Saturday, January 31, 2009

winter zen

winter . . .

a day of fog and melting snow . . . in the woods a silvered silence . . . the yellow flags of leaves still waving . . . tree trunks like candles reaching into the aether . . . in a time long before this one the haiku master issa saw this and wrote . . .

"i see them now . . . how they were ... bare winter trees"

closer to the ground . . . the tall grasses of summer bow down under the weight of the winter snows . . .

inside a similar moment the japanese haiku master ikkyu wrote . . .

"the world before my eyes is wan and wasted, just like me. the earth is decrepit, the sky stormy, all the grass withered. no spring breeze even at this late date, just winter clouds swallowing up my tiny reed hut."

issa wrote . . . "the mountain hermit's fire is rising... winter rain. "

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

setting sail

fu hsuan who lived between a.d. 217 and a.d. 278 was born into poverty. he became wealthy through his writing. the world also became wealthy through his writing, but in a different way.

a gentle wind

a gentle wind fans the calm night; a bright moon shines on the high tower. a voice whispers, but no one answers when i call; a shadow stirs, but no one comes when I beckon. the kitchen-man brings in a dish of bean-leaves; wine is there, but i do not fill my cup. contentment with poverty is fortune's best gift; riches and honour are the handmaids of disaster. though gold and gems by the world are sought and prized, to me they seem no more than weeds or chaff.

there are watershed moments in our lives that feel like we're setting sail - the journey unfolds like a carpet rolling out across a floor . . . like a prayer flag unravelling in the wind . . .

emily dickinson knew this moment . . . .

setting sail.

exultation is the going
of an inland soul to sea, --
past the houses, past the headlands,
into deep eternity!
bred as we, among the mountains,
can the sailor understand
the divine intoxication
of the first league out from land?

anne packard knows this moment . . .


Saturday, January 24, 2009

fourty-nine days

my dad died fourty-nine days ago. i don't know how or even why. it doesn't make sense to me. my intuition is that he needed to move on. i wasn't as prepared for his transition as he was. he had done a fair bit of work over the last year to prepare himself. but then death is a mystery. an apparent ending that doesn't necessarily resolve all of what went before it.

being an ending, perhaps it better describes the beginning of what is to be becoming for the spirit that has finished its time here.

those who know something of buddhism and the rituals and ceremonies connected to the flying away of a soul will be aware that this day marks the end of the prayer cycle begun for my dad’s soul on december sixth. these prayers have been spoken by buddhists that my dad was connected with in cobourg, toronto and tibet.

i am not a buddhist myself, although i’m aware of some of the buddha’s teachings and buddhist philosophy. recognizing my need to understand or at least to be aware of the buddhist approach to dying and death, i took it upon myself to learn some of what my dad worked towards and anticipated in his passage from the body he inhabited as garry, my dad.

here is what i have found.

the buddha taught that we should always keep in mind the impermanence of life. i think of the guitar craft aphorism “there are few things as convincing as death to remind us of the quality with which we live our life,” as i write this.

living with the knowledge that we will die is difficult - but accepting an obvious and irrefutable truth often is.

for the buddhist, death is not the end of life. it is the end of the body we use to carry us through this life. our spirit remains and seeks out attachment to a new body and a new life. where the spirit is reborn is a reflection of the past and especially of the accumulation of all the positive and negative actions which result in what is called karma (cause and effect).

karma is such a commonly used term nowadays that even my own students and children have something of a sense of its relevance to their own lives. according to buddhists, our lives and all that occurs in our lives is a result of karma. every action creates a new karma, this karma or action is created with our body, our speech or our mind and this action leaves a subtle imprint on our mind which has the potential to become future happiness or future suffering, depending on whether the action was positive or negative.

at the point of death, whatever karma the person has accumulated decides which of six realms the spirit is reborn into: according to buddhists, if a human does not obtain nirvana or enlightenment, then they cannot escape the cycle of death and rebirth and are reborn into one of the six possible states beyond this our present life, these being in order from the highest to lowest;

heaven. in buddhism there are thirty seven different levels of heaven where beings experience peace and long lasting happiness.

human life. in buddhism, beings can be reborn into human life over and over, either wealthy or poor, beautiful or not, and of course into every other state imaginable. what we get is a result of the karma that we have brought with us from previous existences.

asura. a spiritual state of demi-gods but not the happy state experienced by the gods in the heavens above this state. the demi-gods are consumed with jealousy, because unlike humans, they can clearly see the superior situation of the gods in the heavens above them.

hungry ghost. this spiritual realm is for those who committed excessive amounts of evil deeds and who are obsessed with finding food and drink which they cannot experience and thus remain unsatisfied. they exhaust themselves in their constant fruitless searching.

animals. this realm is visible to humans and it is where the spirits of humans are reborn if they have killed animals or have committed a lot of other evil acts. animals do not have the freedom that humans would experience due to their being constantly hunted by humans, farmed, used in farming, and for entertainment.

hell. this realm is not visible to humans. beings born there experience much the same nastiness as those that a christian who believes in such a place might conceive of experiencing. those with a great deal of negative karma can remain in such places for eons of time.

buddhists believe that none of these places are permanent locations for us.

so, how do we prepare for death? it is very detailed in some ways and it is really simple in others: my own view is that the quality of living defines your understanding of the impermanence of this place and this experience of life in human form. just have a positive and compassionate outlook on life. always be aware of the impermanence of life and have a loving attitude towards all living things.

we all know that we’ll die eventually. we can see our death coming long before its arrival.

the bottom line is that if we bring happiness to other living things, we will be happy and so will they. if we create suffering, we will experience suffering either in this life or in a future one. it seems very simple.

that’s all that i know.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

shining wings

in a life defined by moments - using the selective filter of hindsight - it appears to be arranged with some precision like a string of pearls.

a string of pearls comprised of moments that represent choices - and not the binary choices of childhood in which the present moving towards the future is defined by either/or, right/wrong, good or bad but the full spectrum of choices, the grey scale, the circle.

imagine the circle becoming a limitless space.
without definition.

a space.

the long and full present moment.

how would you choose to fill it?

with what quality would you live your life if instead of recognizing the quality of a moment as a transitory thing in which you could do either the right thing or the wrong thing, what if you could see instead a fathomless formless space into which all these moments coalesce and become one great deliquescent moment?

oh give me wings
for my back,
shining wings
which seek
only virtue

mariko kitakubo

Sunday, January 18, 2009

with ribbons streaming

bright cap and streamers,
he sings in the hollow:
come follow, come follow,
all you that love.
leave dreams to the dreamers
that will not after,
that song and laughter
do nothing move.
with ribbons streaming
he sings the bolder;
in troop at his shoulder
the wild bees hum.
and the time of dreaming
dreams is over -- -
as lover to lover,
sweetheart, i come.

james joyce from "chamber music".

in the half-light of a winter morning, light and shadow coexist side-by-side.

undulating across snowy hummocks, thin threads of sunlight rise and settle.

the shadow loves the light.

without the light's knifes-edge glare, the shadow is mere darkness.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

some trees

in the still of winter, trees stand tall and silent. you can sense the life in them but it's contained and carefully protected.

like a small fire.

they stand there, scratched against the thin blue winter sky that fills with cloud, empties and fills again.

weak branches break off. ice coats every twig. frost cracks the trunk.

and still they stand.


some trees

these are amazing: each
joining a neighbor, as though speech
were a still performance.
arranging by chance

to meet as far this morning
from the world as agreeing
with it, you and i
are suddenly what the trees try

to tell us we are:
that their merely being there
means something; that soon
we may touch, love, explain.

and glad not to have invented
such comeliness, we are surrounded:
a silence already filled with noises,
a canvas on which emerges

a chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
placed in a puzzling light, and moving,
our days put on such reticence
these accents seem their own defense.

john ashbery

Monday, January 12, 2009

a careful dance

there's a dance - that moves so carefully and with such precision - between what we know of ourselves and what others know of us. the steps of the dance get complex when you consider all the variations, especially the most present and available of the variations . . . knowing myself through what others know of me.

the ease with which i play into that role (for that is what it is) is reminding of the fragility of my true sense of self. the very real distance and difference between how well i know myself and how well others know me is never so apparent as when i see myself let my self go and replace it with a perceived sense of self. a borrowed sense of self.

it resolves in the burning question . . . how to let go of "i"?

this dilemma and these questions are similarly expressed in this passage from an essay by jeanne de salzman, who oversaw the continuation of gurdjieff’s work after his death: “try for a moment to accept the idea that you are not what you believe yourself to be, that you overestimate yourself, in fact that you lie to yourself. that you always lie to yourself every moment, all day, all your life… you will see that you are two…one who lies and one who cannot endure lies…learn to look until you have seen the difference between your two natures, until you have seen the lies, the deception in yourself. when you have seen your two natures, that day, in yourself, the truth will be born.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

i like for you to be still

i like for you to be still
it is as though you are absent
and you hear me from far away
and my voice does not touch you
it seems as though your eyes had flown away
and it seems that a kiss had sealed your mouth
as all things are filled with my soul
you emerge from the things
filled with my soul
you are like my soul
a butterfly of dream
and you are like the word: melancholy

i like for you to be still
and you seem far away
it sounds as though you are lamenting
a butterfly cooing like a dove
and you hear me from far away
and my voice does not reach you
let me come to be still in your silence
and let me talk to you with your silence
that is bright as a lamp
simple, as a ring
you are like the night
with its stillness and constellations
your silence is that of a star
as remote and candid

i like for you to be still
it is as though you are absent
distant and full of sorrow
so you would've died
one word then, one smile is enough
and i'm happy;
happy that it's not true

pablo neruda

i read this as a love poem, but not a love poem a man might share with a woman but with the allness of everything. in the distance between my self and everything there's a space defined by the noise of memory and expectation. my work is to quieten - not subdue or pocket - but to quieten that noise.

it's in that silence that love can flourish.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

the sun

"that i exist is a perpetual surprise, which is life". rabindranath tagore

the sun gives without condition . . . its gift is received and used in every way imaginable . . .

what can be learned from such benevolence . . . .

a stone which has become a ruby
is filled with the qualities of the sun.
no stoniness remains in it.
if it loves itself, it is loving the sun.
and if it loves the sun, it is loving itself.
there is no difference between these two loves.

jelaluddin rumi

Saturday, January 3, 2009

the door to freedom

when rene magritte painted "the door to freedom" in 1936, he might have been describing the shattering instant in which the distance between who a person is and who they are to be becoming is laid bare.

on the one side of the shattered window is a comfortable room.
on the other side, a grassy hill.
in the distance - the sea.

the glass shards contain elements of the image beyond the room.
the glass shards have fallen inwards creating discomfort in my room.
i am drawn to see the view beyond the window - the world beyond myself - and the shattered fragments of my understanding of that world . . . lying on the floor.

the air blows in . . . i imagine it warm and scented with grasses and wildflowers. sounds - the breeze, the rustling grasses, birds.

the light passes through the glassless window - clear and bright. it illuminates a dusty floor, the old paint on the walls. shabby curtains.

the opening in the window - like a star - pulls me through.
are those paths in the meadows?
does one lead to the sea?
i hope so.

it's a destination.
a formless destination.
broad . . . expansive . . . the opposite of this room i have lived in for all this time.

i have lived in rooms like this for most of my life. i have sought them out when paths to the ocean lay before me. those paths drew me like a moth to a light but they also frightened me. that expanse. that great unknown. so many fears, so many questions.
what is there when i arrive?
where do my rules fit? where do they go?
what happens to my expectations? what are they replaced by?

the not known often has greater power than the known.

the little rooms i have lived my life in are all labelled "what i know".

the oceans are all labelled "what i have been afraid to know".

the distance between what i know and what i am afraid to know is a measure of the suffering i have endured.

to cross the space between the two is to pass through the door to freedom.