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SWEET DARKNESS

When you eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize it own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb
tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

– DAVID WHYTE –

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FROM The Great Failure by Natalie Goldberg

INTRODUCTION

“She knows there’s no success like failure,
And that failure’s no success at all.”

Bob Dylan

After my Zen teacher died, a fellow practitioner said to me, “Natalie, your writing succeeded. You didn’t follow the teachings. Everything Roshi taught us was about how to fail.”

We both laughed.

But I think it was true that we were trained in defeat. Downfall brings us to the ground, facing the nitty-gritty, things as they are with no glitter. Success cannot last forever. Everyone’s time runs out. This is not a popular notion, but it is true.

Achievement solidifies us. Believing we are invincible, we want more and more. It makes us hungry. But we can be caught in the opposite too. Human beings manage to also drown in the pool of despair, seeped in the mud of depression. We spend our life on a roller coaster with rusty tracks, stuck to highs and lows, riding from one, trying to grab the other.

To heal ourselves from this painful cycle—the severe split we create and then the quasi equilibrium we try to maintain—we have to crash. Only then can we drop through to a more authentic self.

Zen transmits its legacy from this deeper place. It is a different kind of failure: the Great Failure, a boundless surrender. Nothing to hold on to and nothing to lose. Sitting still feeling our breath, we watch the electric animals of desire and aggression arise and pass away. Our arms spread wide, we welcome it all, In the Great failure we find the Great Success. They are no longer different from one another. Both dissolve into the moment. Illusions break open and we can be real with ourselves and the people around us. When obstructions are swept away, we can see clearly. Here we are with our lives in our hands. Who were we? Who are we?

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I am continuously surprised and delighted by Mary Oliver. I hesitate to say that she’s my favorite poet–it’s impossible for me to choose just one poet to adore–I would say that her capacity to capture in words…in word-pictures…resonant experience; well, it’s just brilliant. She’s brilliant.

My camera becomes a prop…a doorway to noticing. The light, the shadows, the small, the overlooked, the breathtaking…framing the world. Partitioning the view. Every day I do now walk out into the world “to be dazzled…then to be reflective.” This feeds my soul.

LONG AFTERNOON AT THE EDGE OF LITTLE SISTER POND

As for life,
I’m humbled,
I’m without words
sufficient to say

how it has been hard as flint,
and soft as a spring pond,
both of these
and over and over,

and long pale afternoons besides,
and so many mysteries
beautiful as eggs in a nest,
still unhatched

though warm and watched over
by something I have never seen—
a tree angel, perhaps,
or a ghost of loneliness.

Every day I walk out into the world
to be dazzled, then to be reflective.
It suffices, it is all comfort—
along with human love,

dog love, water love, little-serpent love,
sunburst love, or love for that smallest of birds
flying among the scarlet flowers.
There is hardly time to think about

stopping, and lying down at last
to the long afterlife, to the tenderness
yet to come, when
time will brim over the singular pond, and become forever,

and we will pretend to melt away into the leaves.
As for death,
I can’t wait to be the hummingbird,
can you?

– MARY OLIVER –

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Today, my 50 mm lens arrives. I can see myself lurking…stalking those moments where friends and family are lost in thought or activity. With my husband this is fairly easy. He loves to muse and today he was engrossed in some light reading on divorce case law…ugh. Whenever he reads it aloud, I have a hard time making any sense out of it.

I do love watching him muse. And over the years, I’ve come to truly appreciate how his mind works. He does a lot of thinking out loud–just mulling over possibilities. He’s a day dreamer…a massive “perceiver” on the Myers-Briggs…like an alien from another planet to my trained MBTI “judger.” I must say, this fundamental difference in our personality styles has challenged each us…driven us crazy…helped us stretch and grow.

FROM THE PROPHET : On Love

…When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart…

– KAHLIL GIBRAN –

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New Year’s Day 2008?? How can that be? It’s my sixtieth year and the typical resolutions…go to the gym daily; give up sugar and caffeine; make more money; reduce debt; lose 5 pounds; blah, blah, blah…really have no appeal.

Fun, grandchildren, love and affection are high on the list this year…photos and photo mastery…yes, that sounds like fun. And I’ll admit it, I had to switch to the AUTO setting today–no RAW files with Blake and Ethan running from the camera. Yikes. They’re hard to catch.

Streamlining, simplifying and giving are also high on the list…along with time outdoors and time with good friends and family. Reading. I’d like to read more than I did last year…I think that my blogging time may have eaten into my reading time.

My husband does not like the idea of resolutions. Too much commitment involved. He proposed, “New Year’s Musings”…something a little more fluid and amorphous. I’m inclined, for once, to appreciate his softer approach…to try on some “possibilities.” How about you?

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IF YOU KNEW

What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say,Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die.

A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
They’d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked a half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon’s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

– ELLEN BASS –

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Tonight’s Raja Yoga class invited a form of Swadyaya (self-study or reflective meditation). We were guided to reflect on and remember different periods of our lives, beginning with birth to age five; then to age thirteen; then to age twenty; then succeeding decades. The dominant questions concerned what influenced us–who were our idols/ heroes; what posters/ pictures did we have on our bedroom walls; what were our aspirations; what movies, television programs, books, music, spiritual paths inspired and occupied our consciousness.

There are a handful of older students (myself among them)…mid to late 50’s and early sixties. Most students are in their early thirties to mid forties. Suddenly I see my life in stark contrast to today’s world. We did not have a television until I was five years old. It was the size of large freezer, looked like a casket (mahogany) and had a 12″ screen, plus a radio; a 45 record player and an “LP” record player. There was only one channel at that time in North Carolina…black and white and fuzzy. I occasionally watched Captain Kangaroo. I used to listen to the Lone Ranger on the radio. I didn’t go to kindergarten because there wasn’t one. First grade was held in the basement of a church.

At eight, I moved to New York. Same television set…many more channels. I was only marginally interested. I preferred to ride my bike and play hopscotch. I rarely got to go to the movies. I never had posters on my bedroom walls. My parents were responsible for the decor.

In my twenties I moved to New Mexico; spent a lot of time backpacking and lived without electricity or running water most of the time. At one point, I rented a house on Ella Drive in Corrales for $35.00 a month–very upscale. A pink adobe with an outhouse; a red cast iron hand pump for well water that pumped into a stationary sink that drained; electricity; a party line and a wood stove for heat and for cooking. It wasn’t long before I moved to Placitas…still an outhouse; and for the first summer, while building our adobe studio, we lived in an enormous army tent–18′ x 30′ with 17′ high ridge poles. We scrounged carpet remnants and divided the space into three carpeted rooms with India print bedspread curtained walls. We ran Romex from the temporary electric pole and wired up outlets for a refrigerator and electric frying pan and, of course, a stereo. During the hot summer days, we rolled up the sides and enjoyed the breeze from Las Huertas Canyon.

I moved back East first to Connecticut and then to the Hudson Valley…still woodstoves and no television until my parents gave us a tiny “portable.” The screen was about the size of the one I had growing up. Once in a while we watched some news or an old movie.

It was a revelation to realize that I had no professional aspirations as a young child or even as a teenager. I just assumed that I would become a wife and a mother. Women could be nurses, teachers or secretaries. I did not know anyone who had a mother with a day job. When I graduated college, I had no idea what to do–the men that I knew were either drafted, escaping the draft or paying their ROTC dues…no one seemed interested in being married…least of all me.

As I close in on my sixth decade and look back, my life has had a quiet richness that is so rare in today’s busy virtual world. I hope that this new grandbaby who is on the way will be able to experience some of that quiet richness–the innocence of imaginative play; the delight of time in nature; the thrill of good books, puzzles, bike rides and hopscotch…AND lots of time with Nana and Pop Pop.

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