Today At Meetingbrook

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I'm rethinking my life.

Rethinking the world requires investigating evidence of what the world has been, is, and might become. That's too large for the majority of us. So we look at something more limited, smaller, nearer to us.

Two weeks ago at Texas Book Festival a panel discussion on US/Mexico border issues, author Charles Bowden said it was odd in our prozac nation of self-medicators that we would imprison so many for so long who try to self-medicate without the blessing of pharmaceutical/governmental powers. I visit self-medicators every day -- on the streets of my town, in the confines of my shop, and between the razor wires of maximum security prison.

Maybe the goal for all of us is to change one letter and, thereby, change our lives.

From self-medicators to self-meditators. From medicate to meditate.

Some In Pieces

In World War Two
the oldest
of my uncles
picked up
dead bodies
dead weight
some in pieces
and threw them
onto the beds
of trucks.
His work spread
far as he could see.
When he came
home he poured
salted peanuts
into a Co-Cola
and prepared
for life
with folks
who could
never know
some things
as long
as they lived.

(Poem:"Some In Pieces" by Darnel Arnoult from What Travels With Us LSU Press. )

What we could never know is limitless. What we might experience is closer to hand.

In a talk about The Tender Bar : A Memoir by J.R. Moehringer, the author talks about his uncle Charlie -- who died yesterday -- as having disappeared for a number of years, who had the ability of disappearing, as it were, right before your eyes.

I know what he means. A woman wrote yesterday trying to track down some group of hermits in Maine. Not us, I decided. Too visible.

But then I remembered calling meetingbrook "hermits in the open," I like the notion of being invisible in plain sight.

I listen to the voices that visit the shop by the harbor. I listen to the voices of the men in prison. I listen, at times, to my own voice. We all speak into visibility what serves to keep invisible so much that cannot be known or shown. Who can present their first kiss? Who can present the last dream before dawn yesterday morning? Who can present verification we live alongside others in parallel existences that unfold hour by hour in untellable silence over long distances in vocabularies specific to the alternative life?

We pour salted peanuts into tops of jars and pick our way along visible moments others vouch as our life.

It is easier to toss one by one the peanuts into our mouth, chew, swallow, and smile into the gathered faces -- than to ramble aloud maddened mantras that traverse brane upon brane (which, in physics, is any dimensional or extended object in string theory ). The hollow echo crossing sound chambers of varied places, faces, and excruciating attempts to locate oneself where one simultaneously wishes they could be -- what do we call that?

Perhaps we call that "poetry."

Czeslaw Milosz in his poem "Ars Poetica?" wrote:
And yet the world is different from what it seems to be
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry,
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,
under unbearable duress and only with the hope
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.

( -- Czeslaw Milosz)

There are many places we try to avoid -- most our lives.

Yes, there's a phrase to meditate, "Most our lives."

I don't know where my life is.

I'll take a line from Lloyd --"I'll have to think about that, I'll do some research."

And so, for a spate of a Saturday afternoon, I re-search my life -- sitting on porch, sipping coffee, watching chickadee, sun on smoke flavoring brisk November air.

I rethink it all.

As it is, after all, invisibly full of joy.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The silence was deep. Seven of us sat in the stillness. Thick cinderblocks muffled murmurs from hall and other rooms.

Sitting meditation. In prison. Nothing moving.

Male or female: why should one need
To distinguish false and true?
What is the shape in which Quanyin
Would finally take form?
Peeling away the bodhisattva’s skin
Would be of no use whatsoever
Were someone to ask if it were the body
Of a woman or a man.

- One Eyed Jingang

Bowing, I thank them for inviting me to sit with them.

Quanyin, Avolokiteshvara, and Andy wandered down hall. The bodhisattva of compassion wore drab grey. Down the hall another group of men were studying plankton. I read Joe J's revision of poem he'd given me earlier. I read from book on near-death Dick sent in for Sonny to read. Saskia tutored math. At end, with no announcement for conversation, Pat, Brad, Vaughn, Chris, Olin, Tony, and Everett wander in and we gab.

It's just us. In prison.

The warden, thinner from a time ill, shook hands when I welcomed him back in the lobby. On wall in chaplain's area, dream-catcher rounds itself watching for dreams. I agree to give talk for substance abuse group on spirituality in January -- there'll be poems.

A few acres of violence and mistrust. A few hours of connection and compassion.

When the Buddhist group ends, the statue of the staying-behind-one is tucked away until some more time goes by.

Bo Lozoff is right -- we're all doing time.

Today's felt ok. Like calling the lovely...lovely. There's nothing else needing to be said but what actually takes place.

Bowing: going stays, staying goes.

This koan looks both ways, then crosses road.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Some days human language sounds like stones rolling down metal chute. No matter how hard you listen, only clank, clank, clunk.

Today is one of those days. My voice, and the voice of everyone close enough to be heard, is tumbling stony tintinnabulation.

The great way of the buddhas is profound, wondrous, inconceivable; how could its practice be easy? Have you not seen how the ancients gave up their bodies and lives, abandoned their countries, cities, and families, looking upon them as shards of tile? After that they passed eons living alone in the mountains and forests, bodies and minds like dead trees; only then did they unite with the way. Then they could use the mountains and rivers for words, raise the wind and rain for a tongue, and explain the great void, turning the incomparable wheel.
- Dogen (1200-1253)

So, I have to ask -- what are these stones saying? I am not a linguist of mute matter into translatable discourse -- so, at times, I despair.

Today I despair. Just that. Plain despondency. Not a lick of sense heard with my tin ears.

The past throws stones at the future,
And all of them fall on the present.
Weeping stones and laughing gravel stones,
Even God in the Bible threw stones,
Even the Urim and Tumim were thrown
And got stuck in the beastplate of justice,
And Herod threw stones and what came out was a Temple.

Oh, the poem of stone sadness
Oh, the poem thrown on the stones
Oh, the poem of thrown stones.
Is there in this land
A stone that was never thrown
And never built and never overturned
And never uncovered and never discovered
And never screamed from a wall and never discarded by the builders
And never closed on top of a grave and never lay under lovers
And never turned into a cornerstone?

Please do not throw any more stones,
You are moving the land,
The holy, whole, open land,
You are moving it to the sea
And the sea doesn't want it
The sea says, not in me.

Please throw little stones,
Throw snail fossils, throw gravel,
Justice or injustice from the quarries of Migdal Tsedek,
Throw soft stones, throw sweet clods,
Throw limestone, throw clay,
Throw sand of the seashore,
Throw dust of the desert, throw rust,
Throw soil, throw wind,
Throw air, throw nothing
Until your hands are weary
And the war is weary
And even peace will be weary and will be.

(from poem, "Temporary Poem Of My Time," by Yehuda Amichai, 1924-2000)

Ears are weary. The scraping sandy sound of war has worn down anything sensible that could be said of it -- until sand blast scraping rust metal of wearied brain falls deaf exhausted on lifeless ground.

Yes, yes, you say -- perk up, be optimistic, be the hope you seek. These sentiments will be taken under advisement. Today, an empty seat in circle of thoughtful reflection.

Instead, off to side, moping between glances at dance of November swarm of flying creatures outside kitchen window, slice of pizza with ginger ale will have to suffice.

And does.

Make do.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that the leaf is mother to tree.

Not the opposite.

Wonderful! Wonderful!
The sermon of the inanimate is inconceivable.
If you try to hear it with your ears,
After all you'll hardly understand
Only when you hear it in your eyes
Will you be able to know.

- Dongshan Liangjie (807-869)

Walking with Saskia to brook with dog and cat after sitting this morning, hundreds of yellow leaves blanket ground underfoot.

Each one is mother to earth. To the four of us walking.

Continuation and transition.

One's way making itself through this reality.

Perfection.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

What would untie us? Where would we drift if untied?

At Zen centers they say there is a Way to be practiced
And a religious truth to be realized.
Tell me, what religious truth is realized,
What way is practiced?
In your present functioning, what do you lack?
What would you fix?
Younger newcomers, not understanding this,
Immediately believe these ...[enthrallists] and
Let them talk about things that tie people up.

- Linji (d. 867)

Ordinary life is good enough. Everything is good enough -- once the mind is untied from thinking that there's something to get back to. Or untied from the belief there's a need to be untied.

You will not be expecting us to write anything to you, brothers, [sisters], about 'times and seasons', since you know very well that the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. It is when people are saying, 'How quiet and peaceful it is' that the worst suddenly happens, as suddenly as labour pains come on a pregnant woman; and there will be no way for anybody to evade it.
But it is not as if you live in the dark, my brothers [and sisters], for that Day to overtake you like a thief. No, you are all sons [and daughters] of light and sons [and daughters] of the day: we do not belong to the night or to darkness, so we should not go on sleeping, as everyone else does, but stay wide awake and sober.
(1 Thessalonians 5:1 - 6)

Religion -- from Latin, perhaps from 'religare', 'to tie fast' -- has as 4th definition, "A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion."

The monastery of the heart is where all devotion takes place. The context of meetingbrook is to practice contemplation, conversation, and correspondence. We continually look for ways to integrate the intellectual, spiritual, and social.

Lloyd last evening at poetry, tea, and literature said we should become a peace center. Sara spoke about the cathedral in DC where there was a center for prayer and pilgrimage. In Belfast this morning at St. Francis of Assisi Church the energy was sweet with intelligent spirituality in community.

What we look for is everywhere to be found. The difficulty we encounter is thinking one could tie it up and keep it as it is in the moment it was experienced. But it passes, circles wide and away, then returns differing in shape and form, waiting to be found and experienced anew.

Meetingbrook is each face that shows up, circles, swirls away, sometimes returns -- but always remaining in our practice of prayer, peace, and pilgrimage.

We are tied to this practice. By any other name, religion.

It doesn't matter where we are. Small, middling, big, scattered or centralized, the invisible cord of connection to an inclusive community of awareness holds each and all, present or absent -- in diaphanous intimacy of belonging.

We practice staying wide, open, and awake.