When you’re grieving you may no longer have the emotional bandwidth you once had. You may not be excessively happy, but neither are you always sad. What is certain is that you reject small talk and expressions of security, the underlying assumption that things will keep on going as they are and that everything will be okay.” | “Now I know that every story has its gates. If you walk through any one of these gates you’ll fall and hang in the abyss between what you badly wanted and what really happened, what you’d hoped for and how you’d messed up. Somewhere at the very bottom I’ve discovered a jewel that’s hard to describe, only that it has a lot to do with forgiveness.” | “I hurry over as soon as I hear him sitting up in bed. “How did you sleep?” “Fine.” “How do you feel?” “Fine.” But I look at the face, the body, the man, and what I’m really asking is: So today, who are you? Who are you, really?” | “And then one day, when it’s almost too late and fall is just around the corner, the orange dahlia emerges. A human peers closely: Look at that! Did you know that was there? Wasn’t there last summer, right? And not the summer before that, right? But there it is, flashing its colors shyly in the sunlight, waving at the phlox and nearby purple asters, as if to say: I made it; I’m here, even if not for very long.” | “It’s as if the trees are saying: Take your place among us. The small shrubs that struggle for sunlight are saying: Take your place among us. The fallen branches say: Take your place among us. The grass that’s brown for lack of rain tells me: Take your place among us. The only place you stand out is inside your brain; everywhere else you’re just taking your place among everything.”

BOXES

Boxes and boxes.

That’s what the basement looks like, boxes of stuff. I get rid of some, and the next day I go downstairs and see that the boxes have given birth to more boxes.

“Where did you come from?” I ask them. Was there an orgy? A party, at least? Did they maintain safe distance? Doesn’t look like it.

The basement used to hold lots and lots of books, and it took some three rounds over the years to give them away. But that still left boxes of remainder copies of books by Bernie, Maezumi Roshi, Peter Matthiessen, and Lex Hixon. About two weeks ago, those went.

Now I have boxes containing corporate files and archival material relating to Zen Peacemakers, including picture albums. I am going over them, closing them up, and they will then be shipped across country.

After that, picture prints will go. The elegant and gracious photographer, Peter Cunningham, has a visual record of all things Bernie and most things Zen Peacemakers, so I don’t need to retain countless copies of photos, even framed ones.

“Don’t you want to ask around to see who wants the pictures and then send them?” someone asked me.

“Do you know how long that’s going to take?” I said.

There is definitely a sense of disloyalty. But it’s not getting rid of things, it’s putting them to bed. It’s looking at them one final time, telling stories, giving them a kiss, and saying good night.

After that, many mats for sitting cushions; I have no idea what to do with them.

Why this work, emptying out the basement? It’s my second round. The first round took place over a year ago, when I had to do a quick inside-the-house move in order to rent out two rooms. That was the first round of emptying. This is the second.

This time there’s no urgency, only the gut feeling that I have to create more space, and the way I do that is to let go of more and more things Bernie, more and more things Zen Peacemakers. The things I have loved most in the world, other than family.

It feels crazy to let go of things that gave you identity, love, and meaning. I pitched my tent under the shade of their great trees for some 35 years. Earlier today I spent an hour telling the story of those early years on Zoom as part of a study program run by Zen Peacemakers. I didn’t need notes, I didn’t need prompts.

But I’m letting go more and more, acquiring space. Space for what? I have no idea, that’s the scary part.

It’s so easy to hold on to the things that in the past meant so much, that continue to mean a lot even now. What happens if you let them go?

Many years ago, I stopped working full-time for Zen Peacemakers. I had been directing peacemaking projects and doing training programs, and I wasn’t sure that whatever came up next would be important enough, valuable enough, meaningful enough. I wondered about my marriage because Bernie and I had been so used to working together. He didn’t like my decision and made no secret of it.

At some point, reading about the huge need for kidney transplants, I began the process of donating a kidney, only to be rejected at the very end by one result out of about a million blood tests, I was crestfallen.

“What’s wrong with my kidneys?” I asked my doctor.

“Nothing. Your kidneys are perfect for a woman your age,” he told me.

Nothing was going to save me from encountering that extra space and time that had before been so full.

I felt the same apprehension when I stopped being a spirit holder of the annual Auschwitz-Birkenau retreats. And this last Monday I told my fellow organizers that I am leaving the organizing group of the Native American retreat. It’s time to bring in new blood, I said, diversify more, do something new.

So, here is another round, a workaholic encountering a half-empty basement, walls not plastered with photos or art, and no rush to watch the clock.

“Something will arise, it always does. At the very least you’ll have more space,” a fellow teacher commented.

“That’s what worries me,” I grumbled back.

Who is this woman if she doesn’t always work? Who is this woman letting go of books, files, and pictures of some 35 years? Who is this woman without those 35 years?

I’m going to find out.

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THE DOGS OF THE KISKADEE HILLS

The 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.

Upcoming Bearing Witness Retreats:

Bosnia, May 2016 (Please email for details)

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ABOUT EVE MARKO

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, is coming 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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