Call It What You Will

"Flow (What was your face before your parents were born?)" 16 x 20

“Flow (What was your face before your parents were born?)” 16 x 20

One of the things I do for myself as a writer (and a human being) is attend a weekly “Zen Writing” class at the Austin Zen Center. One of our leaders is Kim Mosley, a man of my generation. His Jewish training and mindful curiosity always add a special note to our discussions. He’s been posting about the Torah on his blog, and this week’s post captivated me. Here’s an excerpt:

“So what’s the deal? We often strangle and misrepresent objects when we define them. As D.H. Lawrence wrote, we take experiences and make them into ideas. We tend to worship the representation rather than the more ethereal experience. Where one is limiting, the other is limitless. Where one can be understood, the other can just be felt.”

It reminded me of a small poem I wrote a number of years back:

All that is
Arises from all that is.
There is no other origin,
Only continuity
Of that which never originated
And never ceases
Which some call God
And within which others
Simply sit
In silent awe.

You’d probably like Kim’s artwork that goes with his blog. Here’s the link:


Tea for Two Sisters


Tuesday is my night for Zen Writing Group at the Austin Zen Center. Our “prompt” tonight was a short video showing two Japanese girls (some people said mother and daughter, I saw two sisters) at a traditional tea ceremony. Both audio and subtitles were in Japanese. Here is what I wrote: 

“I’m thirsty.” Angie said. “I want a Coke. Buy me a Coke, sister.”

Maxine was looking after her younger sister for the afternoon. Their parents had left Maxine enough money to go down to the McDonalds and buy a Coke, but Maxine didn’t want to go.

“I’m not buying you a Coke, Angie,” she said. “You drink too many Cokes anyway.Go make a cup of tea instead.”
 “Are you kidding me?” Angie just stood there with her hands on her hips. “I don’t drink tea… not that hot stuff anyway. Besides… I don’t know how to make it.”
“Well, you should learn, Angie,” Maxine said. “Come on, nuisance. Come in the kitchen and I’ll show you how to make a cup of tea.”
Angie rolled her eyes, but she followed Maxine into the kitchen, resting her elbows on the counter, her chin in her hands. She would watch.
“First,” Maxine said, “we need water.” She turned on the tap and out came the water. She filled the electric kettle, placed it back on its base and and flipped the switch to “on”.
“How does the water get into the tap?” Angie asked.
“Oh.” Maxine said. “I think it comes from the lake.”
“How does it do that?” Angie wanted to know.
“Pipes. Pumps. Filters – lots of stuff.” Maxine explained.
The two girls stood there, arms crossed, looking at the kettle, waiting for it to boil.
“Where did the kettle come from?” Angie asked.
“Target,” Maxine replied.
“Where did Target get it?”
Maxine sighed. “Probably from China, nuisance little sister. Don’t ask so many questions.”
“You mean people in China made our kettle?” Angie was looking at her reflection in the side of the kettle, making faces. “How did it get here?”
“Probably on a ship,” Maxine said. “In a big box inside a ship, I think. Then in a truck to get to the Target store. And people put it on the shelf. And we bought it.”
“What about the electricity to make the kettle get hot?” Angie said, poking at the electrical cord with her finger.
And so it went. The water, the kettle, the electricity, the tea, the little paper bags the tea was in, the ceramic mugs, the spoon, the honey. Angie kept asking and Maxine – getting into the game after a while – kept answering.
Finally Angie and Maxine sat down at the table with their two mugs of tea. Angie stirred her tea thoughtfully. “You know,” she said, “that’s a lot of stuff that went into this cup of tea.”
“Yeah,” Maxine smiled. “A lot of stuff.”
Angie sighed. “But I really did want a Coke.”

Nothing (9/16/2013)


Yesterday Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh ( who I was privileged to meet up with back in 1968 or 69) sat in front of a crowd of folks in Boston and did nothing for almost half an hour.
There is an art of doing nothing, and it is not just about meditation. It is also about being able to wake up with no plans.. and no fear of no plans, no compulsion to fill the time with doing SOMETHING. Being alive to the moments as they come. So alive, in fact, that a whole day becomes just one life-filled timeless moment. What is there to do? Nothing. Go!
(Actually, I am not yet very good at doing nothing. But I’m working on it. Oh, wait! I think maybe I’ll just let it work on me…)

Between Earth and Sky


Watching a group of European Buddhists perform traditional Tibetan dance this past weekend, I was particularly taken with the bearing of one of the men as he danced.  Tibetan dance is very different from most classical forms of western dance.  I had a few lessons some time back and found it challenging but intriguing.

What struck me about this one dancer last weekend was the way he was fully grounded and yet buoyant in his bearing.  Tibetan dance incorporates heavy footfalls and slow turns on one foot followed by light, even placement of the next foot.  And yet the head and shoulders must be lifted.  It is a tough combination.

I think I might try Tibetan dancing again someday…

La Sagrada Familia

The basilica of La Sagrada Familia – another Gaudi masterpiece – was my destination today.  I decided it was definitely in walking distance, although my body kept asking, “Are you sure…?”  Music was needed, so I pulled out my iPod and turned on “Winds of Devotion” by Carlos Nakai and Ngawang Khechog.  By the time La Sagrada Familia loomed into view, Ngawang Khechog was chanting the Prajnaparamita sutra (also know as Heart Sutra) – form is emptiness, emptiness is form… OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SOHA!   Wow.  The concrete and stone massiveness of La Sagrada towered above me as this sutra surged through my senses.

How could this equation of form and emptiness possibly apply to Gaudi?  As I opened my senses a bit more I thought, “You know… I think Gaudi almost got it!”  There is an expansiveness in his forms… There is a movement skyward (EVERYBODY in the basilica was looking UP)… And Gaudi’s emulation of nature imbues his work with an almost transparent quality, despite its massive substance.

Okay, there is also a lot of baroque decoration verging on an obsession for filling up every surface.  I did say he “almost” got it.