Saturday, November 29, 2003

“By surprise like a trap”

Christians begin liturgical preparing, again, for the birth of Christ into human history. They begin by worrying the end of all life as has been known on earth. Dismay, fright, and vigilance are prelude to escape. Hardly an inviting prospect augers standing before the “Son of Man.”

Jesus said to his disciples: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon,
and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the
roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in
anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the
heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a
cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen,
stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.
“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and
drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by
surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the
face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the
strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before
the Son of Man.”
(GOSPEL,Cycle C, 1st Advent, Luke 21:25-28, 34-36)

Lloyd says the poet Pessoa thought we shouldn’t worry much about what takes place in the world, that only the inner life, the inner reality was worth the attention of men and women. We were reading poetry. Fernando Pessoa was joined by Diane DiPrima, Robert Bly, Ted Hughes, Marianne Moore, and others at Friday Evening Conversation focusing on poetry.

Survival Skills

Here is the virtue
in not looking up:
you will be the one
who finds the overhang
out of the sun
and something for a cup.
You will rethink meat;
you will know you have
to eat and will eat.
Despair and hope you keep
remote. You will not
think much about the boat
that sank or other boats.
When you can, you sleep.
You can go on nearly forever.
If you ever are delivered
you are not delivered.
You know now, you were
always a survivor.

Poem: "Survival Skills," by Kay Ryan from Say Uncle (Grove Press).

When we can, we sleep. Much of our time these days, it seems, we wander about asleep. It is easier to imagine the shift taking place -- in politics and other environments of natural or international mutation – is an under water, under sleep activity taking place without our full or conscious participation. To claim consciousness of the sea change would be to grab at lines, right sails, and steer toward sustainable buoyancy. Or go, and stay, under.

[C.S. Lewis] was a confident Oxford philosopher, not at all prepared to find himself a Christian convert. To his friend Owen Barfield he wrote: "Terrible things have happened to me. The 'Spirit' or 'Real I' is showing an alarming tendency to becoming much more personal and is taking the offensive, and behaving just like God. You'd better come on Monday at the latest or I may have entered a monastery." (Garrison Keillor remembering Lewis’ birthday) [Poem and Lewis quote from The Writer's Almanac for Saturday, Nov. 29, 2003]

‘The Spirit,’ or ‘Real I’ is alone awake. That Reality will not be discouraged by our soporific certainties about remaining sleepily indifferent to what is taking place. The world, it is said, is a dangerous place. There is beauty and joy, and there is fragile sanity also.

C.S. Lewis said, "Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand." (Keillor)

To enter religion is to enter, eyes open, the reality of this world.

We can only escape illusion, not truth. Truth is constant surprise. Illusion is narcoleptic paralysis. Most the time, we court, and are courted by, illusion. Truth is a deeper, more stunning, and simpler wakefulness.

Truth demands practice. Truth asks for vigilance. Truth, if it were told, is just like this – right before our attentiveness.

The Brahman Dona saw the Buddha sitting under a tree and was impressed by his peaceful air of alertness and his tranquil demeanor. He asked the Buddha:

“Are you a god?”
“No, Brahman, I am not a god.”
“Then an angel?”
“No, indeed, Brahman.”
“A spirit then?”
“No, I am not a spirit.”
“Then what are you?”
“I am awake.”

- Anguttara Nikaya [DailyZen]


this Advent...


Friday, November 28, 2003

Forget liberty?

Before doing so, celebrate it. If we are going to forget it, let us remember how it fell from grace.

Everything is what it is: liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience. (‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ (1958), L 172 [FEL 125] by Isaiah Berlin (1909 - November 5, 1997). Berlin was a political philosopher and historian of ideas, born in Riga, Latvia.)

There is worry about a great country forgetting what made her great -- namely, freedom.

Reacting to hurt by further retaliatory hurt is the abandonment of compassion, and instead, taking up cruelty. Even at home, further hurt is piled upon sorrow and fear by seeming abandonment of core beliefs of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – this in the name of security and homeland pre-eminence.

I’ve broken through Cloud Barrier
The living way is north, south, east, and west.
Evenings I rest, mornings I play,
No other, no self.
With each step a pure breeze rises.

- Daito (1282-1334)

In meditation cabin at dawn, double window behind zafu and zabuton instructs the mind. Votive candlelight reflects twice the stain glass holder in window glass. At same time the windows hold reflection of candlelight, they allow transparent seeing through to outside stones, branches, old apple tree, and wet earth. That which we see is that which is seen through.

No other, no self.

‘Life can be seen through
many windows,
none of them necessarily
clear or opaque,
less or more distorting
than any of the others.’

(-- Isaiah Berlin, ‘Winston Churchill in 1940’ (1949), PI 4)

It is difficult to govern. Balancing fear and freedom. Sorting through what is good for one segment of the world or country and who will be left to suffer the lack. It is a difficulty moderated by clear thinking and honest analysis. With the best of intentions the worst results can occur when original, guiding principles are forgotten in favor of ideologies and reactions made popular by desperate men performing Orwellian switches in the meaning of words.

‘Debate’ comes to mean ‘dictate.’ ‘Freedom’ comes to mean ‘repress.’ ‘Terror’ comes to mean ‘all other views.’ And ‘security’ comes to mean ‘no other way.’

[T]hose who have ever valued liberty for its own sake believed that to be free to choose, and not to be chosen for, is an inalienable ingredient in what makes human beings human.(Berlin, Introduction to ‘Five Essays on Liberty’ (1969) 52 [lx]

I prefer to think it is fear and failure of imagination that drives the current movement to suspend the experiment of this republic. The world is changing.

Immigration is suspect. International cooperation is disdained. Only corporate profit and courting wealth counts. There is no longer pretense of the words ‘people’ or ‘democracy’ or ‘humankind.’ These words are replaced by ‘demographics’ or lobbying groups’ or ‘collateral resources/damages.’

It is a terrible and dangerous arrogance to believe that you alone are right: have a magical eye which sees the truth: & that others cannot be right if they disagree. (‘Notes on Prejudice’ (1981), L 349)

Eating dinner Thanksgiving night listening to radio dramatization of “The Grapes of Wrath,” adapted from novel by John Steinbeck, it occurs that there is a pervasive tension between those that have and control and those that don’t have and need.

Perhaps the true test of human and spiritual maturation is the willingness to share, openly and equally, with human beings what each one needs. Food, clothing, shelter, respect, and freedom from oppression – these are basic and inalienable rights that divine, natural, and human law distinguish themselves making manifest.

Those, no doubt, are in some way fortunate who have brought themselves, or have been brought by others, to obey some ultimate principle before the bar of which all problems can be brought. Single-minded monists, ruthless fanatics, men possessed by an all-embracing coherent vision do not know the doubts and agonies of those who cannot wholly blind themselves to reality.
(Isaiah Berlin, Introduction to ‘Five Essays on Liberty’, 1969. 47 [lv] )

Reality is not an idea. True reality exists at the feet and before the eyes of every person, every being that breathes air or resides in the embrace of earth.

The fundamental sense of freedom is freedom from chains, from imprisonment, from enslavement by others. The rest is extension of this sense, or else metaphor.
(Berlin, ibid. 48 [lvi])

We try to commit to memory what freedom sounds like as clanging doors close noisily and faintly amnesiac faces look nervously around them, fearing they are losing something dear to them, but vague and nearly out of mind.

On 6 November 1949, her son Lev was arrested for the third time and
the following day Akhmatova committed her poems finally to memory
before burning their manuscripts; among them, the completed
‘Poem without a Hero' in which Berlin appears as ‘The Guest from the Future'.

(--from a poem by Jon Stallworthy, "The Guest from the Future," recalling a momentous meeting between Isaiah Berlin and the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, and its consequences.) [Gratitude to]

Those who forget, live off the pain and suffering of others.

Forgive us our forgetfulness.

And deliver us.

To liberty.

And justice.

For all.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Was none of them found?

Walk to town. Attend Mass. Breakfast on deck by harbor on tea and baked goods. Row to Curtis Island. Walk around island. Then row around island. It's Thanksgiving.

Just as space reaches everywhere,
Without discrimination,
Just so the immaculate element,
Which in it essential nature is mind,
Is present in all.

- Visuddhis Magga

Light life -- the immaculate element.

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" 14 When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well." (Luke 17)

Preachers often miss this one. They like to say only one was grateful. Nine were ingrates. They miss it.

If it were a Zen koan Jesus was asking, the one returning missed the opportunity. To Jesus' question, "the other nine, where are they?" -- the Samaritan might have answered, " See me, see them." And, "One gives praise, all give praise."

At Thanksgiving we are healed when we realize mercy. We are made well when no one is left out of our awareness of the wholeness of the body of Christ, the wholeness of the body of humankind.

When food is taken in, when sound is heard, and when light gives shape to each particular presence -- each is present in all.

All of them, found.

Thank you.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

One’s light?

Domine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea.

A Catholic koan. “Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof: but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” A more recent translation has the phrasing, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. Only say the word, and I shall be healed.”

What is the word? What will be healed? What is worthiness?

Learn for yourself here.
A teacher can’t help you here.
But first ask yourself why
You need to be told
Why you have allowed yourself
To stop learning about those things
Most basic to your life.
If you attempt to learn
Without asking those questions,
You can never pass beyond
You’ll only trap yourself
Again and again,
A skin’s thickness away
From the living present.

( - Journeys on Mind Mountain)

Absent historical explanations or scriptural exegesis, what word heals and worthies?

The Buddha's Last Instruction

"Make of yourself a light "
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal - a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire-
clearly I'm not needed
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

(Poem by Mary Oliver)

We are frightened by the gaze that looks directly in our direction. The gaze that looks into us. The gaze that sees our worth without proof or explanation.

What is the word?

Only say it.

I will be healed?

To receive you, I must go.


No I.

The sacrament of what is pure and holy is what is occurring between us when you and I have dissolved into this mere and very next reality.

One's light.

Monday, November 24, 2003

What to do with appalling errors?

Michael Moore's book, Dude, Where's my Country?, puts in one place questions about 9/11 and the current administration that have floated disconnected for two years.

How do we rebound with compassion and justice? How rebuild confidence and respect? How move from dispiritedness and disgust -- an unhealthy state of being for anyone -- to retrieving hopeful and worthy citizenry of a fine country? How repair fabric of trust ripped to shreds by lack of openness and private motivations that are refused light of day?

Like entrusting yourself
To a brave person
When greatly afraid,
By entrusting yourself
To the awakening mind,
You will be swiftly liberated,
Even if you have made appalling errors.

- Majjhima Nikaya

What can one individual do?

Our involvement with others does not begin with just our speech and physical movements. Each of us individually has an effect on the lives of beings around us through the quiet processes going on in our minds. If we are full of good feelings, they radiate around us and people want to be near. If we are full of bad feelings, others tend to stay away. So if we would be activists for good, for the positive, we must assume responsibility for our minds as well as our speech and our physical activities, otherwise our negative mental habits will drag down the entire community of beings. On the other hand, when we break through into the liberty of heart, mind, and spirit in the process of enlightenment, we free others at the same time.

We can envision the planet as the residence of billions of human beings each living around a bubble of inner awareness, each having an inner theater of sounds and lights and impulses that is interconnected with everyone else’s through broadcast vibrations and patterns. When one of those bubbles explodes in a burst of insight or joy – when it releases a knot in its interior energy circulation – it influences ever so slightly all the other bubbles. When an educational, cultural, or civilization movement influences a large number of those bubbles in certain ways, an even more powerful resonance which affects all the other bubbles is created. If we see morphic resonance as a principle operating in history, we can conceive of the possibility that when a whole country or a group of countries adopts a new pattern of perception or behavior, surrounding countries can be profoundly influenced as well.
(pp. 27-28, from Introduction to Inner Revolution, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Real Happiness, c.1998, by Robert Thurman)

If our political and personal profit have steered us away from the Holy One, inner revolution is a way back to unity and wholesome community. Our longing is strong.

Away with guns and military force; arrive with awareness and sacred spirit!

In our time of nearly limitless communication and freedom of choice in so many countries, our civilization is ripe for another step in what the Buddha saw as our inevitable evolution toward happiness. (Thurman, p.29)

The washer twists in corner. One bite taken from half cinnamon swirl. Grapefruit juice two sips down. The dogs are in the barn wondering why morning walking meditation is delayed. Mu-ge plays hockey with quarter on bathroom floor.

Overcast sky.

Errors are evolution’s way of embarking a new course of growth. We must study this course well.

It is time for mountain walking.

Good resonance to us all!

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Wisdom attends.

Morning kitchen. Mu-ge snoozes on black chair. Cesco on tan rug. Sando on daybed by window. Saskia wipes counter after preparing dough for bread and setting squash in soup pot on stove.

The morning walk along mountainside with dogs was crisp and clear with sunlit silence. Water trickles down in furrowed meander from woods to pond.

The mountain was in the stream, both on the surface and in the glittering white of the polished stones in the streambed. Reflecting easily despite the rapid flow of the current. The snowy white mass seemed to double in size. It was the purest white you had ever seen, and it floated in the blue sky. The day was incredibly fresh and clear as you walked in it, step by step, each step complete in and of itself. Each step the beginning of a leap into the infinite present. The mountain enfolded you; the mind stopped, stunned, and still. You walked through the silence toward the mountain, each step a leap into the deep silence which is always present, always unfolding.
- from Journeys on Mind Mountain

There is a danger in colonialism. Jim Hightower and Michael Thoms discuss corporations, separating personal responsibility from the law to legally rob people, Enron and other bankruptcies of Savings and Loans paid for by ordinary citizens. They speak about Wal-Mart and other big boxes sucking money from communities and underselling local businesses.

Once sacred silence invited us into the divine. These days men in governing power encourage fear, stifling opposing views and reasonable demonstration, and foment a frightened silence. They mock the original language of God: -- Creative Silence. They replace it with insult and belittlement: -- terrifying aphasiac muteness.

On Wednesday, for the 50th anniversary, the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission gathered all the Marshall scholars now in Britain and British dignitaries who have supported the program, with Prince Charles presiding. The event, held at the University of London, was timed for the Bush visit, because Secretary of State Colin Powell, the keynote speaker, was one of five Americans being presented with the first Marshall medals. There were a few protest banners waiting for Mr. Powell around campus, but nothing extraordinary. Prince Charles showed up with what appeared to be one security guard.

But there was no Colin Powell.

A few hours earlier, the organizers were told that Mr. Powell was canceling, because of "security concerns." Every American I talked to was both sad and embarrassed — sad that an event intended to affirm the Atlantic alliance turned into another small victory for terrorists; sad that all these young Marshall scholars didn't get to see their secretary of state being honored and to hear his thoughts; and embarrassed that some nameless security officer decided Mr. Powell couldn't brave a few protesters, but Prince Charles could.

But this is more lament than criticism. I wouldn't want the responsibility of deciding when the president or secretary of state should appear in public.

These are tough calls. It's always hard to know where the line should be. But I fear we're starting to cross it in ways that could actually be dangerous for us all. Whether we're talking about our public officials or your family deciding whether to vacation in Istanbul, we all have to learn to live with more insecurity. Because terrorists are in the fear business, and every time we visibly imprison ourselves, they win another small victory and become more emboldened. Indeed, we could learn from the British. The I.R.A. murdered the queen's cousin and almost blew up Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in her hotel — yet life in London goes on and the police here still don't carry guns.

I fear that the kinds of security officials who pulled the plug on Mr. Powell are becoming the new priesthood of our age. If the 1990's were the era of "Davos Man," the 2000's are the era of "Security Man" — and like a priesthood, these "terrorism experts" have unchallenged authority to curb our freedom in the name of freedom. Some of them deserve respect and know their stuff. But some wouldn't recognize the 6-foot-5 Osama bin Laden if he walked past them dribbling a basketball and dragging his dialysis machine.

(from "The Way We Were" OpEd, By Thomas L. Friedman, (Published: November 23, 2003, New York Times)

We must re-learn how to speak with each other. The joy of open conversation is necessary for healthy community. The people of the United States long to be, again, part of the world community of peoples. We long to be able to speak with each other in creative dialogue instead of shorthand invective laced with ad hominum name calling. We long to enter a dialogue with even, and especially, those who find repugnant the ways we do business and aggress wealth and reserves. In that conversation we will have to step down from our high horse and sit on the ground with one another.

Proverbs 9

1 Wisdom has built her house;
she has hewn out its seven pillars.
2 She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine;
she has also set her table.
3 She has sent out her maids, and she calls
from the highest point of the city.
4 "Let all who are simple come in here!"
she says to those who lack judgment.
5 "Come, eat my food
and drink the wine I have mixed.
6 Leave your simple ways and you will live;
walk in the way of understanding.

7 "Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult;
whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse.
8 Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you;
rebuke a wise man and he will love you.
9 Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still;
teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.

10 "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
11 For through me your days will be many,
and years will be added to your life.
12 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;
if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer."

In the Catholic Christian liturgical calendar today is the feast of Christ the King. Taken from the metaphor of kingship, it intends to set the scene of royal leadership. Today’s metaphor might be different. It might be: Christ the Wise.

Gregory the Great (540-604), in his Homily on the Gospels, wondered whether it was possible to be in the world, (live in one’s culture and society with its norms and behaviors) but not be of it, (live as one’s conscience required, free to choose the way as one sees it).
He wrote:
I would like to urge you to forsake everything, but that I do not presume to do. Yet if you cannot give up everything of this world, at least keep what belongs to the world in such a way that you yourself are not kept prisoner by the world. Whatever you possess must not possess you; whatever you own must be under the power of your soul; for if your soul is overpowered by the power of this world's goods, it will be totally at the mercy of its possessions.
In other words, we make use of temporal things, but our hearts are set on what is eternal. Temporal goods help us on our way, but our desire must be for those eternal realities which are our goal. We should give no more than a side glance at all that happens in the world, but the eyes of our soul are to be focused right ahead; for our whole attention must be fixed on those realities which constitute our goal.

He says later that, “Nothing should interfere with your soul’s longing…”

The temporal is the world of time. The eternal is no time. The eternal is the now. The ‘now’ is what is and will be. So, we ask ourselves, what are we doing now? What are we doing throughout now and now and now?

It occurs to me that the verse from Proverbs – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” -- longs to be heard anew. It is not that WE are to fear the Lord – as if fear and terror were avenues to the divine. Rather, it is the fear of the LORD that we will not understand the Holy One. If we read the line, paraphrased, as: The Lord is afraid that we have no comprehension or experience of the Holy One. The “Holy One” is our unity and familial inter-relationship and inter-dependence each with each, each with all, all with each, all with all.

It is as if the Lord was saying: “I am afraid they will not see who we are in, with, and through each other. If they understood my fear, my deep longing for each one to see and experience the truth of existence -- in, with, and through the Whole of Now – then, with that comprehension and experience, each one would begin walking the way of wisdom.”

SuSane would like that phrase, the “Whole of Now.”

When Tibetan monks poured sand from mandala, milk, and small flowers into the harbor yesterday morning, trace grains, white liquid, and yellow petals floated with outgoing tide passed oars of my skiff out into Penobscot Bay. One and each dissolved into each and All. Going on. The song of their passing sounding near every watery being.

Morning sun swings to other side of barn. The mountain is, indeed, in the stream. The stream is in the pond. The pond is on its way to the harbor. The harbor water glides into the bay. The bay into the sea. The sea touches every continent on its way. The earth connects with every neighboring celestial body making its way through space.
Widening space embraces and reaches out into every conceivable possibility within and beyond our comprehension and experience.

It is Sunday.

Attend wisdom!

Attend throughout!