Saturday, March 18, 2006

Gratitude, Day 10

[Image source]

After ten days of doing this practice (with an original goal of 30 days), I've noticed at least one shift in my behavior: I think about things to be grateful for during the course of the day. This isn't the same as spontaneous gratitude, which I think is the preferred approach, but it's a step in the right direction. Often, I am focused on the things that piss me off or annoy me, so to be thinking about things to be grateful for during the day is a huge step forward for me.

So today, I am grateful to be feeling grateful.

What are you grateful for?

No Tarot Post Today

I'm still in D.C., so no Tarot post today. I'll return with my regularly scheduled programming next week.

I welcome any thoughts those of you who read the Tarot meditations might have. Is there anything that I should address that I'm not already? Would ya'all like more focus on how to use the card in a reading, or is the archetypal approach more interesting?

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Gratitude, Day 9

Today I am grateful to be in a city with a subway system. Tucson is all spread out and has no mass transit program other than buses. No freeway, no rail, no subway. So, today I am grateful for a subway in D.C.

I am also grateful for a nice dinner with a new friend. Good food and stimulating conversation at the end of a long, eventful day.

What are you grateful for?

Vietnam War Memorial

I never felt any need to see this memorial. Kira wanted to visit The Wall, so we did. I had two cousins I never knew who died in the war, but I never felt much of a connection to the Vietnam War other than that it was wrong.

So I was there today, taking some pictures, and there was a group of veterans who were looking for names. They had a book they were using. They seemed like average men, except that they all wore something that claimed their status as Vietnam veterans.

I framed this picture and saw their reflections on the wall. They looked like ghosts hovering over the names of those who were lost. I felt such pain and suffering. I couldn't push down my tears. I had to walk away.

I never would have thought The Wall would move me in that way. Maybe it was the men. Maybe it was the grey skies. I don't know.

Some collection of feelings came together in that moment--cultural associations, personal feelings about war and loss, the societal scars from the war, and the physicality of the men who looked for names of friends or family.

I'm glad I went there.

I am glad I was soft enough to be touched by the experience.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

On My Gratitude Practice, Day 8

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During today's mindfulness session (very cool), we talked a little bit about impermanence and gratitude. The two go hand in hand. All things must pass; all living beings must die. To celebrate impermanence, we should feel gratitude for the things in life that we value.

The problem for most of us is that we feel attachment more than gratitude. We grasp to the things we value and cherish. It's a natural response of the ego to do so. Ego fears change, impermanence.

But we can override its grasping by cherishing, by feeling gratitude.

Today, I am grateful for the Dharma. I am grateful for these teachings that offer a way out of grasping and suffering.

I am also grateful for smokehouse almonds, but I think that might be edging over into grasping. And, that's . . . okay.

What are you grateful for?

Washington D.C. Haiku

Soft cherry blossoms
Crows shit on Capitol steps
Old tired city

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Gratitude, Day 7

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Greetings from Washington, D.C. I'm here with Kira to attend the Psychotherapy Networker Symposium. On this day I am so very grateful that long trips eventually come to an end. And I am also grateful that my life is bountiful enough that I can afford to come to events such as this.

Tomorrow I am doing an all-day mindfulness session with students who are ordained students of Thich Nhat Hahn (Anh-Huong Nguyen and Thu Nguyen). I haven't had more than 20 minutes to sit in months, so tomorrow should be nice (once I stop twitching).

So, what are you grateful for?

On Surrender

The idea of surrender usually means to give in, to passively submit to the control of someone or something stronger. To surrender to the Dharma, however, requires the active and continuously renewed commitment of our energy. Surrendering to the teaching is the giving up of our self-images, fears, thoughts, and desires into the hands of deeper self-knowledge. It is submitting to the control of our true nature, which is healthier and stronger than our surface experience can ever be.
Tarthang Tulku: Hidden Mind of Freedom

In the West we have a very skewed sense of what it means to surrender. Most people think of surrender as a bad thing, a sign of weakness, a flaw in our character. We are raised to believe that surrender is what happens when we are defeated.

Perhaps that is true, even for Buddhists. If we see that life is suffering; if we see that our ego stands in the way of our happiness; if we see that self is an illusion; then maybe we will feel defeated enough to seek out the Dharma.

But seeking out the Dharma requires our surrender--it is an active choice.

I am reminded of the Hanged Man in the Tarot deck. He has put himself into a position of surrender, hanging with his foot tied to the branch of a tree. No one put him there. He chose it. He chose to hang upside down in a position of complete surrender.

When we surrender to the Dharma, we also must give up all sense that we control anything in our lives. Obviously, our ego still must function in the world, but at the deeper levels of meaning, we give up the hope that we can make sense of the world. We give up the desire to control outcomes. We acknowledge that our thoughts are leading us astray and causing us suffering.

There is nothing about this process that is passive. Surrendering to our higher self, to the nondual nature of the Kosmos, takes courage. Giving up our finite ego is the hardest thing we will ever do, and it does not happen by chasing the non-egoic. It happens as a result of surrendering to the teachings of emptiness.

Surrender takes strength. It takes trust that our choice will lead to something better than Dukkha. Having made this choice, having been willing to face the unsatisfactoriness of our life, which takes enormous courage and strength, we then begin on the path to enlightenment.

We must learn to work with our emotions. We must learn to become vulnerable. We must develop the tender heart of the warrior. All of these things require us to surrender to our true nature. And they require us to be soft of heart, receptive, open. These are generally not seen as active qualities, as forms of strength. Yet nothing requires more strength than keeping an open, tender heart.

So we practice loving-kindness, or mindfulness, or any number of other practices that help us move through our emotions and into our true nature. However we choose to move beyond ego, the process is difficult. Only through surrender will we ever find the emptiness that is the essence of all things.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Gratitude, Day 6

Relationships are hard work sometimes. When the vastness of our relationships focus down to a single point through which we must pass to move forward, it can feel overwhelming. Today, I am grateful that we do pass through those moments and come out the other side more wise, more open--better people.

What are you grateful for?

[Image by Alex Grey]

Poem: Gregory Orr

Elegy for a Child

Here are consoling pieties
like a tightly-packed
of mortuary statues
through which you
must elbow a path.

Here are sparrows
on a porch
sorting sand from seed
with their beaks.

Here's the hour
that has forgotten
the minute,
though the minnow
remembers the stream.

Here are the roots
in one world,
and the blossom
in the other.

-Gregory Orr, anthologized in The Body Electric

One of my clients works as a hospice nurse. She lost several patients last week and mentioned it during our session. I really admire her ability to handle such a challenging occupation, to be available to those who are about pass beyond this mortal coil.

I've been thinking about her job since that session. I think I could handle the death part of it. People are born, they live, they die. It's all part of the natural process of incarnation. But the part that would rip a hole in me every time is the suffering of the family members.

It seems to me that no matter how much we practice non-attachment, we grieve the loss of friends and family. It isn't weakness, or ego, or some other form of pathology. It's how we celebrate our connection to our fellow beings.

Having said that, loss of a loved one -- or witnessing that loss in others -- is one of the most painful experiences I have known. Even when I am completely separate from the people involved, I feel their pain in ways that make me feel like I have no skin.

I used to think something was wrong with me. I now know that my own experience of loss has left me more sensitive to the experience than some other people might be. That's both good and bad. It would be bad if I worked as a hospice nurse. It's good when my clients are in pain (and several have lost loved ones in the last year) and they simply need to share their loss.

When my father died (I was thirteen), there was no one to tell me that grieving was natural and necessary -- so I did the "stiff upper lip" thing. It took years to unearth that loss from my body -- and I am still working at it.

It has taken me all these years to learn that grieving is how we acknowledge our humanity.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Gratitude, Day 5

When life is challenging, sometimes work is the best medicine. Today, I am grateful for clients with whom I can get out of my ego and be attentive to their needs.

What are you grateful for?

What the Body Knows

This quote is from an article by Reggie Ray, "Touching Enlightenment," in the Spring issue of Tricycle.

The body is open, the body is sensitive, the body is vulnerable, the body is intelligent, and the body is completely beyond judgment. From the body's viewpoint, whether we like or dislike what is occurring in the world is irrelevant. Whatever occurs in our environment, our body receives.

While the body receives experience in a completely open and nonjudgmental way, because of our investment in who we think we are and our efforts to maintain this self, we refuse to receive a great part of what the body knows and feels and understands, "we" meaning our conscious self, our conscious mind, our ego. An experience occurs on a somatic level, and we say "no," or we say, "I want this part of what happened but not that part," but we don't simply accept what the body knows in a straightforward way.

This is what Buddhism calls ignorance. Ignorance is not being unintelligent, uninformed, or deluded. Ignorance is actually incredibly intelligent. Ignorance means that we block out the wisdom and knowledge already abiding in our body that is inconsistent with who we think we are or are striving to be.

This leads to another most important question: what happens to all that denied and rejected experience that we are already holding in our bodies? Simply put, all that somatic awareness and experience is walled off from our consciousness. It abides in a no-man's land in our tissues, our muscles, our ligaments and tendons, our blood, our bones.

There is a lot that can be said about this, including a rejection of Ray's major premise as a violation of the pre-trans fallacy. In general, the body is thought to be pre-mental in its perceptions and experience.

Social psychologists have actually done studies that show the body is only capable of a few basic states (excitement, anxiety, depression, and so on), but that how we interpret those sensations based on the context (social, psychological, and so on) determines how we respond emotionally to the event.

That said, there is still some non-rational truth to what Ray is saying. So this is my response--an old poem from a darker time in my life.

what the body knows

not blood, but some invisible viscous fluid flowing
from the darkest, fertile center, from
a temperate cave of bone within the body’s mystery,
beneath knowing, from this place, not blood,
but something other, seeps from these wounds,
a kind of emotional spring rising to surface
of skin, of awareness, marking the passage of time,
of loss, in slow, uneven currents

and yet, of these common wounds, always more
obvious at night, after some wine, unable
to sleep, again, of these wounds so little known,
pain of loss, yes, but little more is harvested
from this ripeness, from this rich soil where memory
is transfigured to bone, and perhaps,
even some blood in the meditation, unwavering
attention paid, any price to heal

so much more to know, to be tasted and savored,
the simple touch of tongue, gently,
to that wound, and when sleep finally arrives, quietly
converting voice to image, the body
knows what must be done, understands the taste
of what is not blood, yet flows beneath skin,
beneath awareness, understands the subtle alchemy
of loss, nourishing pact with what has passed

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Gratitude, Day 4

[Image source]

On this cold desert night I am grateful I had several hours today to sleep, read, take a nap, and read some more. Much needed.

What are you grateful for?

Sunday Poet: Gary Snyder

At Tower Peak

Every tan rolling meadow will turn into housing
Freeways are clogged all day
Academies packed with scholars writing papers
City people lean and dark
This land most real
As its western-tending golden slopes
And bird-entangled central valley swamps
Sea-lion, urchin coasts
Southerly salmon-probes
Into the aromatic almost-Mexican hills
Along a range of granite peaks
The names forgotten,
An eastward running river that ends out in desert
The chipping ground-squirrels in the tumbled blocks
The gloss of glacier ghost on slab
Where we wake refreshed from ten hours sleep
After a long day's walking
Packing burdens to the snow
Wake to the same old world of no names,
No things, new as ever, rock and water,
Cool dawn birdcalls, high jet contrails.
A day or two or million, breathing
A few steps back from what goes down
In the current realm.
A kind of ice age, spreading, filling valleys
Shaving soils, paving fields, you can walk in it
Live in it, drive through it then
It melts away
For whatever sprouts
After the age of
Frozen hearts. Flesh-carved rock
And gusts on the summit,
Smoke from forest fires is white,
The haze above the distant valley like a dusk.
It's just one world, this spine of rock and streams
And snow, and the wash of gravels, silts
Sands, bunchgrasses, saltbrush, bee-fields,
Twenty million human people, downstream, here below.
Gary Snyder is known both as one of our most important environmental poets and as one of our most distinguished Buddhist poets. I met him once years ago and found him humble, friendly, and quiet. He seemed a man more comfortable in the mountains or on the cushion than at a poetry reading.

Here is a little biography from the Academy of American Poets:
Gary Snyder was born in San Francisco in 1930. He has published sixteen books of poetry and prose, including The Gary Snyder Reader (1952-1998) (Counterpoint Press, 1999); Mountains and Rivers Without End (1997); No Nature: New and Selected Poems (1993), which was a finalist for the National Book Award; The Practice of the Wild (1990); Left Out in the Rain, New Poems 1947-1985; Axe Handles (1983), for which he received an American Book Award; Turtle Island (1974), which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry; Regarding Wave (1970); and Myths & Texts (1960). He has received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Bollingen Prize, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the Bess Hokin Prize and the Levinson Prize from Poetry, the Robert Kirsch Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Times, and the Shelley Memorial Award. Snyder was elected a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets in 2003. He is a professor of English at the University of California, Davis.
There are several biographical sketches of Snyder available online, some of which are fairly interesting.

Here is a bit about Snyder, including his own statements about the energy behind his poetics, the political-social-spiritual impetus.
Raised in the Pacific Northwest, Snyder grew up close to the anthropomorphic richness of the local Native American mythology, the rainforest totems of eagle, bear, raven and killer whale that continue to appear in school and community insignias as important elements of regional consciousness. It is unsurprising that they-and roustabout cousins like Coyote-have long been found at the core of Snyder's expansive vision. Literal-minded rationalists have had difficulty with Snyder's Buddhist-oriented eco-philosophy and poetics. His embrace of Native Indian lore only further ruffled orthodox literary imagination, and in the past his poetry was criticized as being thin, loose or scattered.

As Snyder readers know, the corrective to such interpretations of his work is more fresh air and exercise. Regarding Buddhism, his take is offered simply and efficiently. "The marks of Buddhist teaching," he writes in A Place In Space, "are impermanence, no-self, the inevitability of suffering and connectedness, emptiness, the vastness of mind, and a way to realization."

"It seems evident," he writes, offering insight into the dynamics of his admittedly complex world view, "that there are throughout the world certain social and religious forces that have worked through history toward an ecologically and culturally enlightened state of affairs. Let these be encouraged: Gnostics, hip Marxists, Teilhard de Chardin Catholics, Druids, Taoists, Biologists, Witches, Yogins, Bhikkus, Quakers, Sufis, Tibetans, Zens, Shamans, Bushmen, American Indians, Polynesians, Anarchists, Alchemists, primitive cultures, communal and ashram movements, cooperative ventures."

"Idealistic, these?" he says when asked about such alternative "Third Force" social movements. "In some cases the vision can be mystical; it can be Blake. It crops up historically with William Penn and the Quakers trying to make the Quaker communities in Pennsylvania a righteous place to live-treating the native peoples properly in the process. It crops up in the utopian and communal experience of Thoreau's friends in New England.

"As utopian and impractical as it might seem, it comes through history as a little dream of spiritual elegance and economic simplicity, and collaboration and cooperating communally-all of those things together. It may be that it was the early Christian vision. Certainly it was one part of the early Buddhist vision. It turns up as a reflection of the integrity of tribal culture; as a reflection of the kind of energy that would try to hold together the best lessons of tribal cultures even within the overwhelming power and dynamics of civilization."
To really appreciate Snyder, you must read him. So here are some more poems.

For Lew Welch In A Snowfall

Snowfall in March:

I sit in the white glow reading a thesis
About you. Your poems, your life.

The author's my student,
He even quotes me.

Forty years since we joked in a kitchen in Portland
Twenty since you disappeared.

All those years and their moments—
Crackling bacon, slamming car doors,
Poems tried out on friends,
Will be one more archive,
One more shaky text.

But life continues in the kitchen
Where we still laugh and cook,
Watching snow.

Hiking in the Totsugawa Gorge

a waterfall

Regarding Wave

The voice of the Dharma
the voice

A shimmering bell
through all.

Every hill, still.
Every tree alive. Every leaf.
All the slopes flow.
old woods, new seedlings,
tall grasses plumes.

Dark hollows; peaks of light.
Wind stirs the cool side
Each leaf living.
All the hills.

The Voice
is a wife

him still.

Gary Snyder on the Web:
PoemHunter: 7 poems
Modern American Poetry: poems and criticism (great resource); be sure to read "Smoky Bear Sutra"
UC Davis Snyder page
American Poems: 6 poems
Sonarchy: Gary Snyder: Gary Snyder, in a discussion with Alan Watts, Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg, talks about spiritual change. This conversation takes place at Mr. Watts' houseboat in Sausalito, 1967. Edited by Rob Potter, 1995. In Real Audio and .aiff formats.
Wenaus: 13 poems