19 Feb
Posted in: Poems
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Just Opening.

Frequent readers of this blog will not be surprised that I was delighted when the first dharma talk I heard upon arriving at the Forest Refuge featured part of a poem by Mark Nepo. But it may surprise you as much as it did me that the poem was one I had not heard before.

Maybe that’s why it stayed with me pretty much the whole time I was there. I found myself focusing on one line, each day. Not thinking about it. Just saying it (silently) thought the day. I hadn’t intended to do it. It just happened. And right away it became clear to me that these were practice instructions!

Sacred Tremor (excerpt)
by Mark Nepo

Having loved enough and lost enough,
I am no longer searching
just opening.

No longer trying to make sense of pain
but being a soft and sturdy home
in which real things can land.

These are the irritations
that rub into a pearl.

So we can talk awhile,
but then we must listen
the way rocks listen to the sea.

And we can churn at all the things gone wrong
but then we must lay all distraction
down and water very living seed.

16 Feb
Posted in: Retreats
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Happy New Year!

I was on retreat at the Forest Refuge on New Year’s Day, where (much to my disappointment) there was no acknowledgement that we had passed from 2017 to 2018. I hadn’t expected champagne, but I had thought that there might be some special chanting ceremony, or blessing, or at least that someone would ring the big bells outside the dining hall at midnight. (Maybe 108 times, like they do at the New Year’s Retreats I’ve attended at Spirit Rock.)

Oh well.

Today is the Lunar New Year, celebrated in China with the greeting: Gong Xi Fa Cai! Which I understand translates as: May you be Fortunate and Prosperous!

That will do.

May it be so!

15 Feb
Posted in: Poems
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Maybe We’re Necessary to Each Other

Finally all of the web files have been moved to the new server, so both Dharma Town and I are back up and running!

I’ve missed these postings. I hope you have too. Which brings to mind this poem:

A Music
by Wendell Berry

I employ the blind mandolin player
in the tunnel of the Metro. I pay him
a coin as hard as his notes,
and maybe he has employed me, and pays me
with his playing to hear him play.

Maybe we’re necessary to each other,
and this vacant place has need of us both
— it’s vacant, I mean, of dwellers,
is populated by passages and absences.

By some fate or knack he has chosen
to play his music in this cavity
where there’s nothing to look at
and blindness costs him nothing.
Nothing was here before he came.

His music goes out among the sounds
of footsteps passing. The tunnel is the resonance
and meaning of what he plays.
It’s his music, not the place, I go by.

In this light, which is just a fact, like darkness
or the edge or end of what you may be
going toward, he turns his cap up on his knees
and leaves it there to ask and wait, and holds up
his mandolin, the lantern of his world;

his fingers make their pattern on the wires.
This is not the pursuing rhythm
of a blind cane pecking in the sun,
but a singing in a dark place.

5 Feb
Posted in: Practice
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A Wild Human Ride

Dear Faithful Readers:

I’m back from retreat — which was totally excellent, although pretty wild a lot of the time — and I hope you’ve been looking forward to reading all about it. But my web hosting contract is now up for renewal and since Go Daddy has upgraded their server, they need to do a bunch of stuff to move it over to the new one….which means we’re all going to have to wait another week or so before I can start posting again.

So. A great opportunity to practice patience!

In the mean time, I leave you with this quote from Jack Kornfield’s New Years e-letter, which I have just now gotten a chance to read:

We are consciousness itself — loving awareness — born into this body and having a wild human ride.

26 Dec
Posted in: Books
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I Find Myself, Again, Always….

One more passage from Calvino’s Invisible Cities, before I enter the silence tomorrow at the Forest Refuge:

Kublai: I do not know when you have had time to visit all the countries you describe to me. It seems to me you have never moved from this garden.

Polo: Everything I see and do assumes meaning in a mental space where the same calm reigns as here, the same penumbra, the same silence streaked by the rustling of leaves. At the moment when I concentrate and reflect, I find myself again, always, in this garden, at this hour of the evening, in your august presence, though I continue, without a moment’s pause, moving up a river green with crocodiles or counting the barrels of salted fish being lowered into the hold.

Kublai: I, too, am not sure I am here, strolling among the porphyry fountains, listening to the splashing echo, and not riding, caked with sweat and blood, at the head of my army, conquering the lands you will have to describe, or cutting off the fingers of the attackers scaling the walls of a besieged fortress.

Polo: Perhaps this garden exists only in the shadow of our lowered eyelids, and we have never stopped: you, from raising dust on the fields of battle; and I, from bargaining for sacks of pepper in distant bazaars. But each time we half-close our eyes, in the midst of the din and the throng, we are allowed to withdraw here, dressed in silk kimonos, to ponder what we are seeing and living, to draw conclusions, to contemplate from the distance.

Kublai: Perhaps this dialogue of ours is taking place between two beggars nicknamed Kublai Khan and Marco Polo; as they sift through a rubbish heap, piling up rusted flotsam, scraps of cloth, wastepaper, while drunk on the few sips of bad wine, they see all the treasure of the East shine around them.

Polo: Perhaps all that is left of the world is a wasteland covered with rubbish heaps, and the hanging gardens of the Great Khan’s palace. It is our eyelids that separate them, but we cannot know which is inside and which is outside.


Friends: I will return from retreat on January 31 and hope to post again during the first week of February.

Till then, may you all be safe, healthy, and happy!

22 Dec
Posted in: Books
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Till the Period of Sojourn is Over

Note: This will be my last post until I return from 5 weeks of silent retreat at the Forest Refuge in Barre, Mass.

To accompany you as you embark on your own expedition into 2018, I offer this passage from Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino:

Thin Cities  4

The city of Sophronia is made up of two half-cities. In one there is the great roller coaster with its steep humps, the carousel with its chain spokes, the Ferris wheel of spinning cages, the death-ride with crouching motorcyclists, the big top with the clump of trapezes hanging in the middle. The other half-city is of stone and marble and cement, with the bank, the factories, the palaces, the slaughterhouse, the school, and all the rest. 

One of the half-cities is permanent, the other temporary, and when the period of sojourn is over, they uproot it, dismantle it, and take it off, transplanting it to the vacant lots of another half-city.

And so every year the day comes when the workmen remove the marble pediments, lower the stone walls, the cement pylons, take down the Ministry, the monument, the docks, the petroleum refinery, the hospital, load them on trailers, to follow from stand to stand their annual itinerary. 

Here remains the half-Sophronia of the shooting-galleries and the carousels, the shout suspended from the cart of the headlong roller coaster, and it beings to count the months, the days it must wait before the caravan returns and a complete life can begin again.  

21 Dec
Posted in: Poems
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Through This to That

blessing the boats
by Lucille Clifton

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

20 Dec
Posted in: Poems
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To Live in This World

In Blackwater Woods
by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.


(for my sister whose beloved dog — Max — has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer) 

19 Dec
Posted in: Books
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Benefit and Happiness

Last night our Book Discussion of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s In the Buddha’s Words focused on chapter IV, which features teachings related to “The Happiness Visible in This Present Life.”

What really caught my attention was this excerpt from the Kutadanta Sutta (one of the teachings of the Buddha):

“…when King Mahavijit was reflecting in private, the thought came to him: ‘I have acquired extensive wealth in human terms, I occupy a wide extent of land which I have conquered. Let me now make a great sacrifice that would be to my benefit and happiness for a long time.’ And calling his chaplain, he told him his thought. ‘I want to make a great sacrifice. Instruct me, venerable sir, how this may be to my lasting benefit and happiness.’

“The chaplain replied: ‘Your Majesty’s country is beset by thieves. It is ravaged; villages and towns are being destroyed; the countryside is infested with brigands. If Your Majesty were to tax this region, that would be the wrong thing to do. Suppose Your Majesty were to think: ‘I will get rid of this plague of robbers by executions and imprisonment, or by confiscation, threats, and banishment,’ the plague would not be properly ended. Those who survived would later harm Your Majesty’s realm.

“‘However, with this plan you can completely eliminate the plague. To those in the kingdom who are engaged in cultivating crops and raising cattle, let Your Majesty distribute grain and fodder; to those in trade, give them capital; to those in government service assigned proper living wages. Then those people, being intent on their own occupations, will not harm the kingdom. Your Majesty’s revenues will be great; the land will be tranquil and not beset by thieves; and the people, with joy in their hearts, playing with their children, will dwell in open houses.

“And saying: ‘So be it!,’ the king accepted the chaplain’s advice: he gave grain and fodder to those engaged in cultivating crops and raising cattle, capital to those in trade, proper living wages to those in government service. Then those people, being intent on their own occupations, did not harm the kingdom. The king’s revenues became great; the land was tranquil and not beset by thieves; and the people, with joy in their hearts, playing with their children, dwelled in open houses.”


Dear Congress: please take note!

18 Dec
Posted in: Poems
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Everyone’s and No One’s

The Work of Presence
by Mark Nepo

When “I can’t”
breaks down
into “Tell me who I am,”

When “I have no choice”
into “How can I help,”

When the tongue stuck in no
tires into yes,

the weight of everything
will explode into surprise,

and the pain of our knowing
will birth a love of strangers,
and the tools of tomorrow
will form safely
in the hearts
of our day.

When all we can do is freed
from all that has been done,
a presence that is everyone’s
and no one’s will keep
the inner time alive
the way the hearts
of young animals
beating while asleep
keep all the stars
in place.