Friday, August 14, 2020

the only time you are alive

You think you will never forget any of this, 
you will remember it always just the way it was. 

But you can't remember it the way it was.
 To know it, you have to be living in the presence of it 
right as it is happening. It can return only by surprise. 

Speaking of these things tells you that there are no words for them
 that are equal to them or that can restore them to your mind. 
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now
 and now and now, gone before you can speak of it,
 and you must be thankful for living day by day,
 moment by moment, in this presence.

But you have a life too that you remember. It stays with you.
 You have lived a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present,
 and your memories of it, remember now, are of a different life 
in a different world and time. When you remember the past,
 you are not remembering it as it was. You are remembering it as it is.
 It is a vision or a dream, present with you in the present,
 alive with you in the only time you are alive.

~ Wendell Berry
from Hannah Coulter

the long lesson

Again I resume the long
lesson:  how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.

Within the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
Through stalled air, unshadowed
light, a few leaves fall
of their own weight.

The sky
is gray.  It begins in mist
almost at the ground
and rises forever.  The trees
rise in silence almost
natural, but not quite,
almost eternal, but
not quite.

What more did I
think I wanted?  Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be.  Even in me,
the  Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowly
falling, and is pleased.

~ Wendell Berry

a pastime

For more than five years, I maintained myself this solely
 by the labor of my hands, and I found, that by working
 about six weeks a year, I could meet all the expenses of living.

In short, I am convinced, both by faith and experience,
 that to maintain one's self on this earth is not a hardship
 but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely...
It is not necessary that a man should earn his living 
by the sweat of his brow, unless he sweats easier than I do.

Some are "industrious," and appear to love labor for its own sake, 
or perhaps because it keeps them out of worse mischief; to such
 I have at present nothing to say.  Those who would not know 
what to do with more leisure than they now enjoy, 
I might advise to work twice as hard as they do - work till they pay 
for themselves, and get their free papers.  For myself I have found
 that the occupation of a day laborer was the most independent of any, 
especially as it required only thirty or forty days in a year to support one. 

The laborer's day ends with the going down of the sun,
 and he is then free to devote himself to his chosen pursuit,
 independent of his labor; but his employer, who speculates from
 month to month, has no respite from one end of the year to another.

~ Henry David Thoreau
from Walden, 'Economy,' 1854
art by Roderick Maclver

Thursday, August 13, 2020

a wisp of cloud

Fixed ideas are like a wisp of cloud or smoke, 
but nonetheless people find themselves blocked or captured by these.

 You would laugh if you saw someone tripped by a cloud,
 or if someone claimed that they were imprisoned by the air. 
But, in fact, people are endlessly being trapped by things
 no more substantial than air or clouds. 

They make a wall with their mind, and then it imprisons them.
 Inherently, there is no wall or anything to trip over. 
These things are mirages 
they've created from the thoughts they gave rise to.
 Do not insist upon your own fixed ideas.

 Your persistence is your own narrow mind.
 If your mind is broad, it can easily embrace the entire world. 
However, if your mind is narrow, 
even a needle cannot enter.
 You have to keep letting go of your stubbornness, 
and always be deeply respectful of all life and things. 

 This is also how to become a free person. 
Always be humble. Be humble. 
The fragrance of your broad and generous mind
 will warm others’ hearts.

~  Zen Master Daehaeng

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

behind apparent opposites

Four sets of contrasting conditions that all of us are subject to
 at one point or another in our lives. The cultivation of equanimity
 involves looking deeply at our relationship to these eight conditions in life.

The first set is praise and blame
In the moment of being praised, can we be aware of our reactions?
 We may discover that we push praise away automatically, 
be­cause of discomfort, or that we take it in too much and find ourselves
 dependent on receiving more. In the moment of being blamed,
 can we be aware of our reactions? We may discover that our reactions
 include trying to justify our actions, blaming ourselves, or blaming
 the person who blamed us. We may im­mediately think the person is right.
 We may immediately think the person is wrong.

Of course we will probably feel badly when blamed.
 The question is: Can we be mindful of feeling badly
 rather than allowing ourselves to get lost in it?
 Can we be aware of the reaction instead of caught in the story about it?
 If it is use­ful information, can we learn from it?
 If it is not useful, can we let it go?
 Can we see that praise and blame are often
 out of our control?

The second is the arena of gain and loss.
 What is our relationship to gain? Is gain always positive? 
What is our relationship to loss? Is loss always negative? 
When we reflect on past experiences is it ever true that what we thought 
at the time was a gain was actually a loss and that what we thought was a loss
 turned out to be a gain? In attaching to having gained something,
 is there as well the fear that it will be lost? In attaching to having succeeded
 in something, is there as well the fear of failure?

In any culture there are fixed ideas of what it means to be successful
 and what it means to fail, of what it means to gain and what it means to lose.
 When we cling to models of success, we set ourselves up for disappointment. 
To question these models is to find an inner freedom that emerges 
out of understanding and is not based on models. 
In non-attachment we allow for wis­dom to emerge. 
We see that gain and loss are a natural part of the flux of life. 

The third set is the need to become aware of our relationship to pleasure and pain
  What is the result of running after pleasure and pushing away pain?
 Can we become more aware of the suffering inherent in the pursuit of pleasure
 and in the avoidance of pain? Or is it possible to experience pleasure 
fully without clinging to it and trying to make it last?
 In the moment of experi­encing something painful can we open to the pain
 without trying to get rid of it?

To experience liberation in relation­ship to these, we need to understand
 their changing nature. Understanding that both pleasure and pain 
arise and pass away, and seeing that both are often out of our control, 
we learn not to cling to either; and in non-clinging there is freedom. 
We open to pleasure and pain, 
yet are not overwhelmed by desire or aversion.

The last set is fame and disrepute.
 Do we need to be seen by others when we do something we think worthy? 
What is our reaction to being misjudged? 
What is our re­lationship to status?
 Being aware of our relationship to fame and disrepute
 allows us to be free from dependency on the opinions of others.

 We to
learn how to see their insubstantiality of each condition. 
Through being mindful we become more aware of the impermanence of both.
 We see the conditional nature of fame, and that lasting peace and hap­piness
 doesn’t come through being fa­mous. We see that disrepute is tempo­rary, 
and need not bring lasting unhap­piness. The more balanced we can be
 in relationship to these, the more we free ourselves from having to be seen
 by others in any particular way. When no longer swayed by changing tides
 of fame or disrepute, we discover a peace 
that doesn’t depend on how others see us.

If we can remember more and more to bring mindfulness to these occasions
 as they arise in our daily life, we can begin to see the suffering of attachment.
 We can begin to see the essential emptiness and impermanence of conditions.
 In meditation practice we may not like what arises, and yet it is the willingness
 to stay with what is happening that brings liberation.
 The less attached we are to comfort, 
the more at ease we are within ourselves
 and within this world. 

This doesn’t mean that we have to be passive par­ticipants in life. 
If it’s hot we can open the windows. But in the many times when we cannot 
change or control our experiences, can we find an inner refuge?
 This inner refuge is the capacity to be equanimous.
~  Narayan Liebenson
from the Insight Journal
Barre Center for Buddhist Studies


The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as
 “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility, and without ill-will.”

The English word “equanimity” translates two separate Pali words

 used by the Buddha, upekkha and tatramajjhattata. Upekkha,
 the more common term, means “to look over” and refers to the equanimity 
that arises from the power of observation—the ability to see 
without being caught by what we see. When well developed,
 such power gives rise to a great sense of peace.

Upekkha can also refer to the spaciousness that comes from seeing

 a bigger picture. Colloquially, in India the word was sometimes used to mean
 “to see with patience.” We might understand this as “seeing with understanding.” 
For example, when we know not to take offensive words personally,
 we are less likely to react to what was said. And by not reacting 
there is greater possibility to respond from wisdom and compassion.
 This form of equanimity is sometimes compared to grandmotherly love.
 The grandmother clearly loves her grandchildren but, 
thanks to her experience with her own children, 
is less likely to be caught up in the drama of the grandchildren’s lives.

Still more qualities of equanimity are revealed by the term tatramajjhattata,

 a long compound made of simple Pali words. Tatra, meaning “there,”
 sometimes refers to “all these things.” Majjha means “middle,”
 and tata means “to stand or to pose.” Put together, the word becomes
 “to stand in the middle of all this.” As a form of equanimity,
 this “being in the middle” refers to balance, to remaining centered 
in the middle of whatever is happening. This form of balance
 comes from some inner strength or stability. The strong presence
 of inner calm, well-being, confidence, vitality, or integrity
 can keep us upright, like ballast keeps a ship upright in strong winds.
. As inner strength develops, for example, from the accumulation 
of mindfulness in the ordinary moments of life, equanimity follows.

As a solid mass of rock
Is not stirred by the wind,
So a sage is not moved
By praise and blame.
As a deep lake
Is clear and undisturbed,
So a sage becomes clear
Upon hearing the Dharma.
Virtuous people always let go.
They don’t prattle about pleasures and desires.
Touched by happiness and then by suffering,
The sage shows no sign of being elated or depressed.


—Dhammapada 81-83

~ Tricycle Magazine Winter 2005
art by Amy Ruppel

Sunday, August 9, 2020

our curriculum

If you’re involved with relationship with parents or children, 
instead of saying, "I can’t do spiritual practices because
 I have children," you say,
 "My children are my spiritual practice." 
If you’re traveling a lot, your traveling becomes your yoga.

You start to use your life as your curriculum for coming to God. 
You use the things that are on your plate, that are presented to you.
 So that relationships, economics, psychodynamics—
all of these become grist for the mill of awakening.
 They all are part of your curriculum.
~ Ram Dass

Thursday, August 6, 2020

craving - aversion -> pain and sorrow

Every craving is tied to a definite object, 
and it takes this object to spark the craving itself, 
thus providing an aim for it. Craving is determined
 by the definitely given thing it seeks, just as a movement
 is set by the goal toward which it moves.
 For, as Augustine writes, love is
 "Once we have the object our desire ends, unless we are threatened
 with its loss. In that case the desire to have turns into a fear of losing."

So long as we desire temporal things, 
we are constantly under this threat, 
and our fear of losing always corresponds to our desire to have. 
Temporal goods originate and perish independently of man,
 who is tied to them by his desire. Constantly bound by craving
 and fear to a future full of uncertainties, we strip each
 present moment of its calm, its intrinsic import, 
which we are unable to enjoy. And so,
 the future destroys the present.

The present is not determined by the future as such… 
but by certain events which we hope for or fear from the future,
 and which we accordingly crave and pursue, or shun and avoid. 
Happiness consists in possession, in having and holding our good,
 and even more in being sure of not losing it.
 Sorrow consists in having lost our good and in enduring this loss.
 However, for Augustine the happiness of having 
is not contrasted by sorrow but by fear of losing.
 The trouble with human happiness is that it is constantly beset by fear.
 It is not the lack of possessing 
but the safety of possession that is at stake.

A love that seeks anything safe and disposable on earth 
is constantly frustrated, because everything is doomed to die.
 In this frustration love turns about and its object becomes a negation, 
so that nothing is to be desired except freedom from fear.
 Such fearlessness exists only in the complete calm 
that can no longer be shaken by events expected of the future.

Even if things should last, human life does not. 
We lose it daily. As we live the years pass through us 
and they wear us out into nothingness. It seems that only
 the present is real, for “things past and things to come are not”;
 but how can the present (which I cannot measure) be real
 since it has no “space”? Life is always either no more or not yet.
 Like time, life “comes from what is not yet, passes through what is
 without space, and disappears into what is no longer.” 
Can life be said to exist at all? Still the fact is that man 
does measure time. Perhaps man possesses a “space” 
where time can be conserved long enough to be measured,
 and would not this “space,” which man carries with himself, 
transcend both life and time?

~ Hannah Arendt 
from Love and Saint Augustine
 with thanks to brainpickings

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

after a death

Once there was a shock
that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.
It keeps us inside.  It makes the TV pictures snowy.
It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.

One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun
through brush where a few leaves hang on.
They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.
Names swallowed by the cold.

It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armor of black dragon scales.

~ Tomas Transtromer
from The Half-Finished Heaven
translated by Robert Bly

listen to me as one listens to the rain

Listen to me as one listens to the rain,
not attentive, not distracted,
light footsteps, thin drizzle,
water that is air, air that is time,
the day is still leaving,
the night has yet to arrive,
figurations of mist
at the turn of the corner,
figurations of time
at the bend in this pause,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
without listening, hear what I say
with eyes open inward, asleep
with all five senses awake,
it’s raining, light footsteps, a murmur of syllables,
air and water, words with no weight:
what we are and are,
the days and years, this moment,
weightless time and heavy sorrow,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
wet asphalt is shining,
steam rises and walks away,
night unfolds and looks at me,
you are you and your body of steam,
you and your face of night,
you and your hair, unhurried lightning,
you cross the street and enter my forehead,
footsteps of water across my eyes,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
the asphalt’s shining, you cross the street,
it is the mist, wandering in the night,
it is the night, asleep in your bed,
it is the surge of waves in your breath,
your fingers of water dampen my forehead,
your fingers of flame burn my eyes,
your fingers of air open eyelids of time,
a spring of visions and resurrections,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
the years go by, the moments return,
do you hear the footsteps in the next room?
not here, not there: you hear them
in another time that is now,
listen to the footsteps of time,
inventor of places with no weight, nowhere,
listen to the rain running over the terrace,
the night is now more night in the grove,
lightning has nestled among the leaves,
a restless garden adrift—go in,
your shadow covers this page.

~ Octavio Paz
 translation by Eliot Weinberger

the solitary man


No, what my heart will be is a tower,
and I will be right out on its rim:
nothing else will be there, only pain
and what can’t be said, only the world.

Only one thing left in the enormous space
that will go dark and then light again,
only one final face full of longing,
exiled into what is always full of thirst,

only one farthest-out face made of stone,
at peace with its own inner weight,
which the distances, who go on ruining it,
force on to deeper holiness.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, August 1, 2020

interview - simple but not easy

~ Robert Wright, Joseph Goldstein

the faraway

O'Keeffe grew to love the desert, which she called 
"the faraway." 
She felt that the thin, dry air enabled her to see farther, 
and she was awed by the seemingly infinite space 
that surrounded her.

 She would devote much of the rest of her career to painting desert scenery.

~ Georgia O'Keeffe

1918 photo by Alfred Stieglitz
from the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe

dive for dreams

dive for dreams
or a slogan may topple you
(trees are their roots
and wind is wind)
trust your heart
if the seas catch fire
(and live by love
though the stars walk backward)
honour the past
but welcome the future
(and dance your death
away at the wedding)
never mind a world
with its villains or heroes
(for good likes girls
and tomorrow and the earth)
in spite of everything
which breathes and moves, since Doom
(with white longest hands
neating each crease)
will smooth entirely our minds
-before leaving my room
i turn, and (stooping
through the morning) kiss
this pillow, dear
where our heads lived and were.

silently if, out of not knowable

silently if, out of not knowable
night's utmost nothing,wanders a little guess
(only which is this world)more my life does
not leap than with the mystery your smile
sings or if(spiraling as luminous
they climb oblivion)voices who are dreams,
less into heaven certainly earth swims
than each my deeper death becomes your kiss
losing through you what seemed myself,i find
selves unimaginably mine;beyond
sorrow's own joys and hoping's very fears
yours is the light by which my spirit's born:
yours is the darkness of my soul's return
-you are my sun,my moon,and all my stars

e. e. cummings
 art by the author