3 Apr
Posted in: Retreats
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Before and After

One of my friends asked me to take a “selfie” just before I started the 2-month retreat at Spirit Rock, and then another after I’d finished. She said she’d heard of someone who had done this with a whole group of people on retreat and she was curious to see if there’d be any difference. I was curious too, so I did it.

This is the picture I took right after I arrived at Spirit Rock on Jan 28, just before going into the meditation hall to “stake out” my spot in the hall. (The next day, we voluntarily turned our phones into the office for the duration of the retreat.)







This is the picture I took on Mar 24, as I was standing at the door to my dorm, right after we were given our phones back. I’m not sure what this says about meditating. Except that my hair looks better after I’ve been on retreat than after I’ve been on an airplane!

27 Jan
Posted in: Books, Retreats, Travel
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You Already Know

I will not be posting again until after I get back from the 2-month retreat at Spirit Rock. The retreat ends on Mar 25th, but it will take me a while to get my “land legs” back. Check again on April 3.

In the mean time, I leave you (as is my custom) with a selection from my favorite guide book for travelers, Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino.

Cities & Eyes 5

When you have forded the river, when you have crossed the mountain pass, you suddenly find before you the city of Moriana, its alabaster gates transparent in the sunlight, its coral columns supporting pediments encrusted with serpentine, its villas all of glass like aquariums where the shadows of dancing girls with silvery scales swim beneath the medusa-shaped chandeliers.

If this is not your first journey, you already know that cities like this have an obverse: you have only to walk in a semicircle and you will come into view of Moriana’s hidden face, an expanse of rusting sheet metal, sackcloth, planks bristling with spikes, pipes black with soot, piles of tin, blind walls with fading signs, frames of staved-in straw chairs, ropes good only for hanging oneself from a rotten beam.

From one part to the other, the city seems to continue, in perspective, multiplying its repertory of images: but instead it has no thickness, it consists only of a face and an obverse, like a sheet of paper, with a figure on either side, which can neither be separated nor look at each other. 

26 Jan
Posted in: Poems
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Now That The Walls

For today, this poem by Mark Nepo:

Now That I Feel

how little time there is, I’m
falling in love with everything:
the stranger whose name I’ll
never know, and the crow
pecking at the half bagel
she left for him.

Now that the walls I didn’t
know were walls have come

down, I want to care for
everything. And the sun
warming in all directions
without preference is
showing me how.

Today my heart aches,
not because something is
lacking, but because the love
I’ve carried all along is bursting
through all the gates of choice.

25 Jan
Posted in: Retreats
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Lesson Learned

When I sat the 1-month retreat at Spirit Rock last March, I had a little notebook that I kept in my room so I could jot down the talks I wanted to listen to when I got home, or anything else I really wanted to remember from the retreat…and on one of the pages I wrote: NEXT TIME — TAKE THE SWEATER!!!

The weather was a lot colder last year than I had expected (and a LOT wetter) and although I had thought about taking one of my favorite winter wool sweaters, I ended up deciding against it — because it took up a lot of room in my suitcase and I thought surely it would be way too heavy for California in March.


I lusted after that sweater almost every day of the retreat.

So this time, I’m taking the sweater. I’m also taking:

  • An umbrella, a rain jacket with a hood, AND a warm hat
  • Closed shoes (last time all I had were my strappy Keens)
  • Three pairs of wool socks (I only brought one last time and ended up wearing them every day)
  • A sturdy, flat-bottom bag (like for groceries) to carry clean clothes back up the hill from the laundry room (since last time I used my pillowcase and everything got jumbled up — and rained on!)

I’m also taking some warm-weather stuff — a couple of sleeveless tops, an ultra-light sweater, linen pants, and thin socks — because I’ve been to Spirit Rock when it’s been HOT in the spring and, well…things change!

24 Jan
Posted in: Poems
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Given the Illusion

I leave early Saturday morning for my 2-month retreat. I haven’t started the actual packing just yet (first I have to wash everything I own — in case I decide, at the last minute, there’s something I hadn’t thought of that now I can’t live without), but I’m definitely in departure mode.

So for today, I offer:

American Airlines #371
by Billy Collins

Pardon my benevolence,
but given the illusion that my fellow passengers and I
are now on our way to glory,
rising over this kingdom of clouds
(airy citadels! unnamable goings-on within!)
and at well over 500 miles per hour,
which would get you to work in under one second,

I wish to forgive the man next to me
who so annoyed me before the wine started arriving
by turning each page of his newspaper
with a kind of crisp, military snap,
and the same goes for that howling infant,
and for the child in the row begin me
who persisted in hitting that F above high C
that all of her kind know perfectly how to hit
while rhythmically kicking the back of my seat.

Yes, I have softened and been rendered
even grateful by the ministrations of Eva,
uniformed wine bearer in the sky,
and if we are not exactly being conveyed to Paradise,
at least we are vectoring across the continent
to Los Angeles–orange tree in the backyard,
girl on a motorcycle roaring down Venice Boulevard.

And eventually we will begin our final descent
(final descent! I want to shout to Eva)
into the city of a million angels,
where the world might terminate or begin afresh again,
which is how I tend to feel almost every day–

life’s end just around another corner or two,
yet out of the morning window
the thrust of a new blossom from that bush
whose colorful name I can never remember.

23 Jan
Posted in: Social Justice
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It. Was. Awesome!!!!!!










20 Jan
Posted in: Suttas
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“Hatred never ends through hatred.
By non-hate alone does it end.
This is an ancient truth.”

Dhammapada, trans. Gil Fronsdal

19 Jan
Posted in: Retreats
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Getting Ready


I’m getting ready to pack for the 2-month retreat at Spirit Rock. I know I’ll need 2 weeks of underwear — since they only do laundry every other week — and a 60-day supply of face wipes, hand lotion, etc. But I’m not sure how much chocolate I need to plan to bring with me. (I’ll be gone 8 weeks. This is an issue!!!)

18 Jan
Posted in: Poems
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And This Was Called History

(Note: I wasn’t able to post yesterday because I was overcome by a particularly noxious bout of food poisoning. Ah, but now that has passed. Sometimes impermanence is your friend!)

For today, I offer:

The Future
by Billy Collins

When I finally arrive there–
and it will take many days and nights–
I would like to believe others will be waiting
and might even want to know how it was.

So I will reminisce about a particular sky
or a woman in a white bathrobe
or the time I visited a narrow strait
where a famous naval battle had taken place.

Then I will spread out on a table
a large map of my world
and explain to the people of the future
in their pale garments what it was like–

how mountains rose between the valleys
and this was called geography,
how boats loaded with cargo plied the rivers
and this was known as commerce,

how the people from this pink area
crossed over into this light-green area
and set fires and killed whoever they found
and this was called history–

and they will listen, mild-eyed and silent,
as  more of them arrive to join the circle,
like ripples moving toward,
not away from, a stone tossed into a pond.

16 Jan
Posted in: Poems
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Seek an End to Bondage

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — the man and the day — I offer this poem from Appalachian Elegy, by bell hooks:


stained black
Kentucky oak
plank fences
mark boundaries
ghost riders
where the dead live
on the edge of time
slaves worked here
long ago
caressing horse flesh

breathing shared dreams
cared for them
when witnessing
the breaking of yet
another animal spirit
born to be wild and free
a bond forged
whisper to forgotten souls
run run
go as fast as you can
run run
seek an end to bondage


(image: casket of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during funeral procession in King’s hometown of Atlanta, Georgia)