Excerpt from Walks with Yogi

# 39 Dolphins are not Manatees and I Am Not a Princess

Dolphins and dogs, like my Yogi-boy, do not need to be loved  for their youth, beauty and good behavior to be happy.  This is why I like being around them–their energy may not always be buddha-peaceful, but it always is buddha-present and buddha-accepting.

Yogi stands on the seawall, alert to a shapes and movements. The energy that comes zooming by strong and fast. The dolphin rises from the water, slaps his tail, churns the water in a feeding frenzy.  Yogi barks so hard and loud,  his body trembles along his leash.   I want him to be quiet so I can watch the dolphins fish, but Yogi has his own agenda–response to the  dramatic energy with his own dramatic energy in the moment.  No expectation of this moment, no demand that it be any other way than it is.  His clamor does not mean he wants the dolphin to be a Yogi-dog– like him.  He is simply taking part in a great exchange of energy in this moment.  The next moment may be a quiet lying-down-in- the-grass moment.pastedGraphic.png

My ego, on the other hand, sometimes wants Yogi to be a different dog–placid and quiet, so he doesn’t disturb the dolphins and the dolphin watchers.  Ego has expectations of the dolphins too–they should not be aggressive as they hunt for food; they should please us,  look up at us with gentle eyes and eat only seaweed, like manatees.  But dolphins are not manatees and, though Yogi’s big snout resembles  a manatee’s enough so we call him a Sharpei-manatee mix, he is neither peaceful manatee nor calm Labrador.   I also know that Yogi is not a cuddling dog, that he expresses affection on his own independent cat-like terms. I can love Yogi with small love, secretly wishing he was a “better” dog, a lap dog who eagerly  curls up with me, or I can  love Yogi with Big Love that accepts his own way of loving me.

Yogi and my friends teach me about Big Love, as opposed to small love.  I’ve written here before about my definitions of those–Big Love is unconditional and usually experienced with friends or kind strangers, and extended to all.  Small love has a longer definition because it has so many requirements:  small love is extended (with conditions) to one other and one’s children. Small love has conditions: be a Poodle, even if you are really a Rat Terrier; do what I want you to do and be the dog/dolphin/man/manatee or woman I believe will be perfect for me.

One of the attachments that I hope my Buddhist practice will free me of is the need for the approval.  My addiction to this type of  “love” has been almost as destructive as any drug.  I’ve felt as if I would not be able to live without it, and when I was forced to do so, the withdrawal was torture: I am not enough. I think that many people are fellow addicts, and they are abide, unhappily, in denial. It may be they knew better than I how to get their supply of small love; at least I am loved for my looks, they might think.  The dealer of the small love drug demands a payment of physical beauty or financial success; if that is missing, subservience to and care-taking of the dealer will suffice. The dealer will then marry you so your supply is promised.

On one of our morning walks Yogi obsessed about getting a dog-treat  from John, my friend Barbara’s partner.  Yogi strained at the leash repeatedly and lunged up at John’s pockets for a cookie.  Frustrated with his lack of response to my commands I finally said, half-joking,  “Don’t be a crazy dog!   Be normal!”   Barbara, his dog-godmother  said, ” But Yogi thinks ‘This is normal’–for me, Yogi.”  She loves him with Big Love, and extends the same to me and to John.

Big Love doesn’t care if I sometimes am not wise or happy, or that my hair is graying, or that I’m not always cheerful and helpful, selfless and all-nurturing–a princess.  The men I’ve known and dated all cared about those things.  A great deal.  So did I. We all rejected me when I did not fit the bill.  I have been so attached to that small love that it became an addiction and it sure cost a lot—more than I could pay.

Yesterday I got to  look into a dolphin’s round, dark curious eyes–he or she let me–while sliding by sideways along the wall looking up at me.

The other day, Nancy called to see if my bronchitis was better.

Barbara brought me soup.

John (a semi-retired doctor) listened to my lungs with his stethoscope and wrote me a prescription for a better anti-biotic than the one that wasn’t working,  to save me  an extra trip to the doctor.

Barbara told me I should never feel I am alone because she and John consider me family.

My friend Joy wrote to say she loves my blogs and is inspired to join a Mindfulness group because of them.

Last week in the grocery store check out line, I unloaded the groceries for the older woman who sat in wheel chair with her cart full of items; her smile of gratitude was more beautiful than the fake smiles of models and movie stars on the magazine rack next to us.

I can sense and see the energy I encounter  each moment without judging it as good or bad. And if sometimes I bark or am barked at, I can let go of that energy and not carry it to the next moment.  No need to demand that you be a Poodle and I be a Labrador if we are both acting like crazed Chihuahuas .   I can do the same for myself and others.  I can  swim and  float in the ocean of Big Love or sink in the swamp of small love. 

With mindfulness, I can tell the ocean from the swamp.  Without mindfulness, I sink neck-deep into the muck and wonder why I can neither swim or float .

#39:  Yogi is not a Labrador.   I am not a Princess. All is well.

In Honor of Thich Nhat Hanh

like memories,
are weightless
yet gathered
grow heavy 
cover the light.
And like the fog of old fears
tumble and build 
one upon the other.

like steam
rising from Thich Nhat Hanh’s teacup 
float out the window,
return as rain
quench the thirst of tea leaves. 
Thay teaches this:
clouds appear in teacups,
wthe fog e drink moonlight,
and can see clearly
through fog.

Not Just Another Writing Workshop:

Inspired by the Senses: Coltrane,  Whitman, and others

Not Just Another Writing Workshop:

Begins January 9

During these trying times, it can help to be inspired by wisdom and humor. If you enjoy pondering thought-provoking ideas with others and writing about those, this is the workshop for you. 

After reading inspiring quotes, on the topic of The Five Senses, we will write  short pieces on whatever we are inspired to write. Sharing what we write will be optional, but encouraged. Writing guidance will be based on Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, a proponent of “free-writing” and “writing practice.” Our final session will include experimentation with fiction, led by a USF faculty member.

For those who do not know me: I am a published writer of poetry, essays, memoir and feature writing, and have been teaching various writing courses at the college level for over twenty years.

When:          Sundays beginning January 9th to February 13th, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM

Where:        Via Zoom

Donations  $20-$50 sliding scale for five sessions

RSVP:          andapeterson@yahoo.com

Listening to Old Love Songs

 “you’re nobody til someone loves you”
Lament of the rejected child.
“I’d rather go blind than have you walk away from me”
Lament of the neglected child.
 “can’t live, if living is without you”
Lament of the abandoned child.
Love songs sung
on our knees.

Coltrane’s saxophone
refrain “a love supreme”
“a love supreme” 
sung big as the sky
notes round as the planet
call us 
to the love 
that makes the grass grow.
Love mirrored
in each other’s faces
to remind us, joined
we can wipe our tears with flowers.


Excerpted from, a blessing “For One Who is Exhausted” by John O’Donohue

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.  

Dear People,

During these trying times, it can help to be inspired by wisdom, humor and profound observations. If you enjoy pondering thought-provoking ideas with others, this is the workshop for you. Writing will be one of the ways we will share our thoughts.

This is not a workshop that focuses primarily on writing skills and techniques. We will rely on our innate creative thinking which results in our innate creative writing.It’s true! Once we guide the inner critic and perfectionist to their proper places, creativity has room to appear.

Our writing will be whatever we are inspired to write after considering reading quotes on the topic, this one being The Five Senses. Sharing what we write will be optional, but encouraged. I will also offer writing guidance based on Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, a proponent of “free-writing” and “writing practice.”

For those who do not know me: I am a published writer of poetry, essays, memoir and feature writing, and have been teaching various courses in 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. Critical and Creative Thinking, which I studied at the University of Massachusetts, has always been one of my interests.

When:          Sundays beginning January 9th to February 13th, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM

Where:        Via Zoom

Donations  $20-$50 sliding scale for five sessions

Please RSVP:          andapeterson@yahoo.com

Abenaki Trees

First, remember to
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
 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.
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:
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.       
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.


Death is Different on Weedon Island

Death on this city street 
is unnatural.
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,
by the endless
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, 
woot woot, 
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
darkened, thick
stagnant, yet  fertile
surprised by the lotus
then the flows downstream
swept clean 
until all things once hidden
by dark, churning 
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