Listen

Listen  
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you ....  
—W.S. Merwin 1927
https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/thanks
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Writing Group
November 29
Thanks by W.S. Merwin
Sarah brought the prompt

Bhakti—devotion.
Bro. Stendl-Rast says,
“If thank you is the only prayer we ever say
it will be sufficient.”

Thank you.
“Listen.”
Here is the key,
“Listen.”
Centering Prayer—
the prayer of silence—
teaches me to listen
and the world
of trees, and birds, and fountains,
small kitten-size fountains,
sunrises and sunsets,
glows and shimmers with new light
after the silence of listening.
Thank you.

Other things, too,
come sharply into focus
with listening.
Swastikas on churches,
churches burning,
violence done—victims blamed.
To say thank you
is not so easy as
thank you to small, kitten-size fountains.

To say thank you
is Bhakti—devotion.
Is it also Karma—service?
And is it Jana—knowledge?
Re-incarnation—to be made flesh again—
would be thank you
in this system
and the spiral would
come round again.
A single incarnation is perhaps not enough
to encompass so vast a response
as Thank you.

—Janelle Curlin-Taylor

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Thanks.

WS Merwin begins the poem which is our prompt tonight, with the word

'Listen'

on a single line.

...but I'm all thanked out, so I guess I can talk about anything else.

Oh, just before arriving here, I went to Wheatsville to buy coffee beans, and ate half of a rosemary & salt bagel with some Gouda cheese. And you can probably smell the aroma of French Roast wafting out of my orange colored daypack. If that bothers anyone here, let me know and I will go shopping after Zen Writing in the future.

While walking into Wheatsville I met a fellow gardener from Sunshine Community Gardens where we both have plots.  She said she had been looking for me. Seems her eggplant plants have more produce than they can eat, and she invited me to  pick all I can use.

Thank you Marianne & John.

In my 'checkin' before we started writing tonight I mentioned making crockpot beans and having the electricity turned off by Austin Electric to allow the Asplundh crew to safely clear some tree limbs from the wires on the next block.

My building was not notified, but that's another story.

The power went off promptly at 9 AM. The Pinto beans had been going on high since about 7:30 or 8:00 AM.  I had just added the sautéed onions, garlic and green bell peppers from the frying pan when the lights went off and so did the crockpot.

During the power outage I rode my bike to the HEB grocery store at 41st Street and Red River, even though the HEB at Burnet Road and Koenig Lane is closer. I had to use up some time before the 1 PM scheduled power outage was over.

The terrain to 41st Street is mostly flat with some gentle slopes, whereas the route to Burnet/Koenig is up, down, up, then going back it is down, up, down. Added to that route are 2 four-lane road crossings, always difficult for pedestrians and cyclist.

I'm always thankful when I get across a busy avenue either on foot or bike. The four lane roads are more dangerous even at intersections with traffic lights because of vehicles making turns.

Those beans turned out real nice.... eventually.

==========

Stomach full

Mind dull

Second guessing every thought

Better to Listen on empty.

—Dave Royal

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Do we just say thank you for the good things that have been happening? Are there even “good” things, or is everything a mixed bag? Does everything glitter just a little? Are we being over dramatic when we say “this is bad”?

It was so cold we invented the furnace. Someone's kids moved far away, so the telephone was invented. Is it not worth saying "thank you" for anything?

Buddha was continually harassed by Mara, who tried to take him off the path. Some say Mara was evil and even the devil. I think we should say “thank you” to Mara, who so skillfully kept Buddha on the path by challenging him over and over again. How steadfast would Buddha have been without Mara? Would his journey be worthwhile if it wasn’t met with challenges?

On a beautiful day, my wife had to walk to pick up the kids because her car didn't start. “This isn't how I wanted to spend my day,” she said. Thank you. David's electricity was turned off. Thank you. His life became a little more surprising. Thank you.

I bought really good five cheese for my four year old. He didn't say "thank you", nor would he eat it. So I bought kid’s mac and cheese tonight. “Take the cheese off,” he said. “Thank you for four-year-olds,” I thought.

Gomer Pyle said “Thank you thank you thank you.” (Or was it, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!"?). He pretended, at least, to be really appreciative.

It seems so easy to bemoan that the world isn't as we'd like it to be. But if it was, it would be boorrriinnng. So thank you for that. I'll wake up tomorrow morning and say "thank you"... because I don't know what the world will serve me for breakfast. Just like when I sit zazen. What will come into my little noodle? Or when I open my mail. What will I see? Will someone scold me because I was a little too this or that? Will someone tell me that I won the lottery? Will faux Microsoft Bodhisattvas call me to tell me that they will fix the virus on my computer? Will all my machines work right? My gadgets? Thank you (I hope they don’t… they’ll have time to rest).

I love surprises. I like when the car doesn't start. I love when I'm at Home Depot and told that I should come right home. I love when I try to go home, and the road is closed. Thank you for making this life so unpredictable and so exciting.

What will happen next? Will I say "thank you"? When my four-year-old says thank you he doesn't look up. So I say to him, “Charlie,” and then he remembers and looks up, and says once more, this time with a smile, “Thank you!!!!!!”

Kim Mosley

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In Face of Dark
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is —W.S. Merwin
Figures are fading from us
into the trees, high-branched and dark.

We reach for them, for the hands that clasp back,
the fur and claw that surprise our clutching fingers.
We know these things we love may go—
the wind may blow them from us,
trail them in smoke from us
as this world passes, as it spills
its wrong and its beauty like coin.

We turn toward the dark
that has risen from the sea below us,
the fingers of fog that run up the notches of the rivers,
and we bow and we say, welcome.
You have come to show us a new way
terrible in its newness, terrible in its beauty.

We do not know what lies in this dark.
We do not know if any way can be walked through such a dark,
such a fog blind and cold and reaching for us,
but still we turn to it and bow.

==========

When the Cup

When the cup has fallen,
we do not lap the water from the sand.
It has gone and our hopes with it.
We set it upright for rain to fill,
a drink for some other traveler.
Come now, we will climb the rocks together,
follow the line where feet have worn away the lichen.
We will trust that scuffed line.
We will trust there is water ahead in some crevice.
We will trust there is a way.

Sarah Webb

Zen in the Martial Arts

Writing Prompt Nov. 22, 2016 
The legendary Zen master Takuan Sōhō said: 
“The mind must always be in the state of ‘flowing,’ for when it stops anywhere that means the flow is interrupted and it is this interruption that is injurious to the well-being of the mind. In the case of the swordsman, it means death. 
When the swordsman stands against his opponent, he is not to think of the opponent, nor of himself, nor of his enemy’s sword movements. He just stands there with his sword, which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The man has effaced himself as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man’s subconscious that strikes.”

or in a single line: 
"When you seek it, you cannot find it" 
after reading Joe Hyams’ Zen in the Martial Arts
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Escaping Bandits

Let's say you are running from bandits
and you know, you know to run zigzag and random
but your random isn't random enough
and the shots are stinging closer.
The plan you had to make the juniper to the right
is forestalled by a hail of bullets.
What will you do?

That's when you tumble into the river,
down the clay bank with a splash.
You knew the river was there, you knew.
You'd planned on it, you'd planned to go into the chaparral,
then across the river and into the brush on the other side
and up the draw into the hills.
But now you have tumbled into the river
and it is carrying you faster than you could swim
but not across—down and under and around,
big boulders lurching toward you.
The bandits race along the bank.
Sometimes they see a head bob, bob up
and suck under and swirl away.
Their guns peck peck across the top of the water.

And now what?
That river is taking you fast and far and you have to let it
but you do your doggy paddle and you plan, you plan again
for the soft yellow of a beach you know lies ahead
and the brush that reaches to its edge.

Huh! bandits know how people think.
They are waiting at that curve of sand, their guns aimed.
The perfect place to land, they think, to crawl into the shallows
and we will get him then.
But that's not what the river has in mind.
It ducks you under, crashes you against a boulder,
and, dizzy, you have to let yourself go into the current

right on past that bank where the mass of horses wait.
You do not even know you are going past
because you are floundering deep under the green water,
fighting for breath, and when you come up—
ah, you are far beyond that beach
into territory you do not know, places you cannot plan,
a route that leads you away from bandits, away from the life you knew.
You are free to go upon your way.

“I Want to be a Better Person.” “Really?”

The Pit of Someday Must

The oil of what I should be
slides round me in a dark pool, 
sucks at my legs,
La Brea Tar Pit of expectations, have-to's, plans.

I shiver, fling gobbets of dark oil,
as I lever one slippery leg out,
then a second.
I push. The glop releases
with a bubble of recrimination--oh, but you must!

I turn my head and sink onto the sand.
Today I will not work toward anything,
will not wish myself different.
I will rest my lumpy body in the sun,
clothed only in sand and grit
and the smear of obligation denied.

How strange it feels to lie here,
nothing to do, nothing to be.
It is okay, okay, I soothe myself
as alarm races down my arms--
I better ... haven't I got to ...

I stroke my greasy arm. 
It is okay, I whisper.

Sarah Webb


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Me?

Something feels wrong about trying to be a better person. We talk about changing a lightbulb but we really don't do that, rather, we replace it. Come to think of it, most of my life I've wanted to be someone else. A full replacement. 

And that's sick!

I used to think that it would be cool to be Babe Ruth or Einstein, but they are both in pretty bad shape right now. So I’ll nix that idea. 

Then there was Picasso. Yes, he was some artist, but some of his personal life wasn't very artful, and I'd hate that. 

I guess this urge to be someone else is like playing hopscotch and wishing you were playing croquet. Is one game better than another? I don't think so. 

So how do I go about life without being engulfed in fantasies and pipe dreams?  What does it take to just accept the cards I was dealt?

There are a few parts that couldn't be improved. I'd love the two inches back that I’ve shrunk. I'd love to be the athletic star that B was in high school though I wouldn't want his illness or bum leg. And this list goes on and on. 

Someone this morning was saying he wouldn't get married because he only wanted someone he'd be super proud to be seen with. I didn't have the heart to tell him that beauty fades, even with seemingly perfect people. 

So the remaining problem: should I get that one wish from a genie—who will I choose to become? Me?


++++++++++




I want to be a better person.

Really? I want to be elephantine.
I want to forget everything I know of words
and teach you my ancient elephant language
until you feel it in your hands and chest and feet.
I want you to beat djembe drums in riotous
rumbling rhythms until I feel them pulsing
throughout my sturdy elephant legs,
and I sometimes find myself swaying to and fro
as I feel your heart beating in my heartbeat.
I want nothing of good or of better,
just the textures of our togetherness
as we move our slow and knowing bodies
through this gorgeous sensate world.

—Emma Skogstad

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I want to be a better writer
a better painter
a better mother
a better friend
a better housekeeper
a better citizen.
There’s always room for learning more
Becoming more skilled
More responsive
More—lots of things.
But would this make me a better person?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Will I do the things necessary to become better?
Really?
I received a teaching on Shantideva’s
Way of a Bodhisattva.
A bodhisattva is a good person.
A better person.
The qualities a bodhisattva cultivates are
Loving-kindness
Compassion
Generosity
Moral conduct
Patience
Perseverance
Meditation.
I always get hung up on the perseverance.
Really?
I’ll stop now.


++++++++++

I have an idea better than better.

I will be who I am. Completely.

I will not be who you see me as, who you want me to be, certainly not who society says I ought to be.  No, I will be me.  I will dance awkwardly, laugh a lot, smile even more, burst into song whenever I am moved to, cry when I want to.  I will listen to my body as it moves through nature.  More importantly, I will heed my intuition, my soul, as it nudges my will this way or that.  I will do what I know to be right and do not what I know to be wrong.

Better is an illusion.  It is subjective. It is a concept forever out of grasp.

But to be myself, to be as I am; that is the fullness of being.

And that, my friends, is far better than "better" ever hoped to be.

—Linda Neighbors

This Is What You Shall Do

This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body." —Walt Whitman
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I close my eyes,
After the chant,
I get this image in my head of a penny in my hand,
A lucky penny at that.
The surroundings of nature embrace my meditative state of mind.
Sitting in the chair in this room; I'm sitting alone.
“Leaves of Grass” the words appear everywhere.
Bold and Loud; the depth of this meaning.
Blank walls but words written around.
I'm still thinking about why I have this imaginary penny in my hand.
Context clues come into play.
Leaves of Grass,
Grass and leaves,
Like sea to waves,
Water to Oceans
Were created to leaves and grass.
You create it how you see it.
I'm sitting here imagining pulling out books and reading one word out of each book.
It's called imaginary play.
Everyone's definition to leaves to grass is a picture you puzzle together.
A strategy to science;
Like clouds and water, the words that the universe sent to the table to end this page.

—Desiree Romero

What am I Going to do About It?

The world isn’t the way I want it to be.
The world is just as it is.
What am I going to do about it?



++++++++++

The world isn’t the way I want it to be.

My feet are on top of the world
massaging it, sensing it…
I can feel it’s sharp ridges,
then another sharpness—
knives, bullets, shrapnel,
angry words, insults, bullying.

I can feel its openings—
chasms that separate land,
separate countries,
separate people.
Lives shattered,
hearts and promises broken.

I can feel its wetness—
tears of pain, sorrow, loss,
tears of insolation, abandonment, regret.
Waters flooding homes, lives,
washing away belongings and memories.


The world is just as it is.

I can feel its ridges,
places where hearts and lives are mended,
where differences are celebrated,
where bridges are built to connect.

I can feel its openness.
Minds and hearts opening to love.
Arms opening to hugs and healing.
Borders opening to welcome all home.

I can feel its wetness.
Tears of joy at birth and renewal.
Tears of joy as war turns to peace.
Parched lands restored,
Parched hearts revived.

My feet are on top of the world,
dancing with joy
to the healing rhythms of Mother Earth.

The world is as I want it to be:
gratitude upon gratitude. 

Elena Rivera

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These lines aren’t the way I want them to be.
I want the second line to be first: “The world is just as it is.”
That’s where I need to start.
Not with what I want, but with things as they are.
Trying to understand the world just as it is,
that’s a lifetime’s work and I’m still working on it.
I still don’t get it.
These days, it seems like we all want something different.
Some people want all the thugs off the street.
Others want to be able to live their lives in peace without being harassed and killed by people who see them as thugs.
Some people want all the foreigners to go away somewhere, anywhere. Away.
Other people have nowhere to be.
Their homes are destroyed and they can’t go there anymore.
They want somewhere to be.
Some people want to be safe from insults, bullying and anger.
Other people want to say whatever they think, whenever they want to say it.
The world just as it is?
It’s a mess.

What am I going to do about it?

Donna Dechen Birdwell

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I mentioned that if someone wrote a screenplay about the world as it is, no one would believe it.

Then I started thinking about what the world might be like if it was how people would like it to be. I'd like to eliminate all the meat and candy from Central Market. And also all the wine. Who needs that stuff anyway? People just do the wrong thing when they drink.

But then D came by and he wanted peanuts… just peanuts, so then the world changed and CM had only peanuts. And so on. So that might really be crazy if things were how we’d like them to be.

Actually, in retrospect, our delusions often let us believe that the world is how we’d like it to be… for those incredibly short moments. Even today, I mentioned that I was 1/2 of my world. A crazy delusion!

Yesterday I was talking to T about the way it is, and he mentioned another aspect that I didn't even consider. What it is is not just what we read about in geology and biology textbooks. It is also how we feel about it. So I'm driving on Interstate 35 and there is lots of traffic. That is what is. And I'm feeling frazzled… mad, wishing that I had left a few hours earlier before all these people got out of bed. So "what is" is not just the traffic... it is my mind agonizing over what is. Imagine someone looking down onto Earth. Someone who only observes and doesn't react. She would see you and me and the cars... And we'd all be what is.

And then the tough question. What will I do about it? I can run, I can endure, or I can change. Or I can do nothing. Just sit there like a “bump on a log,” as my sisters would say when one of us wouldn't play.

There is an event coming soon that I would rather didn’t happen. I can avoid it, hoping it will just not be. I can go, but not really go, hoping that I can satisfy both the need to go and not go, or I can really go, fully embracing the situation authentically.

Complaining and disparaging might take place. Bad qi might permeate the space. Is that doing something about it? Or is it just wishing that things were different? And if things were just like we’d want them to be, would we like that? Or would we complain about that too?

My house is too small. No room for a ping pong table. Next day, when vacuuming, the house is too big. No time for anything but cleaning it. And on and on.

So I guess facing the music is all that I can do. I can embrace and embody things as they are. That's all we have to work with. I can observe it, and me within it, reacting, responding, hating or loving. I’m a half of what is... It is real to me, but not for you.

Do we live in the same place? Hardly. But we can meet somewhere, somehow, and dance with the stars.

Kim Mosley

The Troll's Exclamation

”A ferocious troll sat under a bridge with his laptop, and when the villagers concurred, “Let’s give money to this wonderful cause,” the troll yelled, “Get off your ass and go volunteer in your community!” And when the villagers said, “Let’s go volunteer in our community,” the troll yelled “F..k Youuuuuuu!” And when the villagers said, “That’s not a nice thing to say, the troll yelled, “Free speech!” And the villagers tried reasoning, and shaming, and yelling back. But nothing stopped the troll. Until one day, the troll said, “You’re a f..king moron and I hate your children!!!!,” and the villagers said, “Hi there, Mr. Troll. We love you. What a fine use of exclamation points!” and the troll got confused for a while until he realized it felt quite good to be loved, and he moved into a cheery house with yellow curtains and got a nice big dog.“ —Emma Skogstad
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My daughter taught 2nd grade and she'd tell her students that in the 2nd grade we are nice to each other. 

Imagine what a world would look like if people were nice to each other. If people smiled. I used to go to Trader Joes in St. Louis if I had a hard day at work because the check out clerks were always so nice. 

Once I took a seminar in how to deal with difficult people. I remember two things I learned. One was that people are different. For example, some people like surprises and others don't. Expecting that people are like you doesn't work. The second was that even if a person is difficult, you can find a nice side in them, and you can address that.

One teacher called us all Mr and Ms with our last names. He expected us to be professionals. And we tried.

I think we are especially struck today because of people in the news who aren't very nice to others. A friend has an X who isn't very nice to her. I told her to smile. How could one be mean to someone who is smiling?

My daughter asked me to make her a painting with the word smile. I have it almost finished. I started it about 15 years ago. But she reminds me, every time the painting shows up. Today I found it, again.

Smile. Be nice to the troll and find a way of complimenting him, even if it is the number of exclamation marks he uses. I guess this must have been a text message conversation, because how would they know how many explanation marks he used. 

Smile. And he had lots of typos which I corrected. I wrote Emma and told her I corrected them, and she said that trolls make a lot of mistakes. I didn't get that earlier, thinking he was saying rather than typing. But now I get it. 

Smile. I had an aunt who told me that everyone who worked for her was incredible. I knew she had the knack for bringing out the best in people. When I hear a teacher talk about the great class they have this year, I suspect that it is more about what they elicit in the students than the students themselves.

Smile! Smile! Just Smile! Let the trolls know you love them and they won't be trolls anymore. Smile.

And keep smiling!

Kim Mosley

Totally Confused


I kept imagining a timeline, with a moment in the middle, and the past and present on either sides—each as long as the other. I'm in the middle now. I’ll always be in middle.

I asked a physicist once where I was in the universe. “Was I in the center?” “No,” he said, “you are more like a 1/3 of the way in or out....” I don't remember which.

Well, that's space... And, like time, it defines where we are. 

It worried me thinking about dementia the other day. I don’t want to throw away my past or future. I want it all. The richness of a given situation seems to depend on what we can bring to it, and what we can take away.

I took a mindfulness workshop many years ago. I asked a young monk if you could be in the moment and think about the past. He talked on and on. I "got" that you could, but didn't understand what he was saying. 

So what is the difference between daydreaming, and “being here now” thinking of the good old Beach Boys? Is one state more “present” than the other. 

It is costly to be asleep. There was a $20 bill lying in the street that I missed while I was seduced by a pile of trash someone had thrown out. Someone else found the $20 and asked me if it was mine. “No,” I regretfully had to answer.

In a daydream am I in my daydream? What is so bad about sitting on a couch and thinking of some rich moment in the past, or yearning to fulfill some fantasy in the future. I could even use the meat argument... that God wouldn't have made chickens if we weren't suppose to eat them (God wouldn’t give us fantasies if we weren’t meant to fulfill them). 

I told my wife that when you enter the Buddhist stream, you become fully enlightened in no more than seven years. “Who makes up this stuff?” she asked. “I don't know,” I answered. Maybe seven is a code word for someday. 

I marvel at race car drivers, gymnasts, and others who have demanding challenges. They need to concentrate 100% all the time. I heard of a Zen priest (Philip Whalen) who could do the same. He'd count his breaths to ten over and over again for each entire period of meditation. No daydreams there!

Kim Mosley

Your Word is Your Bond

“From a young age, our parents impressed on us the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed us values and morals in their daily lives. That is a lesson that we continue to pass along. And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
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American Dream
The Cheese Has Moved

To journey without being changed is to be a nomad.
To change without journeying is to be a chameleon.
To be changed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.

To journey without arriving is to be a refugee.

Bumper sticker: I’ll keep my guns, money, and freedom, you can keep
the “change.”

No man with four aces and a Smith & Wesson ever asked for a New Deal.

The cheese has moved.
  My calendar is now in pencil
for a year or more.
  Faint lines show where
a cheese moved.

“. . . we were left feeling
helplessly bypassed, as if
  the processes of the present
did not include us. We felt
  unheard, angry, and frustrated.”


This is a collage of sayings (Mark Nepo), bumper stickers, a mash up of folk wisdom, some original poetry, and lines from a Zen journal. I now understand the artistry of a good collage (even if I don't achieve it). 

—Jeff Taylor

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The American Dream, Betrayed

In American, anyone’s child
  can grow up to be President.
Still, everyone knows they’re talking
  about straight, white boys, but
someone forgot to tell that nobody,
  or maybe she didn’t listen.
Now there's a Black man
  in the White House and . . . 
I mean, that’s not how it’s
  supposed to be.
If a cynic’s an idealist disappointed,
  what's the promoter of
the American Dream to do, when
  the “wrong” person
achieves the Promised Land
  putting the Unspoken’s
business in the street. Whatever
  it is, the mark has won,
the con man's lost and the rigged game
  is broken.
How true is . . . a rags to riches story
  that's only open
to Harvard men?

—Jeff Taylor

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Awesome Poem

I told my wife 
“I’m going to write 
a poem tonight.”

And then 
Caroline brings this prompt, 
and it didn't seem like a prompt,

at all.

At least, not one
to inspire 
a poem, 

at all. 

I've started to notice,
more and more,
how some things tick me off. 

As we read the prompt,
together in unison, 
I  found myself 

somewhere between 

being ticked off, 
(very) supremely ticked off,
and wondering if 

these words were part 
of Michelle Obama's 
wonderful speech 

the other night (at the DNC).

Today 
I read 
she had no political intentions 

in her speech—
unlike the others 
she followed.

And yet, 
after the speech, 
many said, 

”she ought to be president.”

The prompt seemed dated, 
perhaps it was from 
the Cleavers 

in the 50s. 

My wife said at dinner 
something about how,
if we had better schools, 

things would be different. 

We ended up realizing
it would take about 
three generations 

to really make a change... 

A profound 
change,
that is.

I think this tirade started 
with her 
wondering 

how so many people 
could vote for 
a bully. 

I told her 
that the odds were…
he'd win.

Oh…. 
My friend just texted me, 
“write something awesome.”

If I didn't know better,
I'd….

So there, 
I tried to write 
an awesome poem. 

And then I wanted to say
“I'd pick my nose”
and you can't say that 

in a poem. 

In high school, 
did you ever read a poem 
about nose picking? No!

Or even about bullies, 
or the Cleavers? 

I heard the other night,
on NPR, 
a poet was told 

he had a terminal illness.

He became very depressed 
and wrote 
the best poems of his life. 

I thought, God, 
grant me 
a terminal illness. 

Oh, just kidding, God.

Let me try again:

The lime I stole from
the Zen center was so
delicious, it made my 
smoothie so great that
my friends drank it 
with such gusto—
so much gusto, 
in fact
that I didn't have 
any left today.

That's a dumb poem. 
Glad there are only 
two minutes left.

I can blame 
the advancing clock 
on my not writing 
anything close to awesome. 

Or I can blame it
on my lack of
having a terminal illness, 

Or maybe 
I wasn't raised right, 
like my neighbors, 

who had their mouths, 
washed with soap,
when they swore.

Kim Mosley

Your Sailboat


The idea of this piece is to reach the root of your sail boat; your journey. The soul and the mind. I wanted you to connect more with your right brain. Your intuitive creativeness. The faces reflect your own path and where you wish to see yourself. The open areas are for you to fill in for yourself and the flowers are ideas blooming. The lines represent strength and boldness. I didn't incorporate color because I like the person seeing this to create color with their eyes. I think it tests the brain of what you see and what you don't and some see things differently. The sail boat can represent something meaningful in your life. I hope this helps you in some way leaving our Zen Writing group today. Maybe this image will be stuck in your head on the ride home and slowly ideas or color will gravitate to the image in your head. Its the big idea for you to sleep on. It's your sail boat.... 


++++++++++

Sailing On A Breath

Exhaling we help feed the trees.
Through the magic in their leaves, they
give us substance for our life’s breath.

Breathing, the veil that separates
life from death, manifests Oneness
in this moment, and as always.

So our breath is not truly ours.
Since it can’t exist on it’s own.
And neither can we, nor can they.

The breath that we exhale vibrates
air around us, somewhere pushing
the sails that move boats forward.

Thoughts, memories, experiences,
feelings, emotions, desires,
sail through my mind when I sit.

Who has breathed these, causing them
to sail on my horizon,
urging me to follow along?

Did I breathe them or did I just
intercept them on their way to
elsewhere, not intended for me?

As I try blowing them away
from me, instead I scatter
fragments of chapters of my life.

I did not know that a breath could
scatter fragments of lives to be
rewritten in other lives.

My breathing fans the flames that are
dancing uphill toward me, pushing
me to a higher consciousness.

So breathing consciously I can
set my universe in motion,
toppling the confusion away.

Until the moment of my last
Breath, when I will sail freely,
no need for form, boundary, or me.

—Elena Rivera



The Other Side

Original photo by with addition of Dash by Kim Mosley
++++++++++

I search and search... The perfect this and that. One day it is searching for the perfect diet, then the perfect exercise, then the perfect shampoo, then the perfect friend. The dissatisfaction is looking for the perfect me... How would I really like to be, what would I like to know?

I totally confused a man at the free sample sushi table at Central Market today. I've never seen it without someone handing out samples before. There is a little story here. A few weeks ago I was handed a piece of sushi by an Asian looking guy. He said, have a kamikaze roll. I wondered if he knew what it meant and finally found out that it also referred to a drink that was a mixture of various ingredients.

So I figured that kamikaze must have more meanings than the one who gets in an airplane and rams it into an enemy plane, killing all. 

Today the chef/pilot was nowhere to be seen. I was a little worried about him. 

An old man was there, also waiting for a sample. I put a sample in a cup and handed it to him. He declined the gift, and so I ate it myself. Then he said, “Oh, that was very nice of you." So I said, “Yes." I think I more surprised him than anything... but probably should have responded better.

How would the I who I'd like to be respond? If I'm already me, who was it that was responding? Would/should we be the person who'd we like to be? Since our friends like us as we are (I don't think they'd wait around), would we have to find new friends?

Suzuki Roshi said, “You are perfect just the way you are... and you could stand a little improvement? Could both parts of the statement be true? I

If I am perfect just as I am, why do I have to do anything? And also, why do I have to change.

A high school classmate recently wrote, “You don't marry the perfect spouse. You marry to become the perfect spouse.” But where do you start? I’m full of loose pages and frayed edges and need a lot of tender conservation.

I certainly often think it is better on the other side of the stream. I waited breathlessly until I could get a drivers license... but by the time I did get it, at 23, it wasn't such a big deal. And I waited breathlessly to get through with high school, to get through with college, to have a real job, to retire from the job, to this and that. I waited breathlessly for what would make me happy. All things on the other side of the river. Where is the boat to take me across?

Wait, the wise man says that I'm already there. Can't he see I want to be on his side, where the grass is greener? How can I be satisfied with this stuff that isn't the perfect this or that... or is it?

Kim Mosley

++++++++++

Zen without Kanzeon

From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps, story 78 of 101 Zen Stories.
Real Prosperity
A rich man asked Sengai to write something for the continued prosperity of his family so that it might be treasured from generation to generation. Sengai obtained a large sheet of paper and wrote: “Father dies, son dies, grandson dies.”
   
The rich man became angry.  “I asked you to write something for the happiness of my family!  Why do you make such a joke of this?”
   
“No joke is intended,” explained Sengai.  “If before you yourself die your son should die, this would grieve you greatly.  If your grandson should pass away before your son, both of you would be broken-hearted.  If your family, generation after generation, passes away in the order I have named, it will be the natural course of life.  I call this real prosperity.”
When I first read this, I was in my twenties and a smart-mouthed young man. I found Sengai’s answer to be a smart-aleck answer to a trick question. Somehow I did not hear the last paragraph, heard another version, or a re-telling by a smart-aleck.

Many years later, I helped my wife by working the sound system to do the funeral of a young man who died of AIDS.  Six months later, his family was back.  His younger brother could not go on without him.  He committed suicide. The parents and the remaining son grieved and I grieved with them.  The knobs on the sound system, thankfully, were large enough to be seen through tears. This was not the first funeral for a young person I attended.  At this time, I thought to myself, “Our children are dying too early.”  At this point I understood Sengai’s compassion for the rich man.

I’ve attended funerals for friends and children of friends where the parents and even a grandparent was there.  This is not prosperity.

My problem with tonight’s prompt is that I hear it in my own voice, maybe the voice of the smart-mouthed young man part of me.  I wonder if I had heard it direct from a compassionate teacher, would I have understood it differently? On my first reading, I just heard a smart mouthed, trick answer.  It sounds like so many I met in academia, just waiting to zing you and show off in response to an honest request for help or information.  On considering it again, maybe the master is pointing out the self-centric nature of the question, the answer depends on where you stand.  Or maybe telling the initiate to look inside himself for the answer that he already possesses.

I wonder if encountering some other tragedy will reveal the wisdom in this story.
Lady Wisdom always speaks.  She sets her own pace.
Zen writings without a teacher too often fail to carry the compassion.  My home shrine has no image of Kanzeon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.  Maybe I need to keep her image before me while reading Zen stories and ask for her wisdom.

—Jeffery Taylor

Writer's Block by Christopher Hynes

Christopher Hynes

++++++++++

In the Beginning

In the beginning, the work was without form,
 and Wisdom was with God and
Wisdom inspired God and the Void
 grew and separated into letters & blocks.
The Word was still without form.
 The letters mutated and shape-shifted.
They debated their form, and still they
 shape-shifted, refusing to be bound
to one understanding, remaining as fluid
 as Creation, evolving from Primordial
Bang, forming and reforming. Letters
 grew too massive and fell
into black holes, swirling about into
 galaxies, spiral & elliptical, structured &
diffused. Writers, poets, work makers & word
 users tried to bind them into books, &
manuscripts and found the words would not
 be still, they morphed and changed—order
size, shape. They looked upon the blank page,
 terrified for it was void and without form.
The Face of the Deep beckoned, pulling
 some under, some to dive deep and resurface
with raw ore they hammered into
 prose & poetry which switched places when
they set down their pen, covered the typewriter,
 silenced the computer. Words will not be bound
into a block, frozen into works, and Lady Wisdom
 or a false, golden mirage will beckon to them,
promising truth and fantasy, who again
 morph & blend and transform each other
wearing the harlequin mask that
 deceives, truth pretending to be nonsense
and Truth revealed to tumble again
 into tumbled blocks of sounds without
sense, falling apart the harder
 the effort to edit sense out of raw
delirium, unprovoked
 by causative agent.

—Jeffery Taylor

++++++++++

The Unfolding

Like cars piling up in a traffic jam,
my thoughts are all there,
trying to express all at once.

It’s not like I don’t have any stories,
it’s that they come all at once
jamming into each other.

Like mixing all the colors together,
like a dam holding back water,
the words build up pressure,

Pushing to get out,
they climb over each other,
fall down, and get stomped on.

Sadly some never make it out alive,
some get overwhelmed,
others just get confused.

While some unite,
old ideas forgotten into new ones,
others just seem to fade away,

Thinking they’re forgotten without
being heard, not realizing the power
inherent in their silence.

When the frequencies separate,
When the light turns green again,
When the dam opens,

We get rainbows of words
expressing feelings, telling stories,
witnessing our many paths,

Unfolding us into One.


Afterthoughts

What I believe this is telling me is not to resist it, not to name it, not to give it power because it is powerful already by its nature.

Instead I allow, I take a different path for now remembering that there is usually more than one way to get there from here.

Perhaps the way that is made clear is not the way I had anticipated. Yet, perhaps it will lead me to even greater gifts to give.

—Elena Rivera

...outside the box

Drawing by Ken Brown

I is subject
Me is object
Object of trying
To think outside the box
Very hard
I did not have to
Go to Berlin
To be the object
Of the verb trying
Trying comes naturally here
To think - not so natural
Inside the box
Outside the box
Me trying

—Janelle Curlin-Taylor

++++++++++

Disappearing Boundaries

Getting outside of the box.

        Trying very hard.

Where is my body in this box?

                Trying very hard to think.

All I see, all I feel, is my head.

                       Trying very hard to think a thought.

The thoughts           bounce        all around        “in the box.”

Where is my body?

There is no body "in the box"

                      Trying hard no more.

                               The box is no more
             
                                        Than a shape in my body.

—Les

You Are Too Impressionable

"Be still and know that I am God"—Psalm 46:10 
(Illustration for book)

Bruce asked me to go to church with him. Both of my neighbors that I played with went to church every Sunday. They never asked me to join them. Why? Bruce did. I asked my mom. She was taking clothes out of the dryer, and I stood by the door of the utility room. I was framed by the doorway. We were about the same size since she was hunched over getting out the clothes and putting them into a wood clothes basket with wire handles.

“Mom,” I asked, “can I go to church with Bruce on Sunday.” “No,” she said. “Why,” I asked. “Because you are too impressionable.”

My mom was the expert on me, yet I was an Island.  I picked “Island” because I wanted my initials to be “K.I.M.” She named me after the character in Rudyard Kipling’s book, Kim, where the character by the same name was independent and resourceful at an early age. She wished me to be independent, yet insisted she knew me (and others) better than I knew myself. Could we expect less from a psychiatric social worker, raised on Freud?

I couldn’t argue with her because words were not my forte. I felt disconnected from her. As I look back, I see that I had come from a different time and place. I was her son in this life. I was tied to her, but yet what I’m seeing now is the opposite. I was not her son. I had something in me that yearned to understand the mystery of life.

I believed that Hell was behind the fence at the Catholic Church a block away. I couldn’t see beyond the solid brick fence, and I imagined a deep pit inside that went on forever. I later went to that church and marveled at the Latin that the priest recited. I felt that I had time traveled to a place that felt very familiar.

Behind me, in that kitchen, was a man. My mom could not see him and I did not know he was there. He was the witness to my life. I called him up today and asked him how my mom’s “you’re too impressionable” affected me for my soon to be 70 years.

In Zen, we talk about needing to step off a 100-foot pole. We need to give ourselves to something beyond reason. It is the important orgasm that we are all afraid of reaching. Somehow my mom was right. I was too impressionable. But now I realize it wasn’t to new experiences, but rather to finding out who I was. I feel like the adopted kid who wasn’t allowed to meet his real parents. It touched me deeply in one of the Carlos Castaneda books that Don Juan decided to trash his last name. That's where we came from, but not who we are. In the same way, The Prophet, by Gibran talked about how
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
The man behind me touched my shoulder. I was walking down State Street in Chicago and he pinched my arm. I thought at the time he had shot heroin into me, and that I’d somehow know where to get my next fix. But no, he was telling me something different. Remember who you are. Remember who you are. Remember who you are. I say that three times because we didn’t do that last night reading something Buddha wrote that it was suppose to be written three times, perhaps as a mnemonic device to help us remember it.

I used art all my life as a means to tell people who I was and what I was feeling. Yet, it wasn’t enough, because I had kind of figured that out and it (or me) seemed like a closed system.

What I was looking for was something very very very big. Something that encompassed everything. The next week I went to six churches.

And years later, my mom would tell us of her extensive conversations she’d have with the black birds that would come to her kitchen window.

Kim Mosley