Today At Meetingbrook

Friday, June 21, 2002

Have you ever wondered what time is? Ever thought it is only an agreed upon convenience serving to keep events, places, and autobiographical incidents separate and sequential?

Time seems to be the mask Now wears so not to frighten us. Seeing or doing all at once hardly allows for a change of clothes.
Time is a wardrobe stagehand backstage assisting the changes we think we must make before appearing again before others.

We do things when it is our time to do them. They do not occur to us until it is time; they cannot be resisted, once their time has come. It is a question of time, not motive.
(p70, in novel The Holder of the World, by Bharati Mukherjee)

News comes we might not get the farm.
I trust the nexus, the transition from one thing to another thing. Spring becoming summer; something held as possible becoming the possible itself holding nothing.

I distrust summaries, any kind of gliding through time, any too great a claim that one is in control of what one recounts; I think someone who claims to understand but is obviously calm, someone who claims to write with emotion recollected in tranquillity, is a fool and a liar. To understand is to tremble. To recollect is to re-enter and be riven....I admire the authority of being on one's knees in front of the event. (Harold Brodkey "Manipulations" in Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, p217)

I trust what is wanted, not always what we want. A difference? I don't know.

The Manifestation
Many arrivals make us live: the tree becoming
Green, a bird tipping the topmost bough,
A seed pushing itself beyond itself,
The mole making its way through darkest ground,
The worm, intrepid scholar of the soil--
Do these analogies perplex? A sky with clouds,
The motion of the moon, and waves at play,
A sea-wind pausing in a summer tree.

What does what it should do needs nothing more.
The body moves, though slowly, toward desire.
We come to something without knowing why.

(Theodore Roethke)

This warm afternoon breeze moves through wind chimes, cars up Barnestown Road, sun streaks through bamboo slats at window facing barn. Each doing what it should.

And us?
It is a question of time.
For now -- I think we're out of it.

Thursday, June 20, 2002


Suddenly solitude. A sequestering silence. Dusk at Ragged Mountain.

In quiescence I hear the
Cinnamon blossoms fall.
When night comes,
The Spring mountains are silent.
Suddenly the moon appears
From behind the clouds
And startles the young birds;
By the mountain stream they chirp and chirp.

- Wang Wei (701–761)

If I were to be asked right now what is Meetingbrook -- I would have nothing to say.

This nothing is best unsaid but better sounded by Oriole and Grosbeak, Finch and Nuthatch, Chickadee and Sparrow.

If we say nothing, can anything come of it?

Green stillness.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Poetry and Psalms make secular and sacred life more tolerable.

Today is the feast of St Romuald. "St. Romuald lived and worked during the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. He fully realized in his own life the spirit of the Rule, and he wisely reinterpreted it, emphasizing the solitude of the hermitage. St. Romuald wanted the hermitage to be characterized by a greater simplicity and a more intense penitential and contemplative practice." (from Introduction to the Rule for Camaldolese Benedictine Oblates)

St. Romuald's Brief Rule

Sit in your cell as in paradise;
put the whole world behind you and forget it;
like a skilled angler on the lookout for a catch
keep a careful eye on your thoughts.

The path you follow is in the psalms -- don't leave it.
If you've come with a novice's enthusiasm and can't
accomplish what you want, take every chance you can find
to sing the psalms in your heart and to understand them
with your head; if your mind wanders as you read
don't give up but hurry back and try again.

Above all realize that you are in God's presence;
hold your heart there in wonder as if before your sovereign.

Empty yourself completely;
sit waiting, content with God's gift,
like a little chick tasting and eating nothing
but what its mother brings.


The monk's cell and the inmate's cell have much in common. One of which is time for considering what poetry and psalms open into.

In the Maine State Prison last Friday -- where we returned for twice-monthly conversations after a lengthy hiatus due to the closing of old prison in Thomaston and moving into new prison in Warren -- we spoke about the first few pages of Socrates Cafe and an essay in The Poet's Work (edited by Reginald Gibbons).
Christopher Phillips' Socrates book, subtitled "A Fresh Taste of Philosophy," begins with a lead line quoting someone saying, "Psychiatry is the rape of the muse." We conversed about this opening salvo for a while. The second piece, entitled "Why Write" (1972) by Gunter Kunert contained the following:

The more I tried, as I wrote, to dissolve into what I was writing, the more severely the number of themes and subjects was reduced (as if that were the price) -- however inexhaustible I had formerly believed them, as others believed in the diversity of life. With increasing identity of text and author, the author's role as clown or teacher ends; every mortal impetus loses its imperative aspect and becomes viewpoint and style, the frequency of the literal essence into which the author withdraws. The lack of freedom in every literary effort increases proportionally, and variability decreases, because all that succeeds is what promotes transformation; everything else comes about halfheartedly or not at all. (Kunert, p137, in The Poet's Work)

Chris said that insanity is that which transcends contemporary thought. Sane acts we understand; insane acts we don't understand. "The insane is where thought cannot go," he added.

Paco thought that by lumping the not understandable into categories with labels and diagnoses, we are able then to dismiss the person and hold onto the label. Paco then went on to say that considering the practice of Meetingbrook to come into prison for no other reason than to have a conversation - no pay, no other obvious agenda, nothing but the conversation -- was most likely considered crazy by a vast majority. (He added a great compliment -- "You guys are freaks!")

Ed spoke of Viet Nam experience -- finding wallet and pictures of a dead enemy soldier's family -- as a blinding light in 1972 for him. (We'd been talking about the Leonard Cohen lyric that went something like; "There is a crack in everything, that's where the light comes in.")

Aren't we all trying to retrieve the original felt experience when we write, speak, converse, or even care about anything? To say, as above, that poetry and psalms make secular and sacred life more tolerable, is not to say there is no pain or depth of anguish. It does, however, remarkably, free us.

Joe wondered, "Can an insane person describe insanity?"
Paco described what must be one of the most punishing aspects of residing in prison, namely, you never know in any prison conversation whether it is a mask you are talking to -- or through. "We're so great at adapting," he said.

I've heard Paco's observation before. It is not restricted to those behind walls of an official prison. There are other prisons of subtler walls. But the suspicion that the person we think we are conversing with is either not really there, playing us, or is masking a role that might or might not be authentic -- that is a prison conversation. That is one of the real deprivations, the absence of freedom to be ourselves.

At end of this conversation at prison, there is poetry. Andre, Joe, and Mike had one of theirs. Cheryl had one by Hafiz.

The minds
Depict me tribal,
Religiously contradicting myself,
Reading script from the Bible
with visions homicidal.
Beauty is deprived with my eyes open.
I keep my eyes closed, and dream of butterflies
until they end up my size,
flying with knives trying to slice throats.
Decisively my mind chose to find
a place safe in the Devil's oasis.
There's nothing he doesn't cater.
Every acre is filled with temptation,
intoxication and riches major.
It makes me hate to sleep or wake up.
One world is degrading, one world is fake.
But they both have plenty snakes,
and spiritually my boundaries won't let me
reach a space where all is sacred.
I stuck on a globe with open drapes,
my mind naked.
Praying what I state or what I think
can change created fates we make up
and let penetrate us.
At any rate when we keep faith and
learn that when we're sleep we're awake,
Both worlds will hate us.

(Andre)

And,

Seg
Sitting here time goes passing,
Past and present keep on clashing
The present goes off into the past.
The future is here present at last

(Mike)

Hafiz gets the last word:
God wants to see more playfulness in your eyes.
If you pray, somewhere in the world some good will happen.


We try to be, secular and sacred, more tolerable with each other in this way, in this life.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002



Monetary life or monastic life?

We live in a moneyed economy. It buys rhetorical persuasion. It can even buy an unseemly silence - with hush money. It builds cathedrals of corporate power -- whether for the aggrandizing of human or divine beings. It feathers nests. It creates tomes of binding contracts, inheritance dispersions, and tax laws. Money is our secular scripture.

Likewise, what used to be Holy Scripture has given way to fundamental literalists on one side and deconstructive allegory on the other. Where do we find the middle road -- where written word mingles with inspired thought -- leading to personal insight while conserving original text?

What would it look like to live sacred poverty?

Devote yourself to the Absolute Emptiness;
Contemplate earnestly in Quiescence.
All things are together in Action,
But I look into their Non-action,
For things are continuously moving, restless,
Yet each is proceeding back to its origin.
Proceeding back to the origin means Quiescence.
To be in Quiescence is to see “Being-in-itself.”

- Lao tzu (dailyzen)

Though he was in the form of God,
Jesus did not deem equality with God
something to be grasped at.
Rather he emptied himself
and took the form of a slave,
being born in the likeness of men.

(Philippians 2:6-7)

When Jesus "emptied himself" becoming Christ; when a Buddha puts Nirvana on hold to return to the dwelling place of someone still suffering, becoming Bodhisattva -- am I attentive to their embodiment of poverty?
Most often not.

The moneyed way is norm. Poverty is either failure to carry one's weight in the eyes of those who can -- or poverty is practice seldom attempted, even by those who profess it for religious or spiritual purposes.

As the world experiences detonation of its unreflective acceptance of the moneyed way, I ask: Is the monastic way retrievable and meaningful for individuals residing in our contemporary culture?

If God is One and we long for that Oneness to be what we are, is poverty a requisite practice of One?

Devotion to "Absolute Emptiness" (Lao tzu) or to "the form of a slave" (Paul) invites us into the mystery hiding in existential human life. This devotion pivots on the question: What is the longing at root of my existence?

What and how we respond to this question will shape the form of the world in which -- and as which -- we live.

Do we Christians have it wrong? Not yet trying poverty -- do we consciously postpone Christ-life?
Do we Buddhists (and other religions) have it wrong? Not yet recognizing that any suffering is shared suffering -- do we elongate illusion? Is life able to be simplified with its root longing?

Wasn't the inability to simplify life a Turgenev character's reason for suicide?
When we kill ourselves, are we not also really killing Oneself? By failing to simplify our lives are we, wittingly or unwittingly, contributing to the postponement of Oneness and the prolongation of suffering in the world?

Monastic poverty is the simplification of one's life.

Monastic poverty allows Life-Itself to resource the lives of all. By choosing moneyed life over monastic life I choose what can be bought and sold in this conditioned world over what can be shared and given in unconditional freedom.

This choice asks: Being-in-itself? Or, beings-for-your-use? The first requires contemplation to embody. The second merely requires our willingness to reach out and take for our own whatever we want. The first is what we truly are when we finally see our inner true nature. The second is what we manipulate and accumulate as our external net worth.

This Being-in-itself -- whether Christ-Life or Buddha-Life -- is a dimension of love and compassion that is the essence of holy poverty and sacred scripture.

Imagine choosing the form of a slave? Imagine longing to simplify and not knowing how to?
I ask myself: What is this one longing? What devoted form of service am I willing to disappear into?

We are each one in this longing.

Monastic life is longing for what Alone is.