Tag Archives: attention

What You Missed

What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade
by Brad Aaron Modlin

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,
how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark
After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s
voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—
something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted
Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,
and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.
The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.
And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,
and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person
add up to something.

Postcard

“Postcard”
by Olena Kalytiak Davis

Lately, I am capable only of small things.

Is it enough
to feel the heart swimming?

Jim is fine. Our first
garden is thick with spinach
& white radish. Strangely,
it is summer

but also winter & fall.

In response to your asking:
I fill the hours
then lick them shut.

Today, not a single word, but the birds
quietly nodding
as if someone had suggested
moving on.

What is that perfect thing
some one who once believed in god said?

Please don’t misunderstand:
We still suffer, but we are
happy.

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

It Matters

“It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing. What is most beautiful is least acknowledged. What is worth dying for is barely noticed.”

— Laura McBride, We Are Called to Rise

The Blue Hour

Leaving Target tonight, I was entranced by the evening sky. It was a rich Indigo blue, almost verging on navy. It was the shade of the not quite ripe night sky. Usually I see light blue skies, gray skies, or vivid optimistic blue skies. And when I looked later night had fallen. Usually when I think to look, the sky has transformed into black velvet. What I saw was the in between color. Funny how I’d never noticed it before. Or maybe I just don’t remember noticing it quite as vividly in an ordinary location. I know that I am often aware of beauty when I’m camping, but I miss the beauty of my mundane life.

DSC06881

Joshua Tree National Park

Look

I was driving to an appointment just now, carefully navigating rush hour chaos. I happened to look at the sky and saw big puffy clouds, the sun brilliantly reflecting light and shadow. It was so sharp, so detailed, to SEE this gift of beauty in the middle of an ordinary moment. I felt small and elated, and it brought tears to my eyes. Go and look at your world. It’s incredible.

two medicine after noon

Bleeding Heart

bleeding heart

Bleeding Heart

My heart is bleeding. It bleeds upward and fills
my mouth up with salt. It bleeds because of a city in ruins,
the chair still warm from sister’s body,
because it will all be irreproducible. My heart
bleeds because of baby bear not finding mama bear and it bleeds
to the tips of my fingers like I painted my nails Crimson.
Sometimes my heart bleeds so much I am a raisin.
It bleeds until I am a quivering ragged clot, bleeds at the ending
with the heroine and her sunken cancer eyes, at the ending
with the plaintive flute over smoke-choked killing fields. I’m bleeding
a river of blood right now and it’s wearing a culvert in me for the blood. My heart
rises up in me, becomes the cork of me and I choke on it. I am bleeding
for you and for me and for the tiny babies and the IED-blown
leg. It bleeds because I’m made that way, all filled up with blood,
my sloppy heart a sponge filled with blood to squeeze onto
any circumstance. Because it is mine, it will always bleed.
My heart bled today. It bled onto the streets
and the steps of city hall. It bled in the pizza parlor with the useless jukebox.
I’ve got so much blood to give inside and outside of any milieu.
Even for a bad zoning decision, I’ll bleed so much you’ll be bleeding,
all of us bleeding in and out like it’s breathing,
or kissing, and because it is righteous and terrible and red.

Carmen Giménez Smith

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 Dance

For Swap-bot, I joined a project that required writing a sestina.

According to the Academy of American Poets:

“The sestina follows a strict pattern of the repetition of the initial six end-words of the first stanza through the remaining five six-line stanzas, culminating in a three-line envoi. The lines may be of any length, though in its initial incarnation, the sestina followed a syllabic restriction. The form is as follows, where each numeral indicates the stanza position and the letters represent end-words:

ABCDEF
FAEBDC
CFDABE
ECBFAD
DEACFB
BDFECA
(envoi)(tercet) BE. DC. FA.
The envoi, a tercet, must contain two of the repeated words per line.”

So, here is what created itself within me.

The Dance

There I stood, waiting for the express
While pondering ways to renew
my flagging spirit, which struggled to climb
life’s mounting challenges, when I saw you, serene,
your hands moving in the air, a kind of dance —
the glorious joy on your face making you rich.

Gazing around, I noticed the world’s colors were rich.
In each person I sensed the soul’s desire to express,
to enter into the dance.
I felt that I could summon the energy to renew
and make myself serene
like an arbor trellis with those roses that climb.

To reach far, to stretch toward goals that require I climb —
this makes life worthwhile, and I feel rich.
In these moments, my heart beats serene.
I vibrate with life and tremble to express,
to evolve, to embrace impermanence and thus renew
life’s eternal dance.

So, which steps will we choose to dance?
Will it be the hustle, the two-step, the fandango climb?
Or maybe a slow waltz, to allow our breathing to renew
while rhythmically moving to the beat, slow and rich.
Perhaps we will lean in to share a kiss, to express
what tantalizes us as we attempt to appear serene.

We might do this under the silver light of the moon, serene
in the movement of the dance
and the people watching — their murmurs will express
how desire steeps, distills, intensifies, like the climb
of mercury trapped in a glass tube, the red rich
like blood, like the lungs give oxygen to renew.

And after we untwine ourselves, we turn within to renew
the relationship with the One who never leaves, the serene
companion who understands money does not make one rich;
nor does having it guarantee an invitation to the dance
and that life is often one painful, slogging climb
to an illusory summit that cannot contain all we express.

The koan: how to renew attention, surrender to the dance
or rest serene, no longer compelled to grasp or climb,
sitting in life’s rich mystery, waiting on emptiness to express.

–Kathryn Harper

dancers

Brief Notes of an Adventure

I just returned from my first sesshin at Hazy Moon Zen Center. It was fruitful. I’m tired and glad to be home. All that I experienced is settling, so I hesitate to write extensively about it. Here are some brief reflections. The first one is from my drive down, when I stopped at San Luis Reservoir for a break. The entire drive leads through two mountain ranges (the Diablo Mountains with the Pacheco Pass and the Tehachapi Mountains with the Tejon Pass) and the central valley; it’s beautiful country. It’s a six hour drive (one way) — which is just right.
—–

Brief Notes of an Adventure

The lake — a bowl of glitter!
Winds whisper to water,
waves murmur replies.
A crow flies, snail snared
in its beak.
—–

Rooster crows, broom sweeps.
A car growls to life.
Helicopters thump the sky.
Pigeon wings slap air.
Sirens keen, dogs bark.
Zazen in L.A.
—–

My food – Advil.
My nectar – water.
My balm – sleep.
—–

Now the cushion
Now the breath
Now the work.
Samadhi does not
come in a box or book.
It cannot be imagined
or conjured.
Bells, incense, bows, chants
bring dignity and form
to the formless.
But above all,
it is about the work.
Breath.
Samadhi.
—–

Cresting the mountain,
valley a blanket spread low;
slices of miles served –
feast towards home.

–Kathryn Harper

Turf War With A Spider

Turf War With a Spider

I drape against a picnic table, inhaling
orange blossom perfume thick
on the breeze. With pen poised,
my hand starts scrawling when
in the corner of my sight
I catch perched on my elbow a small
tuxedo with eight legs.

Jerking,
I shake her off; she lands on my knee.
I am Goliath. With a stamp of my foot
she tumbles
to the concrete,
banished.

Moments later a presence pulls me
from my pen. I look down.
She has crawled
halfway up the table leg. One gust
of breath blows the leaf of her body
to the concrete, again.

I return to my words, absorbed, only
to soon find my nemesis at the
table edge. We stare,
eyes to eyes. I’m a behemoth,
but this David is relentless.

Such determination in so small
a creature deserves reward.
I move to another table.

–Kathryn Harper