Today At Meetingbrook

Saturday, May 31, 2008

May goes. Comes June. Rains today.
Wonderful! Wonderful!
The sermon of the inanimate is inconceivable.
If you try to hear it with your ears,
You’ll hardly understand
Only when you hear it in your eyes
Will you be able to know.

- Dongshan Liangjie (807-869)
It's one thing to know deception has been the leadership of this country. It's another thing to have that knowing verified by one of the inner circle. It makes the chilling truth that much colder.

Mr. McClellan’s book landed like a bombshell on Washington not because of any startling revelations or staggering new insights, but because he was an insider who wrote unflatteringly about his boss.

Forget that this is supposed to be a government of, by and for the people, and that the truth is supposed to matter. Mr. McClellan is being denounced as a traitor by those who readily accept the culture of deception, and who believe that a government official’s primary loyalty is not to the people, but to power itself — in this case, to the president.

It’s exactly that kind of thinking that begets unnecessary wars.
(-- Bob Herbert, New York Times, 31May08, Op Ed: Coming Late To The Table)

Four thousand troops die. Well over one hundred thousand Iraqis die. The president and his people lie, cheat, steal, and defy the ethos and laws of the country. They are above the law. No one can touch them. How frightening is that?

The Babes in the Wood
by Anonymous

My dear, do you know,
How a long time ago,
Two poor little children,
Whose names I don't know,
Were stolen away
On a fine summer's day,
And left in a wood,
As I've heard people say.

Among the trees high
Beneath the blue sky
They plucked the bright flowers
And watched the birds fly;
Then on blackberries fed,
And strawberries red,
And when they were weary
'We'll go home,' they said.

And when it was night
So sad was their plight,
The sun it went down,
And the moon gave no light.
They sobbed and they sighed
And they bitterly cried,
And long before morning
They lay down and died.

And when they were dead
The robins so red
Brought strawberry leaves
And over them spread;
And all the day long,
The green branches among,
They'd prettily whistle
And this was their song-
'Poor babes in the wood!
Sweet babes in the wood!
Oh the sad fate of
The babes in the wood!

(--Poem "The Babes in the Wood," Anonymous. Public domain.)

It has been, and is, a terrifying time for this country. The threat is as internal as it is external. We don't know if there is anyone to trust in the government.

It is the stuff of science fiction.

The people might awaken.

I do not wish to see their faces when they do.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Who are we without memory? The answer might be: We are right here, right now. How difficult, or even intolerable, would it be for most of us if we had no memory? Or worse, if what we recall is actually false memory? Our identity is a fragile thing. It is not non-negotiable.
There's no one place in the brain you can point to and say 'There's a memory.' You can't go into the brain and point a finger and say 'There's a memory.' It turns out that memories are more distributed than that, distributed in different parts of the brain. This is especially so for episodic memories. So a memory is a network of brain regions and all those brain regions have to come together in order for us to retrieve a memory. So I think this helps us understand that there's a sense in which all memories are constructed; they're not just literal replays of events that have happened to us.
(-- Professor Daniel L. Schacter, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, as over-voiced in film Unknown White Male, by filmmaker Robert Murray, about Doug Bruce, a man who woke up on a New York subway with no clues as to who he was, other than a random phone number and a British accent. 2005)
There's a conversation between science and philosophy that meets in the between place, that place just off the edges of scientific verification and philosophic speculation. If I do not know the thing I am, am I lost to myself? The Course in Miracles states:

I do not know the thing I am, and therefore do not know what I am doing, where I am, or how to look upon the world or on myself. Yet in this learning is salvation born. And What you are will tell you of Itself.
(--from text, p. 614; T-31.V.17:7-9 )

Sometimes I seem to be a worded episode engaged in procedural liturgies of ritual repetition. We talk a lot about the same things over and over while sitting in the same spot.

I often refer to memory as a "fragile power." Memory is fragile because we are subject to forgetting and memory is not always as accurate as we would like to believe. Memory is powerful because most of the time it serves us well, forming the foundation of our knowledge of the world and of ourselves. In the case of emotionally experiences, memory is a source of tremendous power in our lives.

One of the key lessons we have learned is that memory is not unitary: there is no one area or structure in the brain that we would identify as memory. Moreover, there are multiple forms of memory. We make a major distinction between explicit memory and implicit memory. (Some researchers refer to these two forms of memory as declarative and non-declarative.)

Explicit memory involves the conscious, intentional recollection of previous experiences, what we tend to think of as memory in our everyday lives. It may involve reliving or reexperiencing past events. Implicit memory refers to nonconscious, unintentional influences of past experiences on current behavior and performance.

(-- from Project on the Decade of the Brain, Library of Congress, May 5 and 6, 1998. Discovering Our Selves: The Science of Emotion, Executive Summary, Panel: The Science of Memory and Emotion: "Memory: The Fragile Power"; Daniel L. Schacter, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, is the author of Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past.)

I remember my Aunt Marge and Uncle Mickey greeting me as I woke up in the back seat of the white DeSoto on Foster Avenue downstairs from Aunt Ronnie and Uncle Tom's apartment in Brooklyn. The memory is as real to me today as it was five or six decades ago. But did it happen? What was I doing alone in the family car on a busy street, and why did they not go upstairs and cement the apparition?

I feel that way at times about religious rituals. Before prison today (a ritual I've come to respect with religious devotion) we attended the express mass at Rockland church. Its the feast of the Sacred Heart. Afterwards, as often occurs, the coffee and donut seemed as equal an experience of Eucharist as the sacrament just received in quick distribution. (The priest at this 7am celebration is nothing if not rapid and methodical.)

I ask myself if the re-enactment and recollection involved in the highly ritualized gestures and words is more a consequence or a cause of memory.

Episodic memory refers to the memory of events, times, places, associated emotions, and other conception-based knowledge in relation to an experience. Semantic and episodic memory together make up the category of declarative memory, which is one of the two major divisions in memory. The counterpart to declarative, or explicit memory, is procedural memory, or implicit memory.
(-- from Wikipedia, Tulving, E. (1984). Precis of Elements of Episodic Memory. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 7, 223 – 268.)

Is Jesus, (that oft-quoted and multi-referenced figure from Middle Eastern religious scripture), being re-enacted in the ritual, or are we creating a reference point from which to establish a procedural template for our lives? It's a question that is more than asking if the actions are historical or mythological -- more whether we are the reference point here and now of this creative theater.

Do we remember the one we call God? Or, do we create a memory of that which we long to remember? And if God is completely out-of-time itself, completely present in itself, and the complete gaze of what is itself -- then are we the action of God originally creating the event and the memory, the words and the retrieval of the activity of God-self-in-creation, ever-present, always at origin, and wholly aware of this as it is here and now?

I like the phrase:
And What you are will tell you of Itself.

This learning is beyond culture. It is beyond intellect. It is cellular. It is neural. Perhaps it is consciousness itself, (distinct from the conscious subject), urging an awareness that transcends location and occasion. It is the explication -- the unfolding and making clear of what-is-in-itself.

I'm fond of the phrasing: "What Is In Itself."

It is the nexus.

The connective.

The center.

Of something.

Which is.

Itself.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

O'a, at conversation last evening, spoke about the sanctuary surrounding each of us. She gestured with arms a semicircle, hands finishing in mudra of outstretched offering prayer before face. This sanctuary is a cloister of solitude that does not require physical separation. We are there in one another's midst, but retain a space, both psychologically and spiritually, not determined by the actions, words, or presence of any other being.

We'd been reading Anne Lamott, from Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith, the final essay, "Kookaburra. " This morning I find an interview Lamott did with Tavis Smiley:

Tavis: Great title. Let me give you a chance to explain it. "Grace (Eventually)."

Lamott: Well, I think - I have written a lot about grace. I believe that there is a force of goodness or sweetness or sanity, and it does meet us where we are, and it doesn’t leave us where it finds us. And it sometimes feels like water wings if you're a kid who feels like she's going under the waves, or sometimes it feels like a thin ribbon of fresh air when you can't breathe or you feel claustrophobic.

Sometimes it looks like all of a sudden being kinder to yourself. But I do not believe that God has a magic wand, which doesn’t work for me because when I pray, my main prayers are help me, help me, help me and thank you, thank you, thank you. When I pray I would like God to tap me on the head with a magic wand so that I could understand that my prayer was answered. But it comes eventually. The answer and the grace come eventually.

Tavis: I’m fascinated - and there's so much I want to get to in the time we have about this wonderful book - I'm fascinated first though by your prayer. Everyone has his or her own prayer. Yours is, to your point, help me, help me, help me; thank you, thank you, thank you.

Lamott: That's my two prayers.

Tavis: Your two prayers. Tell me more about why those are your two prayers.

Lamott: Well, I think help most easily when we have given up on having any more good ideas (laughs). And I've always heard that our problems aren't the problem; it's our solutions that are the problem. And so usually - and I've also come to believe that the willingness comes from the pain, so as long as I'm kind of getting things to work, I don't give up and just let a higher power of some sort take over the controls.

And so you finally give up and you just say, "I'm so done. Just please help me." You know what it's like a little bit? I had a friend named Paul who used to say that he would feel like a kid in one of the backseat kid seats, where they have a plastic steering wheel attached to the car seat. And he'd be sure, that little kid, that if you turn the car to the right it's going right, 'cause you're making, and then you make it go to the left.

And when you finally realize you're not in charge of much, then help arrives, solutions arrive, serenity.

(--from Tavis Smiley interview with Anne Lamott, original airdate March 28, 2007)
"Who's in charge?" is a good question. As the days of the Bush presidency (mercifully) wind down, many more hithertofore devotees will feel unbound and finally tell what it felt like working in an environment of fear, arrogance, abuse, and distortions of every stripe. It will be a moot revelation. Many in the country knew we were living under perverse distortions. It has been the curious paralysis and numb impotency that held the country frozen in disbelief that remains notable.

Who's in charge, indeed? I am reluctant to say we are puppets to either political martinets or to spiritualist guides-and-dolls, but there are times (unfortunately) when no better explanation trumps.
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.

(from poem Ars Poetica?, by Czeslaw Milosz)
Milosz might not have had his poetic tongue-in-cheek. We might not be one person. The psychological scalpel that tries to unconjoin the loopy personality figure 8 ride of multiples crowding our inner amusement park rail platform might not have been sterilized properly and caused an infection in all of us crowded inside my name.

I am everyone I've ever seen, touched, heard, or thought. Mulder was right -- We're not alone! Scully was also right -- there's something very odd about both Mulder and the shadowy obsessions never quite provable nor deniable.

Milosz did use the word "hope" in penultimate line. We can hope. It might help.

In Lamott's essay she wrote something to the effect that just because the monkey is off your back it doesn't mean the circus has left town. As we continue to erect a fence to create a sanctuary of safety for our dear rescue Border Collie -- just because we know the whereabouts of wild rose thorns near our arms it doesn't mean that the bushes won't reach out and cut our hands as they work the wire.

Still in all, it is a lovely morning. Short mountain walk followed by Lauds in chapel/zendo, then to the perimeter with wire cutters and sledge hammer. It is all we can do in our small geography of intimacy with the sane holiness we wish to cultivate.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

(--from poem Epilogue, by Robert Lowell, in his book Day by Day
O'a and I grew up in multi-generational households. It's what contributes to the willingness and ability to attend diverse personalities and characters with a tempered equanimity that allows wide-ranging differences of type and sensibility while retaining a keen sense of humor useful for prying loose the stuck places that fix us fast with no seeming escape.

We cry, "Sanctuary!" and are delighted when something opens and we turn, unstuck for a bit, to see what is around us on all sides.
Neither by words nor by the patriarch;
Neither by colors nor by sound was I enlightened.
But, at midnight, when I blew out
The candle and went to bed,
Suddenly, I reached the dawn.
Profound quietude delivered me
To the transparent moonlight.
After enlightenment one understands
That the Six Classics contain not even a word
.
- Wang Yang-ming (1472-1529)
Enlightenment isn't what it used to be.

Enlightenment's not the cat or the dog at barn door wanting in for now, then wanting out.

Rather, enlightenment is the barn door itself, seeing each way through.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I've always liked what Ron H. said stepping out of the shop in 1996: "Solitude is not being left alone; Solitude is leaving alone."
Present-time Awareness
Mindfulness is present-time awareness. It takes place in the here and now. It is the observance of what is happening right now, in the present moment. It stays forever in the present, perpetually on the crest of the ongoing wave of passing time.

If you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is memory. When you then become aware that you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is mindfulness. If you then conceptualize that process and say to yourself, "Oh, I am remembering," that is thinking.

--Henepola Gunaratana, from Mindfulness in Plain English
We've come to think of the phrase "hermits in the open" as applicable. Not recluses in physical space; rather, mendicants seeking kindness and grace for all in open and intermediate solitude.
The term mendicant (Latin mendicans, begging) refers to begging or relying on charitable donations, and is most widely used for religious followers or ascetics who rely exclusively on charity to survive.
(--Wikipedia)
We beg. Not often and not loudly. Even not with much passion. Everything we earn at other jobs goes into maintaining the bookshop and bakery, paying bills, and shoring up our leaky life-skiff. And yet -- we are happy. And if the public marketplace face of Meetingbrook ends, we'll regroup at the hermitage.

Right now we're heading up Ragged Mountain with Rokpa. What a gift to be able to do this.
Solitude

Discipline of solitude (Christianity)

The truest solitude is not something outside and not the absence of people or sound; it is an abyss opening up at the centre of the soul. The abyss of interior solitude is created by a hunger that cannot be satisfied. It is found by hunger, sorrow, thirst, poverty and desire. The soul which has found this solitude is empty, as if emptied by death. This solitude is everywhere but there are mechanisms for finding it

All Christian religious communities have recourse to use means for finding solitude within their systems, possibly through retreat and/or periods of silence. This deliberate separation from the company of other people can help lead to deep inner silence and aid recollection and prayer without distractions. Solitude and silence are closely related states, the former giving the spiritual stillness to maintain the latter, and to speak only when words are really required. In many traditions a life of solitude as a hermit, whether totally alone or grouped around a common place of worship, has been used to achieve solitude of the soul. Frequently such retreat is to a place of harsh physical conditions (desert, mountain, forest); nevertheless, simply taking periods of solitude during the day whenever they may be experienced may be very efficacious

The retreat is not to escape for its own sake or from others or the world because it is unpleasant. Peace will not be found nor will solitude. To seek solitude because it is what one prefers will never result in escape from the world and its selfishness. The interior freedom required to be truly alone is not present. Solitude is to be alone in the healing silence of recollection and the untroubled presence of God. The state of solitude results in a deeper understanding and love for one's fellows

Thomas Merton says that solitude is not separation. If one goes into the desert it must not be to escape from others but to find them in God. There is a real need for solitude at a time when love and conformity are equated. True solitude is that of a person constituted by a uniquely subsisting capacity to love, it is not the refuge of an individualist. Physical solitude is contrasted with the escape into a crowd. Lost in a crowd, the person does not know he is alone but neither does he function as a person in a community. Not facing the risks or responsibilities of true solitude, his other responsibilities removed from his shoulders by the multitude, he is burdened by diffuse anxiety, nameless fears, the petty lusts and pervading hostilities which fill mass society. To remain human one must have true communion and dialogue with others - not simply living with others and sharing only the common noise and general distraction. True solitude is interior solitude, which is possible only for those accepting their right place in relation to others.

(--from Union of International Associations, http://www.diversitas.org/db/x.php?dbcode=hu&go=e&id=11803330)
Contemplation. Conversation. Correspondence.

Looking with attentive presence. Listening with root silence. Loving with transparent service.

It is morning.

Mountain green with sunlight prays.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

If someone wants to show you their mind, look into it.
Song of Meditation

Sentient beings are primarily all Buddhas:
it is like ice and water,
apart from water no ice can exist;
outside sentient beings,
where do we find the Buddhas?
Not knowing how near the Truth is,
people seek it far away, what a pity!

- Hakuin (1685–1768)
Near, nearer, absolutely near.

You ain't going no-w-here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

At Vespers in the cabin we pray for all those dead and deadened by war. The dead are easy to trace. They reside away from sight. The deadened are less easy to find. They walk down streets, work beside us, drive the same roads, and do everything done by everyone else. Those of us deadened by war become fearful and angry. Trust is hard to come by. We feel that the world belongs to others. We are unwanted annoyances.

Among us, the winter soldiers.

"Winter Soldier’ is a term that turns from the opening of a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine in 1776:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
A contingent of winter soldiers testified today on Capital Hill. They actually know the disgrace of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The families of the killed are left with the ambivalence of rhetoric in a time hardly any words are believed,
A man whose son died in the war walks in the street
like a woman with a dead embryo in her womb.
"Behind all this some great happiness is hiding."

(--From Amen by Yehuda Amichai, published by Harper & Row. 1977)
Surely, some great happiness beckons. Surely there is some redeeming spin that is not blatant untruth!

There's nothing romantic about war.

War is failure.

Still, even in failure, we honor the fallen.

A good soldier, it is said, will trust his commanders: they will salute, say 'Yes sir!', and die.

They do it for the rest of us.

We say, in prayer, 'Thank you; rest well!'

Sunday, May 25, 2008

What lovely people met this weekend.
Lu-men moonlight spills through misty trees
and I come again to the old hermitage.
The path leads through pines,
to the brushwork door
back again to solitude and silence.
Where a hermit lives,
there’s no need for companions.

- Meng Hao-jan (689-740)
There's an aspect of community that bypasses usual configuration. Jacques Ellul says it is orientation and signification.
At the level of personal life, I am convinced that every event, adventure, and encounter has its own meaning. Nothing in human relationships lacks meaning: neither a chance meeting nor an illness that attacks us. Everything makes sense because everything concerns these strange beings that we call human and that are significant in themselves. Each word and glance has meaning (in the twofold sense of the term). Some things orient me to life and some to death. Some have for me a signification that I must integrate into my life if I deserve to be called human.
(--p.16, in What I Believe, by Jacques Ellul, c.1989)
It is what is taking place between each and each that evokes meaning to become manifest.

We make history each time we act.

Today, meaning and history were manifestly made.