This is me…

This is me not knowing what to write; knowing only enough to know that I should just start clacking away and see what happens; knowing that if I allow my current state of I don’t feel like writing to continue that I’ll suffer more for it.

This is me amid a much longer process of inner recallibration than I would prefer, wishing I could just be onto the next thing already – whatever the thing is – with this clunky awkward exhausting stage behind me as something I could point back to and say I came out better for it in the long-run.

This is me, a usually very decisive, action-based dame, being un-nerved by not knowing what the heck comes next in the book of my life.

This is me being antsy & agitated on my meditation cushion in the mornings  (but at least still sitting); missing my time spent as a hospice volunteer; missing my time spent as a super amateur drummer for a local African dance troupe; missing spending time with my friends; missing gathering people together for the sake of helping to foster the building of community; missing the attending of music shows; missing the places I used to go and realize now I took for granted pre-virus; missing….

This is me wondering if I have what it takes to actualize my husband and I’s shared long-held vision of building a mindfulness practice center here in our much beloved home state of Montana.

This is me wondering if perhaps I could use a long stay at Deer Park Monastery, my home away from home, to help me refuel and re-hydrate and re-balance.

This is me wondering what my future holds, as I step back and away from certain roles I’ve been invested in for a long long time.

This is me wondering what comes next.

This is me, being human.

 

 

 

Antsy & Unmotivated

Feeling antsy and unmotivated is just a terrible mix, who’s with me on this?  My bio-rhythms are off – that’s how it feels anyway. Oddly, I feel exhausted and energized at the same time. Certain activities sound appealing and then when I go to do them I lose steam.

I got together with a friend yesterday and it was almost as though I’d forgotten how to interact. The effects of covid are real is what I’m saying.

This is me simply giving voice to what is alive for me today.

I’m crunchy; snarky; rough around the edges. I’m wearing thin by the daily grayness and ongoing, ever-present potential likelihood of rain. I miss my tribe. I miss the days before covid came to town. I miss who I was a few months ago.

Oh, right. Grief. Grieving. Loss. These things are also real.

Nothing is need of fixing or figuring out.

Some things (most things) take time.

_______________

In the wake of my recent
steppings down from roles
I’ve held joyously for years,
who am I now?

In the wake of covid cancellations
of activities and usages of time
I purposefully fill my days with,
who am I?

An unpublished, unprized, unscholarly poet
A woman writer with something to say
A woman invested in learning and building skill
and doing better – a little more each day –
to be a kind and useful human.

Funny how that sounds like both
a whole heck of a lot
and also not enough.

 

 

Lessons from a Lookout Tower

Sign posted in Swan Lake, Montana

Last week, in the first noted occasion of something in my world that hasn’t been cancelled in over 2-months in the wake of covid, I stayed for a spell in the Mission Lookout Tower in Swan Lake, which is a little thing you can do here in the great state of Montana: stay in old decommissioned fire towers. I reserved the tower 6-months ago, and based on my findings online assumed my stay was cancelled. Then, four days before my reservation was set to start, I got a call from the ranger station telling me I was good to go. So I went.

I started venturing – solo saunter style – to this particular tower in May of 2018, making this recent trip my third annual pilgrimage there. I think I stayed 3 or 4 nights my first time. Last year I stayed a week and this year, too, I booked it for a week long stay. (Merch plug: I compiled my writings from my tower stay last year into a homespun book called Sky Perch: One-week worth of writing from a lookout tower. If you’re interested, let me know and I will send you a copy for $10.)

As a writer, staying solo in a tower rocketed 40-feet up off the ground is simply a stellar venue for putting pen to paper. And my last two trips there were periods of great reflection, refreshing solitude, stillness, nourishment, and energetic refueling. My trip there this last go-around, however, was not any of those things.

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On Patriarchy & Princesses

A few days ago, I let a 2-year-old little girl pick out a pepto-pink princess-themed book from a Little Free Library and instantly regretted it.

I tried steering her towards a different selection but she wasn’t having it. With her love of all things pink, the color of the book alone had her at hello.

It’s a hefty short story collection of the classics following all of the Disney princesses, all of which feature scantly dressed way thin females with tiny waistlines and long flowing hair. And while there is a whisper attempt at weaving in decent messaging, each princesses main goal in life is landing a man. And not just any man but a prince; a handsome prince; a savior-esque clean shaven dude of a prince who will provide the great honor of making her a royal bride.

 
In short, if there could only be one truly terrible book in all the land, this is it. If we want to indoctrinate our young girls right from the get go and make sure they know and stay in the subservient pretty girl box designed for them, this book is one-stop shopping.

 

While the 2-year-old was napping, I tucked the book inside my bag (with her parents grateful stamp of approval) and left the house with it, so it will never be seen again.

 
This is me at age 40 just starting to see how patriarchy has shaped and molded my life and the life of each and every one of us: females, males, gender variant, intersex, and transgender alike. This is me having my worldview-lens in the process of changing, as I invest time and energy into learning about systemic issues by way of classes I’ve been taking, books I’ve been reading, and talks I’ve been listening to online. And it has been and is not easy or comfortable or pleasant. I don’t mind telling you that there’s a small voice inside of me that regrets this new pathway opening up – what is it they say: ignorance is bliss? Yeah. It’s something akin to that.

A poem I penned this morning:

To all of the people
that have shown or handed me
my power,
I am sorry to report
that I’ve not been using it.
Good news is,
I’m starting now.
Better late than never, as they say.
 
And to those who are eye-rolling
at my use of the word power
or buckling under the weight
of your own discomfort,
take your business elsewhere.
I’m done trying to live my life
to make you feel as though
there is nothing in need of fixing.
 
My voice
like air
like repression
has been silent.
 
The time for my uprising
is here.
 
And I don’t care
if you like it.

____________

A few days ago, I watched the documentary Margaret Atwood: A Word After a Word After a Word is Power. I wasn’t familiar with her or her work prior to the film – it was the title that drew me in, and thankfully so. Spurred by the film, I was inspired to purchase one of her books that was mentioned: Power Politics, which was originally published in 1971. It arrived in the mail just yesterday and I set to reading it this morning. After reading a few poems from it, I penned the poem above.

Something that has become clear to me: poetry spurs more poetry, at least for me. For my poetry to take flight, I need the poetry of others to inspire, teach, and help show me the way. Back in February, I was away on a 2.5 week long retreat and I didn’t bring any poetry books along with me to read. I also wrote very little poetry of my own. It was then that I discovered: I need the poetry of others to help me find my own poet voice. It was an important realization.

Now, I’m on a roll. Over the last month or two, I’ve purchased around 4 or 5 different poetry books. I told my husband just the other day that he might have to put me in Poetry Books Anonymous!

“A word after a word after a word is power” really resonates with me right now. As I often write about: words matter. They really do. And this is me in the beginning stages of developing a whole new language.

Poem of Sunday Morning

In honor and ending celebration of National Poetry Month here in the U.S, a poem I penned just this morning:

On Sunday morning,
during a time when pre-covid
I would’ve been gleefully
lounging about intentionally doing nothing,
I took to my vehicular steed
and made my way slowly down
Johnson Street
en route to fetch groceries
ahead of the masses at the market.

Near 7th Ave,
I came upon a bird in the road.
When I drew closer,
the nondescript winged being
turned into a handsome mallard duck,
with green plumage shining
famously in the 7am sun.

I came to a stop,
as he clearly was both
not in a hurry to cross
nor was he bothered in the slightest
by my 4-tired presence.
And for the quick shutter flash
of a hot second, I was bothered
by this obstruction to my
privileged right of way passage.

Then, I thought better
and declared joyously:
“And why shouldn’t I stop
for this grand creature?!
He is on royal parade
and I am fortunate enough
to be his only witness.
Oh happy day,
that I should be afforded
such riches as this sighting!”

Once he was out of my harm’s way,
I carried on to the store,
where I loaded up my cart
with masked face such luxuries as
butternut squash, basil, lasagna noodles,
and a sweet pastry to gift my dear husband
when he woke.

On my way back home,
I thought nothing of the mallard
when passing by the spot
we crossed paths
just 20-minutes before.

Still, he nestled into my heart’s memory,
where I will cherish him
until the end of my blessed days.

 

In Honor of National Poetry Month

All the necessary components for this dame to craft her own poetry:

a dark & early morning; the poetry of someone else; a cup of tea; candlelight; my notebook & trusty steed of a pen: a blue-ink, extra-fine, Pilot P-500.

Yesterday, not knowing it was National Poetry Month, I posted this on my Facebook page:

“I feel called to share about a project I have been joyfully working on as of late. I am putting together a homespun book of my poetry to make available for local sale. In honor of it being 2020, it’s called Hindsight is 20/20.

Here is what is likely to be the intro I include in the book:

If a poem doesn’t insist on closer communion with something ordinary and usual, or serve to blow at the dust laced in layers on the lens of our world view, I reckon it must be something entirely other than a poem. A head-heavy logical discourse maybe – or something else equally terrible.”

______________

Then, this morning, I discovered the reason that prompted my seemingly spontaneous calling to craft that post: it’s National Poetry Month! Perhaps I was tuning into the collective poetic vibration.

Recently, I have been receiving an abundance of nourishment and inspiration from poetry – moreso than usual. Just this past week, two new books of poetry I ordered arrived in the mail, which I’ve been taking great delight in:

I find that poetry, like music, bypasses my brain-heavy logical processing and sifts on down deeper into the soft organ of my heart-space, where intuit replaces reason and I’m guided by feeling instead of thinking.

So, this is me simply wanting to continue to elevate the platform of poetry during this time of global crisis, interlaced with loss, fear, and uncertainty. At first glance, it can be easy to think that poetry is not much to look at – and of course, poetry isn’t for everyone, because no one thing ever is – but I would encourage a second look to be given to the poetic masters. Folks like Mary Oliver, David Whyte, Billy Collins, Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda, Emily Dickinson, and so many many others.

Poetry can prove to be a powerful salve to help tend to the tears in our spirit, and help heal our broken faith in something bigger.

Some of my most recent haiku:

Quietude in sound
Noise amid silence grows thick
All things shift with time

Our sky grows lighter
Earlier and earlier
A bit more each day

There is no more time
There is all the time we need
Death is far and near

Poetry in flame
A lit match of words is sparked
By a want for change

Mostly, this is it
A captivation of might
Harnessed through my pen

 

 

 

 

Paramita #2: Mindfulness Trainings

(For an intro to the paramitas and more info about this 6-week practice group, please reference my post from last week.)

Here is the verse our local paramita practice group has been reading & reflecting on daily this past week, which I took and pieced together from the section focusing on the Second Paramita from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:

The Five Mindfulness Trainings help protect our body, mind, family, and society. The First Mindfulness Training is about protecting the lives of human beings, animals, plants, and minerals. The second is to prevent exploitation by humans of other living beings and of nature. The third is to protect children and adults from sexual abuse; to protect yourself and protect families and couples; to help other people feel safe. The Fourth Mindfulness Training is to practice deep listening and loving speech. The Fifth Mindfulness Training is about mindful consumption. The most precious gift we can offer our society is to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are the most concrete way to practice mindfulness. We need a Sangha around us in order to practice them deeply.

The second of the six paramitas is: mindfulness trainings. (To read the Five Mindfulness Trainings in the Plum Village tradition, click here.)

In the first paramita (giving/generosity), Thay wrote: The greatest gift we can offer anyone is our true presence. And in the section on the second paramita, Thay wrote: The most precious gift we can offer our society is to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings. With deep looking we can see how these two offerings – our true presence and our practice of the mindfulness trainings – are not separate, still, I like the distinction of what I can practice to offer someone else, one-on-one, and what I can practice to offer our collective society.

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Poems In the Wake of Covid19

My morning writing today

Uncertainty

And so,
maybe we’ll see food shortages
from panicked people with ample freezer storage
and money to spare
stockpiling supplies.

Maybe in two months or three,
my husband and I will have trouble paying the mortgage.

Maybe I will lose my disability benefits
amid my current re-evaluation.

Maybe my husband will be stuck in CA
for longer than we have planned.

Maybe this social distancing
and stay-at-home approach
is only in its infancy.

Maybe it will be months
before I can hug my friends again.

Maybe my current enjoyment
of solitude and quietude on the home front
will turn sour and hellish in another 2-weeks.

Maybe our country and global landscape
will never be the same.
In fact: it won’t be. It never is.

Maybe this is what Rilke meant when he said:
you must change your life.*

Maybe this is the shaking up we need
to be shown what is most important.

 

– penned on March 24th, 2020; *I lifted this line from Mary Oliver’s poem Invitation

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Paramita #1: Generosity

Excerpt from The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh:

The Six Paramitas are a teaching of Mahayana Buddhism. Paramita can be translated as “perfection” or “perfect realization.” The Chinese character used for paramita means “crossing over to the other shore,” which is the shore of peace, non-fear, and liberation.

(1) dana paramita – giving, offering, generosity.

(2) shila paramita – precepts or mindfulness trainings.

(3) kshanti paramita – inclusiveness, the capacity to receive, bear, and transform the pain inflicted on you by your enemies and also by those who love you.

(4) virya paramita – diligence, energy, perseverance.

(5) dhyana paramita – meditation.

(6) prajña paramita – wisdom, insight, understanding.

Practicing the Six Paramitas helps us to reach the other shore — the shore of freedom, harmony, and good relationships. 

This past week marked the start of a 6-week, largely online based, self-propelled, group-supported reflection practice I put together in order to delve more deeply into the Six Paramitas. The group is free and open to our local sangha members and there are 6 of us participating. Each week starting on Mondays, we read and reflect daily on a verse I send to the group on the paramita we’re focused on and on Sundays we report back to the group, via a few typed sentences posted on a shared Google doc, about what was alive for us in relation to working with the paramita over the past week. I also send an audio recording for folks to listen to centered on the paramita at hand.

Here is the verse our group has been reading & reflecting on daily this past week, which I took and pieced together from the section focusing on the First Paramita from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:

To give means first of all to offer joy, happiness, and love. The greatest gift we can offer anyone is our true presence. What else can we give? Our stability; Our freedom; Our freshness; Peace; Space; Understanding.

The practice of giving can bring you to the shore of well-being very quickly. What you give is what you receive. Whether you give your presence, your stability, your freshness, your solidity, your freedom, or your understanding, your gift can work a miracle. Dana paramita is the practice of love.

So for the past week, I’ve been focusing on Giving/Generosity. Here are some of my personal reflections & other things I penned down over the last few days:

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Deer Park, Day 15

Freshly mulched Circle Garden :)

Saturday February 22nd, 2020
Day 15

I finished a book
Free to pursue other things
A small weight lifted

4am (tearoom)

Mark the day, mark the time. It’s 4am and I’ve done it. I just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I made it all the way through. It’s a miracle. Okay, well, not a miracle but it is astounding. If someone were to ask me what the book is about, the honest truth (my truth) would be: I really have no idea. If pressed (which: who does that about a book?), I guess I’d say something seemingly meaningful but actually avoidant like: it’s a coming of age story; a finding who we are story; a story about running until there’s no where left to run.

So I read the book and this morning I finished the book. So, that’s a thing that happened. In two-weeks time spent at a monastery, I read the 530-page book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

__________

Percolation: The other day, as our work crew was readying to fill the 1988 Toyota with mulch down at the gate, someone mentioned having a preference of shovel. He said he’d been working with it the last few mulching times and gotten to know how it handles, and thus, preferred to use a particular one. Someone else joked: Ah, so you’re attached to it, to which I lightly (and surprisingly) chimed in: I think there’s a difference between attachment and making efficient use of a tool, or something to that effect. As Buddhist practitioners, I think this is a topic that is in need of unpacking. Tossing around the word ‘attachment’ doesn’t do us any favors if we don’t know what it means for our own self and what our motivation or end-game is with it.

Too often, this word gets used with a jilted tone or in a snide manner in a skewed context. It’s not at all helpful to tell someone else when you feel they’re attached to something. It’s also not helpful to patronize someone about it. “Now, now, be a good Buddhist and don’t be attached.” Blech. Who wants to be treated like that? (And I’m coming from experience here. I’ve heard long-term practitioners chide people, myself included, like this.) Spiritual whitewashing is something I have very little tolerance for. As soon as I get even the slightest hint that someone isn’t being sincere or isn’t well-grounded or is caught in the form of the practice, I high-tail it the other way.

In my way of thinking, connecting with others and gravitating towards certain people and certain things is not necessarily attachment. I also don’t think all preferences equate to being attached. For me, attachment is a rigid structure for denying the truth and reality of impermanence. It involves relying on someone or something or some experience to be a certain way in order to make us feel a certain way. When we’re attached, there’s something we want to have stay the same and not change. So, in my view, I think there’s potentially a way to be in close relationship with others and to have likes and interests without being “attached.”

And, as with most things, there’s a spectrum when it comes to attachment, so in a sense, preferences are an attachment, they’re just on the low end of the spectrum. Where any particular attachment falls on the spectrum I think depends on how quickly we are able to shift gears when something unexpected happens. If we prefer a certain shovel, for example, but our shovel is unavailable, we might say: Oh darn. Well, that’s okay, this other one will do. Sure we would’ve liked to have had access to the other shovel but it’s not a big deal to use a different one. It’s on the very low end of the attachment spectrum.

It’s this low end of the spectrum area that has me thinking that perhaps to label it all as attachment, does the actual strong-natured, unhealthy style attachment a disservice. It’s kind of like if we use the word love and say I love you to our BFF and then also say I love this hamburger. When the same word is used to describe two very different situations, doesn’t the meaning of the word suffer? I think it does.

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