Year-end letter from Mountains and Waters Alliance

15 Dec

Yesterday morning I was moved to offer prayers for calming the wildfires. What took me so long, I don’t know. My attention was on California and South Dakota, but I tried to include everywhere – and today learned about the New Mexico blaze. And I kept thinking of “the fires of war” raging alongside of physical fires. Seeing too many pictures from Gaza. So this morning I offered prayers for “peace with dignity for all.”

What do I mean by prayer? Well, nearly every morning I sit in meditation and follow it with chanting; the chanting is dedicated for the benefit of all beings and a whole list of specifics. I’ve written about that before. After that, I do an energy healing practice adapted from David Lasocki’s work:

Mentally invoke a powerful healing vortex. Strengthen and heal myself, then name a topic. What I did today was this:

Wrote: “Peace with dignity for all.” Underlined it and made a big circle. In the circle wrote supporting factors, as they were given to me. This was the list:

  • Zen ancestors and all deities (my religion and others)
  • Mountains and Waters Alliance members, and the entire earth
  • the entire human species
  • all sentient beings (includes animals, plants, and I don’t know)
  • all place spirits in the world (Many religions, including Zen, acknowledge local place spirits)
  • dispelling the demons of fear and hate
  • calming greed for power, possessions, and fame
  • Jesus and love (Who better expresses love?)

Then, mentally, I strengthened each one on the list, and their relationships with each other in twos, threes, and so forth. Continued until intuition said finished.

I started writing this letter at the full moon of December, 2017. The moon was brilliant. Since then, sun and moon together have been sliding gently toward the dark. Except for the quietness, it feels like a match for the state of the world: colder, harder, as the actions of “our” government instigate fear and disgust while relentlessly removing human rights and waging war on the natural world including many humans. I’m personally privileged and not much a target in this war, yet. Still, a part of me thinks my primary safety is in the land, the orchard, and the seeds – and in people. Not in laws, elections, governments, and the like, though I dare not ignore them. None of which means I assume I will survive when/if things get hard.

Daniel Quinn, in Ishmael, wrote about two kinds of peoples. One knows the difference between good and evil. The other lives in the hands of the gods. I wish to be one of the latter, but am not. I recall Einstein’s question: “Is the world a friendly place, or not?” My childhood answer was “the natural world yes, humans not” is still strong in me, even in my rational adult mind.

Yes, there have been terrible natural disasters this year, and many we haven’t even noticed. Puerto Rico is still too much without safe water and electricity, and damages to nearby islands are invisible to us in the U.S. Mudslides, floods, earthquakes, droughts, starvation, refugees – only the human response is visible. The last round of wildfires started after I first wrote, and they’re getting attention. Meanwhile the Oval Office provides a circus complete with death-defying acts, while Congress quietly removes civil rights and transfers money from poor to rich. It doesn’t look good.

Except for points of light here and there, acts of kindness, bursts of creativity. And except for a growing resistance to imperialism, to colonization, to oligarchy, to empire – most recently in the #metoo upwelling, but also Black Lives Matter, the indigenous-led pipeline resistance, and more. Here and there court decisions favor people and land: An Oregon judge allowed Our Children’s Trust to sue the federal government for their “constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property” about environmental harm.; a Minnesota court allowed the “necessity defense” for some peaceful water protectors; finally a court sentenced a police officer to prison for shooting an unarmed black man in the back during a routine traffic stop.

More people are speaking in defense of the future, and a little support is showing in low and middle levels of government. There are elections next year and some dream of change. The future is not set.

Mountains and Waters Alliance in 2017

Here at Mountains and Waters Alliance, at Mountains and Waters Farm, we’re seeking to face this situation wholeheartedly and fearlessly. Our premise is that humans are not the only conscious beings, nor are we the only power. We are not alone in our wish to protect the living earth, in our intention to clean up our mess, our will for life to flourish. But as the ones who have done the damage, we need to abandon the colonial mindset and join with the other beings of the earth.

Our will is to listen to those other beings, to become their allies, and together to protect all of us. The whole thing began for me in 2015 when I walked the hillside here asking earth, trees, shrubs, and waters to protect this place from development – and felt their response. In 2016 flowers, trees, and mountains spoke to me during a retreat, and they have not stopped. In summer 2017 an ancient carving on an old hill said to me, “We’ve got it covered. We don’t need your help.” It turned my world upside down. I went home to lie in bed sick for a month, wondering what was left for me, this person, and all of us, to do.

The answer, of course, has not changed, though my identity as a change-maker has to go. My role now is to be part of that “we’ve got it covered” – neither to rest nor to take center stage, but to carry the task allotted me, which seems to be to keep talking and listening with beings of the earth, and to encourage other humans to join me. The morning “prayers” are the steady action, and the meditation is essential both as action and as sustenance.

(Meditation as action? In meditation, we withdraw attention from the workings of the world, and let everything rest. This is an action – call it a strike if you want. I withdraw energy from the workings of greed, anger, and ignorance, stop imagining that I’m a separate being, and allow the movement of the universe to go forward. Others have very different parts – from active resistance to running for office to growing food, caring for children, everything imaginable.)

Other events have shaken my identities as well. At the Sakyadhita (Daughters of Buddha) conference in Hong Kong (a major decision to travel so far; many of you helped that happen) I discovered how far my American Zen priest life is from the life of most Buddhist nuns, my commitment much less tangible than theirs, the freedom and joy equal. I received donations from lay people for no reason than being a nun – an amazing and moving thing every time. The world of Buddhism is amazing; I had a one week immersion, then went to the mountains and then returned to American culture.

A very important new thing is the monthly meetings of the Advisory Council. Five amazing wise and powerful people offer support, challenge me to stay focused, help with decisions – and edit my writing, remind me of the purpose, and let me know that this matters. They give me the confidence to move forward.

This year has been very much about personally slowing down, learning to actually take this work seriously and not jump at every other service opportunity. To believe my own vision, which fits neither mainstream politics nor frontline resistance, is a challenge. This work is quiet. It is intimate. And it is deeply connected with all the others. I feel special affinity for indigenous protection groups, for Climate Disobedience Group, and for the Women’s Congress for Future Generations. Every time an invitation comes up, at least daily, I have to ask myself whether to participate, and how. In 2017 I testified at pipeline hearings in Minnesota, but did not go to the resistance camp I went to the Women’s Congress and decided to participate in a small way, I wrote about this work in an anthology by Soto Zen women priests, and have more writing and speaking to do.

I continue to teach Zen in Northfield,, but little else in this quiet year. Some visitors, some conversations with possible residents, taking up part time employment (, and taking care of the land. Learning patience, I remind myself of the Zen ancients who went to the mountains and decades later the students appeared. More patience please!

Last but central: in addition to daily sitting, chanting, and sending healing energy, I’m trying to go out on the land, to listen, to care, to be in relationship with it. The warm fall was a blessing, allowing me to be easily outside long after snow would usually come. We kept having one more warm day exactly when we had a group coming to work outdoors. And now it’s snowy and cold.

The Farm

Living on this land continues to be a miracle. I look for people who will make it theirs as well, put their dreams into it as mine are. In spring Perry and Amanda showed up, planted some things, found mushrooms, disappeared to earn money, and came back in the fall. In fall, anticipating an income, I hired Ryan for farm work, and quickly came to appreciate his intuitive permaculture understanding. So we mended the driveway culvert, protecting it from the next floods, using only what we had on hand (and shovels and a chain saw). He’s growing mushrooms here, will be back in the spring. Nick and Chris came around and left, local young volunteers, and a couple of groups of college students came for projects. We took on the outrageous project of building a deer fence for the orchard, using stakes, rebar, and T-posts (see pictures). The hard part is done.

And because while walking on the hill I got a strong urge to build a meditation hut up there, I invented a monthly potluck gathering with 2 hours of work dedicated to that, or to other spiritual, joyful non-emergency projects.

Reaching Out/Looking Forward

There are two directions. One is deepening, the other broadening. So while I continue to do my own spiritual work for the sake of the whole, there’s also an invitation outward. Early next year we’ll be offering membership in Mountains and Waters Alliance. Let me start now with a brief overview.

  • The core of membership is about being active in this alliance of many beings, and connected with each other. As we work this out, I’ll offer some suggestions for solo or group awareness practices, and will be available for support as you explore what this means for you. That exploration could happen here at the farm, or wherever you are. For those able to come here, there are retreats and short or long term residence is also possible.
  • There’s also volunteer help of many kinds – from farm work to Internet help to food prep, audio editing to construction work to volunteer coordination – your skills are welcome, or simply your energy and willingness.

Donations: Things require money. Right now, Mountains and Waters Alliance is a guest at Shodo’s home. It pays for Internet, paid the bulk of the solar panels, and not much else unless there’s travel to do for teaching or learning. To be more active will involve more money.

  • If you would like to make a year-end donation, please do so here.
 And what can we offer in appreciation? The most important thing is to be a part of this work for the benefit of all beings. Some additional things would include being part of creating the farm as a sanctuary for many, a residence for some; making this your spiritual home; - creating a counterpart wherever you are, in community together. Last, we can create an online community where we encourage each other, foster creativity, share ideas, possibly have world-linking ceremonies and events, and relate to other communities of similar heart. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported this work in the past – the Sakyadhita trip, the solar panels, and everyone who just sent or handed a check without even being asked. This inspires. As it inspires to have partners, allies in the work, mentors, supporters of all kinds.


May you be at ease, joyful and at peace.

May you be safe physically and mentally.

May you be protected from natural disaster, war, epidemic, and hunger. May you have work that gives meaning. May you love and be loved. May you be unafraid.

May you find yourself completely at home in this world, with our great and wide family of conscious beings.

With deep respect and love,

Shodo Spring


2 Responses to “Year-end letter from Mountains and Waters Alliance”

  1. Laurel Carrington January 4, 2018 at 9:08 am #

    Thank you, Shodo. Just what I needed to hear, all of it. I am looking forward to a healthy new year.

    BTW, I am tentatively beginning a blog of my own. It’s not public yet, but I’m working on it.


    • shodospring January 4, 2018 at 10:19 am #

      I look forward to seeing your blog, when you’re ready.


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