Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Alzheimer's Self: Or, Who Are You Anyway?

This post from the Nyoho Zen blog really struck me. Especially the opening story.

My grandmother — we called her Oma — struggled with Alzheimer’s before passing away a few years ago. One evening after dinner, during her last Christmas visit with our family, we were sitting around the table — Oma, my brother, Tracy, and I. Oma took a cookie from her plate, held it up, and asked, “What is it?” One of us, in the gentle way that people do, said, “Oma, that’s a cookie.” She looked irritated. Again: “What is it?” We all glanced at each other around the table. This was awkward. This time, one of us started to explain how a cookie is made. “Well, there’s flour, and egg, and this one has chocolate chips.” Then this 90-plus-year-old woman, who in her lifetime had probably baked about 80,000 cookies, shot us all a very lucid, fiery look, as if we were all disappointments. “I know how to make them,” she said. She held up the cookie again. “What IS it?”

And so the four of us found ourselves staring in earnest at a cookie in an old, shaking hand, really unsure of the answer. What was she asking us? We all looked hard at that cookie and said, “Wow, Oma, I don’t know.” That was how we left it.

The author goes on to talk about koans, and the ways in which a lot of folks these days like to toss around big phrases and ideas, but seem to lack a sincere desire to help others, or be of service to what I'd call "our mutual awakening." One thing I've noticed for myself is that I don't leave as many comments about dharma online anymore. I'm less inclined to spend a lot of effort on debates, especially ones filled with heady, intellectual big shotting. One discussion I did recently participate in ended up producing some really interesting stuff. It also included a rather stereotypical, huffy exit from an older, and I'm assuming white male, who was tossing his weight around in ways that felt exactly like what Koun (from the Nyoho blog) described on folks being insincere about koan study.

Anyway, back to the story above, Oma's lucidity reminds me of my grandfather, who also had Alzheimer's. There's something almost time shattering about life with Alzheimer's. On a visit to my grandparent's place towards the end of his life, I remember waking early one morning and coming out to see grandpa in his chair. He'd been mostly gone the day before, but as I stepped into the living room that morning, he looked me straight in the eyes and said "Morning, Nathan. How's it going?" I was a bit startled, since he hadn't really remembered who I was the entire week we'd been there. We went on to have what felt like a "normal" conversation. Talking about the birds outside. Food. Something about an old friend of his that lived down the road. Not an hour later, the rest of the family was up, and eating breakfast together. And the "normal" was replaced by the new normal of don't remember anything.

Moments like that made me question the entire narrative I had about the past. And memory. And time. I have had a few similar experiences during meditation, but for some reason, the shifting in the flesh and blood of my grandfather seemed more startling.

I don't know what Oma was like as a person before Alzheimer's, but it sounds like this fierce questioning about the cookie was a surprise for the author and his/her siblings.

Who is this person? What happened to the person I knew? If this is true, then what does it mean to be "a person" in the first place?

We seem to both hold together in certain ways, and also fall apart - at the same time. Sometimes, the falling apart is drastic, other times it's barely noticeable. But the sense of self most of us cling to really isn't what we are. And that's both liberating and scary. Don't you think?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

We are Not Resources: Reflections on Right Livelihood Under Capitalism's Boot

My teacher Shohaku Okumura says this:

When you sit zazen, you place yourself on the ground of reality.

He also said a fundamental problem is seeing other beings as resources. They are not resources, they are beings – trees, humans, insects, minerals. If we saw them as beings, we would treat them differently.

This is from a post by Shodo Spring. Shodo and I live in the same state and occasionally practice in the same local sangha together. We walk very similar paths though, seeing the dharma as much through social action and public witnessing as through zazen and sutras. Sometimes the two side manifesting together completely in time/space - and other times, awareness of their togetherness regardless of the moment's time/space experience.

Anyway, I want to write a little bit about work and money, and how the structures and functions of capitalism almost force us to view everything else as "resources."

I have been without a financial cushion for most of the past year now. When I say that, I mean I barely make rent and feed myself every month. The money I had in the bank, as well as the in the stock market game called an IRA, are gone. Eaten away. Given to landlords and utility companies that use fossil fuels and nuclear power to heat my apartment and power my stove and laptop. My attempts at generating income on my own through various means haven't yet brought in enough to move past poverty, and really, as it is, a return to the wage an hour world in some form or another is probably coming soon.

This stepping out that I did a little over two and a half years ago now was done partly out of desperation (needing to reduce my stress levels before it was too late), and partly out of a desire to truly question what it means to do Right Livelihood in the world we live in. I've run through all sorts of emotional states and narratives during the process. Delusional "get rich quick" dreams. Carefree "I don't need money anyway" stories. Shame-ridden hopelessness over being so broke I couldn't buy my own groceries. The hazy confusion of "what's next?" Disillusion of looking for jobs and feeling trapped in the process. Dreams of "How can we do this differently?" Fears of being called "a lazy bum," "slacker," or whatever and then wondering why it is that I let such nonsense get to me, especially since the majority of people who say such things give and do so very little in their communities. The list goes on and on.

I want to live in a world where people are supported for the gifts they already give to the world, regardless of whether those gifts are "money making" or not. I would love a world where just being and doing what you can is enough to be considered worthy. Sure, on a spiritual level these are already true. I don't need to want anything. I get that. I hear it all the time in the teachings, in dharma talks, and the like. I get that. What I'm saying is that it would be great to see it manifested more on a societal level. And frankly, it would be wonderful if - instead of so many folks feeling compelled to say "That's not possible. Be realistic. Be practical." - that more of us would naturally gravitate towards the beautiful visions of the possible and make it so. Make it real. Say to hell with the conventional practical and make a new practical.

Hindrances aren't confined to individual lives and minds and psychologies. Some are systemic poisonings. Thefts of dreams and the hearts that have them. Just as some of us plunder the earth for others to make money and still others to power their lives until some other way is forged, so too often goes the ways of forging themselves - the imaginings and the experiments, individually and collectively.

The visions and possibilities that have come to me over the past few years have been battled back - mostly internally - by all the bullshit I've swallowed in my 37 years on this Earth, in these United States.

Thus I have heard from the family, and friends, and the media, and the school teachers, and the co-workers, and whomever else, living and dead, about what it means to be a man,

to be a white man

to be a white, middle class man

to be a white, middle class successful man

to be a white, middle class successful man worthy of respect

to be the standard by which every last thing of value is measured, still, consciously or not, in this society

This is a heavy fucking straight jacket to wear.
For anyone.
And it brings us all down.
Deranges us.
Tames and tampers us.
In different ways and to different degrees.
But suffering is the end result no matter how you slice it.

I love giving away my life. I serve frequently. I give my time, my words, whatever I can because I'm aware that, in the end, it really isn't "mine" anyway. It's an almost natural state, despite all the impediments. And yet the more I see, the more I realize how this society we've given in to works completely against all of this How it makes people like me poor, more than poor. In need of begging, and not of the holy kind.

I understand a thing or two about motivation now. Having lived as I have. How what frequently is labeled lazy is more about despondency. A recognition that you've been dehumanized by your own society and aren't sure what you can do about it. Zazen, sutra studies, chanting, bowing, and practicing with my dharma brothers and sisters give me an edge many others don't have. And yet, none of that has prevented that dehumanization feeling from taking hold. That sense that I'm either to be someone else's resource or to figure out a way to make them mine. Sure, it's not only those two options, but frankly, much of what constitutes "paid work" these days is exactly those two options.

I live in a country where corporate executives can "downsize" a thousand people's jobs at a moments notice, spin the profit back up to them and their shareholders, and then turn around the next day and lobby against something so basic as a decent minimum wage by suggesting that it will force them to "have to lay people off." It's much worse in other places, but frankly I have no interest in using that knowledge to prop up what we have as "this is as good as it gets."

Sure, I could make all of this easier on myself. I could go along today or tomorrow, get some job, and stop my bitching. I'm sure a few readers would love that. But actually, it's not that easy. Even with all my experience and education and white privilege and gender privilege, I haven't found finding a job - and I say job deliberately there because Right Livelihood is so corrupted under the conditions we've collectively created in the modern world - I haven't found finding a job all that easy. Under qualified. Overqualified. Lack of the right connections. Sham job postings offered out of protocol for positions already given to someone else. Struggles with the dehumanization of it all. Lack of motivation. Some actual laziness. Efforts and focus on building a few small businesses. Short lived dreams that some of my writing was about to become a bridge to a decent income. Other dreams dreamt and piddled with for a few days, weeks. Time spent protesting and working with others to experiment with some other way of being together. Service to my sangha. Days, weeks of my life given to the sangha.

Under terms of colonialism and the capitalism it spawned, all of these complications to the narrative are erased. Ignored. Downplayed. Medicated. Plunged under water in hopes of drowning completely. Institutions do it to us. The people around us do it to us. But for the most part, we do it to ourselves. It's a sign of how well the whole thing works. That there really isn't too much of a need for external pressure.

In fact, I tend to think that the increasing militarization and attempts to control are - in part - a positive because they're signals that more of us aren't willing to go along, even if some of our not going along is violent and suffering producing.

Right Livelihood is so corrupted under the conditions we've collectively created in the modern world. And as an able bodied man in the prime of his life, I feel a lot of pressure around all this. Genderized pressure. It's still really not ok for the most part for able bodied, or able body looking men, or trans-men, to be without a decent income. To not be in a financial position to take care of themselves, and others in many cases. No one who is financially poor gets much sympathy, but broke young and middle aged men are probably at the bottom of the sympathy ladder. Treated like rats, hurled frequently with insults, and left to rot as miserable scum in the psychological sewer. And a few in actual sewers. Is it any wonder that men in financial crisis often break down, get lost in addiction, increased violence, isolation, and mental despair?

This is the flip side of male privilege. The deep imbalances in our societies poison us all in different ways. I can't say that enough.

Going back to Shodo's comment. All of this goes deeper, comes from a deeper place. Our disconnect from the planet. All the ways in which the majority of modern humanity across the globe has deluded itself into believing it's separate from the rest of the living beings, and the very Earth upon which it/they/we stand. There isn't any true Right Livelihood without breaking through those lies. Both individually and collectively. Which doesn't mean that everyone should quit their day jobs like I did necessarily, but it sure as hell means we need to look at, and start doing a whole hell of a lot things differently. If we want to fulfill our vows that is.

When I write like this, talk like this, a fair number of people - mostly white, privileged people I must add - get a bit twisted up in their trousers. Oh, the names I've been called over the years, even long before I was brave/crazy enough to do something like I've been doing over the past few years. And oh, how some feel the need to talk me gently or not so gently down from some imagined ledge. "I love your spirit, buddy, but you've gone a bit too far." Or "If only the world worked that way, but it doesn't, and don't get so distraught or wound up about it all." The funny thing is that sometimes I actually did need to calm down a bit, but it had nothing to do with the actual content and everything to do with my attachment to the content and others' approval of it. These days, I expect resistance. Because it's in the very water we drink and food we eat to resist our true paths. Our most awakened paths. Individually and collectively. The Buddha's teachings point to that resistance as almost built into us. And I happen to think that what we've done in the modern, colonial world is build societies that amplify that resistance to the point where it nearly deafens us.

We all need to invest in some major earplugs. And those who have had them awhile, would do well to share their secrets with everyone else. Given the climate crisis we live in, we don't even know if we'll be around as a species for much longer. It could be that bad, but there's no need to give up based on something that may be possible. Whatever I personally do in terms of jobs and money and the like, I don't intend to give up. Because no matter how you slice it, Right Livelihood is intimately connected to the well being of every last human on the planet, and every last being on the planet. How could it be otherwise?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Selfishness of Guilt and Shame

A few comments during a discussion at the zen center yesterday brought to mind the issues of guilt and shame. During the particular discussion, we were talking about the idea of praying for "buddhas and ancestors" to support us. What that meant. Whether such a practice resonated with each of us or not. And how it was different from mainstream Christian notions of praying to God or Jesus for support.

Anyway, all of that made me think about guilt and shame. (Yes, it's a bit of a leap.) And how both of them - in my view - increase the separation narratives we have that alienate us from our true natures.

In my experience, guilt is always self-focused, overly attached to a solid self that "screwed up." Feeling guilty about yelling at your kids, or stealing money from the petty cash jar at work doesn't do anything to rectify the situation. In fact, it maintains the focus on yourself. The person or group of people who have been harmed by your action confront you and you say something like "Oh, I feel so guilty. I wish I hadn't done that." And sometimes what happens here is that the other person or group of people end up talking to you about your guilt. Or they end up having to accept that you felt guilty, and that nothing else can be done about what happened. Of course, sometimes nothing else can be done, but that's not really the point.

Shame is more tricky, although I don't think in the end, it's any more helpful. For the most part, shame just universalizes a mistake or set of mistakes into a totalized view of one's self. Instead of feeling bad about a particular behavior and it's consequences, you see yourself as a "bad person" who will "never get it right."

Indulging in either shame or guilt, in other words, not only doesn't help rectify the original situation, but also creates a stickiness around the mistaken behaviors that keeps them fixed in your mind and body. You keep thinking about what happened. You create a negative image of your self around what happened. And so you end up carrying what happened, often long after others might have forgotten it.

Buddhist teachings tend to point to remorse as a more appropriate response. Remorse is tied to repentance for specific actions, which then can lead to a sense of compassion for yourself and others who have made similar mistakes. Being remorseful help break down the self-focus, and also burns through attachments to misdeeds through both the act of repentance, and also any decisions that aid in rectifying a situation.

I could write more, but I think I'll end it there for now.

What have your experiences been with guilt and shame? Do you see them as helpful or harmful?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Buddhist Thoughts on the Boston Marathon Bombing

By now, you've probably heard about the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Whomever did them, it seems pretty clear now that they were an act of terrorism. An act which no doubt will have ripple effects of suffering far beyond those immediately impacted. Half way across the world, but not unrelated, a series of car bombs killed dozens in Iraq, a place where these kinds of experiences are sadly commonplace. Our imperialist policies, as well as those of our allies, have created a living hell for the Iraqi people. And so, as we grieve for those hurt and killed in Boston, it's imperative to remember all the ways our nation's decisions bring about similar suffering in places across the globe.

Brad Warner quickly put up a post about the Boston marathon bombings. There is some understandable anger in it. I've felt plenty myself in recent months over gun violence, wars, the numerous economic violences of capitalism, and all the ways we've been destroying the planet. But what to do with that anger? How can we face it directly, and let it move through us in a way so that it can be transformed into something of benefit for ourselves and others?

I find elements of Brad's article disturbing. He's a selection.

As is typical when these kinds of things happen, the news guys didn’t really know much. They just kept repeating the three facts they did know over and over. Two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Two people were killed. An unknown number of others were injured. Nobody has claimed responsibility. And that was pretty much all anyone really knew the last time I checked in.

I remember after the gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system happened, Nishijima Roshi said that those who perpetrated the deed should be found and “removed from society.” He said this very forcefully. It was unmistakable in his tone that “removed from society” meant anything from being jailed to being executed. He made it clear that he thought that a society was in the right to take the life of someone who did such an act.

My reaction at the time was kind of typical of people who are relatively new to Zen. I was pretty shocked that a Buddhist master would condone killing people. Doesn’t the first precept say, in effect, “Thou shalt not kill”? How can a Buddhist master think it’s OK to kill even those who kill others? Isn’t it all about peace, love and understanding?

Well, yes. It is. But it’s also about facts.

One very significant fact is that Buddhism has only ever flourished in stable societies that had powerful militaries and police forces to defend their citizen’s ability to practice. Stephen Batchelor famously said something like this in response to 9/11. You cannot meditate in a war zone. Well, I suppose you can. But it’s not easy and you’ll probably be killed while you sit.

Our societies have to be stable before we can engage in our practice. This is an absolutely necessary prerequisite. That means we have to be able and willing to defend our societies against those who would disrupt them.

First off, ask Thich Nhat Hanh and other early members of the
Order of Interbeing
about meditating in a war zone. Long before the smiles and flowers Zen of the current Thich Nhat Hanh, there was the Vietnam War days, filled will practice and social action in the heart of a war zone. Hanh, Sister Chan Khong, and others regularly found themselves in trouble with one side or another, sometimes to the point of their lives being threatened. Although I wouldn't wish these conditions on anyone, some might say they were a powerful container for practice. A place of no escape beyond anything we might manufacture.

Secondly, it's a little too easy to go there. To make the leap from soft interpretations of the first precept to "we should kill people who commit terrorist acts." His desire for punishment is, again, understandable. A pretty human impulse certainly. And yet it's also so Old Testament God. Or a really raw and unprocessed sense of karmic justice that screams Buddhist fundamentalism.

In addition, this who thing about having powerful militaries and police forces so "we" (whomever we are) can practice seems like a nice excuse for fascism. For "just" wars in "terrorist" nations. And for continued oppression of anyone here, in the U.S., who is deemed to be "disruptive" or "potentially" disruptive. Our government, regardless of the political party in power, is quite fond of pre-emptive strikes, "precautionary" measures, and the like. Not that they give a shit about meditation practitioners really. That's really not what they're concerned with. And it wasn't what the governments in medieval Japan were concerned with, nor the various royal factions in India during Buddha's time. Whatever space they "provided" for "safe" meditation practice and Buddhist study was a byproduct of power and resource control. Of oppression of one group by another. Of bloodshed and ecological destruction.

Desiring the kind of "protection" we modern humans of the past several thousand years have grown accustomed to means desiring a certain level of murder, oppression, and environmental damage elsewhere. Maybe even right down the street from you. Watching the police smashing that young African American man's face into the ground around the corners gives you a sense of safety perhaps? It sure as hell doesn't for me. But I see that kind of thing all the time, and know damned well that for some folks, this is treated as a positive. A black and white case of a bad guy got caught and now we can go back to our regular lives kind of moment.

I totally understand the desire for safety. It's human. We all have it. And if I've learned anything from Buddha's teachings it's that safety is a delusion. It's a long winded story we have about staying alive for a long time because conditions appear to be in our favor. When the reality is we have no idea for sure. You can die quickly under the best of conditions, or live to 100 under seemingly the worse of conditions.

I'm sort of tired of revenge narratives as well. Yes, they're human too. Part of the fabric of our psyches. The stuff of ancient and modern tales. There's a certain satisfaction of getting back at those who have wronged you. Of taking them down the way they took you down. I get it. I've felt it. But getting even - the whole eye for an eye thing - again, it's so Old Testament. Actually, older than the Old Testament. Some might say this is just how humans are. We're petty and aggressive and selfish. But that's just a cop out. A nice justification for not putting any effort in to imagining something different, practicing that something different, and doing something to bring about that different way of being in the world. If anything, humans are too quick to give in to the current conditions, thinking they are permanent. Or the best it could possibly be.

The other thing about revenge narratives is that they tend to hold the wrong people responsible. Tend to fail to get at the roots of suffering, ours or anyone else. Some guy gets laid off from his corporate job and he goes back with an assault rifle and shoots up his boss and co-workers. He gets the immediately release he desperately needs, but it costs lives - his and others. And does absolutely nothing to address the predatory nature of our economic system. Which is much more the root cause than the owned boss who executed the order to end his job.

Although the death penalty is slowly getting overturned in some states, Americans on the whole still like a good execution. Just as we like a good war against terrorists. Or Communists. Or Indians. Or Southerners/Northerners. Or the Mexicans. Or the British. Or more Indians. Are you tired yet?

The way I see it, Buddhist practice - or spiritual practice of any kind - is garbage if it just leads us to the same old conclusions. The same old stories about how to deal with the challenges that face us in life.

I don't really have a good answer for what to do with the particular people who planted the bombs in Boston. Or in Iraq. Or anywhere else. The causes and conditions are so much greater than any one person or small group of people. How can we - as communities - both hold individuals responsible and also hold the structures of our communities responsible as well? And even further, move beyond just seeking responsibility to making an effort towards a more just, enlightened society where the desperation and hatred that leads to such awful acts isn't so common in the first place?

There's entirely too much outrage at symptoms and entirely too little outrage at root causes. Not that outrage will bring us too a better place per se. But it can bring us to a place of right attention. Shift us away from the dulled sense of security that occasionally gets punctuated by bomb blasts, school shootings, and the like. Move us more towards the awareness of the everyday violence right under our noses. The police brutality. The military/corporate rape of the planet. The prison industrial complex. The sweatshop labor behind our "cheap" goods. The compulsory levels of poverty and economic struggle that capitalism thrives off of. The commodification of everything, right down to the very water you drink, and the very breath you take.

Zen Master Ikkyu once wrote, "I'd love to give you something, but what would help?" That seems to me to be the predicament we all face. Not just when confronted with gross level violence like today's bombings. But everyday. Every moment.

Too many of our "solutions" are gifts that don't help at all. Perhaps it's time to learn how to do zazen in a warzone. Practice in a warzone. Because we're already there anyway. It's just a matter of degrees. A matter of the level of imminent threat each of are facing.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Short Meditation on Spring Arriving

There are all kinds of ways to avoid the natural environment. To act like you aren't part of the earth. But even so, you can't escape it: we are all, still, just mud and clouds.

This time of year, when winter is disappearing and spring is stepping forth, often feels unstable. ,One hour, you're slipping on half melted dirty ice and getting honked at by some woman in a grungy car, and the next you're marveling at the beauty of the first opened flower, the miracle of breathing, just being alive together.

Some of the plants in my apartment window have suddenly started sprouting little clones of themselves. Tiny sage bushes, strands of mint, leaves of lemon balm. A few others have sections which have suddenly dried up, as if the life that was there was borrowed to make the new life in a neighboring pot.

Seasonal transitions aren't given their due in modern culture. We wake up with a cold, and shrug it off or complain about it. We feel a new calling or interest, and fail to connect it to the ways the Earth is shifting.

The fleeting, ever shifting nature of life is more apparent right now. And whether you choose to honor it or not, the sometimes dramatic nature of change is never too far away. Step on the wrong sheet of ice and you're gonna fall through. Overturn a loose stone and find the ground below has been colonized by weeds.

We are the seasons and the seasons are us. As spring unfolds all around you, pause and remember. Taste the sun that stands higher in the sky now, bringing forth new life.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

You Haven't Loved the World Enough to Let it Go

I saw an article about the recent spill in Arkansas this morning with photos of oil covered birds in it. Every time I see oil covered birds, I think of the Exxon Valdez. Pictures of oil soaked, choking birds from that spill turned me into an environmentalist. At age 13. And I never turned back.

Last year, there were 364 oil pipeline spills in the US alone. One a day, and that's only the reported ones. It's been normalized, the destruction of the planet in the name of profit and human fuel "needs." Most of us don't even blink anymore at photos like the one above. Oh, the poor birds. A twinge of pain before you get into your car to drive somewhere, anywhere away from thinking too hard about what photos like this really mean.

People who have lived through the devastating effects of oils spills tend to be more awake. Perhaps I should just hope for a doubling, tripling of spills. Maybe then there will be a mass ready to break the cycles of addiction and greed that have driven us to this place we call modern, American life. This blip in the historical record that has done more damage than anything else humans have done since our beginning.

I don't find a hell of a lot of solace amongst Buddhist circles either. The teachings may help me relax my outrage and concern a bit, but beyond that, it's just something I get to struggle with. We get to struggle with. Because this is our collective grief. Seeing bees and monarchs disappear so rapidly it's hard to even imagine. Recognizing that the water is poisoned to undrinkability in places all over the world, even large numbers of communities in a supposed "First World" nation like the U.S. Watching the learned helplessness of the majority of people who have been indoctrinated that this way of living is the "most evolved, never mind it's flaws," and who can't imagine an alternative worth making the effort to build. Recognizing that Buddhism can be just as much of an "opiate" or escape as any other religion or spiritual program. That humans are as much an invasive species gobbling up everything in our wake as we are interdependent, loving and compassionate. That some of us place 100 fold the amount of time and energy on fighting for the rights of unborn babies as we do on taking care of the planet. Which is ourselves.

I do believe that Buddha's wisdom eventually points to a certain letting go of all worries and attachments to the planet. While at the same time loving it completely, moment after moment. That seems to be the paradox that he taught, from what I can tell.

And yet, I think that most of us on the path short circuit the whole works. I've been lectured in the comments section a fair number of times by folks who claim some sort of calm detachment around social and environmental issues. That such concerns are simply trouble, and not particularly helpful in "waking up." To these folks, I'll say this:

You haven't loved the world enough to let it go. I see your words online. I hear your words in person. The many of you, those I've met and those I haven't. And frankly, you sound like disembodied liars. Perhaps you've realized something I'm still figuring out, but I seriously doubt you've touched the suffering of an oil soaked pelican. Have had your hands in the soil year after year after year, learning it's rhythms and recognizing both it's amazing resilience and also it's amazing fragility. I doubt your zazen has opened to the pit of nuclear energy and the countless grief producing realities that it represents. I doubt you've swallowed whole the life and death of the wolves being killed by sport hunters all over the Midwest. I doubt that you truly know from what and where you came from. Your original face if you will.

You are a small minority though. For the most part, what I see amongst my fellow practitioners is more benign looking. A lack of applying the teachings to how we live on the planet (beyond things like recycling that is.) Or an overall attitude that Buddhism is an individual path, and that what it's mostly about is how we deal with our individual emotions and thoughts. That it's something which happens mostly on our cushions, in pristine looking buildings far away from the mud of an early spring rain, or the toxic sledge from an overturned oil tanker. In a certain way, this it true. Our path is each of us alone. And yet it's not complete. This way of thinking that pervades the minds of privileged practitioners. Those who haven't had their lives totally altered or destroyed by environmental racism, for example, or simply by taking in the suffering of our planet deep to their core, to the point where there's no distinction - the suffering within and suffering outside of self.

To you all, my dharma brothers and sisters, I say: expand your view. Stop turning away. Be the grief that lingers within you. Let the outrage burn through you until it transforms into beneficial action.

I am not immune. I speak fiercely now, but sometimes it's all too much. I, too, am as cloudy about what to do next as I am full of ideas. There are times when I give in to convenience at times when doing so is really unnecessary. I feel like I have more work to do when it comes to intimacy with this miraculous place we call home.

I know in my heart that I have not loved this world enough to let it go in a truly liberated fashion. I would like to believe that Buddhas do not let go of their fierce compassion for all things living just because they've let go of being attached to all things living, including themselves. That the historical Buddha's numerous caring actions towards others post-enlightenment weren't just symbolic gestures on his way out of here forever. That the countless Buddhist poets and artists who have taken the natural world as their central source of inspiration and wisdom throughout the centuries weren't just using it all to get enlightened and get out. That this path is as vitally pagan as any indigenous spirituality if you look hard enough, and stop trying strip away everything that you can't explain as superstition or "cultural baggage."

When a bird is covered in oil, it's life is drasticallyaltered, sometimes forever. We are living in times where any of us can become that bird. Where the ways of living we accept as normal, even enlightened, are forms of oil themselves. Coating our wings. Destroying our hearts.

But we don't have to keep drowning. Either the birds or ourselves. It's time to learn how to love the world enough to truly let it go. This is my path. Come join me.