Sunday, January 28, 2007

one day it cracks them open

After talking today with a dear friend about his obviously powerful practice of kundalini yoga (a practice that awakens the energy lying like a serpent coiled at the base of spine, which then rises to enable the yogi's individual consciousness to merge with the Divine Consciousness), I remembered that my hero-friend Bill Mitchell practiced and taught a type of kundalini yoga for many years. I have had a sweet strong sense of Bill yesterday and today as a being who has suddenly shifted form, merged with the cosmos, gone super-nova, and become an intense radiance that has lit up the stars in our eyes... and now I recall a lovely comment that Chris wrote at Ashley's when a soul friend of theirs died a month ago at the solstice: "I have had this image with me all day of a star exploding, shedding layers and layers and seeding many new stars all around."

So many new stars.

I think that this star-burst/snake-uncoiling energy is an ecstatic one. An energy that takes us far beyond our ordinary sense of who we are, beyond where we think we end and the rest of the universe begins. A power that we experience at numinous times like these, when the veil floats aside for a moment and we are tossed high and low by the great winds of life and death. When we feel pinned through the heart to this present time; and when there's nothing left of us to be pinned, because we've already been dissolved into the fertile emptiness.

An energy to appreciate, and maybe, like my friends, to cultivate.

"Many myths...speak of a snake that glides, sinuous and silent, through the shimmering branches of the body-tree. Universally, the snake symbolizes the primordial creative energy of the cosmos in general and the life force within the body in particular. What we call ecstasy is the dance of the serpent through the tree of our consciousness.
"If you think of your body as a house, the serpentine force is the electricity that flows through all the rooms and lights them up. Seen with the inner eye, every living body appears luminous -- it shines, shimmers and scintillates, each cell a little star.
"Ecstasy is always a gift of grace. Its comings and goings cannot be controlled...Or, as Rumi puts it, "God's joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box."
~Jalaja Bonheim, PhD

Unmarked Boxes
Jalal al-din Rumi
translated by Coleman Barks

Don't grieve. Anything you lose comes round
in another form. The child weaned from mother's milk
now drinks wine and honey mixed.

God's joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box,
from cell to cell. As rainwater, down into flower bed.
As roses, up from ground.
Now it looks like a plate of rice and fish,
now a cliff covered with vines,
now a horse being saddled.
It hides within these,
till one day it cracks them open.

Part of the self leaves the body when we sleep
and changes shape. You might say, "Last night
I was a cypress tree, a small bed of tulips,
a field of grapevines." Then the phantasm goes away.
You're back in the room.
I don't want to make any one fearful.
Hear what's behind what I say.

Tatatumtum tatum tatadum.
There's the light gold of wheat in the sun
and the gold of bread made from that wheat.
I have neither. I'm only talking about them,

as a town in the desert looks up
at stars on a clear night.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

dreaming bill

(Updated 2/15/07: There will be two memorial services for Bill at Bastyr University, one on Friday Feb. 23 at 5:30 pm in the chapel, moving to the fire circle on the hill above the herb garden at 6:30. The second will be the following day, Saturday Feb 24, a formal service in the chapel at 2 pm that will be webcast)

My spirit buddy and teacher, Dr. Bill Mitchell, died the night before last of a broken heart. His son Noah, aged 27, had died suddenly in the morning, and Bill died that night in his sleep. They both died of myocardial infarction ("heart attack").

Bill was one of the co-founders of the John Bastyr College of Naturopathic Medicine, where I went to medical school, which has since grown up to become Bastyr University.

For the first 15 or 16 years that I knew Bill, I really mostly just knew of him, and he didn't really know me. Like many of my school mates, I was in awe of his brilliance, his robust connection to the natural world, and his weirdness -- little realizing how weird I was going to turn out to be myself.

In 2002, when I started a two year stint as Assistant Dean in the Naturopathic Medicine department at Bastyr, one of my first and favorite assignments was to support Bill's teaching of a new elective course, the prototype for a series meant to embody and make explicit the part of Bastyr's mission statement that emphasizes education and services that "integrate mind, body, spirit and nature". I got to talk with him often on the phone and meet with him to create the syllabus and course requirements and other things he was not so interested in. He told me early on that "the syllabus can't really be created until after the course is over, because I won't know till then what Spirit's going to want me to say." Then we laughed for a long time and knew that we understood each other, and ever since then we have loved each other.

I last saw Bill a couple of months ago over lunch at a little restaurant near his office. He talked about an idea of leaving his practice to his daughter, who is also a naturopathic doctor, and maybe leaving this city where he had been for so many years, about going to a place where he could swim for hours in the warm ocean. Our last interaction, though, was by email, which turned out to be a pretty reliable way to keep very loose track of his moonbeam self. I had written him to describe a dream I'd had of him on New Year's Eve, where I had been so happy to run into him because I needed to ask him a question about Dr. Bastyr's practice. In my dream, he'd said, "well, that means Dr. Bastyr has something to tell you!" and pulled a large phone out his jacket, to connect me with Dr. Bastyr (who died in 1995). Then I woke up. Bill's email reply to me was "Wow what a great dream. Dr. Bastyr healed you. You knew you were being healed. He didn't say a lot. And he worked on your back and neck. Love and laughter in the new year. Bill"

Bill had ravishingly hard times in the past few years, enough to break a heart many times over. He was scoured out from the inside and became almost transparent; you could see the light shining straight through him. He let all the hardship pour through him like a great river, and he didn't hide from it or hide it from those of us who orbited him.

It turned out that I often had occasion to weep in Bill's presence, for very varied reasons. He never minded, it was always OK with him. I know that it's OK with him, now, too. Leaning on his presence was like leaning on a mountain. And that's still true, too.

The soundtrack for my day yesterday, before I had heard about Bill, happened to be Joni Mitchell's Blue, and her song "A Case of You" has gotten woven now into the missing him that rises up today:

I remember
that time you told me
you said,
'love is touching souls'
you've touched mine
Part of you
pours out of me
in these lines from time to time

You're in my blood
like holy wine

and from Hildegard von Bingen, one of Bill's patron saints
and about whom he was exceedingly knowledgeable:

I am the one whose praise echoes on high.
I adorn all the earth.
I am the breeze that nurtures all things green.
I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits.
I am led by the spirit to feed the purest streams.
I am the rain coming from the dew
that causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life.
I am the yearning for good.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

happy birthday, rabbi ted!

Yom huledet sameach, Rabbi Ted! Happy 65th birthday, with deep love and appreciation for the way you have been willing to enter the center of the fray all your life in order to offer the teachings of the one silence.

A birthday sort of poem, courtesy of Panhala:

Give up the world; give up self; finally, give up God.
Find god in rhododendrons and rocks,
passers-by, your cat.
Pare your beliefs, your absolutes.
Make it simple; make it clean.
No carry-on luggage allowed.
Examine all you have
with a loving and critical eye, then
throw away some more.
Repeat. Repeat.
Keep this and only this:
what your heart beats loudly for
what feels heavy and full in your gut.
There will only be one or two
things you will keep,
and they will fit lightly
in your pocket.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

that last curving and impossible sliver of light

one of Saturn's moons
photo source

our moon's phase tonight: waning, 1% of full

by David Whyte

I want to write about faith,
about the way the moon rises
over cold snow, night after night,

faithful even as it fades from fullness,
slowly becoming that last curving and impossible
sliver of light before the final darkness.

But I have no faith myself
I refuse it the smallest entry.

Let this, then, my small poem,
like a new moon, slender and barely open,
be the first prayer that opens me to faith.

by David Whyte, from *Where Many Rivers Meet*

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

dangerous unselfishness

In a new book by University of Washington, Tacoma, professor Michael Honey, Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign, one of the 1300 sanitation workers on whose behalf Dr. King was there in Memphis, says of him: "King was like Moses. You can't keep treating people wrong, you gotta do right some time."

It was in Memphis on the eve of his assasination that he gave the prophetic "I've been to the mountaintop" speech, in which he declared, "Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness." He explored the parable of the good Samaritan who helped the man along the road between Jerusalem and Jericho:

But I'm going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It's possible that these men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as a setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles, or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about 2200 feet below sea level. That's a dangerous road. In the day of Jesus it came to be known as the 'Bloody Pass.'

…And so the first question that the Levite asked was, 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'

That's the question before you tonight. Not, 'If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?' The question is not, 'If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?' 'If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?' That's the question."

That speech, his last, ends like this:

"…Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

Though the words are powerful to read (find the complete transcript here), it is immeasurably more powerful to actually hear him, which you can do from here, or hear and see him, which you can do here or here; to feel his deep, slow, deliberate, rhythmic voice, and his message, and his force of spirit, roll through you and carry you and hold you up.

"But Moses never got to the Promised Land, and I just couldn't understand it...Moses only got to see the Promised Land and to watch the others go there. Everyone else had been given their dream. It didn't seem fair to me.
"When I told this to my grandfather, he smiled. 'But Moses did get his dream,' he said. 'Moses was a leader, Neshume-le, and a leader always has a different dream from the others.'
"He reminded me of mitzvot, those human actions that help move things in the direction in which God is trying to move them. When a person does such an action, they become God's hands in the world. 'There are many mitzvot, but the greatest mitzvah of all is said to be the freeing of captives,' he told me. 'Moses's dream was for his people to be free. And so his reward was that he got to see that happen. Because he was a leader, his dream was different from the dreams of the people, Neshume-le.

"A real leader has the same dream that God has.'"

~My Grandfather's Blessings, Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

winter and water

Yesterday I caught a brief, a really really brief, glimpse of the possibility that the light will remember to come back here.

Looking into the Cascade mountain range from my backyard.

Well, that view is just a tiny bit telephotoed...

This is what I actually see from my backyard.

This is how the world usually looks around here these days -- including just a little while after the first photo.
(although earlier tonight it snowed, and it's still crystally and brilliant white)

And this is how it feels sometimes: windblown, dampish, and getting frayed around the edges (but in the meantime, the prayers are dissolving into the air and are carried off by the wind)
I rediscovered some elemental fragments I contributed to Wings, the community playground that my friend Ashley used to host at Easily Amazed

Here is the part that tells about where we are now:
Winter and Water. Black and deep blue. Kidney, Bladder, bones, ears. Death and the "end" of the cycle. Reflection, stillness, depth, silence. Wisdom and the will to live. Water is the reservoir of our lineage (genetic and spiritual), our generative potency. It is the seeds in the dark, cold, silent ground full of intensely concentrated essence of future. The archetype of the Sage. Water is adaptable, enduring, patient, flows according to where the way is open, goes around obstacles, stores our power. The source of our capacity for awe.In his teachings on the elements, my friend Paul adds this: Water is community. Gathering. Things coming together. Sense of holding on, with feeling. Water practices: holding every moment as precious; deep listening.
Little update: still all water, all the time, mostly the frozen kind -- the prayer flags stiff and unmoving as the snow fell; just tonight starting to melt and drip and run down the hills or be drawn up into sky or stem or trunk. Just like the water in the world, the water moving in us can be frozen stiff, can rush and flood, can drip and penetrate, can soak and does the water within you flow these days?

Friday, January 05, 2007

sacred conversation

Peggy Holman recently posted a beautiful article called "Evolution, Process and Conversation: A Foundation for Conscious Evolutionary Agency" to the Open Space listserv, originally written for the Evolutionary Life e-magazine.

In it, she wonders/suggests:
"Could it be that consciousness is the latest evolutionary innovation that, when applied to conversation, catalyzes a new form of social system, the conscious co-creative collective, the radiant network of deep community? I believe that conscious conversation is the path to what Thich Nhat Hanh imagined when he said: "It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and lovingkindness, a community practicing mindful living. And the practice can be carried out as a group, as a city, as a nation." [Thich Nhat Hanh, "The Next Buddha May Be a Sangha" in Inquiring Mind, Vol 10, No.2, Spring 1994]

which reminds me of a teaching I read a couple of years ago -- a similar co-evolutionary idea in a different costume:
"'Messiah' in the original Hebrew is understood by the Kabbalists, quite astoundingly, to mean 'conversation'. Master Nachum of Chernobyl, mystic and philosopher, points out that the Hebrew word for messiah, Mashiach, can be understood as the Hebrew word Ma-siach -- Messiah, meaning 'from dialogue' or 'of conversation.' [Me'or Enayim, Parashat Pinchas] His assertion radically implies that the Messiah is potentially present in every human conversation -- every mutual act of voice-giving.

"All conversation is sacred. The ability to have an honest face-to-face talk in whihch both sides are true to themselves, vulnerable and powerful at the same time, is messianic. Simply put, sacred conversation is the vessel that receives the light of Messiah."

a radiant network

Monday, January 01, 2007

life awakens and is new

“Human breath is rooted in Divine breath, and Divine breath is inherent in human breath, reflecting the interdependent nature of the human and the Divine...

"Please ask yourself how long the breath of life that moves through you so freely at this very moment has been here. How long have these literal molecules circulated in one form or another in our world? …continue to breathe naturally and allow the question to touch your imagination lightly. There is no need to think of any particular answer...

"After you have considered how long your breath has been part of the world, extend your inquiry to include the molecules that make up your entire body. How long have these been around? How long has all of your body circulated around and around in our world, transforming from one form to another? Please engage this with your whole body and mind, allowing yourself to feel the question as it moves through every part of you...

"Remember, when the spirit or wind of creativity is brought to our tasks, and when we follow the example of the Creator and breathe life into what we undertake, life itself awakens and is new.”

Peter Levitt, Fingerpainting On the Moon: Writing and Creativity as a Path to Freedom

Thank you to Meredith, for showing the way to this book full of incandescent sparks.

This photo is from a morning's showshoeing on Mt Werner in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where we have been for the past week.
May this new year be as fresh, and enlivening, and may our interdependence with one another and the Divine become ever clearer.