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…

Like a River, Like a Wolf

That is creative life. It is made up of divine paradox. To create one must be willing to be stone stupid, to sit upon a throne on top of a jackass and spill rubies from one’s mouth. Then the river will flow, then we can stand in the stream of it raining down.
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

That got me thinking…

We are segregagated not only from diverse humans, but also from wilderness.

I am dog sitting downtown in St. Pete, Florida. My view is a city street, a gated condo, high-rises in the distance. There is also the park and Tampa Bay a few blocks away–pretty, but tamed. A stiffened, stifled kind of beauty. The only wildness left are the trees, the birds, the fish and occasional dolphin in the bay. Our downtown is more tree-friendly than most cities, so the bay and trees are it’s saving grace. A reminder of what is missing.

Unless we can afford to travel to it, many of us city dwellers have never been in wilderness We do not understand it, we have never gotten to know it, and so we fear it and belittle it, as is true of all segregation. Just as we force out diverse populations, we do the same with meadows, plains ,animals, mangroves, wetlands, sand dunes. In so doing, we expose ourselves to the threat nature feels from us, we are surprised by it’s push back to survive. What is unbalanced, will be balanced regardless of our wealth. The result of our need to control and tame results in poisoned manicured lawns, weirdly box-shape shrubs, flowers of one kind restricted to small mounds. All man-made, nature excluded.

What does all this cutting and pasting of wildness done to us? What I see downtown is linear and orderly, meant to make us feel secure, protected. I do not feel safe, only contained. Feeling policed and restricted by the rigid concrete and steel city squelches creativity; writers seek retreats from this in coffee houses with art on the walls, music playing, all reminders of the more rounded, integrated, nurturing spaces we lack.

Natalie Goldberg coined the phrase wild-mind to describe the creative process. A wild-mind flows like a river, making its way past boulders and branches of the controlling ego, of perfectionism, of the man-made. Creativity explores wilderness, trusting the directions given by that spirit. The creative spirit is in the miracle of grass growing without our planting. From wilderness we learn the power of mystery, of growing, blossoming, adapting according to life’s urging. We breathe only because the live oak breathes. Our cities have asthma, our breath is constricted.

Dukkha

In the Zen tradition, dukkha is often translated as “suffering,” although more often it means dissatisfaction or the nagging sense that something is off, or sometimes even existential angst. It seems that dukkha is discussed more explicitly in American Zen than it commonly has been elsewhere in the Zen world.~~Konin Cardenas, “Understanding Dukkha,” Lion’s Roar 2017

That got me thinking…

Dog sitting is my part time job. While walking Paco, the Min-Pin-Chihuahua mix, in  the sauna-like humidity of Florida summer,  I was experiencing dukkha, because my bum hip hurt and I was uncomfortable. I was also feeling guilt about my cat, Gus, home alone even though I went back daily for a few hours with him. Then there were the nagging questions common to dog sitters: what did I need from home that I forgot and what did I leave at the other condo that I need at home.

I happened upon an acquaintance, a resident of the building where I was staying. “How are you doing these days,” I asked. She answered “Going to Maine soon. I just bought a condo in Portland.” And I felt the hammer of dukkha come down hard on my mind. Envy. Dissatisfaction. 

As everyone knows, Buddha said life is full of suffering. What people misinterpret is what he meant by suffering. in addition to suffering death, disease and old age, there is the suffering brought on by our desires. This suffering is called Dukkha and is less about actual suffering, but more about unease, a sense one doesn’t have all they need. It’s about being attached to certain outcomes, desires and being disappointed when they don’t come to fruition. It’s also about the niggling little irritations, the small pains, the irritations of bad traffic or bad weather, aversion to inconvenience and craving for pleasure. And change. Most people will avoid change like the plague. We wait until our ass is on fire before we finally change what the problem may be. Dukkha can be defined as difficulties.

Some of my friends are on vacation in cool, beautiful places. Some even have lovely second homes in those places. They have financial well-being. I have Dukkha.

I’m not proud of it. I’m not homeless, I just have a lower income than my better-off friends. I don’t have much to complain about. 

Like so many others in the United States, I suffer from dissatisfaction. It arises out of a belief that I should be happy. That something is wrong with my life if I am not happy. This is the burden we inherit from the myth of the American Dream. We suffer from having too much and not enough. We even have the house, the car, the income we are told will make us happy, and yet…

So…because I am a writer, I write to face and understand things. I have ample opportunities to practice lessening the impact of dukkha on my life because I am an American. What helps other than writing? Seeing through the myth of the need for constant happiness. 

Try the attitude of accepting difficulty instead of getting aggravated by it. It’s a lot more peaceful.~~Rick Hanson, Phd. from “Just One Thing”

Alan Watts and Gus

To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, “I am listening to this music,” you are not listening.~~Alan Watts

That gets me thinking…

Gus jumps up on the window sill. A bird or fly has flashed past.

I find myself gazing out the window with him, notice the sky, the clouds, but in the next second I have left–gone into the past or the future. My body sits in the chair, but I don’t know it. I am looking at the sky, but do not see it. There are sounds outside, but I do not hear them. Gus is tuned to the vista, its colors, shapes, movement. I am not here.I come back to the present with a start–as if an alarm went off to wake me. I do not know what alerted me to life again, but usually it is nature or some creature. We acknowledge that we need dogs and pets for their unconditional love (well, maybe conditioned in Gus’s case…) but we may also need them because they bring us into the present. They offer us their presence in a way most humans cannot, see us as we are now, not as we were or could be.

I stroke Gus’s soft fur and come back into my body as I notice his warmth on my lap. Gus, I think, must always sense his body and mine. I, however, do not inhabit my body while I am lost in thought, and I am almost always lost in thought.

Gus and other creatures, it seems to me, are examples of minds that are in tune with the “primary consciouness” that Watts describes here and that Buddhists would recognize as an awakened mind:

The “primary consciousness,” the basic mind which knows reality rather than ideas about it, does not know the future. It lives completely in the present, and perceives nothing more than what is at this moment. ~~Alan Watts

What if the present moment is full of pain or grief? Ahh…That is for the next blog…

https://www.paypal.com/biz/fund?id=QTNFPBXT5AGDE