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Taste Of Things To Come, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Taste Of Things To Come, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.








moon in a dewdrop
gratitude to ybonesy
deep bows to the spring










An ancient buddha said:

For the time being stand on top of the highest peak.
For the time being proceed along the bottom of the deepest ocean.
For the time being three heads and eight arms.
For the time being an eight- or sixteen-foot body.
For the time being a staff or whisk.
For the time being a pillar or lantern.
For the time being the sons of Zhang and Li.
For the time being the earth and sky.

-Dōgen, Uji: The Time-Being, from The Moon in a Dewdrop, written in 1240 at Kosho Horin Monastery



-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

-related to posts: haiku (one-a-day)

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Afternoon Meditation, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Afternoon Meditation, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


In writing practice this morning, ybonesy and I both wrote about sitting in solidarity with our writing friends at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos. Most Decembers, Natalie holds a writing retreat during the period Mabel's Gate - Taos Mountain, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.around December 1st through December 8th. In Zen, this time is called Rohatsu Sesshin and marks the enlightenment of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama.

Rohatsu means in classical Japanese twelve-eight, because December eighth is celebrated in the Far East as the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Zoketsu Norman Fisher from Green Gulch Farm (in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi) explains Rohatsu Sesshin something like this:

Sesshin is about pulling our whole life together — right here into this one body and mind and right here on this little square of black cushion. All of our life, past, present and future, is right here and right now. Our whole life. All our many lives. All of everyone’s life. The life of the planet. The life of the stars. All that we are and all that everyone is and was and wanted to be but couldn’t be. All our successes and failures. All we wanted and didn’t want. All we overlooked and grieved over and lusted over and abandoned. None of that is elsewhere. It’s all right here right now on this cushion.

Of all the sesshins of the year this one is the most intense of all because it’s the one…that imitates the Buddha’s time of sitting under the enlightenment tree. So in a way our whole sesshin is a kind of ceremony of enactment of this event and we are all playing the Buddha under the Buddha’s tree, enacting an event that happened almost two thousand five hundred years ago. Two thousand five hundred is just one of the many ways of saying right now. Right now, actually, Right Now, as you are listening to words that I am speaking, Buddha is sitting under the Bodhi tree making strong effort for awakening. In each and every one of your bodies, in each and every pore of each and every one of your bodies, there are infinite Buddhas — each one, right now as I’m speaking, literally and actually making this kind of effort.

        

        Slow Walking, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.            Winter Fire, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Slow Walking (left), Winter Fire (right), Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s a time of deep practice, a time where we enter the cave-like darkness of winter and look inwardly to the truth of the existence of our own Buddha Nature, and the awakened nature of all beings.


Mabel's Lights, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, NM, Feb 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

Mabel’s Lights II, second in series, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


But sitting in Taos is not about Zen. People of all faiths and religions come to study with Natalie. It is about practice. Beginner’s Mind. About repetition and opening. It is about getting out of your own way, vowing to make greater effort, to go the extra mile, and through that effort, trying to requite a debt of gratitude to those, in life and in Spirit, who have helped us along the way.


Becoming The Mountain, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, NM, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

In Taos, we practice sitting, walking, and writing. We sit like the mountain. We anchor our breath to the bottom of our feet. We chant and sing. We are silent. We write.


The practice of our writing is backed by a 2500 year old tradition of watching the mind. It is powerful. At times, life changing. We are grateful to Natalie for creating writing practice, for the gift of her teachings, for passing them down to us.


Many of our writing friends are sitting in Taos:  sitting, walking, practicing, deepening, learning the true secret of writing. ybonesy and I wanted to hold a place for them. We sit with them in quiet reflection and community. And in doing so, we sit with the world.


Not to be attached to external forms, not to be unsettled within, not to think this and that, not to be cluttered with extraneous things, not to think about gain and loss and whether we are happy or sad. This can be called Zen.
   -Shodo Harada Roshi

If you lose the spirit of repetition, your practice will become quite difficult.
   -Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

Key To Mabel's, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Key To Mabel's, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Key To Mabel's, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Key To Mabel's, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Key To Mabel’s (in repetition), Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Mountain is mountain and earth is earth
That’s all.
You shouldn’t say anything extra.
You should not put any fancy decoration.
Mountain is mountain, that’s all.
   -Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.
   -Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

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After listening to Natalie Goldberg’s new interview on ThoughtCast, ybonesy and I wanted to pass the information along to our readers. But we first wanted to take a moment to reiterate our gratitude for the teachings that Natalie has passed down to us. Our vision for red Ravine was born out of our writing practice and years of study with her.

Natalie invented writing practice. And in the interview, she talks about how Writing Down The Bones: Freeing The Writer Within broke a paradigm about writing. It started a revolution in the way we practice writing. The world was listening. Since 1986 the book has sold over one million copies and been translated into fourteen languages.

I listened to the interview again last night as I was preparing to write this post. Jenny Attiyeh interviewed Natalie in her home in Santa Fe. Natalie seems both relaxed and energetic. And ybonesy and I were talking about how good it is to hear her voice when she talks about confidence, building a strong writing spine, and learning to trust your own mind.

But I think I learn even more when she discusses her relationship to failure, success, loneliness, continuing to love after betrayal, and her study of Zen.

Writing practice is not Zen. But it is rooted in Zen. And Zen is a 2000-year-old study of the mind. Writing practice is the study of your own mind. And when we read literature, we are studying the minds of other writers. These are the things Natalie has taught us.

red Ravine is not just about writing practice. But writing practice is part of the structure of red Ravine. And something we are proud to pass along. We are grateful. We are part of the writing lineage.

And that’s why I have taped to the computer screen in front of me three things Natalie learned from Katagiri Roshi and now passes along to her students:

  • Continue under all circumstances
  • Don’t be tossed away
  • Make positive effort for the good


Deep Bows all around.


Writer's Hands II, Natalie Goldberg signing copy of Top Of My Lungs, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey.All rights reserved.

Writer’s Hands II, Natalie Goldberg
signing a copy of Top Of My Lungs,
Taos, New Mexico, July 2007,
photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey.
All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

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By Joanne Hunt


Agnes Martin Room, Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico, August 2007, photo © 2007 by Kevin Moul. All rights reserved.
Agnes Martin Room, Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico, August 2007, photo © 2007 by Kevin Moul. All rights reserved.


Dear Agnes,

I’m back in Taos. It’s February and as I slow-walked from Mabel Dodge this afternoon, I scuffed through snow still lying on the ground. I’ve paid my seven dollars to gain entry to the Harwood Museum but all I will visit today is you. I feel at home in this octagonal room. The four yellow wood benches clustered under the skylight in the center; simple in their symmetry. The horizontal golden hardwood planks that run across the floor soothe and ground your work. I am, as ever, stunned by the seven linen canvases that surround me.

I am sitting in my usual place on the floor leaned against the white wall next to the absent eighth wall that forms the canopied entrance. I am wearing my faded black cotton pants and shirt. I don’t think you’ve seen me in anything but black. Few people have. I have been doing sitting practice in the zendo at Mabel’s for many hours today. I feel still and wide and ready for you.

As I look out at your paintings, these incredible 5’ X 5’ canvasses of pale blue and white, I am both deeply content and anguished. I won’t be back to visit for awhile – probably not until December. It is a difficult good bye because I have been coming here every three months for a year. I’ve gotten used to these trips to the Harwood. Like a trip to a favourite church or synagogue where you can sit forever in some form of prayer or communion. Silent. Unmoving. This room is as familiar to me as the zendo in my own home. This is my sixth visit and I am still awed to sit here.

It has been three years since that first November afternoon when I walked into this room, felt my lungs contract and my body hit the floor as my knees buckled. Gasping and wide eyed I looked around the room, overcome with emotion. I crawled over to this spot against the wall and carefully gazed out while steadying my shaking body. I have never had a painter’s work strike me so deeply. Each time I come here to sit and write, I can feel myself preparing to walk again into this room. Each time you hold a mirror up to me. Like an aunt who sees her niece once a year and registers how much she’s grown in a way that parents can’t. I see myself and where my writing is during each visit here. With each trip to Taos, this room is my Writer’s barometer.

I don’t want to leave Taos. I don’t want to head home. I have let my life get fuzzy. Cluttered up. Too much. Too full. When I get back to Ottawa, I am going to clear out some of the piles to make room. I am not sure what I am making room for but I will do it anyway. I want to live cleanly like you. Clear. Crisp. No distractions. I want to live directly. Single-pointed. Nothing extra.

Agnes, is there anything you want to tell me?


 Ordinary Happiness, Taos, New Mexico, crop of an Agnes Martin Painting, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Ordinary Happiness, crop of Agnes Martin painting, Ordinary Happiness, Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Yes, Joanne
You can do it.

Don’t be so hard on yourself and be ruthless too. I threw out all my early paintings and I never regretted it. I hadn’t found my form. I needed to clear everything out. Some art is going to have to die in your book in order to bring clarity. Don’t be afraid to get rid of stuff.

Don’t be afraid to move to smaller canvases.
Don’t make excuses.
Don’t explain.
Don’t justify.
Do what you need to do.

Not everyone will love your art. Some people don’t like mine. They just see stripes. Oh, and by the way, they are just stripes. Don’t make them such a big deal.

They’re No Big Deal and they’re a Very Big Deal.
Both.

Just like how you wrote the two sides of your aspiration on the altar in the zendo this week. On one side of your folded piece of paper: No Big Deal. On the other side: Very Big Deal. You got it right. It is always both.

Joanne, blue is a happy colour. Now I know that makes you want to cry because you’re not very good at being happy yet. You’ll get better. All these things you already have:

Lovely Life
Love
Friendship
Perfect Day
Ordinary Happiness
Innocence
Playing

These are not just the names of the seven paintings. These things are present in your life. Right now. Blue is an ordinary, happy colour.

Ordinary Happiness is the kind of happiness I’m talking to you about. The wild kind of happiness comes and goes. It rolls in and out like a storm. Ordinary Happiness has staying power.

You have kept coming to visit me all these years in your travels to Taos; you have sat and written in this room of rounded edges and light in the middle. You can go now. I’m inside you. You don’t have to wonder about when you’ll be back to visit. You can visit anytime. Even in the middle of teaching. I am not separate from you.

Joanne, I want to speak directly to your search for something bigger. You have been troubled about what you call your “lack of faith.” I know that you want to rest in something bigger than you, trust something bigger than you and be held by something bigger than you. I think that’s good. It is good to be open and available to wider sources. But know this: You’re the one who has to get up and go to your desk each day. Trusting in something bigger than you does not bring you to your writing. You do. That bigger thing might meet you once you’re sitting there but it is does not provide the motivation or the propulsion. It meets you. You need to be ready. Like when you’re settled into the belly of your writing and Big Mind is flowing out of you so clearly, effortlessly, not seeking anything while your hand moves across the page for hours. You can trust that.

Did you hear me?
You can trust that.

Is that outside of you?
Or inside of you?
Is that that bigger than you?
Or just you?

It doesn’t matter. That’s not your concern. What matters is that you write. What matters is that you show up and wait to see what shows up to meet you.

I once sat still every day for three months waiting for an inspiration to arrive. Three months. Every day I waited. Still. Silent. I didn’t know if it would come or not. I didn’t have faith that it would come or not. It was my job to sit and wait. It came and I painted again. But I might not have. And that’s not the point – whether I ended up painting again or not – the point is that I knew what my job was. So: I did it.

It doesn’t have to do with faith, Joanne. It has to do with knowing that you’re a Writer. That’s your job. To show up and write. You get inspired. You use words to express it. I got an inspiration. I painted. You write, as truly as possible, to capture that inspiration. I painted to do the same.

Not in a tight way. But in a true way.

There’s math involved. And calculations. And measurements. And elegance. And simplicity. In the form and in the math. It isn’t all soft and mushy. There’s discipline and rigour and study and figuring it out but it is held in a soft hand. Clear. Steady.

I led a disciplined life, some say, like a Zen monk. I don’t know about all of that. I didn’t need much. None of us do. My paintings sold for more than a half a million dollars each. You are surrounded by $3.5 million dollars worth of art. Isn’t that something? How can Lovely Life be worth that much? Yet, should it be worth $20 million or $150 million or $50 bucks for the canvas?

That was not my job so I don’t know anything about those things. I tried to capture inspiration. Life is filled with beauty. Can you see it? Can you touch the beauty in your own life?

You are living too full up right now. Don’t despair. You can change it. One step. Then another. Sometimes I had too much too. It’s okay. Just start changing it each day. It won’t take long.

Pull out Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind to remember why you chose this path.

I never stopped painting because I never stopped receiving inspiration. You will never stop writing and listening to music. You and music do have a special bond. It serves you well. And you hear well. Keep listening.

Spend more time in silence.
Walk more. While you can.

And don’t worry so much. It will all go fine because “fine” includes everything – all the stuff we call good or bad. It’s just stuff. It is being human. That’s all. You get to be a human so you get to have the stuff that human beings call good or bad. Don’t worry. You’ll get all the stuff that humans are supposed to get. That’s our true nature.

Let it come. Receive it. And let it pass. Don’t cling to it. The happiness or the sadness. Just notice the inspiration. Both inspire. That’s all.

There is just the living of a life and knowing that is what you are doing. A living of a life. So pay attention.

Top of mountain.
Middle of mountain.
Bottom of mountain.

Doesn’t matter. No need to decide.
The mountain will find you.

Take good care of yourself,
Agnes Martin



Agnes Martin, crop of Agnes Martin photo, Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.About Agnes Martin, Joanne says: She was Canadian born in Maklin, Saskatchewan on March 22, 1912 and died in December 2004 at the age of 92 in Taos, New Mexico. She lived most of her last decades in Taos painting (or waiting for inspiration) until the end; she was dedicated to capturing the beauty in life.

Agnes said, ‘My paintings are about quiet happiness like the lightness of the morning…I look in my mind and I see composition.’ It is her simple clarity that left such an impression on me. I think that you have to have a really clean relationship with The Mind to paint the way she did. I want to write that way.


About this piece, Joanne says:  I was compelled to write a good-bye letter to Agnes that day in the Harwood at the end of a year long Writing Intensive. I asked her if she had anything to tell me. I thought that the response would be to sit in silence for awhile. I was surprised when I immediately drew a line on the page and my pen kept moving as the letter from Agnes emerged. It was calm and clear. I guess there were a few things she wanted me to know. I got out of the way and wrote until she was done. It came and went so easily. I slow-walked back to the zendo at Mabel’s that afternoon and read it aloud during our Reading Group. I was quite shocked. I still am.



Revisiting Agnes, Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico, August 2007, photo © 2007 by Kevin Moul. All rights reserved.About Joanne:  Joanne just returned from an August trip to Taos where she got to surprise Agnes with another visit. Kevin Moul stumbled upon Joanne sitting in her usual place on the floor writing and took the photos of her there.

Besides sitting for hours on the floor of an art gallery channelling Agnes, Joanne is the founder of an Integral Coaching® Training School in Ottawa, Canada with her partner and beloved wife, Laura. You can read some of her Perspectives and Articles in the Resources section of their web site at Integral Coaching Canada. She is ruthlessly working on her first book while trying to write more in coffee shops rather than pubs where her libation of choice is a Guinness. She is Irish after all.


-posted on red Ravine, Monday, August 27th, 2007

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There are days when I look to the poets for inspiration. DailyZen is one of the places I visit. And today is one of those days.


Utter emptiness has no image,
Upright independence does not rely on anything.
Just expand and illuminate the original truth
Unconcerned by external conditions.

– Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091–1157)


The Way of heaven is silent,
It has no appearance, no pattern.
It is so vast that its
Limit cannot be reached;
It is so deep that it
Cannot be fathomed.
It is always evolving
Along with people,
But knowledge cannot grasp it.
It turns like a wheel,
Beginninglessly and endlessly,
Effective as a spirit.
Open and empty,
It goes along with the flow,
Always coming afterward
And never in the forefront

– Lao- tzu


No one really knows
The nature of birth
Nor the true dwelling place.
We return to the source
And turn to dust.

– Ikkyu (1394-1481)


The DailyZen Record – complete library & archives of DailyZen

On The Way DailyZen Journal
 

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I feel like I’m starting over. I feel like I don’t know anything about anything. The journey to Pennsylvania and Georgia for research and writing walked the thin line between past and present. I didn’t know what I was doing or what I would discover. It was sometimes disorienting. Each day I had to open to what was there.

Upon my return, I find myself needing rest and ground. I have gathered so much information; I’m not sure where to start. And I feel like I am at a new beginning in my writing. Perhaps in the whole way I look at my life.

The way we measure our lives tends to be in relationship to everything around us. In the interview in More About The Monkey, Natalie Goldberg talks about the distraction of Monkey Mind. But that’s not the way this feels.

What if we are not stuck in writer’s block or distracted by the monkey, but simply beginners, remembering what it felt like to ride a bike for the first time, visiting the old from a new perspective.

Beginner’s Mind.

There are many teachings on the beginner’s state of mind. In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki-roshi lays out how important it is not to lose the freshness of beginner’s mind. On days I feel lost and new, and like I am starting all over, I find comfort in his words.

A piece I recently found inspiring was a post on running through rain about beginner’s body called,  starting bonus. running through rain is an excellent blog for inspiration and growth. If you are stuck on writing ideas, check out the site.

The last line of starting bonus (Beginner’s Mind is an asset. Beginner’s Body is a bonus!) links to a lecture by Abbess Zenkei Blanche Hartman on Beginner’s Mind. The last paragraph of the lecture sums it up:

So please, cultivate your beginner’s mind. Be willing to not be an expert. Be willing to not know. Not knowing is nearest. Not knowing is most intimate. Fayan was going on pilgrimage. Dizang said, “Where are you going?” Fayan said, “Around on pilgrimage.” Dizang said, “What is the purpose of pilgrimage?” Fayan said: “I don’t know.” Dizang said, “Not knowing is most intimate.”

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

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Monkey Mind - Don’t Feed the Monkey, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reservedAs red Ravine gets ready to launch, I’ve been thinking about how important it is to have a teacher, a mentor.

Natalie has been that for me.

It didn’t happen right away. It developed over a long, slow time of showing up and not being tossed away. Sometimes it meant being willing to listen to what I might not want to hear.

And now I have practice. And now I have community. And now I have red Ravine.

All because I showed up. I listened. I practiced. I did things that didn’t make sense at the time or I didn’t have the energy to do – like travelling thousands of miles to Taos last year by car, plane, and Batmobile to write and sit with other writers in silence.

One of those writers is standing beside me as we spring board off into red Ravine. Wow. That’s amazing.

I have a lot of gratitude for the writers and teachers that came before me. And that they are willing to share their successes and failures, so that I might see my own more clearly.

I do a ton of research on my pieces and ramble around the Internet on a daily basis. Last week, I stumbled on this interview with Natalie Goldberg. It’s bare bones, back to basics. And it still rings true.

Here are a couple of excerpts about Monkey Mind from the interview with Natalie. You can read the whole exchange onwhat it means to write down the bones” at Sounds True.

Thank goodness for teachers, in all their many forms. And from the bottom of my heart (which is feeling quite full these days) – thank you.




ST: Please talk a little about what you mean by monkey mind.

NG: Monkey mind is actually a Buddhist term. It refers to mental activity that creates busyness which keeps us away from our true hearts. And it’s an extraordinary truth. Look at our whole culture; it’s built on busyness, and that’s why we’re so unhappy. But part of us loves busyness, including Natalie Goldberg. You have to pay attention and learn to understand how monkey mind works.

What does your true heart want? You have to give it at least half your energy. Otherwise monkey mind fills your whole life with busyness

ST: During the Bones program, you talk about a key teaching you received from Katagiri Roshi – “not to be tossed way.” What does this mean?

NG: Don’t be tossed away by your monkey mind. You say you want to do something – “I really want to be a writer. But I might not make enough money as a writer.” That little voice comes along. “Oh, okay, then I won’t write.” That’s being tossed away. Those little voices are constantly going to be feeding us. You make a decision to do something. You do it. Don’t be tossed away. And part of not being tossed away is understanding your mind and not believing it so much when it comes up with all these objections, when it comes up with all these insecurities and reasons not to do something. Don’t be tossed away.


Thursday, April 5th, 2007

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My visceral response to your sketch of Dirty Dog and Retro Wallpaper is black dog – the Black Dog of loneliness. Late at night in Taos, the silence would waken me. But it wasn’t silence; it was the dogs of Taos barking in the distance. Dogs have always scared me. And when we walk Morada Lane from Mabel’s to go into Caffe Tazza to write, I’m always aware of the dogs, lurking around fence corners.

A friend in art school started a series of paintings the year we graduated. She called it her Black Dog series. She was obsessed with research on black dogs. It took me a while to understand what she was talking about. But when I saw her brooding wall-sized images, I knew. It was a gut reaction. Deep loneliness. I visit the place often. There is no map out. You have to find your own way. She painted. I took photographs. We weren’t running. We were looking to know the Dog.

What I want to say is that loneliness is a part of writing. And sometimes loneliness feels like Dirty Dog looks – bared teeth, facing off, marking territory. Underneath, the loneliness drives me. Like fear, I’ve learned to embrace it. Even when my life is so good I can’t stand it – even then, late at night when the whole house is sleeping, and I’m up writing – the Black Dog is there, lurking around fence corners.

I still wake up in the middle of the night, scared and lonely. I try not to push it away. The last few weeks, I’ve been listening to Writing Down the Bones on CD. What I love about books on CD is that I hear the writer’s voice. I first read it almost 20 years ago. Revisiting it now, I am taken back to Beginner’s Mind, where I need to be to teach. It grounds me. I find comfort in the gnarled roots of other writers’ loneliness.

I’m tired. I’ve really been pushing myself the last few weeks. On the way to work this morning, I realized I wasn’t in my body. I almost hit Liz’s car backing out of the driveway. Looking for ground, I pushed the button on the Alpine stereo; I glanced up to see the sun rising in billowing blush clouds in the distance; I listened to a writer read her work. The early sky reminded me of mornings walking from my room at Mabel’s to the zendo. A deep calm came over me.

Stopped at the light on the corner of Winnetka and Bass Lake Road, crawling to my day job, I was just sitting. Natalie was revisiting the chapter on Engendering Compassion and the way she used to be tortured by loneliness. But something had turned. The dog doesn’t come for her anymore. She seeks him out. She hunts the dog.

The last thing I heard as I turned the corner on green –

“When I don’t feel loneliness, I know I’m not in connection with the edge of my life. I look around for that Black Dog, loneliness, and make sure it’s near me.”

Listen for the Black Dog.


Thursday, March 15th, 2007

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We chanted The Heart Sutra again in December. This time it was for joy. The teacher was wearing her rakusu, the one her teacher before her gave her in 1978. She said she doesn’t wear it much because it’s old and she wants to preserve it. But she used to wear it all the time when she taught her writing classes. She talked about sewing the rakusu, Buddha’s robe, and referenced when she wrote about it in one of her books. She talked about the symbols, the rice fields and insects and all of life.

All of Life.

She told us about the Square Papers, the bloodline. And that she never knew what her papers said because she was afraid to open them and unravel the intricate folding. But then a friend of hers who knew the way of creases and folds, opened the papers on the mesa in Taos and told her what was written. It was a few years to the day her teacher died. It wasn’t planned. It just happened that way. Some larger unfolding.

She said her name means One Who Embraces One’s Life and Others with Magnanimous Mind.

She talked about being ordained at Clouds in Water Zen Center in Minnesota. And then she said this was the first time she had signed anyone’s rakusu in a Jukai Ceremony. Jukai is a Lay Ordination, a ceremony of giving and receiving. She said she didn’t feel right about signing for anyone – until after her great failure. Then she knew it was okay.

That night she asked her student to talk to us about The Heart Sutra. The student spoke on the history of the sutra and about Hakuin and the sound of one hand clapping. She referenced him as one of few who accepted women of the cloth. She told us The Heart Sutra was The Great Mantra and that it had been distilled down from the tens of thousands of verses that preceded it. Then she had us each draw a verse from a bowl and do a 7 minute writing practice on the words we had drawn.


Here is the verse I chose from the bowl. It was written on a neon pink Post-it:

in emptiness
no taste
no touch
no dharma


Here is the 7 minute writing practice:

In Emptiness – No Taste, No Touch, No Dharma – December 6th, 2006

Emptiness – a glass bowl on an empty table. Nothing but sparkle snow. That’s what Harlequin said – sparkle snow. No taste. No touch. No teaching. No teachers. There is nothing left but me. Small on the cushion. Long in Spirit. High in mind. Walking to the white cross along the Morada. Carried on the backs of those that came before me. They walked for me. And now I am free. In emptiness, no taste, no touch, no dharma. If my Soul cries, I can relieve it. A single flake on the toe of my boot. An ant crawling along a purple sky – the rhythm is haiku 5-7-5-5-7-5.

5 Say No Taste No Touch
7 In Emptiness a Night Jar
5 Cries Itself to Sleep

5 I Heard The Silence
7 And I Thought It Was The Sun
5 It Was Only Rain

After we wrote a practice on each verse, a few students read what they had written. Then we chanted an old version of The Heart Sutra while our teacher kneeled on the floor and signed the student’s rakusu. They each stood and hugged. And the cloth was passed around, hand to hand. If memory serves me, it read, Kanpo Kazan Taos. Kazan is Mountain.

Before we left the zendo that night, our teacher told us to meditate on the meaning of the last verse before falling asleep. In writing as practice, we are making space to receive.


GATE GATE PARAGATE
PARASAMGATE
BODHI SVAHA

Gone, gone, gone beyond
Gone completely beyond
Praise to awakening



THE GREAT PRAJNA PARAMITA HEART SUTRA


AVALOKITESHVARA BODHISATTVA
LIVING IN DEEP PRAJNA PARAMITA
CLEARLY SAW ALL FIVE SKANDHAS EMPTY
CROSSED BEYOND ALL SUFFERING AND MISERY
LISTEN SHARIPUTRA, LISTEN
FORM IS EMPTINESS
EMPTINESS IS FORM
FORM IS EXACTLY EMPTINESS
EMPTINESS EXACTLY FORM
THE SAME IS TRUE OF FEELING AND PERCEPTION
THE SAME IS TRUE OF INTELLECT AND CONSCIOUSNESS
LISTEN SHARIPUTRA, LISTEN
ALL DHARMAS ARE MARKED BY EMPTINESS
NOT BORN, NOT DESTROYED
NOT STAINED, NOT PURE
WITHOUT LOSS, WITHOUT GAIN
IN EMPTINESS NO FORM NO FEELING
NO PERCEPTION NO INTELLECT NO CONSCIOUSNESS
NO EYE NO EAR NO NOSE
NO TONGUE NO BODY NO MIND
NO COLOR NO SOUND NO SMELL
NO TASTE NO TOUCH NO DHARMA
NO SEEING AND SO ON TO NO THINKING
NO IGNORANCE, NO END OF IGNORANCE
NO OLD AGE AND NO DEATH
NO ENDING OF OLD AGE AND DEATH
NO SUFFERING, CAUSE OR END TO SUFFERING
NO PATH, NO WISDOM AND NO GAIN
SINCE THERE IS NOTHING TO GAIN
THE BODHISATTVA LIVES AS PRAJNA PARAMITA
SINCE THERE IS NO HINDRANCE IN THE MIND
THERE IS NO FEAR
FAR BEYOND ALL DELUSION
NIRVANA IS ALREADY HERE
ALL PAST PRESENT AND FUTURE BUDDHAS
THROUGH THE BLESSING OF PRAJNA PARAMITA
AWAKEN TO PERFECT ENLIGHTENMENT
THEREFORE KNOW THAT PRAJNA PARAMITA
THE SACRED AND BRIGHT MANTRA
THE SUPREME AND UNSURPASSED MANTRA
BY WHICH ALL SUFFERING IS CALMED
IS TRUTH, NOT DECEPTION
GATE GATE PARAGATE
PARASAMGATE
BODHI SVAHA


Monday, December 18th, 2006

-related to post, WRITING TOPIC – TAOS

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A dust of rose blue floated off Taos Mountain. It was hard to see the stars for the full light of the moon. I slushed along in $16.99 calf-high boots I purchased from Walmart after I arrived in Taos. The gray-haired woman bustling around the shoe department seemed harried in her dark blue smock. She wasn’t happy to be working. I resisted the urge to swoop her away. New Mexico in December. I was grateful to be in Taos.

The writing retreat was everything I imagined. Even more. The “more” part is important. Because sitting in silence means making more room. More space to receive. Writing rises out of silence.

I set my alarm for 6 a.m. and got up every morning for meditation. My routine went something like this:

wake up five minutes before alarm goes off, turn the black switch on the Westclox travel alarm to off, plant two feet firmly on the floor, peek out the window to see if the morning light is hitting Taos Mountain, turn on the wobbly brass table lamp beside the twin bed, head to the high ceilinged bathroom, rub the sleep out of my puffy eyes, flush the toilet, stand up, walk to the carved oak dresser and gather my clothes for the day: a pair of Jockey For Her underwear, Hanes cotton bra, a pair of SmartWool socks (made from New Zealand’s specially bred Merino sheep), baggy flannel pants with loose waist, and a long-sleeved cotton T-shirt from Target washed 1000 times.

The shower was one of my favorite parts of the day. I could feel the water hit every cell of my body. The last dark morning of the retreat, I looked up through the slit of window below the adobe ceiling and saw the full moon high and shining between blowing branches of cedar spread low and wide along the outside wall.

I showered by moonlight.

Moisture is what I crave when I go to New Mexico. Water – inside and out. The 7000 foot altitude gives me headaches and dehydrates my body. Or maybe it’s the Taos Hum. I took a long shower every morning. Then I brushed my teeth, slapped Crew Fiber in my hair, dressed, donned a corduroy jacket and Liz’s “Itasca State Park – Mississippi Headwaters” sweatshirt (that smelled like her), and crunched over the frosty ice, across the gravel parking lot, up the wooden stairs, by the black and white sign tacked to a post that said Silent Retreat In Progress, past the Mother Ditch and the giant cottonwood with seven heads, and over to Mabel’s log cabin.

At 7:30, the meditation guide for the morning would say, “Sitting.” And I’d sit for 30 minutes before breakfast. Some days it seemed like 10 hours. Other mornings, I was disappointed when the bell rang – three taps on the rim to start meditation, one to leave the Zendo. Then breakfast.

Breakfast at Mabel Dodge Luhan House. Don’t get me started.

I’d have a large helping of Jane’s scrambled eggs, 3 pieces of sausage (the bacon is too crispy and overdone for me), 2 tablespoons of sweet applesauce to balance the salty meat, 5 to 8 quarter cuts of  honeydew melon, fresh strawberries, a 16 ounce glass of whole milk, a juice glass of OJ, and a medium cup of coffee with half and half.

If there was a special Southwestern breakfast dish, I would add a taste of it to the plate, picking out the bits and slices of mushroom. I love the flavor but hate the rubbery texture. Otherwise, I stuck to my purist routine of scrambled eggs.

After breakfast, I’d slow walk to my room, staring at Taos Mountain against the clearest cerulean sky, unlock the two latches to enter Door 6, use the bathroom, tidy up, floss and brush my teeth, and get ready for the 9:30 sit, walk, write and the dharma talk that followed.

That was my morning routine from Monday to Friday, December 4th to 8th, 2006.

Heaven. It felt like heaven. But Buddhists don’t believe in heaven. There is only practice. Anchoring the mind to breath, tip of tongue, soles of feet, sound, hands.

And emptiness. 
 
Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

-related to post, WRITING TOPIC – TAOS

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