Sunday, August 30, 2009

This is Eden

What follows is an excerpt from conversation between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers that illuminates what is meant by the Navajo "Pollen Path."

CAMPBELL: Yes, that is what I’m saying, Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t even a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now that all thinking in temporal terms cuts off. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. The problem with heaven is that you will be having such a good time there, you won’t even think of eternity. You’ll just have this unending delight in the beatific vision of God. But the experience of eternity right here and now, in all things, whether thought of as good or as evil, is the function of life.

CAMPBELL: This is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be, This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.

MOYERS: So the experience of God is beyond description, but we feel compelled to try to describe it?

CAMPBELL: That’s right. Schopenhauer, in his splendid essay called "On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual," points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. So who composed that plot? Schopenhauer suggests that just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself of which your consciousness is unaware, so, too, your whole life is composed by the will within you. And just as people whom you will have met apparently by mere chance became leading agents in the structuring of your life, so, too, will you have served unknowingly as an agent, giving meaning to the lives of others, The whole thing gears together like one big symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else. And Schopenhauer concludes that it is as though our lives were the features of the one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature.

It’s a magnificent idea – an idea that appears in India in the mythic image of the Net of Indra, which is a net of gems, where at every crossing of one thread over another there is a gem reflecting all the other reflective gems. Everything arises in mutual relation to everything else, so you can’t blame anybody for anything. It is even as though there were a single intention behind it all, which always makes some kind of sense, though none of us knows what the sense might be, or has lived the life that he quite intended.

MOYERS: And yet we all have lived a life that had a purpose. Do you believe that?

CAMPBELL: Wait a minute. Just sheer life cannot be said to have a purpose, because look at all the different purposes it has all over the place. But each incarnation, you might say, has a potentiality, and the mission of life is to live that potentiality. How do you do it,’ My answer is, "Follow your bliss." There’s something inside you that knows when you’re in the center, that knows when you’re on the beam or off the beam, And if you get off the beam to earn money, you’ve lost your life. And if you stay in the center and don’t get any money, you still have your bliss.

MOYERS: I like the idea that it is not the destination that counts, it’s the journey.

CAMPBELL: Yes. As Karlfried Graf Durckheim says, "When you’re on a journey, and the end keeps getting further and further away, then you realize that the real end is the journey." The Navajo have that wonderful image of what they call the pollen path. Pollen is the life source, the pollen path is the path to the center. The Navajo say, "Oh, beauty before me, beauty behind me, beauty to the right of me, beauty to the left of me, beauty above me, beauty below me, I’m on the pollen path,"

MOYERS: Eden was not, Eden will be.

CAMPBELL: Eden is. "The kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth, and men do not see it."

MOYERS: Eden is – in this world of pain and suffering and death and violence?

CAMPBELL: That is the way it feels, but this is it, this is Eden. When you see the kingdom spread upon the earth, the old way of living in the world is annihilated. That is the end of the world, The end of the world is not an event to come, it is an event of psychological transformation, of visionary transformation. You see not the world of solid things but a world of radiance.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


"The place where God calls you is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."
-Fredrich Buechner, Wishful Thinking
These words—which I got from Hazy Moon, thank you, Delwyn—prompted some rumination on the second Brahmavihara, Karuna, compassion.

Buddhism identifies four Brahmaviharas. Brahmaviharas, sublime abidings, can be translated as "divine abodes." These are places where you can live—at least momentarily—as if you were among the gods.

They are:

Metta (Loving kindness)
Karuna (Compassion)
Mudita (Sympathetic Joy)
Upekkha (Equanimity)

Each day teaching kindergarten gives me many opportunities to experience the first three Brahmaviharas. (Equanimity is a bit more elusive in kindergarten, an environment ever so close to chaos.) They arrive in about equal measure, metta, karuna, and mudita. But I want to talk about karuna, compassion.


Joy arises when I have the opportunity to respond to the pain or suffering of one of my students. Perhaps their pet died. Or their parents separated. Maybe a painful blister appeared on their palms after a long session on the monkey bars. Pain and suffering arise unbidden in a seemingly constant flow.

Fortunately, our world is set up perfectly:

When we respond to alleviate another person's suffering, our own hearts gladden in proportion to our ability to soothe the pain in person who's suffering.

I can't explain why. It's just the way it is.

In a future post, I hope to write about Stan Goldberg who discovered immeasurable joy in what might seem to be the least likely places: as a hospice volunteer at the side of people actively dying. Stan inspired me to take up the Native American flute which has taken me a few steps further down the pollen path.

iWALK sebastopol

Not long ago, in January 2008, a small group of friends that included Sarah and me decided to share our love of walking with the community. We got the Chamber of Commerce, the City of Sebastopol, and the local hospital to help publicize our first efforts. We got a total of $500 from Apple Valley Convalescent Hospital as the seed money (that's all) and off we went. Our first walks drew very few people outside our core group. But now we see lots more people and are making new friends and acquaintances on our walks.

We offer walks on the final Saturday of each month. This month's walk attracted more than 40 walkers even though it was a scorcher.

I got this photo of most of us at the beginning of the walk. We went into the Laguna de Santa Rosa on a property normally closed to the public.

Early on we crossed the Laguna and spotted a Green Heron resting in the shade.

This turtle posed for me.

There are sweeping views in the floodplain.

We stopped often to listen to docents from the Laguna Foundation tell us about the natural and human history of the area.

We rested in the shade (it was 99°F) of several trees, this one a Black Walnut (Juglans nigra).

Black walnuts, a member of the hickory family, produce nuts that run a bit smaller than the more familiar English walnut.

Black walnuts come in a tough outer husk which produces a juice that becomes an inky greenish-black stain when exposed to air. Pomo Indians used these walnut husk-juices to dye the fibers woven into their baskets.

Black walnuts have hardy rootstock. People figured out that the best way to grow walnuts in these parts is to graft English walnut branches on Black Walnut trees so as to get the best of both worlds: a hardy tree producing a tasty walnut.

Someone with sharp eyes pointed out this praying mantis resting in the grass. This one knows what Mary Oliver was talking about when she mentions prayers made of grass.

This image can be enlarged by clicking on it.

I enjoyed several conversations along the way, mostly with friends from earlier hikes. But what makes these outings such fun is the opportunity to meet new friends. I particularly enjoyed talking this morning with two women around my age, Patricia Currie, a fellow teacher who told me that she substituted for me 20 years ago at the beginning of her career as a teacher.

I also enjoyed meeting David Peterson, a geologist, and his wife, Paula. Paula enjoyed photography, walking, and natural history so much that (to me, privately) she seemed in many ways to resemble Delwyn Tatton. (If she had talked in an Australian accent, the effect would have been complete.) I allowed myself permission to pretend that I was enjoying the pleasure of meeting and walking with my blogging buddy, Delwyn. This made me warmer and more outgoing than I normally am, and we got along splendidly. So this is one way that the friendships we develop through blogging can influence actual face-to-face new friendships in a positive way.

Paula and me, walking in Eden.

Monday, August 24, 2009

35 Years

Today Sarah and I will celebrate 35 years of marriage.

We were married not far from here on Angel Island where we could look across the sailboats in the bay at the city of San Francisco, and the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. It was a wonderful, but very simple wedding attended by family and close friends. We vowed to be loving and truthful to ourselves, to each other, and to the Earth. We've done a good job honoring those vows.

Tonight we'll celebrate our marriage in a simple and quiet way with flowers, wine, and chocolate all made quite near our home.

I am very grateful for the gifts our marriage has given ourselves, our children, and our community.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Art of Learning

A quick and compelling read. I gobbled this book up one day last summer.

My pal Bruce Gibbs loaned me a copy of The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. You may know something about Josh; he was the subject of a book and movie about a chess prodigy written by his father, Searching for Bobby Fischer. After his achievements in the world of chess, he turned his attention to Tai Chi Chuan earning the title of world champion.

In this book Josh reflects on what is required to achieve at the highest levels. His thinking is a fertile blend of western determination and eastern mysticism. This list of the titles of his chapters suggest the flavor of the book: "Losing to Win," "The Downward Spiral," "Beginner's Mind," "Making Smaller Circles" "Using Adversity," "Slowing Down Time," "The Illusion of the Mystical," "Searching for the Zone."

Waitzkin aptly describes what it feels like to lose oneself in the zone and merge with the activity at hand. Some passages in this book read as if written by Zen master Dogen; other passages read more like self-help books that fill bookstores these days. Waitzkin offers suggestions about how to travel into "The Zone."

He emphasizes living in the moment. Here's Josh to speaking for himself:

We don't live within a Hollywood screenplay where the crescendo erupts just when we want it to, and more often than not the climactic moments in our lives will follow many unclimactic normal, humdrum hours, days, weeks, or years. So how do we step up when our moment suddenly arises?

My answer is to define the question Not only do we have to be good at waiting, we have to love it. Because waiting is not waiting, it is life. Too many of us live without fully engaging our minds, waiting for that moment when our real lives begin Years pass in boredom, but that is okay becuase when our true love comes around, or we discover our real calling, we will begin. Of course the sad truth is that if we are not present to the moment, our true love could come and go and we wouldn't even notice. And we will have become someone other than the you or I who would be able to embrace it. I believe an appreciation for simplicity, the everyday—the ability to dive deeply into the banal and discover life's hidden richness—is where success, let alone happiness, emerges.
Finally, for any teachers who might happen to this blog, Waitzkin discusses the distinction between entity and incremental theories of intelligence. Teachers strongly influence their students, and the best ones emphaisize process, effort, and a problem solving style that welcomes setbacks as learning opportunities. Lesser teachers simply praise students, "Way to go! Awesome job! You're so smart!" They don't recognize how their well-intended feedback harms students when their efforts fall short. In this, Waitzkin echoes Alfie Kohn in regard to the corrosive influence that a teacher's praise has upon his students.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Quiet, Mindful Heart

With school starting up, I'll have my days filled with kindergarten teaching with much less time to post here.

But I hope to find time to blog on weekends...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Transformative Moment

Like Groundhog Day, only in much shorter intervals, my transformative moment keeps happening over and over and over again.

It happens each time I wake up enough to remember that there is no moment, transformative or otherwise, except for this very moment, except for this very NOW.

All “past” moments can exist at only one time: NOW.

All "future" moments can exist at only one time: NOW.

The Eternal NOW sounds more paradoxical than it is. And as Suzuki Roshi observed, "If it isn't paradoxical, it isn't true."

It is freeing to know that there is only NOW.

Thank you Steven over at Golden Fish for thinking of this meme.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Last Day of Summer

After a day of sailing on the Tomales Bay, I hiked to the top of a mountain, Mount Barnabe, with wife, Sarah, and our friends Richard and Brenda. We like hiking with R & B because they're so experienced that we just go along for the walk. They do all the planning and thinking and guiding.

Dan, Richard, Sarah, Brenda on the way up.

At the top of the peak we got a view of distant Tomales Bay northwest of us.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

25,200 Seconds of Bliss

Look! The shore on the right is the Pacific Plate.
The shore on the left the North American Plate.
The water is covering the San Andreas Fault.

Nothing—absolutely nothing—concentrates my mind so naturally as sailing my Laser on Tomales Bay.

It's a multi-sensory extravaganza. Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind. Stunning visual beauty surrounds me as the Pacific Plate bumps against the North American plate along a flooded section of the San Andreas Fault, all of it protected as part of our National Seashore. The Laser sailboat adds a symphony of sounds, a Concerto for Winds and Waves. The salt air is scented sweet with Bishop Pine and sharp with seaweed. I taste the tang of this hyper-saline sea as I hold the mainsheet in my teeth, my third hand when one hand holds the tiller as the other takes in more line. The boat rocks, pitches, and rolls, especially when the wind kicks up. Mind. Laser sailing keeps my mind in the present moment. If I wander away mentally for even a second, the boat calls my attention back to sailing by heeling over or chattering the main.

Best of all, there's company. Human company, yes, and—thanks to the National Seashore—none of it on Jetskis. Kayaks, fishing skiffs, and an assortment of sailing dinghies. And the company of animal friends: jellyfish, Halibut, Herring, Pelicans, Seagulls, Bat Rays, Seals, and Sealions, Leopard Sharks, and ominously occasionally, Great Whites patrolling the mouth of the Bay. Really. I've seen them all except the GW.

It's all part of the wonder, mystery and present-moment suchness that is sailing on the Bay.

Here's less than 90 seconds of the fun I got to have yesterday--


Friday, August 14, 2009

This Is It

What do you mean, "What comes next?"
This is it.

TRY: Reminding yourself from time to time: "This is it." See if there is anything at all that it cannot be applied to. Remind yourself that acceptance of the present moment has nothing to do with resignation in the face of what is happening. It simply means a clear acknowledgment that what is happening is happening. Acceptance doesn't tell you what to do. What happens next, what you choose to do, that has to come out of your understanding of this moment. You might try acting out of a deep knowing of "This is it." Does it influence how you choose to proceed or respond? Is it possible for you to contemplate that in a very real way, this may actually be the best season, the best moment of your life? If that was so, what would it mean for you?

—Jon Kabat-Zinn in Wherever You Go There You Are

Today's post is from Jon Kabat-Zinn's book,
Wherever You Go There You Are. In his book he describes a New Yorker cartoon of two Zen monks having this conversation, but I couldn't find it on the web. This cartoon serves the purpose well, and reminds us to look out in the natural world that supports our lives: the natural world is chock full of miracles.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Feeling 30 years Younger

With the school year just a long weekend away, I wanted to do something to make myself feel young, footloose and I went sailing.

I don't sail a boat made for men my age—oh, no.

I sail a Laser! Lasers are intended as a young man's first real racing sailboat. I bought this one 30 years ago, when I was a young man. Sailingwise, I just never grew up.

When I go out on it, the years drop away like magic and I feel 27 again.

I sailed over to my favorite secluded beach on the protected western shore and had a nice lunch.

When having lunch I tip my boat on its side to keep the rocks in the sand from scratching the bottom of the hull. It also keeps the sail quiet.

I was all alone. I enjoyed a sandwich, some bean salad, and a smoothie I made at home.

Then a visitor came to share my lunch spot with me.

After lunch, the sailing gods turned the wind up full blast—a steady 20 knots with more than 30 knot gusts. It blew me back into my launching beach. All the regular sailboats disappeared from the bay.

The only guy out there when I left at 4 PM was this windsurfer.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Native American Flute

It's a good idea for teachers to be actively engaged as learners.

Learning something new keeps me connected, vulnerable, on the edge—

So before the summer ends I choose something brand new to bring into my teaching practice. I want my students to see people produce music, not just consume it. That's a good lesson generally for us Americans.

This year I decided to learn to play the Native American Flute after I heard Stan Goldberg play at a book signing a couple of weeks ago. Stan plays for the dying as part of his hospice volunteer work. I want to play for the kids in kindergarten.

I surfed online, ordered one, and it came in the mail the other day. After a short time, here's how I sound...and I think it's good enough. If you've got 30 seconds, you can listen in here:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Weekend of Walking

Saturday I joined 25 hikers from Northbay to Alamere Falls in Point Reyes National Seashore. You can see 17 more photos of this) hike HERE. (Photos of the 2007 edition of the same hike.)

Sunday we rode the Larkspur Ferry to San Francisco with Richard and Brenda. First stop off the boat was a stroll around, under, and through the waters at Justin Herman Plaza.

We continued on through the financial district, beneath the TransAmerica tower.

We encountered a funeral procession in Chinatown.

We walked up Lombard Street.

We discovered little alleyways none of us had entered before.

Views of the Bay and the sailboats seemed to pop up at every turn.

The Marina.
Brenda liked this motor yacht, The Lucky Irish.

If we only had more time...the trail goes to Mexico.
Richard has done the "whole hike" from Oregon to Mexico, 1200+ miles.
He devoted years to getting the California Coastal Trail built.

We walked all the way to the Cliff House.
We rode the bus back to the Ferry Building.
10.5 miles in all.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth!

On this day twenty five years ago, at 10:59 AM, one of my life's greatest blessings arrived: Elizabeth arrived in my life.

Sarah and I had been married 10 years by then. We had completed our educations, launched our careers, and bought our house.

Elizabeth was a welcome and very much wanted baby.

As well-prepared as I had been to assume to role of father, I still felt awed by the responsibilities that came with parenthood.

Being a parent presented opportunities to grow, to open my heart and to offer to the best of my ability love, guidance, support, and assurance.

The years slid by quickly...

Elizabeth grew in beauty, intelligence, and wisdom....

We shared many simply pleasures close to home, like fishing for crawdads in the local creek with bamboo poles, kite string, and "hooks" bent from paperclips to hold bologna bait. (We returned our catches to their watery home.)

Through her high school years she became interested in horses and then dressage. Here she is on her horse, Kirby. She graduated from high school with many many honors. She went on to an Ivy League school in Pennsylvania....graduated with highest honors and Phi Beta Kappa....

And now she's in her final year of medical school at NYU.

Her many successes and accomplishments reflect well upon her and her mother, and, to a much lesser extent, upon me.

Mostly I feel honored, and privileged, and blessed, and grateful to have been given Elizabeth as my only daughter.

Happy birthday, Ishibaba.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

STRAW Training

Yesterday I took part in a day of training for teachers offered by the San Francisco Bay Institute called Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed known by its acronym, STRAW. Under this program my school will restore a local creek to enhance its ability to support life.

The day was devoted to learning about the people who lived here before European came. Coast Miwok Tribe elders shared information and led activities infused with a wisdom, compassion, and gentleness. Edward, particularly, reminded me of a Tibetan lama or a Taoist sage.

Notably absent from was any mention of the many wrongs and injustices they've suffered since the arrival of the Europeans. That's forgiveness.

"What are weeds?" Edward asked, rhetorically. "One of my favorite plants is Nettles. Lots of people think of Nettles as weeds. They sting, yes. But Nettle leaves are highly nutritious—high in calcium, protein, vitamins K, C, and D. They have potassium and magnesium. Nettle stems have strong fibers that can be made into string. Nettles are plants doing their job."

"We might say weeds are life forms that are not doing their job in the community of life.... If that's so, then we must allow ourselves to reflect, perhaps humans are weeds.... As habitat restoration workers we want to stop being the weeds."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What is There Beyond Knowing

It's been wonderful weather for walking.
I snapped this photo the other day on my afternoon constitutional.
That would be Sebastopol in the distance if it were visible.

It brings to mind this poem by Mary Oliver:

What is there beyond knowing that keeps
calling to me? I can’t

turn in any direction
but it’s there. I don’t mean

the leaves’ grip and shine or even the thrush’s
silk song, but the far-off

fires, for example,
of the stars, heaven’s slowly turning

theater of light, or the wind
playful with its breath;

or time that’s always rushing forward,
or standing still

in the same—what shall I say—

What I know
I could put into a pack

as if it were bread and cheese, and carry it
on one shoulder,

important and honorable, but so small!
While everything else continues, unexplained

and unexplainable. How wonderful it is
to follow a thought quietly

to its logical end.
I have done this a few times.

But mostly I just stand in the dark field,
in the middle of the world, breathing

in and out. Life so far doesn’t have any other name
but breath and light, wind and rain.

If there’s a temple, I haven’t found it yet.
I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass and the weeds.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Reya and Steven suggested bloggers share a page from their journals. A peek into the handwritten realm can reveal personality that blogging might conceal. Here's my offering—

I bought this journal at Spirit Rock. I liked its title.

July 27 was when this share-your-journal discussion got going
over in Reya's and Steven's blogs.
I got a package in the mail from my brother Jim that day.
It was touching and worth noting in my journal...

He sent me this copy of Drawing Made Easy.
It was the guidebook we used to guide our drawing sessions.

Jim wrote this incription. His fond memories are mutual.

He even mentions me in the forward he wrote for the re-issued edition.
A teacher's greatest satisfaction is being surpassed by his students!

By the way, if you want to see some really impressive sketchbook journaling, visit my brother's blog. Here's a link to one of the pages of his journal. People with better discernment than I possess say he's the best living master of the art of sketching. Who am I to argue with that? Check this out: Link to a post from Jim's Sketchbook

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sundown, Screens Off

My elders passed along down-to-earth wisdom:

  • Think good thoughts.
  • Eat a balanced diet of real food.
  • Enjoy the company of friends and family.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Get regular exercise outdoors.

I’m amazed by my long-standing disregard for that second-to-last piece of advice, the one about getting plenty of sleep.

I ain't alone. Plenty of people pride themselves on “getting by” on less than 8 hours of sleep. My Buddhist studies haven’t helped; among the 5 major hindrances is “sloth and torpor.” It’s get up at 5:00 to meditate even if you got to bed late the night before.

My doctor made me aware of how I was shutting me eyes to the importance of sleep. He asked me to listen to a 60-minutes audio file on sleep. The transcript is here: Sleep.

Luckily, I managed not to doze off as I listened. I learned about several scientific studies (Berkeley, Chicago, Boston) that have linked sleep deprivation to:

  1. impaired memory and cognitive ability
  2. depression
  3. high blood pressure
  4. pre-diabetes
  5. accident proneness
  6. impaired sexual function
  7. decreases of appetite-regulating hormones
  8. obesity
  9. acceleration the aging process
  10. heart disease

This list grabbed my attention. I decided to take action.

My doctor said, “I think you’ll find that every hour you sleep before midnight is worth two hours past midnight. Try to get to bed by 9:00.”

“9:00? Not possible.” I thought.

“It's possible," he said, reading my mind. "When the sun goes down, turn off all screens. TV, computers, cell phones, everything. Grab a book. Write in a journal. Meditate. Have some herbal tea. Sundown, screens off. ”

Well, maybe possible. I don’t have TV or a cell phone; my challenge has been/is/will be the computer.

Five days into this experiment, I’m getting more sleep. My mood’s improved markedly. My blood pressure numbers have come down 10 points, and I’m WAY less hungry because I'm not confusing tiredness with hunger. (When I'm sleep deprived, I really need rest. But I've misinterpreted tiredness as a need more caffeine and food energy...Where's my teapot? I want a shot of sencha to wash down a Clif bar.) I'm sure I'll backslide on this intention, fudge a bit from time to time. But it's a good rule of thumb and I'll be happy to bat 800.

Maybe screens have been eclipsing the deep and natural magic of the night.

May your dreams be sweet.