Saturday, September 26, 2009

Walking mountain this afternoon. Dog runs 10 miles to my 2 miles. Hiking boots and ski poles.
Thinking is more interesting that knowing, but less interesting than looking.
In prison, man from India stops into classroom and gives hug. I say I am enjoying learning in the course. He says, "What do you mean 'learning?' -- you are the teacher.

That's odd, I think. I've never thought myself a teacher.

He must be referring to someone else. All I do is share the learning of those in class with themselves.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dogen's shusho-itto / shusho-ichinyo-- the unity of practice and realization -- holds up our doubting enthusiasm.

So we practice every day.
In the flash of a single thought,
The agitated mind is put to rest.
All the inner and outer sensations
Become lucid and transparent.
Breaking the great void
By a turning of the body,
The ten thousand phenomena
Of the majestic world
Rise and disappear.

- Han-Shan Te-Ch'ing
There are so many things to turn our minds this way and that. It's a miracle we're not turned inside out.
What I Understood

When I was a child I understood everything
about, for example, futility. Standing for hours
on the hot asphalt outfield, trudging for balls
I'd ask myself, how many times will I have to perform
this pointless task, and all the others? I knew
about snobbery, too, and cruelty—for children
are snobbish and cruel—and loneliness: in restaurants
the dignity and shame of solitary diners
disabled me, and when my grandmother
screamed at me, "Someday you'll know what it's like!"
I knew she was right, the way I knew
about the single rooms my teachers went home to,
the pictures on the dresser, the hoard of chocolates,
and that there was no God, and that I would die.
All this I understood, no one needed to tell me.
the only thing I didn't understand
was how in a world whose predominant characteristics
are futility, cruelty, loneliness, disappointment
people are saved every day
by a sparrow, a foghorn, a grassblade, a tablecloth.
This year I'll be
thirty-nine, and I still don't understand it.

(Poem, "What I Understood" by Katha Pollitt, from The Mind-Body Problem. © Random House, 2009.)
Nor I.

Or, as the Buddhists say, No I.

Neither way, I can't say.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The sky. The sky with stars. The elderly man sitting in the car saying he was ready to let go. He was not afraid to die.

The white dog and the black cat at barn door.
Improving Upon Silence
The most important step in developing skillful speech is to think before speaking (or writing). This is called mindfulness of speech. Few things can improve the nature of our relationships as much as the development of skillful speech. Silence offers us, and those around us, the spaciousness we need to speak more skillfully. When we speak with greater skill, our true self—our compassionate, loving self—emerges with gentle ease. So before you speak, stop, breathe, and consider if what you are about to say will improve upon the silence.

(- Allan Lokos, from “Skillful Speech,” Tricycle, Winter 2008)
In the library in-town, the woman psychiatrist at the podium read her poetry about loss and grief. Afterwards, we hug. She signs and inscribes the copy I brought to her.

The final poem is about listening.

The sacredness of it.

The necessary silence.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Who is my mother? Where is my father?
The moon's the same old moon,
The flowers exactly as they were,
Yet I've become the thingness
Of all the things I see!
- Bunan (1602-1676)
Mo Tzu (470-391 BCE) thought Universal Love was a good idea.
Inclusive Care

The ethical guideline for which the Mohists are most well known is jian ai, sometimes translated as “universal love” but probably better rendered as “inclusive care.” Jian (together, jointly) in this context has the connotation of including everyone in society together within a whole. Like the English ‘care’, ai (love, care) is ambiguous, since it may refer to a range of attitudes from strong affection to detached concern. In Mohist texts the word typically seems to refer to a dispassionate concern about the welfare of its object.

Inclusive care was generally not the doctrine that attracted criticism from the Mohists' contemporaries. Ancient critics objected mostly to their frugal, austere lifestyle, opposition to music, and plain burial practices, which recognized no differences in social rank. Little was said about their core ethical doctrines. The exception was Mencius, who is reported to have equated inclusive care with renouncing one's father (for this reason, he dismissed Mozi as a “beast”). Many later Confucian critics have followed Mencius in focusing on inclusive care, maintaining that it runs counter to human nature. The doctrine deserves careful attention, partly to evaluate this criticism and partly to draw philosophical lessons from how the Mohists apply the notion of impartiality that stands at the heart of their ethics.

(--from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
That's a good phrase -- Inclusive Care.

A Table in the Wilderness

I draw a window
and a man sitting inside it.

I draw a bird in flight above the lintel.

That's my picture of thinking.

If I put a woman there instead
of the man, it's a picture of speaking.

If I draw a second bird
in the woman's lap, it’s ministering.

A third flying below her feet.
Now it's singing.

Or erase the birds
make ivy branching
around the woman's ankles, clinging
to her knees, and it becomes remembering.

You'll have to find your own
pictures, whoever you are,
whatever your need.

As for me, many small hands
issuing from a waterfall
means silence
mothered me.

The hours hung like fruit in night's tree
means when I close my eyes
and look inside me,

a thousand open eyes
span the moment of my waking.

Meanwhile, the clock
adding a grain to a grain
and not getting bigger,

subtracting a day from a day
and never having less, means the honey

lies awake all night
inside the honeycomb
wondering who its parents are.

And even my death isn't my death
unless it's the unfathomed brow
of a nameless face.

Even my name isn't my name
except the bees assemble

a table to grant a stranger
light and moment in a wilderness
of Who? Where?
(Poem by by Li-Young Lee b.1957)
My mother is the attention given and received by whatever is attending or attended to.

My father is right here in the source of presence with anything at all.

Gifts of light and moment.

In a wilderness.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Experience teaches fools. I know this by experience.

Just before plywood went over joists and insulation a single leaf fell on yellow fiber. As haiku history would have it -- everywhere it is autumn. We put two poems in Trappist Preserve jar for a time capsule atop gravel under floorboards and write: "This was a hermitage. Prayer and silence were practiced. For your peace." One poem by Li Po on Chuang Tzu and the Butterfly, one by Naomi Shihab Nye on Equinox.

Tuesday Evening Practice now consists of 20 minutes silent sitting, 20 minutes reading from The Dhammapada, and 20 minutes reflection in the style of Lectio.

Flooring down, one wall framed.

As Catherine of Sienna said: "All the way to heaven is heaven."
Everywhere looking
Seeing everything -- just this --
Practicing autumn.
(-- wfh)
There's nothing under our feet.


Look there.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Listening to the teachings of the DaoDeChing. Wayne Dyer says that 'Namaste' can be translated: 'I honor that place within you where we are one.'

It is too difficult to sort through all the differences and divisions, distractions and difficulties that each of us projects onto the other -- things that cloak us like an old veil.
Though night after night
The moon is stream reflected,
Try to find where it has touched,
Point even to a shadow.

- Takuan (1573–1645)
Living as a hermit, all I have is a view. It most likely is no one else's view. This room is my cell. I look out. It is summer. Tomorrow, Inshallah, when I look out it will be autumn. What will have changed?

Duration? Distinction? Denotation?

A fellow with cup of coffee in hand talks about AA and ACIM (Alcoholics Anonymous and A Course in Miracles.) We compare notes on how fervently each regards their 'scripture.' He says that one is a matter of life and death. I tell him I understand, and that, for me, just talking with him is a matter of life and death.

The first lesson in ACIM is:
Lesson 001

Nothing I see in this room [on this street,
from this window, in this place] means anything

Now look slowly around you, and practice applying this idea very specifically to whatever you see:
This table does not mean anything.
This chair does not mean anything.
This hand does not mean anything.
This foot does not mean anything.
This pen does not mean anything.
Then look farther away from your immediate area, and apply the idea to a wider range:
That door does not mean anything.
That body does not mean anything.
That lamp does not mean anything.
That sign does not mean anything.
That shadow does not mean anything.
Notice that these statements are not arranged in any order, and make no allowance for differences in the kinds of things to which they are applied. That is the purpose of the exercise. The statement should merely be applied to anything you see. As you practice the idea for the day, use it totally indiscriminately. Do not attempt to apply it to everything you see, for these exercises should not become ritualistic. Only be sure that nothing you see is specifically excluded. One thing is like another as far as the application of the idea is concerned.

Each of the first three lessons should not be done more than twice a day each, preferably morning and evening. Nor should they be attempted for more than a minute or so, unless that entails a sense of hurry. A comfortable sense of leisure is essential.
(Lesson 001, A Course in Miracles,
These are difficult initial words. I suspect there's a long walk to be taken with such notions.

We agree on acceptance. Here's what is written online re acceptance and AA:
Acceptance was an idea in a personal story introduced in the 3rd edition and stories are not included here. It was not part of the original book.
See page 449 in the 3rd edition or page 417 in the 4th edition [of the Big Book].

It says in part:
And acceptance is the answer to all my problems
today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some
person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life
—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until
I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being
exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world
by mistake.
Another long walk.

Fresh coffee is made. Solitude refreshed. The world goes the way it goes. From behind this window voices from elsewhere. Still, I am alone.

I am meaningless.

I am neither true nor false.

"Life," says Dogen Zenji, "is one continuous mistake."

Hence, the continuing conversation. Even in solitude.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rokie's been out, had a milkbone, and dozes on kitchen bed. It's 39 degrees. Sun is coming through windows over sink but not yet on barn wall.
It's by far the hardest thing I've ever done
To be so in love with you and so alone

(intro to Follow Me, song by John Denver)
Maybe I was thinking about Mary Travers. The Denver lyrics could have been written by a contemplative hermit dwelling in solitude and ecstatic about the paradox of complete presence with no ego to sort it into distance and dichotomy.

She says, ``I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?''
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evenings, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow's wings.


She says, ``But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss.''
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths,
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness,
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.

(--from poem, Sunday Morning, by Wallace Stevens)
First coffee as Chickadee jabbers to green feeder above Yew bush. From Snow Bowl horn toots play from rescue vehicle, no emergency. There will be chairlift rides today from 9 to 3. I can barely lift my elbow -- pain lingers from pounding spikes into planks while framing floor joists with light hammer.

For me and my house, I hope the memorial service will be a happy religious event. I want people to sing hymns, and I hope friends will recall some happy moments. If they don’t, much of my life will have been wasted. The service shouldn’t go on too long, as refreshments will be served afterwards. A memorial service reminds us that, at death, we leave behind all that we have but celebrate all that we are. Without defining what a really good life is, at least we can say it is one so full that even the funeral director is sorry to see us go.

What is said at a funeral should be reasonably honest. Grief has a way of clouding our memories, and some services leave the impression that mean and useless people never die. This much is true: Perfect people never die, and when we gather to remember someone, telling the truth helps the healing. Once I heard a daughter, while speaking at her father’s memorial service, say this: “He was often hard to live with and, at times, a real grouch. But he was my Dad, and I loved him.”

When I go, if someone remembers me as patient, a case of mistaken identity has occurred. I pray, but no one who knows me would confuse me with St. Francis of Assisi.

Being remembered as we really were and still loved frees mourners from vague feelings of guilt. God’s Grace is what allows us to celebrate the lives of people who die, not our ranking in Who’s Who or a listing in the most recent volume of The Best People Who Ever Lived.

In short, when we die, it’s best to let our lives speak for themselves. If we are fortunate enough to be part of a faith community, words of resurrection and hope can be embraced and claimed. We can laugh together and weep together because the joke is ultimately on the Grim Reaper. That’s why he’s so grim.

The final gathering can be a party. As I think about death — as lots of people my age do — this is what I’d like: A party, and you are all invited. Refreshments will be served.

(-- from Two Funerals and a Party, in Quaker Life, September/October 2009, By Tom Mullen. This article, a shortened version of the final chapter in Tom’s book, Living Longer & Other Sobering Possibilities, published by Friends United Press in 1996. Mr. Mullen died in August: Thomas James Mullen, 1934-2009
I've been invited to reflect on sadness in my writings. It is true. I sit with this temperament that has long visited. As Naomi Nye writes, alongside kindness, sorrow is the other deepest thing

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

(~ Poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, From Under the Words: Selected Poems)
If (or when) consciousness shifts again as it did in the Axial Age years between 800-200 BCE -- a shift Karl Jaspers describes as "a deep breath bringing the most lucid consciousness" -- perhaps the Bhahmanic divine fire at core of everything will lead us to close our prisons, remove the silly notion that any person or corporation can actually "own" a portion of square footage in the cosmos, and there will be brought up into daylight the compassionate understanding that human beings will have for their well-being and use all manner of services, money, shelter, and genuine appreciation. Karen Armstrong suggests a 2nd Axial Period (1600-1900 CE, an age of Enlightenment) might now be followed by a third.

I wonder about this shift of consciousness many speak about. I see in it the dissolution of egoic strictures, when we will open to graceful kindness and loving service with one another. What will we call it? " Maybe, "The Graceful Breath Age."
Unaware of illusion or enlightenment,
From this stone I watch the mountains,
Hear the stream.
A three-day rain has cleansed the earth,
A roar of thunder split the sky.
Ever serene are linked phenomena,
And though the mind's alert, it's but an ash heap.
Chilly as the dusk I move through,
I return, a basket brimmed with peaches on my arm.

- Genko (?– 1505)
Saskia reads a story about two men in a furniture delivery truck who'd been working together in Maine finding out they were indeed biological brothers, both having been adopted and separated at an early age. People started noticing the profound resemblances they had to one another.

That's what will happen. We will notice the profound resemblances between and among us -- a simple divine/human holism that is also equally shared by all sentient beings, every rock and breath of breeze, every thought and longing of heart. We'll come to see. We'll know. And we'll finally be free.
Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe
And to love you.

(--from song, The Air that I Breath, by the Hollies)
Off in the distance, the barking of a dog.

A car passes down Barnestown hill.

Treetop branches rustle in breezy morning applause -- a prelude appreciation of approaching Graceful Breath Age.

We will sit awhile with the Quakers at Vesper Hill Chapel overlooking sunny Penobscot Bay between Camden and Rockport. The silence at these sittings refreshes.

Allowing each thing to speak, with spare presence, for itself.