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No coming, no going,
No after, no before…

I hold you close to me,
I release you to be so free,

Because I am in you,
and you are in me…
Because I am in you,
and you are in me…

PLUM VILLAGE CHANT

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Lately, there are conversations of death around me. What is it? When will it come? What happens after death? Is it hard? Is there work? Do we come back?

We don’t know when death will come…our own or another’s. How do we understand the suffering that precedes death–how do we acclimate ourselves to impermanence and find acceptance? In our efforts to give comfort those who are dying, who are we comforting? Can we, will we, recognize the signals; the subtleties of communication; the final wishes. Can we, will we, recognize our own clinging–the disharmony of our non-acceptance? What does acceptance mean..what would acceptance look like?

At last I am leaving:
in rainless skies, a cool moon…
pure is my heart

– SENSEKI –

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You live in illusions and the appearance of things.
There is a reality, you are that Reality.
When you recognize this you will realize that you are nothing,
and being nothing, you are everything. That is all.

KALU RINPOCHE

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Yesterday marked the 411th birthday of Rene Descartes who considered himself more a mathematician and scientist than a philosopher. His impulse for philosophy came when he realized that some of his scientific ideas could be considered controversial by the church. In his book, Discourse on Method (1637), Descartes describes the development of his skepticism and capacity to doubt everything, including his own existence. The one thing he could not doubt was the existence of his own thoughts which led him to the statement, “I think, therefore I am.”

Natalie Goldberg, tells a story about her time with Katagiri Roshi that I absolutely love. She says that after spending a whole summer at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM studying Descartes’ statement “I think, therefore I am” and not drawing on any secondary sources, she attended a Dharma talk by Katagiri Roshi. He began, “I’ve been studying your Descartes and his idea, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ I’m sure he knew, but forgot to mention, ‘I don’t think, therefore, I’m not.” According to Natalie, at that moment the whole of Western civilization slid off a cliff and she was inspired to diligently explore the “underbelly” of life as she continued to develop writing practice.

At Yoga School, one of our meditation practices is to “be nobody and do nothing.” The first time I heard this, I almost fell off my cushion! How refreshing! At the end of a harried day, to do a strenuous asana practice and then simply let go of everything, everyone, any and all sense of identity, self-importance and thought…ahhh….”I don’t think, therefore, I’m not.” A little jolt of fear and excitement.

Whenever David Whyte recites his poem, Tan-y-garth–Elegy for Michael, he talks a bit about his friend Michael whose capacity for doubt was enormous. So enormous that if you started to say something, the furrowed expression of doubt on Michael’s long face was enough to have you begin to lose your own certainty. He describes Michael’s last days this way…

“…One man I know loved this place so
much he said he’d found his place to die, Years I knew him

here walking the high moor lines or watching the coals
of a winter fire in the cottage grate. And die he did but not

before one month’s final joy in wild creation gave him that
full sight he’d glimpsed in Blake, he too struggled with his angel,

in and out of hospital, the white sheets and clouds unfolded
to the mountain’s bracing sense of space, now he was ready,

his heart so long at the edge of the nest shook its
wings and flew into the hills he loved. Became the hills

he loved. Walked with an easy rest cradled by the faith he
nursed for years in doubt
…”

Can we take our scraps of faith, our capacity to think, our capacity to not think, our practices of being somebody and being nobody and nourish ourselves with our doubts? Can we know and experience being nothing and being everything and become what we love in wild creation while we are here, living, breathing fully this moment? Can we hold the tension of opposites–faith and doubt–faith in our holy “yes” to life and and the doubt that says our faith may not save us; can we rest in that tension and savor our delicate position?

PS…On a less serious note, I also love the twist on Descartes expressed by Robin Williams in the movie, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Williams, in his role as the King of the Moon (Ray D. Tutto), says bluntly, “I think, therefore, you is!

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It’s time to talk about the amazing women in my life. This is Aanya. We met when I was 22 years old. She was 44. She lived with her three children at the end of Meadowlark Lane in Corrales, NM. Aanya: dancer, weaver of community, activist, lover and learner…a true inspiration.

My suburban upbringing was turned inside out living on Meadowlark Lane. In Aanya’s world, mothers were not slaves; dinner was not a monument at the end of the day…it was not meat, potatoes and a frozen vegetable. Mothers were artists, dancers, musicians, poets and gardeners, and we all pitched in to cook gourmet meals out of co-op food in our communal kitchen–beans, enchiladas, rellanos, rice, homemade bread, soups extraordinaire.

Aanya’s book of selected poems, Praises, Protests & Songs was published last year on the occasion of her eightieth birthday. I cried when I read the dedication because it rang so true:

“Oh, I have made myself a tribe,
Out of my true affections,
And my tribe is scattered.”
STANLEY KUNITZThe Layers

“This is for my tribe,
With love and thanks.”

To dear Aanya, I say…We were a tribe, we are a tribe–we are scattered and I carry that time and place and all of us deep in my heart! Here is a poem for you…and I promise to tell the story about “a little breathing music” in the near future.

Sunflower Aanya sings,
dances in the darkness,
swims in buoyant waters,
presses golden cottonwood leaves–
Love so large the moon grows pale.

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…is number 29 on Jack Kerouac’s list titled Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.
Number 8 is: “Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind.”

Here are a few more…
24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
19. Accept loss forever
4. Be in love with yr life
5. Something that you feel will find its own form

I think it’s good to know and remember these things. Besides collecting questions, I also collect cryptic/ specific advice from wonderful teachers.

From Suzuki Roshi, I love, “No trace: When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.”

And, “Repetition: If you lose the spirit of repetition, your practice will become quite difficult.”

And, “Control: To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him.”

From Katagiri Roshi, I love, “Continue under all circumstances; don’t be tossed away; make positive effort for the good every day.”

Light Steps

One stepped lightly in an evening,
Yellow flowers, purple flowers
Flowed along the green grass rug.
The sun had not yet set, the moon was already high.
Laughter resounded hills and mountains,
Somewhere, one could hear the determined mind wakening.

THAY GIAC THANH


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Niggling thoughts are the ones that
hiccup
out loud in the circumspect library.
Niggling thoughts chase the tail
of that last sentence
and never catch up
Niggling thoughts whisper inaudibly
when they interrupt…
Niggling thoughts are the intermittent itch
Under my scalp of incompletions.
Niggling thoughts wake me up–
like hives in my blood stream.
Niggling thoughts left unattended
become arguments,
parking tickets
bad dreams,
burnt dinners,
computer viruses,
missed opportunities,
lost keys,
bad hair days.
Niggling thoughts are the one
to pay attention to.

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I collect questions. I like a good question to chew on and swish around in my consciousness. Last summer, I was at NTL with some of my Appreciative Inquiry colleagues and Sheila McNamee raised this question, “Can I let you happen to me?”

Now, I know a good question when I hear one…when I’m rattled–when I feel a little queasy, slightly uneasy, want to change the subject, avoid saying a clear-cut, squeeky clean, “yes” or “no.”

Maybe the question is really, “Will I allow you to happen to me?” Will I sink into the moment with you, drop my defenses, park my pattering mental process and allow myself to be with you–and with myself for that matter.

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Can I sit next to your ideas, your feelings, your ranting and raving, your excitement, your boredom, your creativity, your disgust, your enthusiasm, your despair, your gratitude, your resentment, your baggage, your lack of baggage, your empty baggage, your knowing, your insistance, your resistance, your laughter, your grace, your embrace…can I sit next to any of that, or all of that, like I would sit next to good friend on a park bench?

Can I adjust to the season? Let the ice inside me thaw and float down river as the sun sets? Can I mop my brow in the heat of the moment, without complaint, accepting that sometimes it’s hot and it’s not anyone’s fault. Can I, will I allow you happen to me?

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“I have spent my life…trying to share enough with strangers to make learning possible, learning to identify divergent premises instead of taking my own for granted, and to accept a broader or more ambiguous view than common sense. The basic challenge we face today in an interdependent world is to disconnect the notion of difference from the notion of superiority, to turn the unfamiliar into a resource rather than a threat.”

MARY CATHERINE BATESON

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It’s winter and the bamboo continues to grow. It’s close to the ceiling and very green. Relentless in its quest for sunlight. Patient. Stalwart. Graceful. Elegant. No need for soil; just water and some stones. A simple economy.

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Such flexibility and willingness…strength of a quiet sort. No flowers, just shades of green tinged with yellow.

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When we’re alone, bamboo listens respectfully. Quietly. Leaves flutter and affirm…sometimes sing. I’m slowly learning to listen in return. I have to be very quiet inside.

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Bamboo grows in segments…one is not better than the next. Bamboo says, “I live without regret…I am honest…I am whole…My vision, my mission, my purpose are all the same. Grow, stay green and give back.”

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