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Your support asked – by April 30

21 Apr

Dear Friends,

I have the opportunity to present a workshop titled “Asking all beings for help with climate change” at the biennial gathering of Sakyadhita, “Daughters of the Buddha”, an international organization of Buddhist women. I submitted a proposal, in line with the core work of Mountains and Waters Alliance, and they said yes.

Then I thought for a long time about the time, the fossil fuels used to get there, and my intention with this work. The first proposal came from an intuitive rush of energy: my work will be welcome there. The final decision required me to weigh the impact of the travel, to deeply consider who I am and what my work is, and to listen to trusted advisors. Finally I too said yes.

The trip will cost about $2500. I’m hoping to raise $2000 through an online fundraiser, and cover the rest myself.  https://www.youcaring.com/mountainsandwatersalliance-806232  The fundraiser site has a video from the last conference, and some more information.

I will offer one workshop, in this giant gathering of Buddhists, and do my best to share and invite the work of the Alliance. I will attend many workshops, meet women (and some men) from places and cultures I can’t imagine. Born and raised in American culture, for years I’ve been working to release the habits of my own mind – habits of ownership, colonization, separation. (That is my personal piece of the work I offer through the Alliance.) So the most important part is probably that I let go of American superiority and allow myself to listen, see, hear, taste a multitude of ways of being. To be changed. And to bring that back.

Of course I don’t know what will happen. I’ll send notes back so you can know too.

Love,

Shodo

Appropriate Response – and an event

26 Mar

We are in a new world. We don’t yet know what will come out of it. At first I watched the news in horror. Then I noticed the uprising of resistance, of compassion in ordinary people, of more news from the news media. I also listened to the people – indigenous, Black, and others – who said “You didn’t know that America was racist? Really?” There’s a long view to be had here, and it’s a good time to listen.

What shall we do? This is more like a marathon than a sprint. Carolyn Baker writes about the need for resistance, and inner work, and community, and cultivating beauty and joy. Even though it’s an emergency for every refugee turned away and every immigrant deported, even though it’s an emergency with climate change and the poisoning of the planet, we still need to take the long view. And decide where our proper place is, each one of us. How did Norway successfully resist the Nazis? Reading George Lakey’s narrative, I was encouraged. What would I have done, could have done, in any of the genocides of history, and what will I do now?

The advice to me personally has been increasingly clear and intense: take the time to go deep, to strengthen myself. Take a leadership role later. Do not get distracted by every petition, every issue – and back away from the news. The emergencies call out to me, and people ask me to help. And I’m tending to my own rest, nutrition, meditation time, and prayer time. So this is my primary activism right now, as I allow myself to go deeper and have more to offer. The Advisory Council is a treasure.

The vision of Mountains and Waters Alliance is going beyond the human realm to gather the strength of all the beings of earth. It is too late for human ingenuity alone to stop climate change – let alone reverse it as we need to do. But we keep forgetting that we are not alone, and that we don’t have to do this task alone.

Rather, we need to abandon our position at the top of the heap, where everyone and everything else on the planet is just here for us to exploit. We need to join the community of life. It’s now an emergency.

Religious people have known we are not alone. But among religions of the world, the sense of ourselves as part of the community of life belongs to Buddhists, many indigenous religions, and I’m not sure who else. Many forms of most religions place humans right below God, above the rest of living beings. And that is the problem that causes us to exploit, use, and abuse others for our own convenience. I can’t tell you why the concept of stewardship has failed so badly, but look around and see.

There is so much I do not know – I’m following a thread through a maze.

I ask your help:

Join me in prayer and in communicating with nonhuman beings
Reflect and consider what your particular work is in this time. We might have a conversation about that, in comments on the website. (If you’re getting this as an email, you could go here and “follow” in the lower right corner. Then you will be able to comment and to read comments.)
Donations are always helpful. I’m not actively campaigning for them right now – working on finding paying work and co-farmers.
Prayer again. Whatever form that takes for you.

EVENT: April 1, noon to 4, Morel Slurry Workshop. See the Facebook notice, or email me for more information and registration. ($10, bring a jar if you want to take some slurry home for growing your own.)

 

Love,

Shodo

Mountains and Waters Alliance – Winter Solstice greetings and report

21 Dec

2013-01-13 Cannon RiverAs the world changes, as despair threatens, the vision of Mountains and Waters Alliance is being deeply tested and clarified.

Climate change becomes increasingly obvious; violence, wars, and the war on the environment continue to escalate, and the incoming government is not a cause for encouragement. Refugees, wars, refusal of refugees, pictures of hurt and hungry children – these are our daily news. The human capacity to cause suffering is unavoidable. The arctic is sixty degrees above normal now; the summer saw unprecedented wildfires and droughts, and I was grateful to be in a place where climate change meant only fierce storms, fallen trees, raging rivers and floods, and ruined crops. The conflict between corporate greed and a culture based in the earth is playing itself out at Standing Rock, and still unfinished. In a small way I participated in that, first organizing prayer vigil support at home, then spending five days at the Standing Rock camps, joining in prayers and also sitting with other Buddhists. I expect to return when needed, and I do expect we will be needed again.

The plan of offering an example of community based in practice with the earth seems like it belongs to a gentler time, with slower change. The other side of the vision – allying with trees, mountains, and forces larger than human – becomes essential, and that is where most of my time has gone this 2016-08-01-14-57-51year. In July, a wilderness retreat with David Loy and Johann Robinson led to profoundly deepened understanding of communicating and allying with the nonhumans – especially mountains and alpine flowers. My following visit to the Black Hills was more of the same, and forging a conscious alliance. This is the work difficult to discuss, that gives Mountains and Waters Alliance its name. If there is any hope in this time, it lies in giving up the illusion that humans are separate, better, or in control, and in casting our lot with all sentient beings.

A brief report on activities:

The primary work has been learning and unlearning. Pulling out invasive plants, I see the mind of war inside myself. I’ve apprenticed myself to the land, to learn in body that which I’m called to teach about becoming part of the family of life. I seek another mind – parental mind or collegial mind – in my relationship with these difficult plants. In this, the land becomes a learning laboratory. This is what I intend to teach to others, but at this time I can only express it through Zen language.

In addition to this learning, daily sitting and retreats at the land, and the wilderness retreat mentioned above, I participated in a Bearing Witness retreat this fall with local Dakota leaders. My December retreat time went to Standing Rock, and was followed by lying in bed waiting for body and heart-mind to recover. It’s been a time of working underground, enriching the soil to be fruitful later. That deep work is still in process, changing me into someone who will be actually able to offer it fully.

On the farm, we’ve protected the orchard from deer and rodents, tended and harvested berries, continued woodland restoration, and repaired storm damage. The farm house now has wood heat and cooking, solar panels, additional space, and a year’s supply of firewood. The Advisory Council meets monthly, volunteers and other supporters have helped with many projects. Office organizing and accounting is improved, and appliction for tax status is on the to-do list. I’m looking for farmers to lease part of the land, and there are a couple of conversations in process.

I’ve taught and led retreats at the farm, had guest teachers, welcomed volunteers, and networked with other farmers as well as activists and Buddhists. I’ve also taught at Buddhist and other groups, and at the Soto Zen Buddhist Association. The sitting and study group in nearby Northfield has doubled in size. My essay “Right Action: The world is my body” was published in The Eightfold Path (ed. Jikyo Wolfer, Temple Ground Press 2016) And as mentioned, I’ve been involved in peaceful activism on environmental and indigenous issues.

I think a time will come when this farm is needed as a place of refuge and sanctuary. This, in addition to being a source of deep nourishment for the inner work, and a place for teaching, is a reason to keep it and cultivate it in spite of the expense.

The most important work has been nearly invisible. Thus I haven’t asked for money. Yet $1400 has come in unsolicited, much appreciated. For those who want to be quiet partners in this work, you are welcome to support it here. If you want to join in this practice, whether here, at your home or anywhere, please contact me.

Much warmth to you, as the dark of the year turns toward light again.

Love, Shodo – for Mountains and Waters Alliance

Here are two of the many writings that sustain me these days of difficulty. My own voice is still.

The Descent, by Thanissara. https://thanissaradharma.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/the-descent/

and this, from 1968:

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.                         

Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things”

Standing Rock, pipelines, water protectors

4 Oct

Supporting Land and Water Protectors Everywhere

I have just added a page with information on the movement to protect water and earth, everywhere. Focus right now is the Standing Rock Tribe and thousands of allies camped in North Dakota, protecting Missouri and Mississippi Rivers from the Dakota Access Pipeline. This is an amazing event with potentially profound impacts. Words fail me. I encourage you to follow the links, and take action if and how you are moved. Click above to go to the page

 

 

Embracing Reality

24 Sep

The deep vow is to free all beings: the first of Zen’s four vows.

The manifestation, in this particular body, is to become intimate with the un-freedom of my personal mind and of my culture, and working to release the internal while addressing the external. That is how the vow of the Mountains and Waters Alliance looks right now.

My writing “Right Action: The World is My Body” is a chapter in The Eightfold Path, edited by Jikyo Wolfer, published just now by Temple Ground Press. Re-reading what I wrote, I find my thoughts well expressed. The most difficult part was writing about political action, of course.

2016-08-01-14-57-51

These beings have promised to help.

If you buy this book, please get it from your local bookstore and not from Amazon. Or get your local public library to buy it. Your actions matter. Local bookstores matter. I am asking you to join me in avoiding businesses that use slave labor; Amazon is one of the big ones. (If you have no local bookstore, you can buy online from someone else.) This is a small step of independence that costs perhaps a few dollars, perhaps not, and supports a healthy economic community. If you don’t understand this, ask me and I’ll write more about it.

As the vow becomes stronger in my life (particularly as a result of the 10-day wilderness retreat in July, and life following), it becomes harder to carry on with ordinary life. I am determined to remove excess baggage and stay with the center.

Since returning home, I’ve been attempting to clarify that center and to make practical decisions. The most important activities include

  • studying, practicing, and teaching Zen,
  • undoing the cultural habits of civilization – which in this case means learning to listen and talk with trees, mountains, and other nonhuman beings;
  • supporting others who are undoing those cultural habits; at this time the key group is the growing resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (based in spiritual and cultural traditions that are rooted in human connection with the whole natural world); there are individuals and organizations around the world doing work of this kind.

In morning service, I offer blessings to individuals – sick or in need, but also those doing large projects – and to groups protecting and sustaining the earth, and to those teaching and leading the healing of spirit. The list is long. I send healing to the beings of earth itself. I include those who are disconnected and doing great harm, but rarely say names here because it feels like a judgment.

The other parts of the Alliance – creating a residential spiritual community, and a farm which grows food to be ready for when the collapse comes – seem less central. Thus I look at what I can release.

The land grounds me, heals me, and is my place of learning. Farming and caring for it takes more energy and focus than I have. I’m trying to protect the work already done (orchard etc), harvest crops planted this spring, and do the minimum needed. Also, I’m working to make it a space where more people can live, if those people appear. An extra bedroom is almost ready, and I’m being helped greatly by a Vipassana practitioner who is an excellent carpenter.

It would be easiest if some people came to live here with me, to practice with me, and to live with this vow. The invitation is out – and here I remind you of it. But I’m preparing for the backup plan: find my own financial support, take minimal care of the land, and plunge myself into the deep work – I’ve been saying hermit work, but it will include engagement – for as long as needed.

Coaching: The financial support plan is a coaching business focusing on wisdom, empowerment, and love. I’ve dropped my clinical social work license, but offer my services to individuals, couples, or groups, by phone, Skype, or in an office in Northfield, MN. There’s a set fee, and I can’t accept health insurance; everything else I do is for free or by donation. Information here. Feel free to make a referral.

The big world: In North Dakota, the Standing Rock Tribe is saying no to a pipeline that would invade sacred burial grounds (legally protected) and endanger the Missouri River (and all downstream). It feels to me like the encounter of the deep energies of our time: one based in community, connection with the land, and tradition; the other based in profit, denying responsibility, and willing to destroy both climate and waters for what is called “our way of life” – also known as self-indulgence at the expense of our own children and everyone else on the planet. If you don’t have access to reliable information, let me suggest Censored News, Democracy Now, or Yes Magazine.

I imagine going to Standing Rock to sit sesshin, in honor of all life. The practical details are overwhelming, and I may just get there for a weekend, do some labor, and get acquainted. Only because it seems so important – traveling is not generally part of my practice, but there are frequent carpools from near here.

If you would, join in the October 10 day of prayer and action. Divest from the banks that invest in pipelines, listed here. If I organize a prayer action, I will let you know. Local events will be on the website.

Meanwhile Black men are being killed by police at an incredible rate, white people are making a fuss about Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful and respectful protest, and one Black community has finally erupted into violence after intense provocation. That eruption is a victory for racism. I have only sadness to offer. There have been poems, heartbreaking. Here is one:

Leslé Honoré            July 14 · Chicago, IL ·

Backpacks

When black boys are born
We mothers kiss their faces
Twirl our fingers in their curls
Put them in carriers on our chest
Show them to the world
Our tiny black princes

And when they start school
As early as 3
We mothers
Place huge back packs on their backs
And we slowly fill them with bricks
Etched with tools
Tattooed with truths
Hoping to save them

Don’t talk back
Don’t get angry
Say yes ma’am
Say no sir
Don’t fight
Even if they hit you first
Especially if they are white
Do your best
Better than best
Be still
Worker hardest
BRICK

they get a little older
And we add more

Keep your hands out of your pockets
Don’t look them in the eye
Don’t challenge
Don’t put your manhood before your life
Just get home safe
Don’t walk alone
Don’t walk with too many boys
Don’t walk towards police
Don’t walk away from police
Don’t buy candy or ice tea
Don’t put your hood up
I’ll drive you
I’ll pick you up
You can’t be free
Don’t go wandering
Come home to me
BRICK

They get a little older
And we add more

Understand you are a threat
Standing still
Breathing
Your degrees are not a shield
Your job is not a shield
Your salary makes you a target
Your car makes you a target
Your nice house in a nice neighborhood
Makes you a target
Don’t put your ego before your safety
Don’t talk back
Don’t look them in the eye
Get home to your wife
Your son
BRICK

They weigh them down.
This knowing
Of having to carry the load
Of their blackness

the world hasn’t changed
The straps just dig deeper into their skin
Their backs ache
But their souls don’t break
Our beautiful black men

When you say to me
All lives matter
I simply ask
Will your son die with the world on his back
Mine will.

 

Very local: Finally some work is getting done on the house. The photos are not impressive unless you’ve been here – but here is the tiled floor, ready for the wood cookstove.

2016-09-24-12-51-03

With love,

Shodo

Strawberry meditation

25 Jun

Yesterday Conor and I spent the afternoon in the strawberry patch. We dug up plants and moved them to an open space (that Paul had weeded) in the next row. We dug up diseased plants (mites, I believe) and moved them to the sun garden – quarantined. We weeded, and we gathered pine needles to use as mulch. We stopped after doing one section fully; lots more to do next week.

What I noticed is that you can’t do these things in a hurry. You have to slow down and be gentle with the plants. When I let go of my hurry, it was easy and pleasant.

Today, Conor and Paul and I got compost and put it on almost all the potato plants: the newly planted, and the ones that are a foot tall and need to be covered. One pickup load, moved twice – in and out. We started in the cool of the morning, ended at 91 degrees – and then took naps in the cool house. Paul’s mother picked him up and told us there was a heat advisory out. I was unable to work; Conor cleaned the pantry where the last potatoes were either rooting or rotting. We talked about things to do when it’s too hot for outside – but the heat wave seems to be ending.

In the outside world, England has decided to leave the European Union, and people are warning of dire consequences. I’m not following too closely. Things are falling apart – the question is how fast. At the compost site there was a man who looked way too old to be shoveling compost, and somehow we got to talking. He had been a stockbroker, and now has a hobby farm, invests in physical things, and warns me to be cautious of the city people who will come looking for food when the time comes. He also pointed out my tires, which need more air and were dangerously unstable on the ride home.

News

There have been an unusual number of contacts from people interested in moving here. Some have appeared and disappeared, but others continue. So I’m looking at actually making more bedrooms in the wonderfully cool space downstairs.

We had the flower essence workshop, with four students, and it was good. Lined up with my intention to form relationships with the nonhumans. In my “lessons” with the land, I’ve started to think of how to related to the grasses, to the mosquitoes (they want full attention, was Friday’s message), to the buckthorn (I promised it a grove somewhere on the hills – but there are two magnificent trees right in the cleared area, and I don’t know what to do.) Talking and listening with each of the many plants requires a calmness that I don’t seem to have. But I continue. And continue to sit zazen every morning.

Going to Indiana for the Zen ceremonies was, on the one hand, wonderful, and was also what I did instead of sitting a three day retreat. Next month I actually go to a 10 day retreat in the mountains, where I don’t have to lead or cook or anything, and it looks like the deep rest that I need. We’ll be back on schedule in September.

After the buckthorn pulling, there’s open space in the woods that’s just lovely, a space for listening and creativity. Most of the trees we planted are doing well, a few seem to have died, and I don’t know what happens next. This fall we get more ostrich fern and other smaller plants; I brought spicebush from southern Indiana to potentially plant as an undergrowth shrub to replace honeysuckle and buckthorn. And mosquitoes have finally appeared – late June – mercifully!  There have been storms – almost tornadoes. The house is solid, and some of our elder trees have been hurt. I don’t yet know how to receive this damage.

More and more it makes sense to operate in this way: accept what’s offered. Instead of controlling what gets planted, I respond to what comes up. So the gift tiger lilies are alive and probably will bloom next year. Last year’s oregano and mints are flourishing, as are basil and lovage and several others. The many little maple trees have no destination yet, but undoubtedly will go somewhere in the woods. Letting go is happening.

My friends Rick and Beth came to learn flower essences, and are going to come Sundays to meet the herbs that live here, for herbal remedies. I just feel gratitude: what will make this work is people who have an independent interest in something here. I can be a learner and helper with them, instead of having to be in charge of everything.

The solar panels are up and will be turned on this Tuesday. I start paying back the loan at that point, but also start making extra electricity to sell to the power company.

I’ve written two small grant proposals, and bought domain names: Now you can search for MountainsandWatersAlliance as a .org or a .net, and for MountainsandWatersFarm.com, and they’ll all go to the blog which passes for a website. One of the grants is for help creating a real website. A volunteer offers to help write grants: extreme gratitude and relief.

Because although I’m capable of learning things, there are too many things to do for me actually to learn and do them all. Part time office manager Juli is taking care of the numbers that I had been simply neglecting, and also helping me get more online presence. I’m still in charge of farm and conservation matters, the house, volunteers (I’m falling down here), teaching, Zen teaching, and the general direction of it all.

And it’s time to check in with the Advisory Council about some of the steps forward. At two years, it seems like the hard survival part is done, and it’s possible to move forward into doing the work.

Coming Events

Well, here is the rest of the year, almost. As well as I know. December is not clear.

  • Saturday mornings are farmer’s market in Faribault, unless (like today) I have nothing to sell.
  • Volunteer weekends are posted here. Northfield Zen groups are in the same place.
  • July 3: I give a Dharma Talk at Clouds in Water Zen Center, St. Paul.
  • August 20-21: retreat of some kind. To be determined.
  • August 22-24: sesshin (silent sitting)
  • September 18-23: sesshin (silent sitting)
  • October 14-19: Lee Lewis offers a 5-day sesshin here, “Land Ethics.”
  • October 22-23: I offer a workshop at the Women and Spirituality Conference in Mankato, “Becoming Part of the Earth Again.”
  • November 6: I give Dharma Talk at Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center, Northfield.

 

May you be happy. May you be at peace. May you know the joy of your own true nature.

Warmth and love,

Shodo

Thoughts. And a true date for the flower workshop

22 May

A few notes, just before going into sesshin:

Brahmavihara Cambodia:

I’m reading the financial report from my friend Beth Goldring, about her project working with AIDS and TB patients in Cambodia. She is retiring, and the question is whether the project can continue without her. Staff are doing wonderfully, she says, but they still need someone to replace her in raising funds. So probably the project will close.

Reading her reports always breaks my heart. I visited and volunteered with them for a month in 2014. Now she writes, about her year away in 2015, “I returned to find decisions skillfully made, accurate and honest reporting, and emotional strength. At the level of the staff’s actual work with patients, commitment, integrity and resilience, I could not have been more pleased.”

And “As always, the report is intended as an expression of my gratitude for the support that has enabled us to work over the past sixteen years. It is my devout hope that support will continue without me and that my wonderful staff can continue, in our small way, to be a compassionate presence in the face of our patients’ suffering.”

Beth writes, “the time when AIDS patients received comprehensive medical and social care seems to have passed. Brahmavihara Cambodia is not in a position to compensate for what has been lost.” Seven staff (most part-time, many with AIDS themselves) provide chaplaincy and other services. Operational expenses in 2015: $34,802 for both salaries and direct services.

I don’t know how to write about what is actually happening. People being evicted from the hospital when they can’t pay the daily fees. Poor people who can’t get a poor card which would pay. Caregivers (usually family) living in the hospital with the patient, sleeping on concrete floors. Doctors and nurses seeing TB patients with inadequate masks. (Our staff always had the proper masks.) People’s homes: I remember three people in one room with a beautiful Buddha statue, one hot plate, one light bulb, and somewhere outside must have been water and toilets. The mother dying there. A father and three children on an open tent platform, recovering there, the children playing and laughing. Of course we only see the poor people, but in the hospitals there are four beds in an open room with fans and wide windows, and sometimes another ten people all seeming to me like a kind of family, together facing illness and death. (We would sometimes do Reiki on the caregivers as well as the patients.)

This is a place of practicing with life and death – imminent, always present – and the work is to be present with people otherwise forgotten or ignored. It leaves me humble. Which is why I write about it. But then I cannot tell you, without also offering an opportunity if you wish to support. www.brahmaviharacambodia.org has Paypal for tax-deductible contributions. You can ask me for other ways of donating.

 

Here:

And here on the land, I am listening to birds, as the sun comes in the windows, and planning to plant some tomatoes before we begin sesshin. Imagining that working with the forests and the plants, I’m doing something about causes, about planetary healing. Actually only knowing that each of us must do what calls us.

So I announce that the Flower Essence Workshop has been rescheduled to Sunday, June 12, and this time we have four committed members so it will actually happen. And the whole point is returning to the earth, learning to listen and sit with the plants, in the way of zazen, receiving and giving life.

And there will be three of us at sesshin, where usually there is one. Some of our zazen will be walking or sitting outdoors – an experiment for me. I’ll write again later.

Warmly,

Shodo

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