Friday, July 31, 2009

Pick It Up, Man!

Last Saturday morning a group of friends joined us for a walk across the Laguna.
(Our walks series started a year and a half ago with six walkers. We've grown!)

All morning we enjoyed the beauty.

Along the way I noticed litter by the trail.

Yesterday I picked it up.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Naked Ladies

In the fullness of summer naked ladies have popped up all around my neighborhood. (They are also called "resurrection lilies" because their lily leaves die back in springtime: Their blossoms emerge from the bare earth.)

They nod in the soft summer breeze and seem to sigh, "Summer's not forever. School will begin again in a few weeks."

I feel refreshed, rejuvenated. Almost two months of summer vacation have flown by. I've had the time and leisure to devour a high pile of books, take walks late into the morning, look deeply, and exhale fully.

Again, for the twenty-ninth time, I've begun poking around the classroom, cleaning up messes, throwing things out, and inviting thoughts about the coming year.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mr. Lucky

Mr. Lucky

By Richard Kohn

“Of all the gin joints in all the world, you have to walk into this one.”

A billion cold rocks, scarred and pitted,
Hurtle through space. Given the odds,

Aren’t we lucky, so unfathomably, incomprehensibly lucky,
Just to be alive.

A stray beam of light careens from one of these rocks.
Hits something. Bounces to something else
In a thing called my eye.
Behold—a magnolia in full bloom—
hanging like an apparition above the San Francisco Bay—
a lotus field from a Buddhist paradise.

How can I say I am not lucky? When a billion years of intergalactic
accidents have conspired to bring me this gift.

Indecision. Right? Left? Right? Left? I walk through a door
and there is the love of my life.

How lucky, how unfathomably, uncharacteristically lucky that I just
didn’t blow it.

Her face reddens and strains. She screams. Another minute surely she
shall die. Or I will. Then the baby’s head emerged, tiny tired perfection,
weary as an old man, radiant as an angel.

How can I say that I’m not lucky? Just to be alive.

A doctor walks in. She need say nothing. The answer is etched in her eyes.
Those shadows on your liver are cancer, metastatic cancer.

But how can I say that I’m not lucky?
Just to be alive.
Like you.

Richard Kohn (1948—2000) was a documentary filmmaker, Tibetan Buddhist scholar, photographer, poet, and author. His best-known book and award-winning film are both entitled Lord of the Dance: The Mani Rimdu Festival in Tibet and Nepal.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy!

Ruminating is a good thing. Just ask this guy; he knows.

My internet connection went down for a couple of days, giving me more time to ruminate than usual. Hence the hiatus in posting blogs and time yesterday for a hike at Point Reyes National Seashore to see a large herd of Tule Elk.

Before the hike I had the opportunity to review a sheaf of letters—multipage, hand-written efforts that took me hours to compose—I had sent my parents 35 years ago when I was just out of college. My parents had saved them, and when they died some years ago, I got them back. I put them in a box and hadn't looked at them until now.

Each letter included a report—somewhat dishonest— about how "busy" I was. (I was raised to accept as virtues being busy, engaged, and chipping away relentlessly towards life goals; I suspect that I was actually trying to conceal that I was not as busy as I imagined they would have wished.)

Looking back, I would not characterize myself as having been all that busy. I had time, after all, to write them long letters by hand. And I wouldn't feel bad about confessing finding time, lots of time, for rumination.

Rumination is what we need these days.

I'm told that in Chinese to write the word, "busy" they join the characters for "heart" and "killing."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Saltwater Buddha

Surfing has been a mostly vicarious pleasure for me. I came of age in the sixties in California. I loved Beach Boys songs. I body surfed in Santa Cruz and have enjoyed surfing ocean swells on sailboats. I made sure my son got all the lessons he wanted to take, and he ended up becoming an assistant instructor in a surf camp in Southern California.

But have I actually surfed, you know, on a surfboard?

Not so far—maybe some day. But I like to read about it. And I like to read about Buddhism.

Saltwater Buddha is the first book I'm aware of that draws parallels between surfing and Buddhism. One might imagine that many such books had already been written. Surfing, like Zen, requires immersion in the immediate moment and mindfulness and concentration. I've seen or read books connecting Zen to motorcycle maintenance, golf, archery, tea, tennis, business, flower arranging—you name it—but not surfing.

So, interested to see what parallels this book might draw, I bought it.

I must confess that I had to overcome some misgivings about buying the book. I was aware that his writing might be loose, foggy and spaced-out. Surfers have a reputation for being incoherent and inarticulate when talking about surfing. But that's at least partly because surfing defies capture in language. "Surfing's far out, man. Zen, too."

My misgivings were quickly dispelled. Jaimal Yogis has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia; he can write. His accounts of surfing ring with both authority and modesty. His presentation of Buddhism was likewise articulate: fair, broad and nuanced. He writes in the vernacular for an audience that's probably unfamiliar with one or both of the subjects that anchor the book.

His book, though, is neither a book about surfing nor Buddhism; it is mostly a coming of age story.

Or perhaps a coming of sage story.

Here's a little taste of what's inside the book.

I was paddling through the impact zone at Ocean Beach. Ocean Beach is widely know to have one of the hardest paddles-outs in the world. I've watched professional surfers try to make it out on big days and get sent back to the beach whimpering. There are few, if any channels and the currents pouring in and out of the San Francisco Bay can reach seven knots, sweeping surfers up and down like driftwood on rapids. People drown there every year.

On this particular day, the waves were like endless frothy barricades. I'd been paddling for twenty minutes and I still wasn't outside. I pushed and pumped and heaved and whined. The sea punched and kicked and jammed sand down my throat. And in the midst of this abuse, I realized how much I love surfing.

I loved the actual riding of the wave, of course. But I also loved the challenge of the paddle.

It wasn't always like that. And maybe I was just happy to be back in the water after living in India for months. Or maybe my mind was more accepting after hanging out with all the ultra-happy Tibetan monks. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized every surfer has to like paddling, at least a little.

This was because extremely little of each surf session is spent actually standing up on your surfboard on a wave—maybe one percent—so if you're looking to have a good time it's essential to find a way to enjoy paddling, or at least good-naturedly bear it. And in that way, I thought, surfing is a good metaphor for the rest of life.

The extremely good stuff—chocolate and great sex and weddings and hilarious jokes—fills a minute portion of an adult life span.

The rest of life is the paddling: work, paying bills, flossing, getting sick, dying.

I started to entertain the thought that maybe I could start to deal better with that kind of paddling too.
I count myself lucky to live in Sebastopol, home to Many Rivers Books and Tea because it brings authors of books I like to read to talk about their work and meet their readers. Yogis stopped by a couple of weeks ago and I got to meet with him and chat with him. I told him that I sent what is probably the first copy of his book to reach the shores of Africa, to my son, Ted, a fellow surfer and sage.

You can learn more about Jaimal Yogis and his book here: Jaimal Yogis.

Jaimal and me at Many Rivers.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Last Man Standing

Yacht Morning Light image copyrighted by Sharon Green

Yesterday I mentioned that—against my better judgment and firmly in the grip of sailboat lust—I went to the video store and came home with a newly-released movie about a prestigious sailboat race from Long Beach to Honolulu, the Transpac.

A slick Disney documentary called Morning Light.

Ordinarily I don't rent Hollywood movies, but I was ill, smitten by Southern California and sailing fever.

More excuses: our trip took us through Santa Barbara where our son, Ted, went to college and where many memories of him resound. I hurt with missing Ted who is in Africa (Peace Corps) and will be there for another year and a half. Morning Light features 15 young adults who happen to be about the same age as my son, Ted. A youth fix. It's like Reya missing Jake and wanting to walk someone else's dog.

And so—guilty pleasure—I watched this movie. And just loved it.

And then I hated it. God, I hated it because I loved it. I know better, really.

Morning Light takes its place among the lowest form of entertainment: last man standing. This movie is not as obvious as others like Survivor or Fear Factor, but still, LMS is near the heart of this movie. There's the nod to the need for teamwork among the boat's crew, and these sailors don't finish first.

But at bottom, the movie is about 30 young adults competing for 11 spots on the boat. There are scenes of triumph and defeat as the group is winnowed down to the "select few."

And then there's the whole dimension of wealth and privilege. This crew is comprised mostly of students or recent graduates from the world's best universities. This is a movie about privilege being bestowed upon the over-privileged at the hands of the egregiously ├╝ber-privileged.

We're all vulnerable to some degree or another to the appeal of LMS. It's built out of fear. Fear of dying, I guess.

But Last Man Standing is wrong. It's false. It obscures the basic truth that all life is interconnected. We're all in this together. Even the richest and most privileged know this is true. After all, when they need help—Wall Street Bailouts—we're there for them, treading water, as we toss our life jackets into the life rafts lashed to the decks of their yachts.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Afflicted by Lust

On my recent trip to Southern California my mind got infected by lust. I had been surrounded by sparkling German sports cars, gleaming Harleys, and everywhere I looked I ogled a bronzed Adonis with his Aphrodite walking on the strand in skimpy beachwear.

Worst of all, we had a lovely dinner on a dock looking out on the well-kept yachts in Newport Harbor. My normally well-functioning immunity to the gimmies became exhausted. I began thinking about getting a motorcycle, a new sports car, and a new boat. I thought, too, that I should start working on my tan (not smart for someone who's already had several basal cell carcinomas whittled off his body).

In the two and a half days since then I've been able to shed all but the stickiest affliction: sailboat lust.

Every summer I get smitten at some point or another with this particular form of mental illness. My condition became acute when I came home from the video store with a copy of the new Disney documentary, Morning Light, concerning a Transpac crew of teenagers sponsored by Roy Disney. But that's fodder for another post.

I mentioned my lust to Sarah who said, "Why don't you go out and buy yourself a sailboat in the water and be done with it? Maybe you'll love it. Either that, or at least you'll get over it."

Comments like that would send some guys immediately on two errands: one to the loan officer and the next to yacht broker, but not me.

Instead, I applied my favored antidote to mental maladies: RAIN.

RAIN is an acronym for:


I find its non-linear 4-step process very helpful in untying mental formations that cause me to suffer.

I typically invoke RAIN as my strategy to relate to my fear (which is my most characteristic affliction), but RAIN works on other forms of mental suffering, even greed, as in this case.

Recognizing and Accepting

By recognizing and accepting my sailboat lust rather than trying to push it away I find I can work with it more effectively. It's there. I'm sick with it. It's got me in its grip. It's okay. That's how I am. Instead of trying to do away with my sailboat lust, I take a step closer and go to the investigation mode.


That's when I can see more than the fantasy images of sailing happily across the bay with my best friends smiling...all the good things (and they are good things) about sailing. I don't try to push these thoughts away; I still see the good things about sailing. It is fun. But I allow myself to look more deeply.

As good as sailing can be, sailing also involves lots of driving from where I live down to the marina. If I got a boat in the water, I would spend time and money with the chandlery, the sailmaker, the boat yard, and other places, too. I would write lots of checks: checks to all the aformentioned as well as checks to the marina for slip fees, to insurance companies, riggers, bottom scrubbers, and more.

The sailboat rides I would offer my friends would scare the hell out of some of them. It gets cold on the San Francisco Bay, even in summer, especially in the summer when it's so damn windy that most boats stay dockside. Sailboat stuff breaks. Broken stuff costs lots of money to fix.

Owning a sailboat would mean committing to going sailing more regularly than I'd ever actually want to go. I enjoy sailing, but I enjoy hiking more. I enjoy kayaking, bicycling, cooking and many other activities. I know I would not enjoy sailing enough to not notice that each outing was costing me hundreds of dollars.

Sailboats are inherently slow, uncomfortable, and high-maintenance vehicles. The whole idea of sailing is to make sailboats exactly what they don't want to be: fast, comfortable, and shipshape. Sailboat ownership is actually kind of crazy.


My thoughts aren't me. Thoughts are just thoughts. They come, they hang around a bit, they go.

My investigations into sailboat lust bring me closer to the actual reality of sailboat ownership, which for me is not a great fit, even though I do love to sail every now and then.

I allow this lust to have its little sleepovers in my mind, but I invite its bedfellows to come on over for the night, too. The whole party eventually smells bad.

Then, the sailboat lust begins to lose its grip. The fever breaks, dissolves.

And my equilibrium is restored.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Car free Sunday/Food Inc.

Sarah and I got back Saturday from a trip to Southern California where I taught a Soundabet workshop for 55 teachers. We drove there because of all the materials I had to distribute. The round trip was a little more than 1,000 miles and 18 hours time behind the wheel. The drive along the California coast is beautiful, but exhausting.

We don't very often spend that much time in cars, so yesterday when we wanted to see a movie over in Santa Rosa (about 7 miles away) we decided to ride the bus over there and walk home.

The movie, Food Inc., is a documentary about the changes that have occurred since WWII in how food is produced in the US. It focuses on the many unintended consequences of those changes and their deleterious effects on our health, our ecology, and on the well-being of animals.

It's a powerful film and echoes many of the messages of my favorite summer reading, An Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

We enjoyed our 7-mile, 2-hour walk home. We talked about the movie (it's a bit depressing) and discussed ways we can respond more fully to this information. We appreciated the many things that we're already doing.

There's a website that provides more information about food-related issues. Ignorance is NOT bliss in regard to the food industry.

I recommend people who plan on eating food sometime in the future to visit

And, if you're able, take a walk outdoors.

The beauty of Laguna, the open space between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, restored our spirits.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Five x Five Meme

Delwyn over on Hazy Moon did a Five by Five meme back on July 6. The task is to list 5 things in 5 categories. Delwyn chose:

  1. books
  2. songs
  3. pastimes
  4. words
  5. experiences
She passed along her version of the meme with the suggestion to modify the categories to fit the author.

In my version, I'm going to choose a slightly different set of categories:
  1. Landmark Books,
  2. Songs,
  3. Books I've enjoyed this summer,
  4. Pastimes, and
  5. Bucket List.

Landmark Books:
These are books that shaped by view of the world.

  1. The Bible
  2. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  3. The Tao te Ching translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English
  4. Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
  5. Middle Length Discourses Bhikku Bodhi

It was difficult to narrow this category down to only five songs; a lot of favorites didn't make this list. Just listening to music is like sitting by the pool and watching people swim. Singing is like diving in.

I've chosen songs that I've passed along and shared—heart to heart—with kindergartners and friends.

  1. This Little Light of Mine (traditional)
  2. Magic Penny by Malvina Reynolds
  3. Deeply Beautiful (an original adaptation of a song)
  4. This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie
  5. Somos el Barco by Lorre Wyatt

Books I've Enjoyed This Summer
During the summer vacation I have the chance to read. Among the books I've enjoyed so far this summer are:

  1. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen
  2. After the Ecstasy the Laundry by Jack Kornfield
  3. Saltwater Buddha by Jaimal Yogis
  4. The Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield
  5. Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

On the second-to-last day of school I injured my shoulder moving a piano and I am still having to baby it with the result being that the final two pastimes on this list are on the shelf so far this summer. Nonetheless they are:

  1. Reading
  2. Blogging
  3. Walking
  4. Sailing (and kayaking, too)
  5. Bicycling

Bucket List
These are accomplishment I feel good about and hope to remember as I pass on from this life to the next:
  1. Husband and partner my wife
  2. Father of my daughter and son
  3. Teacher for more than 1,000 young children
  4. Creator of Soundabet
  5. Studied and shared Dharma, and really tried to integrate it into my moment-to-moment life.

Monday, July 13, 2009


The Dalai Lama once said, "Hurrying does violence to time."

This story, as told by Zorba in Nikos Kazantzakis book, Zorba the Greek, illustrates the idea.

I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree just as the butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waited awhile but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. the case opened, the butterfly started slowly crawling out, and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath. In vain. It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings needed to be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear, all crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.

One of the nicest things about summer vacation is that I don't hurry—or need to hurry—for weeks at a time. It's a luxury I am very grateful for and wish everyone could enjoy as well.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Patience, miso soup, bandits, and doubt

It’s midsummer. I’m nearly halfway between the last day of school in June and the first day coming in August.

I'm trying to rest and touch stillness in my shimmering, tender and quivering center.

I wish to let the well of patience recharge. To watch the inhale. To notice the exhale.

Whatever patience might seep in, I intend to share generously with next year's kids. Kindergartens are so full of suffering. Joy, too, but lots of suffering gets mixed in. Patience is needed.

For breakfast, aged Chinese Pu-erh tea and miso soup eaten slowly using chopsticks. I lift out—one by one—chopped pieces of boy choy, onion, carrots, and tofu. I chew each piece individually, and then slurp the broth, like I learned in Japan. Breakfast like this can last 45 minutes.

After breakfast—household chores in slow motion. Do my laundry and hang it out in the soft morning sun.

I wash last night’s dishes enjoying the gentle warmth of the water and the light grapefruit fragrance of the biodegradable dishwashing liquid.

As I washed the dishes, I tried to stay with the dishes in my hands. But my mind wandered. That's what minds do.

I thought about doubt and faith.

What is great doubt, if not great faith in skepticism?

What is great faith, if not great doubt in our ability to accept uncertainty?

Doubt and faith appear as two sides of the same coin. Great doubt is great faith. I'm not sure if that's so, but it seem so. Back to the sudsy bowl in my hands...

Wandering mind again. I also thought about my morning reading from the Dharma. The Buddha demanded that his students to let go of their cherished beliefs. Like Jesus, the Buddha told stories to teach.

The Buddha told a story to his monks:

A young widower was devoted to his little son. But while he was away on business, the whole village was burned to the ground by bandits, who took away the little boy.

When the father returned and found only charred ruins, he was brokenhearted. He mistook the charred remains of an infant as his own child, so he organized a cremation, collected the ashes, and carried them always in a special bag.

Years later, his real son managed to escape from the bandits and found his way back to his old home. His father had rebuilt the house. When the boy arrived late one night and knocked on the door, his father called, “Who is there?”

“It is I, your son. Please let me in.”

The father, still carrying the bag of ashes and hopelessly sad thought this must be some wretched boy making fun of him and he shouted, “Go away!”

The boy knocked and called again and again, but the father always made the same response. At last the boy left, never to come back again.

After the Buddha had told this story he added, “If you cling to an idea as unalterable truth, then when the truth does come in person and knock at your door, you will not be able to open the door and accept it.”

As I gently rubbed my sponge on the dishes to clean them, I took care to notice their fragility, their proneness to being chipped, nicked, cracked, and broken. A moment’s carelessness, and they could shatter.

My fragile dishes resemble my faith: not broken now, and serving me well this morning.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Clay Spirit

I count myself lucky to know so many poets as friends. Today I wish to feature a poem by my friend, Raphael Block called Clay Spirit:

Clay Spirit


I feel the warm clay bowl

of my mother's making

cradling my fingers.

Solidly thrown

her name etched on the bottom

the beige glaze

reflects a range

of creamy whites to speckled browns

just like her eyes.

My hands rest

on its generous rim.

What feelings traveled through hers

to mine? She who transmitted so much

so much that I rejected

and now hold sacred.

—Raphael Block

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Friends Meeting, Part 7 Wild Geese

When it was Sue's turn to share, she read a poem titled Wild Geese by Wendell Berry.

The Wild Geese
by Wendell Berry

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

I'd like to add another poem with the same title by Mary Oliver:

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Two of my favorite poets have written poems about wild geese. I notice that whenever I see wild geese flying overhead I stop what I am doing and find myself transfixed by their spirits, their energy, their voices. My mind seems to jump a thousand feet in the air and my imagination begins to migrate north or south, depending on the season. Geese have the power to pull me out of my small human mind.

And, finally, to this Tuesday's meeting, Sue brought some exquisite white currants and scrumptious plums. Thanks Sue!

Friends Meeting, Part 6 Green Sangha

Debra shared information about the Sonoma County Chapter of Green Sangha. We meet the 4th Sunday of the month in Debra's home in the SRJC neighborhood of Santa Rosa. For Mischa and Sue, and anyone else in our sangha who wants to learn more about Green Sangha, I have included the link to the website, below my signature. Our chapter now has a blog on the website, so you can read about our Garden Wheel project in Sonoma County.

Here is what I share with our group:

The Principles of Green Sangha

What distinguishes Green Sangha activism from other kinds of activism?

  1. One Body
    A poet wrote, "Throughout the universe One Body revealed." We are the earth, sky, oceans and the entire planet. Of course we love the planet. It is us!
  2. Clarifying Motivation
    Love (without boundaries) is our true nature. Motivation comes from the recognition that we are not separate from any aspect of life. We are love without boundaries serving itself.
  3. Compassionate Action
    We see in our lives the same greed and confusion that we oppose. This helps us to have compassion for others. We fight the confusion that causes suffering, not the person who is confused. There is no "other" to fight against anyway; we simply meet ourselves.
  4. Questioning Ourselves
    We constantly live with the questions of what is authentic, loving, and appropriate action. We're willing to not know and be open to other points of view. We know we could be wrong.
  5. Being With What Is
    We meet injustice without becoming lost in it. An over-identification with injustice leads to despair or rage. Alternately, meeting life in an intimate yet spacious way allows for a more creative and potent response.
  6. Holding Stories Lightly
    Who would we be and how would we act without the story that reality isn't supposed to appear the way it does? Without a story, the sense of a separate "I" dies, revealing our true nature as love without boundaries.
  7. Integrity
    As spiritual activists, we stand together in our commitment to be that which we are trying to bring about in the world: peace and love.
  8. Holding Roles Lightly
    We hold the role of activist lightly, while thoroughly engaging in the work of the activist. We are more effective when we act from our true identity as Life itself, instead of identifying with our roles which are a mere fraction of our true selves.

Debra Birkinshaw
Board Member, Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County

Here is a link for more information:

Green Sangha

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Sun Kings

Marc, Richard, Brenda, and I went yesterday afternoon to see a Beatles cover band called The Sun Kings. There are 5 members in the band; together they sound just like the fab four, John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Marc is a fan. Earlier he had encouraged me to come to one of their performances. He told me that they get so close to the sound of the Beatles that if you close your eyes, you'll think you're listening to their recordings.

The Sun Kings set began with early material and progressed to Abbey Road. When they began playing, I thought that they must be lip syncing. The audio-illusion amazed me with its detailed accuracy. I kept my eyes open to see if they were actually making the music I was hearing. It was that close. As the concert went on, I began to be able to distinguish subtle differences between the original Beatles and The Sun Kings.

They made no effort to look like the Beatles. No need—they SOUND like them.

If you're a San Francisco Bay area resident and enjoy the music of the Beatles, check them out. I told Sarah about them, and she wants to come along to the next concert. They're playing up our way on August 4 in Rio Nido.

Friends Meeting, Part 5: Billy Collins

Roger shared two poems by Billy Collins. Roger has been bothered by a neighbor's barking dog in the past few days; Roger shared this first poem due to that. I like how this poem's title frames the poem.

Another Reason Why I Don't Keep A Gun In The House

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

—Billy Collins

Roger shared another poem by Billy Collins, this one about the tendency to avoid the hard work of writing. I'm sure some bloggers are familiar with the cleaning syndrome.

Advice to Writers

Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.

Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.

When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate alter of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.

From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift
a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet,
and cover page with tiny sentences
like long rows of devoted ants
that followed you in from the woods.

—Billy Collins

Both of these poems appear in the collection, Sailing Alone Around the Room

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Friends Meeting, Part 4: Time Unwinds

Time Unwinds
by Dan Gurney

Note: Sonnets are poems composed of 14 lines. In creating these six connected sonnets, I’ve observed a self-imposed rule of keeping each line to 10 syllables. Getting the lines to rhyme would be nice, but such an accomplishment is beyond my current powers.

Some years ago, I shared with a teacher my skepticism about the existence of heaven. He pointed out that modern skepticism about heaven is, from an historical perspective, exceptional: throughout the ages, most humans have believed in some sort of heavenly realm.

My teacher got me to doubt my skepticism! Now I am agnostic in regard to whether heaven exists or not. How would I know one way or the other?

This set of poems arose out of two states of mind: (1) out of a willingness to play with the idea that a heaven might exist, and (2) out of my deepening sadness in response to the on-going and relentless extinctions resulting from human activity.

Sonnet 1: Prologue

In two thousand twelve, the Dalai Lama
Will journey to a Buddhist Heavenly realm
And save all life on this, our precious Earth.
His early interests in tinkering with
Motorcars and his later interests in
Astrophysics had a purpose no one
Had guessed at the time. He took it all in.

Deeply meditating, he will tinker
With the time/space continuum so time
Runs backwards—or seems to—and we humans
Can undo our ignorance-born karma.

And then the future will undo the past
And we shall move back towards our cherished past
Reclaiming what’s best and leaving the rest.

Sonnet 2: Back to 9/11

First, the Patriot Act will be declared
Unconstitutional. Corporations
Will be abolished and no one will want
To remember anyone going by
The name, W. Democracy will
Begin its return to the USA.

We will learn that the sky wants no scraping,
Beyond what the mountains have always done.
Unionized workers will respectfully
Dismantle every large downtown building
And return iron, copper, marble, tin
Back in the earth where they’ve always belonged.

Members of the Bush White House will enjoy
Retirement years in Guantanamo.

Sonnet 3: Back to 1963

Jetliners no longer trace linear
Contrails across the upper stratosphere.
John F. Kennedy will fulfill his plan
To pull all American troops out of
Vietnam. Two million Southeast Asian
Mothers and children live in ancient peace.

China returns Tibet to the Buddhists
Who pray for atomic disarmament.
FAT MAN and LITTLE BOY’s misbegotten
Progeny are pulled apart piece by piece.

Man splitting atoms? Inconceivable!
We bury deep underground depleted
Uranium and other eternal
Radioactive wastes. No more poisons.

Sonnet 4: Back to 1930s

Japanese Americans don’t hear the
Orwellian phrase, “Relocation camp.”
In each early Decembers, Pearl Harbor
Enjoys only peaceful Buddha birthdays.
Germans give luxury first-class tickets
To Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals
On trains running from concentration camps
Back to cities, towns, and the fertile lands.
Ex-soldiers in Europe will shovel trenches for gardens.
Guns and swords will be beaten into plowshares.

Ford’s ancestors will mass-dismantle his
Model A’s and noisy black Model T’s.
Bicycles and electric streetcars will
Glide slow and smooth down narrow, winding lanes.

Sonnet 5:
Back to a Sustainable Future

Across the New World boundless forests will
Reappear—Redwoods in California,
Hardwoods in the east, rain forests in the
Amazon. Salmon and shad will run thick
In every stream. It seems we could tiptoe
Gingerly on fish backs to the far shore.
Vast herds of buffalo roam the wide plains.
Twice a year clouds of passenger pigeons
Migrate across the skies, darkening them.

Plants long thought extinct will grow everywhere
To absorb green house gasses, clean the air.
Climate changes back; ice caps refreeze, and
Glaciers grow as thick and long as ever.

Sonnet 6:
Bless Us All

Everyone wakes well rested, and a day
Younger each morning. Old injuries heal,
Chronic diseases fade from memory—
Until we feel strong enough to start work.

Our careers end with four years of college,
So we can prepare for high school, middle
School, and grade school, so we can forget
What we didn’t need to know anyway.

And when we finally get to that first day
Of kindergarten, we will be ready
To be loved far beyond imagining
As we prepare to float more spaciously

Nine months in quiet, warm, and liquid bliss
Awaiting to sparkle our children’s eyes.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Friends Meeting, Part 3 & Happy Interdependence Day

(This image is clipped from Google Images,
but I got the idea from Steven, author of The Golden Fish blog.)

At Friends Meeting last Tuesday, Steve shared the first stanza of this poem. I first read this poem in 1967 when I was a sophomore in high school. I struggled to understand most of the poetry my teacher asked me to read. I was just a kid, raised on TV, and not too interested in reading.

This sonnet by e.e. cummings stuck out because it was among the few that were within my ability to appreciate. Well, at least the first stanza of it. This was among the last poems e.e. cummings wrote. It was part of his final book of poetry, XAIPE, published in 1950, the year before I arrived, crying, in this world.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

—e.e. cummings

Tomorrow we'll come around to the contribution I offered to the evening's meeting, a collection of sonnets that I wrote the morning of the meeting.

Finally, I want to wish my fellow Americans a Happy INTERdependence day. We're all in this world together, folks.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Friends Meeting, Part 2

At our recent Friends Meeting, Richard shared a poem he wrote about Tiger Woods.

Richard started practicing meditation about a year ago. He was a little surprised to find that poetry began to flow out of him. There's probably a connection.

He wrote this poem about the ability to concentrate (an ability meditation can improve) in the game of golf. Richard loves walking—that's how we met—but he also likes to golf.

what was tiger thinking

what was tiger thinking
on the 18th green?
make it and I win
make it and fame is mine
make it and riches are mine
make it and they will cheer


tiger saw the ball
on the green smooth expanse
saw the cup
and saw an imaginary line
he felt the breeze on his neck
felt his feet planted firmly
felt breath flowing softly
the soft feel of the putter
pressing gently in his palms

nothing but the ball
the cup
and the line
and the soft sound of the ball
rattling in the bottom

—Richard Nichols

Richard has his own blog, too. You can see more of his art and poetry here:

Tomorrow I'll share another contribution from the group.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Friends Meeting, Part 1

On the fifth Tuesday of June, the Society of Friends met to share poems, stories, and prayers.

I said I'd share some of them on the blog, so here goes.

Louise told us about her father whom she loved and who clearly loved her. She shared the Prayer of St. Francis which was printed on a card and distributed at her father's memorial service. Louise carries the Prayer of St. Francis with her wherever she goes. It comforts her.

It goes like this:

The Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

(This prayer comforts me, too. I memorized it 26 years ago when I went to weekly classes offered by Eknath Easwaran who recommended this prayer for meditation. Reciting the Prayer of St. Francis is a part of my daily meditation practice. Sometimes, at night, if I wake up with a worried mind, I repeat this prayer silently and slowly to myself. It often returns me to blissful sleep.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Laundry as the Ecstacy

Lunch is done.

Time to hang the laundry.

It's deeply pleasing
To pin wet clothes on a line—
Sun, wind, dance, and song.