Wednesday, October 26, 2016

fork in the road


The experience of the gap between the cessation of one moment and the arising of the next is nothing less than the “moment of truth” that will determine our direction and shape our future experience.

In Tibetan, we say that in each moment we are at a fork in the road.

Whichever fork or direction we take, it is important to realize that all appearances are, ultimately speaking, aspects of the nature of our own mind. They do not exist in a manner that is independent of our minds.

—Dzogchen Ponlop
Mind Beyond Death

Sunday, October 23, 2016

I am involved


No man is an island,
Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.

Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

–John Donne

Robert Mapplethorpe
Waves (Left, Center, Right) 1980


Saturday, October 22, 2016

It Was Like This: You Were Happy


It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?

Now it is almost over.
Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness—
between you, there is nothing to forgive—
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.

It doesn’t matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.

–Jane Hirshfield
for J.S.



Friday, October 21, 2016



Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Pantheist, excerpt


Yea, I am one with all I see,

With wind and wave, with pine and palm;

Their very elements in me

Are fused to make me what I am.

Through me their common life-stream flows,

And when I yield this human breath,

In leaf and blossom, bud and rose,

Live on I will….

There is no Death.

–Robert Service


Monday, October 17, 2016

life is more true than reason will deceive


life is more true than reason will deceive

(more secret or than madness did reveal)

deeper is life than lose:higher than have

—but beauty is more each than living’s

allmultiplied by infinity sans if

the mightiest meditations of mankind

cancelled are by one merely opening leaf

(beyond whose nearness there is no beyond)

or does some littler bird than eyes can learn

look up to silence and completely sing?

futures are obsolete;pasts are unborn

(here less than nothing’s more than everything)

death,as men call him,ends what they call men

—but beauty is more now than dying’s when

–E. E. Cummings


Sunday, October 16, 2016

your homecoming will be my homecoming


your homecoming will be my homecoming-
my selves go with you,only i remain;
a shadow phantom effigy or seeming
(an almost someone always who’s noone)

a noone who,till their and your returning,
spends the forever of his loneliness
dreaming their eyes have opened to your mourning

feeling their stars have risen through your skies:
so,in how merciful love’s own name,linger
no more than selfless i can quite endure
the absence of that moment when a stranger
takes in his arms my very lifes who’s you

-when all fears hopes beliefs doubts disappear.
Everywhere and joy’s perfect wholeness we’re.

E. E. Cummings



Saturday, October 15, 2016

transformed into arrows


Transformed into arrows
let's all go, body and soul!
Piercing the air
let's go, body and soul,
with no way of return,
transfixed there,
rotting with the pain of striking home,
never to return.

One last breath! Now, let's quit the string,
throwing away like rags
all we've had for decades
all we've enjoyed for decades
all we've piled up for decades,
the lot.
Transformed into arrows
let's all go, body and soul!

The air is shouting! Piercing the air
let's go, body, and soul!
In dark daylight the target is rushing towards us.
Finally, as the target topples
in a shower of blood,
let's all just once as arrows

Never to return!
Never to return!

Hail, arrows, our nation's arrows!
Hail, Warriors! Spirits of the fallen!

–Ko Un
Brother Anthony translation


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Making Friends With Death

Myogen Steve Stücky
Colleen Morton Busch

When I die, don’t say I battled cancer.
Please say I befriended it.
I don’t have cancer—yet—but the person I’ve shared my life with for the past 15 years does, as do many others I love. Breast cancer runs in my family. It’s probably just a matter of time until the suspicious finding on the mammogram turns out not to be benign. I’ve borrowed this idea of befriending from a man who died of an aggressive pancreatic cancer in 2013 and modeled how to meet his own death with a radical curiosity.

I got to know Myogen Steve Stücky, former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, while writing a book about the wildfire that nearly burned down Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, a sister temple, in 2008. Abbot Steve, as he was affectionately called, led the decision by five resident priests to turn back during an evacuation. They saved Tassajara with no professional backup. Abbot Steve, who grew up laboring on a farm in Kansas, told me it was among the most intense work he’d ever done.

During and after the fire, Abbot Steve talked about meeting it as another neighbor in the valley. He spoke of “getting to know the fire” and having a “relationship” with this element that is an essential part of the ecosystem. He thought of the fire as a friend that required strictness and boundary setting. He recognized the fires within—the flames of digestion and cognition, the heat of feelings.

In the fall of 2013, five years after he’d helped save Tassajara, Abbot Steve got a terminal diagnosis. He treated the cancer, but when he saw that it had gained too much ground for him to survive, he accepted his situation and turned his attention to dying with as much awareness as he could muster. He danced with death, like he danced with fire, remaining open and fully engaged even as he suffered grave losses and felt intense pain.

In an October 2013 blog post, not long after his diagnosis, he turned his shocking situation into an opportunity for reflection: “It is three weeks tomorrow that I started my new life. I am learning things every day.” Note: new life.
In early November, Abbot Steve reminded his students, “This is a good time to examine the reality of impermanence in all of our lives. And to continue to express our love for each other.”

Abbot Steve was the last person anyone expected to get sick and succumb to illness. Like my uncle Paul Reinhart, a distance runner who never smoked and died of metastatic lung cancer, certain vexing questions arose. Why me? Why this deadly cancer? Why this awful pain?

Abbot Steve met these questions whole-heartedly.

Around Thanksgiving, he wrote: “The ‘practice of gratitude’ for me begins simply with saying the word ‘gratitude’ and allowing whatever arises in thought to be regarded as loveable no matter who or what it may be. This...acknowledges that everything, absolutely everything is fully participating in the fact of my existence this moment.”

He went on, “These days...I wake up and say ‘gratitude’ and the next thought is ‘pain in the belly’ or ‘cancer’ or it’s ‘not fair!’ To accept such thoughts with gratitude may be impossible and even contribute to further unwholesome states of mind. So, it is realistically healthier to enter this practice by creating a field of positive energy by first naming what you know from experience is nourishing for you.”

Because I was telling a story in which the threat of death was real and present, I asked Abbot Steve about death often. People died during the course of my working with him—his mother, dear friends. Abbot Steve used those occasions to talk about grief as a teacher, as something that asks us to realize the truth of impermanence. We grieve because we love, because we hold close what cannot be held on to. Because as humans, we have attachments, first and foremost to our own lives.

Gratitude is a practice. Befriending what we haven’t chosen is also a practice. And the two are intimately connected. I know that if myeloma were on the march—eating away at my husband’s bones and clogging his kidneys—or if I were facing a terminal diagnosis, to welcome my experience without resistance would be difficult.

But as I write this, fire is burning towards Tassajara again. And even as I hope for Tassajara’s safety, I respect the fire. I acknowledge that it too is “fully participating” in its life.

Of course, we try to keep a wildfire or cancer from destroying what we love, but whatever comes, I won’t use the word battle. It creates an unhelpful opposition, as if cancer or wildfire were separate from us rather than potential teachers or invitations to transformation. Making enemies just isn’t the response I want to choose. To become defensive is to harden, and when I harden, I miss so much. Things have a tendency to deflect off of me—essential things like love and the warmth and wonder of life.

When that final fire came for him, Abbot Steve lived his dying as he’d lived his life—not pushing away what was difficult or unknown, expanding even as physically he wasted away. He died with a slight smile on his face.

Thank you, Abbot Steve, for that beautiful example of—not surrender—but letting go.

Colleen Morton Busch

Abbot Steve posing in his robes with fire gear after the
2008 Basin Complex fire. 
Mako Voelkel