13 Jan
Posted in: Social Justice
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Call Every Day

On Tuesday, I posted an excerpt from Jack Kornfield’s article Now is the Time to Stand Up, and I really felt like he was talking to me when he said not to worry if the Right Action is not yet clear to you. (Because it hasn’t been clear to me and I have been worrying.)

Then on Wednesday, I had lunch with a sangha friend (thanks, Akiko), who mentioned that she tries to make a call — every day — to a legislator.

And then today my CDL Buddy (thanks, Carolyn) said the same thing — she also calls every day, to a different office, always between 9:00 and 9:30 am — and then I thought: THIS IS SOMETHING THAT I CAN DO.

So between now and the day I leave for retreat, I will call a legislator — every day — and take a stand. I used to call occasionally, back when George W first got elected, but it didn’t feel like it was very useful, so I stopped.

But then I read this article in the New York Times: Here’s Why You Should Call, Not Email, Your Legislator. It says:

Ms. Waite, who volunteers for liberal causes and who created a widely shared document last week to teach others her methods, figures that a phone ringing off the hook is more difficult for a lawmaker to ignore than a flooded inbox.

“Activists of all political stripes recommend calling legislators, not just emailing — and certainly not just venting on social media. Several lawmakers, along with those who work for them, said in interviews that Ms. Waite is right: A phone call from a constituent can, indeed, hold more weight than an email, and far outweighs a Facebook post or a tweet.”

OK. So until another Right Action becomes clear to me, I am going to make daily calls. Ms. Waite says to call Party Leadership as well as your own representatives. (She’s also got sample scripts posted for key issues. Click here.)

Jack’s right. The time is now. Want to join me? If you live in St. Louis, here’s who to call:

Sen. Roy Blunt’s office in St. Louis/Clayton is: 314-725-4484
Sen. Claire McCaskill’s office in St. Louis is: 314-367-1364
Rep. Lacy Clay’s office in St. Louis is: 314-367-1970
Rep. Paul Ryan’s office in Washington, DC is: 202-225-3031
Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office in Washington, DC is: 202-225-4965
Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office in Washington, DC is: 202-224-2541
Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office in Washington, DC is: 202-224-6542

12 Jan
Posted in: Books
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Can’t Put It Down

Last week I posted that I was starting to read Oxherding Tale by Charles Johnson. I had been reluctant to read it at first because as much as I was impressed and inspired by Johnson when he came to the CDL training retreat last fall, I wasn’t sure that I was really up for reading a “slave narrative,” no matter how intriguing the premise:

“One night in the antebellum South, a slave owner and his African-American butler stay up to all hours until, too drunk to face their wives, they switch places in each other’s beds. The result is a hilarious imbroglio and an offspring — Andrew Hawkins, whose life becomes Oxherding Tale.

Through sexual escapades, picaresque adventures, and philosophical inquiry, Hawkins navigates white and black worlds and comments wryly on human nature along the way. Told with pure genius, Oxherding Tale is a deliciously funny, bitterly ironic account of slavery, racism, and the human spirit; and it reveals the author as a great talent with even greater humanity.”

Anyway, I went ahead and started to read…and now I can’t put it down!

This is not “just” a slave narrative. As I posted earlier, it’s also based on the Zen Oxherding Pictures, which are a metaphor for the search for enlightenment, liberation — FREEDOM (thus, the “slave” narrative!)

I am loving this book. And I would love to discuss it with dharma practitioners.

I leave for a 2-month retreat on Jan 28, returning Mar 25. When I get  back, I’m going to pick a night for anyone who’s read the book to come to my house to discuss it. It’ll be in April. If you’re interested….read the book! (And send me an email here, if you want me to notify you of the date.)

10 Jan
Posted in: Social Justice
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We Don’t Stand Alone


I just want to say how proud I am of the teachers at Spirit Rock, who are standing up for what matters:

Amidst the political and social challenges of our times and in light of our commitment to liberation, Spirit Rock declares itself to be a spiritual sanctuary and a refuge for all. (Read the full Statement of Values here.)

It’s time for us all to stand up too.

We will not be alone. As founder Jack Kornfield writes in Practicing the Dharma in Times of Uncertainty, Part 2:

Whatever your political perspective, now is the season to stand up for what matters….

It is time to collectively stand up, calm and clear. With peacefulness and mutual respect, our Buddhist communities can become centers of protection and vision. Protection can take many forms. Protection can be providing sanctuary for those in danger. Protection can be skillfully confronting those whose actions would harm the vulnerable among us. Protection can be standing up for the environment. Protection can be becoming an active ally for those targeted by hate and prejudice….

Do not worry if the Right Action is not yet clear to you.

Wait in the unknowing with mindfulness and a clear heart.

Soon the right time will come and you will know to stand up.

I will meet you there.
Love in the Dharma,

(Read Jack’s full text here.)

6 Jan
Posted in: Poems
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Put Out A Sign

An Open Hand
by Mark Nepo

The mind is not a storeroom
with mirrors where we retreat
to convince ourselves
that we exist.

The mind is a livingroom with
windows and more than one chair,
so friends can come and look out
and discuss what they see.

Not a fortress where we frisk and
strip others of what they believe
in order to share our secrets.

More a porch with birdfeeders
and coffee or tea where before
hello, you have to share a story.

Pull the curtains! Open the
windows! Brew the coffee!
Put out a sign: Other Views

5 Jan
Posted in: Talks
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One Millimeter

There is something that Ajahn Sucitto said in one of his talks — the one called Waves and Fields: No Self — that keeps coming back to me, calling to me, whispering to me….like a little bell ringing…or maybe it’s more like a flash of light I can just barely glimpse out of the corner of my eye. It wasn’t that he said it like it was anything big. It was just sort of an aside, towards the end of the talk, in the midst of a larger point he was making about the self and practice in relationship. But it grabbed me. And it hasn’t let go.

He said:

It doesn’t matter who you are — who you sense yourself as being. Who you sense yourself as being is like — one movement  — away from freedom. The ice is one millimeter thick. You could skate across that forever. Or, you could just pause…and drop through.


I heard that and something inside me stopped, sat up and took notice. Listen for yourself. Click here. (It’s at about the 40 minute mark of the talk.)

4 Jan
Posted in: Poems
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Carry Nothing on Your Back

from Appalachian Elegy
by bell hooks


bring Buddha
to rest home
in Kentucky hills
that outside each window
a light may shine
not a guilt teaching tradition

be balanced
know loving kindness
end suffering
rejoice in the oneness of life
then let go
carry nothing on your back
travel empty
as you climb steep mountain paths

3 Jan
Posted in: Books
By    1 Comment

What I’m Reading Next

Last night at our KM Dharma Book Group, we started talking about what we’d like to read next. One of the titles I mentioned is Oxherding Tale, by Charles Johnson, which is (as he describes in the introduction) “a slave narrative that in its progress parallels the Ten Oxherding Pictures depicting a young man who believes he has lost his ox (a Chinese symbol for the self), searches for and finds it, then–in the final, startling panels–the ox (self) disappears, leaving only the young man who returns to the village ‘with bliss-bestowing hands.'”


The book begins begins like this:
Long ago my father and I were servants at Cripplegate, a cotton plantation in South Carolina. That distant place, the world of my childhood, is ruin now, mere parable, but what history I have begins there in an unrecorded accident before the Civil War, late one evening when my father, George Hawkins, still worked in the Big House, watched over his owner’s interests, and often drank with his Master–that was Jonathan Polkinghorne–on the front porch after a heavy meal. It was a warm night. An autumn night of fine-spun moonlight blurred first by Madeira, then home-brewed beer as they played Rummy, their feet propped on the knife-whittled porch rail, the dark two-story house behind them, creaking sometimes in the wind. My father had finished his chores early, for he was (he says) the best butler in the country, and took great pride in his position, but he wasn’t eager to go home. He stayed clear of his cabin when my stepmother played host for the Ladies Prayer Circle. They were strange, George thought. Those women were harmless enough by themselves, when sewing or cleaning, but together their collective prayers has a mysterious power that filled his whitewashed cabin with presences–Shades, he called them, because they moved furniture in the cabin, destroyed the laws of physics, which George swore by, and drove him outside to sleep in the shed. (Not that my father knew a whole lot about physics, being a slave, but George knew sorcery when he saw it, and he kept his distance.)


I’m not sure this is the right book for the KM group. But I’m going for it!

2 Jan
Posted in: Practice
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Dear Self


I’ve just finished writing a letter to myself, to be opened next January 1st. It’s a ritual I’ve been doing every New Year since 1977. That’s 40 years of me writing to myself, the self I imagine will be interested in reading what the current self — which immediately becomes another past self — is interested in saying. Which is kind of touching, in a way, on the part of the past self, to want to be heard from in the future. And kind of sweet, too, on the part of the current self, to be open and listening.

Isn’t that always what’s needed?

May we all listen — to ourselves and to each other — with care and attention. And may we all be heard.

Wouldn’t that be a Happy New Year!

29 Dec
Posted in: Poems
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When the Plain World Comes

Tomorrow is my birthday. In anticipation of which, my attention turns to:

The Other Earth
by Jane Hirshfield

At first we embrace trees.
Lie with the swan, the bull, become stars.

Blackbirds form bridges across the sky:
we pass, lightly placing our feet.
The god enters our rooms in a shower of gold.
Into the intricate maze a white thread,
a woman, a fish come to guide our way out.

Docile as horses, we go.

When the plain world comes,
with its explanations
smooth and cool as a marble statue’s skin,
we go, rising out of the dark.
Being careless and proud, we look back
towards the other earth:
how it wavers and goes out,
like a girl with an errand to do in another room.

28 Dec
Posted in: Talks
By    Comments Off on I Bring to Mind and Invoke

I Bring to Mind and Invoke

Another one of Ajahn Sucitto’s talks that’s having a big impact on me is the one from the last night of the retreat, titled: Establishing the Templein which he talks about the importance of making a space that can help create a “field of practice.” By which he means establishing a “theme” in the mind — a certain boundary of attention (non-harming, for example) — so that whatever arises in awareness, one can bring it into this field.

He talks about the use of ritual to “potentize” this field of practice, to solemnize it, to give a little more weight to it…to embed it more fully by expressing it as an outward form. One of these rituals is the practice of paying homage to the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha:

“I bring to mind and invoke the Buddha, the awakened one, the one truly awakened by himself…through the courage to go out on his own, through the resilience and the resolve to keep practicing — no matter what — and through his penetration to the truth. I wish to bring Buddha to mind in this respect. I wish to bring, invoke the Buddha as the one who, moved by compassion, spent his entire waking life teaching, instructing, encouraging others for their welfare. I wish to bring to mind and invoke the Buddha as someone who had the gifts to be able to express this subtle and profound teaching in worlds that we can still make use of. And so bringing the Buddha to mind, I also acknowledge my ability to bear such a thing in mind, and to receive blessings of the Buddha.  

“I wish to bring to mind and invoke the Dhamma, the truth of the way things really are, revealed by a Buddha — taught in words, modeled in deeds, exemplified, penetrated by view. Dhamma that is immediate, accessible, inviting me inwards and encouraging me to reveal through my own efforts, through my own wisdom. I wish to bring to mind and invoke the Dhamma, which produces harmony, welfare, and liberation. I wish to bring to mind and invoke the Dhamma, which is persisting to this day and taught to this day, and which I aspire to realize for myself.

“I wish to bring to mind and invoke the Sangha, those who have practiced well, those who have practiced directly, those who have practiced with insight, those who have practiced with integrity through thousands of years — many different personalities, many different characteristics — who have struggled and worked and followed the pathway of the Buddha. And who are still present in this day and age. I wish to bring to mind and invoke any members of that extended community of practitioners who I know, who I read about, who act as models for my behavior. I wish to bring to mind and invoke Sangha so that I may also see myself as part of that community of followers.  

(He says this so beautifully, it feels like a blessing.)

He also talks about the practice of making an offering to this field. “By my act of offering, I’m entering into, contributing, participating in this field that we can all bear in mind.” He talks about the symbolism of these ritual offerings and the qualities they represent: Flowers for integrity/virtue/sila; Candles for discernment/clarity/seeing; Water for kindness/compassion; and Incense for samadhi.


His words are lovely. But what touches me the most is the unmistakeable depth of feeling they express. Reading doesn’t do it justice. Listen to him here.