ZEN TIME

I bought my car last Friday, and as I parted from my very helpful salesman we wished each other a good weekend.

“We’ll have beautiful weather,” my new friend said. “My brother has a boat, we’re going to take it out in Barton’s Cove, and then—it’s Zen time.”

He had no idea I was a Zen practitioner, and as I drove off in my 2015 purple Honda Fit (“I’m glad someone aside from me is fit,” grumbled Aussie, who doesn’t like the car), I again, for the hundredth? thousandth? time, thought of how my beloved Zen practice is popularly associated with total chillin’, hanging loose, even sunbathing or taking a snooze under the summer sun.

How do I look at this practice? My awareness is broader and more outward focused (I used to vegetate in my head for lifetimes); an eye for small things, ability to focus, pause, stand still, a return to the breath, looking straight into someone’s eyes in the most casual of circumstances rather than from the margins (a little ironic given that zendo decorum has you often looking down, not up)—I could make a big, big list.

That’s not what my friend meant. Zen time was down time. Zen time was letting the mind go dead. You might say: And that’s bad for someone with a full-time job and five kids at home? But for me, the practice means tranquility, not self-tranquilizing. It means being at home in all terrain, not blocking things out.

We may need to do those things to relax, to take care of self. But I don’t call it Zen time.

Our culture is so tough on us. The drive to grow up and be independent, not need anybody, make money, live far from family, make it on our own terms—it’s merciless, grinding, wearying, and ultra-American. This species that survived in family and tribal units, often emphasizing the good of the group over the individual, has broken down in this country into multitudes of successful, isolated persons suffering from an epidemic of loneliness, often feeling that asking for help and company is a sign of weakness.

Challenging new philosophies came from the East: body awareness and yoga, silence, mindfulness, meditation, the centrality of breath, the unity of body and mind. These are very active practices, not shut-off mechanisms. For me, they result in more attunement to the world, deeper listening and looking, greater balance and clarity and way less fear, with clearer engagement in the world.

They’re not techniques one adds to an inventory of techniques, not one of many apps to make you even more independent and self-reliant than before (as long as you have your smartphone with you), so that after a weekend of shutting things off you can get up on Monday morning and take on the world once again.

Zen is not off-time, it’s always on time because it questions the very notion of time. It captures the interplay of life. It pushes us to question our use of nouns and names, as if we’re surrounded by things that, like us, are solid, independent, and separate. Each inhale and exhale remind me that every noun, every name, every idea is actually a verb, changing, transitioning, and merging with other nouns, names, and things, the change undermining and redefining their very thingness.

I intuited very early on that Zen was about relationship. We’re in relationship whether we’re conscious or not, but we’ll do a damn better job of it if we could be conscious and see the effects and ripples of the simplest actions. “The original way of being human,” as Tiokasin Ghosthorse has put it.

Zen has taught me all this, even taking its long, meandering time because, after all, it came from Japan, which has its own fascinating, unforgiving culture. It went by way of an all-press drive to awaken, sit through tough retreats, ignore the pain in our knees, ignore everything in the way of enlightenment, disappear! I understand this trajectory more and more, and how that has changed and adapted over the years.

I’m eternally grateful to my teacher, who constantly reminded us to question the assumptions we make about Zen Buddhism and practice, about how conditioned everything is by other things. In the conference I attended in May, someone told me that he once asked Bernie about tradition, and Bernie replied that tradition is what happened 5 minutes ago.

Zen is not just about sitting on that cushion, alone, all one, however you call it. It’s all relationship, full engagement with everything—including with a sailboat, water and sun—because you are everything.

There will always be practitioners who’re at the opposite end of my car salesman friend, for whom Zen time will mean just sitting, doing retreats, and working on koans. Nothing wrong with that, only I think

it’s somewhat elitist because not everyone can afford the time and support to do that. For me, Zen time is for everyone, workdays and weekends, in sun and under clouds, on sailboats or refugee boats, and everything in between.

               Donate to My Blog                   Donate to Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

A NEW BUSINESS

“Look, Aussie, we received over $1700 to send immigrant kids to summer camp this year. People sent in money; I think we’ll get more. I’m grateful and thrilled. We’re halfway there. Aren’t you excited?”

“A new roof for the house, a new car for you—”

“It’s nine years old, Auss.”

“—and now money for camp.”

“That’s a whole other bank account, Aussie.”

“Is there any money left over for me?”

“What do you need money for, Auss?”

“I must get registered with New England Service Dog Trainers. I need money for the fee, do the course, and get certified as a service dog as fast as I can.”

“You, Aussie, a service dog? A non sequitur if ever I heard one.”

“You’ve got me all wrong. I’m caring, loving, and kind. I’m all into service.”

“You never showed any interest in becoming a service dog before.”

“That’s when you had the bright idea of taking me to visit hospitals and nursing homes.”

“So where do you want to go, Aussie?”

“With the Man. I heard that if Donald Trump is sentenced to go to prison, the Secret Service is going with him.”

“Why?”

 “Think of all the criminals who’re out to off him.”

“Do you suppose they’ll share a cell? Will they be in adjoining cells? A suite? They can put him in a cell with MSNBC and NPR on 24 hours a day.”

“That would be torture under international convention. But hearing about the Secret Service gave me the idea. As a service dog, I can go to prison with him. Think of all the fun we’ll have. He’ll have his private chef, for sure. No prison food for my Man and no kibble for me. A miniature golf course for daytime activity and bagfulls of dog treats.”

“You mean, under all that cash he’ll smuggle in.”

“And of course, I’ll be his guard dog.”

“Aussie, he’ll be surrounded by prison guards and Secret Service.”

“Yes, but who’ll guard the Amazon boxes full of top-secret documents? Were Secret Service people any good there? That’ll be my job. If DOJ sends agents to pick them up, I’ll snarl and show my teeth: Just try it, Merrick!

“Aussie, Donald Trump never showed any interest in dogs in the White House, or anywhere else, for that matter.”

“Wait till I start digging a couple of tunnels. I took lessons from Hamas. He could use one to go see Melania, and another to go to the next cell to play poker with the Secret Service. I’ll help him cheat.”

“Why, Aussie?”

“Because if he’s in prison and not in the White House, how will he make any money? But it’ll be no problem. The Man will buy the prison.”

“What’s he going to call it?”

“Trump Cooler. It’ll be a big money-maker for us. Too many hotels and apartment buildings are trying to get rid of the Trump name, but we’ll start a whole new business: Trump Coolers. World-class Penal Colonies for billionaires and up. Bitcoin accepted. No riffraff allowed. We’ll dress up the guards as doormen, nobody’ll notice.”

“Aussie, Aussie.”

“What a business opportunity! People will die to get in. Every state will have a Trump Cooler. Medium-security for immigrants, maximum-security for Democrats and Anthony Fauci.”

“Aussie, I raised you to be ethical, a lover of all beings.”

“It was a very dull education, but don’t worry. We’ll finish every day with a reading from the Trump Bible and a request for donations.”

               Donate to My Blog              Donate to Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

PURPLE

I went to Green River Auto on Thursday to buy a second-hand car after my well-used red Prius emitted a new burst of squeals and screeches. There wasn’t much time before I would lose my 13-year-old companion.

My feminism regresses big-time around cars. Need to have a guy around. No mansplaining, just practical tips and suggestions that are very valuable. A friend of a friend sent me an exhaustive list of questions to ask. Lori, too, knows her way around cars, but she’s bedridden and can’t help much this time, except to recommend Green River Auto. So, for the first time in my life, I go used-car shopping on my lonesome.

The silver Prius is 5 years newer than mine. It feels safe and familiar, just like driving my own old Prius without the death throes.

“I guess I’ll take this one,” I say unexcitedly. “Do you have anything else?”

“A 2015 Honda Fit with 106,000 miles,” Scott, all red hair and blue eyes, tells me. “A good car, only it’s purple. Not too many people want to buy a purple car.”

A purple car!

Where does my mind go? Back a quarter of a century, when Bernie and I lived in Santa Barbara and met Alison Allen. She and her husband owned the beach house where we lived for over two years. Alison was one of the most beautiful women I’d ever met. She was also talented, kind, and openhearted, and after Bernie got sick, drove to see us a few times even after getting hit hard by cancer.

There was something ethereal about her, as though she had way less concrete substance to her body that the rest of us. This became especially palpable once her struggle with breast cancer began. And—she loved purple.

The house we lived in was purple, as were the Adirondack chairs on the porch overlooking the Pacific, as were the sofa and rug in the living room and the bedspread in the bedroom. I only ever saw her wear purple clothes and drive purple cars. Her hair was purple and when she lost it to chemo, she painted art on her scalp, and that was purple, too.

“Let me try it,” I tell Scott.

It’s way different from the tight, strait-laced Prius I’m accustomed to. For the first time in my life, I have a car with a camera in back and one showing the right lane as I drive. And it’s purple. It’s small, with lots of space—and it’s purple. It’s a year older than the silver Prius, $2,000 cheaper, 106,000 miles—and it’s purple.

“I’ll take it,” I tell him.

I’m so grateful when the past merges with the present. There isn’t a day when Bernie doesn’t come alive to me because of a question someone asked, because of an email or a photo, or because I stained the tablecloth at dinner. “Oh oh,” he’d say and grin. When this happens, the present becomes more vibrant than ever, as if this combination of past and present adds to the vividness of the moment.

“What do you think?” I ask both dogs when I take them out today.

Henry whines in disapproval.

“What’s your problem?” asks Aussie.

“I liked the red car,” he tells her. “It made me feel like a gigolo.”

“Purple is majesty,” Aussie tells him.

Purple is Alison, I think to myself.

I got a note from her right after she ended her life. “Life was and is the most astonishing miracle.” She loved it even as she brought it to an end, had no regrets, except for one: “I never figured out how to be of service. I think that should be a priority for everyone, how to give back for this glorious experience called life. It only makes our own life richer.”

I have it in front of me now, five years later. Naturally, both ink and paper are purple.

I have purple in mind as I ask you, kind readers, to please make a donation in order to send children of immigrant families to day camp this summer. We’ve done this for the past 3 summers and I have often heard about the big difference it makes not just in the lives of the children, who do arts programs, swim, play, and learn, but also for their parents who work hard on the farms during summer. Any parent can sympathize with the plight of having to work and no one to watch the children.

The camp is a Godsend to these families, and listen to this: The price to send 7 children to camp for 6 weeks, starting July 1, is $3,400: $525 for each of six and just $250 for the 7th. It’s a steal.

“Are you sure about these numbers?” I ask Jimena.

“Yes. This time I got a big discount because I do all the translation of the camp materials into Spanish, so we are sending these children to camp for less than half what others pay, less than half what we needed to raise last year.”

The super woman continues to do it all, raveling the web of generosity all around her. That web surrounds me all the time. A dear long-time student gave me a financial gift so that I could buy, as she told me, “a reliable car,” not something that might give up the ghost a few years from now. The sun shines, I’m healthy, and Henry, the ex-gigolo, has just deposited on my lap a disgusting, dirt-encrusted marrow bone that he dug up from the ground and brought me as a gift. What more could anyone want?

Please donate to send these children to Camp Kee-wanee, which offers immigrant children a variety of arts programs, free meals and snacks, and takes the worry off their parents’ brows. You can do that by using the button below: Donate to Immigrant Families. Many, many thanks to all of you, from the families, Jimena, and me.

                 Donate to My Blog                      Donate to Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

CRIME IN MONTAGUE

Montague Reporter

May 23, 2024

Police Log

“Caller from Fifth Street states she got home and there were flowers on her steps along with a note. She finds this suspicious; last time there were flowers and Skittles. Wants on record at this time.”

OMG, major crime in this backwater of the country. First, flowers with Skittles (candy), followed by flowers with a note. Call State Police! Call the FBI! Who said serious crime is down nationally?

I laughed when I read this. Till yesterday, when I went car-shopping. My red Prius is finally giving up the ghost, courtesy of how much salt we put on our icy winter roads and an unpaved driveway. I was sure I’d drive it way past 200,000 miles, but that was not to be, so I’m looking for a good second-hand car. My sweet red Prius was the only new car I ever bought; Bernie urged me to get one (they were just coming out) after our old car was junked at 230,000 miles.

Since Lori is still bedridden in my office, I stop by to inform her I’m leaving the house.

“Have a good time car-shopping,” she calls out.

I leave, muttering to myself. Bah! Humbug! A good time car-shopping! Who has a good time shopping for a used car? This is not how I planned to spend my super-important-to-humanity days, not to mention that I know nothing about used cars.

But as I pulled out in my dying Prius, listening to a new sound on the left side of the car that hadn’t been there before (slow cardiac arrest?), I thought: Why can’t car-shopping be fun? Okay, it’s not what I planned, not on my top 300 to-dos, but I have to do it anyway, so why not make it fun?

I pull into my local service station, Mark’s Auto, and tried their used Priuses. Too expensive. But had fun bantering with funereal Terry, who greets me whenever I bring my car in for service.

“Terry, you look great. Did you cut your hair?” I ask.

“Just took my hat off, Eve,” he says drily.

I don’t miss a trick.

“Hatlessness suits you,” I tell him. “You’re a handsome dude. Believe me, I know about handsome dudes.”

He grunts, hands me the keys to a couple of second-hand Priuses and looks back at the computer screen.

Then off to Orange, some 30 minutes away. No hybrid cars here, just a possible Honda, maybe even a Subaru; everything else is too big. I take the Honda out for a very pleasant ride in the countryside, turn the wheel this way and that, and when I brake hard to try the brakes a truck almost rams into the backside. I’m having a ball. I get down on the ground to check for rust—“The car came from New Jersey!” remonstrates Mike—and we have a humorous conversation about rust in NJ vs. rust in MA, agreeing that MA rust is far superior.

I negotiate with all my usual persuasive power and congratulate myself on getting a whopping $7.50 off the asking price of the Honda. Mike and I talk dogs and I wave goodbye and tell him I’ll be in touch soon, but not before giving him my card.

“What’s Zen?” inquires Mike, never dreaming of the dharma talk he’s about to get. After 20 minutes discourse on emptiness, he interrupts me to wait on a customer looking for a pick-up truck, and I leave, proud of my bodhisattvahood.

Whenever I walk the dogs, Lori says: “Have a good time!”

I mutter to myself then, too; I often have no desire to walk the dogs. Notice how things not on your priority list suddenly become number 1? Not to mention hay fever. But almost every time I go, I’m glad. Identified a bird I didn’t know before, noted the oddest-looking bark on a tree, watched Aussie splash Henry while wearing a big grin on her silly face, wondered what had just been planted in the fields, looked west at the rest of the country and decided that life was way bigger than me.

It’s your state of mind, dummy, I tell myself. Some things you can’t change, but you can always change your state of mind.

John O’Donahue wrote: “Awaken your spirit to adventure.”

                Donate to My Blog            Donate to Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

MEMORIAL DAY

“Look at this ad for a Memorial Day sale in the newspaper, Aussie: I Feel Naked Without This $70 Multi-Tool.

“You, naked? Quick, get whatever they’re selling.”

“It’s not saying I’ll be naked, Aussie, just that I’ll feel naked unless I rush to the store.”

“I feel naked without Chicken and Wild Rice with Gravy. Quick, we gotta get it, or I’ll strip!”

“Aussie, you’re always naked, except for your fur.”

“Not true, I keep my collar on with my name and phone number on it, in case I forget who I am. Too much Zen around.”

“Aussie, it’s my phone number, and the collar is not for you, it’s for someone to read in case you get lost.”

“But I’ll really feel naked if I take it off, which I’ll do unless I get Classic Meat Loaf With Cheese Treats. You don’t want that to happen, do you?”

“Oh Aussie, the point is: Why has Memorial Day, a federal holiday honoring soldiers who were killed in our many wars, become a day for buying things? Buy, buy, buy.”

“Eat, eat, eat.”

“In your case, as a dog, I can understand it. You don’t seem to have a sense of when enough is enough, so you eat and eat without stop. But many humans also don’t know when enough is enough.”

Enough is not in my lexicon. You know what is? Packed full. Gorged. Stuffed!”

“I get it.”

Filled to the gills. Bowl runneth over!”

“I get it, I get it, Aussie.”

“Otherwise, just look at me. Bedraggled and emaciated. I look like a junkyard dog. My hair’s falling out!”

“That’s your winter coat, Aussie. Do you want to try Ozempic?”

“Is that Ozempic Moose Filets White Meat Only?”

“No, Aussie, it’s Ozempic the medication humans take to lose weight.”

“Who wants to lose weight?”

“It helps restrain your appetite for too much food.”

“Too much food? No such thing.”

“That’s my point, Aussie. We don’t know when enough is enough, when we cross the border from enough into too much.”

“You’re becoming more like dogs, which is a good sign. Don’t forget, you never know when famine will hit. Always be prepared, that’s my motto! Life is looking to ambush you at every turn. Pass the hamburgers.”

“No hamburgers.”

“It’s Memorial Day. Barbecue Day!”

“It’s also pouring outside, Auss. And people forget that this is really a day of mourning, when you visit the graves of soldiers who were killed in wars.”

“You know how I mourn?”

“How, Aussie?”

“I eat. You know how I go through loss?”

“How, Aussie?”

“I eat. You know what I do when I want to be compassionate to all beings?”

“You eat?”

“Bingo. If I’m sad because I had no walks today, if I’m glad because the Illegal Chihuahua slipped and fell into Fiske Pond yesterday and almost drowned, if I’m scared of the bears coming into the yard, if I’m disappointed because you didn’t take me food shopping with you, you know what I do?”

“You eat. Aussie, do you think that food is the answer to everything?”

“Ask me a question.”

“What’s the meaning of life?”

“Food.”

“What happens when you die?”

“If you were good, you go to Filet Mignon Heaven.”

“If you were bad?”

“Hill’s Science Diet Kibble.”

“How do I find love?”

“Eat.”

“Happiness?”

“Eat.”

“Aussie, this approach may not be healthy for anyone.”

“Worst that could happen, you’ll be sick as a dog.”

                 Donate to My Blog                  Donate to Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

YOU’RE FAT

Neighbors Gala and T

“You’re fat.”

“I think I gained weight these past 2 months, Aussie. There’s lots of comfort food for Lori, including lots of mac & cheese, cookies, cake, anything to get her to eat, with the result that she eats a little and I eat a lot.”

“I want to be fat.”

“Aussie, being fat is hell on the joints. That’s why I have to watch what you eat.”

“Who watches what you eat?”

“Me.”

“How come you’re more successful watching my food than your food?”

[Groan.] “Aussie, I’d love to lose weight like Miranda. Remember Miranda, who walked with us yesterday?”

“Boy, is she in good shape for someone her age! And you could see that she used to be really cute.”

“You know, Aussie, it’s a problem that we keep on comparing ourselves to how we were when we were younger. Like you said, she used to be really cute. Is she not cute now?”

“At her age? Are you kidding?”

“We often say: She still kept her looks. Or: He’s so young looking. Or: She’s heavier than she used to be. Or: He’s so good-looking for a man his age.”

“Or: She doesn’t walk dogs as long as she used to.”

“My point is, Aussie, when we describe older people, we compare them to how they were in the past instead of appreciating them just as they are right now.”

“That’s because things are always worse now than they were when you were younger.”

“That’s not true, Auss. And just to remind you, you’ll soon be 7. That means you’ll soon enter middle age.”

“I’ll be stunning at any age.”

“Could be, Aussie, but for different reasons. Right now, you’re stunning because you’re a wicked smart-ass, you run fast, and you seem to always find your way home.”

“You never had a dog like me, right?”

“There you go, comparing everything to the past. Let me also remind you that when you run during thunderstorms, you don’t find your way home.”

“That’s because I panic. How do you find your way home when you panic?”

“That’s a deep question, Aussie.”

“Forget I asked.”

“The point is, comparing ourselves or others all the time to how we were in different times of our life, especially to how we looked when we were younger, is little value.”

“What would you say about Miranda’s face?”

“Aussie, I would say it’s a landscape of hills and valleys.”

“I’d say it’s way more wrinkled than ever. What would you say about Jeannie’s hair?”

“Waves in the rain, Auss.”

“Gray, dull, snaky, like Medusa. She should color it like before.”

“What a terrible thing to say, Aussie.”

“What do you say about 90-year-old Herb’s ears?”

“A little bristly. You?”

“Spiny like a porcupine. How do you dress?”

“Elegant in black, Aussie.”

“Like death foretold. Loretta?”

“Impish, spontaneous, fun. How would you describe Loretta, Aussie?”

“Enroute to dementia.”

“Donald?”

“Enroute to the grave.”

“That’s quite enough, Aussie. You’ve clearly decided that older people are unattractive.”

“In comparison to how they used to be.”

“Can you look at me without comparison of any kind?”

“No.”

“In a year, you’ll compare me to how I was now. What’ll you say?”

“That you were pretty.”

“So why can’t you say that now?”

“Because it’s only true in the past, never now.”

                  Donate to My Blog                Donate to Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

GOING UP GOING DOWN

The rhododendrons and bearded irises are out on a glorious summer day (it hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday). Nevertheless, I suddenly remembered our frosty winters here, and especially our driveway (see below).

We live at the foot of a lengthy driveway that climbs up to the road, in between two banks with low but significant inclines on both sides. In other words, you have to see where you’re going, otherwise you might end up in the river far below. In winter, it’s always been a challenge to get up that driveway when it’s iced over.

The system was as follows: Start at the very bottom, rev up the engine, press hard on the gas pedal, and drive up as fast as the surface will let you. This was particularly important as you neared the top because right there, the incline got steeper. If you got past that, you made it, but often the car couldn’t do it, would slow down, stall, and start sliding back.

When the two of us drove together, Bernie would do the uphill part, revving up the engine and fearlessly rushing up the icy driveway to get over that last bump while I held my breath. Most of the time he did, but at times he didn’t.

When that happened, he’d pull on the handbrake, turn to me, and say: “Okay, your turn.” We’d walk out and exchange places: He’d sit in the passenger side, I behind the wheel, carefully release the handbrake, and slowly let the car slide down the ice.

Bernie couldn’t drive in reverse. He seemed to lack whatever sense we need that helps us negotiate our way backwards. I had enough of that, so I was always the one to bring the car back down to the bottom. We’d switch places again, he’d gun the engine, press the gas pedal to the floor, and up we’d zoom again, always trying to make it over and past that last bump.

When the winters were hard, it sometimes took several tries before we cleared it, after exchanging places several times. We made a good team, he rushing forward, I maneuvering us slowly back down so he could go at it again.

I didn’t fail to notice what this reflected of our different personalities, he dashing ahead, full of plans and vision, sometimes over-reaching so that he couldn’t always make it up that final bump, and me trying to slow him down: Wait a minute, are you reading the room? Do you notice how tired people are? Could we get our feet on the ground before hurrying up again?

Sometimes, looking over your shoulder has its advantages.

So that was your pattern, people might say. He went forward, you back? You could have been fated to go up and down forever. You call that making progress?

No, I call that marriage. I call that strengthening the ties between husband and wife. A man and woman leave the car and exchange places, each letting the other indulge his and her strengths, appreciating how it works together when it couldn’t work alone, sometimes laughing our heads off as we started over and over again, hoping to at last clear the last hurdle and make it up to the road, where it was smooth sailing.

On those cold, icy days, what took place inside the car was probably more important than any destination we finally arrived at.

                       Donate to My Blog               Donate to Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

WHAT HAPPENED?

I flew to Seattle this past weekend to be with over 30 teachers at the annual gathering of members of the Lay Zen Teachers Association.

As happens countless times, I moan and groan at the cost, the preparation (Who’s taking care of Lori? Who’s feeding and walking the dogs? What about the dehumidifier in the basement, the flower planters hanging outside, food, etc.?), the packing and airport dance, and when I arrive, I see on others’ faces what they see on mine: travel tension crumpling into smiles, half-closed eyes widening with delight, and slouching shoulders relaxing and arms widening to give big hugs.

I can’t begin to convey the sheer joy of meeting up with other dharma teachers. I don’t usually know their pasts, I sometimes don’t know their lineage, family, or training, but this I know: They have given so much of their lives to study, practice, and teaching. It’s a diverse group of people who found that the same thing mattered to them over many years. I can call it dharma, but what I actually mean is the practice of asking and pursuing certain basic questions: Who/what am I? What is at the essence of this life? And most of all: How do I serve it?

Another way of asking the question, posed by a 78-year-old teacher who grew dear to me over this past weekend, is: What is mine to give now? What meal can we, in our 70s, cook, with decreasing energy and memory but with clearer discernment and cleaner love, that still feeds and nourishes?

We stayed at the beautiful Archbishop Brunett Retreat Center outside Seattle, overlooking.Puget Sound, watching herons and gulls fly over the streaked water, tiny sailboats in the distance. Lots and lots of talk, discussion, and exchanges of ideas, dwarfed by blue skies and a few white, billowy clouds, blanketed by love.

I learned a lot, but the conversation a few of us had over a bountiful Sunday morning breakfast stays with me now:

My dear friend, Bob Rosenbaum, who teaches in Sacramento, California, told us (I paraphrase): Whenever I get up in the morning, regardless of whether I’m down, up, or in between, I open my eyes, look around, and say: What happened?

What is this waking up after a night of sleep, opening my eyes to see the bureau against the opposite wall, a pink blanket tossed aside in the middle of the night, the big photo of Bernie and Jeff leaning against the corner on the floor, Mayumi Oda’s print of Kwan-yin with many hands, and morning light coming in through the window? How did I wake up? Scientists can explain it to me, but that first instant of opening my eyes, I say: What?

Jewish people, upon opening their eyes, thank God for restoring to them their soul. But what’s there before gratitude? Maybe a shock of recognition, a sharply drawn breath: What happened?

Bob also told us this story about his grandson. The little boy would gather all his things—toys, picture books, ball, games—onto a little wagon, then run hard, pushing it with all his into a wall with a bang. The toys would spill with a big clang and scatter on the floor, and the little boy would look around at what he’d done, bug-eyed, and say: “Wow!” Then he’d pick all the toys up, put them in the little wagon, rush with all his might and crash into the wall, everything would topple, and what did he say again? “Wow!”

And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

Someone said it reminded them of the Big Bang, or else that this is how God created the world. She packed all her things into a container, smashed it against a wall, everything went flying—light, darkness, seas, land, moon, stars, carpenter ants, sandhill cranes, humans, day lilies—and She said “Wow!” And maybe, like Bob upon waking up, wondered what happened.

                   Donate to My Blog                Donate to Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

STUPID DOG

I walked the dogs yesterday and saw the above sign. Right away I felt at home. Why? Because I belong to all three categories. Old dog, for sure. Stupid dog, no doubt. And young dog?

I’m on my way to a conference of lay Zen teachers in Seattle, Washington. There, many of the dogs will be younger than me, and I’m very curious about what I’ll hear and learn

 I reflect about the dharma in the world we live in, the challenges it faces in attracting young meditators. It began with the Buddha 2,500 years ago, at a time of tremendous turmoil, colliding cultures, and tribal warfare. While the Buddha himself was greatly engaged with a variety of people and questions, many of his followers withdrew into forests and, later, monasteries. The Indian, Chinese, and Japanese cultures often cultivated a passive, compliant citizenry, with almost no challenges to authority or government.

We live at a different time and in a different culture. Young people especially (but not exclusively) want to meet the challenges head-on and don’t trust the people in power to do so. Are we, dharma teachers, failing them? We’ve adopted so many of the practices, training and formation methods that were first developed back in other eras and countries. What’s called for here and now?

I don’t have answers, just look forward to listening to younger teachers. They, too, at times get a little too compliant, a little too respectful towards their elders, and I want to shake them up and say: Think for yourselves; this is your time. Come up with new skillful means for creating peace and wellbeing for all the beings in this world. Drive carefully, by all means, as the sign says, but keep going forward, and have confidence in yourselves and the dharma. This stupid old dog will follow, I promise.

On our way back to the car, a thin, yellow lab came running from behind the house barking, and Henry the Illegal Chihuahua hurried to rub noses with him. Aussie rushed over, too, and then I heard a name being called. I looked up to see a middle-aged woman emerge from behind the house, stark naked.

“I was sunbathing in the nude,” she explained, “and I wondered what the fuss was about.”

Cool, I thought to myself.

“Wow,” said Henry.

“Cover your eyes, Illegal,” said Aussie.

“My goodness,” said Henry.

“If you ask me, the human female form is way overrated,” muttered Aussie. She turned her back on the woman and rushed off to meet up with the Hereford cows in the adjacent farm.

I’m very, very grateful for the donations that came my way in the last couple of days. Thank you not just for the funds, but also for the kind words some of you sent.

The blog will probably be silent till I return on Monday next week. A time to meet old friends, walk with them, share meals. Listen, listen, listen.

             Donate to My Blog              Donate to Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

ONE-SIDED LOVE

Aussie watching out for Boris

Night deepens

with the sound

of a calling deer,

and I hear

my own one-sided love.

These lines were written by Ono no Komachi, a Japanese woman poet who lived around the 9th century. It appeared in a book of love poems by Japanese women poets translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani. Given that it’s a love poem and seems to mourn a lost or unrequited love (she wrote many such), it’s easy to focus on the last line about a love not returned.

But that’s not how I read it. Maybe because I was lying in bed at night when I first read it and heard the wind making the trees shake. Or because I woke up the next morning and heard the calls of juncos and finches, up and about long before me, and without moving could see the lime green leaves reappear encased by the bluest skies I remember here.

So yes, I hear a call of love, but one aimed at me, not mine to a man, not even mine to the universe.

There were times when I felt like Ono no Komachi. Years ago, waiting for a phone to ring, wondering why the doorbell didn’t sound, checking and double-checking the calendar—It is today we’re supposed to go out, isn’t it?

I’m not saying I never feel forlorn or lonely, it happens even as I sit here now working at a table in the back yard, feeling how impossible it is to be sad in such a gorgeous world. Sad I do get, but the night I read this poem I felt there was love even in the darkness outside my window, beauty even in one-sided love.

In reading more about the courtly ways of love in the Heian era of Japan, I understood how love called for poetry. The man and woman exchanged poems at first, seeking to clarify their relations. He only appeared at her home at night, stayed the night after lovemaking and talk, left before dawn, and then hurried to send her another poem before going to sleep, and she had to write him an answering poem, too, before beginning the morning.

Too courtly, too contrived for us moderns. We hurry up with it, choose some activity like dinner or a movie, wonder when we’ll get to the main act, which is sex. But the main act is there from the beginning, from the earliest acknowledgment of curiosity, a text, a phone call, a conversation. Connecting with how I feel—Is there a lightness of being? A question that’s being answered (and if so, what’s the question)? A soft voice singing inside? A maybe that’s just maybe, but is also a hint of promise?

We may not write poetry to each other, but life suddenly feels much friendlier than before.

And what happens if there is no love on the other side but everything else is still true? I still have the sounds of the night, much kinder than the sounds of news blasting that we’re out of time. I still have the soft, singing voice and the promise ‘of new sunlight in the morning. The grass will grow, the bee balm will flourish, Kwan-yin will continue to stand behind the house. If she topples one day, it won’t be because compassion is all used up but because, ever restless, it’s seeking new materials and forms, new words and music.

Someone made this Kwan-yin from wood, from a fallen or toppled tree turned to lumber. What else was made from that tree? Michelangelo is often quoted as saying that the David was always inside the rock, he just had to carve it out. I always wonder what happened to the pieces of rock that didn’t make it to the David. Was something smaller made of them, equally exquisite and not so grand? Maybe a little-known sculptor saw the life in those stones that Michelangelo missed, and gave them life.

I picked up the mail today and found an envelope addressed to Lori. She opened it up and found a beautiful card sent her by a woman in San Diego who wrote her that Lori doesn’t know her, but she knows about her illness and she wants her to know that she and many others who know of the terrible accident that befell her wish her health and recovery.

In some way, that moved us more than cards she gets from family members and friends. You mean, somewhere in San Diego, where I’ve never been, someone was thinking of me? And not just thinking of me, but bought a card with bright flowers, filled it out, and mailed it?

That’s how I felt last night, reading the poem. If love is one-sided, that’s usually because the world loves us and we don’t love it back. At least, not with that same consistency, that same passion.

I write this in the back yard. Henry lies in the sun, Aussie in the shade, and they know they’re loved. You just look at their faces, and you know they know.

Please support my writing of this blog. I haven’t asked for donations in a long time. Though I write to a universe of people who are mostly unknown to me, this blog is an act of love. Writing it helps remind me of what’s important; I hope reading it is of some value to you. Keeping it up costs me money, including annual retainers to the wonderful Silvana who makes it work. It provides some income at a time of my life that doesn’t produce much income. You can do that by pressing the button below, or sending a check as described below to a mailbox where I found Lori’s card today.

                Donate to My Blog                Donate to Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.