Category Archives: Meditation

The End of an Era

Last year I posted about this trusty mug that I’ve had a little over 30 years. A bit over 30 years ago, I received this mug as a gratitude gift from my local PBS station, because I donated to them. I loved the color, its capacity, and how it kept my drink hot for a long time. It was part of my daily practice. It has survived dozens of moves, some across country. This morning I drank my coffee and noticed a dampness on the side table. I blotted it up. I thought I’d spilled a little. Later I noticed coffee stain on a couple of papers sitting nearby, and I thought, “Uh-oh.” And yes, alas, closer examination reveals several hairline cracks in the mug. Just enough to leak. My very favorite mug must be retired. I don’t feel sad, just quietly accepting. Things inevitably wear out. I’m glad I had it as long as I did. I will miss it, though. I’ve probably used it every day since I got it — 11,680 days of my life.

The Yes Began to Root In Me

Something Like This, Anyway

If I prayed, which I don’t,
then we could say that I asked
god to open every door that I
had shut, every door I did not
know was there.
Why I asked this, well,
this will make sense to you
or it won’t, but every closed
door I was aware of
had became a point of suffering.
And with every open door,
I could feel congruence,
the world rushing in to create
more space in me.
And god said to me, though
we could not say that it was a voice,
god said, Open even the door with people jeering
on the other side, their faces twisted
in hate? Even the door to an entire
forest of sorrow? And because
this conversation was not really
happening, we could not say that
I said yes to the questions, but
we could say, perhaps, that
the yes began to root in me
and it was not so much a matter
of someone opening the doors
but that the doors more or less
dissolved. And what I had thought
could separate me from anything else
was shown to be nothing at all.
I would like to tell you that I felt grace
in the opening, but the truth
is I felt such terrible ache.
And god did not come put a hand
on my cheek and tell me
everything would be okay.
In fact, if anything, the voice
I did not hear told me
there are no promises.
But I felt it, the invitation
to keep opening doors,
to not close my eyes,
to not turn away.
And though I do not pray,
I said thank you, thank you.

–Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Edgy

Port Townsend July 2019

Doomscrolling. Pandemic. Police brutality. The disaster that is the president. Election malfeasance. The dissolution of the postal service. A mediocre Democratic presidential candidate (for whom I root!). Sexism, patriarchy, misogyny. CLIMATE CHANGE. (Remember that?!) Drought. Wildfire. Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Floods. The rise of Neo-Nazis and other white supremacy groups. Systemic white supremacy. Hate crimes. People being selfish, going maskless because they hyperfocus on personal civil liberty, and to hell with anybody else. New school year beginning, with some schools opening in person, and others distance learning. The added stress to families related to this. Hungry families. Millions of unemployed people. Millions facing eviction. Millions facing medical crises beyond Covid-19. Death.

Where’s my fucking handbasket??

So here is a metaphorical selfie. I’m all spiky these days. And purple, as usual. Sometimes, there are moments in my day when I sit still, and quietly count my breaths. Time passes, and somehow equanimity lands on me like a honeybee, for just that moment. And the moment after that. And the moment, and the moment…

And I remember what I’ve said to my daughter when she is anxious:

Do you know in your heart, and feel, that you are loved?
Yes.
Are you being eaten by a tiger right now?
No.
Then you are okay.

I’m tempted to whine, “What have we come to, that the bar for well-being is so low?” What follows is the realization that I have lived an immensely privileged life for a couple of decades. There was a time when I did not have material and financial ease, or even enough. I lived in rigid anxiety and stress. There are millions of people who live this daily. The truth is, life as most of us live it — future oriented — has always been uncertain, uncontrollable, unknowable. It’s just that before the pandemic, most of us suppressed this truth; we’d whistle past the graveyard and pretend we’re in control.

Then I remember a quote my mother loved, by St. Julian of Norwich.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

How can this be true? It feels like a koan. It can sit right next to another koan: “Not knowing is most intimate.” Come and sit with me. Leave a comment if interested.

Mourning My Mother

bleeding heart

Bleeding hearts from my parents’ garden

During this school-at-home time, Claire and I decided that our science will be to re-watch Cosmos, presented by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. She last saw it about six years ago. We watched the first episode, about the origin of the universe, and how we are star stuff.

Mom loved knowledge. She loved learning things. She was curious. She loved the natural world and science. We often talked about the mystery of what we were before we were born, and what happens after we die. What were we? How do we become conscious? As I listened to Neil describe the marvelous scale of time, I cried. Just steady tears, not big crying.

My teacher advised me to make a ritual, to follow the mourning practice of Zen Buddhist tradition (which is my practice). She recommended that I chant a sutra (doesn’t matter which one) every day for 7 days, and dedicate it each time to my mother, announcing her full name. Then to do this practice on the 14th, 21st, and 49th day of her death. I chose two: the Daihishin Darani, which is a Japanese chant to Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion, and the Heart Sutra (below).

I don’t typically light candles in the house, nor do I burn incense; the scent overwhelms other family members. But then I realized I have the perfect ritual. My daily cup of coffee. Mom loved black coffee, as do I. So I make my pour-over coffee, paying attention to each detail. I talk to Mom as it brews. Once it’s ready, I sit down with coffee and my chant book. I take a sip. Then I say, “I dedicate this sutra to Mary Catherine Nicklas Petro” and begin. I choke on the words as my throat thickens. But I do it, and I don’t think overly much about it. It’s not necessary to think. It’s perhaps even detrimental. The process brings a wisp of peace.

I love you, Momma. I miss you.

MAHA PRAJNA PARAMITA HEART SUTRA

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, doing deep prajna paramita,
Clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions,
Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain,
O Shariputra, form is no other than emptiness,
emptiness is no other than form;
Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form;
Sensation, conception, discrimination,
awareness are likewise like this.
O Shariputra, all dharmas are forms of emptiness,
not born, not destroyed;
Not stained, not pure, without loss, without gain;
So in emptiness there is no form, no sensation,
conception, discrimination, awareness;
No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind;
No color, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomena;
No realm of sight . . . no realm of consciousness;
No ignorance and no end to ignorance . . .
No old age and death, and no end to old age and death;
No suffering, no cause of suffering, no extinguishing, no path;
No wisdom and no gain. No gain and thus
The bodhisattva lives prajna paramita
With no hindrance in the mind, no hindrance, therefore no fear,
Far beyond deluded thoughts, this is nirvana.
All past, present, and future Buddhas live prajna paramita,
And therefore attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.
Therefore know, prajna paramita is
The great mantra, the vivid mantra,
The best mantra, the unsurpassable mantra;
It completely clears all pain — this is the truth, not a lie.
So set forth the Prajna Paramita Mantra,
Set forth this mantra and say:

Gate! Gate! Paragate! Parasamgate!
Bodhi svaha. Prajna Heart Sutra.

Practice

witches brew

I’ve had this mug over 30 years. I received it as a thank-you gift for supporting my local PBS station in Syracuse. It’s one of the best things I’ve owned, in that it is lovely to look at, comfortable to hold, a just-right size, and made of a clay that retains heat. To my amazement, it has survived 15 household moves, including two cross-country ones.

Every single morning, unless I’m ill in bed, I brew one pour-over mug of coffee. It’s a small ritual that anchors my day. As I looked at it this morning with steam wafting up, it reminded me of a witch’s brew in a cauldron. I’m entering my crone years, and I embrace the creativity and crazy wisdom that emerges in this age.

Last summer I realized there is another practice that I have inconsistently applied, one that opens me to appreciating and awakening to life. A practice that I need, because it really does help me be sane, and that can only help the world. I realized that if I can take time to make a single cup of coffee without fail every single day, surely I can do this other practice every single day. So, I committed. And 132 days later, it has become integral to my life.

Now I am looking at other practices that I know support my life and, indirectly, other people. I am setting an intention to do them, which means designating a time and place, and treating it as if I am meeting a loved one.

I would like to share this reflection on the power of small practices: Your Bed Is Your Head.

Simply Pay Attention

Existence is hard; it is literal suffering. It has wonders and joys, amazements and fascinations, yes. And it has love. All of this along with suffering, which happens to us and which we inflict on others and our own selves. Claire once asked me, if life is suffering, what is the point of being alive? In the end it seems simple enough: we are Life experiencing itself. We are Consciousness holding everything. We are the Mystery. It doesn’t bear too much thinking about, because thinking is a distraction. Better to simply pay attention to what is happening right now, what is right in front of me, and to meet it as fully and with as much attention as I can.

Taking my own advice, I happened to notice the sunlight on freshly washed grapes when I made my lunch. After visually appreciating them for a time, before relishing them in my mouth, I snapped a photo to share.

grapessun

In All Eternity

“Under your breath, just loud enough to be heard, tell the Earth that you can hear the sound of its turning, and it’s making you giddy. Say, too, how much you love the fact that in all eternity, this moment will never be repeated. Though you may drink in the delicious atmosphere with a trillion trillion more breaths, this special dispensation of air molecules will never fill your lungs again.”

–Rob Breszny

each breath - art every day month 2009 - day 7

Taking Stock

“Dharma practice is founded on resolve. This is not an emotional conversion, a devastating realization of the error of our ways, a desperate urge to be good, but an ongoing, heartfelt reflection on priorities, values, and purpose. We need to keep taking stock of our life in an unsentimental, uncompromising way.”

— Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs

Gratitude

Despite the fatigue and pain in my body, despite the washing machine and the dishwasher being broken, despite the state of our country and the earth, I felt flooded with gratitude this morning as I took Claire to art camp for the day. I’m grateful for:

  • coffee, brewed strong and black
  • friends with kids who are willing to help fetch each other’s kids and take them places (it takes a village)
  • my husband’s reliability and humor
  • my daughter, who works so hard to find her way these days
  • the means to afford the repair bills, the art camp, the groceries
  • the spirit of animals, a chance to connect with pure consciousness
  • political resistance and the freedom to act
  • a chance to cherish life and death, creation, destruction, and renewal
  • all the mysteries of existence, the unanswered questions, and the chance to sit with not knowing
DSC07222

The Challenge of the Season

The challenge with this season is that our culture decides to focus on bright and shiny and joy, but reality does not change. There is still suffering. Christmas lights; people are sleeping outdoors in the cold. Baking cookies; 25% of the population in Silicon Valley is food insecure. Christmas carols; there are people sobbing and wailing in grief. Spending and spending on presents; foster kids have nothing. The differences are unsettling. My body is tired. My joints ache. My mind races with to-do lists.

So I do this: I sit in silence. I settle into my breathing and notice each breath. I take off my glasses and gently lay my hands on my face. I rest this way a few moments, feel the warmth and tenderness of my hands, feel my face relax. I move my hands to my head and neck, massaging them. If thoughts come, I decline the invitation to follow them. If I catch myself in a thought, I recognize and let it go. I do this until I feel real again, whole and connected. Then I feel into what comes alive in my core. What can I do in this moment, to help, to love, to heal part of the world? When an idea arises, I follow.

That idea might be to write a note to someone. Or pick up the phone and call. It might be to divert money that would be used for family gifts and spend it on gifts for children in foster care. Or to write a check to Second Harvest Food Bank. It’s as simple as really looking at the person who rings up my purchases and saying hello, how is your day going? And meaning it, receiving the response, making a connection.

mom and aunt reta hands

Reflections on Sesshin

Almost six years ago I sat my first sesshin at Hazy Moon Zen Center. I did not return, for many reasons and rationalizations. But when my teacher put a winter weekend sesshin on the calendar, I committed to come. It was wonderful sitting with so many people and creating community. These are some small reflections on my experience. A huge rainstorm visited LA, unusual and impressive for California, and a gesture from nature that we might be worthy of deliverance from drought.

Practice has become a priority. Six years will not pass before I sit sesshin again.
———

Reflections on Sesshin

Rain strikes the city
like a kyosaku startling
dusty streets awake.

The rain converses
with the windows
while water gushing
through gutters holds
a debate with the sidewalk.

Nearly six whole years past
the rooster still crows at dawn
in downtown L.A.

I met my match
outwaited her impatience
wrestled her on the mat
until she cried
not my way, the Way
then bowed
and walked into the day.

–Kathryn Harper

IMG_20170210_110830565

The Kind of Mystery

“This old Chippewa I know – he’s about seventy-five years old – said to me, “Did you know that there are people who don’t know that every tree is different from every other tree?” This amazed him. Or don’t know that a nation has a soul as well as a history, or that the ground has ghosts that stay in one area. All this is true, but why are people incapable of ascribing to the natural world the kind of mystery that they think they are somehow deserving of but have never reached?”

– Jim Harrison
the hammock papers

via WhiskeyRiver

The Feel of the World

“Sensations, from the beginning, involve a sort of doing. This means that, in an important sense, it is your doing self that brings your core self into being. You are responsible at the very deepest level for what it feels like to be you. But then, for your next trick, well, how about spreading some of that soul dust onto the things around you? Remember, too, that it is your mind that projects phenomenal qualities onto external objects. If you only knew it, you yourself are responsible for the feel of the world.”

– Nicholas Humphrey
Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness

Body Project

I’ve been involved in my body project for 13 weeks now. Eventually I will stop counting weeks, because it will simply have become a way of living. Until I reach my goal, however, there is value for me in counting. So: in 13 weeks, I have shed 19.2 pounds and 12.25 inches. I now fit into pants that are 1.5 sizes smaller (from ##W to Misses ##). The last couple of weeks were a wash because I was sick and then stopped being attentive about what I ate. But I feel SO much better than when I started, and I will continue on this journey. It relates to much more than weight. It relates to how I want to live — how fully, how bravely, how intimately within this body and soul, with the universe.