Tag Archives: spiritual practice

Buddhist women’s conference

30 Jul

Dear Friends,

The Sakyadhita Conference was over a month ago. Please forgive my silence. I’ve been sick, during and after the conference and also in a deep transition state. I will just write a little now.

The conference was an immersion in the varieties of Buddhist women – particularly the many kinds of nuns. Those of us in Japanese traditions, wearing black and having wide lifestyle choices, were very few. I made friends with a wide range of nuns who lived with full vows – celibacy, wearing robes all the time, living monastically, depending on gifts for food and shelter any day. Just one example: a woman from Australia, in the Tibetan lineage, who was raising money to support children in India – and wouldn’t think of taking any of the donations to support herself. She had lived at a homeless shelter, in a van, on a beach, and was currently on her mother’s couch. So she’s raising money to start a monastery so Western monastics in Australia will be able to live the full monastic life.

Meeting these women, it didn’t seem like the vows took anything from them at all – but liberated them to fully live out the Dharma, each in her own particular way. That’s probably an extreme oversimplification.

Just two women came to my workshop, titled “Asking all beings for help with climate change.” We had a lovely discussion, and after the conference was over we walked together to “the peak.” On our way up, Janet (a Hong Kong local) took us to a Buddha carved into the hillside – Amitabha. We spent an hour there, finding it difficult to leave.

At the top of the hill was an ordinary park, with a water fountain, exercise stations, grass, and a tree identification walk. Janet and Sophie returned, I continued – wanting to spend as much time as possible. My way has been to notice where I’m drawn, to have conversations with those, and to be present as fully as possible. What those conversations mean, I don’t know. I’ve said that humans are not the only conscious beings on the planet; this is how I try to work with that understanding.

I asked this tree to give fertility in my work. Thought she said yes, but I stopped again on the way back and she said let go, let go, let go; trying is the obstacle.

The tree with the great roots offered endurance.

The waterfall was full of light, life, youth. She did not give permission to share photos, except of this formation which seemed to me like the face of the spirit of the falls. I could have stayed forever.

Coming back down the hill, I went back toward the Buddha. This time I saw another figure in the rock wall: a carved dragon and phoenix. So I stopped for conversation. Something important happened here; I’m still trying to realize it. I asked if they had something to tell me; they said “We’ve been doing this forever.” (This is the dance of creation.) I asked if I could give them something, and they said no – they didn’t need a thing. And I asked if they would help me. The response felt like laughter: “You are just a speck on the waves of the universe. You are nothing.” I felt an incredible lightness, the weight of the world suddenly off my shoulders.

The Buddha was a little gentler, offering laughter. And – what is this?

I never thought I was singlehandedly trying to stop climate change, yet the words I’ve used about the Alliance have suggested that its purpose is to organize (beings of all kinds) for the healing of life on earth, including human consciousness. Suddenly I realized that I was engaged in trying to make things happen. Some of my friends immediately understood. Beth said that letting go makes one more effective.

So I got sick. It turns out it wasn’t just jet lag, it was shingles, and I’m just beginning to return to functioning while my body still hurts. During that time, I interviewed and got a position in a psychotherapy clinic – so I’ll be reactivating old skills, doing work I like, and spending about half my week doing that professional work. It feels like the right step at this time.

I’ll write a separate note about things happening on the farm, and a volunteer day this coming Saturday.

But next Sunday, August 6, I give a dharma talk at Clouds in Water Zen Center, in St. Paul. Here is information, if you’re in the area and would like to come. Look for “Sunday community service.” Address is at the bottom of the page.

Love,

Shodo

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Prayers

2 Jun

Every morning, after meditation and chanting, I offer additional healing energy to one person or topic. Today – the day after Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accords, I sent strength and healing to these:

Protect the earth from politicians and capitalists my choice; pick your own villains)

  • The Earth herself, and the beings of the earth (acknowledging that they have power)
  • Rising mass consciousness
  • Empowerment of the people, for good
  • Honest courts (addressing corruption in government, responding to climate change lawsuits, and much more)
  • Spiritual leaders (Pope Francis, Dalai Lama, and all of them – may they step up to the need)
  • World leaders being statesmen (and stateswomen? Language is problematic)
  • Responsible business leaders (imagine it)
  • Withering of the Deep State (the conspiracy-theorist name for what really runs this country)
  • Repentance of false Christians (and not to single them out…)
  • Repentance of all religious political extremists, including the sincerely deluded

That was the list that showed up in my mind this morning. Feel free to add or change.

The method I use for healing energy is like this: Create a powerful healing vortex (just imagine it). Strengthen each of the items on the list. Then strengthen the relationships between and among them – in twos, threes, and/or all together. You can feel when it’s done. Of course, use whatever form of prayer or healing energy makes sense to you.

I’d love to hear if you do it.

Warmly,

Shodo

Mountains and Waters Alliance newsletter: “The mind of war”

23 May

The mind of war

I noticed, suddenly, that I am at war with the way things are.

Last summer, I noticed being at war with buckthorn, grasses, and pocket gophers – beings of nature that act like civilized humans, taking all the space, destroying what gets in their way – and interfering with my food supply. This was a disturbing realization, and I’ve been studying it.

Now it’s clear that my war is bigger. I’m at war with the whole way things are, particularly the human world. I’ve made a noble cause of it, called “healing the mind of separation,” and “releasing human arrogance,” but truth is I really really want the civilization around me to change or perhaps self-destruct before it destroys life on earth.

Suddenly I saw my own war, saw how I am just like the system that shaped me – not free – and still part of the problem.

Actually, it’s a relief. As I wrote beautiful words about what the problem is and how we need to change, there was a little uneasiness. Now I know why. Something inside me had to move. I had to fall down, had to lose my hubris. So I’m glad to be present with this uncomfortable awareness.

So I write today from the middle of uncertainty and unraveling. If I waited for the answers to become clear, that would be waiting to return to hubris. But I can meet you here in the empty space; we’ll see what offers itself. Meanwhile, life continues.

Requests and practical things

Housesitter wanted June 11-July 1, while I’m at the Sakyadhita Conference. A little work, a wonderful space, and garden vegies or foraging. Otherwise, someone to do a little work (house plants and mowing) during that time – volunteer, barter, or paid.

Donations: If you would like to support my travel to Sakyadhita, anything will help. Seriously – from a $20 donation we get $19.12; from $5 we get $4.55. Here’s the link for donating, and much more information.

A ride to the plane (for Sakyadhita) June 11 morning, and back July 1 about 9 pm.

Residents and/or farm managers – Possibilities are still open. Please contact me if tempted.

Strawberry plants, raspberry plants, and various other things are available for purchase – or freely given to volunteers. Just ask.

 

Farming and volunteering.

These are dates for group volunteering. You can arrange to come at other times. PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN TO COME.

May 27-28 Planting garden, pulling buckthorn, maybe weeding. Take home healthy berry plants for your own garden.

June 10 A short day, 9-2 or so. More of the same.

July 8-9 We’ll start at 10 am with a 2-hour presentation on permaculture. Then get to work – after lunch.

July 17 & 26 A student group will be working here 9-5. Your company is welcome.

August 5-6 Early harvest? Stockade fence? More orchard work?

Sept 9-10 same as August.

Oct 14-15 Definitely harvest.

Nov 11-12 Late harvest and closing down for the season.

How it works:

  • You can arrive at 9 or 1 any day, stay for a half day, a whole day, or stick around for potluck, community time, even overnight. Any time except June 10.
  • Lunch is offered if you are here. Snacks and water during work time.
  • Potluck is flexible – there’s always pizza in the freezer, and the magic nettle soup – but your contributions are also welcome. Same for breakfast in the morning.
  • Community time could be: walks, woods and river time; foot rubs; music; making ice cream; Q&A on Zen, permaculture, world events, or whatever.
  • Sunday morning zazen is at 6 am, if you’d like to join. Ask for instruction if you need.

The projects named may change. If you have a particular skill or crave a particular kind of work (chain saw, building, digging, planting….) let me know. Ask if you need carpool help. There’s a serious possibility you might go home with berry starts, herbs, or something else, if you want. AND LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN TO COME.

Retreats and teaching activities

June: No retreats because I’m traveling.

July: retreat at the farm July 15-19 (ends at noon). Please note: when alone, I just sit zazen all day. When people join me, I can offer zazen instruction, introduction to Zen, dialogue, and mindful work opportunities.

August: retreat at the farm August 19-23.

September: retreat at the farm September 16-20

October: retreat at the farm, October 21-26.

November-December: to be arranged.

 

Teaching elsewhere

June 7, July 5 & 19, August 2, 16, & 30: The Northfield group will meet less formally during the summer, open to questions, discussion, and topics. We’ll still meet 6:25-8:30, with sitting meditation at beginning and end. Please bring your questions. Located at Northfield Buddhist Center, 313½ Division St, Northfield (park in rear).

June 24 or 25: At Sakyadhita International Conference of Buddhist Women, I’ll be offering a workshop. It’s in Hong Kong, so you probably don’t want to come.

Sept 1-4: I will offer at least one workshop at Gathering of the Guilds, a Midwest permaculture gathering held just three miles from here.

January 13, 2018: One-day retreat with Red Clay Sangha in Atlanta, Georgia.

January 14, 2018: Dharma talk, Red Clay Sangha.

I’ll post other scheduled talks on the calendar here. If your group would like to arrange a talk, workshop, or retreat, please get in touch.

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”

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.

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With love,

Shodo

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