Memories

The severity that can be present in Zen is so opposite of my temperament, but since it
was the first meditation experience offered to me (by my friend Flying Clouds when I
was 18) and since I never forgot it (though it was one of the most wretched 30 minute
periods I ever spent), I knew I would return, and thus came back again 20 years ago.
Maybe I knew it might give me something I might not gain otherwise. I love the utter
simplicity of Zen, its essential nature, the invitation to “just sit”, and go deep inside.
Often the best scientific theories are the ones which explain the facts with the greatest
economy and simplicity. Zen is like that: no frills, no labyrinths of explanation, only bare
experience and the ability to watch it quietly. For someone like me, so ruled by moods
and emotions, it is such a gift to deep below the ocean, or into the limitless Big Sky,
where emotions just float away, and everything changes except the light, or the water,
the fundamental mediums of existence.

As a child, I knew that light spoke of the Absolute for me. And all of my life, I have
dreamed of water- springs, brooks, turquoise seas, hot pools carved in the stone. I
remember Flying Clouds telling me a dream about the time she taught me to do Zazen.
She was in a stone church, very simple, and she went to the side of one of the
foundations. There was a trickle of water there, and she started to dig in the sandy
ground with her hands. As she dug, beautiful clear springs began to come into the
church, and she was filled with joy. It was her dream, but she gifted me its image, which
has stayed with me always.

I remember my childhood in the Hill Country, the dark cold house so full of anger and
sadness, where mice got eaten by snakes coming up through the jagged floorboards,
where hope could die if left there long enough.

But I also remember the outdoors, the massive live oak trees with gnarled roots, the
pungent tang of the juniper and its red bark strips which birds used to weave little nests.
I remember the scent of chinaberry, honeysuckle, old roses, and lilacs, left behind by
the old settlers who came before us. I remember the brilliant light that lit up the fields
and turned the grasses to shades of gold and copper. I remember the circular swimming
hold down by the old bridge, shaded but with rays of sunlight hitting green water, the
schools of minnows and little mud catfish, the golden enclosure of the limestone. I
remember how the water in the brook was clear and babbled over the flat limestone and
sparkled in the sun. I vaguely remember bog plants, sedges and little white flowers, wild
onions with their pungent scent, tiny pokey little rain frogs that could be caught in the
boggy areas. And sometimes fat velvety little tadpoles in the water.

I remember playing with my brothers, not really together, just in quiet company- rather
like in the Zendo. We were deeply connected, but also deeply solitary, few words
spoken, but together in our immersion in this beautiful sylvan world.

Nature always had its dark side, however. The black snakes in the limestone crevices,
the carcasses, the half eaten frogs left by a predator, the crushing droughts that killed
the flowers and dried up the creeks to isolated, sad, scum-filled little waterholes and
trapped minnows. It was all there, but if one could float and accept, the world held us
and brought a sense of life going on. Not necessarily a single life, but life in the all of it.
We might not continue, individual frogs and fish might not continue, but life itself in
some way would continue.

—Elayne Lansford

The Prize

“I have a tape of a Tibetan nun singing a mantra of compassion over and over for an hour, eight words over and over, and every line feels different, feels cared about, and experienced as she is singing. You never once have the sense that she is glancing down at her watch, thinking, “Jesus Christ, it’s only been 15 minutes.” Forty-five minutes later she is still singing each line distinctly, word by word, until the last word is sung.

Mostly things are not that way, that simple and pure, with so much focus given to each syllable of life as life sings itself. But that kind of attention is the prize.”

-Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

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The Prize

“That kind of attention is the prize.”
What is the competition?
How many prizes are given out?
What if the struggle is not
against another, against nature,
against scarcity, real or imagined.

If the struggle is against ourself,
there is enough
for everyone.


Michelangelo or some other sculptor claimed
not to create anything but merely
to remove the stone surrounding, revealing
what was already there all along.
The nun has removed, discarded,
chipped away all distraction
until all that remains is
pure, simple attention.


There is time enough to do
what needs to be done.
Do not hurry, but
there is no time to waste.


Reciprocation

“Mostly things are not that way,
that simple and pure, with
so much focus given to
each syllable of life as life sings itself.”

Or maybe it is
giving each syllable of life
that much focus unwraps
a life simple and pure.


Taizé at Mercy Chapel

TaizĂ© at Mercy Chapel—
there are instruments
to set the pitch, nothing more.
We sing four lines, maybe eight,
over and over. Time loses
its significance, the small orchestra
invisible beneath the press of voices, hundreds strong.

We sing, more than once,
less than many, no matter.
We sing until our voices warm,
are held, entranced
by songs, words repeating, forgotten,
still sung, it's the song that lifts,
not the words.

—Jeffery Taylor

Let It Go

Prompt: Let It Go by Danna Faulds

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The sadness and grief have hardened me; 
the laughter and love soften me. 
The space between them is empty, 
ready to accept the next fleeting moment, 
to hold it briefly, 
and be forever changed.

—Lori H.

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Riding the Wave's Crest

To ride the wave,
you must catch it,
paddle or swim hard,
match direction and speed
to arrive in style.

Or wash up on the beach.

—Jeffery Taylor

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Invaders


Bunches of small pink bunnies beat
Their drums, relentlessly, wrecking
The wall of my R.E.M, bringing me
Crashing into awake.

The search for the long sought lands
Of somnambulant Shangri-La foiled, again.
How am I to attract Delta & Theta into
The labyrinth of my greying matter
With all that racket being made?

The government has invaded me, too!
Launching drones of Daylight Savings Time
Obliterating legions of sleepy eyed Sandmen,
Who are armed only with buckets of dreams.
Each stumbling, defenseless, against
The glare of the blazing sun.

Wailing Smart Phones and iPad screens scream
“Wake Up! You are Missing SOME THING!”

—Martha Ward

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It takes so much energy for me to not let it go, yet I hold on with dear life, as the expression goes. It has a life of its own. It could be the pristine surface of a new car. It could be my ability to climb walls when I was 20. It could be any number of things that went away on their own. The scroll in the zendo tells me that everything changes. Holding on tight doesn't really keep things from changing. It just prolongs that change a little.

I had to meet her dad to take her to the prom. He didn't want to let go. How I would love to meet him now, learning that 50 years ago he may have been the primary person responsible for splitting the atom at the University of Chicago. But then it was just a dad who couldn't let his daughter go. And now she may still be held tight by her dad, long ago deceased, who won't let her go.

I was thinking about letting go of my stories. Which one should I start with? How about the one that I can do anything by myself. That's a joke. So many tools were given to me that enabled my survival and my happiness. People for thousands of years worked their tails off so I could type on this ipad. And so many people went way beyond the call of duty to nudge me on. So I'll let go of my thought of being self-reliant. 

I could let go of my story that I'm any better than I am. When I goofed up today and forgot to give the chant card to the head student, I was embarrassed. Someone might have noticed that I wasn't as good as I wanted them to believe. I screwed up, as I do most days in one way or another. Major screw up ;). Yet if I let go of me being any better than I am, then I would just look at my major screw up as indicating I'm just a beginner.

I could let go of the fact that I know anything at all. In ancient China, if you said you've seen a painting, that would mean you could replicate it from memory. So what have I seen, even of my own work?

Let go of friendships too? Why do we think that friendships are forever? Maybe some are, but others change or die. Is that ok? It doesn't matter. Everything changes, right?

I read yesterday that both men and women speak an average of 16,000 words a day. I wonder if I should let go of the idea that I said anything other than to express a lot of confusion. How many of those words were needed? How much more would I have learned if I had shut my mouth and listened? I must let go of the idea that I have something to say. And maybe convert that energy into having something to hear...or even just to be.

When my father was dying he was very brave, yet he had a lot of trouble going to the other side. My sister was yelling at him over the phone, telling him he didn't need to hang on—that he could let go now. It was as if he was holding onto a rope holding himself hanging from a branch on a cliff. He couldn't let go, even knowing that he also could not hold on.

I realized last night that holding on is much harder than letting go. Maybe I think I'm a loser if I don't hold on tight, even if it does little good. What can I let go of next? How long can I hold the rope, anyway?

Kim Mosley