who did the damage, no more than you or me.
There’s a phrase from a Zen story, “Just this, from birth to death.” It’s burned into my mind, but I can never find the story when I actually want to discuss it. Today it is in hiding, but in my mind. Not to do anything special, just be here. Like Daniel Berrigan: “Presente.”
Now – a few photos from last weekend, and some upcoming events briefly.
the plan was to replace pulled-out buckthorn with native trees, 100 of them, and later to add small plants to keep the forest floor healthy. It was amazing to see all the many plants. Maybe they were hidden by buckthorn, honeysuckle, and grasses; maybe they actually multiplied in just one winter.
The Saturday groups (total 4 people plus me, in 2 shifts) pulled up buckthorn in a new area. I cut down tops of plants we will remove, which makes it easier to see what’s happening. We never got to planting the serviceberry, which were donated. Later.
On Sunday I was determined to have a day off. Two of us worked most of the day on the “island” next to the swamp. Nick moved stepping stones for crossing the creek, and half-built a walkway across the swamp to the island, so now it’s easier to get around. The place almost looks like a park now. I left tools and work projects to finish.
Monday I went alone to the island and planted a lot more trees – and found a lot more buckthorn to remove. (For the non-local: if you have buckthorn, you only have buckthorn.) Likewise, if you have bush honeysuckle, or reed canary grass, you have only them – and you either submit or fight. I refuse to use chemical poisons, but watching my mind in its preferences is a challenge. Anyway, its shape is beginning to show itself.
Tuesday I planted a few hundred seeds. Hope they survive. The bare ground under the trees is vulnerable to anything – and we don’t need more take-over plants. And, on the farm, Justin and I looked at the gardens and orchards, pulled a lot of weeds, and planted a lot of potatoes. Thursday we get a load of compost, and get ready for this weekend’s orchard/garden work.
I said I couldn’t afford to hire people this year, but not hiring them was worse. A bunch of fabulous people have turned up. We have Juli, office manager, 15-16 hours a week, helping me get organized and also find volunteers and sell produce. (Besides the farmer’s market of course.) Justin, farm, 15-20 hours a week, and a natural. Paul, high school student, farm. Carpenters for a couple of projects. My money is worth more here than in the bank – though I can’t cut too close. Mentally I’m writing grant proposals, but don’t have time to really write them. Maybe another YouCaring, some time.
In July I am traveling for two things: first, a “thinktank” about environmental activism that actually supports the environment rather than becoming part of the corporate structure. Second, a long retreat in the mountains, for activists and meditators, for which I received a full scholarship. I need it. In June I return to my teacher’s temple in Indiana, Sanshinji, for ceremonies and to help welcome his successor.
For local people, Facebook page is now the best place to find up-to-date information. But I will keep the event page updated here too.
May 6-7: “Tending the Gardens” – mostly, we’ll work with moving supportive plants into the orchard, from the berry patch and elsewhere, and weed and tend both of them. The annual gardens take second place. For people who would like to stay overnight, you can make this a retreat and join us for morning meditation. Just working is fine too
Saturday, May 21: Flower essence workshop – about 5 hours, including a class on making flower essences, a talk and demonstration of prescribing an essence for someone, and – what’s special – actually making a remedy from one flower, which includes meditative time outside. There will be a fee, and there will be scholarships.
Martin Bulgerin, the teacher, has been practicing natural healing for decades, and is locally recognized for his work with flower essences. His website is here. More information later.
Saturday -Wednesday, May 21-25: closing retreat – Concluding our 40 days of living close to the earth, we will create a closing retreat that includes meditation (zazen), land care, celebration, and simple ceremony. You’re encouraged to start with the flower essence workshop.
There’s still volunteer work available most of the time, and we’re still looking for carpool connections from Twin Cities.
Dates are not set.
May or June: Luca Valentino, a Zen person with decades of experience teaching and doing cabinetmaking, will offer some kind of teaching.
Fall (?): Myo-O Habermas-Scher, Minneapolis Zen teacher and voice teacher, will offer a retreat involving work with voice, chanting with trees, and meditation.
Fall (?): Lee Lewis, a Minneapolis Zen teacher, will offer a 5-day sesshin (meditation retreat) here, with teaching relating to the environment and with some outdoor work, nature walks, or other connection with the land.
And that is all for now. Blessings to all of you. Please continue to support us and the whole earth with your prayers, meditations, and everything.
Living With the Earth spring 2016 events
(Our first event, the chanting workshop with Myo-O Habermas-Scher, was a lovely time with 9 guests. We’re planning a longer one for this fall. People have been doing things in the woods, which are starting to bloom.)
The heart of each retreat is walking, listening, and opening to the land, a meditative practice which will guide every part of our work.
May Day Weekend – Playing in the Woods
We’ll take care of a small wooded area (in the picture), replacing problem plants with Sugar Maple, Plum, Serviceberry and Hazelnut.
Mother’s Day Weekend – Tending the Gardens
In the orchard, berry patch, and vegetable gardens – pruning, planting, transplanting, mulching, even weeding. Friday and Saturday
May 21 – Flower Essences
The deep work of intimately engaging with a flower spirit, through the meditative practice of making a flower essence remedy. Guided by Martin Bulgerin.
May 22-25: Zen Meditation Retreat
The retreat will include silent meditation periods, walking meditation indoors and out, teaching, council time, and a little community work.
These retreats combine teaching and meditative time with conscious work, and also play and celebration. Donations are welcome but your labor is the primary donation. Registration is essential.
May Day Weekend – April 29-May 1 – Friday 6:30 pm – Sunday 6 pm
Focus is on helping to return balance to the land – carefully attending to what it requests. We will be digging, cutting, and pulling up buckthorn and honeysuckle; no poisons. If conditions are favorable, we might do a controlled burn. We add plants that will fit in well. We move about the land in a way that creates a harmonious space.
Mother’s Day Weekend – May 6-7 – Friday 6:30 pm – Saturday 6 pm
Focus: Last year we planted an orchard and a berry patch; this year it’s time to take care of them. We’ll be checking on their health, pruning and transplanting some of the berries, adding companion plants to the orchard trees (apple, pear, plum, elderberry, hazelnut), and mulching/weeding/mowing as time allows.
You can come for the weekend, or come and go. (Sleeping space on floor or outside) You can enter at any of the walking/listening orientation times, which will be followed by a work period. It would help to know your plans!
Meditation and Spiritual Practice
This will be a day-long teaching workshop. The practice of making a flower remedy is an intense and intimate meditative process, an opportunity to learn a new language and find a way of being with the plant world.
Schedules and fees are not yet set. (Regular volunteers please request a scholarship.) Limited space, please inquire early.
About the teacher: Martin Bulgerin has been making, teaching, and prescribing flower essences for many years. He considers this class as an introduction to working with subtle energies.
Zen Meditation Retreat – May 22-25 – Sunday 6 am – Wed 6 pm
(orientation Saturday evening. Partial participation is an option.)
Zazen, Zen sitting meditation, is a way of realizing our life together with all beings. This can be a time to allow our meetings with the trees and land to settle into our bodies. Or it can simply be a gentle time to sit together with all beings. Mostly silent, with a few talks and a closing circle.
About the teacher: Shodo Spring is a local Zen teacher, founder of Mountains and Waters Alliance, and a Dharma heir of Rev. Shohaku Okumura. She led the 2013 Compassionate Earth Walk.
These offerings are part of our 40-day intensive period of living with the earth as spiritual practice, seeking to learn and listen to the voices of nonhuman beings, joining them in finding appropriate response to the present crisis.
For all events:
Let us know:
Internships, personal retreats, and additional volunteer times are available; please feel free to ask.
with Rev. Myo-O Habermas-Scher, a voice teacher for decades – more info here. If you would like to come, please register now – or ask questions now.
Saturday, April 23 (Earth Day): A workshop on subtle energies
with Martin Bulgerin. After attending a class with him I knew I wanted him to share his work as part of the spring intensive.He may teach flower essences, or something else. His website is here. If this sounds intriguing, you’re encouraged to contact us now. Details later.
You’re invited to join us for single events or a day, or ask about residential options for a weekend, a week, or longer. For residents, most days include morning and evening meditation, work, meals, and sharing of living tasks. There is space for a farm apprentice for this season.
On work days, meals are offered. For non-work events, we ask a donation.
Friday, April 15: Land care half day
Saturday, April 16: A one-day retreat
opening the intensive with sitting and walking meditation, walking outdoors, council time, and private time.
Sunday, April 17
before and after the chanting workshop will be quiet times, a little work, not formal retreat
Monday-Wed, April 18-20: retreat
with sitting and walking meditation, shared meals, gentleness.
Saturday-Wednesday, May 21-25: closing retreat
Concluding our 40 days of living close to the earth, we will create a closing retreat that includes meditation (zazen), land care, celebration, and simple ceremony.
Community work (land care and/or garden/orchard; backup carpentry work for rainy days)
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays from April 21 to May 20
Email to get on the volunteer mailing list
Spring weather is coming and going. Volunteers keep turning up, not in crowds but delightful small groups.
Last Friday three college students came. We cooked sap from box elders, gathered sap from all the trees, and took out the taps to end the season. Today and tomorrow I’m still cooking sap. It’s an extravagant use of time, when I could be starting seeds indoors or prepping garden beds, but something in me needs to forage. And – yes! – we are now eating nettle soup and nettle pesto. I’ve been clearing the nettle spaces so I’ll be able to harvest more. If interested in buying nettles (with recipes) or nettle products, let me know.I can’t tell you how much energy they give!
Yesterday Martin and three friends came to walk the land and get acquainted with the energies. I learned, interestingly, that they think more like engineers than mystics. That way of thinking is in my background but it’s been a very long time.
Meanwhile, I’m committing myself to be a student of those energies, to let them teach me how to restore the land. It begins where we pulled up buckthorn, and what to plant there. Of course that oversimplifies the task. I’ve studied what I can, and look forward to getting directly involved – and learning to listen.
I was sick for two weeks – never sick enough to stay in bed (just one day) but mostly sick enough to be doing just the minimum. It’s good to finally be back to full functioning.
And the photovoltaic panels are halfway installed on the roof of the house. Pictures later.
The pace is slow, now. If I were certain what to do, it might be faster. Abandoning ideas of being master of the earth requires listening, which requires slowing down. I think that illness probably was about slowing down, something hard for me to do. I continue to be amazed at being able to live in this beautiful space, after a lifetime in cities. I am trusting the land to call in the people who belong here, in all the many ways of belonging. (And I’m as involved in the current political scene as anyone, but don’t want to bring that here.
I hope your spring is going well.
Winter has blended into early spring, warming and cooling unpredictably. Tapping maple trees started a month early, but the repeated cool spells mean the sap is still flowing, still requiring attention. Activities are tapping maple trees and boiling sap, checking for new growth in woods, orchard, and garden, and harvesting the first nettles and dandelions.
Living with the Earth: 40 days
The point of Mountains and Waters Alliance is to learn to live with the earth, together with all beings including rocks, trees, rivers, meadows. This is real, not a metaphor. The 40 days this spring have the intention to make it real for us. We will be doing what we do not know how to do, and inviting teachers who may help us – while the real teachers are the hills and meadows themselves. Zazen is the backbone, and the home place, for this experimentation.
In the first day, an opening retreat, some of the meditation time will be walking outdoors in receptive mode, just as we sit zazen in receptive mode, or listen to each other in receptive mode. There will be chanting practice, first with each other and then as an offering to sacred places outdoors. There will be a day of learning to work with plant devas to make flower essences, and many days of land restoration under the guidance of the nature spirits – which means learning to receive their messages.
I hope some of you will come, for some or all of this time, to help ground Mountains and Waters in right relationship. It’s the most beautiful time here.
First I called it “Earth-based Zen Practice,” then I changed the words and tried to make it a little more clear, here.
Notes from the Farm:
Sugaring has been the big activity here. We have over a pint of black walnut syrup, nearly a gallon of box elder and half a gallon of maple – with an equal amount to be made from sap that’s waiting to be boiled.
Stinging nettles are up – they’re tender when tiny, but require a lot of washing. I’ve had one meal with nettles, and made a pint of nettle pesto with too much garlic. They will be a primary food source shortly. I’ve been studying Sam Thayer’s foraging books, experimenting sometimes. I really liked dandelion roots and crowns. Instead of burning the fields to clear my way to the nettles, I decided it’s better to whack down the old plants and use them for straw; we need straw. My two-hour experiment with the scythe went better than expected.
I planted elderberry sticks along the outside of the orchard – they’re supposed to discourage deer, and of course they’re edible if I can get there before the birds. I’ve got some Asian greens and some arugula, peas, and potatoes outside, and blue flags in hopes of flowers at the pond by the house. Indoors the tomatoes are tiny, two peppers and a few onions and I really ought to get methodical about putting in more seeds. But finally the
energy is there; even though I’ve had the flu for a week the land is now calling me to it, and there is gladness.
Both writing projects are finally finished. There is still accounting, taxes, and organizing the office – but all those are part of this work, right here. The big outside distraction is an election campaign. Once again I’m allowing myself to hope that a certain candidate is what he appears to be. Zen reminds me: “Don’t believe what you think.” And don’t expect happiness from external things.
But I’m a delegate to the county caucus, and am spending too much time following the whole thing. In the same way I follow climate change but try to ignore what I learn, and follow the murders (five this month) of indigenous environmental activists. I place their names on my altar, along with an old friend and a person in “The Jungle” in France who committed suicide. All this news comes through Facebook, as does news from environmental and other movements here in North America, from people I have met or feel like I know. The courage and determination of people who are giving everything, and the sorrow and cruelty in the news, breaks my heart in so many different way.
Living comfortably in this beautiful place instead of being on the road, on the front lines of protests or hunger strikes, all I can do is include them somehow.
Others practicing with the earth
Suddenly, everywhere I look, Zen people and spiritual people are addressing climate change, our relationship with the earth, and colonization, injustice, and the like. In particular, the very traditional Zen Mountain Monastery is devoting its spring practice period to “our one home, this great earth.” This letter describes it, and the talks are well worth hearing.
Thank you all for your support. Please know you are welcome here.
Shodo Spring for Mountains and Waters Alliance
“The entire world of the ten directions is nothing but the true human body.” These words by Dogen were the entry to my talk at Clouds in Water Zen Center, St. Paul, Minnesota. The talk is here: http://cloudsinwater.org/dharma-talks-audio-files/ Here I express my earth-based practice from a. basis in Zen practice and teaching. (About 30 minutes talk, 20 minutes Q&A.) I would love to hear what you think. Some new things came up; when I have time, I’ll try to put something on paper.
I was interviewed by Minnesota Women’s Press, and the article is here. It’s brief and focused on my activist life. My only wish is to replace the phrase “changing the consciousness of the earth” to “learning to be part of the earth,” focused on human consciousness. (I think the writer understood me but not how the words might be read.)
At the farm, the 2016 calendar here and spring events in more detail here:
March 12, 11 am to ?? – Continue with maple sugaring – boiling, hopefully some new tapping.
March 19-20, 9 am to ?? with overnight option – Garden work: starting plants indoors, outdoor prep, whatever is weather-appropriate. Continue sugaring if appropriate. The weather is literally a month off, warm, and I hesitate to make predictions.
I’ve already written about the April-May convocation, and would like to specifically mention the April 17 chanting workshop with Myo-O Habermas-Scher. Other dates will be announced as they are set.
Here’s the wish list, for people. Intended for people who might try out living here, but local commuters are also welcome.
Farm manager: take charge of orchards, berries, produce, possibly wild foods, possibly animals. Ideal person has farm managing experience including money and sales, and a permaculture background. Advantages: lots of creative opportunities. Stipend. Spiritual community.
Farm workers: Work here, live here. Stipend maybe.
Office manager: Ideal person has office management experience and likes doing it. Stipend.
Just resident: People with a job in town (paying rent) are also welcome.
Volunteers: work on farm or otherwise. Everything is needed – see the volunteer page, especially “other volunteering” at the bottom.
All residents: Ideal person has experience living in community, supports the intentions described here, wants to be part of a residential Zen community.
It is my intention that this is the year the farm makes money instead of costing it. This means marketing – the nettles, other wild plants, and then produce from the gardens. It’s the strawberries that I expect to actually provide, if weather supports it. I need to do a lot of accounting, a modest amount of housecleaning, and get started on indoor seeds for the garden. And reach out to potential volunteers, residents, and supporters.
The photovoltaic panels, after spending the winter in the garage, should be installed next week. I expect this should yield a small profit, but it goes first to repaying the loan.
Visitors have come, and there will be more. Some come for Zen practice, some for “personal retreat,” some to volunteer. Some make donations, all do some work, most join me sitting in the zendo. It makes me glad; it’s feeling more like the community space it is meant to be.
I’m trying to wrap up the editing of my teacher’s book on Mountains and Rivers Sutra, almost finished. Then I rewrite my essay for an anthology on the eight-fold path, and work on some of the projects above. Two days ago I stopped building fires for house heat. Building fires didn’t take long, but the time to go out and gather kindling and split logs did. I miss the fires, but it’s okay for now.
I’m attending a biweekly study group in St. Paul, spending time with other Zen teachers, and enjoy sharing study as well as exploring the Lankavatara Sutra which I had not met before. I go to activist groups as well, some of them social, and I trade bodywork with an old friend, so I’m not really very alone. Now and then I drop in on my daughter and grandchildren, and look forward to occasional visits – but they’re becoming teenagers with lives more rooted in their friends.
Climate change and other scary things are constantly present in my mind. It will take 5 years for the apple trees to bear, once we’ve grafted them next year. Will that be too late? (If you’re not following climate matters, surely that sounds absurd. A helpful response would take too long.) I don’t know. That part of me – the one that thinks the end is coming soon – is contemplating appropriate response – how to settle in, join the earth, be ready to care for people – without yet giving up.
The fig tree is promising actual figs this year. May it be so.
It’s always okay to make a donation. Donate
Blessings. May life be good to you, as we move into spring.
It’s been warm here. The plan for February’s work weekend was to clean up the sugaring equipment, and do some indoor carpentry work. But a look at the weather forecast changed all that. And a crowd of people came – first four, and then a group of three arrived just after they left.
Here’s what we did: (group A)
Yesterday I checked the buckets. Three of the five maples, one walnut, and the box elder have some sap. I’ll check again on Saturday, when it’s supposed to be the perfect weather for the sap to run. (warm day, frozen night) When it starts really running, there will be a lot of work boiling.
What the mind does:
This is a month earlier than we ought to be tapping, amazing and wonderful but it’s climate change. Will the sap run the way it’s supposed to, or will something else interfere? What will happen next year? I’m planning to plant more sugar maples, but if we lose our cold winters they won’t grow, so should I still plant them? We’re in a frost pocket here, so maybe it’s okay and we should.
This year I won’t be hiring casual labor the way I did last year. I hope to find a manager and an office manager, for work that is just too much for me alone. Mostly this year will be about consolidating, protecting the orchard, propagating the berries, and taking care of a small part of the woods: taking a slower pace and listening more to the land.
The spring 40-day convocation (“calling together”) holds so much of my dreams. Learning to listen to the land, to really hear its voices instead of applying theories, even good ones like permaculture, to find what to do to care for, protect and nurture the land. An old friend who works with subtle energies of plants, crystals, and earth will be helping me. I hope some people will join me in learning. And I’m reaching out first to the Zen community, hoping that a shared language of spirituality will help us create the community of listening and caring. Not exclusively. https://vairochanafarm.wordpress.com/2016-events/mountains-and-waters-spring-convergence/ If you feel called, consider whether you can come for part or all of this time.
Though I am still the primary creator, a few people are getting more connected on the deep level. One person comes now and then to sit in the meditation space, and volunteers some time. Another is coming for a personal retreat, and will offer some work. Perhaps there will be more such. Those who find a spiritual home here are the ones who will be able to create with me, which is what I long for most. Meanwhile some friends and others are planning to come for a week, two weeks, a month, or to support the convergence by offering teachings. This needs to happen. As people come, we can do the minor carpentry that makes spaces for more to come, as well as the outdoor work that grows food and nourishes the land.
Climate change –
Even though there’s increasing reason to think it’s too late for human survival, I refuse to say it absolutely. I am certain that industrial civilization cannot be saved, nor do I want to save it. Somewhere in the space between those extremes is my life and work. I plant trees and hope they will have a chance to grow before the climate changes too much; I plan greenhouses to protect plants from extremes; I learn to forage, to save seeds and put up food. But most of all, I seek to release my life. Daniel Quinn speaks of peoples “living in the hands of the gods.” I wish to live in that way, and notice constantly how much I do not. My need to control and to figure things out is called colonization; my ancestors have been colonized for over a thousand years so I am not to blame for it, but as a result I participate in colonization, genocide, and land destruction. There I am responsible. I seek decolonization internally, and listen closely to the voices for literal decolonization of the continent.
What kind of heart will we carry forward with us? That is what matters, whether we survive or not. There will be difficulties here, as there already are elsewhere. There are official climate refugees in the United States, not only elsewhere, and there are hungry people as well. I am happy to see my Zen sisters and brothers meeting the issue, facing it directly. May we all find our way, in this time, with compassion.
I treasure your support. If you can, please come. Sending money, volunteering time (here or elsewhere), and other possibilities continue. Here is how to reach me: https://vairochanafarm.wordpress.com/contact/
You are invited to come here this spring for earth-based Zen practice – see the poster below and then ask questions. You don’t have to already be a Zen person. People are starting to come, and there’s room for more.
Last year we did maple sugaring in mid-March; this year we start late February. I read the news on climate change, and watch the responses to refugees – and ache. I can only throw my lot in with the earth – Gaia herself, plants and animals, waters, minerals and winds, and humans. There will be no fence around this land to keep out refugees, if it happens that we have food and warmth longer than others. And if we don’t manage to make the house passive solar, or build the water collection system and the greenhouse, still we have hand saws and water barrels and it will work. We’re just here.
It’s been hard to write.
There’s an idea that I must put on my public persona in order to write these blog posts. Be cheerful, newsy, upbeat. I haven’t been able to do that.
Today my friend James McGinley made a comment – after a lifetime in the marketing industry (which I hadn’t known) trying to figure out how to say things so that people can listen, he’s quit, to just live an honest life. Today I will listen to that. Today I will take the chance that you want to go deeper, and that I might have something worthwhile to share.
Big things in the so-called outside world
One thing is that I’m watching more and more news about climate change, and other environmental problems, and feeling less and less optimistic about our chances of stopping the disaster. By that I don’t mean saving civilization, I mean preventing the end of the natural world as we know it, including human life.
The Mountains and Waters Alliance is based on a premise that civilization is mortally flawed in this way: we think we are separate from all the other beings (often from other humans too) and that the rest of the world is a resource for us to use. We approach as masters, not members. This is the flaw that leads to the situation we are in now, with dangerous environmental situations, politics of rage, extreme racism, and a desperate search for simple solutions.
My proposal is that we completely give up that point of view, unlearn everything we’ve been taught, and learn to listen to the trees, rocks, rivers, microbes, fungi, birds, predators, even mosquitoes. That we allow them to lead, and we follow with our whole being. That we listen more to indigenous peoples and less to civilized ones, because the indigenous have fewer layers to remove, but really to allow ourselves to not know what to do.
I imagine that there might yet be a way to change what’s happening, if we get out of the way. I also imagine that, if it’s actually the end, we might go there more human. But I’m still seeking salvation and am embarrassed about that. I’m particularly embarrassed because I’m trying to lead something. There are others with the same voice, all ahead of me: Charles Eisenstein writes eloquently, and I still love Daniel Quinn’s “living in the hands of the gods.” I want to learn this, living in the hands of the gods. Maybe that’s the thing that undermines all my efforts to be sensible and practical.
It’s time for me to go back to the zendo and back into the woods, at the same time as I continue to reach out to people. Opposite directions. Meanwhile I need to make money this summer. And it’s almost time for maple sugaring, followed by all the farm and land work – which I love.
So this is the plan, as well as I can say:
There was a fundraiser for solar panels, and it ended with about $600 short. I decided to make one last appeal – but am just getting around to it now. Meanwhile a homeless, activist friend sent $50. I’m thinking that this amount could easily be raised by $10 and $20 donations. The link is here: Donate. And just so you know, if you don’t tell me whether you want to take the tax deduction, I’ll do it at $50 and up. With gratitude for any amount. (Break-even point is about 35 cents.)
For four months this winter, Roy Dopson lived here. He repaired the culvert under the driveway, which had looked like a big expense and possibly an emergency. He dug up a lot of buckthorn. He has left me with probably next year’s firewood as well as this year’s. He did some weatherization on the house, and practically ended the mouse situation.
Two days ago Roy left to be teacher in residence at Mountain Valley Retreat in Southern California. He was going to leave a month later, for his firefighting job, but he’s gone now.
So I build my own fires again, shovel my own snow – and rebuild my body. I think about finding people, and try to be patient. I put up notices in some appropriate places. Some guests are coming for parts of the spring, and there is support and encouragement. Most recently a carpenter offered to do work for an incredibly low price, because he likes what I’m doing, so the wood cook stove will be going in soon. Maybe I can afford to have him do some other work too, making more space for guests and eventual residents.
Here is the link to the 2016 calendar.
Here is a link to the spring convocation, April 15-May 25. (I’m having trouble with words: convergence, coming together, or convocation, calling together? I think there’s a word I haven’t found yet.)
I’ll close with some of the words I wrote, trying to express this work for possible fundraisers; I don’t know if they’ll like it, but the words look good to me, as a prose version of the vow:
Blessings and peace to you all, whatever you are doing, wherever you are.
Past the longest night, moving into the full moon and toward the new year, I wonder how to greet you, what blessing to offer. I found this poem by Ganga White:
“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.”
What if, indeed. There is no agenda in this poem, just a way of life beyond success or failure, right or wrong. I offer it to you as my new year’s blessing.
Last month I wrote about difficult things in the so-called world. There are also some good news items, fragments: A judge says young people do have the right to sue the government about destroying their future. Congress does not ban Muslims from entering the country (imagine that it was even conceivable!). I’ve noted and forgotten other court decisions in favor of people protecting the land. Then there is the climate summit, hopeful words and no firm commitments. Meanwhile I imagine (just imagine) that this is the last normal winter. I want to be encouraged by the small changes and by the words and by all the people I now see engaging in spirit-based activism.
At the farm: life is much easier now, with Roy here and no farming to do. We now heat with wood all the time (except for right now while we are both away). The culvert is repaired and more than an acre of buckthorn removal is done. We do have to check the root cellar regularly, keep the fire going, and remember to eat from the freezer and the pantry.
My next practical task is to tile a floor space in the kitchen, where the wood cookstove will go. Other tasks are getting a real website, finding people, doing the accounting, and keeping in touch with you.
In addition to donations, we’ve been offered private loans enough to go forward with the solar panel installation. This will turn our electric bill into a small income, and move away from fossil fuels. If you would like to make a donation before the end of the year (or after), look here. $2500 would enable us to repay or redirect the loans.
Personal: I’m getting a little more time with grandchildren and children, and am visiting my long-distance family for a while. It’s time to finish editing my teacher’s book, and I expect to complete that before returning home. I’m sleeping better, but my body misses the vigorous exercise of the farm work. (Snow shoveling should make up for that.)
I’ve gone into practice as a “mindfulness coach,” with office space in Northfield and a phone or Skype option. It’s pretty new, and I haven’t said much except making this listing. I liked counseling in the past and expect to like this, but apparently I’ll have to actually do some marketing. (Alas.)
After sitting zazen every morning at the farm, and a 3-5 day retreat every month, I chose to attend a week-long sesshin (retreat) at Clouds in Water Zen Center, with my old friends and Dharma sisters and brothers. I feel like I’ve rejoined my first Zen family. I’ll be joining a group of priests for regular Dharma study, a very welcome connection.
Mountains and Waters Alliance: A vow came to me spontaneously, and defines the Alliance. It doesn’t really say what the Alliance does or is; it just positions us within the universe of life. Sometimes I wonder how it might take form. I imagine a gathering next spring, a beginning, partially described here, in which we come together to quiet down, listen, and open to creation. (April-May 2016) Currently, I’m asking which plants and animals to add to the woodlands, and walking the land to listen. This is a large temple.
The vow is both about spiritual practice and about protecting the earth in a way beyond what industrial civilization allows us to think. We need to become very quiet and open and find out who we are.
A thousand blessings to you all in the new year.
Mountains and Waters
Cold weather has finally arrived here; our long perfect summer is over. But there’s another shift that I’m feeling more deeply.
Last weekend I was ready to post photos of the work from our volunteer day: wide open woods no longer clogged with buckthorn; a new bedroom in an open space downstairs; the first fires in the masonry heater.
I couldn’t do it.
I came out of that beautiful day to learn of the Paris bombing, then the Beirut bombing. Then I heard about the police killing of Jamar Clark, and went down with friends to join protests Sunday evening at the Minneapolis 4th district police station.
That wasn’t the worst. Nor was even the bombing of Nigeria the worst. No, the hardest thing is watching my country turn into the scariest place I’ve ever been. Maybe it’s always been like that: polls from early 1900’s show majority of Americans didn’t want to accept German or Jewish refugees after the wars. State governors and some cities are refusing refugees; Donald Trump proposes name tags for Muslims and is still leading in polls.) I feel like I’ve been transported to some science fiction dystopia. Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here keeps coming up in my mind. Anger and hate are going in all directions, on two fronts: police/Black lives, and Muslim refugees. I understand that if a terrorist wants to enter this country, they would probably pretend to be a refugee. I just think that it’s more important to stop creating terrorists, stop making people hate us.
All week my friends have been going back and forth to the Minneapolis protest; some were there on Wednesday when police maced protesters. A Unitarian minister who took food on Wednesday says it was very peaceful with just a few people agitating – that was before the mace and rubber bullets. I’ll go for the NAACP march today. (Update: 800 people, very peaceful. Lots of food, a dozen campfires and several tents, very clean, and apparently a few agitators trying to make things look bad.)
A little information, by the way, for those who might be receiving reports of any kind. Yes, Jamar had a history of domestic violence, had even been in jail for it, was trying to turn his life around (says his father). One of the police officers involved had been sued for violence and false arrest. (I updated this based on most recent reports.) The rest of the information offered is not reliable, as far as I can tell. Probably he was in handcuffs as 12 witnesses say, but it’s conceivable he was grabbing the officer’s gun and the witnesses lied. When the video tapes are released, we may have more information. Regardless, it’s customary to give a person a trial, not shoot them on the street.
The situation of racism in this country is now officially in our faces. What is an appropriate response?
Any answer would be incomplete. My words here barely touch the surface of what I’m thinking; others have written well already. Maybe later I’ll have something to offer.
And, although my heart is aching, I’ll share some photos.
The Earth Spirit of This Place:
Mornings here include 50 minutes of sitting meditation plus about 10 minutes of chanting in a standard Soto Zen service. Part of that service is a dedication of merit, based on a standard dedication with some particular tweaks. I’m copying part of that dedication here, for reasons which will hopefully become clear as we go along.
I’m pointing out here that it’s traditional to acknowledge the earth spirit of a place, and other spirits as well. I felt the need to name places on the earth, which might be forgotten even by those of us who recognize sentient beings including animals and plants, and to add some extra groups of humans in the dedication.
Mountains and Waters Alliance is based on this awareness of earth spirits, water spirits, tree spirits, and all of them. The Buddha acknowledged devas, tree spirits, and others, and we acknowledge them as well. The Alliance is humans vowing to support and sustain all these other beings, to join with them in protecting the earth, protecting everyone – and asks them to welcome us and work together. This is a time of crisis on the earth – the Sixth Great Extinction, time of climate change, time of violence for some, fear for some, difficulty for many. It is time for all of us to come together.
Yesterday I walked around the land with some friends who see nature spirits and feel what they call subtle energies. Today I walked again, alone, visiting some of the same, and felt aliveness and consciousness everywhere. (One might say I imputed consciousness, but one might also say others impute lack of it.) I am reminded of the time when I walked the land, on the last day of sesshin, and found myself asking for help from the trees, the hills, the birds, the mosquitoes, the earth and rocks, the water and air, all living things – and feeling a reply from them. That walk was the origin of Mountains and Waters Alliance. I could name the vow but not name any action.
Now I envision a step toward forming alliance with mountains, waters, and all beings:
We dedicate some time, next spring, to listening and connecting with the spirits of this place. This would include walks in the woods and by the river and creeks, under the pines. We might create shrines. We might create camping spaces and sleep on the earth. We would surely work in the woods, tending to the movement of water and erosion, bringing in beneficial species and removing invaders, while ourselves learning intimacy with these places, place spirits, beings. And we would tend to the orchard and berries and gardens in the spirit of communion rather than profit. We might live very much as community. Surely we would do formal meditation, traditional ceremony, as well as creating our own as we listen to the spirits of this place. We would invite teachers, teachers of plants and wilderness, of Dharma, of chanting and ceremony, of gardening, of subtle energies – and their teaching would enrich the community.
We do this some time after the bitter cold is gone and before the mosquitoes arrive. Some of us are here for the whole time, some come for weekends, some come as they can. We hold council from time to time, both as needed for the human community, and as called for to find alliance.
That thought, alliance, was once translated into the Dakota language as “We will hold you forever in our hearts.” From this, appropriate response can arise.
I should mention the fundraiser is still going on, $2534 from our goal, donations of any size welcome. Work days November 14 and December 12. With volunteers welcome almost any time. Future work days, classes and retreats to be scheduled.
Today’s volunteer day was about removing buckthorn, in the sunny pleasant daylight following a heavy rain. A mass of shrubbery has now become a beautiful open space. Looking at our feet, we find that there are a lot of sugar maples here – small, completely overwhelmed by the buckthorn, soon to grow in the open space.
This area is right near the bluffs at the big stream. We look forward to adding native plants and creating a pleasant sitting/walking outdoor area. It had literally been hidden under the buckthorn – a solid mass. There are still many similar areas to address, but probably it will be next spring when we have another buckthorn work day.
It feels good to be doing this land care, watching spaces open up, using our bodies in the last of the fall. The strangeness of pulling up a species to let individual plants die – balanced with making space for others that were crowded out, restoring health and wholeness to the land, inviting myriads of species to live here instead of one. It does, sadly, remind one of human beings. Civilized humans are better in seeing the invasive behavior of others than seeing our own. Here, we aspire to stop being the one species that destroys all the rest, and to return to our place in the whole. Humans have lived this way in the past, for most of human history. Re-learning it is a key part of what Mountains and Waters means.
Blessings to you all. Visitors are welcome.