Tuesday, August 31, 2004


We're back, a little early. It will take me a while to catch up with you all!

Friday, August 27, 2004


Day before yesterday was stormy. Yesterday the seas were still high, great breakers plunging into the half-sunk rings of basalt, the whole sea-face lathered white. Huge knots of kelp, humps of lustrous tentacles the color of ancient tarnished temple bells, lay scattered across the beach, each with its attendant cloud of beach-flies. Single bronze strands glistened on the wet sand. When I stepped on them they pressed into the sand and lay there like inset enamel.

At evening a faint white mist rose over the whole heaving mass of the sea, and the setting sun, bringing light but no trace of color, lit all the sky and foam with a pale glow, as from an exalted, intensified moon. Gull Rock hovered, a featureless oblong of dark gray, above the white sea, and off to our right the cliffs of Cape Foulweather rose, the same featureless but cleanly-outlined dark gray, against the white sky.

We have seen not only the Grays -- which, I learn with some chagrin, are not the migratory population but year-round residents; other Grays migrate past in April and November, but these ones stay put -- we have seen not only Grays but also, for the first time, Orcas, smaller and darker but far more active. Smaller spouts and that unmistakeable dorsal fin flying like a war-banner. They played in the stormwater, breaching a couple of times. What the Grays thought of them, I don't know, but I pictured them irritable but fascinated, watching the Orcas with envious contempt, like the stodgy residents of a small town invaded by a Hollywood film-crew. We saw the Orcas just that one day. They're off now, no doubt, to winter in Cancun.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Gone to visit the Whales

Dear friends, I'm off tomorrow to Otter Rock for a week, and then scurrying over the Cascades and across the Eastern Oregon desert for a few days more, as far as Idaho, maybe. Maybe I'll find an internet cafe in Newport or Sisters, but odds are posts will be scant or none, till September.

I'll miss you all.

We always go down to the coast at the tail-end of summer. The gray whales go by, this time of year.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Venerable Bokar Rinpoche

I never met him, but sometimes a person will shine through other people in such a way that it feels like I have.

I'll always hold Bokar Rinpoche in my heart, for the moment when Bill suddenly softened and quoted him, holding up his hand -- unconsciously, I think -- in a teaching mudra, and in a soft resonant voice said:

"Nothing to do. Just -- nothing to do."

This from a man who of course did everything, the whole nine yards of the institutional schtick. But he held on to that knowledge, that on a deeper level there was nothing that needed to be done, nothing that needed fixing; and he conveyed it to others -- pale anxious fussy foreigners from half a world away, among them.

Monday, August 16, 2004

The Illuminated Quick

Where are you in your guts, your lungs, your brain?
I want to keep you from them,
separate you from them,
but I only find the vastness of your molecules,
the grace of your arteries,
held together by the illuminated quick
of your tears, your smile.

From Andi's Sixteen Verses

Tranquility, Unfound

Of course we can't find tranquility in our daily lives...because we define tranquility in a way that excludes our daily lives from it.

From Lorianne's Tranquility

One Grief

all our ancestors hanging by their dead mirrors
and the tools we invent to polish them,
leaving behind old days, thinking
the marbled water flows through one grief.

From N's Chance Self


And that last haunting line of N's set me thinking, what if -- what if there really is only one grief? What if time and personhood fold over, and we really come back to the same one grief, whether it's yours, or mine, or Achilles'? What if this sense of continual return is just perfectly accurate, and what we are experiencing is not new, but the hundredth return, the millionth, return, each time richer and (in this case) sadder? "You only go around once in life," says the beer commercial, and every time I hear it I think, "well, you certainly don't only go around beer commercials only once. Why should I believe what you say about life? It doesn't feel like once."

All time is irredeemable, says Eliot, if all time is equally present. I'm not sure that's true. But anyway it sort of assumes that there's only two choices: the moment is present, or eternity is present. But what if there are other choices?

Every once in a while you get someone brave or stupid enough to ask real questions, at the Sangha. One of them is -- where do all the extra modern consciousnesses come from? If there were just a few million people once upon a time, and now there are six billion -- isn't there a problem with the arithmetic, here?

And of course the orthodox answer is that this world is just one of millions, and this realm of worlds is just one of many, which makes a universe quite as disquietingly vast as that of the scientific imagination. The deficit is made up from other, depopulating worlds. But I always think, what if we're reincarnating simultaneously? What if there are really only thirty-one people, say, in the universe -- or maybe seven -- and the sullen kid lounging by the fence is actually me some forty-seven lives ago, while my barber is Martha, six lives ago?

In that case, all time is infinitely redeemable. We may be actively engaged in our own redemption, intervening in our own pasts, and in the pasts of those we love.

Do I believe this? Well, sometimes I could. Do I think it's true? Probably not. But it seems no more implausible than the story that billions of little individual consciousnesses pop up out of nowhere and wink out again. That story only seems plausible because we're used to it.

Thursday, August 12, 2004


The sun beats on me as on a drum.

They refreshed the reflective white paint of the crosswalk carelessly, so that the pavement all around it is dusted with reflective paint. As I cross the street, I walk in the center of a circular rainbow hovering, it seems, half an inch above the wavering blacktop.

Above, the pale blue sky is filled with great whorls, spiral arms made of tiny rectangular tiles of brilliant white cloud, stiff yet twisting like a Byzantine mosaic, and down by the horizon are sullen humps of distant thunderheads. I walk by exhausted rhododendrons. Pick a brown shrunken flower-corpse. To my surprise it is supple and responds to my fingers. Not dead, not stiff. Nothing can be quite dead today. Worn, fragile, faint, loved to gasping by the overbearing sun, but not dead.

I think of Paul, the best and the worst thing that ever happened to the West. Childish, quarrelsome, opinionated, overwhelmed by Love and by the insufficiency it revealed in him, the greatest poet of his age, the refractor of the mystery that walked out of Nazareth. We are made in his nervous, unstable image.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004


Kevin asked, "Why meditate?"

The stock responses come out rapidly, of course, grinning, with extended hands; the car-salesmen of the mind, crowding forward as soon as the question sets foot in the lot. I meditate in order to open space between the experience and the response. I meditate to still the mind. I meditate in order to observe just what happens in this mind of mine. But those don't answer "what motivates me to meditate?" They answer "what have I been told about why I should meditate?"

I meditate because

1) So many of the people I love most dearly, and admire most, meditate. I want to be like them. I want to be accepted by them.

2) Unfortunately -- I cringe as I write this -- I love the cachet, the sense of superiority, it gives me. "How can a person who can't even sit still with his own mind for twenty minutes consider himself an adult?" That sneer has prepared itself in my mind many times, just waiting its time. It gives me high ground, makes me special. And when I refer back to the authority of its experience, no one will really challenge me. Non-meditators can't, and meditators won't.

3) It's beautiful. As a purely sensual experience, there often really isn't, for me, much that beats it. Even the pain in my hips can be beautiful. The flowers on the shrine become brilliant. Elegant forms materialize as my eyes cross. Sounds resonate with a new intensity and clarity. My own breathing, other people's breathing, becomes the breathing of the world. And the bell, when it rings at the end of the session, is the purest single sound I have ever heard, liquid silver.

4) It takes the edge off of my compulsions, makes them more manageable. I don't really know why. Maybe it's that space opening between the experience and the response. But anyway, the correlation is beyond question, and the causation looks pretty convincing to me, too.

5) I don't want to die in terror. I want a well-known routine to swing into when my consciousness begins to shut down, regardless of whether reincarnation is a crock. If it is, no harm done. If it's not, I'll be pretty damn glad I trained.

6) I can, & do, use it to manage pain, mental and physical. I don't need novocaine at the dentist. I have something to do with grief.

7) To meditate is to believe I'm on a path, that my confusion and suffering are not permanent companions.

8) It gives me an excuse to go sit quietly by myself every day.

Many of these motivations are -- crude, to say the least. I'm sorry to report that one of the biggest motivations I'm supposed to have, one I affirm in my prayers every time I sit down on the cushion -- the aspiration to benefit all beings -- doesn't even appear. But an honest accounting struck me as maybe more valuable than the party line. Maybe someday.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


Usually when I object to being objectified, all I really want is to be objectified in a different way. I don't want to be a sex object like Bruce Willis. Of course not. Because as that sort of object, I'll lose. I make a lousy sex object. I want to be a clever object, a sensitive object, something in the Alan Alda line. I can compete there. Objectify me that way, please.

Is there a difference between wanting to be admired for being able to read six languages, and wanting to be admired for having six-pack abs? There most certainly is -- to wit, I don't have six-pack abs. Any other difference? I don't think so. It takes certain physical and mental qualities to learn languages. Likewise, to have a trained and beautiful body. Why do we call one set essential, and one superficial? Insofar as they both require a certain amount of discipline and willingness to take trouble, they're pretty much the same. Insofar as they require a knack, a certain amount of native ability, they are also pretty much the same.

As long as I want to be loved for being handsome, I will have to expect to be shunned when I am ugly. As long as I want to be loved for being intelligent, I will have to expect to be shunned when I am stupid. As long as I want to be loved for being kind, I will have to expect to be shunned when I am cruel.

If I really want to be loved as a subject -- which I do, desperately -- I will have to be a subject. I will have to stop objectifying myself. The enormity of that task becomes more and more apparent. I will have to accept love that doesn't value me at my own price, in my own way.

I want to be loved for what I am. But what is that? A slender stream of wandering thoughts and emotions. As long as I pretend to be anything else, as long as I insist of the world that it take me as anything else, then I make myself an object. And I can hardly object, then, when I am objectified. It's what I have been asking for.
Thorns and Admonitions

Wandering through this patch it's difficult to go far without getting snagged by admonitory thorns. The ones that scratch my skin, and try to keep me from from wasting my time and my love. I march on anyway, of course, but they tried:

If I can't have irregular verbs, I'd rather grunt and point.
--Language Hat

Any description of reality is an exercise in inventing differences.

The question and answer are planted
in different lifetimes. Stop.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Sister Squirrel

Among other things I lost my food equanimity, the past four days, and prowled back to the kitchen again and again, looking for more to eat -- not hungry, but desperate, frozen in a predatory state, wolfing things I don't even particularly like -- handfuls of chocolate chips, flax bread soaked in butter. It's an expression of rage, for me.

At the same time my practice, of course, came apart -- by which I simply mean I stopped it, stopped doing ngondro, stopping doing shamatha. Again a sense of being a trapped animal baring its teeth at a bulldozer.

Speaking of which, we got our neurologically-damaged squirrel off to a woman to rehabilitates wildlife down near Salem. Audobon does wildlife rehab, but not for non-native squirrels: this one of ours is apparently some aggressive city-slicker east coast squirrel that's moved into town in the last generation or two, not a trusty equable easy-going native Oregonian squirrel. (Visions of Portland hospitals admitting only Native Americans went through my head. Sure, you could take Whites or Asians or Africans there, but all they could do with them would be to humanely euthanize them.) -- (Yes, yes, I completely understand the policy, and have a measure of sympathy for it.)

Maybe our squirrel had fallen on her head. Maybe she'd gotten into some pesticide. Anyway, all she could do was run a couple paces before she fell down. You could tell plainly that sometimes she would intend to run North, and would find herself running East. Then she'd make a leap and land on her side. Sometimes her head would cant over, as though she were turning it farther and farther to catch up with a horizon that was spinning away from her. We kept her for a week, while we tried to find someone who might either take care of her or tell us that she was a hopeless case.

She hated us with all her heart. I'm pretty sure she considered that we were the ones who had done this to her, and now we were keeping her caged, as well. She drank our water and ate our nuts and apples, but she bared her teeth and made ready to die for the emperor whenever we hove in sight. Remarkable how distressing it is to have a being in your house who loathes you.
Vanishing Posts

I pulled a couple posts, towards the end of last week. One because a) its pious smugness disgusted me and b) I became vicious and irrational its comment thread; the other because it was just stupid. I was too embarassed to leave them up. Apologies to anyone whose comments got "disappeared" in the process.
Olympia, Washington, 1977

This fragile body, rotting in its bones;
The boats, snubbed by their mooring lines,
Tied and subdued on the black water;

The thunder of the travelling swans
The empty factories and scattered piers;
Twilight behind the struggling streetlights;

Slime of mud-flats, the Indian's whiskey-breath,
The echo from the pile-driver, coming back
Over the water and the shivering mud;

White boys with nicotine-yellow teeth, uneasy,
Who cut the shoulders off their tee-shirts,
And fight with the niggers from the mill;

Headlights crossing the stone bridge,
Stone dome of the capitol, salt water running,
Running in veins where the tide-stink ends;

(But the tide-stink never ends) somewhere
Far up the Sound, her Indian fisherman
Listens to a fuzzy radio, and just as she feared,

Doesn't think of her. Olympia, my years
With you have drained away. An ancient
bedspread hung for curtains caught the sun

As it set, and we made love in the golden,
threadbare light, until the night came with the sound
Of the trains, and the boom of foghorns.

We carried our hunger then, as we carry it now
Cradled to our chests, as though without care
We might lose it. How little we knew.

Saturday, August 07, 2004


Morning. Hair tousled, teeth unbrushed. Across the room, Alan asleep on the couch.

I went to pick him up from his fencing class last night. They weren't quite done, so I watched through the glass door. I know nothing of fencing, but what seems to happen is that the fencers have to stay in a marked-off oblong, like a narrow hall, and there are spotters, or umpires, or something, on one or both sides. Alan was being one of the umpires, his mask under his arm. He looked elegant, tall, and strong. Whatever he was doing, he was doing it with care and attention. A very small boy -- not much more than half Alan's height (Alan is not that much shorter than I now!) was fencing the instructor, who was patiently and skillfully, I thought, making the same rather slow attacks over and over again, until the small boy could deal with them and "touch" him.

Care and compassion come from Alan naturally. He'd never talk about it -- his talk is generally about Pokemon, Magic, anime, and computer games, ad nauseum -- but he's instinctively inclusive. That you'd "dumb down" your fencing so that a littler boy could learn without getting too discouraged is obvious to him. There was not a trace of impatience or condescension in him. He gravely did his job -- whatever it was -- with exactly the same attentiveness he'd have given to an Olympic fencer.

I realize with a pang that I don't think he knows how proud I am of him.

Friday, August 06, 2004

What I Love

What I love
Is the pain that blossoms along the thin line of awareness
And the slow obstinacy of a brooding pigeon;

What I love
Is the misunderstandings and the cross-purposes,
Malice and imagined wrongs.

What I love
Comes out of nowhere, like an unseen desperate wasp,
Jackknifing in my shoe, stinging hard.

What I love
Cannot be counted or brooked, insured or ensured,
Broken or fixed.

What I love
Is you, and you, and you, and you, and if you think I cannot,
You don't know me. Or you.

I cannot say
I will know you better. Or I will love you forever. Because
I have already loved you forever,

Dear friend. Forever.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The Parable of the Honey Jar

I flung down the spoon. "All I want," I said, "all I want is a couple drops of honey, and I can't get them! If I had a spatula I could get it out, but this damn spoon doesn't work."

Martha hefted the jar and looked at it cautiously.

"I know, I know," I said. "If I could scrape better I could get it out. It's a poor craftsman blames his tools."

"Well, maybe that's the problem," she said dubiously.

"Okay, I know," I said. The real problem is that I shouldn't be attached to honey at all."

"I suppose that might be it," she agreed. "But I was thinking it might be because this is a peanut butter jar."

Monday, August 02, 2004


I wrote this yesterday, in response to a comment thread I may have misunderstood completely. My interlocutor, by the way, said genuine human connection was nearly impossible, not impossible. I don't have time to edit this properly, even to try to mitigate the sanctimonious tone I fall into so easily, but I'm posting it anyway, because if I don't I will try to edit it, and I need to get other things done. And besides I already said I was going to post it.


I see. Yes, you're right, of course: I was getting hung up on terminology. But I agree. The thing you're calling "genuine human connection" is indeed impossible.

What does "genuine human connection" mean? It means three things, I'm guessing. One is lucid communication, that is, communication in which the receiver gets precisely what the sender is sending. This is clearly impossible in ordinary worldly relations; I suspect it's impossible even for those -- supposing they exist -- who can communicate without material mediation. Short of complete enlightenment (which is to me a purely theoretical state that I don't particularly believe has ever been or will ever be attained) such communication is impossible.

The second thing that "genuine human connection" might mean is a connection in which neither fails the other. This too is impossible in worldly relationships. The lack of lucid communication would render it so in and of itself; but even picturing a relationship in which neither ever let the other down even by the lights of such communication as they have, there's always the final betrayal. One dies, leaving the other alone. (You can make up car-crash fantasies if you like; it so seldom works that way that I don't find it interesting.)

The last thing I can conceive of "genuine human connection" meaning is, a connection which is untainted by ego-gratification. Only beings untainted by ego could pull such a thing off. I don't see a lot of those around, and I'm not expecting them to show up any time soon. As Yeats's old priest says,

...only God, my dear,
Can love you for yourself alone,
And not your yellow hair.

The concept of Refuge is a terribly important one in Buddhism. The vow that marks the difference between Buddhist and non-Buddhist is called the Refuge Vow. And the gist of that vow is the recognition that all worldly refuges fail. Including, of course, genuine human connection. So we turn away from those refuges and take refuge in something else.

Note that the pleasures of the world are not what we turn away from. Likewise human connections are not what we turn away from. What we turn away from is what we call "false refuge." "Genuine human connection" is a perfect example of false refuge, of leaning on the world for things the world, in the nature of things, simply can't supply.

There are two reasons to turn away from false refuge. One, the most important to me, is that it turns us away from true refuge, from the things called, in my tradition, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha (read, if you like, in the widest sense, "my own pure mind, the teachings of any spiritual tradition, and everyone who practices them." Or in the narrowest sense, "Siddartha Gautama, the sutras, and the great bodhisattvas.")

But there's another reason, which you don't need to get all religious to take seriously. By taking false refuge in things, you can ruin them. How many friendships have I destroyed in my life, by pushing them till they broke, by trying to make them "genuine connections?" Too many. I almost did it again recently, and I'm still white from the shock. And not just that. When do they break? Precisely when I lean hardest on them, that is, precisely when I need them most.

Sunday, August 01, 2004


If you read anything today, read Susurra's contemplation of spider love:

I wonder if I had one dance to complete, and when it was done my life was done too, how much time I would spend getting it exactly right.


This blue moon lingers, its baleful distortions running in all directions, drowning all the stars. Cold light. A travesty of peace.


To Mercy Pity Peace and Love.
All pray in their distress

Counting up the lies I have told, explicitly or implicitly, in the past few days. It comes to an impressive total. I told someone I didn't take his friendship seriously anymore. What bullshit.

Love to give or to withhold
Is not at my command.

They say that anger is like fire, but I think it's like moonlight. Making all warm comfortable intimate things into cold unrecognizable strangers. I was so angry yesterday. Misunderstood so much, misconstrued so much. And at the end -- how does that go?

Feet to the East or West may run
They patter still on the same small stone.

I could no more not take his friendship seriously than I could walk up to the moon and paint it in a nice warm color scheme.

We are taught that, while anger on our own behalf is wrong, anger on others' behalf is just fine. More bullshit. There is only one kind of anger, no matter whose behalf it's on, and it feeds on half-truths and shits poisonous pure lies. How many times must I learn that lesson, before I get it by heart, and remember it before I pour out words? Words come to me altogether too easily, too quickly.

To Mercy Pity Peace and Love.
All pray in their distress