Saturday, April 21, 2007

At prison a few days ago we wrestled with the Trappist monk's koan: "Cheer up (Bill), things are only going to get worse."

It's a gift.
Comprehending the fundamental,
Embracing the spirit,
Roam the root of heaven and earth,
Wander beyond the dust and dirt,
Travel to work with non-involvement.
Take care not to let mechanical
Intelligence burden your mind;
Watch what is not temporal
And remain unmoved by things.

- Lao tzu
It doesn't matter what is going on around you -- not in the sense that it determines your inner disposition.

If someone tears down your stone wall, build it up again. If they knock it down again, the next morning place one stone on another and see it stand again. No need for judgment or harsh resentment. Just the fact of what happens and your willingness to cultivate a mind that practices what needs to take place.

So much doesn't seem right.

"What's wrong," said Richard Hugo, "will always be wrong."

It would be wrong not to note what is wrong, but it would be equally wrong to drown in the wrongness of life -- its unfairness, injustices, and hurtful moments.
04.20.2007, The Unseen Dead: Virginia Tech and Health Policy, by RJ Eskow.

My heart breaks for the 33 people who died Monday. It also breaks for the estimated 50 Americans who died on the same day as a result of inadequate health coverage. Most of them had families who loved them, too. Where is their candlelight vigil? Where are their Presidential eulogies, or their exhaustive television coverage?

Instead of receiving their moment of silence, these invisible dead face an eternity of silence.

Lack of health insurance results in the deaths of 18,000 Americans each year, according to studies compiled by the National Academies' Institute of Medicine. That equates to 49 or 50 deaths every day. As the Institute has documented, deaths result from late identification of curable cancer and other conditions, and from inadequate treatment for a range of illnesses that include renal disease and other chronic conditions.
(--in The Huffington Post)
It is not as interesting to consider deaths from lack of care -- not when the stunning news of another type of death flashes suddenly before us. The facts of both events are brought to us.

The practice of compassion follows a long hard look at the reality presented to us, and then enters that reality with the ease of acceptance -- maybe even forgiveness -- needed to transform the reality within us. Maybe nothing changes outside us. Maybe it does.
The kitten
holds down the leaf,
for a moment.

(Haiku by Issa, 1763-1827)
For this moment, this kitten, and this leaf.

And then? Ok...And then?

It matters.

It doesn't matter.

What gift is this?

Friday, April 20, 2007

A spring day.

Brook runs. Cat rubs. Dog sleeps. Saskia visits prison. Mice hide in cabin. Birds feed. Squirrels hoard. Ground loosens. Water seeps to surface. Sky is blue. Mountain inhales. I pause. Then, exhale.
Those who are known
As Real People
Are united in essence
With the Way,
So they have endowments yet
Appear to have none;
They are full yet
Appear to be empty.
They govern the inside,
Not the outside.
Clear and pure, utterly plain,
They do not contrive
Artificialities but return
To simplicity.

- Lao tzu
“While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.” (-Francis of Assisi)
It's good advice. I'll try to be careful.

Searching for source of St. Francis of Assisi quote: "What we are looking for is what is looking." Still looking. Could be truest words yet.

First sun in many days. Finally, April.
Some Days

Your handwriting stands
like a small forest on the page
You could enter it anywhere

Your rooms look new to you
maybe you moved a lamp
stretched a swatch of white gauze
across a window

Single stick of incense

Remember when you wrote:
I devote myself to short sentences

Air answers
Breath remembers

A streak of light
signs the floor

You missed it

Do you know its name yet?

(--Poem by Naomi Shihab Nye)
Bamboo wind-chimes dance. Breeze surveys brown leaves flat against earth.
Inside Out

I have no-

where found
what here-
in dwells
with grace-
full silence
(-- Friday Haiku, wfh, now)
Squirrel complains that someone tossed a twig, interrupting his seedy quest!

What am I missing?

I'll look into it.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"To understand everything is to forgive everything" (- Buddha)

Temporarily, mostly without understanding, we still attempt to practice forgiveness as a worthwhile spiritual undertaking.

Mark Buehrle of the Chicage White Sox throws a no-hitter against the Texas Rangers. It's not important news. It's just the way life goes on.

Outside kitchen window, dawning light Up hill, gently swaying top of tree. Those who wake, wake from night's rest. Those who grieve, grieve even in their sleep. First sparrow arrives at feeder at 5:34am.
Sages lean on a pillar
That is never shaken,
Travel a road that is
Never blocked, are
Endowed from a
Resource that is never
Exhausted, and learn
From a teacher that
Never dies.
They are successful
In whatever they undertake,
And arrive wherever they go.
Whatever they do, they
Embrace destiny and go along
Without confusion.

- Wen-tzu
Tommy, in his stuffed chair, keeps statistics and box score of baseball games he watches. It passes the time. It's a log of movement and event. Who grounded to third? Who walked with a man on? Who was thrown out at second?

We are glad to have facts. They stand by themselves. At times, someone interprets facts, drawing wider or deeper meaning from them. At other times, facts are just there -- nothing added, nothing subtracted. of the beauties of baseball is that you never know what you'll get to see on any particular day. On this one, Buehrle looked like his old, stellar self, working quickly, throwing strikes, and dominating hitters. The end result was a gem, and the White Sox' first no-hitter since 1991, and their first at home in 40 years. In fact, it was the first time the Rangers had been held hitless in more than two decades.
(--'Buehle quick to quiet Rangers,' By Mark Simon, ESPN Research)
We need quieting. Sparrow cracks seed. On tree some 15 yards behind feeder a red squirrel leaps from trunk to trunk arriving at feeder like Nureyev at center stage. The pas de deux between window and green feeder begins. For whom, exactly, are the seeds meant -- bird or squirrel? I am only a sometime arbiter.

Sometimes -- no, often -- 'intention' collapses and a 'lawless' event takes place. Almost always there is a rushing in of interpretation, attempts to assign 'meaning' or 'blame' -- to make sense of an event that teeters on the meaningless, the senseless. Just like on a college campus, after one man shoots, killing and wounding dozens of ordinary people on a Monday morning, there arrives on campus hundreds of guns and semi-automatic weapons drawn with safety off, to secure the event once it has transpired. Anyone, to those guns, is the intruder. Anyone might be targeted.

There is a danger someone might consider it possible that no such event will ever take place again. Loaded guns in the right hands will take on the task of anticipating and nullifying-at-inception any breach of the intention to secure and ensure safety. The idea of safety is a good one. It is a tight idea. It could be seamless. We are tempted toward an unbroken ideal of safety and security. Who wouldn't be?
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.

(Poem, Lyics of 'Anthem' by Leonard Cohen)
Every pitch in every game is thrown with the intent of retiring the hitter, of allowing no-hit. Seldom does that intent complete itself successfully. But, once in a while, it comes close.
Buehrle delighted a cold but enthusiastic crowd of 25,390 at U.S. Cellular Field, who watched him throw the first no-hitter at the ballpark. Only one Rangers batter reached base—Sammy Sosa on a fifth-inning walk—and Buehrle promptly picked him off first base.
(--Chicago Tribune)
Families mourn and attend the unhappy task of burying their dead. We face this fact with quiet respect. Life, some would say, is not a game. It's not. Life is a mystery we face daily. Part of that mystery is the breaking of life, the seeming cessation, suddenly and unexpectedly, of the clear sound and sight of life -- especially the sound and sight of those we love. It happens every day.

As we go on.

We revel at times. At other times we merely, silently, gaze.

Sometimes, rarely, a no-hitter occurs.

The very fact of it.

In understanding.


Forgive me.

And I.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sorrow is sorrow. It cannot be parceled. If we are going to be sorrowful, let's be sorrowful wherever sorrow exists -- not just our version of sorrow, but the whole of it.
Outwardly go along
With the flow,
While inwardly keeping
Your true nature.
Then your eyes and ears
Will not be dazzled,
Your thoughts will not
Be confused,
While the spirit within you
Will expand greatly to roam
In the realm of absolute purity.

- Huai-nan-tzu
In prison today an inmate asked me to relay his grief to the larger community about what happened in Virginia. I said I would; here I do so.
April 16, 2007: CBC News
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.

In the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history, at least 33 people were killed and several others wounded after a gunman opened fire at Virginia Tech. There are two separate shootings about two hours apart at opposite ends of the campus of 26,000 students, the first at 7:15 a.m. ET at a residence housing more than 800 students and the second at an engineering building. The suspected gunman is among the dead.
We did a class on Spirituality and Lifetime Recovery using poems by Mary Oliver, Derek Walcott, Theodore Roethke, Richard Hugo, Cheslaw Milosz, Jane Kenyon, David Wagoner, Vaclav Havel, and Hafez-e Shirazi.

We are not lost. We are actually happy. No two hurts are the same. We don't have to be good.
4 Blasts in Baghdad Kill at Least 183; STEVEN R. HURST and LAUREN FRAYER | AP | April 18, 2007 07:39 PM EST

BAGHDAD — Suspected Sunni insurgents penetrated the Baghdad security net Wednesday, hitting Shiite targets with four bomb attacks that killed 183 people _ the bloodiest day since the U.S. troop increase began nine weeks ago.

The most devastating blast struck the Sadriyah market as workers were leaving for the day, charring a lineup of minibuses that came to pick them up. At least 127 people were killed and 148 wounded, including men who were rebuilding the market after a Feb. 3 bombing left 137 dead.
Still, there's this death and absurd killing continuing every day in Iraq.

I sorrow for the Virginia Tech students and families.

I sorrow for the Iraqi men, women, and children.

I sorrow for our soul.
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.

(from Ars Poetica?, Poem by Czeslaw Milosz )
It is difficult.

Isn't it?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Relentless rain soaks sodden earth in mid-coast Maine.
Sages send their spirit
To the storehouse of awareness
And return to the beginning
Of myriad things.
They look at the formless,
Listen to the soundless.
In the midst of profound
They alone see light;
In the midst of silent vastness,
They alone have
- Huai-nan-
Elsewhere, in Iraq, continual horror.

Elsewhere, in Virginia, something like Iraq -- only closer to home.

In both cases someone thinks it passable that others should be shot dead.

As the president and his wife travel the 272 miles from Washington D.C. to attend a memorial convocation ceremony in Blacksburg, Virginia, I join with them in their public concern and sorrow for all innocents killed, here and there.

I join the pilgrimage. I wish to end the hostilities in Iraq. I wish to end the hostilities in Virginia.
It's all I have to bring today (26)

It's all I have to bring today—
This, and my heart beside—
This, and my heart, and all the fields—
And all the meadows wide—
Be sure you count—should I forget—
Some one the sum could tell—
This, and my heart, and all the Bee
Which in the Clover dwell.

(Poem: "It's all I have to bring today (26)" by Emily Dickinson.)
It's a beginning. Public display of consolation and contrition are significant first steps.

I'll start: I'm sorry for what I've done and not done in Iraq. I'm sorry for what I've done and not done in Virginia.

Forgiveness is all I have to begin with. It may be all there is left to us.

It might not be much. But...

It's a beginning.

A yielding.

Like rain.

Monday, April 16, 2007

What sages learn
Is to return their nature
To the beginning
And let their minds
Travel freely in
What developed people
Learn is to link their nature
To vast emptiness and
Become aware of the
Silent infinite.

- Huai-nan-tzu
Everywhere, over and under everything, rain.
Toward Ultimate Things
Only the walker who sets out toward ultimate things is a pilgrim. ...The pilgrim resolves that the one who returns will not be the same person as the one who set out. Pilgrimage is a passage for the reckless and subtle. The pilgrim--and the metaphor comes to us from distant times--must be prepared to shed the husk of personality or even the body like a worn out coat. A Buddhist dictum has it that "the Way exists but not the traveler on it." For the pilgrim the road is home; reaching your destination seems nearly inconsequential.

--Andrew Schelling, Meeting the Buddha, edited by Molly Emma Aitken
Wind lashes chime with wet striker; night bows head to unknown mystery with no name.

Single candle lights.

Light is prayer; see well.

Dark is prayer; unseen guest.

Extinguish the flame, gust knocks on window frame.

A hundred million drops find sound arriving with earth.

Still. Listening. Rain.

This bare road.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The wandering zen poet monk, Taneda Santoka (1882-1940) -- a haiku nonconformist, an ordained Zen priest -- spent most of his life wandering all over the country of Japan as a begging monk. He wrote today's weather forecast as well as today's soul- & psyche-cast many years ago.
Here in the stillness of snow falling on snow
(--Haiku by Taneda Santoka)
Nothing moves outside window. Across road is Bald Mountain. All is still as death. They say a storm approaches. A wet and wild hurricane-strength wind, they say, gathers its strength to slam New England tonight. Maine will flood. But right now, everything sits zazen. For now, the tomb appears empty, and no matter how often someone peeks in, nothing is seen, nothing moves, and nothing makes sense according to our dim and diminishing lights.
Attain the center of emptiness,
Preserve the utmost quiet;
As myriad things act in concert,
I thereby observe the return.
Things flourish,
Then each returns to its root.
Returning to the root
Is called stillness:
Stillness is called return to Life,
Return to Life is called the constant;
Knowing the constant is called enlightenment.

- Tao-te Ching
There's a great profundity in what we do not know. You would think we'd be enthused over such a prospect -- what we don't know is magnificent, we're nearly there, just drop over the line, fall through floor of pretended savvy, recant and renounce anything pronounced by us as "the way it will be," "'the' truth," and, "do it my way, the only right way."
Choice of Diseases

Now that I'm sick & have
all this time to contemplate
the meaning of the universe,
Father said, I understand why
I never did it before. Nothing
looks good from a prone position.
You have to walk around to appreciate
things. Once I get better I don't
intend to get sick for a while. But
if I do I hope I get one of those diseases
you can walk around with.

(Poem: "Choice of Diseases" by Hal Sirowitz, from Father Said. Soft Skull Press.)
I've always been prone to doubt and despair. Now I like to stand, walk around them, and come to some perspective on them that nods head, mutters "hmmm," and looks off into the distance, rubbing whiskers, coming to see the unmoving tops of trees backed by white snow on mountain side out top frame of bedroom window. What's this side of the mountain got to do with the other side?
Mountain Guides
A good spiritual friend who will help us to stay on the path, with whom we can discuss our differences frankly, sure of a compassionate response, provides an important support system which is often lacking. Although people live and practice together, one-upmanship often comes between them. A really good friend is like a mountain guide. The spiritual path is like climbing a mountain: we don't really know what we will find at the summit. We have only heard that it is beautiful, everybody is happy there, the view is magnificent and the air unpolluted. If we have a guide who has already climbed the mountain, he can help us avoid falling into a crevasse, or slipping on loose stones, or getting off the path. The one common antidote for all our hindrances is noble friends and noble conversations, which are health food for the mind.

(--Ayya Khema, When the Iron Eagle Flies)
This morning the noble friend is mountain itself. The conversation -- between silence and stillness.

Nothing transpires beyond this mere, empty, and lovely realization: I am what you are and it it is...true.

The mere fact -- of being.

The empty gaze -- of life.

The lovely gift -- of it all.
Morning sparrows, their voices say the snow’s
arrived in the distant mountains

(--Santoka Taneda)
And, at last:
The shrike's crying -
For discarding my body,
There is no place.

(--Santoka Taneda)

* Although Santoka may not have been referring to it, there is a famous story about Kuya, a priest who taught the chanting of Buddha's name in the Kyoto area in the tenth century: when Kuya was living amongst the beggars in Kyoto a high-ranked priest named Senkan recognized him at the river side near Shijo Street (nowadays downtown Kyoto), Senkan asked Kuya, "How can I be saved after death?" Kuya answered, "How strange. I rather, should ask you such a question. I'm just a vagrant person who wanders around confusedly. I've never thought of such a thing." Senkan didn't give up, and very respectfully asked him again. Kuya said, "Just discard your body anywhere", and hurried off.
(--Terebess Asia Online {TAO}, Taneda Santoka's Haiku,
No hurry.