- The Farm
- The Alliance
I wanted to post spring flowers and updates on the garden. But too much is happening here.
I was following the processes at Line 3, the not-yet-approved pipeline that is being built rapidly anyway, to take tar sands oil through Minnesota to a Wisconsin refinery for export. Indigenous-led resistance is meeting harsh police action, paid for by Enbridge. (It’s like a cash cow for the local police.) If you want to make one phone call, or do more, here’s the link for information. (The simplest action is a call to President Biden)
And I hosted some activists for a couple of weeks after their arrests, while they quarantined for the Covid that eventually two of them had. They were ultra-cautious about contagion, extremely respectful, volunteered some labor. I learned just a little about how much work it is to be arrested, and the lives of those who make it their primary calling. Sonja Birthisel, Johnny Sanchez (taking the photo), Leif Taranta, Cody Pajic, Julie Macuga, Darius Jordan (not in picture).
Remember George Floyd, killed May 25, 2020? The next day’s peaceful memorial march was met by police brutality (and right-wing violence) and a worldwide summer of protests followed, including a lot of property damage and continuing police brutality. Next week the jury on the Derek Chauvin trial (he killed George Floyd, in Minneapolis) will receive final instructions and produce a verdict. Officials prepared for the trial and protests by erecting barricades and calling in extra forces.
It never stops. Last Sunday in Brooklyn Center (a Minneapolis suburb) Daunte Wright was shot in what should have been a routine traffic stop. This four-minute video shows a peaceful and spiritual march two days later. Every day there were protests at the police station, and on Friday with hundreds of people.
The next morning, Louie Tran says on Facebook “to my white friends who still don’t get it”
“Can’t sleep because of what happened in BC last night.
Please make a phone call or several. I would think that out-of-state calls would have extra impact as they recognize it’s a national issue. It doesn’t take long, you’ll probably talk to a machine. Here:
So there we are. I’m remembering a long-ago spring that included tulips by the sidewalk and a nuclear power plant (Three-Mile Island) at risk of melting down – and what would we do to be safe? This spring feels the same. I’m not directly in danger, but this mentally ill society, this white supremacist society endangers all of us.
Be well, be at peace, and quietly consider your own contribution to the well-being of the planet.
You’re already doing something – acknowledge yourself for it,
and if you want to do more, please do.
This is a small gathering, 6-10 people, for conversation and a short film or recording. October’s presentation will be a series of short talks by Martín Prechtel on the subject of “Grief and Praise.”
No fee, bring a potluck dish, absolutely RSVP – using this form. (Only do the relevant parts.
The essential nature of life is offering. Some people, and some cultures, still know this. Modern Americans, not so much.
One of the first things that caught my attention in Zen practice was a meal chant which began, “Innumerable labors have brought us this food; we should know how it comes to us,” continued with “This food is for the Three Treasures”, for the four benefactors, and for all beings in the six worlds, and ended with “We eat this food with everyone. We eat to end all evil, to practice good, to save all sentient beings, and to accomplish the Buddha Way.”
I didn’t know anything about offering, but that chant included everything. And it told me I was in the right place, in a holy place, home. (The translation was changed decades ago, but these are the words that opened my heart.)
Martin Prechtel’s 2012 book The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic: The parallel lives of people as plants: keeping the seeds alive takes us into a world where the whole people know that way of offering, of responding to every single thing, every gift from the gods. He describes the offerings that must be made for something so simple as making a knife – the ore from the earth is just a beginning.
The American way of life sees everything around us as resources to be used for our own benefit. Martin refers to this way as hollow, stealing, empty, destructive – and observes that such a life results in destruction.
I wrote a little more here. And if you are nearby (southern Minnesota), I invite you to two occasions to study and practice the way of offering.
SUNDAY, JUNE 17, SUMMER SOLSTICE GATHERING
This happens in three parts; you may come to one or all, and friends are welcome. But please let me know…our address is 16922 Cabot Ave, Faribault, MN, and when you arrive you come to the house that looks like a barn (parking on the left).
WEDNESDAY EVENING, JUNE 20, “ZEN AS RELIGION”
This concludes the “Introduction to Zen” series, with a look at the chants and ceremonies, and a discussion of the classic question “Is Zen a religion? A philosophy? Or what?” (I promise there will not be an answer to the question.) We’ll particularly look at all of these things as the Zen style of making offerings.
And it concludes the Wednesday evening sittings. See below under Zen News.
We had a week-long volunteer, Celeste Pinheiro, who knows gardening and jumped right in. Thus we
have some photos of how the garden looks afterward. She’s also an artist, and started work on a logo for us.
Last week my housemate TR asked if I had some work, on behalf of a college student friend. Well, Harry Edstrom came Wednesday afternoon and kept coming back through Saturday. On Friday Cassidy Carlisle came with him, and on Saturday Essam Elkorgle joined them.
So we have lots of things planted, big areas mulched, strawberries moved, trees in protective cages, and three tiny Korean nut pines safely in the ground. We also have another guest room! Funny how that happened: it was raining on Friday, so I asked Harry and Cassidy to do a very small painting job in the guest room. They liked it. It kept raining. I really, really wanted to get that place cleaned up. So they kept painting, I kept moving furniture so they could keep painting, and we wound up turning the junk room into a very nice space (photos!). The next day, with Essam, we moved furniture to turn it into a bedroom. Today Laurel Carrington (Buddhist center friend) promised to bring a real bed! I know some visitors will be very happy.
The most fun thing, unless it was transforming the basement, was working with the hand-powered two-person saw. Here’s a picture of Cassidy and Harry cutting wood with it.
For a few years I’ve hosted a Zen group in Northfield, meeting two or three times a month, while carrying on a daily practice here at the farm (morning sitting and chanting, monthly retreats) and sometimes having Zen-practice visitors.
The Wednesday night group will end with the June 20 discussion. I’m hoping that people who want some form of Zen practice will contact me, and we’ll talk about what we want to do. Northfield has a very solid Buddhist presence, with sittings 6 days a week and monthly speakers, so nobody will be left hanging.
With the new guest room, the option of coming for retreats or longer practice opportunities is much improved. We also have a tent space in the nearby pines, created by Celeste.
We’re working on a better website, date some time this summer.
In mid-July I begin travels to visit some people, some of the mountains/waters members of the Alliance, and to attend a 2-week retreat at the Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center. The first week will be just meditation together in the mountains, with a solo time outdoors; the second half will include conversation with other serious environmental activists and meditators. I’m really looking forward to this.
I continue to offer psychotherapy services in Minneapolis, which is a lovely way to make a living and be able to support the Alliance. I am gradually shifting this work to an office in Northfield, which will be more convenient.
And that is all for now. Please be well and happy in every way.
I just wanted to invite you to look at the new writing. These will be about once a week, and will not have notifications except through the monthly newsletter (until we get the new website).
Mountains and Waters Alliance newsletter: April 7, 2018
Please see new thoughts at “Journal”, which includes ramblings, responses to things in the news, links, and miscellaneous – unedited.
Neither will have notifications at this time. At the moment there are new writings in Journal.
A Thousand True Fans
This is an ask for money. It’s hard for me to do, but if I don’t ask you will never know.
The article was written for artists, who are famous for not having enough money. It proposed that rather than trying to make it big, an artist could survive with 1000 true fans – people who went to every concert or bought everything you produced. The idea was that such fans spend about one day’s income per year on your work. If that amount is $100, you have an excellent income.
My adaptation of it is like this: Instead of chasing foundation grants, which takes a lot of time and produces usually nothing, I’ve chosen to earn a living – which takes a lot of time and produces enough to live but not enough to move forward with the Alliance.
I’m inviting you to offer support to the Alliance, at whatever level would feel good to you. You can donate yearly, monthly, even daily. You can donate $5, $10, $100, $1000, any amount. Fees are small. There are over 200 subscribers to this blog; I don’t know many of you or even why you’re here. But if 20 people chose to donate one day’s income per year, and you averaged $36,500 income, I would have $2000, which would cover Internet fees, brochure printing, the accountant, and some more. If 200 people donated $20 per year, I would have $4000 and could actually move forward slowly. 200x$50 and I can go back to full time Alliance work – or we can pay our debts or something.
There are lots of other kinds of support (ask me, especially if you are good at internet stuff) but this is for people are short on time – perhaps for all those of you who send something every time I ask – would you consider making a commitment? Go here for more information or to make that donation. Here are some ways we would like to spend it:
Internet access, phone use, travel for meetings/teaching/study, printing brochures.
Growing food sustainably, restoring the land
Turning the farm into a gathering place; making it a place for residential practice
Repaying loans, beginning with the solar panel loan, then the loans from people, last loans from me.
So that’s it. I’m asking you for financial help if it works for you. The energy is growing, and I’m doing my best to give it what space I can.
Meanwhile at the farm – we have maple syrup and box elder syrup (this is less time-extravagant if we cook it inside on the propane stove; we are making vinegar from apples, pears, strawberries, pineapples, and pretty much anything that comes by, and drinking it for health and taste. “We” means me and T.R., a friend who is staying for several months. A different “we” is me and Perry, doing nursery plant stuff because he knows how to grow and also to sell. We’ll have more plants and hopefully some income. I’m trying to save my time for the deeper spiritual work, but the land tempts. We’re below freezing and snow-covered at the moment. Like lots of places. Climate change!
I hope you are all well.
April 15 MWA potluck day including work 2-4, ritual 5-6, potluck supper and gathering
April 21 FARM 12-3 grafting workshop with Sarah Claasen, registration required, fee, two spots left.
April 21 FARM all day work day (might go to Earth Day celebrations late afternoon, might keep grafting until dark)
April 18 ZEN 6:10 Intro to Zen “What’s it good for?” – Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center.
27-29 ZEN and MWA – Shodo is teaching in Columbus, OH. Friday evening workshop, Saturday morning sitting and discussion, Sunday all-day sitting with 2 pm talk. For more information contact Don Brewer.
May 2 ZEN no gathering
May 1-5: studying with my teacher in Bloomington, Indiana.
May 16 ZEN 6:10 Intro to Zen – “Spiritual community” – Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center.
May 18 FARM all day work day
May 19 MWA potluck day including work 2-4, ritual 5-6, potluck supper and gathering
May 25-28 MWA Land Care Retreat – includes meditation, work as practice, dharma talks and discussions, community building.
Silent retreats are held almost monthly. If you would like to come to one of these, please contact Shodo directly. An Intro to Zen retreat will be arranged when there are a few requests.
Midsummer: I will be traveling to Colorado and could arrange to be available in Colorado, northern New Mexico, and points along the way from Minnesota.
Late September: I will be in upstate New York and could arrange to be available.
October 26-28: Land care retreat – same as May
For Zen and farm events, see here.
We’ll begin with a few event announcements, then continue with guidance – this time, an introductory essay.
Retreats in Minnesota:
May 25-28: Land care retreat – includes meditation, work as practice, dharma talks and discussions, community building.
October 26-28: Land care retreat.
To be determined: Intro to Zen retreat – a full day at the farm, or a half day in Northfield.
Silent retreats are on the calendar, not shown here.
Travel & Teaching:
April 27-29: Teaching in Columbus, Ohio.
Midsummer: I will be traveling to Colorado and could arrange to be available in Colorado, northern New Mexico, and points along the way from Minnesota.
Late September: I will be in upstate New York and could arrange to be available.
For farm events including workshops, volunteer days, and potlucks, please see the calendar.
For local Zen teaching schedule, please see the same calendar.
We’ll begin with a few words on what Buddhist practice means, as a foundation for more later.
For me, Buddhist practice is about living as part of the earth, fully sustained and embraced in joy.
Usually we think of Buddhism as a philosophy – intellectual, disembodied – or a religion. “Religion” might actually fit, if we understand it correctly. It’s based on Latin words meaning “respect for the sacred” or “reconnecting with the gods,” and until the 1500’s religion was not separate from secular life – even in Europe.
Buddhism calls us back to the ancient or indigenous way of relating to the world and to the sacred. It asks us to let go of these ways of life and thought that have been trained into us from birth: humans as special, nature as resource, greed and hate as normal. In Buddhism, greed, hate, and the sense of separation are called the Three Poisons. They’re not natural at all, but it’s difficult to become free of them because of long training and the incessant harping of industrial civilization.
The way Life actually works is that each one of us is created by everything around us, past and present, and we in turn give life to everything else, present and future. We are a speck on the wave of Life, never lonely while in a way profoundly alone.
Knowing this is freedom. We can drop our burdens, whether those burdens are saving the planet or making a successful career. Life takes care of itself. Our job as individuals is to respond to the movement of Life in and around us. This requires dropping ingrained beliefs, which is why Buddhist practice can be arduous: before we can respond to Life we must be able to see/hear/feel it. Fortunately, even a glimpse is enlivening and energizing, and glimpses are common.
This way is joyful. Its hope is not the hope that something will change, but hope that embraces things as they are, joins with them enthusiastically, and responds in kind, with gratitude, creating resiliency without expectation.
This way is open to anyone who wants it.
We live in difficult times. Words fail. 2018 has seen seven significant school shootings in 55 days. For the moment, I am chanting on behalf of Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin, Alfonso Calderon, Sara Chadwick, founders of the Never Again movement. If you pray in any way, I invite you to join me in supporting these young leaders as they call us to take our children’s lives seriously.
We need to look deeply into the nature of our society. Why are we the only country on earth with this problem of mass shootings including children? It has something to do with our attitude toward guns, yet there’s more: 50 or 150 years ago guns were ordinary and mass shootings were unthinkable.
I’m looking at two long essays that describe how we got here. The first is a 2001 interview with Martin Prechtel, offering a completely different way of relating to the world. The second is notes on the concept of wetiko, described in Jack Forbes’ Columbus and Other Cannibals, and elaborated though not named in Kirkpatrick Sale’s The Conquest of Paradise. Both point to a profound dysfunction in society, and Prechtel makes it clear how this leads to destroying our own selves.
My question, and the business of the Alliance, is how we change this in ourselves and in the broader culture. For our own survival, it needs to change. I’m not yet ready to write, but will. Meanwhile, praying for the leaders, and doing my best to carry out the work that has called me, which faces and addresses the nature of our shared mind. Yes, it’s about climate change. It’s also about who we are.
Looking for those who are called to this same work
Everything I want to say is on this website page. Very briefly, if you feel like this work is your work, join this community for support in action, by becoming a member. If you would like to offer financial support there’s a discussion at the bottom of the page, and a link for single or repeat donations of any size.
We’re quitting email lists in favor of blog posts. If you’re not already signed up, please go to the lower right corner of the page and “follow.” (If you can’t find it, email me and I’ll set you up.)
The blog will be more active, probably weekly. It will include events, essays, and teaching – guidance in ways to participate in this work. I’m gradually adding more information in other pages, and will announce when a new page is ready. Hoping to create a sort of library.
The 2018 schedule of events is coming soon, including farm retreats, Zen sesshins, potlucks and workdays – if you’re in the area, I hope you’ll come. If you’d like to spend time at the farm, please contact me. (A few items: next potluck is Sunday March 19, honoring the spring equinox; Intro to Zen class in Northfield, third Wednesdays at 6:10 pm through June; orchard grafting workshop Saturday morning April 14.)
And personal notes: we’re having winter storms, my car is snowed in, the house is comfortable, a second resident is in a try-out period, and my psychotherapy practice is going well.
Warmly and with thanks,
The Sakyadhita Conference was over a month ago. Please forgive my silence. I’ve been sick, during and after the conference and also in a deep transition state. I will just write a little now.
The conference was an immersion in the varieties of Buddhist women – particularly the many kinds of nuns. Those of us in Japanese traditions, wearing black and having wide lifestyle choices, were very few. I made friends with a wide range of nuns who lived with full vows – celibacy, wearing robes all the time, living monastically, depending on gifts for food and shelter any day. Just one example: a woman from Australia, in the Tibetan lineage, who was raising money to support children in India – and wouldn’t think of taking any of the donations to support herself. She had lived at a homeless shelter, in a van, on a beach, and was currently on her mother’s couch. So she’s raising money to start a monastery so Western monastics in Australia will be able to live the full monastic life.
Meeting these women, it didn’t seem like the vows took anything from them at all – but liberated them to fully live out the Dharma, each in her own particular way. That’s probably an extreme oversimplification.
Just two women came to my workshop, titled “Asking all beings for help with climate change.” We had a lovely discussion, and after the conference was over we walked together to “the peak.” On our way up, Janet (a Hong Kong local) took us to a Buddha carved into the hillside – Amitabha. We spent an hour there, finding it difficult to leave.
I’m at the Sakyadhita Conference, just checking in after the first two days.
We began the conference with a series of sacred chants, from nuns in different traditions. It was beautiful. I would like to send more photos, but I’ll post them on the blog; this one is from Theravadin nuns of India, Burma, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Then we had brief welcome speeches, a ceremony of lighting the altar.
Most of the conference will consist of panels of speakers, on a variety of topics related to Buddhism and to women.The first day panels were mostly stories of Buddhist women across cultures, and specifically in Hong Kong where we are meeting. The second day was “Mindfulness across cultures” and “Building healthy families and communities.” Tomorrow will be sessions on Social Action and on Buddhist Education. Nearly everyone is speaking in English, though it’s a second language for most of them.
My roommate, a scholar, gave a talk yesterday. She was researching feminism in monastics in the area where she does research. After a nun said “I’m not a feminist” Linda began investigating. Her current thought, after four interviews and some study, is that they reject the conflict associated with feminism; nuns and monks cooperate; but they accept women’s strength. I really liked her process of inquiry.
I’ll write more as we go through the conference. And I’ll send pictures.
It’s very hot, and there’s a long walk from my residence hall to the meeting space, but once I’m there I can stay all day. I’ve met some Zen women that I know, and we’ve sort of bonded with the other monastics wearing black robes – mostly Nichiren tradition. (It’s okay if that means nothing to you.) The variety of styles and colors of robes is beautiful and amazing. I didn’t know where the pink robes come from (Vietnam), or the all-white ones (Nepal). Gray are China and Korea, maroon are Mongolian or Tibetan Buddhism, black are from Japan, and there are lots of brown or gold ones. The Theravadins (classical Buddhists) come in a wide variety – you can see them in the first photo of chanting. (A Nepali nun with minimal English helped me identify where the various robes were from.)
A moving thing has happened twice now: a lay person walks up to me, bows, and hands me a small red envelope. I bow in return and accept the envelope. Each time, 20 Hong Kong dollars – worth maybe $2.50 or so – but it’s amazing to me. There are hundreds of monastics here; I don’t know how many of them have received this gift, but I know it is to be accepted warmly and with gratitude. Receiving a gift (whether asked or not) compels a certain quality of life – to live wholeheartedly, to be worthy of the gift.
It is amazing to be here. Also exhausting, but that’s okay. My workshop is two days from now.
Every morning, after meditation and chanting, I offer additional healing energy to one person or topic. Today – the day after Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accords, I sent strength and healing to these:
Protect the earth from politicians and capitalists my choice; pick your own villains)
That was the list that showed up in my mind this morning. Feel free to add or change.
The method I use for healing energy is like this: Create a powerful healing vortex (just imagine it). Strengthen each of the items on the list. Then strengthen the relationships between and among them – in twos, threes, and/or all together. You can feel when it’s done. Of course, use whatever form of prayer or healing energy makes sense to you.
I’d love to hear if you do it.
I noticed, suddenly, that I am at war with the way things are.
Last summer, I noticed being at war with buckthorn, grasses, and pocket gophers – beings of nature that act like civilized humans, taking all the space, destroying what gets in their way – and interfering with my food supply. This was a disturbing realization, and I’ve been studying it.
Now it’s clear that my war is bigger. I’m at war with the whole way things are, particularly the human world. I’ve made a noble cause of it, called “healing the mind of separation,” and “releasing human arrogance,” but truth is I really really want the civilization around me to change or perhaps self-destruct before it destroys life on earth.
Suddenly I saw my own war, saw how I am just like the system that shaped me – not free – and still part of the problem.
Actually, it’s a relief. As I wrote beautiful words about what the problem is and how we need to change, there was a little uneasiness. Now I know why. Something inside me had to move. I had to fall down, had to lose my hubris. So I’m glad to be present with this uncomfortable awareness.
So I write today from the middle of uncertainty and unraveling. If I waited for the answers to become clear, that would be waiting to return to hubris. But I can meet you here in the empty space; we’ll see what offers itself. Meanwhile, life continues.
Requests and practical things
Housesitter wanted June 11-July 1, while I’m at the Sakyadhita Conference. A little work, a wonderful space, and garden vegies or foraging. Otherwise, someone to do a little work (house plants and mowing) during that time – volunteer, barter, or paid.
Donations: If you would like to support my travel to Sakyadhita, anything will help. Seriously – from a $20 donation we get $19.12; from $5 we get $4.55. Here’s the link for donating, and much more information.
A ride to the plane (for Sakyadhita) June 11 morning, and back July 1 about 9 pm.
Residents and/or farm managers – Possibilities are still open. Please contact me if tempted.
Strawberry plants, raspberry plants, and various other things are available for purchase – or freely given to volunteers. Just ask.
Farming and volunteering.
These are dates for group volunteering. You can arrange to come at other times. PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN TO COME.
May 27-28 Planting garden, pulling buckthorn, maybe weeding. Take home healthy berry plants for your own garden.
June 10 A short day, 9-2 or so. More of the same.
July 8-9 We’ll start at 10 am with a 2-hour presentation on permaculture. Then get to work – after lunch.
July 17 & 26 A student group will be working here 9-5. Your company is welcome.
August 5-6 Early harvest? Stockade fence? More orchard work?
Sept 9-10 same as August.
Oct 14-15 Definitely harvest.
Nov 11-12 Late harvest and closing down for the season.
How it works:
The projects named may change. If you have a particular skill or crave a particular kind of work (chain saw, building, digging, planting….) let me know. Ask if you need carpool help. There’s a serious possibility you might go home with berry starts, herbs, or something else, if you want. AND LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN TO COME.
Retreats and teaching activities
June: No retreats because I’m traveling.
July: retreat at the farm July 15-19 (ends at noon). Please note: when alone, I just sit zazen all day. When people join me, I can offer zazen instruction, introduction to Zen, dialogue, and mindful work opportunities.
August: retreat at the farm August 19-23.
September: retreat at the farm September 16-20
October: retreat at the farm, October 21-26.
November-December: to be arranged.
June 7, July 5 & 19, August 2, 16, & 30: The Northfield group will meet less formally during the summer, open to questions, discussion, and topics. We’ll still meet 6:25-8:30, with sitting meditation at beginning and end. Please bring your questions. Located at Northfield Buddhist Center, 313½ Division St, Northfield (park in rear).
June 24 or 25: At Sakyadhita International Conference of Buddhist Women, I’ll be offering a workshop. It’s in Hong Kong, so you probably don’t want to come.
Sept 1-4: I will offer at least one workshop at Gathering of the Guilds, a Midwest permaculture gathering held just three miles from here.
January 13, 2018: One-day retreat with Red Clay Sangha in Atlanta, Georgia.
January 14, 2018: Dharma talk, Red Clay Sangha.
I’ll post other scheduled talks on the calendar here. If your group would like to arrange a talk, workshop, or retreat, please get in touch.
I have the opportunity to present a workshop titled “Asking all beings for help with climate change” at the biennial gathering of Sakyadhita, “Daughters of the Buddha”, an international organization of Buddhist women. I submitted a proposal, in line with the core work of Mountains and Waters Alliance, and they said yes.
Then I thought for a long time about the time, the fossil fuels used to get there, and my intention with this work. The first proposal came from an intuitive rush of energy: my work will be welcome there. The final decision required me to weigh the impact of the travel, to deeply consider who I am and what my work is, and to listen to trusted advisors. Finally I too said yes.
The trip will cost about $2500. I’m hoping to raise $2000 through an online fundraiser, and cover the rest myself. https://www.youcaring.com/mountainsandwatersalliance-806232 The fundraiser site has a video from the last conference, and some more information.
I will offer one workshop, in this giant gathering of Buddhists, and do my best to share and invite the work of the Alliance. I will attend many workshops, meet women (and some men) from places and cultures I can’t imagine. Born and raised in American culture, for years I’ve been working to release the habits of my own mind – habits of ownership, colonization, separation. (That is my personal piece of the work I offer through the Alliance.) So the most important part is probably that I let go of American superiority and allow myself to listen, see, hear, taste a multitude of ways of being. To be changed. And to bring that back.
Of course I don’t know what will happen. I’ll send notes back so you can know too.
We are in a new world. We don’t yet know what will come out of it. At first I watched the news in horror. Then I noticed the uprising of resistance, of compassion in ordinary people, of more news from the news media. I also listened to the people – indigenous, Black, and others – who said “You didn’t know that America was racist? Really?” There’s a long view to be had here, and it’s a good time to listen.
What shall we do? This is more like a marathon than a sprint. Carolyn Baker writes about the need for resistance, and inner work, and community, and cultivating beauty and joy. Even though it’s an emergency for every refugee turned away and every immigrant deported, even though it’s an emergency with climate change and the poisoning of the planet, we still need to take the long view. And decide where our proper place is, each one of us. How did Norway successfully resist the Nazis? Reading George Lakey’s narrative, I was encouraged. What would I have done, could have done, in any of the genocides of history, and what will I do now?
The advice to me personally has been increasingly clear and intense: take the time to go deep, to strengthen myself. Take a leadership role later. Do not get distracted by every petition, every issue – and back away from the news. The emergencies call out to me, and people ask me to help. And I’m tending to my own rest, nutrition, meditation time, and prayer time. So this is my primary activism right now, as I allow myself to go deeper and have more to offer. The Advisory Council is a treasure.
The vision of Mountains and Waters Alliance is going beyond the human realm to gather the strength of all the beings of earth. It is too late for human ingenuity alone to stop climate change – let alone reverse it as we need to do. But we keep forgetting that we are not alone, and that we don’t have to do this task alone.
Rather, we need to abandon our position at the top of the heap, where everyone and everything else on the planet is just here for us to exploit. We need to join the community of life. It’s now an emergency.
Religious people have known we are not alone. But among religions of the world, the sense of ourselves as part of the community of life belongs to Buddhists, many indigenous religions, and I’m not sure who else. Many forms of most religions place humans right below God, above the rest of living beings. And that is the problem that causes us to exploit, use, and abuse others for our own convenience. I can’t tell you why the concept of stewardship has failed so badly, but look around and see.
There is so much I do not know – I’m following a thread through a maze.
I ask your help:
Join me in prayer and in communicating with nonhuman beings
Reflect and consider what your particular work is in this time. We might have a conversation about that, in comments on the website. (If you’re getting this as an email, you could go here and “follow” in the lower right corner. Then you will be able to comment and to read comments.)
Donations are always helpful. I’m not actively campaigning for them right now – working on finding paying work and co-farmers.
Prayer again. Whatever form that takes for you.
EVENT: April 1, noon to 4, Morel Slurry Workshop. See the Facebook notice, or email me for more information and registration. ($10, bring a jar if you want to take some slurry home for growing your own.)
As the world changes, as despair threatens, the vision of Mountains and Waters Alliance is being deeply tested and clarified.
Climate change becomes increasingly obvious; violence, wars, and the war on the environment continue to escalate, and the incoming government is not a cause for encouragement. Refugees, wars, refusal of refugees, pictures of hurt and hungry children – these are our daily news. The human capacity to cause suffering is unavoidable. The arctic is sixty degrees above normal now; the summer saw unprecedented wildfires and droughts, and I was grateful to be in a place where climate change meant only fierce storms, fallen trees, raging rivers and floods, and ruined crops. The conflict between corporate greed and a culture based in the earth is playing itself out at Standing Rock, and still unfinished. In a small way I participated in that, first organizing prayer vigil support at home, then spending five days at the Standing Rock camps, joining in prayers and also sitting with other Buddhists. I expect to return when needed, and I do expect we will be needed again.
The plan of offering an example of community based in practice with the earth seems like it belongs to a gentler time, with slower change. The other side of the vision – allying with trees, mountains, and forces larger than human – becomes essential, and that is where most of my time has gone this year. In July, a wilderness retreat with David Loy and Johann Robinson led to profoundly deepened understanding of communicating and allying with the nonhumans – especially mountains and alpine flowers. My following visit to the Black Hills was more of the same, and forging a conscious alliance. This is the work difficult to discuss, that gives Mountains and Waters Alliance its name. If there is any hope in this time, it lies in giving up the illusion that humans are separate, better, or in control, and in casting our lot with all sentient beings.
A brief report on activities:
The primary work has been learning and unlearning. Pulling out invasive plants, I see the mind of war inside myself. I’ve apprenticed myself to the land, to learn in body that which I’m called to teach about becoming part of the family of life. I seek another mind – parental mind or collegial mind – in my relationship with these difficult plants. In this, the land becomes a learning laboratory. This is what I intend to teach to others, but at this time I can only express it through Zen language.
In addition to this learning, daily sitting and retreats at the land, and the wilderness retreat mentioned above, I participated in a Bearing Witness retreat this fall with local Dakota leaders. My December retreat time went to Standing Rock, and was followed by lying in bed waiting for body and heart-mind to recover. It’s been a time of working underground, enriching the soil to be fruitful later. That deep work is still in process, changing me into someone who will be actually able to offer it fully.
On the farm, we’ve protected the orchard from deer and rodents, tended and harvested berries, continued woodland restoration, and repaired storm damage. The farm house now has wood heat and cooking, solar panels, additional space, and a year’s supply of firewood. The Advisory Council meets monthly, volunteers and other supporters have helped with many projects. Office organizing and accounting is improved, and appliction for tax status is on the to-do list. I’m looking for farmers to lease part of the land, and there are a couple of conversations in process.
I’ve taught and led retreats at the farm, had guest teachers, welcomed volunteers, and networked with other farmers as well as activists and Buddhists. I’ve also taught at Buddhist and other groups, and at the Soto Zen Buddhist Association. The sitting and study group in nearby Northfield has doubled in size. My essay “Right Action: The world is my body” was published in The Eightfold Path (ed. Jikyo Wolfer, Temple Ground Press 2016) And as mentioned, I’ve been involved in peaceful activism on environmental and indigenous issues.
I think a time will come when this farm is needed as a place of refuge and sanctuary. This, in addition to being a source of deep nourishment for the inner work, and a place for teaching, is a reason to keep it and cultivate it in spite of the expense.
The most important work has been nearly invisible. Thus I haven’t asked for money. Yet $1400 has come in unsolicited, much appreciated. For those who want to be quiet partners in this work, you are welcome to support it here. If you want to join in this practice, whether here, at your home or anywhere, please contact me.
Much warmth to you, as the dark of the year turns toward light again.
Love, Shodo – for Mountains and Waters Alliance
Here are two of the many writings that sustain me these days of difficulty. My own voice is still.
The Descent, by Thanissara. https://thanissaradharma.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/the-descent/
and this, from 1968:
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things”
Five days at Standing Rock were like five days in another world. I arrived after the first blizzard, survived the second and left before the third. Trying to find words: ordinary life seems unimportant – and lonely. I went because I had to be part of it. This is the most important thing happening in my lifetime. A friend said “Really? You lived through the Civil Rights era and women’s liberation.” I said, “Yes.” But why? There have been lots of pipelines before, and lots of battles.
Most Important: This is the place where the forces of life stood up to the forces of death for profit. Death for profit: pipelines spill eventually, causing sickness and death nearby and downstream. Fossil fuels create climate change. It’s all about destroying life for profit, made from our addiction to temporary conveniences like cars. The forces of life: we can’t live without water.“Water is Life” or “Mni Wiconi” is the slogan. Also, this movement is in the hands of a people who live by the earth, who lived thousands of years in this place without ruining it, who honor and respect every living thing as relatives. Here they stand up for their way of life, resisting a culture that is exactly the opposite: natural things and living beings including people are seen as resources for exploitation for profit.
This is deeper than any of the other issues of my lifetime – even though the others bleed more vigorously. It is the battle between industrial civilization and the Earth herself. Camp was the place where people understood this – where the community understood it.
Morning Prayers: Mornings, I woke (cold) to the voice of a singer. He sang for over an hour, without faltering. I crawled out of my sleeping bag into winter clothes and went to the sacred fire. There were lots of people. There was smudging, more than once, and prayers by leaders, and songs – most but not all by men. Chanting sometimes. Memory already fails me.
Then the Anishinaabe women took over. Copper vessels with sacred water came around, and we were given little white paper cups for the water. Drinking it heals you. Offer it to the river. Hundreds of us walking to the river, led by those women. Stopping sometimes, I assume for the four directions; you live with not knowing everything. Beautiful songs and chants, in English and Lakota. Then a stop, and “men come to the front.”
Walking again, when I approach the hill down to the river there are lines of men, holding out their hands so we don’t fall on the slippery rough steps. The first time I thought “I can do it myself.” After, I felt the gift of community. Men help women. (Later we took our turn in helping them walk down to the river.) The lines split in two, and each led to the river. One at a time we offered tobacco and said whatever prayers we had – then stepped away from the river and waited. When all were done, there were songs, prayers, and chanting. Mni Wiconi, Water Is Life, Agua Vita, every language that someone knew. Call and response. I only had sign language to offer, but a leader saw my offering and led the group, raising her hands high to be seen so we could all say “water – life” in American Sign Language.
It was a very long ceremony. I wrapped up as well as I could, and came away chilled. The men – most had bare faces, some bare heads, and more than imaginable, bare hands. The sacrifice! Learning something about sacrifice, heart opening. I looked into every face, looked into the eyes, grasped every hand as long as possible, taking them in. When hand were bare I cupped them, as long as I could, until it was time to move on. Just remembering, my heart opens again. The eyes, the hands, the community, the support. This is how we are together.
The thought came up: This is why I am here – to pray by the river in community.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday – Four times I was there. On Tuesday we were still in the blizzard, I could not bring myself out of the tent, and I hear that almost nobody made it to the sacred fire for prayers. On Wednesday I had gone up to the casino, to be ready for my ride.
Superb organization: Although everything was confusing and difficult, the organization was magnificent. You just had to keep asking for help or directions, and accept not knowing everything. My first morning I went to the mandatory orientation, about 2 hours, and was informed and encouraged by three women of different backgrounds teaching us how to be here. The volunteer tent was a constant source of information and help. The medic tent, besides healing teas and hand warmers, offered conventional and herbal healing, counseling, and a warming tent – where I finally fled one day. I thought I would volunteer with the medics, but newcomers don’t do that – which completely makes sense. I did a few hours of useful work, but mostly just managed not to be a burden. I ate at two different kitchens, both with incredible food and generosity.
There were a lot of yurts, some donated or loaned, and construction crews were building more, and tipis with wood stoves. All the group spaces – kitchens, meeting tents, and the like – were warm sleeping spaces during the blizzard and after. During the blizzard, medics checked every tent and checked for needs – hypothermia, propane, whatever. 32 people were evacuated for hypothermia – none died, no permanent injuries. The emergency backup place was the casino, and the Cannonball Rec Center offered showers as well. A lot of people went to the casino in the cold; camp kitchens brought food and served meals up there. Without central organization, somehow things worked.
There were propane deliveries. When I asked for a second sleeping bag, they handed me one, and a stranger got me two little propane bottles on hearing our worries of running out. Handwarmers and hot tea were available everywhere. Hats, gloves, coats, and more – tents were full of warm clothing for anyone in need.
There were countless meetings and trainings: orientation, action meeting, action training, decolonization (in various configurations), women, and then emotional wellness meetings in the medic area. Not to mention task meetings that didn’t even make the public lists. Plans changed often.
Veterans and December 4: Four thousand veterans gathered for a nonviolent action on Sunday, December 4. The energy was strong. They mobilized, built barracks and other spaces, set up a command post – without seeing much, I could sense their confidence and experience. In individual conversations, I repeatedly heard a strong commitment – this was just their duty in defense of their country. Many were indigenous, many not.
The faith leaders were there as well, I have no idea how many. And chaplains, housed in a church space and with their own mission. I was grateful to be living in camp even though those groups had warmth and hot water. There was a very long interfaith prayer service, with prayers or songs offered by every tribe and every denomination present. Then we were told to make a big prayer circle, surrounding the camp – while the veterans went to the bridge, the place where our people met the police.
But word came around that the Army Corps had rejected the permit and we had won. There was a lot of disbelief, concern this was a distraction to prevent anything interesting from happening with the veterans. The elders called the veterans back from the bridge; they returned Monday and stood guard while indigenous groups did ceremony – the opposite of their role in past wars. For some veterans, it was a healing of what they had done before. There was a forgiveness ceremony about that. And at the end, Tuesday, a long ceremony involving giving an eagle feather to each one of them.
They were expected to leave after four days, but some committed to staying until the drill pad is gone.
Culture: As an elder, I was regularly pushed to the front of the food line, sat down and brought a plate of food. The time I tried to offer my fireside seat to the head cook who must have been exhausted, she refused, saying “You’ve been working all your life.” It makes me weep. I’m also in awe of the middle-aged and young people who go on and on, working long hours in the cold and then working more. Their stamina and their dedication. And I came to appreciate men – the whole time, the men showed up to do heavy lifting, work in the cold, use their skills as mechanics or carpenters or whatever – and then be last in the food line. There’s a dim memory of that from my early life, but nothing so physical. What must life be like when men take that responsibility WHILE cross-gender and Two-Spirit roles are also honored? What kind of home is this? Kindness!
My story, and Buddhists: I came to be part of a Zen Peacemaker Order retreat. After a day of searching I found some of the people in it, and was offered a bed in an RV which I gladly accepted. (This might tell you what it’s like to be in a camp of 10,000 people.) By the time the leader came, I had made connection with Buddhist Mylo Burn, who was living in a large dome tent, hosting zazen three times a day, and sharing the space with Buddhist Peace Fellowship (gone now), small meetings, and several people who slept there. I moved into the dome tent. I also agreed to lead half-day retreats on two days, meaning I would miss community events but it was a joy to sit together. And a result was that my connection with the Zen Peacemaker group was minimal – and then they left December 5 before the blizzard. Then we were there in the tent, trying not to use up the propane in case there wouldn’t be any more deliveries.
On Sunday, when they were creating the giant circle of prayer, I got separated from the group. I went down to pray by the river, which I’d wanted to do again. When I was ready, I found the group and joined the circle. That was a wonderful mistake.
A few regrets: being there such a short time, and being confused so much. A regular volunteer job would have helped, and then I would have been of use as well. If I come back, I’ll stay longer and be better prepared. I don’t yet know whether my best work is here or there.
The sacred fire at Oceti Sakowin was put out Saturday afternoon, by order of the elders council. I learned that night, and was distraught. It felt like an abandonment of the thriving beautiful community where I lived for five days, and of the core of dedicated people who kept camp running through the blizzard, who checked every tent to see who needed help, who gave out hats, sleeping bags, blankets and propane with more than joy. They re-lit it a few days later, renamed the camp Oceti Oyate or The People’s Camp. Things are evolving.
I re-united with Jenny, who I came with; we helped take down the camper where she’d been staying (with help from men again), and then drove out through blowing snow and bad visibility, staying on the road and checking visually to make sure nobody was in the vehicles in the ditches. We got to her house at midnight, moved my things into my car, and I drove home, grateful that my driveway was clear. I turned up the heat and water heater and waited to take a very long hot bath – wanted for a week – before going to bed. Like everyone, I was sick for a few days – just a cold – and am still chilled a week later. Slowly returning to everyday life – with new responsibilities, details to be clarified, local allies to work with.
After: We were told to evacuate. There were several meanings: First, children, elders, and others not able to handle the weather need to go, so the camp can continue. Second, we won so we can go home now. (This is not a common opinion.) Third, leave now and come back when needed again.
There’s a question what the “victory” of no permit actually means. Is it a real victory, or a distraction? On January 1 DAPL’s contracts become void – will this destroy the pipeline, or will new contracts be signed? Obama kept talking of a new route, which protects the tribe but not the climate or the river. DAPL insists on the present route, is continuing to drill, and says they will drill anyway in spite of fines. Whether weather might delay the drilling, we don’t know.
This is my newsletter for Mountains and Waters Alliance, and I end my own writing with my response to LaDonna Allard, who asked, “What will history say about 2016 and North Dakota?”
Of many responses I share these: Wallace Chase: “They will say: This is where it started….the saving of humanity.” Margo L Kellar: “People got woke and will stay woke now. This is just the beginning.” My response: They will say that the people of the earth stood up to the industrial greed-machine, to the black snake. They will say that millions of people around the world came forward to help in every way they could. They will say that this was the beginning of the end of the greed-machine and the beginning of the return to harmony with the earth, with the spirits, with our own humanity. They will say that prayer and love were more powerful than violence. They will remember that indigenous people took the lead, made the sacrifices, and that others followed. Our great-grandchildren will thank us for this time.
I close with some words from indigenous people, our leaders in this time of healing and change.
First my friend Susana Dee, up north: “People ask me what has changed in my lifetime of activism and I answer many things are worse but we now have allies. We didn’t for the very longest time.”
From Chase Iron Eyes, an attorney and a Congressional candidate, now actively involved in the camps: (Dec 10 after the fire was put out)
“500-1000 people are still at what was formerly known as Oceti Sakowin Camp, even though this particular sacred fire has been extinguished today by those individuals who created it. Stay if you feel in your heart that freedom is here. We may never get this opportunity for another generation.
It’s time to move on and create a new ceremonial fire of strength. As Native Nations we are holding strong here. Sacred Stone Camp is 1000 strong and they are NOT leaving. Rosebud Camp is 300 strong, they are NOT leaving. We are not leaving. The fun, selfies & launching of your org’s brand is over. The warriors of all nations are here. Until the pipeline that’s in the ground is gone, until the Law Enforcement militarized blockade is gone, until DAPL is gone. Send a voice to Creation, relatives.”
From LaDonna Tamakawastewin Allard, here from the beginning and still leading:
When I first saw people coming in to stand against Dakota Access pipeline on the April 1st at Grand River Casino I was overwhelmed with thankfulness, the youth runners, women and children walkers, horse riders, Biker riders and the Seven Council fires. They came to stand with us and what is seen in July made me cry for days as the people of the world came to stand with us.
As we stood with people of the world I felt a healing of the land and then… we were attacked. I was shocked at the behavior of the state against peaceful people. The people still stood against the violence in prayer, song and dance. We stood with our many cultures united we stood is laughter and story telling, in the morning you can hear the songs across the camps.
As some people get ready to leave the camp because of the weather we know that they carry us in our hearts. I pray they carry the lesson of the camps to where ever they live. It is time to change the world thought. We can live with our earth in respect and honor by learning to stop fossil fuels and start using green energy. Let’s change the world by protecting the water everywhere.
Good evening everyone Chase group and Sacred Stone group spent the day gathering supplies for the camp from SRST [Standing Rock Sioux Tribe] building I found all our generators which make me happy so bring them down to camp. The solar panel and batteries were there too. So happy. I found the army tents too. Getting all these to the camp and give them out to people tomorrow.
Our lives have changed so much since April 1st. It has been eight months and 12 days since the camp opened.
I remember those who stood that first day was Joye Braun, Joseph White Eyes, Wiyaka Eagleman, Happy, Jocelyn Charger, Allen Flying By, Antoine American Horse, Alfred and Swans, Faith Spotted Eagle, Virgil Taken Alive, Prairie, Elizabeth from Cheyenne River and her daughter who carried the water to bless the ground and all the Oceti horse riders on that cold day. It was those who stayed that first cold week when everything started at Sacred Stone. I am honored by them who show us how to build a camp which was Joye Braun, Paula Antoine, Cheryl Angel, Wiyaka Eagleman, Joseph White Eyes, and Antoine American Horse and family.
These was no one that started this movement it was a coalition of people, there was the Chairman who informed the community of the Pipeline, there was a group in South Dakota Honorata Defender, Virgil Taken Alive, Jon Edwards, Dustin Thomspson, Josephine Thunder Shield, and other in their group just to name few, then there was the Wakpala group Bobby Jean Three Leggs, Waniya Locke, and many of the youth who stood up to run for the water. The horse riders, the bike rider, the walkers and runners. The movement for the water really started with the youth who first put the words out though video and live stream and Facebook, twitter, and other social media, as the chairman understood it was their words the world would hear. In my own opinion this movement was a collection of people who understood that we must make a stand we had all those who fought XL Pipeline to show us the way and help with advice, then so honored to have Honor The Earth people and Winona Laduke to support and help us, they did fund rising for us, then EIN who came in to help too both with grants and training, then Moccasins on the Ground Deb White Plume to help with training, Tanya Warriors Women, Jim Northrup, Bill from Portland, Wild Bill Left Hand and so many others who were on the ground before July, so many more names that were there but my point is this movement was by any people that everyone should be given credit.
This is a world movement so this includes every walk of life, it is not about which race, color or religious belief you are, it is about changing the world to save the water. Plain and simple stand up for water. We stand up for life.
Most of all everyone continue to put down tobacco for the water and prayer ceremonies for the water. Remember why we are here to stand up for the water, to stand up for our people, to stand up for the healing of the people.