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

Turtle Poems, Prose and Photos

Photo by Donna Birdwell


A Turtle Responds


I

We who are slow are not patient but unwavering.
We mine a deep and ancient reserve
to haul massive bony shields,
borne of the rib,
across the chaos and speed of the road.


II

Stop to save me if you must,
but know this: I am not your pet
or your symbol for surrender and humility.
I may well kick you or jerk myself
violently from your hands,
for I do not amble aimlessly.
I know where I am going.
If you return me to where I began,
I will turn and begin again.


III

We aren’t so different, you and I.
We share a brain, a reptilian instinct
to survive that breeds wild determination.
The axle is an impediment, yes, but not the enemy.
The enemy is to remain: stranded and far from home.

—Emma Skogstad

Photo by Donna Birdwell

Turtle

“Who would be a turtle who could help it?”
—Kay Ryan


Well, think. It's slow progress
but things worth doing sometimes take patience—
clearing the house for sale,
facing a wall for decades and still no turn-around.

So. We inch on,
do not poke our heads up to measure progress.
In front of us, a grass stem to nibble, a dip with sand.

Still, you have to wonder. Who would be a turtle?
I thought like that, thought the turtle a comic plodder
condemned to life in mud and swamping meadow
but when the therapist said, turn and face the fear
that's hammering on the door, what did I grab to save me?
A turtle. Her ceramic dome, splayed feet
stood between me and horror.

Someone had painted the shell pink and daisy yellow,
brushed the big eyes turquoise.
No ninja warrior, armored tank—a decoration
for a girl's bedroom or a kitschy garden—
but it was Turtle all the same.

Turtle, who bears the world on her back,
who stacks, turtle upon turtle, to hold up the universe.
Turtle, who feels the weight of all that holding—
claws, schist layers, tectonic plates, pulsars—
and does not complain.

She who takes one step at a time, who cannot be rushed,
whose home is everywhere,
who counsels, Continue.
If you are slow, be slow. It is sufficient.

Sarah Webb

Photo by Donna Birdwell


I drag my shell behind me
Iike a raft through the desert.
It disserves me by
keeping the demons in.

—Jeff Taylor

Photo by Donna Birdwell

Always Home

The one good thing about being a turtle, I’ve always thought,
Is that you’re always home.
You never take up space
In a place
When you’re not there.

I see a lot of interest these days
In “tiny houses.”
The thing about a tiny house
Is that it’s got just enough
Space for the basics of life.
I guess a turtle’s home is kind of like that.

With a tiny house
There’s no impetus to collect stuff
Or buy things.
There’s no place to put it.
Better to just enjoy it for what it is,
For the moment,
And then move on,
Leaving all the stuff behind.
No need to take it with you.

Some people see the turtle as graceless,
Stuck inside her heavy, hard container.
No way to get out.
But when we move about
Are we so much better?
We have to take the car
Our keys, our phones,
Our wallets, our credit cards,
Our IDs and glasses.
Turtles don’t have to carry all that stuff.
Turtles just move along
Quietly,
Deliberately,
Slowly,
Humbly.
And when they feel like a nap,
They just stop
And take a nap.

Donna Birdwell

Photo by Donna Birdwell

I'm not going to tell them how my sister killed her sick turtle by putting it in the freezer. They might not understand how that is Zen writing.

Well, if her intent was to relieve the turtle from suffering maybe we could forgive her. But it was just that, who wants a turtle covered with fungus who could barely move?

Our freezer wasn't the modern type that auto defrosts. It was more like a cavern mostly filled with ice. I'm not sure we ever defrosted that thing with its big chrome handle and obnoxious heavy curves.

Wait, I wasn't going to write about that. “No, Kim, don't you dare mention that,” she said. “If you ever say that I'll never talk to you again.”

“I just didn't know what else to do,” she said. “It was so sick, and it would have died anyway, you know.”

A few years later we had a Fourth of July party, and Alex, the kid closest to my age, went with me to our garage where I had a goldfish. “Let's see what happens,” I said, “when we put iodine in the water.” So we did. At first it did bother the fish, but later….

Why didn't I speak up and save the turtle? Why didn't Alex save the fish? We were both responsible for the demise of these helpless creatures.

Today my wife was bothered that someone didn't give as they had promised. “Should I say something,” she asked? I told her that I called up and complained to a lawn care company because they cleaned up one yard by blowing all the debris across the street. Tonight they used a hose rather than a leaf blower. A little progress in Austin.

I can imagine the turtle and the goldfish exchanging stories in pet heaven about how there owners were missing their hearts. I wonder what stories the lawn debris tell about how they happened to be relocated by a noisy wind machine.

P.S. My wife claims it was she or us that froze the turtle… not my sister. Is there a statute of limitations on turtle and fish abuse? She claims it was the most humane way to send it to the next world. We didn’t have Google to ask, “How the ♥♥♥♥ do you kill a Turtle?

P.S.S. My sister Gail just wrote, "I never put the turtle in the freezer. I think it was Linda (my wife).

But I did bury my alive turtle along with Sandy's dead one to see if it would get to China. In Grandma and Grandpa‘s yard in Portland. So I wrote her to see if they made it to China.“

P.S.S.S. “You can use my name. They got to China I think but I'm not sure.”

P.S.S.S.S. Our parents shielded us from death. So I guess we had to do our own experimenting. When we did kaddish tonight at prayer service, I asked if we could say a prayer for some animals that I killed when I was a kid. The rabbi said sure, we can do that.

Kim Mosley

Photo by Donna Birdwell

Poems by Jeff Taylor

Photo—Kim Mosley

The Season of Convalescence

In my great grandmother's time,
people went to the continent
to take the waters
after sickness, or accident, or
a setback, a bad turn of fortune.

Others would make their bed,
bring a pitcher of water,
cook a little something
light and nutritious,
poached fish in white wine sauce,
some herbs and greens,
a side of boiled potatoes.

They would write: memoirs, letters,
take a walk in the garden, rest
or nap before dinner, have
a slipper of sherry
in the parlor
before retiring.


The Season of Cancer

In between
the time to be born
and the time to die comes
the season of cancer
hard up against the one or the other
for cancer is always
a time to live or a time to die.

And at the turn of the season
comes the hardest past
the time of waiting
with no changing of season
to look forward to, for
it is always out of sight
until passed.

It is hard.

It is easier
to live with pain
than face uncertainty.


Aftermath

After the whirlwind's passed
and the emergency responders
responded and gone home

After the neighborhood’s
pulled together and pulled through,
the calm descends.

There's time to look back and say,
“Damn, that was close.
We almost didn't make it.
I didn't understand why
the experts were
in such a hurry, I mean
it wasn't like we were
in any danger, were we?”

Velveteen Rabbit

Our prompt: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/williams/rabbit/rabbit.html
He said, "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

++++++++++

Wilbur

Wilbur is rough, not sleek.
 His sweater is misshapen
and beginning to run.

The moths have eaten away
 at the wool herringbone
of his soles.

The forward lean I took
 for aggression is
actually curiousity.

The scruffy appearance is not
 from brawling but crawling
through the brambles, pushing
 to see what's on
the other side.

The head cocked to the side,
 the quizzical look,
“How's it going, guy?”

Compassionate, curious.
 What I want to be
when I grow up.

—Jeffery Taylor



++++++++++

Zen Writing and The Velveteen Mouse

When JoJo came to Memorial Hospital in Houston
To be my special friend many years ago
He had wonderful bright green velvet pantaloons
And eyes that went around when he shook
And beautiful, big, round velvet ears.

JoJo was my very special amoravore.
I did not drag him around the trailer park by his foot
Like Annabelle—her head bumping along in the dirt.
JoJo was special.
Maybe it was those green velvet pantaloons?

When I flew to New York after graduation,
JoJo stayed behind in Texas.
But not for long.
I was trying to become,
And it just didn't work without JoJo.

To become takes a long time.
I ask myself, "How will you ever become
If you break easily, have sharp edges,
And have to be carefully kept?"

But I must have become
Because my joints are loose,
And lately I have begun to look very shabby.

I talk to JoJo,
Who is very real.
All the white fur is rubbed off
His beautiful mouse face
And his big, round ears.
And he tells me,
"These things don't matter at all,
Because once you are real,
You can't be ugly."

—Janelle Taylor

++++++++++

I saw a photo of me 60 years ago. “What a cute kid,” I thought. Then I remembered how I thought of myself then and was surprised at how different that was to how I think of myself now.


There is a Buddhist meditation where we scan our innards (see: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/khantipalo/wheel271.html). The idea is to not get attached to our youthful stupendous looks and to just see ourselves as nothing too appetizing.

This is more in line with the Velveteen Rabbit, who has developed her charm and grace over many years. She is no longer our prom queen. The beauty she now maintains is far deeper and more substantial.

In Europe we see buildings that are a couple of thousands of years old. Some have been maintained and others are mere skeletons of what they once were. But they all have a patina and a presence that is not seen in our modern buildings.

We are a society of the new. Models have a short life span. Unfortunately or fortunately, they don't look like the rest of us. Wouldn't it be nice to see people in the fashion ads that had bald heads and beer bellies and used a cane or wheelchair to get around? People might not look like Miss America, but on the inside, they have the patina of a building that has been around for a while and have acquired a big heart and much wisdom that has lit up the lives of many.

Sadly, some mourn their aging. They look at how they aren't as they were, not at what they are. Some attempt to change their exterior rather than paying attention to the beauty of their interior. They are looking in the wrong mirror. Hopefully they will figure it out before it is too late.

Kim Mosley

The Moon

Photo by AJ Bunyard (w/moon added)

Prompt: One evening a thief visited Ryōkan's hut at the base of the mountain only to discover there was nothing to steal. Ryōkan returned and caught him. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.” The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away. Ryōkan sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, “I wish I could have given him this beautiful moon.” This story may be an interpretation of an account mentioned by Ryōkan in a haiku:

The thief left it behind:
the moon
at my window.

++++++++++

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.

—Dogen

++++++++++

At night, I open the window
and ask the moon to come
and press its face against mine.
Breathe into me.
Close the language-door
and open the love-window.
The moon won't use the door,
only the window.

―Rumi, A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings

++++++++++

All the Sky and the Moon in It

I would have fed you moon, my love,
scoop of chilled white vanilla moon,
out of black sky, into an ice cream cone.

You would have known you are everything.
(You'd have tasted the moon.)

—Emma Skogstad

++++++++++

The Moon and I

I tread on purple laurel blossoms,
Searching for the moon.
The moon is not there among the fallen blooms.
Doves are startled from magnolia trees,
Where they meant to roost tonight.
The moon is not in the branches of the dark magnolias.
A cat with nothing but its voice for a begging bowl
Asks, but I have nothing to give.
The moon is not here.
Meanwhile,
The moon –
Minding its own business –
Is not much interested in laurel blossoms,
Or magnolia trees,
Or the needs of hungry cats.
Looking up, 
Into the vastness of the empty sky,
I see the moon at last…
But only part of it.
The full sphere is mostly hidden.
Yet I am content to call
This silver crescent “the moon.”
It has other names.
In Spain it is “la luna”,
In Tibet, “dawa”.
The moon doesn’t mind what we call it.
It’s nature is neither moon
nor luna
nor dawa
nor ice cream
nor the leavings of a thief.
It knows its own way.
I know it will be back tomorrow. 

Donna Dechen Birdwell

++++++++++

I saw the moon after my friends had spotted it, high in the pale blue sky. It was framed for me by a somewhat square of tree branches that reminded me of how a cameraman holds his fingers when roughly framing a shot he's looking at, to see if it will work. It worked.

The soft spring air brought sounds of a roofing crew laying black felt over a plywood roof, the hammering of the stapler—a familiar sound from my past. The crew was working hard past the usual quitting time, in case it rained before they could get the shingles down. I wished that I could have given them the silver moon as a bonus.

I saw the moon last Sunday night from my son's backyard, in the country, outside of the city's light pollution sphere. It was “holding water” and the planet Venus, looking like a small brilliant yacht, was anchored just off the starboard shore of the silver crescent.

The night after my son was born (at home), I wrapped him in a small blanket and went out on the deck behind our house. I pulled the blanket back and held him skyward. I looked at the moon and stars sternly and said, “This is my son. Protect and guide him. I put my trust and faith in you.”

The gods have not disappointed me. They have honored my request and given me the moon.

—Robert Porter

++++++++++

A Princess in a Castle High

She's locked herself into a tower
high high above the sea
and drawn thick walls about her close
against the moon and its seduction.

Still, she cannot hold it away.
It seeps in through the barred windows
and the long tunnel of the well
where it shines up at her and seems about to speak.

On nights of the full she can hardly sleep
feeling the hiss of light, the tug
yearning to it like the waves so far below
she cannot hear their crash and pull
though, like them, she rises, jostles.

Oh, go away, she wants to say to it
what is the use of all your weeping, plucking?
and when you are joyous, you will have to feel that joy alone.

But not quite alone, in truth
because she does hear that shout of light
does clench her fist, storm with the storm
and though she tries, she cannot help but dream
and, dreaming, floats her way to sea.


Ceremony for a Moonlit Night

We cannot say it is this date
or that—the fifth of August
or the second full moon,
only, when the lake is still,
a silver plate under the silver
circle of the moon,
under the waiting stars.

Then we come
each holding in two hands
—exactly so—
a boat prepared with coping saw
and red and yellow paint,
pulled from its hiding place
for such as night as this.

Each child ties the sail,
lights the candle at the back,
and out the vessels go,
bearing their frail light into the dark.

Sarah Webb