THE MESS ON MY WATCH

A storm hit us last night. Not like the big snowstorms I remember from other years, in fact, we haven’t had a big snowstorm yet this winter. This one left us with several inches of snow and a coating of ice, and by mid-morning temperatures began climbing till they reached 40 degrees by early afternoon—Miami Beach!

When the rain stopped (a rise in temperature here in winter always seems to be accompanied by rain) I took Aussie for a walk. She’s so undeterred by cold and snow that she waited for our walk while lying belly-down on a snowy mat on the top step outside my office.

We went to a nearby park leading into the woods. Big mistake. The snow here was wet and full of puddles, and as we sloshed down the path my boots filled up with water and my feet got wet and cold. I trudged down the path like this for some 50 minutes till I decided enough was enough and turned Aussie back.

Didn’t bother her any, but I came home and immediately warmed up some minestrone. I think it will take about a week till those boots dry out.

At the beginning of the walk, I faced a conundrum. Turn left and climb up in snow that looked firm and more solidly packed, which we could do with more ease, or go down the path to the right marred by footsteps filled with water (see above photo). I took the latter path, not realizing how wet I was going to get.

Ten minutes later, I said to Aussie: “What a mess! We shouldn’t have gone this way.”

“You always pick the messy ones,” she answered.

“I do?”

“Part of your messy nature,” she grumbled.

It’s not my nature. I like things in order. Our house isn’t terribly clean, but it’s usually in order. Most things are where I left them and where I expect to find them.

It’s not how I lived with Bernie, who brought a whole lot of mess into my life. The woman who insisted on paying her bills on time often found herself without the money to do that. The woman who wanted to see something get born, grow, and mature saw projects fail before they took shape, or else grow all kinds of limbs that led them sideways rather than straight up. The woman who liked clear-cut roles and definitions saw those things change overnight.

Most difficult of all, relationships—with staff, fellow students, fellow teachers, him and me—got messy.

Living and working with Bernie meant messes. Not in the rooms we lived in—he was one of the neatest people I knew—but in terms of plans gone awry. He couldn’t stop creating things: new companies, new organizations, new sanghas. He was like the woman who gave birth all the time but didn’t stick around to raise all the kids. To me, our workspace seemed full of unruly children who cried for attention, love, and support while we ran around from one to the other doing the best we could. Usually, it wasn’t enough.

At times, I called it a lack of integrity. Why bring anything into the world if you can’t take care of it, I’d challenge him. Why promise something if you’re not sure you can deliver?

You can’t be sure of anything, he’d say back. There are no guarantees. If only 10% of what we do bears fruit, I’m satisfied.

I wasn’t. I was more fundamentalist in nature. No messes on my watch, no unfulfilled promises, no word unkept. Which usually meant fewer words and fewer promises.

I’m a little more comfortable with messes now. By human standards, life is a mess; it’s way too wild to conform to plans or ideas. Bernie was ready to go wild, live with things as they were rather than make things neat and complete. Greyston didn’t need to be perfect to be valuable. Zen Peacemakers wouldn’t follow some clean arc of growth, it would dawdle, meander, and squiggle its way, obeying the reckless laws of life rather than calmer, more controlled laws of humans.

Finally, he stopped. The 2008 recession hit us hard, we lost the Farm, and he gave his word to the Zen Peacemakers board that he wouldn’t start new things. He was happy then. He flew out to teach and at home seemed more relaxed, driving out with a cigar several times a day, watching TV in the evening.

It was I then who would come over and say: “Don’t you want to do things anymore?”

And he would say: “I did enough.”

People seeing him then would never have guessed the good havoc he’d caused in the world, the flames he’d ignited in many, many places. I’m reminded of what Van Gogh wrote his brother: “Does what goes on inside show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul… and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney.”

He left more than a little smoke.

Tomorrow would have been his 83rd birthday..

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THE BOOK OF HOUSEHOLDER KOANS

The Book of Householder Koans - Eve Myonen Marko & Wendy Egyoku NakaoThe Book of Householder Koans is a collection of koans created by 21st century Zen practitioners living a lay life in the West. The koans deal with the challenges of relationships, raising children, work, money, love, loss, old age, and death, and come from practitioners across three continents, and with commentaries by two Western teachers.

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THE DOGS OF THE KISKADEE HILLS

Eve Marko - The Dogs of the Kiskadee Hills: Hunt for the LynxThe Dogs of the Kiskadee Hills: Hunt for the Lynx begins a trilogy about a society of dogs after humans have destroyed themselves and much of the world. Living with their families and clans in the Kiskadee Hills, they’ve developed over generations a rich tradition and way of life, and have prospered. But now, an unknown killer is butchering the Kisdees of the Hills.

Academy Award-winning actor Jeff Bridges says: “You will never look at dogs the same again. Eve Marko gives us a story that explores the path that life on our planet has taken, and asks what your role in that course might be.”

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BEARING WITNESS

Eve Marko - Bearing Witness

To bear witness to anything is to be as close to it as possible.

It’s not to read books or see movies about it, it’s not to have an opinion or tell a story. It’s to let go of all ideas about it—be in the space of not-knowing—and simply be there, up close and deeply personal.

Eve has been involved with the Zen Peacemaker Order’s Bearing Witness Retreats—in places of suffering and conflict since her first visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

There have been 20 retreats at the site of those concentration camps since, along with retreats in Bosnia, Rwanda and the Black Hills of South Dakota, near the Pine Ridge Reservation.

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ABOUT EVE MARKO

Eve Marko is a Founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order and head teacher at the Green River Zen Center in Massachusetts. She received dharma transmission and inka from Bernie Glassman. She is also a writer and editor of fiction and nonfiction.

Eve has trained spiritually-based social activists and peacemakers in the US, Europe and the Middle East, and has been a Spiritholder at retreats bearing witness to genocide at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rwanda, and the Black Hills in South Dakota. Before that she worked at the Greyston Mandala, which provides housing, child care, jobs, and AIDS-related medical services in Yonkers, New York.

Eve’s articles on social activists have appeared in the magazines TricycleShambhala Sun, and Tikkun. Her collection of Zen koans for modern Zen practitioners in collaboration with Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao, The Book of Householder Koans: Waking Up In the Land of Attachments, came out in February 2020.

Hunt for the Lynx, the first in her fantasy trilogy, The Dogs of the Kiskadee Hills, was published in 2016.

“When I was a young girl my dream was to be a hermit, live alone, and write serious literature. That’s not how things turned out. I got involved with people. I got involved in the world. Two things matter to me right now: the creative spark and the aliveness of personal connection. In some way, they both come down to the same thing.”

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