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Out of life comes death,

and out of death, life.

Out of the young, the old,

and out of the old, the young.

Out of waking, sleep,

and out of sleep, waking.

The stream of creation and dissolution

never stops.

Heraclitus in The Circle of Life

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In this sacred time…Passover, Easter Week, Spring at hand…I am fasting and spending more time on my mat and more time on my cushion in meditation. It is Retreat Week at Yoga School. We gather on Sunday for three hours and then attend two Hatha classes and two meditations daily during the rest of the week. We journal and look deeply into our lives.

Outside Moodna Creek is turbulent–white capped muddy water. Fields are flooded. The first hint of blue sky appears at sunset after what seems like interminable rain. Inside, my mind is alternately turbulent and subdued. My dreams are vivid. All of my senses are heightened. The smell of my husband’s Nespresso coffee in the morning, the symphony of bird songs, the taste of toothpaste, the sound of the clock ticking in my office…all amplified.

We are asked to explore where we are suffering…to name our pain and to see it’s source clearly. I see that bliss and suffering are not two…they are not separate. The more expansive my bliss, the more aware and sensitized I become to suffering. I see and sense the interdependent co-arising of all causes and conditions. My body electric and vibrating.

MAKER OF ALL THINGS, EVEN HEALINGS

All night
under the pines
the fox
moves through the darkness
with a mouthful of teeth
and a reputation for death
which it deserves.
In the spicy
villages of the mice
he is famous,
his nose
in the grass
is like an earthquake,
his feet
on the path
is a message so absolute
that the mouse, hearing it,
makes himself
as small as he can
as he sits silent
or, trembling, goes on
hunting among the grasses
for the ripe seeds.

Maker of All Things,
including appetite,
including stealth,
including the fear that makes
all of us, sometime or other,
flee for the sake
of our small and precious lives,
let me abide in your shadow–
let me hold on
to the edge of your robe
as you determine
what you must let be lost
and what will be saved.

– MARY OLIVER –

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It is 5:20 in the morning. A slight mist, cloudy sky, balmy moist air. I am climbing the path to the Chan Hall. I have no idea what to expect. We gather outside in lamplight and silence. We awaken our bodies with movement. The Dharma teacher gives a short talk. We are savoring the question, “Tell me who you are.” My mind runs wild and begins to unravel.

For five days we sit in silence, we work in silence, we eat in silence, we listen in silence, we walk in silence, we drink tea in silence. We do not write. We do not check email or voicemail. We are unplugged from the familiar and compelling electronic hum of daily life. We live in variations of the question…who am I when I eat…who is eating…who am I when I walk…who is walking; who is sleeping; who is showering; who is sitting; who is chanting; who is thinking; who is not thinking?

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At 9 o’clock each morning, the sun is above the ridge. Our Dharma teacher invites the bell and my whole body vibrates, resonant with sound. His morning talks provide clues…bread crumbs or small white stones, glistening in moonlight, on a path that winds deeper and deeper into a dark forest…he invites a shift from intention to attention; he speaks of thoughts as sheep that can be placed in their proper pens…can we let thoughts come, let them be and let them go?  He talks about our essential nature as being the dot in the center of a circle…the circle being defined by the outer edges of all of who we are and all of who we have been. We are invited to examine which stories of self we are favoring; and what happens when we tell the stories that we’re pushing aside or avoiding. We are invited to consider repentance. We must look deeper and inhale our question; allow it to circulate in our blood and live in our bones. This is inquiry. We must drop getting this right; we must drop answering properly. The whole story requires paper, ink, a reader and a writer.

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When invited to pay attention, I notice that there are two Christmas ornaments on the tall spruce by the fence line. I notice two indigo Morning Glories opening on the way to breakfast and shades of Lavender still in bloom.

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I look up at the crystalline sky on our last morning. It is very cold and the stars seem brighter and somehow closer. My mind is quiet. A sparse thought–more an image or idea of a shooting star forms. Immediately a star burns its way to the horizon. Everything seems both ordinary and miraculous. Even the dish towels and aprons that we hang to dry after meals are beautiful to me.

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Before going into silence, we are asked why we have come. I say that I have come to empty and to fill. I don’t know what I mean exactly. Yet as we complete the closing ceremony, I am both empty and full. Empty of what? Empty of a separate self. Empty of the romantic fiction that has funded the burden of my resentment. Empty of resentment. Empty of perfection and the lack of perfection. Empty of the cold place that put conditions on how I wanted to be loved. Empty of the cold place that avoided loving others unconditionally.

And full of what? Full of joy and gratitude; light and dark; peace and silence; clarity and breath…suspended in awareness of the present moment.

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The small ruby everyone wants has fallen out on

the road.

Some think it is east of us, others west of us.

Some say, “among primitive earth rocks,” others, “in

the deep waters.”

Kabir’s instinct told him it was inside, and what it

was worth,

and he wrapped it up carefully in his heart cloth

– KABIR –

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Last night, when I heard Barack Obama’s speech, I wept. Not because I believed his words; his promises; his point-of-view. Not because I identify myself as a democrat, or because I deal in the currency of hope. Not because I want him to be president or because I don’t want him to be president.

I wept because I remember. I remember growing up in the South. I remember “the coloreds” and their low slung weathered homes at the edge of town. I remember their porches with rounded refrigerators, threadbare couches. I remember the chickens in their yards. I remember the separate restrooms and drinking fountains and how hard it was to make sense of it all.

To see an African American standing on that podium moved me in ways that I never expected. I wept. Because I remember.

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Sometimes life is very full. It used to be, that inspite of all that was going on around me, I would sit down at the end of the day and edit my photos and write my blog. Lately instead, I’ve been organizing the hard drive on my awesome new hand-me-up MAC desktop (thank you so much Sara and Sean!!) and reading Beautiful Boy and Tweak. So now, I’m inspired to play catch-up and the first thing I need to tell you is that Grace has returned safe and sound from Myanmar. I’ve received a few concerned emails–something that touched me deeply–and even some requests to post some of her photos. We’ll see if she’s willing!

Autumn is in the wings. The days are crisp, nights are cooler, thunderstorms are frequent. It’s my kind of weather. I’ve been doing my best to walk every day. Memhet Oz says we need to take 10,000 steps daily. No way does that happen without me hiking in Black Rock, or down by the River, or just up and around the neighboring cul-de-sac. When I walk, I think of this poem from Mary Oliver’s new book, Red Bird.

INVITATION
Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

– MARY OLIVER –

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WHAT WE WANT

What we want

is never simple.

We move among the things

we thought we wanted:

a face, a room, an open book

and these things bear our names—

now they want us.

But what we want appears

in dreams, wearing disguises.

We fall past,

holding out our arms

and in the morning

our arms ache.

We don’t remember the dream,

but the dream remembers us.

It is there all day

as an animal is there

under the table,

as the stars are there

– LINDA PASTAN –

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SNOWY NIGHT

Last night, an owl
in the blue dark
tossed
an indeterminate number
of carefully shaped sounds into
the world, in which,
a quarter of a mile away, I happened
to be standing.
I couldn’t tell
which one it was –
the barred or the great-horned
ship of the air –
it was that distant. But, anyway,
aren’t there moments
that are better than knowing something,
and sweeter? Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness. I suppose
if this were someone else’s story
they would have insisted on knowing
whatever is knowable – would have hurried
over the fields
to name it – the owl, I mean.
But it’s mine, this poem of the night,
and I just stood there, listening and holding out
my hands to the soft glitter
falling through the air. I love this world,
but not for its answers.
And I wish good luck to the owl,
whatever its name –
and I wish great welcome to the snow,
whatever its severe and comfortless
and beautiful meaning.

– MARY OLIVER –

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