- The Farm
- The Alliance
It’s mid-summer. We started strong, selling extra strawberry plants and a few raspberry starts, planting a garden, putting in some mushroom patches. John Hatch brought a barrel of biochar and a pint of wood vinegar, with instructions, and I used some of each. I set up a watering system, to water plants every day, and John came out and watered them and the house plants. Perry Post, who has dreams for this land, did a lot of work on the things mentioned above, then got busy at home. I went away to the conference – in midsummer: what kind of farmer does that? When I came back the critters had eaten most of the plants I’d started near the house, and reed canary grass was stronger than anything.
Fast forward: some watering, some weeding. Few tomatoes (too close to the box elder, maybe?), many black raspberries, and some red and yellow ones. The strawberries are starting their second round. There are more vegetables near the house than I thought. I’m trimming back the raspberries. AND…..
DEER FENCE TIME. Of all the essential things to do, I picked the deer fence because the deer really like to eat our
little trees. Copying the one built by Peter and Keith, my permaculture teachers. I spent an afternoon with Nick, experimenting and planning. Then two days with students from the Heart of the Heartland program – they spent six weeks learning about small farms, having workshops and working on farms. They’re in the photo, and they were really a lot of fun. (On the rainy day they also cleaned my barn/garage, which desperately needed it.
DEER FENCE SATURDAY AUGUST 5. We have a half day, 1-5, to continue building the deer fence. It would be really wonderful to finish it – many hands and all that.
activism climate change collapse cultural change Vairochana Vairochana Farm
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.
activism climate change collapse cultural change Vairochana Farm
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.)
The deep vow is to free all beings: the first of Zen’s four vows.
The manifestation, in this particular body, is to become intimate with the un-freedom of my personal mind and of my culture, and working to release the internal while addressing the external. That is how the vow of the Mountains and Waters Alliance looks right now.
My writing “Right Action: The World is My Body” is a chapter in The Eightfold Path, edited by Jikyo Wolfer, published just now by Temple Ground Press. Re-reading what I wrote, I find my thoughts well expressed. The most difficult part was writing about political action, of course.
If you buy this book, please get it from your local bookstore and not from Amazon. Or get your local public library to buy it. Your actions matter. Local bookstores matter. I am asking you to join me in avoiding businesses that use slave labor; Amazon is one of the big ones. (If you have no local bookstore, you can buy online from someone else.) This is a small step of independence that costs perhaps a few dollars, perhaps not, and supports a healthy economic community. If you don’t understand this, ask me and I’ll write more about it.
As the vow becomes stronger in my life (particularly as a result of the 10-day wilderness retreat in July, and life following), it becomes harder to carry on with ordinary life. I am determined to remove excess baggage and stay with the center.
Since returning home, I’ve been attempting to clarify that center and to make practical decisions. The most important activities include
In morning service, I offer blessings to individuals – sick or in need, but also those doing large projects – and to groups protecting and sustaining the earth, and to those teaching and leading the healing of spirit. The list is long. I send healing to the beings of earth itself. I include those who are disconnected and doing great harm, but rarely say names here because it feels like a judgment.
The other parts of the Alliance – creating a residential spiritual community, and a farm which grows food to be ready for when the collapse comes – seem less central. Thus I look at what I can release.
The land grounds me, heals me, and is my place of learning. Farming and caring for it takes more energy and focus than I have. I’m trying to protect the work already done (orchard etc), harvest crops planted this spring, and do the minimum needed. Also, I’m working to make it a space where more people can live, if those people appear. An extra bedroom is almost ready, and I’m being helped greatly by a Vipassana practitioner who is an excellent carpenter.
It would be easiest if some people came to live here with me, to practice with me, and to live with this vow. The invitation is out – and here I remind you of it. But I’m preparing for the backup plan: find my own financial support, take minimal care of the land, and plunge myself into the deep work – I’ve been saying hermit work, but it will include engagement – for as long as needed.
Coaching: The financial support plan is a coaching business focusing on wisdom, empowerment, and love. I’ve dropped my clinical social work license, but offer my services to individuals, couples, or groups, by phone, Skype, or in an office in Northfield, MN. There’s a set fee, and I can’t accept health insurance; everything else I do is for free or by donation. Information here. Feel free to make a referral.
The big world: In North Dakota, the Standing Rock Tribe is saying no to a pipeline that would invade sacred burial grounds (legally protected) and endanger the Missouri River (and all downstream). It feels to me like the encounter of the deep energies of our time: one based in community, connection with the land, and tradition; the other based in profit, denying responsibility, and willing to destroy both climate and waters for what is called “our way of life” – also known as self-indulgence at the expense of our own children and everyone else on the planet. If you don’t have access to reliable information, let me suggest Censored News, Democracy Now, or Yes Magazine.
I imagine going to Standing Rock to sit sesshin, in honor of all life. The practical details are overwhelming, and I may just get there for a weekend, do some labor, and get acquainted. Only because it seems so important – traveling is not generally part of my practice, but there are frequent carpools from near here.
If you would, join in the October 10 day of prayer and action. Divest from the banks that invest in pipelines, listed here. If I organize a prayer action, I will let you know. Local events will be on the website.
Meanwhile Black men are being killed by police at an incredible rate, white people are making a fuss about Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful and respectful protest, and one Black community has finally erupted into violence after intense provocation. That eruption is a victory for racism. I have only sadness to offer. There have been poems, heartbreaking. Here is one:
Leslé Honoré July 14 · Chicago, IL ·
When black boys are born
We mothers kiss their faces
Twirl our fingers in their curls
Put them in carriers on our chest
Show them to the world
Our tiny black princes
And when they start school
As early as 3
Place huge back packs on their backs
And we slowly fill them with bricks
Etched with tools
Tattooed with truths
Hoping to save them
Don’t talk back
Don’t get angry
Say yes ma’am
Say no sir
Even if they hit you first
Especially if they are white
Do your best
Better than best
they get a little older
And we add more
Keep your hands out of your pockets
Don’t look them in the eye
Don’t put your manhood before your life
Just get home safe
Don’t walk alone
Don’t walk with too many boys
Don’t walk towards police
Don’t walk away from police
Don’t buy candy or ice tea
Don’t put your hood up
I’ll drive you
I’ll pick you up
You can’t be free
Don’t go wandering
Come home to me
They get a little older
And we add more
Understand you are a threat
Your degrees are not a shield
Your job is not a shield
Your salary makes you a target
Your car makes you a target
Your nice house in a nice neighborhood
Makes you a target
Don’t put your ego before your safety
Don’t talk back
Don’t look them in the eye
Get home to your wife
They weigh them down.
Of having to carry the load
Of their blackness
the world hasn’t changed
The straps just dig deeper into their skin
Their backs ache
But their souls don’t break
Our beautiful black men
When you say to me
All lives matter
I simply ask
Will your son die with the world on his back
Very local: Finally some work is getting done on the house. The photos are not impressive unless you’ve been here – but here is the tiled floor, ready for the wood cookstove.
Two nights ago I was lying under the moon, casually talking with Lynn about a question close to us both. What can be done, what can a person do, about the death-wish of our culture? Is there any way to stop the rushing toward the cliff of climate change – or the killings of innocent people, the revenge killings, the deaths of refugees, the escalating hate and blame and violence.
It was good to have that conversation under the sky, not in a room or over the internet.
I’m two days away from the news, and about to spend another ten days on retreat, in company with people of shared values and with mountains, earth, grasses, butterflies, sky.
Two weeks ago I came back from checking the woods after a storm (fallen trees, no serious damage) to find people talking strangely on facebook – and finally checked the news and learned about the Dallas shootings. There have been more since. Death is in the air. I have not known what to say.
In the past, when I could, I paid respect to those killed as well as to ordinary deaths by placing names on the altar and chanting for them. I stopped. There are too many.
This appeared on Facebook:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” J.R.R. Tolkein
There have also been beautiful stories of reaching across barriers of race and politics. Heartfelt stories of what it’s like to be Black in America; I recommend this one: http://lithub.com/walking-while-black/
Perhaps I should be ready for violence in my own neighborhood – at the farm. (Last night Conor thought someone might have broken in to the basement. I don’t think so, but can’t know for sure. A flurry of calls and texts, and I simply have to let it go. If I don’t hear from him, things are okay.) Perhaps the mind of separation and violence will win in my own mind.
“Hatred never ceases with hatred. By non-hate alone does it cease.” Buddha, The Dhammapada.
And I continue learning to listen to plants, rocks, valleys, clouds, asking them to help that flourishing of Life. As I walk or hike in these different landscapes (Colorado now), their voices are increasingly warm and strong. I make commitments to teach, hoping others will welcome what I am beginning to learn, replacing human hubris by equal companionship with other beings. As Buddhism has always taught.
Farm and Volunteer News
On our last volunteer day, we put up a raptor perch in the orchard.
Volunteers are very welcome. In addition to farm and woodland volunteers, carpentry or chainsaw volunteers, there could be help with social networking, grantwriting, or other organizational matters.
Residence – the goal is 5-6 long-term residents living as a community, in accord with what’s been written here. Shorter stays of a week to several months are possible. Call or write me with any inquiries. I look forward to needing to create more sleeping spaces because we have people to live in them. We’ve got the plans already. We’re in conversation with a few people, but there’s still room.)
I’m looking for a farm manager – see above.
If you can make a donation, here are specific requests totalling $2080:
For doing the work – teaching or networking – these are bare-bones expenses:
Also, if you are willing, think about an ongoing pledge, which would support:
Currently I just borrow from my savings when money gets tight. There’s not yet a plan to repay that borrowing, but obviously it can’t continue too long.
You can use this button to Donate , or see other options on the Contact page. Please feel free to designate your contribution for one of the above. Let me know whether you want it to be tax-deductible through our fiscal sponsor. Special thanks to the woman who has pledged $400/year, unasked, and to all the other past donors.
May our hearts be whole and joyful.
activism climate change collapse cultural change Vairochana Vairochana Farm
Yesterday Conor and I spent the afternoon in the strawberry patch. We dug up plants and moved them to an open space (that Paul had weeded) in the next row. We dug up diseased plants (mites, I believe) and moved them to the sun garden – quarantined. We weeded, and we gathered pine needles to use as mulch. We stopped after doing one section fully; lots more to do next week.
What I noticed is that you can’t do these things in a hurry. You have to slow down and be gentle with the plants. When I let go of my hurry, it was easy and pleasant.
Well, here is the rest of the year, almost. As well as I know. December is not clear.
May you be happy. May you be at peace. May you know the joy of your own true nature.
Warmth and love,
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.
A few notes, just before going into sesshin:
I’m reading the financial report from my friend Beth Goldring, about her project working with AIDS and TB patients in Cambodia. She is retiring, and the question is whether the project can continue without her. Staff are doing wonderfully, she says, but they still need someone to replace her in raising funds. So probably the project will close.
Reading her reports always breaks my heart. I visited and volunteered with them for a month in 2014. Now she writes, about her year away in 2015, “I returned to find decisions skillfully made, accurate and honest reporting, and emotional strength. At the level of the staff’s actual work with patients, commitment, integrity and resilience, I could not have been more pleased.”
And “As always, the report is intended as an expression of my gratitude for the support that has enabled us to work over the past sixteen years. It is my devout hope that support will continue without me and that my wonderful staff can continue, in our small way, to be a compassionate presence in the face of our patients’ suffering.”
Beth writes, “the time when AIDS patients received comprehensive medical and social care seems to have passed. Brahmavihara Cambodia is not in a position to compensate for what has been lost.” Seven staff (most part-time, many with AIDS themselves) provide chaplaincy and other services. Operational expenses in 2015: $34,802 for both salaries and direct services.
I don’t know how to write about what is actually happening. People being evicted from the hospital when they can’t pay the daily fees. Poor people who can’t get a poor card which would pay. Caregivers (usually family) living in the hospital with the patient, sleeping on concrete floors. Doctors and nurses seeing TB patients with inadequate masks. (Our staff always had the proper masks.) People’s homes: I remember three people in one room with a beautiful Buddha statue, one hot plate, one light bulb, and somewhere outside must have been water and toilets. The mother dying there. A father and three children on an open tent platform, recovering there, the children playing and laughing. Of course we only see the poor people, but in the hospitals there are four beds in an open room with fans and wide windows, and sometimes another ten people all seeming to me like a kind of family, together facing illness and death. (We would sometimes do Reiki on the caregivers as well as the patients.)
This is a place of practicing with life and death – imminent, always present – and the work is to be present with people otherwise forgotten or ignored. It leaves me humble. Which is why I write about it. But then I cannot tell you, without also offering an opportunity if you wish to support. www.brahmaviharacambodia.org has Paypal for tax-deductible contributions. You can ask me for other ways of donating.
And here on the land, I am listening to birds, as the sun comes in the windows, and planning to plant some tomatoes before we begin sesshin. Imagining that working with the forests and the plants, I’m doing something about causes, about planetary healing. Actually only knowing that each of us must do what calls us.
So I announce that the Flower Essence Workshop has been rescheduled to Sunday, June 12, and this time we have four committed members so it will actually happen. And the whole point is returning to the earth, learning to listen and sit with the plants, in the way of zazen, receiving and giving life.
And there will be three of us at sesshin, where usually there is one. Some of our zazen will be walking or sitting outdoors – an experiment for me. I’ll write again later.
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.
activism climate change collapse cultural change Vairochana Farm
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.
The solar panels are up, waiting for inspection, and then we see how fast Xcel turns them on.
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
Flower Essence Workshop – May 21 – all day Saturday
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.
“Living with the Earth” 40-day intensive:
Guest Teacher events
Sunday, April 17: Valley Sounds, Mountain Colors: a chanting workshop, 1-3 pm
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
We are looking for carpool support from the Twin Cities – it’s helpful for us to know who to contact when we have a request. (We have some ongoing requests.)
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.
activism climate change collapse cultural change Vairochana Vairochana Farm
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
activism climate change collapse Vairochana Farm
“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.