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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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LISTEN TO THE LAND

I took the dogs back to the Montague Farm earlier yesterday. It’s an easy walk not too far from home.

The Zen Peacemakers once owned the Farm, and after living there communally for over two years, Bernie decided that enough was enough and we bought our/my present home because it was walking distance to the Farm. Since then, there have been two subsequent owners, and I approach each one of them, introduce myself, and ask for permission to walk my dogs up the hill and into the woods (which becomes state property).

They give it happily; I’m still the one who wanders there long after others stopped.

This time I came up the hill and saw the scene above. The spring this year is gorgeous, the sun shining through the light green leaves, in the afternoon creating auras of lime and gold, trees blossoming everywhere, including our own lilacs and apple tree.

I remembered how it was when we lived there. It was lovely, but not like this. Things bloomed all right, but we didn’t have the energy (read money) to get everything mowed, landscaped, pruned, and weed whacked as the present owners do. They have to, they host weddings here for a living. We were so busy then trying to build the Zen Peacemakers we often neglected the very ground under our feet or around the old 18th century farmhouse where we lived.

Yesterday, I looked around and thought to myself, This is how we’d hoped it would be. Not a wedding hall, but a place for peacemakers from around the world to gather. So many are tired and often discouraged. This would be a place for them to rest and hang out, get inspired by peers from around the world. Walk along perfectly cut paths and sheared hedges, sniff the fragrance of purple lilac; Bernie had designed a complete map of crisscrossing paths and even gave them names.

One of many things that didn’t happen, at least for us. Now it’s beautiful for bride, groom, families and friends, a happy result for sure.

How much disorder can we deal with in our life? Some can work with more, some with less. Right now, with Lori bedridden and not well, lots of things around the house that she used to take care of fall on my incompetent shoulders. One of the laundry lines in the basement is down. The hinges on one of the kitchen cabinets have collapsed. There are mice in the kitchen. The oven isn’t cleaning like it should. The back yard is still unkempt even after days of my picking up branches and pinecones.

I try to keep things in place and life simple, but I know that compulsiveness for neatness and order at all costs creates its own stress. Sometimes, the more space I could give the mess, the more space for life.

A friend told me about his brother, who died in his 60s. “What happened?” I asked.

His brother had worked in a factory, in charge of the electric lines during his day shift. He loved that work, I was told. He knew how to start the day and how to end it. But then they changed the terms; suddenly he was being told to work a day shift one week, an evening shift another, a night shift another.

“Suddenly, he couldn’t start his day the usual way, with coffee and breakfast. And he couldn’t end it how he loved, by going to Paddy Gill’s Tavern, having some food, drinking some beer, playing some shoes with the other guys, before going home, catching some TV and going to sleep. He got stressed out. He retired early, gained a lot of weight, and died suddenly from heart failure.”

I climbed up the hill towards the woods with the dogs and thought of a life curtailed, and how easy it is to get stressed out when things don’t go according to our sense of order. I like to make order of disorder like everybody else, it’s one of the reasons I write stories. I search for meaning as a way of doing that even as I know that there is no real meaning to anything. We humans have done that as long as we arrived on the scene.

Life doesn’t go that way.

I remembered when Gigi Coyle, who at that time co-led the Ojai Foundation and was a council trainer, visited us at the Farm. She and I walked up the hill just as I do now with two dogs, and she said: “Finally, you have your own place.”

“Is that good or bad?” I asked her.

“It’s good,” she answered right away, “because you will learn to listen to the land.”

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FREEDOM AND HOME

A beautiful path in the woods. Aussie runs.

Henry the Illegal Chihuahua dashes after her. I call him, he comes back. Aussie, fuggedaboudit.

When finally, after 15 minutes, she returns, she runs right past me and hops into a tiny pool formed by the strong rains we’ve recently had here, gets down on her belly, and smiles. She’s hot and thirsty, and there’s nothing she loves more than to cool down by standing or lying in water. So happy, so proud of herself, as if she’s saying: You give me my freedom to run, and I will find you. You give me freedom, and I’ll always find home.

I had a dream in the early hours before taking the dogs out. In the dream, I’m driving with my sister towards the Henry Hudson Parkway going north, and we get lost in the Bronx. I park the car and we go into a bodega to ask for directions. Luckily, a cop stands there helping people out. He asks us to wait, and when he’s finished he turns to me. I ask him for directions; he knows how we should go but starts bantering. I banter back, he laughs, shakes his head, tells me what this reminds him of, and suddenly my sister, who speaks English perfectly well, says to me in Hebrew: “He doesn’t know what we’re talking about.”

I give her a shocked look. How could she speak in a foreign language about a man standing right there trying to help us, and who knows she’s talking about him? He and I go on, and eventually we get the directions we need, but she again says to me in Hebrew: “He doesn’t know how to go.” Finally, we leave the bodega, and I feel terrible.

I woke up and sat up in bed. My sister, as considerate and sensitive a person as you’ll find anywhere, would never do that. What was that dream about?

I recalled episodes that took place when I’m in Israel. I would be with my brother or sister, we’d stop somewhere for some reason, they might ask a person for something, and do what I did with the Bronx cop: joke around, banter in a friendly way, refer to a new slang that came from a favorite TV program. And while I follow Hebrew, I can’t always follow the rapid-fire jokes, the new lingo, the teasing.

It’s not a matter of language but rather of culture, of comfort and intimacy with those who watch the news, have different ways of celebrating holidays or doing vacation, who unconsciously rely on a host of common history and values that someone from a different country doesn’t share. I can’t participate with them in such a scene, much as my sister, bewildered, couldn’t participate in my exchange with the Bronx cop in my dream.

I got somber. Just the previous day I’d blogged about how important it is to live with differences, how often the Whole reveals itself much clearer when we spend time with people not like us than when we just hang out with friends or like-minded peers. That morning, sitting up in bed, I wondered whether all these gaps that separate us, whoever and wherever we are, could ever be bridged. They loomed large and overwhelming. I remembered what we chant in a dedication at the end of one of our services:

Let us forever remember the causes of suffering.

Let us forever act to relieve suffering.

May we always have the courage to bear witness,

To see ourselves as Other and Other as ourselves.

Is that just dogma, I wondered.

Later that morning, I watched Aussie standing happily in the tiny pond after running. Leeann Warner, Aussie’s trainer who takes a group of dogs twice a week up and into the mountain behind her house, once said to me: “You know me for years, Eve, and I have never let any dog in my care just run. But I’ve made an exception of Aussie because she’s so smart and always makes her way home. And she needs to run.”

 I have deep faith that if I can make space for people as they are, wide open to the different life and reality that they experience, knowing I can never stand in their shoes and they can’t stand in mine, keeping in mind that, given our shared DNA, we have way more in common with others than we realize, and greet them with curiosity and benevolence, if I can make space for that, they’ll come home.

Home can never be on my terms. If I have always to adapt yourself to someone else or that person to me, neither of us is home. My family was split wide open for psychological and sectarian reasons, and I learned early on to go far away, and to mute myself, even hide, when I was close. I kept my family, but I wasn’t home.

I think of the many families who decided not to talk about the 2016 election of Donald Trump in order to keep the peace. Sometimes that seems to be the careful thing to do, or as a friend suggested, consider not talking about the Middle East war when you come together with your siblings. That might make for vanilla-flavored calm, but that’s not home.

If you’re always careful and watching your words, that’s not home.

If you have to hide behind veils of courtesy and denial, that’s not home. It may be nice, even tranquil. But it’s not home.

You might say, “You and Leeann will see, one day Aussie won’t make it home.”

That could happen, but I won’t forget her words to me: You give me freedom, and I’ll come home.

And what’s home?

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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.

TELLING THEM ALIKE

The following quote is attributed to Carl Jung: “[T]he greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally unsolvable.  They can never be solved.  They are only outgrown at deeper levels.”

My brother, sister, and I are planning to celebrate my sister’s 70th birthday somewhere in Europe, they flying from Israel and I from the US to spend 5 days together in a beautiful place. Plans were well underway when my sister asked if we three could be together for that long. She remembered my brother and I arguing loudly over the war when I was in Israel five months ago.

I didn’t give her question the consideration it deserved, but last night I did, lying awake for a couple of hours, and wrote them that perhaps we have to agree on some ground rules before spending all that money.

A friend suggested that we agree not to discuss the war at all when we’re together. I said no right away. I’d muted myself for years when visiting Israel, feeling that I was entering a bubble as soon as I landed where almost no one talked my language, no one listened. Detachment isn’t an alternative for engagement.

Serving the Whole means that you experience yourself as that. You feel your own boundaries stretch and stretch, listen to expressions, words, and feelings that find no resonance in your individual self, and still you stretch. Then you go out into the sun, have Italian coffee, laugh together, look at trees, mountains, seas, talk and stretch some more, go out on a drive, have lunch or dinner, shop around (I love shopping in local stores with my sister), go back, talk and stretch some more.

I don’t seek to persuade anyone. I certainly don’t seek to stay in that narrowest of spectrums called right and wrong. I just want to hear all the voices. When we three meet, I wrote them, there are more than just 3 voices in the room. There are parents’ voices (my mother’s memorial will be day after tomorrow), Bernie’s voice, our friends’, our teachers’, all of history. So whose voice is speaking at any one time? And to whom?

How easy it is to enjoy hanging out with folks you agree with. How challenging it is to stay just as alert, just as open, just as conscious, when you disagree.

Some vacation, you might say. Why do it then?

Two reasons: Life always self-reveals, but we experience most of it as noise. We connect with things we like and even with things we dislike (at least to the extent that we’re aware we dislike them). But most of life out there is like noise we barely register. Until—you ask a question.

For instance: What can I do here? And the slice of life that before was noise is now experienced in its amazing complexity and uniqueness, in a panoply of color and nuance I didn’t see before.

It was always there, only who paid attention? But now I ask the question: What is this really? Or: Why did no tulips grow in this fertile part of the front yard? Or: What is that long black animal climbing up the tree which Henry’s barking at from the ground? The answer is a Kingfisher, and what is that? Where does it live? What does it eat (aside from Henry)? Reality opens up like a curtain, and you see details and colorations that were lost on you before, all because you finally asked a question.

And there’s another reason I want us to have this gathering. First, a celebration of the 70th birthday of a sister I love and respect, appreciation of my luck in having her in my life for so long, though she’s geographically far away. And also, faith that beauty will emerge from this joint engagement of singularities.

Especially when we argue, when we speak different words and ideas, love different things, some kind of unity emerges. Naturally, unconsciously not because I seek it. When we could contain our differences and hold them carefully, delicately, like babies, we experience this oneness, what Bernie called One Body. Tendrils of a love so fragile they’re invisible twine their way among us as we help one another with luggage, make someone coffee, ask one another if they need a sweater or jacket.

The poet Steven Nightingale wrote: “Beauty illuminates the affinity, the inner relation, the resemblance, the kinship, the concord and identity of things. We are all trained to tell things apart. In the experience of beauty, we learn to tell things alike.”

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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.

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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.

CHANGE IS NOT ON MY AGENDA

Under the forsythia tree

“Hey, Aussie, you’ll never guess what happened. Last night I came to my terrific Foundation Training exercise class with Kendra Renzoni a full three minutes early.”

“OMG!”

“I knew that after the class I’d have to pick up food items from two different stores, and my mind of course is trying to figure out how to hit one store before the class—”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.”

“I thought maybe I could hurry to the co-op and get a loaf of bread—that’s all I needed there—and I might come to the class one minute late—”

“And saved an entire four minutes!”

“And then I said, The hell with it, and got to my class 3 minutes early.”

The hell with it! You could have saved all that time, not to mention the time you wouldn’t have had to spend going to the co-op after class! What a wastrel you are!”

“You’re right.”

“You have only a short life, why are you wasting it?”

“You’re right.”

“You’d have gotten home about 5 minutes earlier than otherwise, eaten dinner, and maybe even got to start your monthly bookkeeping that very night.”

“You’re right, Auss.”

“You know you’re crazy, right?”

“I’ve known that for a long time, Aussie. In fact, the longer I live and practice, the more aware I am of how crazy I am. I seem to discover more and more layers of craziness all the time.”

“So what good are all those years of meditation? What good are all those years of getting up early and studying and retreating, if you’re not changing?”

“First of all, I do change, Aussie, because everything changes all the time.”

“But what about the changes that matter!”

“Like what, Auss?”

“Like getting rid of your neuroses.”

“That may be something therapy can do, but not necessarily Zen practice.”

“So what good is it?”

“For one thing, I can see those neuroses better.”

“And that’s a good thing?”

“Not as neuroses, but as ways I’m separating from life moment by moment. The times when I close my eyes, when I tell someone Ah, forget it, let’s not talk about that anymore. All those times when I’m in my own dream.”

“I could have given you a list. You didn’t need to do all this sitting for so many years, you could have adopted me earlier.”

“The thing is, Auss, I get more comfortable with all those things you call neuroses. That, too, is my gift from practice.”

“You’re not trying to get rid of them? Drop them? You’re not trying to change?”

“Changing is not on my agenda anymore, Auss.”

“You gotta change.”

“Why?”

“Because—because—you gotta get better.”

“Why, Aussie?”

“How else can you live with yourself?”

“Do I have a choice? Only now I’m living more consciously. I’m at home inside, Aussie, not looking to ditch much furniture.”

“But you’re crazy also! You’re scared of thunderstorms. You’re a nut when it comes to time passing and work.”

“Yup. They’re the furniture of my home. Some of them will drop off after a while, especially when I downsize, maybe go to Goodwill or the Salvation Army; the rest will stay a long time. But I’m not fighting to change anything anymore.”

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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.

ISM PRISMS

Photo by a kind, unknown man

The Montague Reporter

Police Log of date in April

10:31 pm

“Caller states that a white car with an illegal exhaust drives down Randall Road too quickly every two hours. Sports car, no other description or plate. Last drive was at 9:40. Called would like an officer to sit in the area from 5 to 9 pm every day. Explained to caller that this would be referred to an officer and discussed further, as that’s not fathomable at this time. Caller states he’s disappointed.”

I live in a small town with minimal police. Someone who dislikes loud cars requested that an officer sit in his street for 4 hours every day, and was disappointed when hearing that this wasn’t viable. My immediate reaction upon reading this? Give me a break! Not too different from when I follow the remonstrations against affordable housing or not permitting a business to open up by an intersection because of excessive traffic. Really! You call that traffic? Been in New York lately? Even Springfield? Can your kids afford to live here?

For most of the 40 years that I spent with Bernie and the Zen Peacemakers, I worked on social justice issues and grew a little cynical around challenges facing the middle class. Rich people problems, we sometimes called them, though of course not everyone was rich. But some 20 years ago I walked out of the zendo with my dear friend, mentor, and older dharma sister, Roshi Enkyo O’Hara, and described to her my ambivalence about teaching in a zendo attended by mostly middle-class meditators.

“It’s different from what I used to do,” I told her.

“That’s true,” she said, “but you know, Eve, everybody suffers.”

An Arab American acquaintance texted me that an entire family in Gaza with whom he was friends had been martyred, in his words. In Sudan and Somalia, people pack meager belongings and carry them on top of their covered heads to a refugee camp just so that they could get emergency rations for their children.

In my neck of the woods, people complain that their children aren’t doing well in school or can’t find work, somebody in the family is drinking or getting divorced, somebody else refuses to see a doctor though he should, etc. Not quite rich people’s problems, but basically the vicissitudes of middle-class, everyday life. And yes, those also cause suffering. Bernie died at the age of 79 and I suffered though I knew he’d lived a fairly long and very, very rich life.

Refraining from harm is a central Buddhist tenet. But is that enough? Some of us can go through the day conscientiously abstaining from doing harm. We’re good to those we live with, kind and attentive to people with whom we work (which gets easier when we work from home). We pay attention to what we eat, to the materials we use around the house, take care of our garden.

Do we then go to sleep with the conviction that we were good people because, to our knowledge, we didn’t cause harm? Is it really enough? Are we pleased with what we refrained from doing? That mentality can sometimes stand in the way of taking new initiatives, looking farther out, or as Bernie used to say, making the mandala of our practice bigger and bigger. After all, the bigger we make it, the higher the probability that we will create harm somewhere, even unintentionally.

At this point in time, I don’t look at how to do anti-racism work, anti-colonialism work, anti-imperialism work, or all the ism prisms, as I call them. Same for anti-misogyny work, anti-gender discrimination work, anti-poverty, or climate change. I look at how to serve the One Body. You can do all the above without swearing by slogans and labels.

I don’t have to do anything under anti-Zionism or anti-Semitism in order to fight for an end to the violence in Gaza, the return of hostages, and strategic moves to finally bring about co-existence between Arab and Jew. I can do those things on the basis of serving the One Body.

When I serve the One Body, I’m not making an enemy of anyone. If I accept that the One Body includes everyone and everything, from Mars to mistletoe, from crocodiles to Crocs, then there’s no enemy. What there is, is creating bridges. What there is, is creating coalitions, the broader the better. What there is, is sitting down with people who’re very different from me and listening, and even better, creating or designing a space, with certain rules we agree upon beforehand, where we feel free to share our visions, ideas, and feelings even in the face of general disapproval.

I often tell people that the circle practice in which I was trained has its guidelines and rules not to enforce niceness, but to encourage folks to share the most oppositional ideas and emotions. Differences exist regardless of our efforts; through bearing witness to them we realize the One Body. For that to happen, we need to create a space for hearing everything out. Not for agreement, but for listening.

I find it ironic how many university students here think that their isms are the right values for everybody in the world. Racism, fascism, colonialism, imperialism—in some of the West (not all) we’ve adopted those as the main, even only, prisms to look through. What about other countries? Do those prisms pertain to everyone? And even if they do, are you sure they manifest elsewhere as they manifest here? In declaring them as absolutes, aren’t you, too, imposing your own Western progressive values on a highly diverse world whose priorities may be way different from your own?

I am grateful to the international nature of the Zen Peacemaker Order. When we get together and people talk with English with a heavy accent (English is the spoken language, for now), they remind me that they have their own lives and values, which may be different from mine here in northeast United States.

Don’t worry, lots of work remains to be done. Only now you start looking carefully at those who disagree with you, exploring their circumstances and reasons. You start looking at how to make allies rather than enemies. Since we share almost our entire DNA, we’re bound to have a lot in common. If we can’t identify that commonality among members of our own species, how could we possibly identify our commonality with other, nonhuman beings?

Take care of the One Body. Take care of the Whole.

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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.

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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.

TODAY’S MEDITATION

In front of the local co-op

These are some of the things that intruded on my meditation earlier today:

— How could this government give so much money to Israel on the eve of a Rafah operation? They tell them not to go in, then give them lots of munitions and aid anyway—a mixed message if ever I heard one.

— What are we doing for my sister’s 70th birthday?

— Don’t forget to put away your winter jeans.

— What does being a martyr even mean? (Reading a book, Martyr, by the Persian American poet Akhbar, whose narrator wants to have a meaningful death. Which is another way of asking what is a meaningful life.)

— Am I drinking enough water?

— Almost 7 weeks since Lori’s accident.

— Do I write a letter to the editor of the local paper?

This last one has a story. Recently, I heard indirectly from someone who’d been in our local jail that there were some one hundred young men there, Hispanics. In this small local community?

I called Jimena Pareja. First, thanked her husband, Byron, for making chicken soup for Lori. Then asked her what she knew about this.

“It’s not from our families here,” she said. “I’m in touch with all of them and I haven’t heard of anyone who was taken to be deported. But I know that they sometimes bring others from across the state or even farther away. You know, the families want to visit, they get upset because they may not see them again, they ask for help, so they transport them to other towns and cities, they don’t even tell them where, and I think that’s what happened here.”

This is still happening, I thought to myself.

During Donald Trump’s presidency, our jail had an agreement with ICE to house deportees from far away, but there was a public outcry, and I thought the jail had agreed to terminate the agreement. It seems as though I was wrong.

It’s the secrecy of it all, is what comes up during meditation. I don’t have a problem with secure borders and a set quota of immigrants who can come in legally (preferably a high number, if only because we need them). But the secrecy so that their families won’t know they’re here, transported from one jail to another in closed trucks so that no one will know, no one will see, including those of us who live here!

It’s hard enough to do something about things we know; what do we do about things we don’t know? During meditation the idea comes up to write a letter to the editor of the excellent local paper.

The last thing that comes up is how I wish my mind to be less discursive, less distracted. Around then the bell rings to signal the end of meditation.

We’ve had such gorgeous days. Wild asters are growing everywhere, humble small flowers blooming in the shadow of the bigger daffodils and hyacinths. Lilac bushes are beginning their short season and soon the fragrance will come in through the open window of the room where Lori lies; I have to remember to open that window.

A dear friend turns 85 soon, which would have been Bernie’s age had he lived. He said to me once: “Death isn’t personal. It’s when you think it is, and get into the story, that the skin goes back onto the bones and you’re stuck with it again. But you don’t have to be. Stuck there, that is.”

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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.