Friday, April 30, 2010

Sweet Rains

Soaring human achievements
In music, poetry,
Visual and performing arts,

Toolmaking so sophisticated
Our imagination reaches
Beyond our sacred home

We peer down,
Deeply down, to the genome.
Our talents intoxicate us,

We ignore what we must bear in our hearts.
We owe so much to so much
More than our hands our brains—

We are in eternal debt to plants.
We've borrowed from a thin
Skin of atmosphere,

From a six-inch dusting of topsoil,
From trees and their kin,
Soft sun, and sweet rains.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Clarity, A Haiku

Ignorance obscures
Clarity of mind present
Always above clouds.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Reflections on Walking

 The Laguna as seen from the bridge.

Our town offers a walking program on Saturday mornings once a month. Today we joined with about 40 other walkers on a photography walk that began in the center of town and moseyed through the industrial section and then through some of the neighborhoods.

We ambled almost three miles in three hours stopping frequently to capture pictures of interest. I took more than 50 photos while making a half a dozen new acquaintances and getting better acquainted with a number of people I've met before. Everyone seemed to have a wonderful time getting to know each other better and noticing beauty in places we ordinarily don't look for it.

Not surprisingly, we took photos of pretty things like roses growing along the sidewalks in a friend's front yard.

We photographed many metal sculptures, for our town has a lot of artists, especially ones who work in metal. This pelican was in the yard of one of our walkers named Walter. (I have another Walter friend now.)

We took photos of subjects we might ordinarily ignore like this graffiti message painted on a motor home:

When I see peeling paint, I usually think about how much work it would be to strip it all off and put the building in good repair. But today, I saw a leering dinosaur in there:

Rust is often beautful. We probably find rust beautiful because we've got iron rusting in our blood.

I cropped the photo below to serve as the banner background of this blog:

The best part of the walk for me was meeting new people. I spent about half the walk in the company of a little girl, Sarah P., who just turned five years old. It's easy for me, a kindergarten teacher, to strike up a conversation with five year olds. Within 60 seconds, we were deep in conversation about the importance of the final "h" in her name and how her friend, Hannah's name——which also has a final "h"——is a palindrome. She hadn't known that word before, but she understood the concept immediately and she is the kind of kid who would remember its definition upon her first encounter with it.

"You know," I said, "I think we ought to find a new name for palindromes. The word for a palindrome should itself be a palindrome, don't you think?"

She thought it over and decided that yes, I was right. "Then it would show what it means," she observed.

Just then, a look of alarm crossed her face. She looked up to her mother, who was walking with us, and asked, "Mom, I'm talking to a stranger! Is that O.K.?" (How sad, I think, that we've decided to teach our children to be so afraid of people! Most people I know——the vast, vast majority——are decent, loving, and trustworthy. It's a shame, I think, to give kids the impression that just about anyone they meet is likely to do them harm.)

"Sarah," I said. "I'm not a stranger. I'm married to the Mayor of this town, and I'm a kindergarten teacher. And I just met your mom on this walk. My name is Mr. Gurney."

"Yes, Sarah," her mother reassured her. "You may talk to him." And so we talked and walked, walked and talked. She knew the names of dozens of the flowers we passed. She shared her fresh and confident point of view with me, a willing and interested listener. She picked dandelion flowers for me, little gifts. I put their stems through the buttonholes of my shirt, little "Don't worry, Be Happy" buttons.

In the end, I came to feel we all need a lot more beauty and a lot more company in our lives. We need to learn to trust ourselves and to trust each other more.

Walking with our neighbors is a good beginning.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

April's New "Sprouting Grass" Moon

Today is the new moon of April, the Sprouting Grass Moon. It won't be visible for a little while, but in two weeks it will move across the circle of our sky and be full.

I've been thinking about moons, circles, and hearts....

The Enzo- which looks like a moon,

And what Black Elk said:

You have noticed that everything as Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round.

The Sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours.

Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.

And I've been thinking that we try too hard to know things with our heads. What we can get in our heads isn't all that important. I think there's more payoff in learning things by heart, for heart. Heart "knowing" is sweeter, deeper, warmer.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gaia's Jewelry

Frost on the windshield of my Subaru, March 10, 2010, 7:15 AM

My blog buddy, steven, recently posted photos of ice crystals on golden fish. He got me thinking about the last real frost we had here in California. steven, this poem's for you.


As if she were a master jeweler,

Gaia, worked through the wee hours

before dawn on March 10th

Her workbench was simple:

the windscreen of my Subaru

(a car named after the Pleiades!).

She feathered water crystals

Across the glass

With loving attention to detail

Was she simply bestowing upon me

A Random Act of Kindness,

A Senseless Act of Beauty?

Or was she trying to show me

That she could make miracles

From nearly nothing,

As if they were nothing?

Did she create such beauty—

Without sleep,

Out in the dark,

Out in the cold.

Without fuss, without

Any expectation of recognition

To put a bold

Wonder in me?

As she spread her fine filigree,

Did she wonder—

Would I blindly spray

the hose or splash

a pail of water on her opus,

as if I saw her toil as

just another annoying delay

on my way

to work?

What Gaia wondered, I cannot say.

What I wondered, though,

I know:

If she can lovingly spin jewels for me

Who am I not to lovingly spin jewels for everyone,

Everything, everywhere, and everywhen?

"Generosity is giving more than you can. Pride is taking less than you need." —Kahlil Gibran

Monday, April 12, 2010

A "Perfect" Haiku

After just one week of vacation away

from kindergarten

I must put myself through

exacting psychological adjustment.

I must do what

is required of any kindergarten teacher.

We adults who must dive back into

the universe as it appears

through the eyes

of a five year-old child.

A kindergarten teacher must

clear away mental clutter

 so that he can share the news

of, say, a new loose tooth

as if a loose tooth

were the most important event of a lifetime.

For from a student’s point of view,

a new loose tooth IS earthshaking news.

I was trying to empty my mind late last night.

Sleeplessly because thunderheads

Were emptying themselves on my town.

Rain flooded the Laguna.

Here is what the Laguna looked like before the rain:

 And here is how it looked this afternoon, after the rain.

Sleepless in last night’s deluge,

I decided to compose a perfect haiku.



Five syllables

Seven syllables.

Five syllables.

With alliteration,

With rhyme.

A theme inspired by nature.

A single image.

And one that would help me

Remember how important

a loose tooth really is.

(A loose tooth would be earthshaking in my mouth at my age!)

The Haiku I composed

In the wee hours last night

Seemed like inspired genius.

After a cup of tea at breakfast.

It seemed somewhat less brilliant

Anyway, here’s my







Rainy, rainy, rain
Rainy, rainy, rainy rain.
Rainy rainy, rain.

I’ll bet my kindergartners would like it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Share the Joy

Not long ago, I was at a lecture about sustainable farming. The speaker pointed out, perhaps somewhat indelicately,

“You’ve heard people say, you are what you eat. That’s not quite right. You are what you don’t defecate.”

That night I became keenly aware that our bodies have the wisdom to get rid of useless, harmful stuff. It's what they do. When we eat junk food and the like, our bodies put the junk in the toilet.  Our bodies are so wise. We must take care of them so they work as they're meant to work.

But what about our feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness?

We must deal with more than toxic “food” for the body. We must also rid ourselves of toxic material for the mind: harmful images, thoughts, music, and so on. Much of it will come via the Internet, television, and the radio.

How do we our detoxify this stuff? At what cost?

My guess is that we disassemble much of it in our dreams. We forget stuff, too. If we have a place in our homes for a meditation practice, perhaps it serves the heart much as the bathroom serves the body.

As a blogger, I’ve come to appreciate more and more the importance of lifting up the spirits of my readers. Blog friends have helped me learn this.

We have the responsibility to share the good, to, as steven at golden fish said in a comment on this blog recently, to “bring the greatest goodness i can into this world in whatever time i am given.”

Thich Nhat Hahn writes:

Writing is a deep practice. Even before we begin writing, during whatever we are doing—gardening or sweeping the floor—our book or essay is being written deep in our consciousness. To write a book, we must write with our whole life, not just during the moments when we are sitting at our desk. When writing a book or an article, we know that our words will affect many other people. We do not have the right just to express our own suffering if it brings suffering to others. Many books, poems, and songs take away our faith in life. You people today curl up in bed with their walkmen [iPods today] and listen to unwholesome music, songs that water seed of great sadness and agitation in them. when we practice Right View and Right Thinking, we will put all of our tapes and CDs that water only seeds of anguish into a box and not listen to them anymore. Filmmakers, musicians, and writers need to practice Right speech to help our society move again in the direction of peace, joy, and faith in the future.

—Thich Nhat Hahn,  The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, (Parallax Press, 1998) pg 83-84

Bobby McFerrin lifts spirits in this clip of Ave Maria. It sure lifted my spirits this rainy Sunday morning. If you've got four and a half minutes to cheer up your heart, I invite you to share the joy.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tree's Reflection

I took a walk and, crossing the bridge over the Laguna and looking down, I saw this tree looking in the mirror.

I can't blame her. She is so pretty!

Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos—the trees, the clouds, everything.
—Thich Nhat Hahn

Friday, April 9, 2010

Teachers Touch Tomorrow

I took a walk this afternoon and decided to post an email I got a week ago.

My purpose in writing this post is to encourage anyone who might be considering teaching as a career. Surely anyone who thinks about teaching as a life's work is going to run into a flurry of uninvited discouraging comments.

I staggered through plenty of discouragement when I was chose to be a teacher, and that was a LONG time ago.

There is no need for me to repeat all the reasons why teaching is a tough job. I know it's tough. And yes, if after twenty years of teaching, your kids want to go to college, you'll probably end up having to work a second job or to start a moonlight business. (I'm speaking, here, from personal experience.)

Teaching, like any art, is a calling. Like any art, teaching has intrinsic rewards. You might just touch the future.

For example, this email*, printed below. It's talking about a CD that I give as a gift over the winter holiday break, a disc that includes the Deeply Beautiful song I posted yesterday.

Hi Dan:

I just wanted to say thank you so much for the CD that you gave to the kids at Christmas time. You deserve to know how much love and happiness it has brought to our family.  It started with me and the kids rocking out to it on Saturday mornings. Next it became a cornerstone to our drives to and from school. It never failed to change the low energy on the way to and from school. I absolutely loved that. Later, it became captive to my mom in her car…. And she was very reluctant to give it up. Now, that I have it back….. I have become addicted to repeating the songs over and over and over, yes, even when I’m riding solo.

It’s my new Bob Marley…. Really. The kids have quickly caught on to my addiction, and they are loving it as much as I. I’ve been struggling with my grandfather who’s been very sick in San Diego. Many of my Tuesday’s lately  have been catching a 5 AM plane down there to get a 4 PM flight back in order to make it back for my 6 PM class.  Your CD reminds me to keep my energy up, and to not let me own struggles affect the energy of others – especially my kids.

Can’t tell you enough, how many times it has been your CD that has kept it all in perspective for me.  Not just your CD, but my favorite part of my day is walking into your classroom with you and your guitar. It melts me to the ground when I hear you sing the song,  This Little Light of Mine….. it was my grandmother’s favorite.

My daughter and I have many, many great memories singing Bob Marley’s song, Three Little Birds together. When you sing that song it takes her to a very happy place. Last summer we would share my iPod to that song as we walked across campus, singing at the top of our lungs while no-one else could hear the music…. Just us.

Anyhow, sometimes we do things our way, it’s just part of who we are. And we have no idea how much it means or affects others. So I just wanted you to know how much we cherish all the good, happiness and love that you offer to everyone.

If anything was learned in Kindergarten, that is the most valuable lessons I think that anyone can learn. And by starting school with that great energy, I know that S. will carry through her lifetime.

Thank you for being such an amazing person.

 *edited slightly to preserve the anonymity of its author

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Singing You're Deeply Beautiful

Right now I’m on spring break from teaching kindergarten. I sing a lot at work.

I'm missing my friend, Walter, and missing him made me realize that I’m also missing singing.

So I got out my guitar this morning. I’m singing for you, my bloggy buds.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Authenticity and No Self

Bonnie, over at Original Art Studio (link at right or right here) got me thinking about authenticity as a blogger. I left a comment there that developed into this post below. Thanks, Bonnie!!

What (who?) is my real, authentic self?

I ask myself that question as a husband, a father, a friend, a kindergarten teacher and as a blogger, too.

The answer is the same for all my “selves.”

I'm most authentic when I don't wish to take back my words, or to undo what I’ve done.

Many times I have heard someone say something mean or hurtful, followed, eventually, by a recantation like, "I’m sorry. I didn't really mean the hurtful words I said."

I've done this myself.

How authentic were my mean words? How authentic was my apology? Just wondering.

From a Buddhist point of view there is no "self." Seen from this very helpful perspective, the issue of authenticity shifts, lightens up, and even disappears, sort of.

Sort of, because I've learned—the hard way—to force myself to become familiar, even friendly with, my "shadow side,” the dark, negative, angry, sad, and scary realms within. Darkness doesn’t like being lit up with mindfulness. Fear, anger, sadness—they don't like being lived with, looked at, tolerated, accepted. They lose their power when I'm able to sit with them. Poor babies. Poor monsters under my bed.

So the question remains. Given my multifaceted "self," what facets do I want to display to my family, to my friends in real life, to my readers in blogland and to my students in kindergarten?

Maybe karmically that is the key question for me: What sort of person do I wish to be as I stand up in kindergarten as a teacher of very young and very impressionable children?

That's easy. I wish to share the positive, uplifting, optimistic facets. These facets are solidly genuine, really authentic, and surely worthy of sharing. And they’re the facets of me I wish to cultivate.

I’ll look under my bed in private.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Walter, My Good Friend.

My good friend in the Dharma, Walter Blum, died yesterday, Easter Sunday at 2:20 in the afternoon. Two daughters, two granddaughters, and his close friend and neighbor, Tiaga, were with him as he passed away peacefully.

 Walter loved life and he loved food, right up to the end.

Walter was a real inspiration for me. His example teaches us that we can continue to open our hearts and live life with gusto even into our eighties.

Walter did not come to the Dharma until comparatively late in his life. After retiring from his metal wholesaling business near New York, Walter moved to California. He first studied at the San Francisco Zen Center some decades ago. He stayed in contact with that community, going to retreats at Green Gulch and Tassajara, even after moving to Sonoma County where he lived in a cabin up on Cherry Ridge Road with a view south towards San Francisco.

The view from behind Walter's cottage as it appeared this morning, April 5, 2010.

Walter walked the Eightfold Path at an age when many people seem content to sit in front of a television set. 

I first met Walter when he served as the substitute Dharma teacher at Bruce Fortin’s Occidental/Laguna Sangha here in Sebastopol. I can remember feeling a rush of joy when I would see Walter sitting up front there on Sunday mornings. Walter’s Dharma talks were memorable, down-to-earth first-person stories about stumbling and fumbling his way along the Eightfold Path. Walter's stories were hilarious. Just as often, sometimes just moments after he'd have us rolling in laughter, Walter might tell a story that would bring him (and us) to tears. I remember many times when he’d have to pause, take some deep breaths, pull out a handkerchief, wipe away his tears, and say, “Look at me! I’m the Town Crier!” He’d smile, tuck the handkerchief back in his pocket, take a few more breaths, and go on.

Later, I knew Walter as a member of Sebastopol’s Sutra Salon. Walter contributed his unmistakable enthusiasm for the Discourses, particularly the Vinaya. He was deeply fond of the Vinaya. Perhaps he liked the Vinaya so much because it recounts the foibles and misadventures of the bhikkus who first followed the Buddha. Walter kept us all going that year.

Last year as our Sutra Salon slogged through the denser books in the Flower Garland Sutra’s 1400 pages, it was Walter who was the one who would offer some encouragement and express some enthusiasm for our yearlong journey through that sometimes strenuous text.

Walter at his front door. "Come on in!"

Walter and I took individual instruction Monday afternoons from DharmaJim. It was then, during those sublime and memorable Monday afternoons that I came to feel really close to Walter as a fellow traveler on the path. We maintained a Dharma reading practice and studied the Awakening of Faith together.

I asked Walter to join the Society of Friends of the Buddha as a founding member when I first started it up two years ago. He attended many meetings, and on occasion he would bring along his beloved granddaughter, Emily. (He spoke about Emily with so much love that I insisted he invite her to our meetings.)

When Walter and Emily sat together in meditation, it seemed as if I could see the warm glow of love emanating from Walter’s heart chakra. Love that strong is palpable. At our Society of Friends of the Buddha meetings, we discuss basic Buddhist teachings. The lesson Walter would draw from most of these Buddhist teachings would be these words or some close variation of them: “It’s all about opening the heart, Dan! Just open your heart! Open your HEART!”

Walter's heart is now opened up all the way. He is now the first of our group to begin his journey beyond this earthly life to a Pure Land beyond. Friends like Walter don't come along too often.

The rarity of good friendship makes us treasure it with special fondness.

Walter, I will hold your memory close and try to embody the love you gave me.

Walter, my friend, may the journey you've just begun be sweet, lovely, and full of joy.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Morning Worship, an Etheree Poem

To worship
Easter Sunday.
As we sat inside
In warm, still, reverence
Cold, wind-driven rain appears.
Downspouts chattered, car tires hissed, splashed.
Walk home under small, black umbrella
My shoes were soaked by Mother Mary’s tears.

Consisting of ten lines, the Etheree poem starts with a one syllable line, then adds one syllable per line, until the last line of ten syllables for an overall syllable count of 55. In other words the syllabic structure is as follows: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. It’s an uncomplicated, unpretentious form of poetry that has the quality of slowly opening, like a flower.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Rice by Mary Oliver

At our meeting last Tuesday, Christian talked about a book by Mary Oliver of which I had not been aware, The Poetry Handbook. Ah, I'm so glad to have a library card; I shall put it on order Monday.

He also shared this poem by Mary Oliver. It's been sticking with me since then, especially that sixth line...

By Mary Oliver

It grew in the black mud.
It grew under the tiger's orange paws.
Its stems thicker than candles, and as straight.
Its leaves like the feathers of egrets, but green.

The grains cresting, wanting to burst.
Oh, blood of the tiger.

I don't want you to just sit at the table.
I don't want you just to eat, and be content.
I want you to walk into the fields
Where the water is shining, and the rice has risen.
I want you to stand there, far from the white tablecloth.
I want you to fill your hands with mud, like a blessing.