Reflections on Metta and Dana

Reflections from the Spring Equinox retreat from some participants.

Reflection on Metta and Dana by Mike den Haan

The grand tree,

open to all visitors,

its trunk injured by

lightning long ago.

Many long branches,

held in place,

reaching out

to hold, invite, embrace.

Entangled roots

connecting everywhere,

sharing stories,

nourishment, energy.

Pine needles and sap.

Lichen and bark.

Source for woodpecker.

Mark for bear.

Nest for robin.

The elder, tree

beckons to consider a truth:

benevolence.

Our souls join.

Linda Atwater

From a Deep Pool    by Daniel Lefebvre

Sound of flowing water, gentle breathing  

As baby’s breath, opening the heart echo  

To the wordless fragrance of life,  

Silently touching tenderly only with your eyes  

Aaah…. Such kind eyes, sparkling at times with Crow’s feet,  Whisper a generous patience and acceptance  

A lightness of being radiating out  

Perspiring a posture of receiving all  

Open your heart to a soulful melody  

To desire for oneness, for peace of mind  

Banish any thought that disturbs the mirror image  

Of a deep pool reservoir, overflowing with Hagia Sophia *  

Absorb the essence of God’s Love for self and all beings  Breathe; be open to the movement of the Spirit  

* presence of the Divine Feminine

The Noble Path

Death Valley at sunset.

Shifting gears from being on the road to settling into a regular householder rhythm, has given me the opportunity to deepen my relationship with Jeff in our paradisiacal home, have a regular rhythm to practice, study, work on the land, and to cultivate ease. In addition the morning meditation sangha has flowered, with a regular cast of characters and very welcomed drop-ins from new folks. I miss a lot about being a Grateful Roadwarrior, but the joy of being in a home that doesn’t change frequently has brought expanded joy. I will be writing weekly about the practice in the Sangha and have begun a short fiction inspired by the journey that I will share here as it unfolds.

Right View

During the morning meditation sessions with the Sangha of the Pandemic, we have been reflecting on the Four Noble Truths introduced by the Buddha 2600 years ago: 

1) There is suffering

2) There are causes and conditions that lead to suffering.

3) There is a cessation of suffering.

4) There is a path or a practice that leads to the cessation of suffering.

This week after four  weeks of reflecting on and inquiring into these Truths we began inquiring into the fourth; the practice of The Noble Eightfold Path.

The first step on the path, or the first practice, is the understanding of and experience of Right View. Although considered the first step, it is essentially the only step. The remaining seven might be considered the natural result of the cause and condition of Right View.

In  a culture that is waking up to the immeasurable diversity that exists in our biosphere, cultures, and our ways of thinking, and a culture that has, as one of its primary foundations, the Puritanical approach to goodness and evil, rightness and wrongness, and has conditioned our perceptions into rigid polarities, there is often a resistance to the word “Right”; especially when it is proclaimed by an authority. When I hear “Right View” I have an internal reaction of contraction, resistance and aversion. “Who’s to say what is the Right View anyway?” “On such a diverse planet, how can any one view be the Right View?’

In Buddhism, Right View is not a qualifier of actions, feeling or thoughts. It is not a point of view. It is not a way to separate the chaff from the wheat. Right View in this practice is the essential view of seeing things as they are, especially in terms of suffering and the Four Noble Truths. Paradoxically there is no right or wrong from this view. There is no judgment or categorizing. There is no better or worse. There is just seeing things as they are.

When I look into the world and reflect upon my own experience, I see that there is suffering; suffering including and beyond the material experience of pain, suffering of the whole being. This is a simple fact and thus from this perspective, a Right View.

When I inquire into what has led to suffering in the psyche and the mind I see that it has causes and conditions. In the same way that body pain is not a phantom and has a direct cause, suffering of the heart and mind has conditions and causes that lead to it. Through further inquiry, I discover that this is a simple fact and thus a Right View. 

When I inquire even further I notice that there are times when the experience of suffering has diminished and may even be absent and through deeper inquiry I discover that this is a simple fact and thus a Right View.

This naturally seems to lead to the question, “How does that happen?” “How can I make suffering go away?” How can I keep it from coming back?” This is where I have gotten stuck throughout this life. It is where I have latched onto dogmas and doctrines and then trashed them because they often seemed to cause just as much suffering, either for me or for those around me or other beings. While blindly engaged in the newest, wokest way, I have jumped into the quicksand of righteousness and clung to a grass blade of promised liberation while remaining ignorant of the quicksand of suffering that I was drowning in. “That blade is the true path!” “If I cling to that it will free me.!” “I’ll get to heaven, or Nirvana, or bliss, or wealth, or adoration, or a beautiful body, or a life partner.” Thrash thrash, thrash, gurgle… I had stepped away from seeing what was present and just working with that. I had stepped away from the Right View. In the case of the quicksand, that view might be: “Oh I am in deep doo-doo here and all I have is this blade of grass to get me out. I am drowning and I will die.” Or: “Oh I am stuck in some deep shit here. This blade of grass is worthless, what other options are there?”

Right View, as a step on the Noble Eightfold Path is just seeing what is without preconceived ideas about what is. This primary practice of the path has been more accessible for me when I have been able to set aside the promises of tomorrow and the fears from past experiences; when I allow my thoughts and feelings to settle down into the body in calm abiding. When I stop thrashing around in the quicksand of concepts, cravings, clinging, promises, and fears, I inevitably stop sinking in the shit of my own making. I begin to become aware: “Wow, there is suffering here.”

When I was on the Grateful Road, there were several times when my life’s conditioning and my intellectual conceptualizations about white men in pick-up trucks and MAGA hats, and black men at night in urban centers, threw me into a quicksand of fears that seemed involuntary yet overwhelming. Sometimes my impulse was to put the Element in gear and drive away, leaving campsite and all behind, or put my backpack on my belly and my hands on my key ring to prepare to defend myself. And boy was I suffering! And now, especially after recent national events, I know that there was a chance that I had also caused suffering for those men who may have just wanted to say hi or needed help, and their own conditioning was probably reaffirmed by my actions. 

Over time and with practice, I have begun to develop a capacity for Right View. Over time and with practice, the light of this view has exposed more and more of the causes and conditioning of my own suffering. Over time and with practice, my experience and view of the world has softened and opened up resulting in more, real, and simple, human connections with folks that I had shunned or run away from in the past. Over time and with practice, I have felt more human and hopefully been more humane with the whole, beautifully diverse population of all beings who may be suffering just like me.

If any of this strikes a chord or sparks some interest, the sangha would enjoy your presence in the morning practice.

We meet Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 6 AM Pacific time. Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/4257749477 Sunday at 7 AM Pacific time at a different Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/2867859631 

We also host four seasonal retreats during the Equinoxes and Solstices. Here is the information for the upcoming Summer Solstice retreat

The Warrior of Compassion and the Art of Peaceful Speech

World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity, and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred, and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built. ”        –Martin Luther King, Jr., December 1964

The archetype of the warrior is most often associated with physical strength and prowess, ready to do battle for the common good and using aggression to break through barriers. The Warrior of Compassion flips those characteristics upside down, using strength and prowess to tame the mind and diminish attachments, defending the common good through acts of altruism, and acting out of kindness and compassion to dissolve barriers to freedom. One of the practices on the Eightfold Path in Buddhism is “Right Speech”; speech that arises out of being fully present to what is and responding spontaneously out of a commitment to end suffering.

In this retreat we will explore and cultivate the imponderable quality of Compassion and work to develop the inherent capacity of peaceful speech; speech that deflates and undermines polarization and aggression. Through meditation, Council, dyad and, improvisation we will bring awareness to obstacles that may, inhibit our capacities for unhindered compassion, or diminish the courage to use our voices in the cause for peace. From that awareness we will begin to enhance our skills as compassionate warriors and artful peace-speakers.

The retreat is free and everyone is welcome!

Sunday, June 20, 3 PM PST – 7 PM PST, Monday, June 21, 7 AM PST – 4PM PST

Please register at: https://form.123formbuilder.com/5838522/form

A zoom link will be forwarded to you the week of the retreat. Please plan on attending the entire retreat if you decide to register.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email William at: wrgentner@gmail.com

We look forward to retreating with you!

Warmth and ease all around! The Sangha of the Pandemic

Activating Generosity, Dana

In looking forward to the retreat this weekend:

Cultivating Metta and Activating Generosity or Dana, (Register here.)

Phillip Moffit’s Dharma essay on Dana resonates deeply with our planned work. (To read in its entirety go to: dharmawisdom.org/the-gift-of-generosity-2 ) 

The Gift of Generosity 

by Phillip Moffit 

The buddhist practice of dana or generosity liberates you from feelings of separateness and alienation.  

It was the second day of a vipassana meditation retreat I was co-teaching in Santa Fe, and we had a problem. Or at least, I had a problem. I was not satisfied with the Tibetan bowl we were using as a bell to signal the end of each sitting. The retreat managers had provided us with a small bowl, and I found that the sound was not right for the meditation hall. The managers had been very responsive and located two other bowls, but something seemed wrong with the sound of each of these as well. Ordinarily I’m not that particular; after all it was just a bell. Moreover, the yogis were witnessing the search for the perfect bell. A dharma teacher who’s attached to the sound of a bowl is hardly the ideal role model for students who are being asked to sit in silence hour after hour, day after day. Still, I had this feeling that wouldn’t go away; it wasn’t the right bowl. I’ve learned to trust my intuition, even in matters that seem trivial, but in this instance I didn’t know what to do. 

I was sitting in the meditation hall by myself when a yogi came in and asked if I was in need of a different bell. I answered that indeed I was, and he said that on an impulse he had put one in his car before he left home. He then brought in a large Tibetan bowl that when struck sustained a clear, full bass tone that harmonized with all the higher notes the bell made. It was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard from a bowl its size. 

On the day I was leaving, the yogi came up to me, bowed, handed me a note, and said, “Read this when you settle down somewhere.” I assumed he meant when I was on the airplane, so I put the note in my pocket and thought no more about it until I was in the air. The note said, “I now know why I was compelled to bring this bowl-it was meant to be yours. Please take it with you when you leave. Thank you for sharing the dharma with us.” I was glad I had not read the note earlier. This way I was able to avoid taking the yogi’s bowl without refusing his gift. He clearly loved the bell; one day I had found him sitting in the hall during the lunch break, striking the bell and just listening to it. The last thing I wanted was to deprive him of such pleasure. Yet, he was offering the bell as dana, which is the practice of generosity. I felt as though I had received the warmth of his good intention, he had received the merit of the giving, and still he had his bowl. So it seemed like a fortuitous outcome.  

I told the story of the bowl to two of my teachers, who were staying at my house, when I returned from Santa Fe. They were somewhat disapproving of my relief at the way things had turned out. It was an act of true dana, they said, and not to receive it with equal generosity would be failing him as a teacher. I could not disagree with their comments, but I was still glad to have avoided the situation.  

To my consternation, within a few days of returning from Santa Fe, I received an e-mail from him: “Why did you not take your bell? If you did not read my note before you left, why have I not heard from you since then?” I wrote back explaining what had happened and suggested that the time had passed for giving away the bowl. He replied by asking for shipping instructions.  

That is how the bell of the enchanting sounds came to reside with me. I often carry it to retreats around the country where I am teaching, and hundreds of yogis have ended their meditation time on the cushion in response to its deep chime. Thus, one yogi’s dana became a gift to many. This is the power of the practice of dana-it reverberates out into unknown directions, over indefinite periods of time. But to the giver, it is not the fruits of giving that is of concern, only the practice of dana itself – the inner intention to find release from attachment and egoism by giving freely whatever one has that is of value. 

What you have to give may be material in nature, or it may be your time, energy, or wisdom.  The deeper lesson is that each of us is equally dependent on others for the blessing of our food. We are all interconnected with one another and with the Earth in a web that goes beyond the marketplace of commercial exchange. We flourish or perish together through interwoven acts of dana arising from the benevolence and integrity of people we shall never meet. This tool is the power of dana-even when practiced without consciousness, it arises and spreads. When you mindfully practice dana, you come into contact with its joyful, healing power.  

However, there is a paradox contained in dana: You practice it as an act of liberation for yourself, yet it is not self-centered. True dana arises from the intention underlying your act. It is not that you are supposed to have only pure motives but rather that your intention is to cultivate purity of generosity without self-consideration.  

There is an old Sufi story about the importance of cultivating generosity which asks the question, why does the beggar man beg? A seemingly crippled beggar sits in the central square all day crying, “Baksheesh! Baksheesh! Who will give me baksheesh?” Some pass by ignoring him, some give little, others give generously. He praises them all and asks that Allah bless them. At the end of the day, the beggar rises from his seat, walks normally over to the prayer fountain, tosses in the coins he has received, then goes home to his comfortable middle class house. So why does the beggar beg? 

The last line of the story answers, “He begs for me and thee.”  This teaching asks you to reflect on how practicing generosity fits into your spiritual life. What form your generosity takes is up to you, as it can only come from your values and what you have to offer. It is your authentic intention that matters, even if that is simply a sincere wish that in time you will become more spontaneously generous. It is important to understand that mixed motives are to be expected when you practice dana and that you are supposed to act from these mixed motives rather than wait for perfection of goodness. You practice in order to recognize and move toward the purity that already exists within you. If you only had pure motives, there would be no need to practice. This may seem obvious, but many yogis become confused and start to judge themselves by how much purity they have acquired. All that is called for is to practice daily in small but persistent ways-the practice will deepen by itself.  

In daily life dana also means receiving each arising moment with a generous attitude and meeting it with patience that is based in spiritual practice. When interacting with friends or strangers, you give them your full attention as you listen to their words, and you interpret their actions with sympathy, even when they are clumsy. This is not to be misunderstood as being naïve or allowing wrong action to go uncorrected. Rather, it means holding for each person life’s greatest possibility in the moment, even if in that moment the possibilities are severely limited; the same as putting food in a monk’s alms bowl. Likewise, you too are standing there with your alms bowl, arms extended. 

Dana in any form is dana; it nourishes the very essence of the other’s being as well as our own.

Dear friends, 

In the spirit of the unending, unconditional kindness and generosity of Nature, which is so prevalent in Spring, I’d like to invite you to join us in a virtual retreat.

Spring Equinox Virtual Retreat:

Cultivating Loving Kindness and Activating Generosity.  

The retreat is free and everyone is welcome! 

Saturday March 20, 5 PM – 8PM PST – Sunday March 21, 8AM – 4PM PST.

Through gentle “rewilding” of our connection to nature, spontaneous writing, meditation, and Council, we will explore our innate capacity for loving kindness (metta) and discern obstacles to its fulfillment. While cultivating loving kindness, we will activate the bodhisattva way of embracing a life of generosity (dana) and develop unique ways of practicing these capacities in our daily lives.  

You may register at:

https://form.123formbuilder.com/5838522/form

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email me at: wrgentner@gmail.com 

I look forward to retreating with you! 

Warmth and ease all around! 

William

Last Night as an American Road Warrior (2/11/2021) Gunter Hill State Park

Drinking pinot from a black box

tiny fire with damp wood

quiet except for the bass jumping, owls inquiring, screaming banshees

and the everpresent crickets like tinnitus.

*

I’m in love with the joy of the journey

as well as the harshness that pounded me

like my husband pounds lamb to make it tender.

I’m already nostalgic for the bitter, frozen Gila,

the terror ride in backwood Oregon,

the first nights on a remote river bank,

the emptiness of Death Valley

the burned joshua tree carcasses,

the broken window and freak snowstorm of Big Bend,

the open hearted Illuman men,

the emptiness of an endless West Texas drive,

The grief at the Lorraine Motel

My old lovers who still love me

and SKY, SKY, SKY

Sky so wide it hurts because it stretches you beyond perimeters.

A sky so dark that you disappearand are emptiness manifest

A sky so rich with a dying sun’s light that you gag on its beauty

A sky so threatening with frozen rain and no promise of relief

A sky so soft that you drown in ease

A longing sky

A heartless sky

A relentless sky

A strike-me-dead-now-because-I-cannot-bear-the beauty-anymore sky.

A sky as me

A sky as you

An empty sky.

*

This is neither a beginning or an ending.

The skies have taught me.

The desert has taught me.

The pain of the people has taught me.

The joy of the people has taught me.

The road has taught me.

The weather has taught me.

Raven has taught me.

Wind has taught me.

You have taught me.

And I am gratitude.

Metta and the Cultivation of Loving-Kindness

Metta from the Pali language, the language of many buddhists sutras, is often translated as “loving-kindness”. Additional meanings include friendly, benevolent, kind. From “A Guide to a Simple Life”: 

Metta is goodwill, loving-kindness, universal love; a feeling of friendliness and heartfelt concern for all living beings, human or non-human, in all situations. The chief mark of metta is a benevolent attitude: a keen desire to promote the welfare of others.” 

Metta subdues the vice of hatred in all its varied shades: anger, ill-will, aversion, and resentment.   

Often metta is translated as love. I hesitate some, when I hear that because when I hear the word love used, it triggers a wave of conflict in me. It is used so indiscriminately: “Luv ya!”, “You have to love your family.” “making love”, “love the one you’re with” and redhearts all around. There is even a chain of truck stops called Love, not to mention the chain of sexual support stores. The origin of the English word for love is associated with the Sanskrit word lubh that translates as lust. In this context “love” may be defined as a passion for something that one wants to possess, sustain, or be attached to. In Northern Eurocentric cultures we often hear that love is something virtually impossible to reach or achieve but something everyone should have in order to have a fulfilling life and maybe get to heaven. Metta is not like any of these and that is the source of my hesitation when using love. 

Metta  is the inherent, true nature of being in relationship with oneself or another. It is the capacity to be fully attentive and present in an interaction. Loving-kindness arises; amity, benevolence, accord, all arise, out of this inherent quality of being, as symptoms or manifestations of Metta. Yet no single concept or experience encapsulates the absolute nature of it. Metta can not be encapsulated, held, defined. It is immeasurable.

When I am open and at ease and listening in Nature, I observe metta as a constant activity of all the organisms and the manner in which they interrelate; being alert, sensitive, responsive and equanimous. Humans tend to use violent, conquest related terms like battle, waging war,  overcoming, wiping out, to identify the interactions in Nature between predator and prey, invasive species and endemic, ocean and land. In my observations, it is only humans who have these dominance-seeking approaches to interactions with others and we project them onto the natural world; often to justify our own behavior. “Survival of the Fittest.”

Once, while in the Amazon, I was walking, at ease in an open state of mind and sense, when I was overwhelmed by the density of interactions in the forest; the deafening sound of insects and birds, the etheric pulsations of the plant beings, the tsunami of smells. While sitting I noticed a giant elder tree that had pierced the canopy where I could see a clear blue-white sky outlining the leaves like grout on a mosaic. The power of that tree rumbled through the soil beneath me and it was almost as if all the beings of the forest were offering homage to the elder. Then I noticed a body-wide vine entwined around the tree from exposed roots to crown. It seemed to be writhing as it used the elder to climb into the canopy and I realized that this vine was not only using the giant elder to reach the light of the sun, it was also draining the life essence of the tree and soon would pull it to the ground, like so many others I had seen scattered on the forest floor. A mournful cry welled up in me and I could feel my anger burning as my mind demonized the great vine for killing such a magnificent being.  Beneath that rumbling rage, there was another sensation almost like a voice, filled with ease and equanimity. If I were to put it in words it would have been something like this:

“Be at ease little one.

This is the way of all life in the forest

All of us, from smallest fungus to oldest tree,

Strive to live with all of our being and in every moment

While striving to die with all of our being and in every moment.

For living brings death and death brings life.

Look around and see.”

I did and I saw.

Metta is an unconditional, relentless, living and dying. Metta is the activity of the sun, non-discerning, non-judgmental, non-discriminatory until they burn out; like the vine and the tree, like the wolf and the deer, like the microorganisms and the rotting flesh of life. 

When I reflect back on my time in the Amazon forest and especially now, in the wake, and as a result, of the meditation Practice, I see the Natural world as a teacher manifesting the qualities of metta. The “chief mark” of which  is a benevolent attitude: a keen desire to promote the welfare of others.

Metta is the unending and ever-creative evolution of diversity which develops in order to enhance interactions, and create more effective interactions. When humans consciously cultivate metta, there is no discrimination for who will receive and who will not, who is deserving and who is not, who earned it and who did not, who has been naughty or nice. Metta rays out into the innumerable pores of all beingness.

When we become ignorant of this Nature-al quality, or live in the realms of forgetfulness, metta pushes on our consciousness like an infant crying to be fed, like a glorious blossom signaling to be pollinated, like the call of the moon to the tides. This forgetfulness of the reality of things as they are, and the resulting attempt to impose a hierarchy of beings, feelings, actions, beliefs on an innately equanimous reality, causes suffering and separation, and isolation and an experience of being trapped in the cycles of Nature rather than being freed by them. Meditation in general and the cultivation of metta, in particular, lifts the weed blocker from the gardenscape of life, a Natural life, and allows an experience of circumspherical interrelatedness, a celebration of diversity, and an end to suffering.

In the upcoming Spring Equinox retreat, we will practice the cultivation of Metta  and the activation of Generosity. If you are interested in joining the retreat follow this link:

Spring Equinox Retreat. Cultivating Loving Kindness and Activating Generosity

or continue reading below. If you would like to sit and Practice meditation please email me and I will provide the schedule and links.

In the names of all teachers, Buddha’s bodhisattvas and enlightening ones, seen and unseen, known and unknown, heard and unheard, I offer these words.

Warmth and ease,

William

wrgentner@gmail.com

Spring Equinox Retreat. Participation is free and everyone is welcome!

Dear friends,

In the spirit of the unending, unconditional kindness and generosity of Nature, which is so prevalent in Spring and especially after a particularly harsh winter, I’d like to invite you to join us in a virtual retreat.

Spring Equinox Virtual Retreat:Cultivating Loving Kindness and Activating Generosity.

The retreat is free and everyone is welcome!

Saturday March 20, 5 PM PST – Sunday March 21, 3 PM PST

Through gentle “rewilding” of our connection to nature, spontaneous writing, meditation, and Council, we will explore our innate capacity for loving kindness (metta, S.K.) and discern obstacles to its fulfillment. While cultivating loving kindness, we will activate the bodhisattva way of embracing a life of generosity (dana, S.K.) and develop unique ways of practicing these capacities in our daily lives.

Please register at: https://form.123formbuilder.com/…/retreat-registration…

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email me at: wrgentner@gmail.com

I look forward to retreating with you!

Warmth and ease all around!

William

Spring Equinox Retreat. Cultivating Loving Kindness and Activating Generosity

Dear friends,

In the spirit of the unending, unconditional kindness and generosity of Nature, which is so prevalent in Spring and especially after a particularly harsh winter, I’d like to invite you to join us in a virtual retreat.

Spring Equinox Virtual Retreat:Cultivating Loving Kindness and Activating Generosity.

The retreat is free and everyone is welcome!

Saturday March 20, 5 PM PST – Sunday March 21, 3 PM PST

Through gentle “rewilding” of our connection to nature, spontaneous writing, meditation, and Council, we will explore our innate capacity for loving kindness (metta, S.K.) and discern obstacles to its fulfillment. While cultivating loving kindness, we will activate the bodhisattva way of embracing a life of generosity (dana, S.K.) and develop unique ways of practicing these capacities in our daily lives.

Please register at: https://form.123formbuilder.com/…/retreat-registration…

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email me at: wrgentner@gmail.com

I look forward to retreating with you!

Warmth and ease all around!William

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice


https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/

There is no truly adequate way for a White person to pay tribute to the Black men, women and children who have suffered, and are still bearing the intergenerational imprints of suffering, brought on by my ancestors. However, visiting this sacred site in reverence and humility is a step in the right direction. On the journey on the civil Rights Trail, I became even more aware that there is not only intergenerational-trauma, there is intergenerational-perpetration of trauma, and that I am the racist, the slaver, the lyncher, the greedy dominant, the oppressor, the cause of this suffering.

In my journey through Washington, Idaho, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico,Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle of Florida, I also saw intergenerational indoctrination of White children that promoted and still promotes the superiority of their skin color. And although I thought it would more prevalent in some areas than others, it was consistent and persistent throughout all of these areas.

In the same way that Black people have awakened to an understanding of the multi-generational imprinting of slavery and racism and how they have been struggling to undo its impact for over four centuries, White people must awaken to an understanding of our multigenerational imprinting of fear, greed, dominance, hate, and oppression of anyone not white, and how we now must be in a constant state of reflection and awareness to undo this imprinting.

In these coexisting processes of undoing there is a great resistance to true freedom and a clinging to what we have all considered the safe ways of being, or the only ways to keep what we have, in an attempt to make life free from struggle and suffering.

This has only resulted in even greater suffering as we have clung even tighter to our belief systems. As the great awakening to these realities unfolds, many of us will lose what we hold dearest; our livelihood, our property, our family, our belief systems, our entire way of being. This fear of loss will cause some of us to hold on even tighter and, in the process, be willing to threaten the life and limb of others or sacrifice our own life and limb and of those we love.

We have a choice. We can loosen our grip on our property, our pleasures, our belief systems our entire way of being and through that process of loosening and opening our hands, hearts, and minds, we will make room for being with instead of being against.

People of Color and Native People have been doing this work with a minuscule amount of White self-awareness or participation for centuries, even millenia. It is now our time, the White folk’s time, to awaken, understand, and undo, without any preconditions or qualifications. From the entire political, spiritual and emotional spectrum, Left to Right, Religious to atheist, righteous love to righteous hate, we must loosen our grip. We must loosen our arthritically tightened fists and allow ourselves to be led by those who have already walked this path. We must close our mouths and quiet our minds, listen like a still pond, and relinquish our authority to humility. If we do not, we, the White folk, will lose our place in the evolving cosmic consciousness as we claw and cling to the crumbling cliffs of our history and tumble into the abyss of an even greater, and endless suffering.

A Meditation on Harm While Traveling on the Civil Rights Trail. (Remix)

(Mural: “Roadkill” by Roa, Chicago,Ill)

There’s a dead opossum in the walls of this newly built house.

They cannot be located but by the smell of their passing life;

Trapped, sleeping, while the insulation, wallboard, tape, and paint

Were urgently applied to get the job done.

It will take a smashing and drilling and ripping of the walls

To get to the remnants of the carcass of harm

That is causing a persistent suffering stench 

Permeating this newly built house.

Conscious, intentional, and perceptible harm  may cause immediate and maybe even indelible results, 

but that harm is there, available

To be raged at, to be swung at, to run from, to apply bandages to, to tell someone about, to seek support for, to choose a reaction to,

Before the studs go in

And the insulation is sprayed.

And the wallboard tacked and taped

And the coats of paint applied.

It’s the harm that arises from the dying opossum in the walls of the house

that lies in wait, hidden from consciousness, 

that, at its inception, cannot be raged at, swung at, run from, bandaged, spoken about, soothed, or reacted to;

It is the harm from 

preverbal imprints, childhood violence, or subtle emotional manipulations, silent neglect, subtle sarcasm, lifelong lies, or constant diminishment;

Or even more, 

The insidious carcasses buried 

In the foundations of lives, families, societies, genders, races, cultures and karmas, genderism, racism, classism, culture-ism, faith-ism, lookism, ageism, privilege, dominance, slavery, supremacy, competition, ignorance, egoism;

It is these hidden or forgotten harms that are initially unseen in the flurry to rebuild and repair and are seemingly impossible to root out, because they are imbedded in the foundations of the skyscrapers of lives, and the ways of living that sustain a desire for permanence, and drive the fear of its loss.

– Eternal life is the promise of religion,

– “Long lasting” is the gold standard for things, relationships, occupations, wealth, deodorant,

– Endurance is the epitome of the idea of physical well being and emotional strength.

– Perpetual legacy and continual recognition are the goals we are taught to strive for.

Threats to self importance, to spiritual superiority, to material dominance.

threaten this body’s existence and to all of the beliefs in a permanent existence;

stirring up fear, aggression, jealousy, hatred, clinging and attachment;

the ingredients for a perfect, concrete mix to conceal the rotting carcasses of harm.

What would happen if the wisdom of 

impermanence 

replaced the desire for

permanence?

Would the wallboard crumble?

Would the insulation vaporize?

Would the studs rot away,

Would the foundation dissolve?

Would the source of the insufferable stench be revealed?

Would we let go of the need to rebuild?

Would we ever harm again?

The Mississippi

I wanted the Mississippi to be bigger.

As big as its name.

I wanted her to overpower me with strength and width and inspire me

like the thousands of writers who have eloquated about her.

I wanted the Mississippi to threaten me, to rile me up, to quake me,

*

But it can’t.

*

It is too burdened with the weight of a thousand rivers

Pouring themselves into her come-at-able depths.

Rivers carrying the prayers and despairs, the hoping and coping,

The aspirations and desperations, the crying lying, and dying

Of a nation in the depths of coming to terms with its karma.

*

The Mississippi doesn’t welcome this burden, nor reject it,

Neither takes it up or puts it down, neither absorbs or repels it.

She just consumes it and filters it,

and moves this country’s ills

to the Gulf, to the Sea to the Ocean to the Sky,

to the Mountains and back to the Land;

Purified, scrubbed clean,

to fill the springs and the creeks and the streams and the rivers

that absorb the pollution of America’s greedy dreams,

its painful arrogance, and the blood of its self righteous wars.

*

Soon though, she will stop.

She will clog up the mouths of those rivers with unmetabolized waste,

and those rivers will dam up the confluence of the creeks

which will back up the springs

which will have nowhere to run and will remain underground,

hiding, waiting, for this eon to pass.

I’d like to say now, like Lascelles declared in “The Box”

“But there is a way to stop it all” (sic)

“All it takes is wisdom.

”But I am not “absolutely sure” that there is a way.

Except perhaps for some global pandemic

That threatens the lives of all of us

*

.…But that’s not working either.

*

So perhaps Lascelles is right that

“No one seems to want to save the children anymore.”

*

It doesn’t seem to matter to the Great Mississippi.

She just keeps on rollin’

Until she doesn’t.

Until she does.

Dawn

The coldest part of the day is the hour before dawn.

In all of the adventures that have unfolded on this journey; sublime, exhilarating, frightening, shattering, settling… like the dark-cold before dawn, it is the time immediately before culmination of the insight, the light, the heart warming, that I feel farthest from the ultimate essence of the revelatory experience.

Cold has been large part of this journey. Cold is similar to Wind  (see “Storm’s Movin’ In“) except that it doesn’t announce itself. It is just a present, permeating, relentless force that consumes. From soothing gentle cold to biting, cutting, debilitating cold. In each experience of the drop in temperature, I have contracted and drawn in on myself, collapsed in a defensive curling-up; trying to defend against an enemy that is relentless and unrelinquishable. 

At some point I realize that all defenses are useless and molecule by molecule, microsecond by microsecond, I shed my armor and Cold transforms from needles to wintergreen laden feathers, brushing away the dead cells that have died due to lack of circulation. I sense the firm gentleness of a practiced hand, meticulously cleaning all the crevices and chasms where I have stored my weapons against its teachings and I finally lay down, defenseless. 

Cloud Mountain, Big Bend

And then, as if it were a fragrant oil carried in Cold’s medicine bag,  Warmth drips, coats, soothes the newly raw exposed interior of my being and the relentless sorcery of the Cold is now teacher, healer, awakener.

The way that the dawn insinuates itself on the night is similar. Night will draw back in a defensive posture and barrier itself against the first silver spreading, using the brightest stars or a full moon or a blanket of heavy clouds, but Dawn changes tactics and colors and sometimes the direction of the assault as it lights up Western horizons or mountains with pastels. Each moment is different than the last and Night’s arsenal of defense, though stockpiled to the stars, is never enough and it relents to the onslaught. And then Night too, with its cold light of stars and moon, is known as teacher, healer awakener, for its pointing to my clinging, my attachments, my unhealedness.

And so it is and will be, for in each and every night there is the willingness to be shattered by the dawn no matter how long it takes, and in each and every cold is the warm medicine just waiting to be received.

In the words of a new hero of this age, Amanda Gorman:

When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Amanda Gorman from the Inauguration of President Biden

All photos except cloud mountain are from Woodbridge primitive camp near Lawrence, Kanas.