Today At Meetingbrook

Friday, February 27, 2004

Someone understands.

Passion speaks itself through us on its own terms.

Is it our failure to communicate? Or is it that we do not yet realize what is being communicated when 'we,' 'I,' try to manipulate and appropriate what is being said with personal ego and vanity?

One glance at the morning star,
And the snow got even whiter.
The look in his eye
Chills hair and bones.
If earth itself hadn't
Experienced this instant,
Old Shakyamuni never would have happened.

- Daito (1282-1334)

Earth itself!

It is in this stage of the journey that it is essential to acquire as soon and as sincerely as possible a stable and disciplined spiritual practice of prayer meditation, and contemplation: if this is not acquired, the awakening into divine origin will fade, the soul will not grow in adoration and self-knowledge, and the saddening revelations of the extent of greed and selfishness in the ego and psyche -- revelations which are "designed" to annihilate all pride and vanity -- will be unendurable.
(pp.107-108, in Son of Man, by Andrew Harvey)

Five of us talked in prison today about communication. Actually we spoke about understanding. What we were really speaking about was conversation.

Intimacy is an experience of non-separation, of being at one with whatever is happening. We tend to think that we are not all right now -- we're too fearful, too greedy, angry, whatever --- but that if we take up some spiritual practice we can improve ourselves. We will be all right at some moment in the future.
We have "in order to" mind; we are always doing this in order to get that, or in order to be that. Yet that very tendency -- to strive, be ambitious, be preoccupied with a goal, get ahead of ourselves -- takes us out of the present moment, away from how we are now. It can actually prevent intimacy. Then we complain that we don't have it. Our wish for intimacy can prevent us from being intimate.

(Larry Rosenberg, quoted in Josh Baran's 365 nirvana here and now, living every moment in enlightenment)

It was decided after direct and honest speaking that 'understanding' is the issue, not the personal ego of the one speaking. It was clear in the prison conversation on this day that there would be no brooking of perceived bullshit. Maybe it is prison, or maybe the particular gathering today, but there is a sensitivity at the drop of a dime to any disingenuous posturing and pontificating, over-explaining or excuse-making. (Someone in the circle dropped a dime this morning -- so to speak.) Their point (and one I respect) is that to pretend things aren't the way they actually are, more or less than they are, is to dismiss yourself and whomever you are with from actual here and now -- the ground point of the beginning, as well as the passing-through point of what will be. Three guys were startlingly direct, and remarkably kind, with their observations toward the dime-dropper.

The antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah today is:
When you meet those who are in need of clothing, do not turn away from them, for they are your brothers. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your good deeds shall go before you.

It is interesting to consider that light shines out from within to light the way, shining on good deeds that lead you.

When Ryan said, "The communication -- it's simply going on in the passion of anybody who's speaking right now..." -- he was speaking of the 'understanding' down deep that Charlie was urging. Ryan felt it was the very conversation that carries us forward and through.

Chris showed us the 15 minute film "WorldSong" -- with its colorful dance through birth resonating wordlessly in varied cultures.

Understanding moves itself through conversation.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

(Bell sounds!)

Thich Nhat Hanh is saying on tape that if pride holds us back from saying, "Darling, I am suffering," we go hide ourselves in our room and cry silently, pretending "I am not suffering, I don't need her, I don't need him." (in "Teachings on Love" How Mindfulness Can Enhance Your Intimate Relationships, by Thich Nhat Hanh, c.1996)

Is something missing, some comprehension lacking, in the way we live?.

"If pride is there it means that your love is not true love yet. If you really love him or her then when you suffer you have to go to him or to her and ask for help because a lover is for that." (Hanh, Teachings)

In the silence of the empty space following Eucharist this morning, the antiphon for Canticle of Zechariah: "If anyone wishes to be my disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me, says the Lord." (from Thursday after Ash Wednesday)

If we translated this saying into another idiom, might it read: "No-self enters the ordinary, and follows where it leads -- this is where Christ resides."

Is Christ's lead Christ's reality?

Everything asks for translation. Everything is a two-way mirror -- one looking through while the other sees only their own image reflected back.

Sylvia brought a reading from Taoist tradition for Wednesday Evening Conversation. There was a sentence that caught the attention of a few -- about no longer knowing how to live one's life, nor needing to 'know' how to. It jumped out at me.

The Taoist point of view celebrates this non-knowing immersion as spiritual and artistic self-expression of what is called God. These days it feels less grand -- more like a stark not knowing how to live my life.

Some days there's a different take that goes: Don't go looking for your life, you have no life -- (no separated, disconnected, isolated life) -- that's the gift. Rather, look through the life being lived all about -- what is looking in is what is looking out, is what is looking through.

To translate, (i.e. L.'trans' = beyond, or through; L. 'latus' = carry, bear, or change from one place, state, form, or appearance to another)

There is much to be angry about, Joanie and John agree, reading the report on sudden climate change -- attitudes that violate earth and environment, denial which comes in all shapes and sizes. Being angry, or suffering, is not the problem. What seems like a problem is not simply acknowledging we are angry or suffering; instead, blaming and faulting someone else for what has happened in our life. However accurate and right the assessment assigning responsibility to another or even to ourselves -- something is missing, some comprehension lacking. What is that?

Does it have to do with "Deny your self," or, in translation, "No self?"

When Jesus is asked in the Gnostic Dialogue of the Savior, "How does the small join itself to the big?" he replies, "When you abandon the works which will not be able to follow you, then you will rest." Knowing which works can "follow" you -- which works, in other words, can be taken into the new realm of love and charity which the soul recognizes as its divine truth -- demands a total restructuring of the whole of one's life and aims. As Jesus says later in the same Dialogue, "Strive to see that which can follow you, and to seek it out, and to speak from within it, so that as you seek it, it can be in harmony with you."

This "saving of that which can follow you" demands total commitment to the new life that awakening has revealed and to a steady reordering of all the senses and energies of the old self to reflect the nature of God.
(p.109, in The Son of Man, by Andrew Harvey, c.1998)

Jesus sorrowed and endured. He went through. He wants us to follow him through.

Buddha said there is suffering in life. The eightfold path will help us through the suffering even if it cannot be eliminated.

What does Christianity mean by "Deny yourself?"
What does Zen mean by "No mind" or "No self?"

These 40 days are just beginning, and already we are entering the invitation of Lent -- the word which derives from the Anglo-Saxon word 'lencten,' meaning 'spring,' suggesting 'lengthen.'

The invitation: contemplation -- a long loving look.

What is in the mirror? What is in harmony with us?

(Bell sounds! Now -- to follow this sound)

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Remember. It is time to turn again.

Remember we're dust. Ok. We're earth. More, says Gale, we're star-dust. It's Ash Wednesday -- it's anybody's guess what we are. I give up. Su Sane says she's given up Ash Wednesday for Lent. Michelle says, as a mom of 2.5 children, she's glad just to have adult conversation.

I won't let even the
Buddha and Patriarchs
Through my gate,
So I never thought
To welcome some guests
And roll my eyes at others.
I open the gate a little
To thank you for your visit,
And at once the mountains
And the rivers stand up
And start the famous dance.

- Muso Soseki (1275-1351)

After Mass at St. Bernard's this morning I sat in solitary silence before getting up to go. I circle the chapel looking at stations of the cross along the walls. After the 14th, Jesus laid in the tomb, there's no 15th. They end with tomb. I glance at the tabernacle just off to the left of the 14th station. The tomb and the tabernacle.

Tabernacles celebrate the dwelling of real presence of sacramental species -- in short, a temporary repose, a reposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a presence (among others) of Christ. There is no 15th station -- no empty tomb, no resurrection -- no additional metaphor of the transcending transformation following Jesus' death and burial. Still, to the left, the tabernacle.

12 "Even now," declares the LORD ,
"return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning."

13 Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and have pity
and leave behind a blessing-
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the LORD your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,
declare a holy fast,
call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people,
consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders,
gather the children,
those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room
and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the LORD ,
weep between the temple porch and the altar.
Let them say, "Spare your people, O LORD .
Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
'Where is their God?' "

18 Then the LORD will be jealous for his land
and take pity on his people.

(Joel 2:12-18: New International Version (NIV))

Eucharist, thankfulness and shared gratitude, follows the closing of the story depicted in the stations -- the 'via dolorosa' (the sorrowful way). What is this relation between sorrow and gratefulness in our lives?

From the tomb in this story the eye moves to the dwelling which builds shared gratefulness -- that which feeds one another with strength to continue on the way. The way where? Where, indeed, are we going?

I go with Cesco to Rockland Harbour for Lauds -- the psalms of morning prayer. Snow piled high. Fishing boats and working schooners under wraps on the hard. At this beginning of the season of Lent, many ask -- (some even aware they are asking) -- 'Where is God?'

Where?

We back out from end of wharf where gate to Coast Guard station is rolling closed.

At this beginning is the meditation for these next 40 days.

We're dust. We're the earth itself. Whence we come, thence we go. The earth from star somewhere beyond calibration -- a piece of the universe turned into light and life. And even though, with T.S. Eliot, we do not hope to turn again -- we turn anyway, this way and that, looking behind us and ahead of us -- wondering what was before womb and what is beyond tomb.

Jesus the Christ took his turn. Where do we turn?

Thank you for your visit.

Stand up and start the famous dance.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Knocking at shop door today were spontaneous quarrels. What was each looking at?

Today the talk, by nearly anybody who came in, is about 'anybody but Bush.' We get back after a week of door's being closed and find things humming.

It started early. It continues even now, six hours later. Unlikely people with strong opinions are concerned this administration's policy is dangerous and the men that run it intent on single-mindedly reforming the world in their image.

The voice of success and profit
May stir the vault of heaven,
But not this place.
In the rounds of the day,
You wear threadbare clothing
And eat simple fare.
When the mountain snow deepens,
Your thoughts
Are far from those of men.
Occasionally,
Immortals pass your door
And knock.

- Kuan-hsiu (832-912)

Richard and Tommy, were they not in their 70s and 60s, might have erupted into a fistfight. Joanie interrupts for clarification of something to do with Korean or Vietnam war. Charlotte has just walked a labyrinth in Lincolnville and emits Quakerly disinterest. John returns for Buddhist conversation and jostles the edge of a disagreement. Jim is hoping the Amnesty International potluck goes well tonight. Karl writes in his palm pilot and is heading home to attend to caring for his cold.

Earlier Leonard and another man with his small daughter had the same intensity standing in front of the counter about the neocons and hardliners whose brazen certitude, they feel, threatens to further harm the principles of democracy and self-determination with which the United States birthed itself.

All day the level of discourse is charged with dissatisfaction. Even the documentary filmmaker talking with Sam and Susan and ready to set off to get footage of them rowing their dory stops to write down three websites dealing with issues (surprise) that seem controversial and worry of conspiracy. The conversation up to that point was about Cape Breton boatbuilding and he'd never been in before. Is it the icon of Christ or the photograph of Palden Gyatso that reminds him of the need for passionate but loyal dissidence?

Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" and Dan Brown's novel "The Da Vinci Code" were interspersed into the conversation mix of politics and religious thought.

(I, at this point, imagine myself looking out a hermitage window in Cape Breton as the light of dawn sweeps snow from windowsill.)

...we are told things about the world [today] by people whom we do not know, working in places we have not been. Trust is no longer bestowed on familiar individuals; it is accorded to institutions and abstract capacities thought to reside in certain institutions.... We trust the truth of specialized and esoteric scientific knowledge without knowing the scientists who are the authors of its claims.... The gentleman has been replaced by the scientific expert, personal virtue by the possession of specialized knowledge, a calling by a job, a nexus of face-to-face intervention by faceless institutions, individual free action by institutional surveillance. (Steven Shapin, quoted in article "The Dawn of McScience," by Richard Horton, in The New York Review of Books, March 11, 2004)

A former president of Harvard, Derek Bok, says Horton, argues:
The concerns of research...have become skewed toward answering questions that are concerns of industry, not of the public. Secrecy disrupts a productive collegiality among scientists, leading to waste and inefficiency as investigators are forced to duplicate the hidden work of others. Opinions are rented out to the highest bidder. A nefarious web of incentives is introduced into research. And most worrying of all, public confidence in medicine, science, and the academy is undermined. Knowledge is just one more commodity to be traded. (Horton, p.9, NYRB)

Shunryu Suzuki's writings on Zen end the day with quiet reflection:
So the important point is to practice without any idea of a hasty gain, without any idea of fame or profit. We do not practice zazen for the sake of others or for the sake of ourselves. Just practice zazen for the sake of zazen. Just sit.
Thank you very much.

(p.32, in not always so, practicing the true spirit of zen, by Shunryu Suzuki, c.2002)

Suzuki said: I used to think that after attaining enlightenment, I would know who was in the backyard talking, but there is no special person hidden within who is explaining a special teaching. All the things we see, all that we hear, is an expression of Buddha nature. When we say Buddha nature, Buddha nature is everything. Buddha nature is our innate true nature, which is universal to every one of us, to all beings. (p.31)

The backyard was abuzz today.

Nothing special was said.

Only what we see.

Monday, February 23, 2004

As we are.

Joy and sorrow dwell together. Suffering and awareness resound love.

Looking for Immortals

At the stream's source,
The path leads on
To gray cliffs.
Everywhere,
Among blossoming apricot trees,
Dwell immortals.
A hermit says,
"More can be found
on West Peak,
and two or three
have their home
in the clouds."

- Chang chi (776-829)

It is the price paid for remaining engaged with the world and one another. A Bodhisattva continuance. A Christ emergence.

We each stay with one another to see one another through.

No love without suffering; no joy without sorrow.

This -- this is the dwelling place of the immortals. This is where love lives.

As it is.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Chains cannot hold breath.

Chains can only restrict bodies and restrain movement toward or away.

There are Zen students who are in chains
When they go to a teacher,
And the teacher adds another chain.
The students are delighted,
Unable to discern one thing from another.
This is called a guest looking at a guest.

- Linji (d. 867)

A foot of snow overnight. Jim comes by with plow. Sando groans on daybed. Ralph Nader announces his candidacy for president as an Independent. He joins Bush, Kerry, and Edwards as the men most talked about as winter saunters toward March.

In this country we so much want to believe that one man will lead us fairly and wisely. It is a curious belief. Forces of market money, corporate power, cultural and religious passion have overtaken that belief and tossed it to the sideline. The world has raced ahead of any system that claims to bridle and brake it. The term 'war' is applied to almost every aspect of the effort to contain runaway forces governing peoples everywhere.

There are 'wars' on poverty, on drugs, on terrorism. There are culture wars, religious wars, ideological wars, and sexual wars. And of course there are military wars -- the ones using guns, bombs, and fighting troops splattering human blood and remains -- splintering what remains of the human -- across streets and fields and into newsprint and videotape for our eyes to view.

We used to speak of peace. Peace sounds like a quaint word these days.

What would 'peace' even look like if we were able to imagine all these 'wars' being transformed into a different metaphor? It seems that the metaphor of 'fighting' prevails. We fight bad breath, fight aging, fight illness, fight for our rightful places, and we fight death.

In proposing a framework of moral principles to serve a strategy for peace, this book rejects the many calls for a "new ethics" or for some worldwide religious or psychological or political conversion after which peace will arrive, as it were, by itself. We cannot count on such a transformation of society to wipe out the threat of war. Conversions, moreover, can go astray and new ideologies disappoint. When mass transformations bypass reflection, they open the way to uncritical acceptance of beliefs; they can then find unanticipated and brutal outlets, as we have surely witnessed in our own century. The verdict attributed to Voltaire still holds: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." (pp.xvii-xviii, in A Strategy For Peace, Human Values and the Threat of War, by Sissela Bok, c.1989)

Believe absurdities, commit atrocities -- a scary formula that seems as solid as two plus two equals four.

In beginning to work for piecemeal rather than global change as part of a strategy for peace, we can learn from a suggestion of Gandhi's that we carve out spaces or territories in personal relations where violence, say, or deceit will not be used: territories in the family, in the community, with friends and even opponents, where we have more control and also greater responsibility. Such an effort requires that we reconsider the role of violence or deceit in our work -- as news reporters or police officers, as public servants or industrial workers, as scientists or executives -- and at home, with family and friends, in community service, recreation, and entertainment. If one begins thus, with the personal and the piecemeal, one can then try to expand the reach of these spaces or territories of peace. This is the path already chosen by many individuals, community groups, professional organizations, and religious bodies in searching for ways to establish nonviolence.
I see all those who strive to reduce distrust as working for peace, even if they produce no immediate and direct effect on the nuclear balance of terror.
(pp.151-152, Bok)

Maybe two plus two equals what goes into the formula, not an end product.

We are encouraged to trust only what is trustworthy. If trust begets trust, and fear begets fear -- a formula confirming what we most long for needs be created.

Perhaps one plus one equals each one.

Breathing centers one entering and leaving. Learning liberates one wondering and watching. Loving releases one trusting and asking.

Breathing learning loving -- we confirm one and one and one again -- a worthy trust.

Unchaining.