Archive for the ‘Zen’ Category

This morning, the world wet from last night’s rain…vibrant with autumn’s rusty colors and still much late summer green. I have a few moments of solitude and silence–a welcome reprieve from the busy-ness of the week. I watch leaves tremble, quiver, dance, let go with what looks like grace and ease.

I find myself focusing on particular leaves as they flutter and twist…wondering, is it your turn? Will you be the one to let go? Are you clinging, even now, to this moment? Will you be the one to joyously jettison from the branch, leaving your stem behind or taking it with you–a tiny rudder to guide your flight? Will you glide and then rise up even higher, gather momentum, dancing and soaring before settling to earth? I pose these silent questions to the thousands of leaves awaiting their turn…I pose these silent questions to myself as I practice surrender; practice non-attachment; practice non-striving; practice acceptance; practice patience, trust and letting go…

We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.



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Today, reading again Cold Mountain Poems by Gary Snyder. Remembering reading them so long ago, backpacking in the Gila Wilderness with my dear friend Tom. Day one, a twelve mile hike scrambling up and down through canyon after canyon. Early fall, rocks still radiant with summer heat; the smell of Ponderosa pines–tall, straight, cinnamon-colored bark; Cooper’s hawks circling, sky empty and enormous.

In twilight, cradled in a soft meadow, reading the first line…”The path to Han-shan’s place is laughable…” I felt a shimmer of recognition; something ancient, something present, something familiar without words…Poem 1.

The path to Han-shan’s place is laughable,

A path, but no sign of cart or horse,

Converging gorges–hard to trace their twists

Jumbled cliffs–unbelievably rugged.

A thousand grasses bend with dew,

A hill of pines hums in the wind.

And now I’ve lost the shortcut home,

Body asking shadow, how do you keep up?

I was then, thirty nine years ago, a Buddhist–or perhaps better said, a student of mindfulness–in the making. That southwestern earth was my great teacher, my Cold Mountain introduction. The luminous night sky opened my heart-mind. Free of suburban expectations and ennui, I learned the braille of nature. I walked the ditch banks of Corrales, sat in hot springs, climbed Pecos Baldy, kayaked the Green River, picked wild flowers in the Uinta Mountains. Time was vast in a way that I’ve almost forgotten. Life was fantastically simple.

I’ve lived at cold Mountain–how many autumns.

Alone, I hum a song–utterly without regret.

Hungry, I eat one grain of Immortal medicine

Mind solid and sharp; leaning on a stone.

I lived without running water and electricity; I lived with cold running water from a red metal hand pump that drained into a stationary sink, electricity, a wood stove, an outhouse and a party line; I lived in an army mess tent that cost $5.00 that was 20 x 30 with a 17 foot ridge pole. I planted a garden, I baked bread in my wood cook stove, I made yogurt, I bathed in Las Huertas creek. I played my flute, I meditated, went to Kirtan, watched the sun rise and set, I watched the moon rise over Sandia Peak and set behind the Black Mesa.

My home was at Cold Mountain from the start,

Rambling among the hills, far from trouble.

Gone, and a million things leave no trace

Loosed, and it flows through the galaxies

A fountain of light, into the very mind–

Not a thing, and yet it appears before me:

Now I know the pearl of the Buddha-nature

Know its use: a boundless perfect sphere.


I recognize that what was home then, lives in me now. Life is both complicated, laughable and deeply lovable.


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Suddenly it’s October. Life has been on fast forward…full work schedule, full family schedule and, well, full time job reconstructing my hard drive. There are twinges of fall…small pockets of leafy color, air that is sharp and well-cleansed from torrential rains.

Coming back to blogging, I am edgy…impatient for words to flow…wondering where to start. I must pay attention to my life in a different way–to the poetic moments…some difficult; some joyful. In a sense, I must simply slow down. This morning, right now, a gentle rain. Outside, the sound of raindrops on brittle brown leaves. Inside, I sit at the dining room table looking through sliding glass doors to the woods across the driveway. The catalpa trees yellowing, the maples ever so slightly rosy-orange. There is a tiny patch of pale blue sky behind fast moving feathery gray clouds.

In a few days, I will be 62. My father is 87. My children are in their late 20’s. My grandson, who is two and a half will soon become a big brother. As I watch my father’s aging process–sometimes regressive, often filled with wisdom and acceptance–I can’t help but think that I am in the prime of my life. My physical body enjoys remarkably good health. My emotional body is generally calm and centered. My mind, sometimes alarmingly empty, can usually focus and draw on the accumulated wisdom of life experience to make decisions and solve problems. I see the incredible fragility of life. The way things can turn on a dime; the way that the physical body can transform without our consent; the way the mind can become loosely organized, tectonic plates of memory shifting and colliding. There is very little that I can say with certainty.

The one constant in my life is my practice. Sometimes on the mat and cushion. Sometimes washing dishes. In every way, life is more vibrant and I feel more alive when I pay attention…poetic attention to the present moment.


“All of us are apprenticed to the same teacher that the

religious institutions originally worked with: reality.

Reality-insight says…master the twenty-four hours.

Do it well, without self-pity. It is as hard to get the children

herded into the car pool and down the road to the bus as

it is to chant sutras in the Buddha-hall on a cold morning.

One move is not better than the other, each can be quite

boring, and they both have the virtuous quality of repetition.

Repetition and ritual and their good results come in

many forms. Changing the filter, wiping noses, going to

meetings, picking up around the house, washing dishes,

checking the dipstick—don’t let yourself think these are

distracting you from your more serious pursuits.

Such a round of chores is not a set of difficulties we

hope to escape from so that we may do our “practice”

which will put us on a “path”—it is our path.”

GARY SNYDER, The Practice of the Wild

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life is a garden,
not a road
we enter and exit
through the same gate
where we go matters less
than what we notice


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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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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Joshu asked Nansen, “What is the Way?” “Ordinary mind is the Way.” Nansen replied. “Shall I try to seek after it?” Joshu asked. “If you try for it, you will become separated from it,” responded Nansen. “How can I know the Way unless I try for it?” persisted Joshu. Nansen said, “The Way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. Knowing is a delusion, not knowing is confusion. When you have really reached the Way beyond doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How can it be talked about on the level of right and wrong?” With these words, Joshu came to a sudden realization.

The ordinary Way is samadhi, it is peace of mind. When you are in samadhi, you are simply in samadhi, there is no searching after the Way, It is an experience, not a conceptual understanding. Samadhi is vast and boundless and beyond right and wrong.


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Yesterday, at least eight phone calls from my Dad. Running the gamut from distraught, confused, irritated, lonely, delusional to grateful. I make the trip across the county, thinking of how he looks smaller each time I see him. His skin like translucent parchment, veins bulging in his wrists and hands, his childlike delight when he sees me…”Oh, Sandy…bless you for coming!”

I tell him that Grace made it to Myanmar without a hitch; that she is the youngest and least experienced person in her group and she says that the country and the people are beautiful. Yesterday, they visited a nunnery and she was invited to sit at the head table–something unheard of–and was blessed by the nuns and invited to return. He smiles, nods his head and says, “That dear little Gracie girl…of course.”

Lately he asks me, “Where am I going from here?” Or, “What’s next for me?” I’m learning to smile and say, “We’ll see, Dad…I’m not sure.” In reality, I’m not sure whether this is a metaphysical question or just a question of logistics. When I leave we repeat our ritual farewell. I say, “I’ll see you soon.” He says, “I hope so.”

Outside, a swallowtail butterfly lands on the pink coneflowers. I breathe and let go more…and more…


The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light


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