11 Nov
2019
Posted in: Books, Retreats, Travel
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Confess What You Are Smuggling

I leave tomorrow morning for the next Advanced Practitioners Program retreat at Spirit Rock followed by the first Nine Bodies Teacher Training retreat. I return on Thanksgiving Day, so most likely I won’t post again until December.

In my absence, I leave you with this excerpt from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, which is my all-time favorite guidebook for those about to travel:

“…So then, yours is truly a journey through memory!” The Great Khan, his ears always sharp, sat up in his hammock every time he caught a sigh in Marco’s speech. “It was to slough off a burden of nostalgia that you went so far away!” he exclaimed, or else: “You return from your voyages with a cargo of regrets!” And he added, sarcastically: “Meager purchases, to tell the truth, for a merchant of the Serenissima!”

This was the target of all Kublai’s questions about the past and the future. For an hour he had been toying with it, like a cat with a mouse, and finally he had Marco with his back to the wall, attacking him, putting a knee on his chest, seizing him by the beard: “This is what I wanted to hear from you: you confess what you are smuggling: moods, stages of grace, elegies!”

These words and actions were perhaps only imagined, as the two, silent and motionless, watched the smoke rise slowly from their pipes. The cloud dissolved at times in a wisp of wind, or else remained suspended in mid-air; and the answer was in that cloud. As the puff carried the smoke away, Marco thought of the mists that clouded the expanse of the sea and the mountain ranges and, when dispelled, leave the air dry and diaphanous, revealing distant cities. It was beyond that screen of fickle humors that his gaze wished to arrive: the form of things can be discerned better at a distance.

Or else the cloud hovered, having barely left the lips, dense and slow, and suggested another vision: the exhalations that hang over the roofs of the metropolises, the opaque smoke that is scattered, the hood of miasmata that weights over the bituminous streets. Not the labile mists of memory nor the the dry transparence, but the charring of burned lives that forms a scab on the city, the sponge swollen with vital matter that no longer floats, the jam of past, present, future that blocks existences calcified in the illusion of movement: this is what you would find at the end of your journey.

7 Nov
2019
Posted in: Poems
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Why Not Become the One

With That Moon Language
by Hafiz (translation by Daniel Ladinsky)

Admit something:

Everyone you see, you say to them,
“Love me.”

Of course you do not do this out loud;
Otherwise, someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this,
This great pull in us
To connect.
Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying,
With that sweet moon language,
What every other eye in this world
Is dying to hear?

6 Nov
2019
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No, They Whisper

The Moment
by Margaret Atwood

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way around.

5 Nov
2019
Posted in: Chanting, Practice, Retreats
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Aware, I Stand and Vow….

At the close of most retreats in the Western Insight tradition, the group recites the Five Lay Precepts, which in English are usually translated as:

  • I undertake the training precept to refrain from killing.
  • I undertake the training precept to refrain from taking that which is not freely given.
  • I undertake the training precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
  • I undertake the training precept to refrain from false speech.
  • I undertake the training precept to refrain from intoxicants that cause heedlessness.

At the retreat I just attended at Spirit Rock, we closed with a more contemporary and expansive version of these precepts (first developed for use at Manzanita Village):

  • Aware of the violence in the world and of the power of non-violent resistance, I stand in the presence of the ancestors, the earth, and future generations and vow to cultivate the compassion that seeks to protect each living being.
  • Aware of the poverty and greed in the world and of the intrinsic abundance of the earth, I stand in the presence of the ancestors, the earth, and future generations and vow to cultivate the simplicity, gratitude, and generosity that have no limits.
  • Aware of the abuse and lovelessness in the world and of the healing that is made possible when we open to love, I stand in the presence of the ancestors, the earth, and future generations and vow to cultivate respect for the beauty and erotic power of our bodies.
  • Aware of the falsehood and deception in the world and of the power of living and speaking the truth, I stand in the presence of the ancestors, the earth, and future generations and vow to cultivate the ability to listen and to speak with clarity and integrity in all I communicate — by my words and by my actions.
  • Aware of the contamination and desecration of the world and of my responsibility for life as it manifests through me, I stand in the presence of the ancestors, the earth, and future generations and vow to cultivate discernment and care in what I take into my body and mind.
4 Nov
2019
Posted in: Activism, Books, Racism
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Steps We Can All Take to Eliminate Racial Inequity

I’m meeting today with one of the White Awake discussion groups I’ve been leading and we’ll be talking about How to be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi (which I highly recommend — along with his previous book Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.)

Of his research into the history of racism Kendi writes, “Over time, the source of racist ideas became obvious, but I had trouble acknowledging it. The source did not fit my conception of racism, my racial ideology, my racial identity. I became a college professor to educate away racist ideas, seeing ignorance as the source of racist ideas, seeing racist ideas as the source of racist policies, seeing mental change as the principal solution, seeing myself, an educator, as the primary solver…

“My research kept pointing me to the same answer: The source of racist ideas was not ignorance and hate, but self-interest.

“The history of racist ideas is the history of powerful policymakers erecting racist policies out of self-interest, then producing racist ideas to defend and rationalize the inequitable effects of their policies, while everyday people consume those racist ideas, which in turn sparks ignorance and hate…

“Racist policies,” Kendi writes, “lead to racist ideas, not the other way around, as we have commonly thought. We must eliminate racist policies if we ever hope to eliminate racist ideas.”

To that end, Kendi has founded the Antiracist Research and Policy Center in Washington, D.C., where he envisions bringing together teams of scholars, policy experts, journalists, and advocates to focus on the most critical and seemingly intractable racial inequities.

He writes, “These teams would model some of the steps we can all take to eliminate racial inequity in our spaces:

  • Admit racial inequity is a problem of bad policy, not bad people.
  • Identify racial inequity in all its intersections and manifestations.
  • Investigate and uncover the racist policies causing racial inequity.
  • Invent or find antiracist policy that can eliminate racial inequity.
  • Figure out who or what groups has the power to institute antiracist policy.
  • Disseminate and educate about the uncovered racist policy and antiracist policy correctives.
  • Work with sympathetic antiracist policymakers to institute the antiracist policy.
  • Deploy antiracist power to compel or drive from power the unsympathetic racist policymakers in order to institute the antiracist policy.
  • Monitor closely to ensure the antiracist policy reduces and eliminates racial inequity.
  • When policies fail, do not blame the people. Start over and seek out new and more effective antiracist treatments until they work.
  • Monitor closely to prevent new racist policies from being instituted.
15 Oct
2019
Posted in: Poems
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Then, You Must Do This:

Note: I will be away on retreat Oct 17-30. In the mean time, I leave you with this:

For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering in its Human Feet
by Joy Harjo

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing, it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds, and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, intestates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand, or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plants.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in the corners and creases of shame, judgement, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.
Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.

14 Oct
2019
Posted in: Practice, Retreats
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Turning Toward Mystery

I leave on Thursday morning to attend the Fall Retreat at Spirit Rock, taught by Phillip Moffitt and others — including Tuere Sala, who just led a weekend retreat last month here in St. Louis!

The retreat at Spirit Rock will be a standard Insight Meditation retreat, but I’ll be working with Phillip on the Nine Bodies practice during this time because lately I’ve been feeling a strong interest in turning toward the fundamental mysteries of being alive, one of which is: What is consciousness? And: Where does it come from? What is its significance?

This all started while I was attending the Nature of Awareness retreat back in 2015. I didn’t know quite what to do about it then, but now that I’ve been practicing with the Nine Bodies material for a while, I’m starting to feel like I have a way forward.

Here’s a excerpt from Phillip’s book Awakening through the Nine Bodies: Explorations in Consciousness for Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga Practitioners:

“All-pervading pure awareness….is indescribable, not based on thinking or concepts; it can only be realized by practice. Yet words are necessary to point out the existence of this level of mind.

“For instance, in Tibetan Dzogchen practice, this pure awareness is called rigpa and is described as having three aspects: its essence is emptiness, its nature is radiance or luminosity, and its manifestation is responsiveness. In the Yogacara school in India, pure awareness is called Buddha nature and has three aspects that are inseparable: emptiness, radiance, and responsiveness… In the Pali texts of Theravada Buddhism this pure awareness has been referred to as the unborn, uncreated, and un-manifest.

“Of course there are large metaphysical differences in how these traditions interpret and understand this mystery of pure awareness. Even within each tradition there are disputes as to what is attained. However, there is general agreement that some fundamental change occurs that is markedly different from what characterizes the ordinary mind. In the Heart Sutra in the Tibetan tradition, this awakening is referred to in the following mantra:

Gate, gate,
paragata,
parasamgate,
bodhi svaha.

Gone, gone,
gone beyond,
unfathomably further than gone beyond,
into awakened mind, ah.”

13 Oct
2019
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And She Said…

Mimesis
Fady Joudah

My daughter
wouldn’t hurt a spider
That had nested
Between her bicycle handles
For two weeks
She waited
Until it left of its own accord

If you tear down the web I said
It will simply know
This isn’t a place to call home
And you’d get to go biking

She said that’s how others
Become refugees isn’t it?

10 Oct
2019
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Don’t You Wish They Would Stop

Thinking
by Danusha Laméris

Don’t you wish they would stop, all the thoughts
swirling around in your head, bees in a hive, dancers
tapping their way across the stage? I should rake the leaves
in the carport, buy Christmas lights. Was there really life on Mars?
What will I cook for dinner? I walk up the driveway,
put out the garbage bins. I should stop using plastic bags,
visit my friend whose husband just left her for the Swedish nanny.
I wish I hadn’t said Patrick’s painting looked “ominous.”
Maybe that’s why he hasn’t called. Does the car need oil again?
There’s a hole in the ozone the size of Texas and everything
seems to be speeding up. Come, let’s stand by the window
and look out at the light on the field. Let’s watch how the clouds
cover the sun and almost nothing stirs in the grass.

9 Oct
2019
Posted in: Books
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Humility toward the Mysteries

In the journal I’ve been keeping as part of my “Getting to Know Goodwill” practice this year, I’ve taken to copying down — every night, in longhand — an excerpt from Dancing with Life that has resonated with me for some time now and has recently started to take on a deeper significance.

Here’s what Phillip wrote:
You do not have to choose the path of mindfulness. You can decide to distract yourself with pleasure or ego fulfillment, or to fixate your attention on a problem, or a worthy goal, or an enemy. I used to disdain such choices because I thought they were forms of denial and avoidance, but I no longer feel that way. I was being judgmental, thinking I knew what was best for other people and wanting them to be something other than they were. Such an attitude on my part was neither productive nor kind, and lacked humility, which is the most appropriate attitude toward the mysteries of this life.

There is something about investigating my attitude toward the mysteries of life that is calling to me right now. I’m not quite ready to say more than that. But stay tuned.