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Practice in Mexico

Dec 02, 2005

Dec 2, 2005. Mar de Jade. On the airplane I sat next to two kids, Carlos (9) and Sandy (7) who were flying to Mexico alone, for the first time, to spend a month with their grandmothers. Their parents, they told me in their accented English, were Mexicans who could not legally leave the U.S. with hope to return. "They have to run from the police," Carlos said. All dressed up from head to toe in brand new chic casual clothes, they were very cute, Carlos pudgy with a flat top haircut, Sandy, with very small English, had a lovely smile and wide dark eyes. Both, at different points in the flight, broke down crying and I tried to comfort them.

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Oct 11, 2005. Hours and days fly by. For instance this — foggy — morning a little reading (Oppen and Pessoa), make some soup, a bit of email, and already the morning's gone and it's nearly lunchtime. Some days it seems I'm battling with time, and losing. But then I ask, "Why worry if time's slipping by? After all, what have I got to do of any importance other than to see this life through till the end?" And I answer, "Well, absolutely nothing." So there's nothing to worry about. (It's the same nothing, in both cases).

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Spending time this month with Sybil Cooper who is dying at Hospice. She seems quite clear about what she's doing, and what's important. She is dying, that's her job right now. It is a little exciting and interesting. And what's important is love. Her son Ethan has been taking care of her and staying very close through all this. She's proud that he's capable of doing this, knows that he'll be able to go on and will be all right without her, that she's given him the best she's had to offer, has done her job, struggling as a single mother all these years.

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In Canterbury we visited the Cathedral where I finally got clear about Thomas Beckett, whom I'd always gotten mixed up with Thomas More. More was later: the government counselor who quarreled with Henry VIII over the king's daring and willful takeover of the church and was beheaded for his integrity - or stubbornness. A movie and a play, "The Lion in Winter," about all this, in the 1970's. Beckett was an 11th Century cleric who'd been previously a government official, prodigy of Henry II, who'd eventually made him Archbishop of Canterbury. (Interesting that throughout English history churchmen and secular officials were interchangeable; not unusual for someone to be Chancellor of the Exchequer one year then Bishop the next — seemingly there was neither secular nor religious specialization; all education was both religious and secular I suppose).

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The subtlety of these inner changes (and one can't either even call them exactly "inner") is very odd: to what extent is spiritual transformation even ever actually taking place- is it rather a matter of something we think is occurring and is thinking it's occurring enough, something in itself, and what about when we do not think it is occurring, might it be occurring anyway, and if so what does this mean? Certainly material changes (say, in the body, as with aging, or coming to physical maturity) register, and emotional changes register (being emotionally traumatized and healing from that trauma), which is why it makes sense to us to pay our doctors and psychotherapists.

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Merton's conclusion to "The Inner Experience," in which he talks about the need for contemplation in our time, and the problems, challenges, and opportunities of the contemplative, is inspiring. The people in the Dharma seminar liked this part a lot more than they liked the earlier talks, which were much more focused on the sense and flavor of the Christian mystical path, which sounded to them quite dualistic and sexist. In fact the sexist dimension was not a key part of the book, but the women members of the seminar, understandably, focused strongly on this, and were hurt by it. As a man, I notice these sections (particularly, for instance, the discussion of the garden of Eden story in which "woman" is temptress, that side of humanity that must be tamed and protected against), can see they are objectionable, and cheerfully go on, without much ado.

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Lately in the weekly Dharma seminar and at all day sittings here at home, as well as at retreats and events out of town, I've been presenting traditional practices for cultivating the heart. We've worked with the Four Unlimited Abodes (loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity) as well as the Six Paramittas (giving, ethical conduct, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom.) Through your comments and through the experiences you have been reporting, I have had the chance to look at these practices with a fresh eye, and I am impressed with how helpful they are, even in the stressful troubled world we live in. It may be that the most useful gift the Buddha gave us is the simple, even naïve, confidence that the mind and heart are pliable, and can always be guided and developed for the good, when effort is made and there is a willingness to change.

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First day of sesshin following nine days of "community practice" during which we had a relaxed schedule with daily work, classes, and lots of interaction at meals and during breaks. Lots more Mexicans here for sesshin, many newcomers to the practice, and both zendos are full. Maybe fifty or so people by now. My series of talks on Dogen's "Bendowa" is now over and I'll begin tonight talking about more basic down to earth stuff: suffering and the end of suffering, path. For the first time here during sesshin the morning talk will be given by others, not by me. Myphon Hunt, Sue Moon, Mick Sopko, and Arlene Leuck will each give a talk.

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Holland

Feb 21, 2005

February 21, 2005. The Hague, Netherlands A very long flight here. About twenty-four hours journey, though it is hard to tell whether twenty-four hours is actually twenty four hours when you are speeding faster than the clock ordinarily measures the earth's organized journey around the sun. The whole body wonders what time it actually is. Our son Noah picked us up at the airport in Amsterdam and we journeyed here by train. I am always astonished at how civilized Europe is. America is so rough by comparison, in every sense of the word. We passed suburban areas, neatly arranged, with people living quite close together in appartment complexes, and lots of open space around the inhabited areas. Canals defining open fields under a fuzzy gray sky. In America everyone wants his own piece of God's earth. And the right to stretch out on it and mess it up as he sees fit. I have always felt there was something supremely odd about the idea of "owning land." (You think you own the land but in the end you are buried in it; so who own who?)

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Had to get the garbage ready to go out and this meant binding up with masking tape the many cardboard boxes left over from the office move. And the wind was blowing quite fiercely, as it does up here, almost storm gale power, so that it was difficult to manage the boxes that were so much flapping in the wind and not wanting to stay together when being bound, forcing themselves always apart, and so breaking the masking tape, that is quite flimsy and easily broken. At the same time there were various problems with my body — my knee is painful, so squatting down to pick up boxes was painful in every instance, and getting up more painful, so that when the boxes blew out of my hands and I had to squat to pick them up I was much in pain, then binding them, the tape flipping over in the wind so the sticky side was up instead of down, so wouldn't stick, except to itself, twisting, and wouldn't untwist in the wind, so that I would always need more tape, and was running out of tape...

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