GROWING SEASON

For my nascent farmer-friend Thom Foolery who so kindly provided me some of the words here as writing prompts which he sends periodically. The vision is mine.

Growing Season

It was, as always, a renewal of sorts,
the trellis was filled,
cucumbers and bitter melons would soon grace the table
and the winter´s long marathon would eventually end,
promising affirmation.

It was good, he thought, and he turned the ground
gingerly, displaying a gentleness he did not think he possessed.

The ground was lumpy in places,
the worms squiggled blindly and he let out a sigh:
the world was too big to fit here, and tomorrow he´d return to work.

Today… today, however, with the thunderstorm riding off the horizon,
the vegetables faced him with a sternness that made him jump:
In his garden epiphany, modal Greek was not sounded,
Latin hymns remained unsung.

Capsicum was on his mind, as was the little windhorse above his head,
fading now from the years of prayerful attentiveness to his needs,
blowing Grace across the yard,
tending to his heart while he bent low each growing season.

The Pledge

THE PLEDGE
I pledge no allegiance to any flag
which dips its toes in red blood
and writes on the ground, wherever it goes:
“We own you all, body and soul,
to slave and to suffer,
all huddled together,
one people, disempowered,
slinking completely and obediently to their
flag covered deaths.”

On receiving bad news

Death is that great existential puzzle which gnaws at us most the longer we live. We know it comes-it has, after all, “taken” some, if not many people we have known by the time we are middle-aged- but we can´t help but deny it, no matter how hard we say otherwise. Yes, it is always there, lurking behind the figures and shadows of our lives, but still it is “over there” somewhere distant, apart from me, away from mine. This changes yearly as the circle tightens and loved ones or dear friends or family begin, one by one to go. I can accept, I can acknowledge, I can even understand and convince myself (easily) that it happens to all. I can retreat into “Wisdom” that is given me by my spiritual training or tradition and calmly bow my head in the certitude of it. I can cry if I like, but it will come nevertheless. And I still get angry, am puzzled and remain frustrated that Death is coming for my friends and there is nothing I can do.

A friend is sick, very sick. He helped create some wonderful memories during my grad school life at Saybrook University and was with me as a mentor-friend who´d remarkably shared both Tibetan Buddhist training and a love of Latin culture. I am distressed and know both “raging against the dying of the light” and manufacturing Eastern placidity in its face are not options for me. They are not what I feel. I am saddened and shocked and the distress is deep. Deeper than words and understanding, deeper than my “knowing” it happens to all. I feel like an animal braying at an eclipse or lightning, awed and struck by the Unknowable Awe-full-ness of existence which moves in its own way cyclically and inevitably spiraling back toward me.

And I am of no help, with no wise words, and no cures.

Damn! I am tired of this. I love you all, and this experience called Life, the only experience we share for sure, is rich to me, incalculably rich. And it is all I really know. The rest is a puzzle…

The Emptiness of (Having) Everything

The Emptiness of (Having) Everything
Published February, 2005 in Reykjavík Grapevine

Art and work are two themes very insightfully discussed in the various magazines on life in Iceland. These articles have all revealed something else about Iceland, something deeper, than generally touched on. This is what I call the emptiness of having everything. Closely related to this is a problem, as I have seen it both here in Iceland and elsewhere, of constant “doing”, whether that is art or work or recreation (which Icelanders approach with the same intensity). But, as G.I. Gurdjieff said so well, the bigger problem is that we cannot “do” anything before we have learned how to “be”.

If art, for example, is to be pursued in the same way we pursue our jobs or our consumption patterns, then we are not in contact with anything “higher,” any values that affirm our deepest selves. We can buy and buy and celebrate and celebrate but that does not mean we are any happier. People here are full of the latest paintings from the most fashionable artists, gadgets, cell phones, flat screen computers, devices, new home repair insights (and TV shows), fashionable clothes, a groovy art scene and options for endless and cheap travel. But is anyone filled with more meaning? Is anyone better able to relate to who they really are because of all of this? I think not.

Several years ago, I had a spiritual crisis of sorts and tried jettisoning my Buddhist identity acquired after almost 30 years. I couldn’t. Though I explored other spiritual paths, other than Buddhism only one remains with me now—what is called The Fourth Way, brought to the West by G. I. Gurdjieff. He spoke of similar crises, “the terror of the situation” he called it, when we realize that we act as mere robots, rarely, if ever integrated with our feelings, bodies and thoughts. Even our religious identities can become robotic extensions of habits and can serve more to keep us asleep than to fulfill any yearning for deeper connection or higher meaning. I returned to Buddhism reinvigorated and began regularly applying those insights to a newfound sense of working with who I was and not whom I had thought myself all along. I had, in short, a brief experience of “emptiness.”

In Buddhism emptiness is a wonderfully loaded term referring to, through its deliberate choice of language, that which cannot be adequately expressed. This refers to the Awakening of the Buddha and yet also our own potential for Awakening. Looking at the sky and seeing it “empty” of substantive things can best convey this idea. Thus, one meaning is “without,” i.e., without meaning, without hope or without any deeper sense of identity. But there is another traditional meaning or quality to emptiness and that is of endless possibility and self-luminosity. Here in its positive meaning we have something worth realizing and pursuing.

The constant objects we pursue and the endless distractions we get involved with all reflect nothing of the emptiness of awakening possibilities. Instead they are more connected to the “sleep” inducing, numbing lifestyle that keeps us from ever connecting to who we really are and what we can truly become.

Nembutsu Notes

I.
There are no spots in the sky,
No lines or traces of every bird
Who ever flew.
But the sky welcomes all, supporting,
Uplifting and holding each in the natural,
Compassionate embrace of things-as-they-are.
Mother Sky allows her children to play in space
Yet we never grasp her open arms
Because we don´t see with open eyes.
In this life of one man,
All around me are signs that
Great Compassion forever supports
And always sustains my every movement.
Until one day I too will fly above,
Finally free, leaving no trace in the sky
Nor mark on the clouds
But eternally present as the working
Of things-as-they—are.
How wonderful!
Namo Amida Butsu.

Locked, still places

I have dreams in locked, still places:
febrile nights and fire visions of cool moon-lit towns,
lost but for the face inside my temples, bursting to be
freed.
 
I have dreams in locked, still places:
where the lamps are placed below the
snow and in the deep dark white I see her sleep
and know the force of mountains.
 
I have dreams in locked, still places:
soon grayness dawns, the sun falls,
the reach extends no more past the hand,
but clouds forgive in spades.
 
I have dreams in locked, still places:
hands to rub and chins to cup
before a kiss is placed upon lips and we are sated by the
rush of the rose red chills beneath our trembling skin.
 
give the poet his dew-
 
we have dreams in locked, still places.