Saturday, March 27, 2004


The young man nornally setting up the small room for his tutoring is not in his classroom where he helps prep GED with other inmates. Diane winces when asked, saying only he'll be in the supermax for a time -- a lengthy one. She doesn't say why and I don't ask -- simply the fact of his absence and the reorganization of the room we use for the day's conversation.

It is over four years we've been going into Maine State Prison, first in Thomaston, now in Warren, for Meetingbrook Conversations: The Practice of Listening and Thinking With Others. It's been seventeen years I've been in and out since first teaching a college course in the old prison in 1987/88.

Every other Friday, from 8:30am-10:45am three of us enter the maximum security prison in Warren, thread our way through metal detectors, long corridors, sliding steel heavily bolted doors, past guards and prisoners walking to visits or jobs. We traverse outdoor crossroads between minimum, maximum, & supermax housing units, past flagpole and up walkway to large building that quarters recreation, education, chaplainry, & substance abuse services. A few more secure doors are opened and we enter the place where conversations are held. Yesterday we landed in a rearranged classroom absent our sometime attendee -- the floor of the larger room with a few computers has just been mopped and is wet.

Silent Illumination

Silently and serenely,
One forgets all words;
Clearly and vividly,
It appears before you.
When one realizes it,
Time has no limits.
When experienced,
Your surroundings come to life.
Full of wonder is the pure illumination.

- Hung Chih Cheng Chueh (1092-1157)

Even in prison -- some would say, because of prison -- illumination comes to life. Years ago we speculated the connection between monastic life and prison life. Time, routine, alertness, and subtle fear pervade both. (Monks used to consider the 'fear of the Lord' as beginning wisdom; inmates experience fear more proximate and equally unexplainable.)

Sonny looked at his life over three years in independent classes for college credit and saw things out loud that had been hidden below silent anger. As least three of the contemporary participants tell of autobiographical writing they do -- as well as poetry, philosophical meditation, and correspondence that surpasses the "Hi, I'm fine, I need..." variety. Prison is no mere metaphor. Every time I exit prison I am aware what a gift it is to be able to visit and converse, and not to have to reside there.

We engage in Meetingbrook Conversations in Prison to broaden community. The conversations at shop and prison are a transmission of felt relationality between two aspects of one community -- whether we call it Meetingbrook community or Human community. Each person is where and who they are right now. Our longing is to engage in conversations that invite each participant, in or out, to listen and think with others -- to practice presence -- a practice that transcends our understanding of it.

Charlie, Ryan, Chris, Nancy, Saskia, Joe, and myself sat around the table Friday. We read from Lewis Thomas' Lives of a Cell, a weblog of mine, a reflection of Ryan's, William Barrett's Irrational Man, excerpts from a biker-writer from Maine, and selections from G.I. Gurdjieff's Views from the Real World, and Meetings with Remarkable Men.

Nancy said the Buddha emphasized "direct experience."
Direct experience of what?

Saskia said, "In nature there are no words, just to be with what is there."

Ryan spoke of the way some individuals experience trauma in their lives -- the feeling of being "Shot into the landscape across the wilderness, stretched out, followed by the need to draw their spirit back into its residing reality -- the here and now they are familiar with in place and time."

"When I look, what I see is..." -- said Chris wrestling with the question whether we are capable of seeing things in and of themselves, or only through our conditioning and conceptual categories. (Yet, his words suggest a more primal grasp, namely, "When I look, what I")

So, too, Ryan's words in a written piece he brought, "...only if my intention is, as is 'said,' 'right.'"
(His words are heard, "Only if my'as is'-'said'... --right?")
The notion of unveiling "as-is, said" intrigues. Is it possible to experience things-as-they-are without the infiltrating conditioning of experience and idea determining the "as-is, said" to be other than what is said of itself?

There is a way, I think,
that it allows me to listen --
it's so different from the
way that old mind of mine
copes (and "makes up" things...)

It says not to pray like
I have... it's almost like
a 'freedom walk of prayer'
that creates and energizes itself...

little is the desire in
me to mess with this

yet the other thing --
the other half --
remains --
but it is -- well,
something else?

forget these notes

(--Ryan's reflection, "I would be remiss not to attempt notes --", 3/20/04)

We say goodbye. Shake hands. Depart one way and the other. Walk long portico. Pass through heavy doors. Collect driver's licenses and car keys. Step out to curved drive past sign "No weapons." The morning is exactly as it is.

I say to Nancy I had an insight into her "direct experience" comment.

"Tell me," she says.

I say direct experience is, "Bearing out through two rights one's reality." Later it seems a simpler looking at the meaning of the phrase might yield -- "Undergoing opening."

We let the dogs out of green car. They yawn, pee, meander, and return.

At end of curved entry-road we turn left.


Friday, March 26, 2004

Note: Conversation in Prison this morning. Bookshop/Bakery closed today. No conversation this evening. Re-opening Saturday morning for 9:30am "The Many Faces of Death" conversation.

Thirty-two minutes walking entry road to Snow Bowl. Dogs carry then drop sticks, relieve themselves, figure the pattern of my back-and-forth clips road-to-parking-lot, and lay in wait for return.

Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all ladders start,
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.

-- W. B. Yeats (quoted in Irrational Man, A Study in Existential Philosophy, by William Barrett)

Melting and mud -- the status of early spring morning under drizzle-sky hovering fog -- as if an unheard command is given that "Everything shall be wet and softening this watch!"

Shall we also rummage the heart today? To find -- what?

What work is common to us, however tucked away and undetected? Where do we start -- especially since the majority of us believe we are well-along (thank you) the path of our lives? Is it possible, even true, that we are ever and always at the beginning -- just at start -- of our lives?

"Stigmergy" is a new word, invented recently by Grasse to explain the nest-building behavior of termites, perhaps generalizable to other complex activities of social animals. The word is made of Greek roots meaning "to incite to work," and Grasse's intention was to indicate that it is the product of work itself that provides both the stimulus and instructions for further work.

Grasse needed his word in order to account for the ability of such tiny, blind, and relatively brainless animals to erect structures [the termite nests, which excepting perhaps a man-made city are the most formidable edifices in nature] of such vast size and internal complexity. Does each termite possess a fragment of blueprint, or is the whole design, arch by arch, encoded in his DNA? Or does the whole colony have, by virtue of the interconnections of so many small brains, the collective intellectual power of a huge contractor?
(pp.156-7, chapter "Living Language", in The Lives of a Cell, Notes of a Biology Watcher, by Lewis Thomas, c.1974)

Fragments? Or collective?

What is the configuration of power and creativity running through us as individual fragments or collective intelligence? And how do we interpose ourselves to inquire and share benefits of our inquiry and resources?

So many threads! So many faces, minds, hands, and hearts! How do we proceed? Where start?

It is easy to lose the thread (from ter, to rub, twist -- possibly also the root of termite). Are you there? (p.164, Thomas)

Am I?

Are you?

Can we be?

A start.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Note: We are closed today, Thursday. No conversation this evening.

Muted morning.

Hillside is unmoving carpet of tired brown with patches of withdrawing white snow. Sky says rain soon in grey mutter cloud cover.

My mind is inclined to quiet;
Outside of things,
I lodge in the brush.
The sense of the mountains is best
When you reach their depths;
The source of the valley stream, distant,
Is naturally purified.
For the rest of my life,
All that's missing is death;
All thoughts and worries
Are settled already.
Recluses should leave no tracks;
People stop asking their names.

- Wen-siang (1210-1280)

We leave no tracks when we remain where we are and simply be what we are.

Stillness doesn't mean no-motion. Stillness is movement within itself. It is not interested with articulated contrasts between where once we were and where now we are -- rather, mere presentation of one's reality without comment is sufficient for the moment. The 'moment' is its own revelation. Nothing need be added or articulated. The brown leaves on ascending Ragged Mountain are speaking -- they announce to the mountain and inhabitants the very reality of the moment.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!"
(Luke 1:26 - 28 )

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation. Gabriel tells Mary she is the mother of God. (Not 'she will become' the mother, but that she is.) Mary says, "Let it be." And the Word that creates everything is itself in creation.

Itself in creation! The phrase could be the response made by every being to the question "Who or what are you?"
"Itself in creation!" -- is who I am, is what I am."

Brown leaves remain still moving within themselves outside kitchen window.

"Let it be," in today's idiom, means, "Drop it!" A leaf understands this, and responds faithfully to it.

Mary was who she was, as was Gabriel, as was Jesus.

(Janet says it is John's birthday today. We break fast into their presence.)

We greet John, full of grace, and see all-he-is with him.


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Note: We are closed today, Wednesday. No Evening Conversation.

Zen Catholic.

Susan's dog, Rougie, died a few weeks ago. We met her and Lucky, her Great White Pyrenees, at their van in parking lot of Grave's Market. Robert, Su.Sane, and Sandra arrive and join the sunny circle. Talk of birds and this and that. Cars arrive and depart as we talk. Elly waves hello. The sun is warm.

Mountain of Samadhi

This mountain has neither
ugly rocks nor clumsy trees.
It raises itself ten thousand feet
towards the cold heaven.
Even a stray cloud does not
cling around the mountain.
Only the moon showers its
pale light abundantly over the summit.

- Jakushitsu (1290–1368)

The mountain raises itself.

Bananas, yogurt, two half gallons of orange juice, two Cadbury chocolate bars, frozen pizza, some bakery goods, and Bangor Daily News. These came before parking lot conference and earlier Mass at Our Lady of Good Hope.

If God is, and God is the creator and inspiration of all life, we begin there. If God, alongside being the inner core sustaining breath of each thing in existence, is the origin and seed of God (or the Itself) realizing Itself in humankind, there is the belief of many that Jesus enjoyed a distinct and unique realization of what-is-in-Itself, namely, the reality of God as Itself.

At Mass this morning the thought that God, suffusing everything, emerges specifically and fully in the person of Jesus, is as feasible an understanding as the belief that Jesus, in his awakened understanding, saw that everything shared in the reality he shared.

Reception and sharing of bread and wine, the cleansing and sustaining function of water, the soothing and healing properties of anointing with oil, deep listening, loving community, dedication to holiness and service, the pervasive flowing through of the Sacred Spirit -- these enacting behaviors are universal and worthy of reflection.

In the Catholic tradition, the one most familiar to me, these elements are also known as: Eucharist, Baptism, Extreme Unction (or Sacrament of the Sick), Reconciliation (or Confession), Matrimony, Holy Orders, Confirmation.

Jesus, who has come to be called 'the Christ', is looked on by those calling themselves Christian as the focal point for beliefs encompassing the divinization of humankind and all creation, and the humanization of the divine mystery and source of all being. If, indeed, there were a being or reality (sometimes named 'what-is-called-God'), that being/reality would not (I would think) be separate from the being/reality of each and every one of us.

The breath, or voice, of God is that which creates, embodies, and sustains each and every particle, thing, and being (as far as we are capable of knowing) in existence.

Is there any end to this?

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.
“I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me”.
(John 5:17 - 30)

Having life in himself, or, life-in-itself, is (we might say) the gift of creation. The references to 'resurrection of life' and 'resurrection of judgment' have in common 'resurrection.'

To 'judge' -- (from 'jus' = right or law; and 'dicere' = decide or say) -- means, "to determine or pronounce after inquiry and deliberation" (per Webster’s 7th). Thus to judge is to think, to form an estimate of something.

It is an interesting consideration that is made in contemporary environments emphasizing meditation, contemplation, and consciousness -- namely, that 'life' and 'judgment' might be seen as two ways of experiencing our being. More precisely, to live life as a whole as an experience in itself is remarkably different than evaluating and analyzing fragments and situations that compartmentalize behavior and opinion.

What is the will of God? Some say love. Perhaps it is the longing to express and experience oneself -- the "itself" -- as ground and source of what is in existence. It is an interesting consideration to reflect on -- that "the will of him who sent me" means there is no separation of will, no fragmentation dividing 'my' will from 'the Father's' will. That what we call 'my' will as perceived separate from God's will is, in fact, a delusion -- albeit an expedient delusion. How we contemplate or even deliberate this inseparate possibility tells us a great deal about who we think we are in each other's life, how we go about living life, and (more emphatically), the manner with which we encounter or respond to conflict and hostility in the world.

On the radio, officials interview each other trying to piece together what is known and what is hidden about 9/11. If these men and women are not solely attempting to place blame on each other, then they are hoping to find a way to relieve the world of terrorism, and perhaps to find a way to relieve the world of narrow rule by the militarily powerful and financially wealthy to the exclusion, in breath and voice, of the weak and poor.

Zen, at root, means 'seeing.' Catholic, at root, means 'universal, whole.'

Seeing the whole.


One's life.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Note: We are closed today, Tuesday. No conversation at shop.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Deep cold night.

Remembering walking dirt road alongside water and woods at Rockport harbor early morning. Deb is with her Golden up from golf course. We park in Vesper Hill space piled with recent snow. The dogs are happy to run. We are happy to walk.

Trampling the grass has made three paths.
Looking up at the clouds makes
Neighbors in the four directions;
There are birds to help with the
Sound of the singing, but there
Isn't anyone to ask about the
Words of the Dharma.
Today among these withered trees,
How many years make one spring?

- Han Shan (c 730)

Three paths criss-cross each other trying to catch scent. The four directions turn suddenly and ask us for a match. After week of weakness enclosed in mulling quiet we make way to Corner Shop for breakfast after long walk. An old and worn hull floats in cove at mooring sealing planks swell with salt wet.

One path is mountain solitude. Second is marketplace immersion. Third is amalgamating one place or the other -- to merge into a single body.

The name Han Shan means: Cold Cliff, Cold Mountain, or Cold Peak. Han Shan is known in Japan as "Kanzan." Han Shan was considered, when older, to be an eccentric Taoist, crazy saint, mountain ascetic mystic, and wise fool. He went many ways and back again the way fools do. There is no counting on a fool to show us the way -- there are too many variables for fools to be satisfied with only one.

At that time, Imperial Counselor Zhou Hai Men was lecturing on Yan Ming metaphysics. When he heard of my arrival, he called on me bringing a few dozen of his followers along. He began a discussion by referring to the saying: “One cannot realize the truth until one understands the condition of day and night.”

A Daoist elder who was sitting among them responded. “The condition is consciousness,” he said. “And day and night are waking and sleeping. The same consciousness that functions during our daylight actions, functions during the night in our dream actions.” The audience showed its approval.

Counselor Zhou then turned to me. “Venerable old Chan Master,” he said, “though everyone else seems to be satisfied with this interpretation, I am not. Please give us your opinion.”

“What is the source of the quotation?” I asked

“It is from The Book of Changes,” be answered, reciting a few additional sentences.

“These words are a wise man’s advice to men that they should transcend Samsara and get beyond birth and death,” I said.

The Counselor applauded. “Only this old master’s interpretation accords with the text. The meaning is now clear.” But his followers didn’t understand and asked for further explanation.

“Day and night are the illusion called birth and death,” the counselor explained. “Not until one is delivered from the conditions of this illusion, can one experience reality.”

(-- from "Purify Your Mind" -- The Fifty-first Year {1596-7}, by Han Shan)

Last evening Jory spoke the phrase "expedient delusion" and we smiled in recognition. We have ours. Each day.

The night is cold. Wood snuggles in woodstove

Purify Your Mind
Your True Nature is deep, like still, clear water in a lake.
If you allow the bottom to be stirred by love and hate,
Waves of passion will arise. What was clear will become murky.
With your vision obstructed, you will not notice
How your troubles are increasing.
If you look with desire upon people or things,
You throw mud into the clear water.
If you allow yourself to become another’s desire.
You are like oil poured on passion’s fire.
When the clamoring ego sinks to silence,
Burning hells will turn to ice.
Let your ego slip gently towards a muted death.
When the ego’s eyes are closed, in vain does harm appear.
This death does not come easy. Be on guard against old habits
That, haunting, come to quicken it. Be steadfast and endure.
Alertness brings awareness and awareness is a light that in a
Searing flash obliterates all traces of the ghost.
Let your True Nature shine forth in perfect clarity.
Rest easy in the pure, serene stillness of the One.
Alone, you are a sovereign. Yourself, a precious kingdom.
Reign with peace and harmony!
What external force can possibly invade?

(poem by Han Shan)

Those words 'steadfast,' 'endure,' and 'alertness' feel like crumpled wrappers from once enjoyed delicacies. Never finally discarded, these fallen-to-floor scrunched balls of mispronounced words become playthings of black and white cat ever trying to push them under rug away from sight.

Who to ask about the "Words of the Dharma" the crazy saint questions?

Ghost disrobing failure is not yet obliterated.


Sunday, March 21, 2004

Note: We are closed today, Sunday.

A few inches of new wet snow.

Gate after gate
Adorned with festal pine
Spring has come
To each and every house,
Garnishing all with new green.

- Saigyo (1118-1190)

Green? Not in Maine today. White.

Sun shines through.

Church, this Sunday, our warm kitchen. Michael Thoms speaks with Leonard Shlain in a New Dimensions radio interview on WERU broadcast from Orland Maine..

Women formulated the concept of a month, which in turn allowed them to make the connection between sex and pregnancy. Upon learning the majestic secret of time these ancestral females then gained the power to refuse sex when they were ovulating. Men were forced to confront women who possessed a mind of their own.

Women taught men about time and the men used this knowledge to become the planet’s most fearsome predator. Unfortunately, they also discovered that they were mortal. Men, then invented religions to soften the certainty of death. Subsequently, they belatedly grasped the function of sex. The possibility of achieving a kind of immortality through heirs drove men to construct patriarchal cultures whose purpose was to control women’s reproductive choices.

(Leonard Schlain, in Sex, Time, & Power)

We can now pass on information that is not contained in DNA. Hydrogen and oxygen combine to make water. Who would have imagined?

Who could have imagined God?

Let there always be quiet, dark churches in which people can take refuge....Houses of God filled with his silent presence. There, even when they do not know how to pray, at least they can be still and breathe easily.
(in New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton)

Being still and breathing easy -- refuge. Whether it is snowflake, sunlight, silence, or what-is-called-God -- we stretch through symbols of the felt-relational and poise at the empty center -- the heart of prayer.

In dealing with symbolism one enters an area where reflection, synthesis, and contemplation are more important than investigation, analysis, and science. One cannot comprehend a symbol unless one is able to awaken, in one's own being, the spiritual resonances which respond to the symbol not only as sign but as 'sacrament' and 'presence'...The true symbol does not merely point to some hidden object. It contains in itself a structure which in some way makes us aware of the inner meaning of life and of reality itself...A true symbol points to the very heart of all being, not to an incident in the flow of becoming.
(in, Life and Loving, Merton)

Mu-ge comes in from barn. Eggs with sausage and cheese in pan on stove. Two tulips, one open one not yet, on table-desk under photograph of man praying grace over bread, soup, and book.

Every place, every day, is full of worship.

All is in God as God is in all.

Bancha tea!