Circles

”... You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round.” —Black Elk, http://stuff.samassaveneessa.info/docs/BlackElkSpeaks.pdf

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Spring Comes Round

The Kid spun.
Her arms stretched wide to the warming air.
The tips of her tennis shoes ground in the grit.
Rock liked the feel of them,
the circles they made in him
and the circle she made, staggering now,
Coyote bounding alongside.
Coyote's tongue lolled.
Perhaps he was as dizzy as the Kid
or it might be his dry equivalent of a laugh.
I heard you having fun! Jackrabbit called,
leaping from behind a prickly pear.
Another spin and another
and they fell into a tangle of tails
and ears and hair and fur and dusty laughter.
Rock, who never stopped spinning
as he moved through day and night,
hadn't needed to join in.  There was no reason to feel wistful.
Still, as his friends wriggled and thrashed against him,
trying to stand and falling back on top of Rock and each other,
laughing and trying to stand again,
he looked out at the day, and he was glad.

Sarah Webb

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(Photo by J.K. Nakata, United States Geological Survey)

1)
Cones & circles do not need bracing.
 They do not collapse when shaken.
Squares tempt those in a hurry
 to remove the diagonal bracing that
keeps the garage beneath
 from disappearing when
the ground moves when
 rocks relax their grip on
their kindred moving
 in the opposite direction.
Still those rocks are riven,
 one from another by swirls in
the sphere of our home planet.

Even circles have currents that
 wind smoke through the roof,
tear ships, bow from stern,
 and that greatest of winds, either
regional or intensely local,
 flattens houses both square
and round, destroying
 their symmetries.


(Photo by Otto Greule Jr /Getty Images)

2)
The heyoka are the holy fools
 of the Lakota, doing things backward
to show how forward is
 equally arbitrary, questioning
the status quo by
 satire, acting
as the counter weight.

Counter weight
 to an entire nation requires
extreme contrariness, so awkward,
 such a great weight to carry
the Shadow of
 an entire nation.

Who plays heyoka
 for our nation?


3)
The loud, the vulgar shout from
 the podium exaggerating the voice
of those who are not heard, do not count.

No wonder he is so loud, so vulgar,
 speaking for the millions whose
voice is not heard, whose jobs, identity, life
 has been given to machines,
ground to nothing in productivity gains,
 til the machines themselves complain,
the very rocks cry out, telling what
 few humans are left to say.

—Jeff Taylor

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Circles with an Opening by Kim Mosley

Boo circles! Yea mists!

Here’s what I don’t like about circles. I’m either in or out. If I’m in, I can’t get out. And if I’m out, I can’t get in. Either way, I am restricted. Even when we set chairs in a circle we need to leave an opening.

I like circles better than other geometric shapes. They all have their problems. I like cars that look like square boxes. The boxier the better.

The other problem with circles is that they roll down hills. They don’t sit anywhere.  They just lay down. Our world, as angular as it is, isn’t very friendly towards circles.

Did you know that the lenses on a camera sees circles? But since art is rectangles for the most part, what you get when you take a picture is either a landscape or a portrait, all cut by your helpful camera from a circle.

There is talk of a new camera that would give you only circles. And then, if you need to cow down to rectangle loving people, you can give them portraits or landscapes to their heart’s content.

So what is it that I like? Mists. Mists neither include nor exclude. They are both here and there. There is no beginning and no end. No one can take my mist because they can’t grab hold of her. We are all mists. Nothing more and nothing less. Our edges are soft. Some molecules bouncing off of me might be on the other side of the world, and some on this side. If someone says, where do you live, I can just say here or over there, and I’d be right. No need for GPS... Because I am always in the mist, wherever I am. Want to join households? It already happened. All mists are one.

I do owe a lot to circles. Zero is supposed to be a great mathematical advancement. How else would I indicate how many children I have living at home when they both grow up and leave home?

In school, I used to dread “0s.” 50% was bad enough, but if I knew nothing and wasn’t wise enough to know that was cool, I’d be devastated with a “0.”

Back to mists... They are much closer to what I know about something. There is nothing solid, nothing unchanging, nothing resolute about a mist. They are like feelings. They have some focus, but they don’t give up there as does a circle. Sometimes they are very contained and sometimes they explode. But they always respond to atmospheric conditions and changing life situations.

Circles on the other hand are like pies... And my problem with a pie is that once I eat it, it is gone. Gone with the wind, except not really... Gone into my stomach. Mists might be “gone with the wind,” but there is always a piece left behind... A memory... A glimpse at what once was.

Boo circles! Yea mists!

Kim Mosley

How vast it was

From Prompt:
Sometimes, when one is moving silently through such an utterly desolate landscape, an overwhelming hallucination can make one feel that oneself, as an individual human being, is slowly coming unraveled. The surrounding space is so vast that it becomes increasingly difficult to keep a balanced grip on one's own being. I wonder if I am making myself clear. The mind swells out to fill the entire landscape, becoming so diffuse in the process that one loses the ability to keep it fastened to the physical self. That is what I experienced in the midst of the Mongolian steppe. How vast it was! It felt more like an ocean than a desert landscape. The sun would rise from the eastern horizon, cut its way across the empty sky, change in our surroundings. And in the movement of the sun, I felt something I hardly know how to name: some huge, cosmic love. —from The Wind up Bird Chronicle  by Haruki Murakami.
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I did not know what it was at first. I had not experienced a feeling like it before. It was not love. It was not affection. It was not even tender – but it was warm. A warm feeling, a warmth I could not locate, I only knew that it was there, somewhere within me and that it had all of my attention. I am somebody who likes to label things, labeling helps to keep me sane, to organize my life by storing information in boxes to put away into the back of my mind so that the path in front of me is clear.

However, this did not work with that warm feeling. “Warm” was only a guess anyway, and it was not a complete description, there was more to it, so I could not just put it into one of my boxes and move on—I had to give it more attention, I needed to sit in it, accept that it was there in that moment and that it was there for a reason. It was like a hungry dog that won’t go away unless you feed him or kick him in the butt. I did not want to kick that warm feeling in the butt, however, so I fed it with my curiosity and attention.

What was it trying to tell me? What was its role in my life? Did it ask me to take action? Did it announce change within me?

I opened the blinds of my window, allowing the moonlight to light my room, hoping that a literal illumination would transform into a figurative one.

A lunar ray touched Sarah’s face, revealing that sleep was giving her the peace that I was lacking.

My mind continued with its quest to try to unravel the mystery of my new state of being. The questions did not stop. Why was I feeling this way? Had she caused it? Had we caused it?

Then finally, I remembered that good old trick, that trick that one should use in such a situation but that we tend to forget because it just is too good to be true. I wondered: “What would my grandma say about all of this?”

The answers came with ease. She would say: “The moment you are not able to give your feelings names anymore is the moment you heart has started to open.”

All of a sudden, the path in front of me was clear and I fell asleep.

—Jesco Puluj (Jesco, a filmmaker in Germany, was in Austin for SXSW. He'll be traveling around the USA for a month before returning.)

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My favorite landscapes, as a kid, were polar opposites. On the one hand, there was the frantic and busy State Street in Chicago. I was a little midget to the grown people and screeching cars. And I loved it. It pumped my adrenaline. It was a collage catering to every sense, from garish colors to cheap perfume. Women wore so much makeup that it almost fell off. And I admired how they could walk with their high heels. Everyone was in a hurry. I was lost in the chaos, and yet I felt completely at home.

Somewhere I had heard about dope, and how if you ever messed with the stuff you'd be addicted for life. One day, walking around on State Street, a man pinched my arm. I was convinced he had given me a shot of heroin, and that I was now a doomed addict. I knew that the shot would wear off, but I also knew that with the shot came the knowledge of where to get my next fix, so far.

In the summers we went to a little beach town in Oregon. There was a vast ocean there, that went on all the way to the horizon. The beach was deep and long, and the sand sung as you walked in it, due to a special crystalline structure. The little town was as different from State Street as a place could be, and yet I loved it just the same. I could hide in each of these spaces, and I didn't have to say anything. I could get lost in the immensity of either space, feeling both a complete stranger, and back to being in the womb.

How lucky to be able to experience man and nature, if there is to be a distinction. In the end, I am a small invisible dot on an infinite landscape—part of the whole—a whole as immense as I am minuscule.

Kim Mosley

How do you let things take the time they actually need?

Prompt:  “How do....mmmm..... how do you let things take the time they actually need?”
—Ann Hamilton,  Distinguished Professor of Art at Ohio State University,  and maker of large installations that explore voice and skin, textiles and movement.
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One Morning, We Awake

One early morning while driving hurriedly to a meeting some miles away, I discovered that special place in twilight where time seems to stand still.  That place between complete darkness and sunrise where the world still sleeps and dreams sometimes come true.

Dreams like tiny lights upon the horizon blink and twinkle and shine, and for the briefest moment, we can reach out and touch them before they wink and disappear.  I don't know whose dreams they are, but from a distance they are appealing.  Like a beacon, they are a point of hope, a promise of a brighter day to come.

You can't rush into this special place, although we all try.  You can only reach it by slowing down and by letting go of perceptions.  We have to experience the moment; just this one special moment... that moment of awareness when we truly know that we are alive... and that this is real.

—Paul Causey

The Journey

In response to The Journey, by David Whyte

Donna Birdwell

A former lifetime on
 the other side of the fire
is burnt away, leaving only
 the phoenix.


There is no way back.
 That path is burned, ashes.
I have arrived here, smudged
 with the refiner's fire.
The old life seemed plenty ...
 enough kindling, match, and fuel
to burn the unneeded away,
 leaving only pure ashes,
carbon black to make ink
 with falling rain and write
my path
 into a new
story.


Freedom comes
 in loss of
what no longer serves,
 removing a clinging,
we would not release
 on our own.

—Jeff Taylor

The Mayfly

Response to the poem “Mayfly” by Ellery Akers. Her poem starts: A mayfly struggles in the muddy water. I tell myself not to interfere, but ....

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How Much Life Have I Given Her?

How much life have I taken from her? My Aunt Helen, a once-mysterious woman whose secrets are slowly being revealed as her body breaks down. For years she did all she could to bury the messes, keep her truths from the family, carrying on like a fugitive on the run. And I pretended to believe her. How much life did I give her?

One time, when I was twenty, I went to her house unannounced and saw what she was hiding. Boxes upon boxes of old relics from my deceased grandparent’s lives. Items so inconsequential, most made of yellowed, stinking paper with ink faded, no longer legible. When I saw this, I reprimanded her. Like a disappointed mother to an ashamed child. She hung her head, and it broke my heart. How much life did I take from her?

And after that, no mention of the incident from either side. Only the added awkward silences during car trips to the airport after holidays when we shyly hugged each other goodbye, curbside at the terminal, loose arms and downcast eyes. How much life have I taken from her?

Just yesterday my father called me and he spoke with a voice that reminded me of a teenage boy, wavering but sweet. Cracked honey. I tell him that I know the news of my aunt, that she’s ill, shrinking and gray, and scared. I saw it on the last ride to the airport, I caught it in the corner of my eye, but said nothing. Oh, how I wish I could have reached out, held out that stick for her to climb onto. How much life have I given her?

—Deanna Weiss

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The angel helped the mayfly whose lifespan was only one day. It was not one of those acts that will appear on the front page of the New York Times.

I was struck by the reflection of the angel: how she felt better helping the mayfly escape the muddy water. Was “to feel good” the angel’s stimulus, or simply something she noticed after the fact.

The other day I helped a little bug find its way from our dining room to our garden. Why did I do that? If my motivation was simply for my own pleasure I would consider myself pretty selfish. Or if it was to avoid feeling bad for the demise of the bug in a foreign environment, I would think of myself as equally selfish.

So why do we help our struggling siblings? Are we separate from them? Are there really lines in the sand where I end and you begin? My mom used to say that when we mourn, we mourn our own death. Do we feel nothing for the other?

Why does the angel first tell herself not to interfere. Is it because the bug’s life is so short? My mother-in-law is at the end of her life. Yet she probably has many mayfly life spans ahead of her. And many angels. Yesterday she was dressed in her street clothes even though she couldn’t make it to the streets. It made her angel daughter very happy to see her ready for another day in the big world. Last night she fell out of her bed and survived without an injury (talking about a cat having nine lives).

In any case… Do angels give us life by taking care of us? Is life given and taken? We see daily incidents where life is taken prematurely, either accidentally or on purpose. We are saddened when this happens. It is as if a person was meant to live much longer than they actually do. But imagine they were only suppose to live as long as they lived. And imagine the mayfly was suppose to have a longer fluttering in the muddy water. Suppose suppose. Endless thinking takes me away from making someone’s day a little easier or happier.

Kim Mosley

Faith

Faith
after David Whyte

What is there to have faith in?

Only the slow crossing of the moon

only the way a bean splits its two fat lobes
and the stalk beneath unfurls

the way a child grows without our noticing,
an inch, an inch,
until she’s gone past the old mark on the frame

or a tree, drawn from a narrow curve of wood,
a handful of leaf,
to branches that part the wind.

After these fall rains, the garden rises,
thick with grass, lettuce, beggar’s tick,
everything growing, everything changing.

And yet I have no faith.

Not in me.
Only in the slow pull in me.

A child cannot tell herself to grow.
And yet she does.

Sarah Webb

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Faith—Theme

Faith has gotten a bad rep.
Her name taken,
used as a shield against
the seeker, the troubled,
the questioner, excluding
the non-believer, the Other.

Now those who would seek Faith
don't mention her name, fearful
of the wrath of those who stole
her reputation and wanted her strength
without being willing to bear
her questing, her journey, her passage
through dark nights, dark woods,
faint path through places seldom traveled
for Faith requires
we walk her path alone.
We form a company
of travelers.


Faith—Restatement

Faith asks us to trust the teaching
to walk in the dark, on the faint
path that she assures us
has been trodden before.
To follow it where it leads us
down from this high mountain
into the canyon
with the wild rivers running,
scaling cliffs that seem
impossible from a distance
to gain a further mountain
though we see not the path
’til we walk it. Sometimes knowing
its presence only
by the soles of our feet when
the dark night, the dark woods
leave sight useless. Faith
is the evidence of things hoped for,
the presence of things not seen
’til the moon rises,
once more showing
the path we are on.


Faith—Coda

Those who have
lost faith in Faith
have left behind
the faithful, looking
for a new ...
no they will not use
that word, it's tarnished.
They seek the way
which seems untrod,
though seekers tell
of its landmarks,
seen and not yet seen.

—Jeffery Taylor

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This is the piece I wrote in response to the David Whyte poem “Faith.” I have used initial caps for Faith. Maybe not the usual form, but it makes the word “faith” stand out for me. It helps me to discover what I meant by the poem. Thank you so much for the writing group. There are experiences I have buried so deep—which are unresolved. They just seem to creep out almost unnoticed when I write with the group.

I was a pastor to a tiny group of proud atheists in Pennsylvania. It was a sort of circuit, long ago Universalist. One church (gorgeous) first occupied in 1723 on the Susquehanna river in the tiny hamlet of Sheshequin. They had a woman pastor in the early 1800s! The other church in Athens, built in 1845. We soon attracted progressive Christians and progressive Jewish folk. It was fascinating. Needless to say, it was quite a ride. But with the help of the prompts and the safe and caring circle which you so carefully tend, lots of work is being done!


Poem as prayer
By one who professes no Faith.
Yet the faithfulness of the moon
Has touched him deeply.

And the poet has patience, watching the moon rise
Night after night over cold snow.
A kind of spiritual practice.
Watching night after night until Faith comes.

Prayer has been his door on Faith and not the other way around.
The sitting came first, then the prayer, then Faith.

David Whyte suffered.
He does not tell us this in his poem.
Could he have written this poem had he not suffered?
Did sitting in his suffering come first?

Moon rise over cold snow—and I am back in Pennsylvania
The noise of the life-flight helicopter in the frozen darkness
Trudging over black ice in the dark, alone
Toward wounded, hurting, frightened people
In ER, in ICU, in the family waiting area.
Responding came first, then prayer, then—almost unnoticed—Faith.

Faith: day after day with cantankerous atheists
Night after night with suffering people.
I hardly noticed Faith when it came
Like the moon, slender and barely open.
Maybe love is more important
But Faith, in its own quiet way
Has never faded.

—Janelle Taylor

What the Day Gives

Prompt: “What the Day Gives,” by Jeanne Lohmann

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Courage

To be happy, to choose this,
while tumbling about, uncertain, in the ever-changing.

Sometimes, it seems a dizzying impossibility.

Or too remote.

Arms, straining,
not long enough to hold the things we never expected,
or wanted,
in the same space as well-being.

Sometimes, it seems we need only be reminded -- these things can go together:

Contentment amidst whirling sharp edges and unkind surprises;
Delight and mind-grinding difficulty;
Love yielding the right answer that angers,
while fear allowing softness that offers no comfort;
Gratitude for the very thing that destabilizes.

It is all both letting go and letting in.

The most beautiful form of courage: to be happy.

—Caroline Nelson

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It's never enough.
                    But the Sea accepts all Rivers

I look in the mirror, liking to pick a fight,
searching for the weakest link.
                    But the Sea accepts all Rivers

I’m not doing enough,
I’m wasting time,
I’m missing out.
                    But the Sea accepts all Rivers

I should be able to do that—everyone else can.
Why am I not strong enough, capable enough?
                    But the Sea accepts all Rivers

I‘m afraid of failing.
Afraid of being a failure.
                    But the Sea accepts all Rivers

I’m my biggest critic.
                    But the Sea accepts all Rivers

                    The Sea accepts all Rivers
Don’t let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good

                    The Sea accepts all Rivers
Look over your shoulder...There’s no one there.
No critic.
No one to find you out.


                    The Sea accepts all Rivers
That ugly, jagged edge we're ashamed to have
—the one we hide—it fits another’s perfectly.
Empathetically.
Wholly.


                    The Sea accepts all Rivers
Everything Belongs

—Jordan Spennato

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"Where did it come from? What could be inside it?"

Prompt: Once there was an old man who lived at the top of a very high and dangerous precipice. Every morning he would sit at the edge of the cliff and view the surrounding mountains and forest. One day, after he set himself down for his usual meditation, he noticed something shiny at the very bottom of the precipice. Now even though it was very far below him, the old man had keen eyes and could just barely make out what it was. It looked like a rather large, black chest with gold trimmings—"Where did it come from? What could be inside it?"just sitting there atop a rock. “Where did it come from? What could be inside it?” the old man thought to himself... (From: http://users.rider.edu/~suler/zenstory/zenframe.html)

Kim Mosley

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After Gram passed away in 2003, I was told that, being her first grandchild, I had her wrapped around my finger. She may have been wrapped around my finger, but I was her perfume, wanting to be as close as humanly possible, to seep into her, to be on her heart.

Though the distance between our houses spanned a dozen states, perhaps living afar fostered and supported the bond we shared. When we were together, we were unleashed with reckless abandon, our combination, deadly; the curly child-terror with twinkling green eyes and enough Hell behind them to frighten those who recognized the twinkle and the matriarch with enough seniority to give the child the green light as well as enough love to be her wingman.

We would reunite every Christmas Eve as she and Pop collected us from the snowy airport. Dressed to the nines for Christmas Eve dinner with the extended family, we'd arrive home at 5 Horseshoe Lane. Grammy and I would make a beeline for the parlor. Adorned in mahogany, bronze reindeer lining the center of the heavy wooden table, nothing else mattered but the bright red box Gram would have, waiting, atop the glass-paned cabinets. She'd reach up high, producing the Strawbridges seasonal chocolate box. My hands would fly to my mouth, the suspense of the past year bubbling up from inside me in the form of giggles. Stealthily, we'd make sure everyone else was either socializing or checking on dinner.

We'd jimmy off the lid and peer at the first layer of perfectly presented assorted shapes. Now, Gram and I didn't mess around; we knew Strawbridges’ game—they didn't include the box “legend,” decoding which chocolates held which fillings—better to let people be surprised. Well, we weren't having any of that shit. We were after only one type of treat: the caramel-filled chocolates.

Sadly, from year to year, we would both forget what specific shape these chocolates were—on account of my young age and her old age. But Gram was always prepared. She grew her nails long—perfect for evening back scratches. As we sat in the parlor, I would guess and hand her a chocolate. She would take it gingerly, pretend to examine it, smell it, etc. Then, she'd turn it over and very gently push her pinky nail into its smooth bottom, revealing the chocolate‘s filling.

“Cherry cordial—ugh!” We'd grimace at each other and quickly return the abomination to the box, its top pristine, seemingly untouched. We'd do this until we struck liquid, caramel gold. Then we'd both inwardly squeal with delight, look in the other room to make sure the coast was still clear, turn back to each other, beaming, and devour our treasures.

—Jordan Spennato

”I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are good at heart.” —Anne Frank

Kim Mosley





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Human nature?
It’s complicated, the anthropologist said.
We all have within us the capacity
To be kind, loving, caring, protecting.
We all have within us the capacity
To be brutal, cruel, violent, destructive.
We all have within us the capacity
To choose.
Although sometimes that capacity
Is taken away by circumstances.
In all circumstances, humans desire
To be treated with
Kindness, love, care, protection.
And that is why
Goodness wins.

Donna Birdwell

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But like the giant
in the fairytale,
some people placed
their heart
out of harm's way,
never noticing
that with no heart
they
are harm's way.

—Jeffery Taylor

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My first thought, when I came across this quote yesterday, was that I wondered if the quote was still true. Is this a worse time than it was 70 years ago? When I read her diary in high school I don't remember questioning whether people were really “good at heart.” I asked my neighbor what he thought this morning, and he said that it was true if the person hadn't been indoctrinated. I wanted to ask him whether Christ would agree, but I didn't, assuming that he'd say that he didn't know.

Why would someone whose life had been turned upside down say that people were good at heart? Is it because the frontal lobe of her brain hadn't developed and that's what led Anne to such a ridiculous realization?

What was amazingly similar for Anne Frank and perhaps the rest of us who are under the mortality death sentence is that we tend to live pretty normal lives even though the death gremlin could knock at our door at any moment. i think the book is read in high school not because it is about the holocaust but rather because it is about a normal adolescent girl. Her unusual circumstances don't shift her life. She has the same thoughts, crushes, and insecurities that most of us did at her age (and still do).

So I've been evading the issue about whether I agree with her statement... And why? And how? On the one hand we have bands of people who not only hate others but proceed to kill them mercilessly. If all people were good at heart, then we have to include those people who were indoctrinated.

There I go again, avoiding the question about what I believe. I started thinking about my student who killed his teacher (not me). My mother, trained as a social worker, asked me if he was violent. "No," I said, "just confused."

Anne's statement struck a chord for me. Do I believe it, or just want to believe it? Would I believe it if I was in hiding? I don't know.

I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are good at heart.

Kim Mosley

To be alive ....

Havana, Cuba—the National Afro-Cuban Dance Company
photo by Donna Birdwell

Just to ....

Donna Birdwell
The prompt:

“Just to be is a blessing

Just to live is holy.”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

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Donna Birdwell
Just being is a blessing.
Just living is holy.
The child wakes
between you.

—A Participant

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Donna Birdwell
My cousin in Houston passed away just over a month ago. We were never close. She married just out of high school and had two daughters who are now in their fifties. In Ireland you’d call them spinsters. One sister is disabled and has never worked. The other sister works five days a week sitting with a neighbor’s Down’s Syndrome sister from 6:30 am until 2 in the afternoon. They’re barely scraping by. I wonder how they would understand these words. Do they feel that “just to be” is a blessing? Or is it a burden? Sitting in their sparsely furnished apartment adorned with pages torn from magazines, “holy” was not a word that came to mind.

Two nights later, I sat in a friend’s tenth-floor condo in Dallas, just off Turtle Creek. There were real paintings on the walls, a vase of two dozen red roses in the center of the table and good wine in cut crystal glasses.

Is my friend more blessed than my two spinster second cousins? Whose life is more holy?

Just be. Just live. If you can find a few moments of holiness in that, maybe that’s the blessing.

Donna Birdwell

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Donna Birdwell
The second precept that we take in Soto Zen is “do not take what is not given.” At the San Francisco Zen Center they added a line to each of the precepts to give them a positive spin. “2. A disciple of Buddha does not take what is not given but rather cultivates and encourages generosity.”

Perhaps it should be, “we should take what is given.” Someone suggested that I should add an only to that: "we should take only what is given."

In any case, I thought it would be an interesting generosity practice to focus on taking rather than giving. Rabbi Heschel's statement suggests that being on earth is a blessing. Appreciating that seems transformational. I feel, “Thank you, universe, for letting me be. Thank you for the innumerable gifts that you shower on me every moment.” (This may introduce a dilemma: as a generous and loving person, do we thank the coyote/universe who enjoys our neighbor’s yelping dog for supper?)

I imagined myself starting to focus on these blessings. How lucky I am to be surrounded in my life by so many jewels! How lucky to live in an environment so conducive to my interests!

The second line of the Heschel quote, is “just to live is holy.” In Buddhism we talk about the rarity of being born human. It is the rarity of the possibility that one tortoise would rise to the surface of the ocean and its head would go through one floating oxen yoke. That's how lucky it is to be born in human realm.

In the Torah, God says that you shall be holy for I'm holy. Here, too, it is a recognition of what it is that which makes us special. It doesn't matter what you call that which created us. It also says that we should revere our mother and father. We revere holy things, and  that makes us holy, for we came from holy parents. And our mother and father, metaphorically, are everything that comes together to give us this life.

What a great tattoo this would be, with each line of Heschel’s quote on a different arm! Then the words could be easily shared when we reach with both hands to accept what is given to us.

And we can smile and say thanks.

Kim Mosley

Shoun and His Mother/The Voice of Happiness


Prompts from "Shoun and His Mother" from 101 Zen Stories* 

. . . One day Shoun left for a distant temple to deliver a lecture. A few months afterwards he returned home to find his mother dead. Friends had not known where to reach him, so the funeral was then in progress.

Shoun walked up and hit the coffin with his staff. “Mother, your son has returned,” he said.

“I am glad to see you have returned, son,” he answered for his mother.

“Yes, I am glad too," Shoun responded. Then he announced to the people about him: "The funeral ceremony is over. You may bury the body.”. . . 

and another story: “The Voice of Happiness” from 101 Zen Stories*: “In all my experience, however, Bankei’s voice was always sincere. Whenever he expressed happiness, I heard nothing but happiness, and whenever he expressed sorrow, sorrow was all I heard.” 

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The stories from the prompt are from a small book of stories and koans compiled by Paul Reps and named Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. I know because I have owned the book I was eighteen, in 1968.

I was in my senior year at Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas. Integration had just started, the Russians had the bomb, and the Vietnam war was escalating, sucking up young men and spitting them out into body bags.

I was facing graduation and would be going to Texas Tech in Lubbock because it was where I could get in and it was far from my parents. I was raised in a church home and my father worked for a Methodist church. I had spent my youth in school and church and found both to be shallow and presumptuous. I carried a feeling of “Is this really all there is?”

One spring afternoon I came into my Civics class taught by a woman we used to call “The Ogre of the East Wing.” I moved to a desk in the back for safety. It was the traditional school desk of those days—a metal frame with laminated wood for the seat and desktop. It also had an open compartment below to store the books you weren’t using.
    
I had my stack of textbooks with me—history, geometry (for the second time around), and biology. I sat down and shoved them into what I thought was empty space below me.

I heard a “plop!” and looked down to my right. On the floor was a small paperback. It was yellow and brown and a little beat up. I picked it up and saw an old man in a robe riding a water buffalo down a trail. I saw the title: Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps. I opened it not knowing anything about Zen.

I read the first story. It was about a learned scholar visiting a Zen master who served him tea. The scholar was very full of himself. The master placed the cup in front of the scholar and began to pour. The cup filled quickly and began running freely over the table and into the man’s lap. He jumped up and yelled, “Can’t you see the cup is full!” The master smiled and said, ”You, like the cup, are already full. How can I impart anything to you if you are already full?” 

I closed the book with reverence and put it away. I had found a true friend. I still have that book.

—Robert Porter

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Shoun said he lived the best that he could. He couldn't live in the monastery, he bought fish for his mother, he played music and he visited a woman of the streets. He didn't follow the rules that the other monks followed.

But he was doing what was required in each situation. He wasn't embarrased about visiting a woman of the streets. He was a man of much personal integrity.

It seems easier to defend one's actions when those actions are according to some law. But that is not what Shoun did. He was true to his own heart and did what the moment demanded.

At the end of his life, all was perfect. “The rain had ended, the clouds were clearing, and the blue sky had a full moon.”

But Shoun was perfect in another sense. He had responded to each challenge in his life with a open hand and gave to it what was demanded. He went against the rules because this allowed him to give what was needed of him.

I have a sister who, like Shoun, is not seduced by authority. She broke most of the rules in the book, and probably some laws along the way. But she was always there for her friends, and now is a helpful and loving psychoanalyst. She shunned most if not all the good advice that her parents were so willing to give to her.

The other day I compared myself to my ideal self. I came out with a flunking grade. I wonder if the ideal self was what one would look like if they followed the rules, and if what I was now was closer to Shoan's statement, “I did what I could.”

How do we navigate the rules of society and the rules of our institutions and still walk proud? What was it in Shoun and my sister that allowed them, as they heard “the beat of a different drummer” to walk so confidently down the street. “Without shame,” my sister would add.


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*101 Zen Stories is a 1919 compilation of Zen koans[1] including 19th and early 20th century anecdotes compiled by Nyogen Senzaki,[2] and a translation of Shasekishū,[1][3] written in the 13th century by Japanese Zen master Mujū (無住) (literally, "non-dweller").[3] The book was reprinted by Paul Reps as part of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.[4][3] Well-known koans in the collection include “A Cup of Tea” (1), “The Sound of One Hand” (21), “No Water, No Moon” (29), and “Everything is Best” (31). (From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/101_Zen_Stories.

Tell them, “Love is all that matters.”

(Blanche Hartman is a Zen priest at the SF Zen Center. Our AZC temple was named after her, and she transmitted the two head teachers that have been/is at AZC. Last night we wrote about her statement, “… love is all that matters.”)
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Love is all that matters.
Love as vast as the sky of the Big Bend,
The ache in my chest
The pouring out of grief
Sweet warmth of family laughter.
A place to go to. A place I carry with me.

Sally Mayo Daverse

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A teaching so broad, so deep,
so radical, the messenger is often
killed and those who do hear
find little direction in it, only
recognising it in the 
rear view mirror.

—Jeffery Taylor

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I imagine walking up to this shy and lonely teenager and telling her love is all that matters. I imagine snapping this photograph and telling her that one day, she’ll be forty something, and sit looking at it and be astonished by her newness, by all she cannot feel and see and know—of her own loveliness, of the inherent goodness of others, of—. I imagine her stopping me, waving me away, and turning over sleepily in the sun.

Of course she would, wise child that she is. “Love is all that matters” is not something that can be conveyed. Not really.

It can only be lived and known.

We can only dive deeply into life, get caught up in it and throw dirt, be good and kind and obnoxious and arrogant. We can only be addicted to our own cleverness and find ourselves deeply wrong, over and over again. We can only gain and lose sanity and husbands and lovers and jobs and whatever it is we most treasure. We can only be people who meditate daily in an effort to go beyond and people who don’t give a shit and go shopping. We can only get caught up in all that is large and lofty and all that is small and petty and relish every moment. We can only do this.

What I mean is that we can only trudge in the direction of “Love is all that matters,” one painful or ecstatic or lonely breath at a time.

Love is all that matters, yes.

And it all matters: all the pain and disconnection; all the meanness and longing; all the excitement of new touch, the hearts broken from rejection and misunderstanding, the bumping up against each other’s hurts and making a terrible mess and believing we will never, ever be loved again.

All the years of feeling ourselves utterly unworthy must be known so we can know something else entirely.

Everything that is, all that arrives, has to matter and burn away before love can be all that matters.

That is what is so, and it is good. It is life. It matters. It all matters.

—Emma Skogstad

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“Tell them Love is all that matters”

Love is all that matters.
How easy it is for other objects to obscure this truth, to distance the idea and its soothing influence.
Am I worthy of the Love? What are they getting in return?
Relationships often seemed like transactions, balances of goods and services. I always wanted to make sure I wasn't a burden. It was, and is, my biggest fear.

You see, about four years ago, I started recovery from anorexia. I took a Leave from college, stayed home, got better. Doctor visits, therapist sessions, creative art outlets . . . my parents picked up the tab. No questions. Not a bat of an eye.
I struggled, hugely, with self-worth. Often, I'd want to talk about it, exercise the words, see how they felt and sounded out of my head. Dad would stand there with me, in the same room, but planets away. Baby, how come you don't see what we all see? All that you are, you've done, you're capable of? It saddened and frustrated him, I could see that. And he learned over time that he wasn't needed to "fix" or answer anything--that just being in that room, stretching across planets to rub my back and listen . . . that was enough.

I woke up the next morning to a text from Dad:
“Go outside.
Look as far as you can in the sky to your right. Now to the left.
That's how much I love you.”

I returned to school. Part of my “maintenance program” while back was that I would spend as much as I needed on food—there would never be a question. Get what you need to get. Spend what you need to spend, they would say. One evening, I sat in the vacant conference room at college with Dad on the line. He naturally asked how recovery—food stuff—was going, how I was feeling, hard times that week, mental critiques, etc. I hesitantly voiced my fear of being a financial burden: Dad, what if I'm spending too much? Who are you two to have to pay for this? You didn't ask for this.
Dad responded: Baby, if it will help you get better, you can have all my money.

Love is all that matters.

—Jordan Spennato

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“Love is all that matters.”

Why didn't anyone tell me that? Actually there was a guy (Leo Buscaglia) who preached love. He had a college course called love and it would fill every semester. But generally we are led to believe that other stuff will make us happy, like having an ocean view, a college degree or lots of money.

Love will tell us what something needs. My wife will look out the window and hear one of her plants screaming for water. She'll drop everything to give them a drink.

“Love is all that matters.”

Blanche devoted much of her life to Zen practice. Both the former head teacher and the current abbot at Austin Zen Center were transmitted by her. AZC is named Zenkei-ji which was Blanche’s Dharma name (meaning Inconceivable Joy). She was responsible for teaching many to sew robes. And yet, at the end of her life, she is proclaiming

“Love is all that matters.”

Imagine what the reaction might be if the New York Times were to print in big bold letters on their front page

“Love is all that matters.”

Would road rage disappear? Would waitresses smile at their customers? Would the subway come to a gentle stop? Would the stewardesses, rather than instructing us on the use of the life preservers, tell us that

“Love is all that matters?”

And does she really mean it? Why didn't she just practice

“Love is all that matters?”

rather than Zen.

Maybe Zen, at its best, is about

“Love is all that matters.”

As we pay attention to ourselves and the world we would naturally care for things. We would handle thing “gingerly.” We would evaluate our actions as to whether they were an expression of love or not.

And this is where it can get a little hairy. I put out poison so our house isn't a den for cockroaches. Is that love? Maybe for us, but not the blessed little creatures.

If it were so simple, life would be that simple. What is the loving thing to do is sometimes quite difficult to figure out. It might take meditation to see the challenge clearly. It might take a college degree. It might take going to jail for what you believe to be the best action. It might take every ounce of our energies to act on that most import maxim

“Love is all that matters.”

Kim Mosley