S’no worries…

An interesting week. Last Sunday at the Wallowa Buddhist Temple; after meditation the monks and lay practitioners in attendance conducted and participated in, a Memorial Service for my wife Linda. She died on the 29th of January, 2014 and since the dates coincided with the last day the temple was going to be open before the monks went on their own retreat for the month of February, it seemed good to offer this service. A nice discussion followed along with tea and some goodies and a delicious pot-luck lunch. A nourishing day for many of us, and Linda too.

Went north for a few days and returned very tired from trip and visiting with friends in Tekoa. It’s taking a few days to get back into retreat mode and am a little sick but encouraged because its almost 40 degrees outside.  Spring!  But not, Sproing!!                     That will probably come around March/April.

Part of my personal winter retreat is reading, slowly, the collection of poems titled “The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse” a Chinese hermit/recluse/monk/poet from the 14th Century, translation and commentary by Red Pine, who has done many fine translations over the years. I read a few each day and in a couple of weeks I’ll have gone through the book and then plan to go through it again, writing my own notes relating to the poems and my personal journey along the roads/trails and thickets of Zen.

Also, just finished a nice novel titled “Dictator” by Robert Harris its about Cicero the Roman statesman who was instrumental in various ways (and the recorder) of the changes that took place in The Roman republic from roughly 65 BC to the Triumvirate that ended in the Octavian elevation to Caesar. It’s politically understanding, in the sense that there is nothing new in politics and everyone scrambles, all the time, and they never really know what they are doing. They are just driven by the karma for power and success, and in those days things rarely ended in peaceful retirement. Its based on reality because Cicero left huge quantities of writings and letters. In a way it’s like Procopius’ “Secret” History, or the “Secret History of the Mongols” they  give us a look at reality not legend.

So, in light of todays political angst, the histories and the views of a recluse monk I seem to be landing squarely on the side of stillness. Lord knows I’ve done my share of creating karma that needs help. I’d better get to it and quit all the worry. I do have to remember that worry is also information and teaching, pointing me too…

The snow is so white and furious in its calmness

Just laying there, perching here, sitting on a stump

Quiet and very present. My squinting is making me

Tired and the tension in my eyes is hard to separate

From the worry even though the worry is much,

Much older than the snow. No, no that’s not so…

Snow and worry, water, ice, ocean, accepting, peace. 

Time to feed the donkeys…

And now it’s the 25th of January and the level of fear and worry has risen for many people, and a sense of hope has appeared for many others.

The fear and worry is all about a sense of something entirely new going wrong and this can’t happen here. There’s nothing new, and yes, it can.

The sense of hope has to do with people thinking that finally things will go their way. It may, for a while, but then they won’t like it when it changes, and yes, it will.

I am affected and my feelings are arising in a number of ways, yet my question is always the same.

Since the world is the world and I like it when it comports to my expectations, and I don’t like it when it doesn’t, what can I actually do?

For me, this retreat I’m on gives me the opportunity to look at my reactions physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Quite a mixed bag. I’m grateful that this country and society has given and allowed me the time and freedom from want and worry, to sit quietly, and quite comfortably, and try and see what I can let go of. Let go of, in terms of fear, doubt, worry, remorse, regret, guilt and the consequent anxiety of the future.

My process seems to partake more of seeing where I can loosen my grip* on deeply imbued and settled habits of fear and tension. That loosening is letting go. When I loosen my grip those feelings have a chance to move and wriggle about and then, maybe, I can loosen the grip a little more and those feelings can go out for some air (Yes, torturing the metaphors; Oh, how they wish they could get out of my grip.), and maybe never return, and if they do they’ll not be as close to me as before.

My experience is that to the degree I can let loose on my grip on life the easier things seem to get, and then,the more readily ideas about what I can do to practically help the situation I’m fearful of, or anxious about. Then, I can act more clearly and from a place a little quieter than the fear based presumptions my habitual mind would present as Reality.

The donkeys need some hay and cats are cold and hungry

Each day a little more snow seems to creep onto the scene

Making it beautiful, and fresh, and cold, and I long for Spring

It’s a little too early to yearn too hard for that change, plus 

I can’t bring it about anyway, but it will come on its own

Good time and bring relief and an inner,

I told you so. I just had to stay at peace and throw some hay.

*Grip loosening can consist of merely not believing that something has to be held so tightly.

Alright view…

So far so good.

Slowly starting to adapt to the pull of stillness and meditation. Through a not particularly thorough investigation of what is arising, (The purpose of meditation is not to dissect or scrutinize the the things that arise, rather to just let them be, and look, and let them move on.), I can see the layers of worry, fear, doubt, anxiety, despair, planning, wishing, hoping, and thinking-things-through-to-no-conclusion; just lift off and dissipate to return whence they came. Nowhere. Now here.

Always interesting, that, because I do invest much time in my life dealing with all these feelings and thought processes as if they were extremely important and need my complete belief and attention. Most of them are, in a way, “Fake News! Not Good! Not Fair!”.  It is good to notice them and those that recur frequently (Frequent Flyers, I call them), can be looked at and examined in other contexts but are merely distractions in formal meditation. They do deserve perusal, after all they are coming up for a reason; they want attention because they are trying to teach me something for my own good.

Also, I’m realizing  again (ad-nauseam), that I have no idea of what I’m doing, there’s no real plan here except to see what arises and what my next step in life may be, mostly regarding location. I’ve been unsettled for the last three years. The 29th will be the third anniversary of Linda’s death and it feels like a time for making some decisions. Since I have nothing to base any decision on, i.e. no strong desire to live in a particular place or engage in any particular activity, nor do I have hobbies or any interests that depend on location. I’m fungible (I like the word), I’m inter-changeable with me.                               There are a couple of things that I wouldn’t mind happening in my life but they are completely out of my control so they may happen, or not.

Ultimately I have absolutely no idea where, how, or what, I’ll be doing or thinking after these two months are up, but I’ll see things differently than I do now and I may make decisions that aren’t on the radar right now. I remember that in April of 1967  I was in Basic Training with the Army at Fort Bragg, N.C. Before I went there I had a plan for my life, sort of. Be somebody. That notion has no relevance in my life today.

I’ll never forget the impact those eight weeks had on me. They weren’t among the biggest experiences off my life but they informed a huge portion of it afterward. These super-cold mornings, after feeding the horses I’m sort of looking out for; I run up a small incline, below zero through lots of snow and I chant cadence-counting running songs learned in Basic. “I don’t know but I’ve been told…”  “I want to be an Airborne Ranger, I want to lead a life of danger” “You had a good home and you left…Right!” 50 years later?

All of it had to do with choices. I made many choices based on my very best thinking. That I’m around, healthy, and relatively sane is pure good fortune, good karma. Today, this very day, I am aware of the forces that, despite my best thinking, got me into the position I am in now.

I’m in a smallish cabin in Northeastern Oregon, which I rented with the thought that here I could challenge myself and see if I can come up with twelve little poems worth a gnats fart. But, my being here is not the culmination of a plan or wish. It is the result of actions I undertook as part of getting and staying clean and sober, now almost a half a life-time ago. Previous plans and many of my wishes and actions were completely about me and what I could wrest from, or should be given in life, to make me happy. Those plans and wishes that developed slowly over time in sobriety which coincides with my Buddhist training, seem to have put me into this place, at this time, in this position.

In this cabin by myself, content, sufficient, healthy (ish), sane (ditto), and have the golden opportunity to sit still be quiet and just look at self, the scenery of life, the scenery of the location.

Gratitude!

Just abiding, waiting to see what or which alights next,

Coming to the earth or descending from the vehicle; to

Settle and stay in the place where the opposites may

Arise, yet not confound.

What can be greater fortune than to be aware of

Coming and going, neither ascending nor

Descending, yet finding that seat from which the 

View is all encompassing and disturbing too. Yes,

Is always the right response

No boundary.

what creature passes?

A week of very cold weather and finally some snow and and warming coming for a few days. As I am going into retreat mode I don’t really have to plan a lot, things seem to be coming into some sort of recognizable form that will allow me to just meander into a structure which will be the backbone of settling down for a couple of months of quieting down. My plan is 49 days, ending on March 12th. Plenty of space built in for needful things to be done but also lots of space and time to settle into a relaxed way of being by myself.

I am also aware of the fact that I may run screaming into Walla Walla Airport and catch a flight to Vegas, but I like to think not. I’m by myself and have the opportunity to look closely at my many assumptions and presumptions about who and what I am and what I am doing with my life. Seems a little late, in a way, I’m 69; but I’ve never been precocious. So, I’ll just have to follow that prompt, hint, nudge; and see where it leads or points. I expect a bit of discomfort, I’ve glanced at all of my life but have left a few things unexplored; more will be revealed.

Furrows as wide as my hand

Circling paths in the snow

They come, they go and I

Wonder what strange creature?

Then I see the three quail jump,

From roadside scratching for

Food, and land in the soft snow and

Sink down, a few inches, then walk

Ahead. Chests denting deep into

Powder and little feet dog-

Paddling and tails dragging,

Wiping clean the tell tale

Sign of what Creature passed.

Our lives are like that too.

beckoning glow…

Its been an interesting several weeks on many levels and I never got anything written that seemed pertinent to anything. I had a terrific visit with my brother and his wife and their new grandchild. Classic Christmas, really enjoyed it, being with the little bit of family I have and seeing that fresh new life changing every day; another synapse connected another motor skill refined just a touch, a brighter and truer eye connecting with the world.

A baby born with karma into a world of karma surely will create some; but the potential for good is deeply imbued into its very existence and that is the miracle for not only the Christmas story/season, but a truth for everything that comes into existence. We are all born perfect just as we are, there is no sin, no taint, nothing misplaced. Endless potential for good and compassion. That we grow into the world and make mistakes is part of the deal, and to the degree that we can see our mistakes and try our best to remedy them, that is the fulfillment of the original potential. Ultimately, we just keep trying the best we know how. That is the miracle.

Lots of things going on at the horse ranch and in life generally, and I am in process of starting a 49 day personal retreat that will end on the 12th of March (Equinox, I think).

I am letting the process of that develop daily and change as it wishes to, but plan on a schedule of activities that, to me, are for the purpose of looking looking within and becoming more still deliberately, and to take a good look at what arises. Simple.I’ll know more after a while.

If so moved I may post a bit about the process and such, and may do so on “off days” which are built into my schedule.

In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes up.

The white Winter with

Its light and very 

Short days, beckons

With small warm glows

At night, to guide.

Lean into the mountain…

A week of snow, on and off, and some single digit temperatures. A taste of Winter. Just enough to get me kind of excited. I’d forgotten how the Winters up here can be an ongoing challenge. All modes of transport involve extra care. Walking is most dangerous in town, because most places don’t shovel their sidewalks, either correctly or at all and no parking lot or street parking is safe; once your out of your car, walk mindfully.

Modern times add a few extra concerns. When the Wi-fi broadcast signal goes out on Sheep Ridge, it may not come back on for the rest of the day or tomorrow. Arhggggg!!! Can’t access Facebook! Missing out on pictures of casserroles,  grandkids in school plays, and that newfangled dessert they’re offering at TGI-Fridays, and those cute  cat-videos. What amused us before cat videos?

Anyway, enough of a preview to make me look forward to Jan. Feb. and March. I plan to make those “retreat(ish)”months where I can hunker down and look at  my spiritual life in terms of meditation and being still. Spiritual belt-tightening as Reverend Alden used to call it.

In the meantime, this week I’m getting ready to go back to D.C. over Christmas and just relax, having gotten into the swing of things here on the ranch, I can see myself holding forth on the plane to the poor unfortunate sitting near me, how it’s good to get away from all that jus’ plain ol’ ranchin’; even though I’m just a Ranch Finger, part-time volunteer at that. Like the ladies at the Hospital gift-shop; helpful and necessary  but not vital to the operation, yet certainly to their own well-being.

The bulk of the herd is out to Winter pasture and there is only an Old Mare and a One-eyed Stallion to feed on the lower pasture and two nice Donkeys in an upper paddock who are not too happy to be there because they have no cover; but I bring them some carrots twice a day along with some alfalfa and go and break up the ice on the water trough they share with the horse herd, which also gives me a chance to yack and pet with them for a bit; sometimes one or two of the Breakfast Cats come along and and make nice with the Burros too. I named them Lewis and Clark, because they are so intrepid and can-do.

Also, four  Pack-Mules and Luna and her Colt, Roscoe , who was born one morning in a ditch of water in pasture below my cabin. That morning I felt I was in a movie, I milled around as he was being helped to drink milk, taken from his mother because he was too small to stand and get his own, and after four hours he stood up and he found the nipple. He survived after couple of other drawbacks and is now a rambunctious little colt who already acts like a Future Stallion. Those four mules will help keep him in line as he goes through his first Winter.

There are also two Elk carcasses down by the river that had been butchered and are now in the capable hands of the Magpies, Coyotes and a Golden Eagle who I have seen fly above.

I went by there the other morning to do a short Buddhist Funeral service for them and chant some bits of scripture that I felt appropriate while circambulating them in the snow. Magpies waited patiently. One line goes “…the things that are eaten, and those doing the eating are universally void of Self…”. There is nothing to judge, in any fashion. Everything has a reason for being the way that it is. There is always a “before”

The past is Prelude.

The question for me is, “What am I building Now and how does it influence the Future?” , and that is part of that looking within and seeing where I can do better; that this Winter will be partly focused on, the other parts are doing the things that need doing and those that are good to do. Hopefully, they combine more often than not.

Ascending the mountain I lean into

It for help and, it is given.

Standing in the stream I look up and 

See the water flowing towards and away,  down 

Behind me.

Yet, there I am.

 

Snow, flies, silence, buzzing…

In the well-lit loft of the Wallowa Buddhist Temple in Joseph, OR, in Wallowa County, (“The County” as the residents tend to refer to it), I sit with seven other people, after a couple of meditation periods, for a Dharma talk and discussion. I look out of the large windows and watch the First Crop snow flakes of the year fall and settle, fall and land plump, wet and they clump, pile up and accentuate the bare trees and and fence rails and there is a relief that finally it has come. I drove about fifteen miles from where I live which  is about 300 feet lower in elevation and where there is just wet slush. At the temple, a short distance up Hurricane Creek Rd., it’s real snow. Winter.

The Dharma talk is given by the younger of the two female monks who reside, practice and offer Buddhist teaching at this temple.

As the snowflakes drop, large, gravid and at ease; I see in the windowsill there are three old flies trying to fly up the window to attain some necessary position within their House Fly Imperatives but only manage about a foot of flight before they settle back down on the sill, to try again and again. Life is now very short for these Winter Flies. Later in the day, or the next, their carcasses will be respectfully gathered up and with a verse from the Funeral Ceremony for Animals, will be placed outside, to mix with the snow and settle in to their next activity.

We are having tea and some sweet offerings brought by Sangha members and the Dharma talk is on a tiny portion of the mighty Avatamsaka Sutra, a Chinese text held in high esteem especially in the Chan/Zen traditions and is the basis of the Kegon school of Buddhism in Japan. Its very precise descriptions of inter-related phenomena and how they produce This, and the journey to complete enlightenment that is the understanding of all descriptions and their inherent emptiness. More or less.

The black flies fly upward, constrained by

Clear glass through which I see the white

Snow fall to ground. Heaven touching earth.

The flies are old with wings worn thin, and

Tattered by the efforts life. Like me; although

Warm, eating chocolate, sipping tea, at ease

Listening to the teachings of a deep, ever changing

Present intertwining all of the phenomena as the

Snow falls white and the flies fall black. Buzzing

(the background noise of Silence),

Sangha discusses intertwining while very quiet down

Drifting snow encloses the miracle within each

Condition of the world as it goes on, and on and,

Sure as snowflakes fall to earth, one day, perhaps

Today, if not, then certainly another. I will buzz one

Last time against the false constraint of a window

Pane of my conjuring, and pass through it and join the

Falling snows as they settle to nourish this Earth and

Every thing.