Tag Archives: retreat

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”

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

The Earth Spirit of This Place

2 Nov

The Earth Spirit of This Place:

Mornings here include 50 minutes of sitting meditation plus about 10 minutes of chanting in a standard Soto Zen service. Part of that service is a dedication of merit, based on a standard dedication with some particular tweaks. I’m copying part of that dedication here, for reasons which will hopefully become clear as we go along.

  • …to all dharma-protecting devas;
  • to the dharma-protecting saints;
  • to the protectors of the whole earth;*
  • to the earth spirit of this place,
  • and to the monastery-protecting spirits….
  • [for peace, harmony, donors, tranquility and sustenance for the monastic community],
  • [for deceased, sick, etc];
  • for all who have entered the ways of separation and do great harm, may they return to wholeness;*
  • to all teachers, leaders, and healers of every land and lineage; may they increase in wisdom, faith, and courage, trust in the support of all beings, and without hesitation offer the gifts of the dharma everywhere;*
  • to all who protect, sustain, replenish, and renew every kind of life, may their work flourish;*
  • to this temple and its members and benefactors;
  • to mountains, hills, valleys, plains, meadows, deserts, glaciers, oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, the whole earth and all who live upon it;*
  • to the myriad beings of the three worlds, and to all sentient beings,
  • may they equally perfect awakening.”                                   [*my words]

I’m pointing out here that it’s traditional to acknowledge the earth spirit of a place, and other spirits as well. I felt the need to name places on the earth, which might be forgotten even by those of us who recognize sentient beings including animals and plants, and to add some extra groups of humans in the dedication.

Mountains and Waters Alliance is based on this awareness of earth spirits, water spirits, tree spirits, and all of them. The Buddha acknowledged devas, tree spirits, and others, and we acknowledge them as well. The Alliance is humans vowing to support and sustain all these other beings, to join with them in protecting the earth, protecting everyone – and asks them to welcome us and work together. This is a time of crisis on the earth – the Sixth Great Extinction, time of climate change, time of violence for some, fear for some, difficulty for many. It is time for all of us to come together.

Yesterday I walked around the land with some friends who see nature spirits and feel what they call subtle energies. Today I walked again, alone, visiting some of the same, and felt aliveness and consciousness everywhere. (One might say I imputed consciousness, but one might also say others impute lack of it.) I am reminded of the time when I walked the land, on the last day of sesshin, and found myself asking for help from the trees, the hills, the birds, the mosquitoes, the earth and rocks, the water and air, all living things – and feeling a reply from them. That walk was the origin of Mountains and Waters Alliance. I could name the vow but not name any action.

Now I envision a step toward forming alliance with mountains, waters, and all beings:

We dedicate some time, next spring, to listening and connecting with the spirits of this place. This would include walks in the woods and by the river and creeks, under the pines. We might create shrines. We might create camping spaces and sleep on the earth. We would surely work in the woods, tending to the movement of water and erosion, bringing in beneficial species and removing invaders, while ourselves learning intimacy with these places, place spirits, beings. And we would tend to the orchard and berries and gardens in the spirit of communion rather than profit. We might live very much as community. Surely we would do formal meditation, traditional ceremony, as well as creating our own as we listen to the spirits of this place. We would invite teachers, teachers of plants and wilderness, of Dharma, of chanting and ceremony, of gardening, of subtle energies – and their teaching would enrich the community.

We do this some time after the bitter cold is gone and before the mosquitoes arrive. Some of us are here for the whole time, some come for weekends, some come as they can. We hold council from time to time, both as needed for the human community, and as called for to find alliance.

That thought, alliance, was once translated into the Dakota language as “We will hold you forever in our hearts.” From this, appropriate response can arise.

And…

I should mention the fundraiser is still going on, $2534 from our goal, donations of any size welcome. Work days November 14 and December 12. With volunteers welcome almost any time. Future work days, classes and retreats to be scheduled.

Blessings. Love.

Shodo

Can You Help Us Now?

8 Oct

Dear Friends,

If you are willing and able to donate any money to Mountains and Waters, I ask you to do it now. Small amounts are fine. Large amounts, from those who can, help us get out of fundraising mode faster.

If the vow speaks to you, you are already part of it. How would it feel to make that more real – to put a little of your actual life energy into protecting the planet for your children/grandchildren/all beings? Does your personal spending include $5 a month (or a day) that you would like to switch to supporting this large vision? (You can skip reading and jump down to donating if you like – the next heading. Even $5 helps.)

Here’s what’s happening, why I’m asking right now. There’s an intention to get the farm completely off-grid – fossil fuels and electricity – as well as to grow food to share, supporting local food security against climate change effects.2015-09-24 17.56.04Siding Sept 25 2015

We have completed half the house insulation, installed a very efficient masonry heater, its chimney almost finished, and have a wood cookstove ready to install. The orchard and berry patch are started, and the vegetable garden is producing like mad. We’re connected with others in the local food system. I’m leading a small Zen group in Northfield, occasional retreats at the farm, and other Zen activities. The second resident, Roy Guisinger, an Advaita teacher, has arrived. He will be both working on the farm and offering teaching.

The blog now has a list of volunteer opportunities including several that you can do from where you are. If you want to do a working visit to the farm, or to come to a retreat, let me know – here.2015-09-15 17.54.13

We applied for Minnesota’s help for installing photovoltaic panels, and won their lottery system. This means that we pay to install the panels, and then they pay us for every watt of electricity we produce in addition to buying back our surplus. We’re approved for a 9.840 kW system which will cost about $27,500 to install.

Plans are to do the installation next spring. To get approved for that delay, we have to purchase the panels now. So I need to decide whether to proceed or not – within the next two weeks. If I put down $6700, I can get a 4.25% loan for the rest; if not, the interest rate is higher. I’m taking that $6700 as the minimum for going forward with the solar panels.

HERE’S WHAT HELP CAN LOOK LIKE:

Donations to https://www.youcaring.com/mountains-and-waters-alliance-362647 are tax deductible. So far we’ve raised $1051 there from 12 people, mostly people who saw it online, including Facebook friends I’ve never met in person.

Loans at no interest would be very helpful. Call or email me.

Donations without the tax deduction save us 5%. You can mail a check here, saving another 2.9% on the WePay fees. (No complaint about the fees. Sending 5% to Alliance for Sustainability is a small amount in exchange for all they give us and do for the community.)

The iGive campaign is still going on, with the special deal ending October 9. Costs nothing – click and see.

Shouldn’t we be getting grants? I’ve been looking. There is a foundation that is likely to fund Mountains and Waters Alliance in a few years – after we’ve shown some stability. A volunteer will be helping with fundraising in a few months, if all goes as planned. The USDA grants for farms are mostly not working now (maybe later) but we have a small conservation grant, if we pull up a lot of buckthorn (invasive shrub).

Get a job? I’ve been in conversation about it and plan to be working about one day a week, which should take care of my personal expenses but won’t support the Farm or the Alliance. The Alliance, by definition, involves many people: Until those people are here, I work elsewhere.

IT MIGHT SEEM STRANGE for this organization with lofty purposes to be raising money for something so mundane. The reality is: We need to eat. We need to stay warm in the winter. And if we are to participate in this society, to organize, to communicate widely, we need electricity. The panels change electricity from an expense to an income source. Although I love when I can be away from Internet and phone and machines, loved living without a car, at this time those things are needed to do the work.

The last blog post raised the question of whether I should be here at the farm. That question isn’t coming up now.

Fall is here. There have been light frosts, and we’re going to take down the garden soon. It’s still outrageously beautiful outside, and colors are barely beginning. I gave a River Sept, 2015tour yesterday to Roy (showing progress since his last visit) and to Toby, an intern with Savannah Institute (which encourages and promotes the kind of mixed farming that we’re doing here). Both dug, Toby sharpened the scythe and cut some grass, and left this morning. The sun is shining and workers are coming today.

Mycelium - mushrooms

Mycelium – mushrooms

People tell me the orchard and berry patch look great. I’m pleased and surprised. Leo has mushrooms getting ready in a trash can, Chris is getting ready to plant hazelnuts here for his vision of protein for all, and Andrea brought rescued honeybees that we hope will survive the winter. Andrea also cleaned the chicken house, but the chickens are going to wait until spring. Saturday’s volunteers will pull up buckthorn and Berry patch Oct 2015plant ostrich ferns that Jayne gave me yesterday at the Zen group. (Most of my plants have come from Jenny…not mentioned here I think. Also mention Allison has given food, produce and canned food, and cooked a lunch for us. I’m trying to keep track of the gifts, but it’s hard.)

I think we’re going to make it. All summer I wondered. There’s still the question of how much damage the pocket gophers will do (or how we can stop them – raptor perches haven’t yet worked, snakes are not interested) and whether the deer will IMG_2847[1]get past the tree tubes or the field mice girdle the trees. And how much watering we’ll need to do if next summer is dry. Still plenty of work to do, and I have promised an article for a Soto Zen women’s anthology, have my teacher’s book to edit, have writing of my own that doesn’t happen. But the hardest is past.

Next year we’ll be selling strawberry plants, raspberry plants, strawberries. Later, mushrooms, Chris’s IMG_2636hazelnut seedlings, lots of nursery trees of various kinds. And we got $40 at the farmers’ market a couple weeks ago. Probably will get a little more, when we have time to go. It’s a way to take care of the produce we don’t have time to put up for winter. And I get to take a walk in the woods. Soon. Maybe tomorrow. Harvest Sept 15 2015

Nothing today about news of the world. Another time.

Love and blessings.

Shodo

Mountains and Waters – blog updates especially volunteering

24 Sep

Well, first, we have a Facebook page.

Second, I added a volunteer page which includes both dates of workdays (Oct 10, Nov 14) but lots of other options. I was asked to do that.

To simplify, I consolidated the other pages into categories. They should work. Contact info, past event information, and upcoming events (the October 3 intro to Zen retreat day), plus Mission, Vision, Goals, Vow with all my words about what this is about.

Here’s a picture of the chimney construction as it is today. Tonight there should be a few more layers added – every day until they have to go through the roof. Fortunately the weather is being mild.

2015-09-24 17.56.04Soon the siding will go up, covering the insulation before cold weather arrives. The food dehydrator is almost done, and usable once the sun comes back.

I’m gradually bringing my life more into the realm of practicing and teaching Zen. Last Saturday I led an all-day retreat for a women’s group that’s been meeting for years – convened by Nita Wolf, a kind host and excellent facilitator. I was moved by the depth of questions and comments, honored to be invited there, looking forward to the introductory retreat in just over a week.

May your fall be wonderful and your heart be open.

With warmth and respect,

Shodo

 

 

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