Saturday, April 22, 2006


Some days it just feels like I should just stand still and wait for the Kosmos to have its way with me. No matter what I have in mind, the Kosmos interrupts with its own agenda for my day. Not much to do but go along, I guess.

So today I am grateful that the Kosmos cares enough to f**k up my plans. I feel so warm inside -- so special.

Oh wait, that's the curry.

What are you grateful for?

Integral Spiral with Amazing Artwork

You MUST check this out. The is one of the coolest graphics I have seen anywhere. Just move your cursor over the text on the right to see the info that goes with it.

Here is the mini, non-interactive poster version.

Click the image to go to the site.

I found this at Zaadz.

Happy Earth Day

[image source]

searching the elements

“the soil in the hand is the flesh
--Sam Hamill

granite ribs beneath the surface,
a skin of moss and loose lichen

so many roots dig into bone,
oak limbs reach to sky

blue as depths of still water
waiting to spill over into rapids

this heartbeat, lungs filled with winds
blowing from the coast

a handful of soil tossed
into the river, an oracle of flesh

Tarot as Mirror of the Psyche: The Lovers

[Please see the Introduction to this series for a brief synopsis of my approach to working with the major trumps of the Tarot. I am hoping to post a new meditation each Saturday. I use meditation here in the philosophical sense of the word, meant to denote an open-ended, free-form exploration of an idea.]

Few cards in the Tarot are as popular, and misunderstood, as The Lovers. The card has also suffered more changes than most others, usually toward simplicity and away from the original psychological complexity of the image. For most of this series, I have started with the Rider-Waite version of each card because it is the best known, but for the Lovers, I want to start with the Marseille version.

This is the version of the card Sallie Nichols works from in Jung and Tarot, but I think she generally misreads the card in some ways.

The image shows a young man (our friend, the Fool) standing between two women. The woman on his left (remember that the left side is the unconscious side) appears to be young, like him, and has her hand on his heart. The woman on his right appears to be much older than the two others, and she has her hand on his shoulder.

The young man's body is positioned toward the younger woman, while he looks at the older woman. The body, again, is preconscious and has its own wisdom. It seems to favor the young woman. The head is the seat of reason and social consciousness -- it still feels tied to the matronly image.

Hovering above the scene we have Cupid, with his arrow aimed at the young couple. Cupid is a notorious trickster figure, so it is likely that the person hit with his arrow will experience unexpected outcomes.

Nichols reads this card as the young man having to choose between two women with whom he has a definite connection. True enough. He seems torn in having to make this decision -- with his head favoring one option and his heart favoring another. But she supposes that either woman could be a romantic interest. I don't think this is the case.

What we have here, especially within the context of the cards that have come before, is our young Fool having to choose between his mother and his first love. The woman to his right is clearly matronly and not an obvious love interest. She represents the Great Mother of the Empress card. The woman to his left is young and beautiful, like him, and represents the High Priestess, the anima.

The young man is having to choose between the feminine mother who gave him life and the internal feminine of his soul, which has been projected outward as the young woman. This is, in some respects, the classic Freudian conflict all boys must face in individuating from the mother.

[While the Fool is nearly always gendered as male in the Tarot, please understand that I will usually think of our young traveler as a s/he. So in the case of the Lovers, the card could be rendered with a female protagonist and two males images, representing the young woman's need to break away from the father and embrace her own inner animus.

The card to the right shows a young woman walking between two men. The older man to her left seems highly protective, while the younger man to her right seems to be a suitor. Like the other card, she looks at her father but walks arm in arm with the younger man.

This card series was drawn by Fernando Gumppenberg, of Milan, in around 1820. It is unique among the decks I have seen in presenting a female protagonist.]

Earlier depictions of the Lovers did not contain this element of choice (this may be an image/theme that predates the actual Tarot), and later images have done away with the parental figure and added in an angel of some sort (Raphael in the Rider-Waite deck).

Rider-Waite revisions the Lovers as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, replete with the Tree of Life behind Adam and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil behind Eve (notice the serpent). This card is in keeping with the Judeo-Christian theme in more recent versions of the Tarot, but it brings with it a lot of baggage associated with the Eden story. It offers a very prepersonal version of love, which is fitting for this stage of the Fool's journey.

Many people equate love with sexuality. Yet few of these people have any idea about how to elevate physical love to a higher plane of consciousness. Tantra is a popular subject in the West, but most who buy these books or go to the seminars do not have a spiritual practice to support this variation of love.

In Buddhism, desire is the source of suffering. Yet the Buddha recognized that many of his followers would not or could not jettison family life to follow his path. For these people he taught the dharmachakra of the four noble truths, what is more commonly known as the "common vehicle," also known as the Hinayana.

Buddha taught that compassion is love plus meditation. Physical love is the lowest expression, while compassion is the highest expression, with love falling in the middle. The Osho Zen version of this card says the following:
Very few people know what love is. Ninety-nine percent of people, unfortunately, think sexuality is love - it is not. Sexuality is very animal; it certainly has the potential of growing into love, but it is not actual love, only a potential....

If you become aware and alert, meditative, then sex can be transformed into love. And if your meditativeness becomes total, absolute, love can be transformed into compassion. Sex is the seed, love is the flower, compassion is the fragrance.

I like that last image. It provides a basic "levels" approach (prepersonal, personal, postpersonal) to understanding how love functions in its different forms and at different stages of development. Of course, an integral model of love encompasses all three levels simultaneously.

But our young Fool is not ready for that yet. S/he is still struggling to free him/herself from the familial bonds so that ego development may continue as it needs to.

Perhaps it might add a little to look at the signifigance of the number six. In Christian esoterica, six is one less than perfection (seven), thus making it evil. 666 is the sign of the beast in Revelations. In the Tarot, the Devil is 15, whose digits add up to six. Seems the Christians have a thing about six.

On the other hand, Pythagoras called six the perfect number because it is the sum of one, two, and three. Six is also the number of completion in the Old Testament (the world was created in six days). The six-pointed Star of David is actually two triangles, the fire triangle (pointing down) and the water triangle (pointing up). The union of these two is the union of masculine (fire) and feminine (water).

This six-pointed star is also the sign of Vishnu (according to Nichols), representing the mystic marriage of Shiva and Shakti. It is the only number considered to be both masculine and feminine. Seems to be the perfect number for the Lovers.

The Christian associations with six being evil seems to support the shadow element of the Lovers archetype as it manifests in our largely Christian culture. Love and sex always seems to have a dark subtext based in the whole Eve and the apple story. Satan tricked humans into becoming sexual beings, thus making all sexual activity subject to that shadowy past.

This is such a perversion of the truth of sexuality that it would be laughable if it were not so pervasive in our culture. The Lovers card stands as the first innocent blush of sexual longing in the older versions of the card. As the Christian meme loses its power in the coming centuries, love and sexuality will eventually be freed from this shadowy association.

But for now, we are nearing the end of the first sequence of cards. There is only The Chariot left in the pre-personal realm. The fool has come a long way. S/he has worked through many of the young ego's psychological needs and is now learning to break free into the world. The true individuation process is about to begin.

Friday, April 21, 2006


[Due to technical difficulties, last night's gratitude post wouldn't stick. So here it is, a new morning, and I am hoping the gremlins in the Blogger servers are busy doing something else.]

Today I am grateful for a week away from the news. I haven't quit the news completely, but compared to my prior obsession, it feels like I hardly know what is going on in the world. I feel lighter as a result.

I know not much has changed in the last week. George is still king, and Donald is still the Black Knight. But unplugging from the daily tide of bad news feels good.

So I will continue to stay unplugged for a while. Raven's View will never return in the form it once had. Soon, I think I might just delete the whole thing in some kind of purification ceremony.

I am grateful for what I learned about American politics in doing that blog, but I am even more grateful to be done with it.

What are you grateful for?

The Food Chain

When I was nine years old, my father retired from his job (due to multiple heart attacks) and moved the family from the suburbs of Los Angeles to a tiny rural town in Southern Oregon -- Williams, to be exact.

I went from being able to ride my bicycle to Magic Mountain to being 21 miles from the nearest Safeway. Williams had a small country store, three churches, one gas station/garage, a post office the size of a two-seat outhouse, one elementary school, and a Grange. There was a restaurant sometimes.

We had five acres of land. We bought cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and rabbits. We grew our own vegetables and fruit. The first time we had to kill one of the animals, my sister cried for hours. She had named them all. We had James the Rabbit for dinner that night.

Over the coming years, I got used to the butcher coming out to slaughter a cow, to seeing the body hanging from a tree limb as it bled out. I learned how to cut the head off a chicken and a rabbit, how to gut them, and how to pluck a chicken. I learned how to clean fish and milk cows.

I learned to love the creamy taste of slightly chilled milk on my cereal -- milk that I had squeezed from a cow's udders only hours before.

I helped plant the garden, pick the weeds, water it, and harvest the results. I learned to love fresh peas right out of the pod, to dread the earwigs I always found in corn husks, and that a mixture of blended grasshoppers and tabasco sauce would keep the grasshoppers out of our garden. I learned that blackberry vines were more effective than a ten foot fence for keeping deer out of the garden.

All of this seemed like the way things should be to my young mind. I saw my food grow up and die. I had a hand in putting meat on my plate. I stole my breakfast eggs from the hen who had tried to hide them from me. I learned to appreciate that there is a food chain and humans sit near the top.

So, years later, when I decided that Buddhism made more sense to me than any other religion I knew of, I dreaded the thought of becoming a vegetarian. But I did it for three years (not counting the occasional pepperoni). I gave in one day to the craving for a triple cheeseburger and never looked back.

I sometimes feel guilty that I eat meat, but it passes quickly. I tend to think that most food animals are fulfilling their role in life when they become my meal. I don't eat animals that I know to be intelligent (which means pigs), and I no longer hunt wild game. I have actually only killed a deer once, when I was thirteen.

My father took me bow hunting, and I shot a deer on my first try. But I missed the shoulder and gutted him. We followed the deer for five miles before it dropped. My father ended its suffering with a single bullet. I went on many hunting trips with friends after that, but I refused to hunt anymore.

I don't buy the argument that eating meat brings bad karma. I don't buy the idea that killing any life form, including insects, brings bad karma. Every time we wash our faces, we kill millions -- if not billions -- of organisms. With every step we take, we kill something. Every time I drive my car at night I kill hundreds of insects. Death is part of the deal on this planet.

Certainly, killing for fun or sport is bad karma. Killing higher life forms (this includes pigs in my warped world) brings bad karma. But cows, chickens, and fish are not higher life forms. They are dinner.

An article by Noa Jones in the new Shambhala Sun ("The Accidental Vegetarian") got me thinking about this. She looks at the issue from several angles and decides to be a vegetarian most of the time.

She mentions the Vajrayana doctrine of One Taste, the idea that samsara and nirvana are one in the same reality. Within this view there are no distinctions between good and bad, ethical and unethical, tasty and disgusting. She uses the "one taste" doctrine to justify a plate of bacon one morning but admits she has not reached the outlook of one taste in her life. She still felt guilty.

I certainly haven't reached one taste, but I don't feel any guilt when I devour a filet mignon or a New York strip steak. I can see the ethical motivation for Buddhists being vegetarian, but I can also feel the elevated buzz of my cells when I feed my body beef during a tough weight training cycle. Beef -- it does a body good.

Yet I know that beef in particular takes a heavy toll on the environment. I know about the forests being cleared in Central and South America. I know about the drain on aquifers. I know about the hormones and steroids. I try to buy natural beef when I can. I generally only eat beef once a week, at most.

So, I am a Buddhist, but I am not a vegetarian. I suspect that I am not alone. How do the rest of you feel about this issue? How do you justify eating meat if you do? If you are vegetarian, what does it mean to you to have made that choice? How do you get the needed protein in your diet? Do any of you even think about this issue?

Let's talk about this in the comments. Or, if you feel strongly about being a vegetarian, send me an article and I'll post it (reserving the right to edit, if needed).

[Steak dinner image.]

Image from MindfulNest

[Click image for full size.]

what is real

[image source]

what is real

The moon is just the moon,
a cold ball of stone orbiting earth,

reflecting light of the sun. Only
so much symbol in an object; then,

despite the human desire for more,
it remains an object. This afternoon,

warm July day, the waning moon
in its last quarter hangs in the sky,

luminous crescent. An event I’ve seen
many times before, but on this day,

honeysuckle staining the breeze,
it seems new, amazing that this object

associated with night shines so brilliant
in the pale blue expanse overhead.

I know the physics, understand cycles
of lunar time. Yet, as I stand in the street,

stare at the moon directly above me,
fully aware of the water in my body --

the fluidity of flesh -- rivers of blood
drown my mind in fascination.


"I should be content to look at a mountain for what it is, and not as a comment on my life."

~David Ignatow

Thursday, April 20, 2006


["clarity of emptiness"]

Today I am grateful for the clarity that comes with sticking with a process until it resolves itself. We can miss so much if we give up when things get tough rather than seeing them through to the end. And what can sometimes look like a negative outcome can surprise us with its gifts.

I am also grateful for the occasional line in a book that can inspire a new insight.

What are you grateful for?

The Hard Lesson of Relationship


"We are wounded in relationship, and we need to heal in relationship."
~Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance

When I read that just now, I think I got it for the very first time. I know that this is the premise in many forms of therapy, that the therapist can be a surrogate for the acceptance and support that was lacking during the original trauma. And that through reliving the experience in this new supportive and nurturing environment, healing can occur. That is, in part, the approach that my therapist sought to use with me during the last year.

Even more important, however, is the realization that we choose partners who will poke at those places in us where we are tender and bruised. Relationship, at this level, can be a vehicle for healing some of the places we were wounded as vulnerable young children. In fact, Harville Hendrix created an entire therapeutic system around this premise, called Imago Therapy. Here is a brief description from the Imago Relationship Therapy website:

Imago Relationship Theory teaches that romantic love, which you experience at the beginning of your relationship, is the way our unconscious seeks to restore the feeling of joyful aliveness we felt as a young child. We're attracted to people who emotionally resemble our primary caretakers, because we unknowingly believe they can provide these emotional needs. We call this "finding our Imago match." Imago is the Latin word for image, the subconscious image of our perfect partner.

However when we choose a partner who is our "Imago match" they resemble both the positive AND the negative qualities of our primary caretakers. It's these negative qualities that create confusion and disillusionment when we realize that they are not able to meet our deepest emotional needs.
One thing I'm not quite convinced of is that we choose a partner who resembles our primary caretakers. I would argue that we choose partners based on our idealized caregivers -- the ones we never had -- but that they bring with them the shadow elements of the caregivers we did have. It's a subtle distinction, and it may just be my own case, but I suspect that we are unconsciously seeking a partner who can take care of us in the ways we want to be taken care of.

This sounds pathological given our current emphasis on being autonomous individuals and our rejection of infantile needs as the foundation for any aspect of our lives. But that inner child who craves a competent caretaker is also the source of our vitality and joy. This is why we are so happy in the early stages of a relationship. The inner child feels like s/he has finally found a caring playmate who will respect his/her needs and feelings. It feels wonderful.

But in projecting those needs onto the new partner, the psyche also projects the shadow stuff that is connected to it in our minds. When the "honeymoon period" ends in six to twelve months, as it will, we are left with a person we are deeply bonded with who can drive us crazy at times. This person also has the unique ability to poke at our softest, most tender places -- the places we are wounded.

This is the hard lesson of relationship -- that through this intensely physical, emotional, and spiritual connection we are meant to heal our wounding and become more whole individuals. Our primary romantic relationship is not the source of our suffering when we experience conflict, it is the mirror of our suffering.

Through our relationship with another human being who genuinely cares for us, we have the opportunity to replay some of the conflicts from our formative years that have been the source of pain and suffering for much of our lives. And in replaying these conflicts now, as an adult with more resources available, we have the opportunity to heal those wounds through loving attention both from our partner, who has to be playing along for this to work, and from our adult self.

This is another way that subpersonality theory can be useful. Hal and Sidra Stone, authors of Embracing Each Other, believe that we all have a vulnerable child within us who will never grow up. All the subpersonalities we develop arise to take care of and protect that vulnerable child. Through relationship, we have an opportunity to relax some of those defenses and allow that child to be more joyful and playful. Without that childlike energy in our relationships -- and the vulnerability that it brings -- our relationships are doomed to failure.

This is the hard lesson for me -- I must be vulnerable with Kira for our relationship to thrive and grow. As far as my subpersonalities are concerned, I would rather be waterboarded by the CIA, have my fingernails removed with pliers, and be shot in the head with a BB gun until the cumulative damage kills me than be vulnerable. And even then, I think I might be resistant.

But I will not lose the best partner I have ever known because I am afraid to touch that vulnerable place within me. This is when it is crucial to have some observer self that can say, "Whoa, hold on now. You won't die -- it's only your ego that thinks you will die." The ego (and all the subpersonalities that it works with) thinks that if it allows the vulnerability and pain of that inner child to come to the surface that it will literally be overwhelmed to the point of annihilation. The ego truly believes it will die.

But it won't die. The emotions that come up will be hard, they will feel like they're never going to recede, and the pain will feel like it is happening right now instead of 30+ years ago. But it will fade away as soon as it is released. I know this, and yet I fear the process.

But Kira is a compassionate and empathic partner. She is capable of poking at those soft places (unintentionally, of course) until something in me ruptures. Then she is there when the pain comes up and can offer the witnessing and support that my inner child never received. I know she can do this because she has. Yet I dread the prospect much more than I dread my own death. But not as much as I dread losing her.

And that's the bottom line.

["Inner Child"]

a promise

[image source]

a promise

We have forgotten the words. Morning calls
to us but our ears have become stone.

There are syllables in dawn light spoken
in a foreign tongue. The trees turn their leaves

to hear the song. Simple starlings answer
with enchantment. Behind clear sky

hangs an ivy-shrouded mirror
reflecting everything we refuse to see.


It is not like this. Mt. Rainier still wears
robes of snow. Deep lungs of sage

exhale an elemental breath. Within
the hollow of this moment lies a meadow

where black-tail deer graze on grass,
where an exposed rock is an altar

covered in lichens. We have forgotten
how to kneel. Our faces have grown mute.


Beside the river, sensuous vowels rise
in our throats. We swallow, but the language

is in our blood. Wild roses, cut off
at the roots, over and over, will always

grow back. This is the promise. That
even when we are planted beneath stone

we will grow again, relearn the song,
open our mouths, feel our roots in fertile soil.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Today I am grateful for spring. We don't get real spring in the desert, but if you are alert when you walk, you can find little treasures.

The weather has been nice the last few days. Soon it will be hell on earth -- but for now, I am grateful for a cool 87 degree day.

What are you grateful for?

Poem: Ch'i Chi (864-937)

[image source]

Little Pines

Poking up from the ground barely above my knees,
already there's holiness in their coiled roots.
Though harsh frost has whitened the hundred grasses,
deep in the courtyard, one grove of green!
In the late night long-legged spiders stir;
crickets are calling from the empty stairs.
A thousand years from now who will stroll among these trees,
fashioning poems on their ancient dragon shapes?

Morning Thought

Our practice should be based on the idea of selflessness. Selflessness is very difficult to understand. If you try to be selfless, that is already a selfish idea. Selflessness will be there when you do not try anything.
~Shunryu Suzuki

For a mind like mine, that thinks it can think its way to anything and everything, this is a challenging practice. Doing nothing, what a strange concept.

My ego wants the big AHA! and my mind works with it saying, "We can do that, we just have to read enough or think enough and we'll get it." And I end up caught deeper in craving.

So I keep returning to the breath, to baby steps. One breath at a time. Breathe in, breathe out.

Breath by breath, I learn the traps my mind sets for me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Gratitude (& More on Integral Relationship)

Confession: Kira and I are working through a tough patch in our relationship. While it's easy to see it as a conflict of opposing values systems, which makes things seem dauntingly large and difficult to work through, the reality is that we are experiencing growing pains.

During the last year, each of us has made concerted efforts to grow beyond limitations. We both have experienced a fair amount of success in our efforts. The result of this -- and growth is certainly one of the values we share -- is that we have unbalanced our relationship. The dynamic has been shifted in ways that we are struggling to align with.

It seems to me that this is one of the challenges of a conscious, integral relationship. It's a good thing -- as much as I feel that my head will explode some days. The problem seems to be that there is not a good model for the territory we are traveling through right now.

Each of us has identified (both in ourselves and in the other) subpersonalities that are not working well within the current relationship. These subs are products of childhood wounds or previous relationship experiences that are no longer serving us, especially in a relationship that demands full presence and accountability.

The past week or two has been rough. But today Kira said something that she has said in the past more than once, something that never quite clicked for me until today.

She said that we need to have an observer self for our relationship. We each have access to the observer in our own psyches, but what she is suggesting is a step beyond seeing our relationship as a unique entity. It requires us to imbue that unique entity we call our relationship with the higher mind of the witness. I never quite got it before, but today it clicked.

I don't know how to do this yet, but I know that she is right. This awareness does not negate any of the other work we need to do both on ourselves and in our relationship, but creating this integral level element can only aid us in working through the current struggle.

So, today I am grateful for Kira, that she has hung in during a tough time, and that she is wise enough to offer us a way to elevate our relationship, conflicts and all, to an integral level.

What are you grateful for?

the depths of surrender

This is an old poem that was published in Dream International Quarterly once upon a time. I'm posting it here mostly to test out this new blogging interface that promises to allow me to indent text without the tedious space by space html edit required in Blogger. We'll see.

the depths of surrender

Almost of my own volition, I slip
     into rough waves,
watch the small sailboat drift away
     into the salty distance,
and I tread water in the midst
     of this liquid desert,
not afraid, but aware that I will soon
     drown, or at least

die of dehydration if my strength
     does not give out first.
I orient myself to the moon, swim
     toward what I believe
is the direction of land, my clothes
     heavy and slowing me,
so I shed them, then naked in a vast
     expanse of ocean,

a kind of enlightenment. Waves
     wash over me and I
swallow water, feel the burn in my lungs,
     the weight in my belly,
the dark night becoming darker as I lose
     oxygen in my effort,
depths of being opening before me, a poem
     of my life read in slow lines

as the exhaustion pulls me under
     surface, without struggle,
and I fall quietly, calmly, into a strange
     form of sleep,
a dream so vivid death ceases
     to exist, where breath
is easy, more than natural, and I am,
     finally, fully awake.

Poem: Han Yu (768-824)

The Pond in a Bowl, Five Poems


In old age
I'm back
to childhood pleasures.

A bowl in the ground
Just add water --
it's a pool!

Throughout the night
frogs croaked
till it dawned,

as they did
when I fished
as a child at Feng-k'ou.


Who says
you can't make a pond
out of a bowl?

The lotus sprig
I planted not long ago
has already grown to full size.

Don't forget,
if it rains
stop for a visit.

Together we'll
listen to raindrops splash
on the green leaves.


Come morning,
the water brightens
as if by magic.

One moment alive
with thousands of bugs
too small to have names,

Next moment
they're gone,
leaving no trace,

Only the small fish
this way and that
swim in formations.


Does the bowl
in the garden
mock nature

when night after night
green frogs gather
to prove it's a pool?

If you choose to come
and keep me company
need you fill

the dark with noise
and endless squabble
like husband and wife?


Say the bright pond
mirrors the sky
both blue.

If I pour
water, the pond

Let night
the moon go

how many stars
shine back
from the water!

(translated by Kenneth O. Hanson, Sunflower Spendor)
[image source]

Monday, April 17, 2006


Sometimes things happen in life that I just don't expect. When I can face the reality without flinching, without fearing that I can't handle it, I know I have grown in the past several years. So today I am grateful that I continue to grow and become more centered in who I am.

I am also grateful for Jeopardy. I love that show.

What are you grateful for?


This is an old Seattle poem that I think was published somewhere, though I don't remember where. I always liked the energy of this one, even if the imagery is a little, shall we say, dark.

["heart of darkness"]


Who am I to conjure midnight at noon,
implore rise and watch the dead
crawl decayed from their graves?

Dark magic of words. Capturing the crow’s
shadow so that I may see through
his tricky eyes, use his powerful beak

to peck at knots just below surface.
A kind of theft, this conjuring,
like the bright young god who stole

prophecy from a young woman’s lips
with the simple gesture of a kiss.
Always something sexual at the source

of all actions, thinly disguised hunger
behind all creation and destruction.
And at the root, twin snakes knotted

in sleep. Above them an oak tree
dropping acorns. Despite the fog
and rain outside my window, on this page

it is spring. Perhaps I delude myself
in the power of words;
the dead, after all, do not rise

from the earth at my command,
and the crow, no matter what I say,
has no need of a shadow.

The knotted cord unties. Because
the world refuses, I conjure midnight
at noon, and it is good.

Start Where You Are [updated]

Start Where You Are
(Again and Again)

Start where you are. This is very important. Tonglen practice (and all meditation practice) is not about later, when you get it all together and you're this person you really respect. You may be the most violent person in the world -- that's a fine place to start. That's a very rich place to start -- juicy, smelly. You might be the most depressed person in the world, the most addicted person in the world, the most jealous person in the world. You might think there are no others on the planet who hate themselves as much as you do. All of that is a good place to start. Just where you are -- that's the place to start.

What you do for yourself, any gesture of kindness, any gesture of gentleness, any gesture of honesty and clear seeing toward yourself, will affect how you experience your world. In fact, it will transform how you experience the world. What you do for yourself, you're doing for others, and what you do for others, you're doing for yourself. When you exchange yourself for others in the practice of tonglen, it becomes increasingly uncertain what is out there and what is in here.
~Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty

For an introduction to the practice of tonglen, take a look at this lecture by Pema Chodron and then follow that with some of the links under Teachings (tonglen is at the bottom).

Tonglen is a tough practice. For me, I can sometimes do it when I am sitting in silence, untouched by the world outside the walls of my apartment. But when it counts, when I am in conflict with my partner, or struggling to motivate a client, or whenever, I have a hard time staying centered enough to breath in their suffering and breath out peace.

Granted, I am trying to use tonglen in ways that maybe it was not designed for, but I'm always looking for new ways to use the tools I have. I can do the general tonglen practice that is rather impersonal, but I want to try to find a way to make it a conflict resolution tool, as well.

Maybe I shouldn't try. Maybe that's too much to ask of myself at this stage in my path. My brain hasn't yet been rewired for compassion in the face of conflict. It's easier when I am trying to help a client who is struggling with motivation or structure, but even then my frustration sometimes keeps me from really being as compassionate as I would want. I am understanding and reassuring, and to anyone looking on I appear to be very supportive, but in my head the voice of impatience is still there.

So, as Chodron suggests, I will keep starting where I am, again and again and again. I sometimes expect perfection of myself, and then am hyper-critical when it doesn't happen right away. But that's another post.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Today, I'm simply grateful for a lazy Sunday. I need about three of these a week.

What are you grateful for?

Haiku -- In Process

I posted this haiku a little over a week ago. Kai correctly pointed out that it wasn't quite working, that it lacked tension and dynamism. So here is the original and a new version.


red-tail hawk
circles overhead --
soft prayer


red-tail hawk
warm swirling wind --
desert sky

As I am typing this, I am no longer satisfied with the revision. How about this?

red-tail hawk
sharp tumbleweeds --
desert breeze

I'm not sure that this version works either, but it feels better as a haiku.

Anyway, here is one other poem from today's efforts. I have two versions of the same haiku. I wrote the first version, but it didn't feel right, so I did the second one, which feels better, but still not quite there.

deep canyon
bare rock trickle --
quiet falls

naked rocks
warm morning sun --
quiet falls

This photo was taken just before the sun reached the canyon floor -- you can see it on the far upper left of the photo. Just imagine the sun has already risen.

I might have to come back to this one, as well. Haiku is much easier when they come as an AHA! and they're fully formed on the first take.

The hard part of haiku for me is working with the internal tension of the images. I like the freedom to explore that comes with longer forms, which is why I decided to begin working with haiku. But the process sometimes feels like pulling teeth.

I'm sure I'll be back with this continuing adventure in self-torment. Please share any comments or insights you might have.

[Hawk image]

Sunday Poet: Robert Frost

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

[Audio file of this poem]

You knew it was coming. Sooner or later I had to do Robert Frost, especially during National Poetry Month. Frost is, without question, the most popular and celebrated US poet (Rod McKuen doesn't count as an actual poet). Having won four Pulitzer Prizes and been the most widely read poet of his lifetime, Frost is an American icon.

It might surprise you, then, to know that Frost is considered by many to be a regional poet of moderate stature. He is seldom ranked in the same class as William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, e.e. cummings, Robinson Jeffers, Langston Hughes, and other major poets of that era. While he did tend to work with themes relevant to all people, he did so in what many have dismissed as an archaic metrical verse form. And he did so with regional imagery and scenes that often require some familiarity to understand their purpose.

This is not a universal sentiment, however. The Modern American Poetry page on Frost has critiques of many of his best-known poems by renowned critics such as Frank Lentricchia, Jay Parini (co-founder of The New England Review), Katherine Kearns, the poet Randall Jarrell, Joseph Brodsky, and Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott.

Here is the biography posted at the Academy of American Poets page:
Robert Frost was born in San Francisco in 1874. He moved to New England at the age of eleven and became interested in reading and writing poetry during his high school years in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He was enrolled at Dartmouth College in 1892, and later at Harvard, but never earned a formal degree. Frost drifted through a string of occupations after leaving school, working as a teacher, cobbler, and editor of the Lawrence Sentinel. His first professional poem, "My Butterfly," was published on November 8, 1894, in the New York newspaper The Independent.

In 1895, Frost married Elinor Miriam White, who became a major inspiration in his poetry until her death in 1938. The couple moved to England in 1912, after their New Hampshire farm failed, and it was abroad that Frost met and was influenced by such contemporary British poets as Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, and Robert
. While in England, Frost also established a friendship with the poet Ezra Pound, who helped to promote and publish his work. By the time Frost returned to the United States in 1915, he had published two full-length collections, A Boy's Will and North of Boston, and his reputation was established. By the nineteen-twenties, he was the most celebrated poet in America, and with each new book—including New Hampshire (1923), A Further Range (1936), Steeple Bush (1947), and In the Clearing (1962)—his fame and honors (including four Pulitzer Prizes) increased.

Though his work is principally associated with the life and landscape of New England, and though he was a poet of traditional verse forms and metrics who remained steadfastly aloof from the poetic movements and fashions of his time, Frost is anything but a merely regional or minor poet. The author of searching and often dark meditations on universal themes, he is a quintessentially modern poet in his adherence to language as it is actually spoken, in the psychological complexity of his portraits, and in the degree to which his work is infused with layers of ambiguity and irony. Robert Frost lived and taught for many years in Massachusetts and Vermont, and died on January 29, 1963, in Boston.

I have never been a Frost fan in general, though I do see the appeal of some of his poems. To me, he is at his best when he does not force the rhyme and the metrics of his verse. I have always been a fan of free verse -- and even more so of experimental verse that pushes the ability of language to carry meaning -- so Frost's provincialism in this area has not been appealing to me.

Anyway, a couple more poems seems to be in order.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Neither Out Far Nor In Deep

The people along the sand

All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be--
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?

Rather than post any more poems here, I will recommend that anyone who is interested seek out the longer poems. These are more complex and more rewarding works than the ones we all know.

Modern American Poetry: main page, a few poems (these are good).
Academy of American Poets: some good links.
PoemHunter: more than 100 poems (also see Frost, Robert Lee for nealry 150 poems, manof which are duplicates, but many are not.)

Happy Easter

I long ago stopped being Catholic, and even when I was, I didn't really believe in the literal resurrection. I could buy a spiritual resurrection, or that Jesus never really died [because God would never let his only Son suffer such a horrible fate as death on a crucifixion pole], but not the Church's version of the story. Jesus is quoted, as He takes His last breath, as saying, "It is finished" (John 19:30). For me, that was the end of the story.

Much of what comes later in the gospels appears to be additions to the story in order to bolster the Church's claim that Jesus had risen body and soul from the dead. Whatever.

What follows is the sense I make of Easter from where I am now in my life. This is based, mostly, on the versions of the story contained in the Bible. I'll conclude with my own take on the Church's story.

Despite my misgivings, what a powerful story this is. Not the whole death and rising from the tomb thing, but before that. The amazing part of the story for me, now more than ever, is Jesus' complete surrender into His knowledge that He was aligned with God's plan (or what I might think of as the Eros of the Kosmos). That kind of surrender is foreign to me, struggling as I am with my rational need for control.

But the cross represents complete surrender to me. It has always been a powerful symbol, even before Jesus was nailed to one. In the earliest cave paintings, shamans are often depicted with their arms outstretched and their legs together in the form of a cross.

In many cultures around the world, the cross has been a symbol of the human body. It seems almost appropriate, given the history of the symbol (a history of which the early Christians must have had some vague intuition), that Jesus would shed His body upon the cross so that His Spirit could be freed.

To me, it seems, Jesus was limited in His expression of divinity by being bound in a mortal body. He suffered the same doubts and temptations all of us suffer, but He was strong enough to resist. As he faced death, He still shared his teachings with those dying alongside Him and with His followers on the ground the below.

Even in that final surrender that to me is the most amazing part of the story, Jesus for a moment feared that He had been forsaken on the cross by His God, that He was suffering not for the sins of humanity, but because of them.

And both things are probably true -- they are inseparable.

But my point is that Jesus, being a Jewish Rabbi living in Iron Age Israel, was limited by His humanity. He was deeply human in every possible way, and with that, no matter how many miracles were performed through Him, He was limited in His expression of His divinity. Spirit is so much more vast than anything that can be expressed through our small, fragile, human bodies.

Jesus needed to die on the cross to be freed from limitations. He loved humanity enough to surrender His life for what He believed. But in death, He became Spirit (or God), and from that vastness, He could fully love each and every one of us.

That's my take on the official story of Easter.

Personally, I believe that Jesus had experienced some form of enlightenment consciousness that He then tried to integrate into His teachings as a Rabbi. There are many versions of where Jesus was during the "missing years," and some people believe he actually journeyed to India. Maybe, but the evidence does not support such claims.

More likely, He became associated with one or more of the gnostic cults that existed, who later took Jesus as their leader. To the pharisees, such teachings were heresy. Jesus threatened to undermine their control and their livelihood through His teachings of love and compassion.

Most importantly, Jesus undermined them through His teachings that the Kingdom of God is within each of us, to be found through introspection and self-knowledge (certainly gnostic in this regard). And further, that we grow closer to the Kingdom of God through compassion and generosity, and through not clinging to egoic desires for wealth and comfort.

For this, both the Jewish establishment and the Roman rulers feared Him. He threatened the status quo and, in their eyes, He needed to be eliminated. He died because He was teaching a worldcentric message in a land struggling with the transition from egocentric culture into ethnocentric culture. He threatened to disrupt the fragile balance of power that existed.

Even as a non-Catholic, I can hold Easter as a day on which we celebrate the life and death of a man who was far ahead of His time. He was not the first enlightened teacher to be killed for His teachings, and He certainly was not the last. But few others have so greatly impacted -- for better and worse -- the course of human history.