Saturday, December 22, 2001

Yesterday at the Maine State Prison -- in the old, and soon to be demolished maximum security prison, for the last time this year -- a Meetingbrook Conversation with prisoners took place in the education department after a night of new snow. Nine of us sat around the round table: 3 from outside, 6 from inside. The reading piece was from John Riker's Human Excellence and the Ecological Conception of the Psyche, his chapter on Basic Needs, specifically of the ten he lists, the need for Sacredness.

Whether the roundtable view was from Quaker, Pagan, Christian, Ethicist, Curmudgeon, Baker, Buddhist, Poet, Cell-mate, Optimist, Near-Death'er, or Pencil-sharpening visitor -- there was a profound willingness to read, speak, share poem, laugh, or ruminate the implications of Riker's words:
A person who has been touched by sacredness has two traits that are absent from those whose lives are grounded in the secular: thankfulness and peace. These characteristics are tonal qualities that infuse the entirety of a person's way of acting, feeling, and thinking. Thankfulness is dwelling in the memory of the world and self as gift. ...Thankfulness is a state that transvalues all values without hostility or rebellion. Peacefulness is a state of fully accepting the world and ourselves as we are.

Alfred North Whitehead's words on peace were contained in the chapter:
(Peace) is a positive feeling which crowns the "life and motion" of the soul. It is hard to define and difficult to speak of. ...Its first effect is the removal of the stress of acquisitive feeling arising from the soul's preoccupation with itself. Thus Peace carries with it a surpassing of personality.

Chris asks and answers his own question: "Why have thankfulness and peace? To be icons. To be icons that teach and are a moral guideline for all."

Brendan says, "Each blooms in their own certain time. A handicapped person can't run a hundred yard dash; but maybe their highest 'bloom' is not kicking the dog."

Paco says, "The gift is not to teach or try to give someone what you've found. But you see it in some people. They simply emanate peace and calm. If I try to spread it, I taint it. The divine is love, so, you love. You just are it, there, with others. Like the child -- he loves because he loves."

Kevin says the child sees what is real.

We become adults. What the child we were has seen, and what the child we are now sees -- we easily forget. We forget so much. How do we invite what we've forgotten back into the open?

Sonny says, "By conversation."
"Sangha," says Brendan. "Community," says Dick.

"Poetry," says silence in Andre's eyes.

We will continue this in the New Year, in the new prison, in the new revelation of what is now for each of us with this.

What is this?

We'll have to see what child is this!

Thursday, December 20, 2001

"I am the glory of God" is the koan given by John Eudes to Henry Nouwen in Genesee Diary. Saskia is presenting the Wednesday Evening Conversation topic "The Glory of God" this last Wednesday before Christmas. She is reflecting on her retreat at the Trappist monastery. David, in an equivocal laconic aside, says "When you say there's a little bit of God in you, you're full of it." We delight in the possibilities of his wording. He quotes Joseph Campbell about our coming out of the earth, not being thrown here from anywhere else.

Judith reminds that we are made in God's image and likeness, we are reflections of the original, and the image cannot be separated from the original. Susan tells of a dream she had wherein the virgin Mary was seen, then entered her and wrapped herself around Susan's heart. She felt unconditional love and joy -- and the insight that this love had nothing to do with "deserving or undeserving." Rather the experience that "I am the glory of God" is an acceptance we are of God and manifest God's glory, the expression, the praise, the beauty, the very fact of what we are, what God is.

Seth asks "Does it imply I have to do something that I'm not doing? Or is it like the crabapple tree in spring -- we're the glory of God?" But we think, he says, that we're a worm sometimes. Someone wondered whether a worm being a worm is also the glory of God, as beaver being beaver are. To a crabapple a worm is dinner guest.

Thursday Christian Contemplative Studies takes a night off from the regular book and returns to Nouwen's koan. Forrest tells of a book about Jesus and the death of meaning, how the Jewish sensory and Greek rational strengths are both befuddled by the death of the messiah, the stumbling block of the cross. "To faith" something is to extend beyond the boundaries of sensory or rational reliance.

Like the Zen card Jonathan sent this morning of a snowman wearing a Buddhist rakusu (a vest-like robe) in mountainous terrain with the words "Merry Satori," we decide tonight that "to faith" might be transliterated into merry satori -- that is, joyous emptying and seeing.

As fine an explication of the mystery of the incarnation, and as glorious a Christmas wish as there might be -- A joyous emptying and seeing to us all!

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Last evening the snow and sleet didn’t keep many away from Buddhist studies. In the fireplace one log breaks from itself and falls to the side. Saskia silently reaches in with poker to assist the return of each part to the flame as we speak of the 1st Mindfulness Training as reformulated by Thich Nhat Hanh:
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.

Sando, who had been a frightened clinging dog all day following Saskia’s 360 degree slide in the van just down from Oak Hill cemetery (no hit, no harm, but for nerves), finally came to rest in the confines of the circle as Tom invited us to “hold the silence” as we began the first hour.

This morning, bright sun on snow, another quote:
Several students came to Bassui with the practice of calling on the names of savior Buddhas like Jizo. With great patience, he explained to them that ji means “earth” and zo means “storehouse,” or mind nature. Then he urged them to realize that all the names of the Bodhisattvas are just different names for the nature of the Mind. Ordinary people, being unaware of this truth, become attached to the names, and in the hope of attaining Buddhahood, seek the Buddha and the Dharma outside of their own minds. It’s like cooking sand in the hope of producing rice. The true nature of the Dharma body of ordinary people is everywhere teaching of the many creations that come from it. All sermons of the Buddha are only metaphors pointing to the minds of ordinary people.
- - Bassui (1338-1500) -(from

We spoke from that circle:
Having a compost toilet, said Jean, has taught her to be responsible for her own shit.
Betty Ann wondered whether the phrase “May I be happy” wasn’t a desire that caused unhappiness? Muriel noted where and when she felt happy today and where and when she didn't.
What if happiness was our true home, and the awareness that we are not at home causes us to long for that true home, that's when we express the longing to return to that path of true home. Robin read the wording from the Saltzberg book, “...wish as homing instinct for freedom.” Tom said whichever path he was on the cultivating of mindfulness applied. Nancy said it might be a similar path, but different place of origin. Sarah said at end she was staying in Maine this Christmas -- not making the far pilgrimage to Pennsylvania home, then upper New York State wider family home.
Barbara said the silence and peace of the evening felt like happiness.

Betty Ann said the path is the thing, the precepts aren’t the thing. Another added, so too the commandments – they’re not the be-all and end-all or stopping point – rather the lived reality of God is the path, the pointing reality. Robin said its like the finger pointing to the moon – the moon is the thing. “Thing” here refers to our direction, our path, perhaps – our ordinary mind. In our culture there’s more focus on destination, not enough on path. It is harder yet to consider that path and destination are not two things. Path is destination; destination is path. Of what soil, what earth, is that path comprised?

When we seek outside our own minds we might just be out of our mind, in someone else's, but not where no-mind is the path.

Author Eckhart Tolle says that by stopping the mind (from its incessant forays to past and future) time stops. There is only now.
Now, and ordinary mind, are not two things. Now, path, God, ordinary mind -- Not four things?

One thing doesn’t produce another. Cook sand, get cooked sand. Cook rice, get cooked rice. Who has the pot, and what is the flame?

Everyone likes Thay's use of the word “cultivate.” It appears a gentler more accessible word than the words "command" or "reprimand." If a Zen poet were to redo the Ten Commandments, would we better understand the path they offer? When teachings become acculturated rather than cultivated they have to be dug up and looked at fresh. Seen anew, then, back to the soil of our soul. Back to the path of the minds of ordinary people. Back home to all dwelling there, wherever we find ourselves each day, any day, even Christmas.

Nameless and present we move through our origin recognizing each one, each path. The burning flame of our attention, as Delia said of the log in the fireplace, transforms us on the way.

Sunday, December 16, 2001

Just before Compline, while still at table, Seth says, “It’s because we’re afraid we won’t be cared for.” He finishes the conversation at Sunday Evening Practice.

Before the conversations, from the two readings that followed sitting meditation:
1. "Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow nor reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span?…Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself." (Matt.6:26,27; 34)

2. “You’ll know you’re among the people of your culture if the food is all owned, and if it’s all under lock and key.”
“Hmm,” I said. “It’s hard to imagine it being any other way.”
“But of course it once was another way. It was once no more owned than the air or the sunshine are owned. I’m sure you must realize that.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“You seem unimpressed, Julie, but putting food under lock and key was one of the great innovations of your culture. No other culture in history has ever put food under lock and key – and putting it there is the cornerstone of your economy.”
“How is that?” I asked. “Why is it the cornerstone?”
“Because, if the food wasn’t under lock and key, Julie, who would work?”
(p.39, My Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn)

Are we turning to a new understanding of our new communal relationship each to each in this world? Or, are we returning to how we originally were when dependence on God – or self-giving nature – was common?
Is the fear of our culture that, really, we are not cared for -- not by neighbor, not by larger community, not even by God? Is it fear that makes the norm insurance, lawsuits, corporate medical management, savings and investments? Is there any correlation between trust and faith in God and carefree and fearless life that doesn’t hoard, own, protect, and charge the dearest price for the necessities of living?

Earlier in the shop, Tom, on the way to his art gallery, spoke of noticing that Jesus expresses forgiveness “for they know not what they do” while they were doing what they were doing. That, and the fact that the prayer he taught, the Our Father, is in the present tense. “This day,” “those who trespass,” “deliver us,” – all now, all in the moment. Contemporaneous awareness of compassion.

Sando and Mini come to this room. Mini licks my hand as I write. Sando jumps on the bed. Chimes under cedar tree toll rapidly in cold wind. Saskia and mother, Erika, ready baked goods for mom's travel back home.

If we change, if we care, will our culture change? Or is caring, caring without filling our barns with surplus under lock and key, is that caring something that places one outside the culture – the culture of worry, collection, tomorrow and yesterday?

We pray in meditation room -- A quiet night. A peaceful death.
Practicing this life. Sounding bell. Extinguishing candle. Bowing to cross, to wood Buddha. Doing dishes.

Can we forgive each other now?