Home on the Range

I’m home alone here half way up the Twisp River Road. There’s a grace to this solitude, a deeper quality to the quiet. Much as I love my people who are usually here in one configuration or another, I love this aloneness, too. They’re yin and yang; they define and contain each other.

After work, I turned on the irrigation for a while and let out the chickens. The sight of the sprinklers spraying water into the late afternoon sky is magical. Truly. The water starts up in the mountains somewhere and makes its way down into the Valley as snow melt, and through engineering it runs along the bottom of our land, and then via pump runs up hill into the yard. I took a walk down to the ditch to make sure the filter screens weren’t clogged with algae that could cause the pump to burn out, then I walked back up and stood for a while just below where two streams of spray intersect, in a dry triangle of brown earth. The smell of moisture is nourishing. It must be hard wired into our limbic brains, the scent of life.

I prepared a simple dinner from salad greens and bok choy with a dressing I made yesterday. I sat in the open window reading some poems of Linda Hogan, whose work I strongly recommend. Here’s a snippet from “The Hidden,” in Rounding the Human Corners “I don’t care what you call it,/the human other portion, trust, belief./What if you looked at it all asalant?/Then you would never have arrived/in the good red land, the heat,/suddenly finding the spring/and the wild horses.//Paradise has always been just out of sight.”

After I turned off the water and opened the root cellar doors to let in the cool night air, I sat in the hot tub to watch the sun set. It torched the aspens that are still going from green to gold along the ditch, turning their leaves to flames. Bands of pink the color of smoked salmon spread out above the mountains to the West. Gray wisps of mare’s tales like bands of smoke. Summer’s fires are finished. The hint of burning in the air is stoves. The conflagration of clouds is only gas and light and particulates of matter that lend color to the sky.

I thought to look into each of the three directions visible from there, and faced north to see two large black steers well up into the hills. Slowly, they merged into one shifting black cloud of hoof, hide and bone. Grazing their way along the ridge.

South holds the trees, mostly pine and spruce that spread out in their own jacquard pattern like points of brocade following the river. An embroidery of trees.

It’s dark now. A little after seven. I can still hear the river, even as it dwindles toward winter. Out in the night landscape, everything is alive, hiding, hunting, feeding. Sometimes, in the morning as I drive down toward the road and town, I see signs of what has come. Recently a large pyramid of bear scat, purple with berries. What a thrill to know that this land with its houses and cars and Internet still holds enough wildness to feed bears. A month ago at dusk I saw a cougar cross the road. And well after dawn earlier this week heard coyotes in the east.

Here’s Linda Hogan again in her poem “Fox.”

I have to love and hate it
because its body is my cat,
my neighbor’s cat,
and even though I hurt
I know that this was not a gunshot,
not an accident on the road,
not a long illness.
This is god swallowing what it must.

My God continue to feed and feed on wherever you live.

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The Unfathomable Mystery of Being

I would be a liar if I said my life were without layers. One moment seamless well-being and ease, and another moment deep discomfort and existential pain.

Today, at the school where I work, two girls, close friends for most of their short seven and eight year old lives, had an altercation. None of the adults witnessed it. Suddenly there were tears and recriminations. Neither girl denied her actions, the sharp elbows into another’s ribs and the subsequent slap in the face. One of the teachers, as is our way, took the girls away from the rest of the group and asked them to talk to each other about what happened. No one lectured them about the inappropriateness of aggressive physical contact. They know about that. They each spoke from the feeling of the moment. There was anger. There were hurt feelings. There was an apology and an opportunity to speak further about the issue. Then they went off together back to class.

In itself, this is a somewhat unique story. And I offer it as an example of how unfathomable we are to ourselves and to each other.

Life has layers. I’ve been in an ongoing conversation that I mentioned in an earlier post with an east coast friend about the nature of suffering. And in my experience, we all suffer in some way from time to time. Simply being incarnated, being in this physical realm, can be quite painful, and that pain can cause suffering, even for those of us who have realized the Self. What changes is our relationship to the suffering. It takes on a sort of simplicity, free from story and ideation. Often it comes up right alongside our realization of its source in the still undigested bits of our conditioned existence. To deny that we suffer in this way is to deny our humanity.

In my experience, as in the story I recounted above, all relationships open the door to the unfathomable mystery of the self and the other. Now some may say “there is no Other!” And there’s a way in which that is true. And at the same time, paradoxically, there are 7 billion incarnated beings on this Earth, and each one of them appears to the body mind on some level as “other.” When we encounter this other, it is an encounter with the Self. Whatever we experience with them is being experienced within the self. It’s a mirror showing us something about our own particular path in this life. In the account above, the girls experienced a paradox of relationship. In loving there is also irritation. There is shadow. In relationship, there is separation and merging, irritation and bliss. We can’t have one without the other.

One of the most beautiful things about the altercation between these two schoolgirls was the fierce anger of the one and the heartbreak of the other. Children are transparent. They have not learned how to dissemble, not completely. And what I loved in watching their exchange was that they were willing to be fully present with what arose. “You made me mad.” “You hurt my feelings.” It was clean and simple. No one pretended that they felt other than they did.

The further I go on this path of embodied awakening, the more I realize how little I know. Nothing is static. Everything is changing. I don’t know my Self, my partner, my family, my friends. I experience them. In the moment. Being is continually unfolding, painting itself, as my beloved teacher Allan Morelock has said, on us in each moment. We must awaken to this truth. We must awaken to its its iridescent beauty of emergence. Its unfathomable mystery.

Rising Up

MVCS Kids

We gathered in this morning’s warm, golden glow of October sunshine for our Monday Circle.  In the center was a collection of seasonal items and the candle that represents our inner light.  Three moms joined us today on this day when family members are welcomed into the circle, and we were a “squishy cozy” group as one girl said.  Our new Yelmihom or leader for the week carefully lit the candle, and we began another week here at MVCS with rhythms, welcoming the directions and singing the songs that we have been practicing since the start of school for the upcoming Phoenix Festival sponsored by Methow Arts Alliance.

What a deep blessing it is to sit and sing together in the morning.  It’s an act of praise to lift our voices together this way, and as we sang “We are rising up, like the Phoenix from the fire.  Brothers and sisters, spread your…

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“Feelings are Exhausting”: in Memoriam Eliot Bartlett

These words are from a poem by Eliot Bartlett. I’ve spent the last couple of hours reading the Twitter posts and Tumblr poems of this young man I barely knew off screen. He was the son of a friend from my spiritual community in Philadelphia. I met him when he first came from–I think it was–college in Ohio. He was grieving the suicide of a friend there. He was struggling with addiction, looking for some support, some meaning. It was a Jyotish Roundtable at Yoga on Main led by the late astrologer and teacher Betheyla. I was deeply moved by him, his raw sorrow, his exhaustion.

Over the next couple of years, Eliot was a part of us. He lived with his mom in a beautiful tranquil duplex two doors down from my partner. He worked for a time at the coffee shop on Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr that shares a lobby with the Film Institute. I used to see him outside in the alley smoking. He came to kirtans to chant, to Amma Satsang. He was young and seeking in so many ways. He was using and abstaining. Cutting himself. Dating a girl who also cut herself. He was in Bryn Mawr and then someplace else. He was on the move. He worked for Apple, and he was brilliantly alive online on Twitter and Instagram. This morning, I followed his journey from east to west and saw a bit into his world and world view.

Last Thursday that world view came to an end. I don’t know how it happened. I only saw the picture of Eliot and his mom on a boat and the consoling posts below it that touched my knowing that he was gone. The picture is a beautiful one. A young man and his mother, a wind whipped and gray sky. The life transmission that comes from Eliot’s body in that photo is powerful. I can feel its warm contours, its aliveness.

On learning of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, on February 2 he tweeted “Philip Seymour Hoffman, I never knew you were one of us, and your loss is a painful reminder of the fatal nature of addiction.” On June 23 “18 months sober.” On July 12 he turned 27. Two and a half months later, he was dead.

Recently, someone from the Philly sangha posted on Facebook a long quote from Adyashanti about suffering being optional, “an addiction to the self.” I always feel a bit of a wet blanket when I respond to this sort of “teaching.” That it just simply is not the truth of human life. Suffering is human. You can hair split as far as you want into the Vedas and Buddhism and the neo-Advaita about the difference between pain and suffering, but the bottom line for me is that it’s semantics. We all suffer. I know people who have been awake as consciousness for many years who find living this contemporary human life so painful that they can only take it in very small doses. There’s a reason that sages from the past lived in cells and caves.

My point is that it’s hard enough to be incarnated into this human life with its super-sensitive organism and navigate the self-other field without telling people that their suffering is an addiction and an option. For pity’s sake! What good does that do them? Where’s the compassion in that?

Anyway. Eliot, I’m sorry it was so hard for you. You were beautiful, and I loved you from a distance, in the few small times we met, and hugged and talked. I felt you. I will miss you. May all beings be free from suffering.

Taking Time to Sip the Cider

MVCS Kids

What makes a community school? It takes a core group of dedicated parents. Faith. Vision. Hours of volunteer work. More faith. Honesty. Mutual respect. It takes what our school has developed as its cultural philosophy: CARES. Cooperation. Appreciation. Respect and Responsibility. Empathy and Self Control.

Tonight, we hosted our first parents’ meeting of the year. All parents are members of the organization with a number of rights and responsibilities. We came together as a group of learners; we recognized our feelings. We celebrated our work and the work of others. This is our pledge, and we spoke it together, parents and staff, in an opening circle just the way the kids do each morning.

First on the agenda was a chance for parents to introduce themselves, name their child and share a highlight from the school season so far. What a feast of beauty that was! I felt so honored…

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