Today At Meetingbrook

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lou Reed sings that you can't depend on anything. Still, he says, you need a busload of faith to get by. In another song, he concludes:
"what's good? (life's good) but not fair at all"
(--from What's Good, song by Lou Reed)
Looking down at hands today, it occurred it's all a dream. By that I mean everything is passing, seemingly real, yet lacking distinct and separate existence once thought.
To study the Buddha way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things [i.e., everything].
To be enlightened by the ten thousand things is to free one’s body and mind, and those of others.

-- Dogen Zenji, (1200 – 1253)
Forget about it! That's what Richie B. from Peconic Street would say with his tight lipped smile and nodding tilt of head. Mark called to say Richie, his uncle, died last week. (Requiescat in pace!)
Begin therefore with yourself and forget yourself. Truly, if you do not begin by getting away from yourself, then wherever you flee to, you will find obstacles and trouble no matter where it is. If people seek peace in outward things, whether in places or in methods or in people or in deeds or in banishment or in poverty or in humiliation, however great or of whatever kind all this may be, this is all in vain and brings them no peace. Those who seek thus seek wrongly; the further they go the less they find what they are seeking. They are like a man who has taken a wrong turning: the further he goes, the more he goes astray. But what should he do? He should resign himself to begin with, and then he has abandoned all things. In truth, if a man gave up a kingdom or the whole world and did not give up self, he would have given up nothing. But if a man gives up himself, then whatever he keeps, wealth, honour or whatever it may be, still he has given up everything.
--Meister Eckhart, (1260 – 1328)
Stepping into Bangor church the other day, there's a funeral mass for Marie going on. I sit in back pew. Priest talks about one carnation falling from bouquet. Holds it up. Finishes speaking. Walks it down to casket. Puts it on top. I get up. Guy in black coat watches me. I bow from back door. (Prego, Marie!) Leave.

Things are hardly ever fair.

But good?

Yeah.

Friday, February 22, 2008

In two different places and conversations in prison today, two different men were temporarily transfixed by the story told by Alice Walker about the circle custom of acceptance and release.

Alice Walker tells of a custom of the Babemba tribe of South Africa.
The Babemba tribe has a unique way of dealing with a member who acts irresponsibly or unjustly. They put the offending person in the center of the village, alone and unfettered.

All work ceases, and every man, woman and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, about all the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length.

The tribal ceremony often lasts several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.

(--from Sent by Earth, by Alice Walker, Seven Stories Press, 2001).
There are times we go on with mind and heart numbed by kindness. At other times we are numbed by sorrow.
Lament

Listen, children:
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I'll make you little jackets;
I'll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There'll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank;
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.

(--Poem: "Lament" by Edna St. Vincent Millay)
A curious night. Two women in Saskia's family find themselves in hospital a hundred miles apart. Snow tapers. Ground, nearly bare yesterday, goes white again.

Joe turned Pat's interpretation on its head this morning -- gently. Acceptance and forgiveness are for the accepting and forgiving. The one accepted and forgiven reflects the gift back.
And what, monks, is Right Speech? Refraining from lying, refraining from slander, refraining from harsh speech, refraining from frivolous speech. This is called Right Speech.
-( from Mahasatipatthana Sutta: The Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness, in Thus Have I Heard: The Long Discourses of the Buddha, trans. by Maurice Walshe)
Most often we don't know why anything happens.

We can, nevertheless, speak well and kindly to one another.

It is up to the community to recognize the light in any one person.

We need not prove anything, nor deserve anything.

Light stands for itself.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Beatrice Bruteau, talking to Tom Fox of National Catholic Reporter, said it is the unborn and the undying -- no origin, no destination -- which is the freedom of being beyond, in the holy spirit.

The perfectly free.
The moon and the paper
Are the same white
The pupil of the eye and the ink,
Both black.
This mysterious meaning
Remains a circle,
Beyond the possibility
Of understanding.

- Obaku Sokuhi (1611-1671)
What if Jesus is the way to save God?

Would we accept what and who we are if there was a change in translation?

Not Christian, but Jesusian?
Jesus saw nothing other.

Just things as they are.

With kindness.

Even love.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Full moon eclipse.
The way to true spirituality
Cannot depend upon others;
One instant of enlightenment
And I go beyond body and self.
The myriad and profound virtues
Are complete;
Anywhere in the universe
Is now my home.

- Mokuan (1611-1676)

No one is right. No one wrong.

That's not the world any more.

Adjust.

Come home.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Where are you?

Logging truck rolls past where I walk by frozen water near lumber yard.

Brief snow squall.

I listen to science podcast about nicotine, mimicry, and teleportation.
When everything inside and outside, bodily and mental, has been let go; when, as in the void, no attachments are left, that is the highest form of relinquishment.

Discard all you have acquired as being no better than a bed, spread for you when you were sick. Only when you have abandoned all perceptions, and rid yourself of dualistic concepts such as “ignorance” and “enlightenment,” will you be worthy to be called a Buddha. The original mind is without distinctions; when a sudden flash of thought occurs in your mind, even if a Buddha arises, cut him off.

Many people are afraid to empty their minds lest they plunge into the void. They do not know that their own mind is the void.

- Huang-po
Trying to avoid the void is like trying to unsay the word just spoken.

Like great rolling caskets the logging trucks deliver cadaver trees cut and stacked to yard for storage.

The first cigarette, the scientist says, captures the teenage brain and rewrites it according to addictive pathways.

Got a match? Yeah! Got suffering?

Suffering and a Crisis of Faith

If there is an all-powerful and loving God in this world, why is there so much excruciating pain and unspeakable suffering? The problem of suffering has haunted me for a very long time. It was what made me begin to think about religion when I was young, and it was what led me to question my faith when I was older. Ultimately, it was the reason I lost my faith.
(--Excerpt: 'God's Problem' by Bart Ehrman)
The explanation of suffering in the bible, he says, is unsatisfying.

There you are.

Monday, February 18, 2008

John O'Donohue in Anam Cara quotes Martin Heidegger as saying "True listening is worship."

Listening is a flower of silence. Even as flower gives it's impermanence to steady vase and loving gaze, silence finds itself with inches to spare between noise and chatter of crowded days.
If you want to learn about the Eternal Tao, do not be casual and in a hurry. Don’t glean too much from too many books, for each book is full of opinions, prejudices, and corruptions. Read only one book and only one, our Old Master’s Tao te Ching, and then try to understand it, not by juggling the words and meanings, but intuitively, through your heart and spirit.

Don’t ask too many questions, but patiently watch what we Taoists do, and perceive the hidden motives of our actions, and not that which is only for display. Do not be guided so much by your intellect as by faith, love, and your heart, which is another name for understanding and compassion.

What you need is wisdom, and not knowledge; for if one has wisdom, knowledge will come naturally. Always remember that the Eternal Tao is Infinite Wisdom, Infinite Love and Infinite Simplicity.

(- Ancient Taoist from Jade Mountain)

That to which my affection attends is thinner and smaller as each fire warms. Perhaps the wood pile will somehow last. No matter. Snow will go. Warmth return. Heart will accommodate next arrival when it shows itself. We'll gather what has fallen on mountain path.

You see, everything has its time. Joy is allowing what shows its quirky dance. Smile. Applaud when seemly. Walk on.
Shortly after finishing "Pragmatism and Romanticism," I was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. Some months after I learned the bad news, I was sitting around having coffee with my elder son and a visiting cousin. My cousin (who is a Baptist minister) asked me whether I had found my thoughts turning toward religious topics, and I said no. "Well, what about philosophy?" my son asked. "No," I replied, neither the philosophy I had written nor that which I had read seemed to have any particular bearing on my situation. I had no quarrel with Epicurus's argument that it is irrational to fear death, nor with Heidegger's suggestion that ontotheology originates in an attempt to evade our mortality. But neither ataraxia (freedom from disturbance) nor Sein zum Tode (being toward death) seemed in point.

"Hasn't anything you've read been of any use?" my son persisted. "Yes," I found myself blurting out, "poetry." "Which poems?" he asked. I quoted two old chestnuts that I had recently dredged up from memory and been oddly cheered by, the most quoted lines of Swinburne's "Garden of Proserpine":
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.
and Landor's "On His Seventy-Fifth Birthday":
Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art;
I warmed both hands before the fire of life,
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.
I found comfort in those slow meanders and those stuttering embers. I suspect that no comparable effect could have been produced by prose. Not just imagery, but also rhyme and rhythm were needed to do the job. In lines such as these, all three conspire to produce a degree of compression, and thus of impact, that only verse can achieve. Compared to the shaped charges contrived by versifiers, even the best prose is scattershot.

(--from The Fire of Life, by Richard Rorty, an essay which originally appeared in the November 2007 issue of Poetry.)
Woodpile diminishes. No notion of how many days remain. Tonight there's warmth. That's good enough. What else is there?

Listen!

Fog rises from snow on Sally's field.
The Wood-pile

Out walking in the frozen swamp one grey day
I paused and said, "I will turn back from here.
No, I will go on farther--and we shall see."
The hard snow held me, save where now and then
One foot went down. The view was all in lines
Straight up and down of tall slim trees

Too much alike to mark or name a place by
So as to say for certain I was here
Or somewhere else: I was just far from home.
A small bird flew before me. He was careful
To put a tree between us when he lighted,
And say no word to tell me who he was
Who was so foolish as to think what he thought.
He thought that I was after him for a feather--
The white one in his tail; like one who takes
Everything said as personal to himself.
One flight out sideways would have undeceived him.
And then there was a pile of wood for which
I forgot him and let his little fear
Carry him off the way I might have gone,
Without so much as wishing him good-night.
He went behind it to make his last stand.
It was a cord of maple, cut and split
And piled--and measured, four by four by eight.
And not another like it could I see.
No runner tracks in this year's snow looped near it.
And it was older sure than this year's cutting,
Or even last year's or the year's before.
The wood was grey and the bark warping off it
And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis
Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle.
What held it though on one side was a tree
Still growing, and on one a stake and prop,
These latter about to fall. I thought that only
Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
Could so forget his handiwork on which
He spent himself, the labour of his axe,
And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
With the slow smokeless burning of decay.
(--Poem by Robert Frost)
This body is ready for night's rest.

Let every one arrive home safely!

Amen. Ok? Of course.

Listening carefully.

Let's let.

Go.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Poor Clare hermit makes triennial visit to Meetingbrook. Her sweet shepherd eats biscuits, laps water, lays at her feet as we talk beyond piano along bookshelf.

The day begins sunny. Shop crowded with Manhattan, Kent England, New Hampshire, Belfast, and central Maine solitude.

Mind travels from all directions to receive itself in another.
The Kiss

She pressed her lips to mind.
—a typo


How many years I must have yearned
for someone's lips against mind.
Pheromones, newly born, were floating
between us. There was hardly any air.

She kissed me again, reaching that place
that sends messages to toes and fingertips,
then all the way to something like home.
Some music was playing on its own.

Nothing like a woman who knows
to kiss the right thing at the right time,
then kisses the things she's missed.
How had I ever settled for less?

I was thinking this is intelligence,
this is the wisest tongue
since the Oracle got into a Greek's ear,
speaking sense. It's the Good,

defining itself. I was out of my mind.
She was in. we married as soon as we could.

(Poem: "The Kiss" by Stephen Dunn from Everything Else in the World. W.W. Norton & Company, 2008.)
Too many peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips. That and smoke from downdraft this Sunday evening after practice. During walking meditation I fall off my slow steps, then begin again.


All we can ever do for one another is to be with.
Suffering is a universal experience
Seeing the suffering in the world around us and in our own bodies and minds, we begin to understand suffering not only as an individual problem, but as a universal experience. It is one of the aspects of being alive. The question that then comes to mind is: If compassion arises from the awareness of suffering, why isn't the world a more compassionate place? The problem is that often our hearts are not open to feel the pain. We move away from it, close off, and become defended. By closing ourselves off from suffering, however, we also close ourselves to our own wellspring of compassion. We don't need to be particularly saintly in order to be compassionate. Compassion is the natural response of an open heart, but that wellspring of compassion remains capped as long as we turn away from or deny or resist the truth of what is there. When we deny our experience of suffering, we move away from what is genuine to what is fabricated, deceptive, and confusing.

(- Joseph Goldstein, Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book)
Tears came at table when a woman spoke of her friend's suicide. I remembered our friend's, how she held my hands soon before, how we didn't know whether she would find her way through and out the despair. But there was that moment at the shop, in a crowded din, a moment of being with one another. That's all. Just that.

Every moment a call for creativity. That's what Delia said at table. The silent cry from the monastery of our heart.

O'Donohue is right -- there's a revelation of compassion for each wound attended.

The revelation is love.

In action.

No matter.

What.