from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Walden Pond moments

It may be when we no longer know what to do,
We have come to our real work,
And that when we no longer know which way to go,
We have begun our real journey.
      Wendell Berry

I aspire to a life of simplicity (or at least I think that I do), and yet in practice my life is stuffed full of complexity and complications. This is partly life in the Western world in the C21st, and partly circumstantial: to do with family health issues as much as a varied and rich working life, and the sheer number of people I care about as well as the sheer number of things I do (not least help The Man manage our two acres, on which we grow a lot of our own food – in itself a full-time job, but we both have those too).

And behind all this is my own passionate engagement with and emotional attachment to everything: people, animals, this world, ideas. It's hard for me to simply let things be and not be losing myself in the next thing or person of interest.

And of course the Buddha's teachings on suffering were specifically to do with losing ourselves – that is, sight of our true essential nature – in our attachments or aversions to whatever comes into our life. The skill lies in engaging deeply without buying in to the need to grasp or reject. (Sounds easy, doesn't it??)

I have few Walden Pond moments, where I simply sit and gaze all day, and they're so crucial. (I can't find the quote I'm thinking of from Thoreau, but here's his 'manifesto': 'I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life...' Henry David Thoreau.)

So much more crucial then that I take time out to remember stillness, silence, a degree of equilibrium in relation to how everything simply is.

Sunday was such a day. I was leading my Zen mindfulness and poetry day workshop, and part of the intention was to slow down and simply be with how things are, right here, right now. I wanted the day to be about silence, stillness, the gaps in between, and the words that arise.

I opened the day with a definition of mindfulness: waking up, being aware,  paying attention to the present moment, with all of yourself, on purpose. ‘Mindfulness is the final common pathway of what makes us human, our capacity for awareness and self-knowing,' says Jon Kabat-Zinn. 'It requires that we are motivated to realize who we actually are and to live our lives as if they really mattered, not just for ourselves but for the world.' K-Z and Thoreau both, then. 

And we wrote. Some of the lovely participants kindly agreed that I might use some of their writings, especially the haiku and haibun on which the day rested. So here they are, with thanks to the authors:


Weighted with apples
branches curve back
towards earth

walking on acorns -
even this old oak
is in with a chance

I'm done with words
for the day - the trees
are what they always were

I'm surrounded by books, ranged and stacked on shelves, quietly leading their uninterrupted bookish life. I could open any one and begin a journey that might last an hour, a day, a life. A chamber with so many doors leading to so many paths - which key to turn? The hornets in the nest under the eaves are paper-makers: they feed on willow, digest bark and pith, adding page after tiny page to their dwelling place - a paper-house:

                                                                          words/ paper/ flight
                                                                          exits and entrances
                                                                          of thought.

(Chris Waters)


Deep rutted track winding down between hazel
Water flowing past knows no boundaries
I fight regret to learn what it could mean for the present

Mottled leaves of family hide in the wings

Strange bonds cannot be cut yet endlessly become thinner
How can I make them smile?

Yellowing tree leaf

Dead runner bean stick
Nausea in my belly

Green tea in the pot

Bitter first cup refreshes
Second drains empty

Contrail across sky

Bare tree below
My view behind glass

Toxic elements

Lurk beyond shadow edge
Why pursue their harm?

Many green hues hill

Dissected by muddy paths
Walking boots under table

Fly sticks to window

Invisible barrier to freedom
I wait for lunch

(Colin Trier) 

autumn leaves falling off
my father forgets
his children’s names

the Buddha looks on

stony faced

waiting for me to catch up

trees line the horizon
a crow rustles
in tangled foliage

(Louisa Tomlinson)

You drop your mask
& I’ll drop mine
& we’ll find the full moon on our shoulders.

(Su Scotting) 

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