Abenaki Trees

First, remember to
breathe
as your heart beats upon the wind mixed with your own breath, 
then let it slip through trees, slide over ponds, along the ridged backs of the mountain, the spine of the deer, the moose, the human being.    Now
exhale
 your breath and the earth’s circles the globe in gusts, and gales. 
Ask: What isn’t full of breath? 
Mud breathes. Rocks breathe.  
Science tells us that trees collect sunlight, moisture, earth and water, convert it to oxygen, exhale it from the canopies of forests.  When Henry David Thoreau needed more wildness than civilized Concord and even his beloved Walden Pond could provide, he went to the deep Maine forests.  He sought out the people called the Abenaki who lived in the deep green Maine woods.The  Abenaki’s  believed, according to Thoreau, that trees “possess a spirit as real as that of a human.”   When the Abenaki needed  to cut a tree for their shelter and transport, they asked forgiveness of that tree’s spirit and thanked it for providing sustenance.
Now
Inhale, then
exhale like a mountain,
like the ocean..
It was in Thoreau’s nature and his philosophy to know trees as the Abenaki knew them, as the very stuff of life.  For him the indiscriminate clear-cutting of the Maine woods by the white man was a tragedy, and he mourned their death. 
Still, we neglect what we cannot see:
Inhale.
Exhale, and consider this
There are two ways to notice breath:  
The first is when it demands your attention
 as you gasp for air. 
 The second is by choice, 
since the mind ignores the breath.
The mind is a noisy dive filled with drunks shouting trash talk over each other, 
 the loud band that plays the same bad music in endless loops. 
We sit on the bar stool drunk on thoughts, barely breathing.       
Now
inhale
exhale
Buddhists speak of the emptiness that is our essence.  
But how can something invisible be real? We ask as we take the next invisible breath.   
We are  full
 of what is formless.  
Our hearts charged with electricity.            
Thoreau and the Abenaki saw the living being called “tree.”  They knew its oxygenated, watery blood coursed within its rough skin.  To know a tree is more than its bark, more than that it’s fallen leaves, more than its dead fuel for fire, more than our wooden ships, more than the solid floor beneath our feet. 
Even death breathes life into the dusty world. 
This mystery is no mystery to wildness, to  the trees, whose bodies in death as are diffused as mulch and fungus and firewood that offer shelter and nourishment.
We too, exhaling our final breath, leave our minerals for new life as wind scatters our ashes into the soil.
 Exhale winter, inhale spring, exhale summer inhale autumn
Only with the great green lungs of forests, 
we breathe.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2013/08/12/211364006/this-pulsing-earth?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=share&utm_campaign=
 

Death is Different on Weedon Island

Death on this city street 
is unnatural.
Declarative 
as a gunshot.
Fatal as poverty.
Blood stains on pristine sidewalks,
a nuisance.

If I died on this city street
I would first feel tossed like litter,
like the people thrown 
out of homes
plowed over, away,
buried under
heedless highways 
trembling high rise condos.
as screaming sirens
of careening police cars,
and ambulances,
played the urban dirge.

If I died on Weedon Island,
I would be like a tree,
my body felled 
onto the forgiving sand,
reclaimed 
by the endless
transformation
as green leaves are yellowed,
wasp wings dried to powder,
my bones brittled into soil
for Spring blooming magnolia trees,
underfoot of cautious raccoons, busy sparrows, 
quiet turtles, sleepy snakes, hurried bugs.

On Weedon Island
life and death move with the rhythm of bird calls
woot woot, 
pause,
woot woot, 
pause.
Rest and rise.
Rise and rest.
So the song,
and the daylight
comes and goes
comes and goes
like the final heartbeat, 
before the first breath.

Clear Water


must first run fast
like you

it rushes, stumbles over boulders
tin cans rusted
detritus floats
under broken bridges
failed dams flood
your road
muddied
darkened, thick
stagnant, yet  fertile
surprised by the lotus
then the flows downstream
swept clean 
cleared, 
until all things once hidden
by dark, churning 
waters
are visible
in stillness.


Why We Long for a Room with a View

At 6:30 AM from my balcony, behind the palms and under the oaks, the sky is deep orange and pink. The trees look black in this still-soft rising light. Out here there are no problems only trees, birds, breezes and flowers. This is true no matter what problem I was keeping alive indoors. Once I step out into the world, letting go simply happens with no effort on my part. The air, the rising sun, the plants, and trees absorb my anxiety, coax me to breathe again, to open my heart and drop my mask. The energy coursing in everything, including me, is silent.  The only sounds that come and go at this hour are mockingbird songs, doves cooing, parrots and crows squawking, an occasional car growling down the street.

The air is exceptionally cool for this time of year in Florida and this would be an ideal time and place for meditation.  But I have my coffee cup in my hand and still feel groggy.  It occurs to me that I could keep my eyes open for this mediation and use the sky as my meditation focal point.

It’s a clumsy meditation; I am primarily caught by my chaotic thoughts. Eyes open I know the answer is to look up and remember the sky—just the sky. Wide open and empty—such relief.  I watch my mind:  thinking, thinking, sky, thinking, thinking, sky…:  cluttered mind, open sky. Well, what do you know… That spaciousness that the Buddha talks about is just outside my door.

 Everything humans needed was once just outside their shelter. 

Even now after white people, like myself, have stolen the land from the Native Americans, carved it up, depleted its soil, paved it over, built buildings that dwarf the remaining trees, and still “dream” of owning what land that remains and still build yet more structures to “protect themselves from the “wilderness” from “the elements—even now we need windows, French doors, open floor plans, space, lots of space.

Why do we so long for more room, a vista, a view?  Maybe we long for home:  the space in which life flows, effortless.  We are homesick. We miss the sky, the birds, and the open plains of grasses. The Native Americans and the white settlers were never simply different colored skins in bodies.  We shared a true home as the Native Americans tried to tell us: the space that is complete and filled with only what is real and needed. The place that is everywhere, filled with the knowledge of water and fire, of animals and insects. We think we covet any place with a view.  We pay top dollar to see mountains or ocean as if they were pictures in a museum—not live, not real.  We “enjoy the view” before we return to a reality that is covered in concrete.

We sit in our offices or our living rooms and long for what we call “vacation.”  W call it “recharging our batteries” —not such an exaggeration since we have forgotten the source of our energy.  Where do we go to “recharge”?  Outside.  Out to breathe again. Out to be quieted by mountains and lakes.

We return to what is “full” of life:  commerce, chatter, control, capital and terror.  We fear what is empty because even as we yearn for it, we have forgotten what spaciousness really is.

There are no such things as emptiness in the world.  Even in the sky there were no vacant places.  Everywhere there was life, visible and invisible, and every object possessed something good for us to have also—even the stones…The world teemed with life and wisdom; there was no complete solitude for the Lakota.  —Luther Standing Bear

We yearn for what we destroyed—our true selves, our true home.  We did not know we were destroying a part of ourselves that shares our atoms with every other living thing.   We scramble to the beaches to bask in simplicity and non-doing.  We rush to what is left of the wilderness to “get away from it all,” but not for long. We set aside so little time for our return home; we give it so little meaning.  The Native American knew her/his body was of the soil, the water, the fire, the air.  Buddhists know the same and meditate on the elements that pulse and move in the aggregate body we think is so solid.  The Buddhist Forest Monks in Thailand sit in the charnel grounds watching the body’s elements fly into the air, flow to the ground, settle back into the soil.  They sit on the ground meditating.

The man who sat on the ground in his tipi meditating on life and its meaning, accepting the kinship of all creatures and acknowledging unity with the universe of things, was infusing into his being the true essence of civilization.  —Luther Standing Bear

When I was in college in the 70’s, we learned of  various Native American elders and shamans who had called for people to forgo their walled compounds and recognize the physical and spiritual bounty of earth. Some of us went to live from the land and leave the cities behind.  But we were no match for the minds warped by the power and wealth the European ancestors passed down as a soul sickness to their 20th century relatives.

When the Earth is sick, the animals will begin to disappear, when that happens, The Warriors of the Rainbow will come to save them.”—Chief Seattle, Dwamish

Perhaps the “rainbow warriors” who were prophesied to save Mother Earth and its creatures are among us. Their numbers are growing: patient and persistent environmental activists and “warrior bodhisattvas” who promise to remain with us, and guide us until we are awake again.

But why should I mourn at the untimely fate of my people? Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless. Your time of decay may be distant, but it will surely come, for even the White Man whose God walked and talked with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We will see. —Chief Seattle, Dwamish

Death is Different on Weedon Island

Death on this city street

is unnatural.

Declarative 

as a gunshot.

Fatal as poverty.

Blood stains on pristine sidewalks,

a nuisance.

If I died on this city street

I would first feel tossed like litter,

like the people thrown 

out of homes

plowed over, away,

buried under

heedless highways 

trembling high rise condos.

as screaming sirens

of careening police cars,

and ambulances,

played the urban dirge.

If I died on Weedon Island,

I would be like a tree,

my body felled 

onto the forgiving sand,

reclaimed 

by the endless

transformation

as green leaves are yellowed,

wasp wings dried to powder,

my bones brittled into soil

for Spring blooming magnolia trees,

underfoot of cautious raccoons, busy sparrows, 

quiet turtles, sleepy snakes, hurried bugs.

On Weedon Island

life and death move with the rhythm of bird calls

woot woot, 

pause,

woot woot, 

pause.

Rest and rise.

Rise and rest.

So the song,

and the daylight

comes and goes

comes and goes

like the final heartbeat, 

before the first breath.

Inspired Writing Workshop: The Wisdom of Transformative Stillness, Leonard Cohen, Pico Iyer, Pablo Neruda

*Not only for experienced writers. Join in even if you don’t think you can write!. You will surprise yourself!

Dear People,

During these trying times, it can help to be inspired by wisdom, humor and profound observations. For those who do not know me: I am a published writer, and have been teaching writing at the college level for the past twenty years.  I’ve always found inspiration for my own writing from writers and thinkers, and so am offering these workshops to inspire your own thinking and writing.

In this workshop, we will read short inspiring selections from many wisdom traditions then discuss one of these before we write. Some of the excerpts will be philosophical, some disturbing, some comforting, others just playful or funny.

Our writing will be whatever we are inspired to write after our discussions. Sharing what we write will be optional, but encouraged. I will also offer writing guidance based on Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, and others.

Here is an example of a quote we might discuss and write about:  If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

When: Each Sunday September 5-26,  3:00 PM – 4:15 PM

Cost:  Sliding scale according to need, from $20-$50.

If interested, please reply to this blog or to andapeterson@yahoo.com

Weedon Island Morning


Life
On Weedon Island is different
from man—made places.
In the shade, beneath a tin roof
at a green wood picnic table
we sit and write among the living world:
live oaks, saw palms, cautious raccoons, 
tall, naked pines festooned with hats of pine needles
flitting sparrows, quiet turtles, hurried bugs
soft feathers of a breeze stroke our shoulders.
above, the blue sky is cloudless this morning.

Death
 on Weedon Island is different 
living and dying linked 
as dry yellowed leaves and grasses
turn to fertile mulch 
for Spring blooming magnolia trees.

On Weedon Island are no losses
like the finality
of gunshots
people lost and tossed
from neighborhoods
plowed away
soil and sand pushed 
under shaking condos.

Here 
we are held as if in a hammock
rocked gently by
rhythms of bird call
woot woot, pause, woot woot, pause.
The song, the bird, the daylight
beginnings and endings
come and go
come and go
like the first 
and the last
breath.

Chihully Glass #2

Concerning matter, we have been all wrong. What we have called matter is energy, whose vibration has been so lowered as to be perceptible to the senses. There is no matter.”

― Albert Einstein


That got me to write this poem....


This is the mystery 
of energy 
enough to ignite
colored shards of glass  
a fire fountain 
of blues and reds   
spill into a fused stillness. 

The same mystery 
waits   
in the candle wick,
the match
the dry kindling.

Brutus, Gus, a Slime Mold and Me

Bruts head shot at beachIMG_0781

The Western mind draws a sharp boundary between humans and the rest of the world….for the Western mind, it is hard to recognize mind in animals, whereas for the Japanese mind, it is hard not to do so.~~Semiotician Yoshimi Kawade, written in 1998

That quote gets me to thinking…

Brutus, the lab mix that I often dog sit, sends me love with a look. He and I look directly, usually silently, into each other’s eyes each time we want to tell each other something. It’s simple. Direct. Clear. A type of mind reading. I’ve learned from dogs and cats how much can be said by the eyes.

With Brutus and Gus, the tiger-striped cat, words are seldom necessary even though I use them out of habit. Brutus and Gus hear me make sounds. Brutus looks at me patiently until I make myself clear.; Gus is less patient and will walk off unless I add a treat to the sounds.

I think, that people need dogs and cats for more than the unconditional love (well, conditioned as for Gus the cat)—we get sick and tired of talking.

Or we can’t stop talking around people and can only be quiet with our pets. Words are hard to come by. The right ones. Words can be so difficult to find. Those we speak are often the ones we repeat out of habit; they aren’t the words available, or even appropriate often, in the present moment, if we took the time to notice those.

People don’t listen for the most part. Dogs listen. They learn the meaning of words.directed to them. When I say “car” or “beach”  or “cookies” to Brutus, he comes to a happy attention. Have we learned any language from other animals in the same way?

Our words come from minds filled with past and future, so how accurate are they? How wise? Meanwhile, my stock and trade is, ironically, words; I’m a writer and a teacher. However, I’ve been investigating the mind in the way of the as a Buddha and I am starting to see its limitations.

Intelligence in Nature, An Inquiry into Knowledge, by Jeremy Narby,  an anthropologist, is filled with words for 243 pages. Since they are written instead of spoken, they have been carefully chosen and re-thought many times; writing can be a more clearway to use words than speaking. Narby writes about the intelligence he and other scientists, have discovered in creatures great and minuscule (like nematodes). “A slime mold,” he writes,” in a maze has the capacity to apprehend its situation and act on its knowledge.” He makes the point that there are more forms of intelligence than we ever dreamed of. A Western mind has to overcome hundreds of years of the myth of human intellectual superiority.

Recently I read in Narby’s book that “Information of one kind or another is consistently circulating in nature, in particular in the form of biochemical molecules. The world is streaming with signs. Not so long ago, some people considered the use of signs a specifically human trait.”

All this is to say, that I am searching as I write: what is nature telling me? What is it I am missing? Can I become better at reading the signs life is posting? We’ll see…