This is the Last Day of April is Poetry Month!

I sat “virtually” with the sangha last night. It’s becoming a regular Wednesday night   thing with the Oak tree in the Garden.

A “sangha” is a gathering of Zen practitioners.

I am finding myself slipping in to some very dark places, and not the actual ones that  I should, like the one under the stairs that could use some cleaning and reorganizing. Instead I am slipping into a place where I get lost in thoughts that propagate really paralyzing inertia and despair.

It is good to commit to practicing with others. I doesn’t matter the context. The important thing is to just sit practicing Zazen.  Which is the context of ‘NO CONTEXT’, (forget about getting your intellect around that!)

I’ve done a lot of sitting lately, lounging actually.

But sitting Zazen we gradually gain (or regain, again and again) the ability to see thoughts arise and dissipate.  We learn how to return to this breath and this moment.

And you can also clean out the space under the stairs this way, although, dust bunnies, spiders…that homemade mask is going to come in handy.

Here is one last poem for the month, rewritten.

Sadness Haiku

Awakening
the jeweled dew glistens
in the morning light.dew-on-grass-janet-rockburn

 

 

The Four Great Vows

All beings without number I vow to liberate

Endless obsessions I vow to release

Dharma gates without measure I vow to penetrate

Limitless awakenings I vow to unfold!

 

I have this so ingrained that I find it really difficult to chant anything else.  It is very grandiose isn’t it? But I think that is the point of Vows. I think we might be embarrassed to make Great Vows  but for fear of what? Of seeming egotistical? Of failing? What?

And this is one of those times when we are exerting ourselves for all beings aren’t we? It is a big deal. Nevertheless even when we do something that is just an everyday sort of thing, like when we pick up after ourselves it is a big deal too, because we are liberating ourselves from the conceit that anyone else should have to clean up after us, and from the idea of our own permanence by remembering we might not have a better time to do so. To open our awareness of what is arising within the space that somehow we have the shear luck to occupy and that we are not alone even when we are alone.

The next vows all follow fairly seamlessly if we get the first right, or even if we don’t, even if we fail when trying hard enough to say “I vow” and then blush to be so bold.

People are dying and even small efforts are of benefit, not the least because we care.

 

 

The Value of Letting Go

There is a difference between “JUST GET OVER IT!” and letting it go. It’s weird but one is a problem and the other is a strategy.

“Get over it!” is a very industrial revolution era type suggestion. This was a time when changes were brutal and corporal punishment was the way of the world. Any one who cared about you would caution you against any action you might take with the fire of injustice your belly.  After  all life was cheap, your life actually. Your only hope was to some how move on, get over it. This is a very toxic thing to have to do but probably not much worse than the air you had to breathe, the water you had to drink and the hunger and cold you had to endure.

“Get over it” was something I did hear often enough and young enough that I thought it had some validity. The trouble was there were too many indications that real justice could exist and maybe life wasn’t about just enduring shit. I was born in the 50’s, by the time I was an adult I didn’t believe it and  society didn’t either (although there are indications it has made some major losses in this area recently).

Next: Probably too many words about forgiveness

Forgiveness is central to the Christian faith. But so is hypocrisy and we have learned enough about that in the last century or so that the one thing that made forgiveness possible, namely faith is really hard to maintain, if not just plain crazy. When faith was strong and instead of streaming t.v. shows the only stories you had for entertainment were ones where faith conquered over the bad guys EVERY WEEK, I think people might have actually managed to believe in forgiveness. (Lets not hasten a return to the Dark Ages okay?)

I myself have never been good at forgiveness. Forgiveness arises when I am lost in the delusion that I am some sort of ENLIGHTENED SAINT floating in my PERSONAL NIRVANA. It can happen. I might believe I am actually forgiving someone until I wake up from my spiritual revelry and I find am still pissed off. That’s not to say that someone else can’t manage forgiveness*.

As for “crazy” some Christians might tell me it is my faith in science that is crazy. I’d say fair dignum.  I have actually had experience with how limited my understanding of science is and how weird my ideas are so I leave lots of room for possibility, and geez, won’t I look dumb on judgement day!**

But for most people Christianity just isn’t the Kool-aid that makes forgiveness possible any more, myself included.

So Finally “Letting It Go”

The advantage of Letting it Go is two fold. It doesn’t negate the injury you have suffered AND it doesn’t lead to you thinking you have a right to do something equally heinous to the person or persons who made you suffer.

Letting it go requires practice. All of the people who seemed to have the skill for moving past personal injury to address injustice had to work at it. So whatever it is you need to do to let go of the pain, you need to do it over and over. And OVER.

Every time the congealing of space around a thought or feeling arises come back to the breath, wiggle your toes and do your zen practice. You will eventually see this dense emotional state get thinner and more transparent and less of an affliction. It doesn’t mean you will lose your motivation to address injustice, but you won’t be suffering and communicating from a point of anger. Whether you call that “True Nature” or whatever it’s a lot like how it always is before a human gets messed up.

Life! Sheesh!

And you will have information that you can use to address social change and the strength to make real choices in your response to all the stupid stuff people do and say.

*obligatory disclaimer

**you had to be there

Doing the Next Thing

I am in that weird place in life when I have lots of time to just observe things. I see when the wheel on the wagon is wobbling but it’s not my wagon.

Not any of it is my wagon.

I just try to appreciate every moment and applaud every success. “Yay!”

Crazy people, cruelty and all the other painful things humans can perpetuate on each other, hatred, confusion, obscuring the way forward; It is a crazy time. Maybe it is always a crazy time.

I find zazen, sitting staring at a blank wall excruciating, but preferable to action often because I don’t know what I can do in the face of so much suffering. I know I am probably getting my practice completely wrong. I imagine Bodhisattva cringing. I remember teachers telling me not to talk about my practice outside the Dokusan room…

The other day the bus was so full the driver told us to try to get on at the back door. It looked impossible and I was the last in line. All these backs towards me, every shade of skin a human can possess represented before me, me, covered in liver spots and freckles. For the doors to close, fat, thin, male, female, shy, brazen, tall, short, young, old, we had to smoosh together.

“Well, we are all good friends now!” Laughter and smiles, people looking over their shoulders at me in the crush, somehow making room for me where there was none.

That was enough.

It is never a personal Titanic on which we arrange the deck chairs.

Watching Comedians in Cars before falling asleep

Mario Joyner
Comedians in Cars

Sometimes I think the genius of the old Jerry Seinfeld show was how his character might think he gets the point better than his other co-characters but the actual point is usually completely missed by all of them. For me, often the whole point of the show was that awesome bass rift. Literally the cherry on the top of the situational sundae.
But I don’t know how much of any of that was actually Jerry Seinfeld. But supposedly on Comedians in Cars the guy really is actually Jerry Seinfeld. He likes to complain and he likes to talk about how he and the people he admires did it better than anyone else, namely comedy but occasionally there is a moment in Comedians with cars when the awesome bass rift should be present, when on some level your brain shifts and you go, “that is actually brilliant, I think my brain is developing.”
When I am tired but can’t go to bed because it is only 9pm I sometimes let The Netflix roll out one Comedian in a Car After Another ’till it asks me “Are you still there?”. Which seems nice, but The Netflix doesn’t leave room for any response other than “click” which is annoying because I think it is a question that requires a longer answer. AM I, am I really?
On this occasion the comedian was Mario-Joyner and it seems he and Jerry Seinfeld are good friends. Its like the going for coffee with friends who completely ignore you and never acknowledge you or apologize at the end for being rude, which is sort of every episode and the big joke might be that The Netflix is passing the cheque to us. But then it comes to this bit:
(First skip the crap about watermelon and black people pleeeeeease.) Around ten minutes in Mario talks about Sammy Davis Jr. and how he could do everything Jerry hits his usual note about specializing in comedy and comedy alone and why that is how a comedian gets better, or at least a seat in the car.

Mario-Joyner says:
“That’s your focus theory. (However) You can get good at anything you can get good at, it’s not one or the other…When you are focused on something you are focused, there is no other thing.”
And he, Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian he is says, “I’ll try to agree on that.”
It is funny because, whether it is just shtick or not we laugh because Jerry, being smart, has still missed the only point in the whole seventeen minutes that was worth hearing and we are sad, so existentially sad that we let out that ‘POP’ of laughter.
Awesome bass rift.
All these thoughts came into focus while watching this video, which was part of Sigrun’s post called, The world as a process of unfolding.

Oliver Sacks, born July 9, 1933

Migraine-1-1

What I learned about migraine from his book made such a difference to my life, though not enough G.P.’s read it or understand that a migraine is not just a bad headache! But more, what I learned about being neurologically different, that it didn’t mean you were “wrong” and that the difficulties one might suffer making connections with others didn’t define the value of those connections or the person who often has had to be very strong, very brave and very creative to be known, well, that changed the world for me.

A Small Painting And Some Thoughts About Complaining* About Stuff

IMG_20190709_202213_297

I know I am running the danger of becoming another boring senior who uses a blog to go on about her grandchildren BUT I am actually going on about painting my granddaughter!

See?

I can’t afford to buy a lot of gifts but I have oodles of art supplies so I make a card instead of buying one whenever there is an important birthday. I think a 1st birthday is significant so here it is, complete with sparkles and sequins.

I have a hard time getting started on a painting and yet once i get going I really enjoy it.

It’s always nice when things work out.

But About Complaining About Stuff:

What I want, and how things are do not always agree. But there are so many things contributing to everyone’s inability to do “their absolute best” all the time, not the least of which is how they are treated by others. Paying attention includes sometimes just calming down, and appreciating that “when all is said and done” isn’t it great that we are alive, and at the same place, at the same time?

I guess that’s why I like babies. They’re like (the best) tourists, happy to be here even if they are occasionally confused or uncomfortable, just enjoying the ride.

I mean, air conditioned buses? Whenever they show up, they are wonderful! I can ride one to a library and use the WiFi, watch a movie or show or do research, even have a nap and escape the heat, with my grandchildren!

See how I did that?

*this is not referring to actually speaking out where to not do so would mean doing harm. 

 

I had a birthday.

Fifty years ago I was given a simple math question, along with the kids in my class, to figure out how old I would be in the year 2000. I was eleven and I had the thought: I’m going to die in fifty years.

Well last year was the year my eleven year old self thought she would die and when I had bronchitis and almost choked on a cough drop alone in my apartment and then most recently had a spontaneous hematoma, I thought, “This IS IT.”

And it wasn’t.

So, considering I still don’t really know what being alive is all about and therefore can’t really know what being dead is about either I will just continue on as I have done.

nanabday

But I will eat more chocolate and maybe enjoy a glass of beer more often.

I am feeling blue

Okay so i finally met a doctor who has seen what i had, once. It is fairly rare and usually happens as a complication of something else like blood thinners or surgery but it can also happen for no apparent reason. It is called a rectus sheath hematoma and you can google it.

I guess i had a #2 cause they told me 2 to 4 months recovery. (14 cm x 7 cm bleed) No bike riding.  Rest and iron pills and maybe cold compresses and Tylenol. Yay summertime is ruined, again.
I will see a surgeon in August to discuss if anything needs to be done, probably not. “The good news in your case is it probably was just bad luck.” So much for those lucky socks i got for xmas.

About Oliver Schroer and Music as Inspiration

I started trying to write a poem previously called “Coasting” after watching a science program that showed the link between mankind’s developmental leaps and areas of great tectonic instability, (what would become lakes and coasts) the whole science of metallurgy literally bubbling out of the ground. The soil was often richer too as a result and so agriculture thrived and then communities formed. Trade and commerce followed as we pursed the ingredients needed to make metals and so required the development of new skills, boat building and new ways of living developed.

So the idea of LIFE being a coastline came to mind; Shorelines become places of departure and change but also our homes. Historically venturing out into the unknown was terrifying and exciting, the things of legends and ballads; Fear of Death at the heart of all our stories about the sea.

In Oliver’s own words:

“At the moment we pass through that portal, things rearrange themselves so thoroughly it cannot make any sense to us now. I have the feeling that, at the moment that I slip across, it will make ultimate sense. And I’m not going to look back.”

Listening to Field of Stars everything fell into place.

The greatest departure we can ever make is from life itself. But as we are of the earth, we still see the stars as we once saw the ocean, our next unknown, our next destination. Listening to him play “Field of Stars” I realized this was really what the poem was leading to, and how I would finish it with the tone I had wanted to convey. I never felt it was about the futility of life even though, “eccentric and wild-eyed”  I have cried in frustration at times.

When I read more about Oliver it felt like finding this piece of music was one of those events when a missing piece falls into place.

This is written by someone who saw his last concert:

“The first week I moved to Toronto I went alone to a random benefit concert for Oliver Schroer, a fiddler I had never heard of. He was dying of leukemia and needed money for an experimental treatment. His former students had flown in from the corners of Canada and put together an amazing impromptu show in a desperate effort to save his life. The place was packed.

Oliver was supposed to be at the hospital that night, but he snuck in toward the end of the eve, a frail sallow man in vibrant striped pjs, with a powerful frame, cheerful hands, and hulking Mongolian boots, such a striking visual contradiction. He was in the building for all of 15 minutes attended by a wild interweave of medical equipment and one very concerned-looking doctor, yet he managed to play a single song and see his friends before being rushed back. The doctor insisted that no one touch him. I remember thinking that must be hard.

This piece was played 3 feet in front of me by a man who had dedicated his whole life to music and knew it was likely he would never play another song; yet he had the fortune to play for his most desired and intimate audience. I felt so incredibly lucky to be witness to that. It was undoubtedly one of the most profoundly beautiful experiences of my life.”

He died a few days later.

I bought the album, Camino and learned that the music had been composed during his 1,000 km walk along the Camino de Santiago, an ancient trail between France and Spain. With a portable recording studio, violin, and sleeping bag in his backpack he stopped in the churches to record what you hear.”

Finally, though it seems a bit of a conceit, the poem. But it says something I thought I couldn’t say and now I’m just excited to say it. (Thank you for your indulgence). You can accuse me of defaulting to a sort of religious or spiritual delusion to answer the unknown. My punk youth would argue it is  a cop-out, but my old lady blues would admit she just doesn’t know and that makes room for everything we can imagine.

Beneath a field of Stars
There were the beaches of your youth
where you marked impossible feats in the cool
sand
that you tossed up in cartwheels,
piled up in castles
and burrowed under.
You built and destroyed and built again.
You shone with the dust of eons on your skin.
You
collected tales of seafaring folk,
like polished stones
that you shifted
in your pockets and carried home
Older, you watched the sky for storms.
You got a dog that barked at sea foam.
You never stayed long
then older still,
eccentric and wild-eyed
you climbed to the top of the cliffs,
and you cried:
“I lost everything here. Life was so hard.”
THE COAST with its cliffs jagged and worn
and rivers that spilled and mixed with the brine,
forests old before prophets were born,
all your kin, all your life, all your time,
all those who would have called you back
are gone and you’re
adrift
like a tiny raft lost in the ocean’s sway
alone beneath
a field of stars
a field of stars to light your way.