Sunday, November 28, 2004

you're song

Last night as I was reading in bed, I heard our 9-year old singing from his room across the hall, so I got up to see why he was still awake so late (and to find out what he was singing, since I didn't quite catch what it was). He was lying in his cozy bed, all tucked in, softly snoring. He'd been singing in his sleep!
When I told him about it this morning, he laughed with delight, but he couldn't remember what song it was.

Monday, November 22, 2004

lev shalom

Rabbi Ted suggested the other night, at a dinner meeting of our group that is going with him to Israel for 2 weeks, in 2 weeks, that it's time to begin clarifying and setting our kavannah (intention) for the trip. Our intentions always help to determine the kinds of energy that will be available to us, especially important in times or places of concentrated power.

My usual, automatic, responses to such suggestions are quick and without much thought--I pick the first thing that occurs to me and run with that. In this case, my first choice of intention is to be open, receptive, to connect and then let go. But in taking some time to go beyond my habitual response, and finding a comment from Ashley rolling and swimming in my mind, I think about the laser counterpoint to that wide-angle, let-it-all-in, swallow-the-ocean way of being...and that is, to really pay clear and focused attention, to notice and appreciate and remember details, one at a time. 

So, as I write this, a kavannah begins to form that is a sort of combination: to pay full and open bodymind attention to singular, particular, details; to move slowly enough that I can dive in a little more deeply past the surface of a place or thing or person.

From Chris W: i'm reminded of a little quote by deena metzger that i have over my desk at work (i need to have it taped to the inside of my forehead):

there is time only to work slowly.
there is no time not to love.
And, this passage from a favorite book by philosophy professor and naturalist Kathleen Dean Moore, called Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World:
...the philosopher Zeno explained why it was a mistake to think of time as a straight line that can be divided. If a given distance is infinitely divisible, he said, then anyone who wants to travel that length will first have to traverse half its distance. Because you can't get anywhere without first getting halfway there, and because you can't get halfway there without going halfway to that point, and so on and so on, nobody can get anywhere at all. And--this is the good part--the same must be true of time: To pass from one time to the next time, you would have to pass through an infinitude of smaller and smaller pieces of time, and that would take forever.

My friend who is a philosopher says that what Zeno makes her think is, Who cares if you get somewhere? Try instead to go infinitely deep into any piece of the distance. If there is eternal life, she says, it will not be in the length of your life, but in its depth.
Our group will be visiting Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Tsfat, and then going to a retreat center in the northern Galilee. The theme of our journey is "the kabbalah of creation," with meditations and explorations steeped in the particular flavour of each of the days of creation. There's still space for two more people!



Thursday, November 18, 2004

video speaks in the language of sparks

I am intrigued by what video artist and Zen practitioner Bill Viola says about time (as well as what he says about buddhist & artistic practice, mind, and perception--but especially time) in an interview in the November 2004 issue of Shambhala Sun (which is a magazine about "Buddhism Culture Meditation Life"). The article, called The Light Enters You, is excerpted on their website. I also like very much the subtly ringing words he chooses.

Viola talks about the medium of video:
We've been talking about the living spark that is in all people and the things they create, and video speaks in the language of sparks...It exists solely in the present moment. We call it "live." Turn it off and the image vanishes without a trace. Nothing remains--only an empty shell of cold hardware. Like a musical chord, it is made up of varying frequencies that must be set into vibration to resonate in harmonic order for the system to function. A video signal travels at the speed of light, the speed of your thoughts, and this allows it to be transmitted and multiplied virtually instantaneously anywhere around the globe, yiedling its most commonly perceived form, television.

However, as an electrical signal it can also be recorded, and here's where the connection to traditional culture comes in. When you record a home video, you are capturing a chunk of continuous time in the form of a sequence of scanned images and sounds. In playback, this gets lifted out of the present moment and reinserted into the time flow at a later time and place. People then re-experience this window of displaced time as a symbolic representation, a kind of perceptual memory, re-inhabiting it and usually experiencing it at the pace in which it originally occurred.
The dynamics of this process, an original event being codified into symbolic form and relived at a later time, mostly by people who were not there, bears a close resemblance to the function of ritual in traditional religious practices. It also embodies the idea we've been discussing of memory as an active component of the present moment. Now if only some useful content could be transmitted in this way, then we'd really have something!
In the accompanying commentary, David Ross, who has been director of the Whitney Museum and the SF Museum of Modern Art, says about Viola:

Through his work as an artist and his study, he has begun to understand the complex task of creating work that allows one to experience the notion of the stopping mind.

...Truly an artist of our era, Viola creates work that slows us down, engages us in the act of that continual slowing, and presents us with a visual and audible framework for experiences that finally must take place deep in our own consciousness...

I think a lot about time, especially those ideas of slow time and stopping the mind, and particularly in the contexts of relationships, and my medicine practice. Two of the most valuable things that I can offer to a friend or relation or patient are time, and presence. Without those, all of the skills I've accumulated will miss their mark because I won't have entered into present time (which when deep enough enfolds past/memories/lineage and future/potential/emergence too) with them far enough to really get what's going on. Like what Harrison Owen's Open Space phrases "deep now" and "expanding our now" point to.

There are many ways to explain or describe what happens during an acupuncture treatment, some physiological, some biochemical, some poetic, some energetic (and I think they're all true). One conception is that during an accurate treatment, we (patient and practitioner) enter a "stillpoint" --still breathing, pulsing, heart-beating, all that, but so aligned with true nature that there is no friction, no resistance; time seems to slow way down and the depleted well has a chance to fill back up, drop by drop.

Updated: 2014 video about video artist Viola

Sunday, November 14, 2004

faint traces of a forgotten coherence

This lovely phrase, so full of wistful longing, comes from an essay by David Abram called The Eclipse of the Sensuous, and has felt just right to describe the scent of the trail I've been on all my life. (Rumi, again--hmm! can you tell this is the book that is currently next to my bed?
A scholar loves, and lives on,
the marks of a pen. A sufi loves footprints!
He sees those and stalks his game. At first, he sees
the clues. After a time he can follow the scent.
To go guided by frangrance is a hundred times better
than following tracks. A person who is opening
to the divine is like a door to a sufi. 

Seeking out those traces, peering into the space-between that at first connects the parts, until we re-member that the parts were never separate, after all.

My friend Jeff described a circle of friends coming together post-election, which sounded like my experience too:

Bruce (wise explorer friend), and Dan, (court jester and convener extraordinaire), and I have gotten to hang out together a lot lately in the context of three distinct, but overlapping, conversation groups: one is focused on sustainability and business; another, with our friend David, is totally wide-ranging around the pivot topic of relationship-centered care (new article on that here); and the third is just called the "fellowship of the circle." It has no particular agenda, and so is the widest-ranging of all. Bruce and Dan and I are being the "bumblebees," as they're called in Open Space Technology, visiting different flowers (conversations and projects) and cross-pollinating. 

Lucky us, that a meeting of the "fellowship" was pre-scheduled for the day after the election. We came, one or a few at a time, up the garden path to Michelle and Joel's sanctuary-home near Greenlake, past the quiet pond and the bamboo and the sweet peach tree and welcoming buddha figures, in the middle of the bright-blue-sky, slightly surreal, afternoon. Sitting around a low table laid like an altar with piles of oranges and nuts and cookies, we went round the circle passing a palm-sized, heart-shaped, stone and took turns speaking, then spoke as we were moved to, and then around again with the stone at the end. In three hours we moved back and forth in and through bewilderment and grief and curiosity and fatigue and appreciation and faith. 

Teresa read to us the fable and showed us the beautiful pictures from Old Turtle and the Broken TruthCarolyn talked about how we are all flickering between worlds, between the current popular paradigm and the ones we feel emerging, and how tiring it is, and how important it is that we can lend each other strength and go together. Joel inspired us with his story of going through the door of experience long ago into unshakeable faith in deep reality. We talked about edges and bridges and personal and collective practice, and Rumi's field (that one that calls Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,/there is a field. I'll meet you there./When the soul lies down in that grass,/the world is too full to talk about./Ideas, language, even the phrase each other/doesn't make any sense.) MIchelle offered the image of "root shock"--a trauma to the roots that allows and encourages the production of blooms.

All of us felt deeply grateful for the good fortune to be able to come together, and left feeling connected at root and branch, and hopeful again.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

darjeeling & lemon scones, and ice cream in the garden

My elf-friends Rowan and Karen gave me one of the best presents ever, last year, a smooth carved black buddha-esque face, like a solid mask, on a pedestal. As a reminder that our face, our presence, is so precious. That seeing & acknowledging one another is such a deep true part of love and friendship and community.
Rowan's two years as Herbal Sciences core faculty--as well as resident Herbal Wizard and instigator of the Outlaw Curriculum--overlapped in the middle with my own two year stint as assistant dean for the Naturopathic Medicine program. I know a lot of masterful teachers (including my own mate!), and from Rowan what I am particularly learning about teaching is the way it is a powerful vehicle for making space to venture deeply into what matters most to us about being alive--relevant to any course topic, whether it's herbal formulation, practice management, or physiology from a systems perspective.

Our most creative and productive curriculum-mapping sessions (seeing how all the pieces really are related, and concocting ways to give ourselves and our students opportunities to see & feel & know it) were of course never in our pleasant offices or conference rooms. We did our best work either over Darjeeling tea (don't steep too long!) and lemon scones at the teahouse down the highway, or basking in the university's medicinal herb garden, with plenty of paper and markers and chocolate praline ice cream bars on hand, or walking with our crony Dan on the grounds or on the trails in the woods next to campus.

Rowan's back in Vancouver full-time, and his teaching has taken a whole new form. He's asked if he could put some stuff up here to share, and I said, yes please!! So these few words are a little bit of introduction, and encouragement to come play, and soon.


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

the season of precious metal

it is just a precious day, as all days are too,
but this one is lit all the way through
with that yellow autumn light
so acute in the heart
~chris weaver "yellow autumn light"



As the northern hemisphere moves from late Summer into Autumn, we can sense all around and within us the shift in energy, the piercing angle of the light, the crisp brilliance of the air and the dryness of the leaves as they fall away. Cross-cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien has distilled the indigenous wisdom of many traditions into the awareness that autumn is the time to practice letting go of attachments (~and that we will know when our attachments are lightening, by the bubbling up of our sense of humor~)


When we are inspired, we are breathed in to a sense of heightened aliveness. What seemed impossible to our rational mind, suddenly seems possible; it seems probable; it seems certain…all we have to do is step out of the wayStephen Mitchell
In the wild and elegant Taoist 5-Phase system, Autumn is the Metal season, a time to be open to inspiration, to recall and refine what is precious, and to practice letting go of what we no longer need or may no longer hold onto. The natural emotion associated with the process of taking in and letting go — of changing — is grief, a sense of loss that arises whether we are letting go of something we still care about, or are letting go of something that is just familiar or habitual. Subtle aspects of grief such as nostalgia, homesickness, and restless longing, are common autumnal feelings that serve to remind us to appreciate this poignant living moment even as we watch it pass away.The Metal phase is embodied within us as the Large Intestine (Colon), the Lungs, and the Skin — each an important organ of reception and elimination, each an important interface between Inside and Outside ourselves.Autumn is a good time to tonify (strengthen) the Qi (energy) and function of the Lungs, especially for those who experience seasonal respiratory allergies or frequent colds and ‘flu’s. Culinary herbs and spices that gently support the Lung Qi include small amounts of cardamom, anise, or thyme. To ensure the ability of the Lungs to fully receive and absorb inspiration — which pertains both to the inspiration of oxygen-rich air, as well as to creative inspiration — it is important that the Lungs' capacity for expiration — that is, for letting go — is also strengthened. How comfortable are you with breathing out all the way, to the bottom of your lungs? How long can you comfortably pause in that phase of emptiness before you have to allow your Lungs to fill back up? Pranayama, which is the yogic art and science of breath, teaches that a few cycles of slow expiration through slightly pursed lips, with a pause before the next inspiration, will calm the nervous system, soothe pain, and enhance cellular detoxification and nutrition.
“We breathe air deep into the most moist, warm, intimate parts of our bodies, and we fuse to the air. You can’t draw a line and say the air ends here, and I begin there. There is no line.” David Suzuki, Bioneers Conference 2003
The Skin, which is ruled by the Lungs, is the largest organ of the body and an obvious interface between the inside and the outside of our bodies. At the microscopic level, though, we are constantly exchanging molecules, heat, and electromagnetic energy with the surrounding environment. Echoing the old medicine traditions and indigenous wisdom, science gives us the tools to deeply appreciate that our bodies don’t end at our skin. Our skin skillfully protects and contains our internal organs, while at the same time much of what we perceive about the outside world—the rest of the Earth’s body—comes from signals we receive through our skin. Our complexions, via fleeting changes in color and radiance, and our myriad complex facial expressions, also serve to connect our “inside” to our “outside” by transmitting signs and hints that can reveal very precisely our inner states.

The countless dazzling foliage colors that illuminate the landscapes so characteristic of Autumn suggest another precious Metal insight: the understanding that the glorious beauty of Nature arises from multiplicity and assortment. Our friend, Rabbi Ted Falcon, remarks in his teachings that the word for “face” in Hebrew (“panim”) is a plural construction. All of the wisdom traditions suggest, just as the Hebrew word subtly underscores, that each of our individual faces is really composed of many faces — all the various masks and expressions that we put on for different occasions — and at an even deeper level, that every single one of our faces is an essential and indispensable part of the One Original Face, which we could also call the Community of All Beings, the Divine, the Tao, or the face of Nature.

point us away from misery

I love poet-translator Coleman Barks' paragraphs introducing his translations of Rumi poems as much as I love the poems themselves. This is from The Essential Rumi:
Green Ears Everywhere: On Children Running Through

In China they tell of three laughing Taoist masters, who taught by going into town and standing in the marketplace and laughing. One of them died. People curious as to how the remaining two would act gathered at the funeral pyre. The other two masters had been given instructions not to prepare the body in any way, not even to change the clothes the dead man was wearing. He had crammed his pockets full of firecrackers. The teaching began again. Rumi's poems are like firecrackers on a funeral pyre. They won't allow much public posturing, and they point us away from misery.

life cultivating life

The name of my blog, which is also the little phrase of aspiration on my business card, comes from this passage in Frederick Franck's Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing: meditation in action, which I loved and changed on first sight:


In the decayed slums of New York, London, Brussels, an ugly beauty survives, a smelly backdrop to human life...The bipeds that err through this wasteland in their dry-cleaned finery avoid meeting one another's eyes for fear of unprovoked assault.There is nothing to draw here...

Then the eye recovers, blots out the glass and steel. The bipeds are humans after all, milling around in their bodies, fat bodies, thin bodies, old and young bodies. My hand starts to move: Life is drawing life again, drawing the human condition. Wherever you draw human beings, you draw the human condition, your own.