when spirits decide

the planchette inscribed
ovals on the board

stay or go
we had asked

a reply of stay
led to a why

ovals came back
first spelled out
then drawn
over and over and over.

gate – trees

tree deity

'Tree Herder' sculpture from recycled materials by Paul Rodriguez, found trailside @ Lake Roland, Balt County, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

‘Tree Herder’ sculpture from recycled materials by Paul Rodriguez, found trailside @ Lake Roland, Balt County, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

I came upon this woodland spirit during a sweltering late morning hike/bird walk. I’m thankful that it’s there watching over the trees. I was surprised at how many fellow humans were also out sweating in the woods. Trail people are always so friendly, even when it’s in the upper 90s and the humidity feels like we’re all floating in warm bathwater. One runner stopped to talk birds for a few minutes. Others just smiled or said ‘Good morning!’ One of my admittedly unscientific axioms, solely based in anecdotal evidence, is that people are much likelier to make eye contact and greet each other in the woods than they are on the street. Why is this? It is the power of the trees, I suspect. We are all happier in the woods, whether we know it or not. Nature has a calming effect and these days that effect is needed more than ever. As always at this time of year I have been struggling with the heat and not going to the woods has made it worse. But today I took up arms in the face of summer’s brutality and I’m glad that I did. For me there is no substitute for a couple of hours amidst the greens and browns of the forest. I feel it is my true home.

spatial divide

Black sky of crows crowns mornings, bookends to nights of ferocious dream violence

[can an empty space feel occupiedbe occupiedwith no bodies present]

Jackal fear circles, breathing hidden threat-breath, by unknown summons

[can shadows of bodies, once (they have) / left, still linger, filling space once occupied]

Inside, a wavy line descends, evens out, climbs a steep peakteetersdeclines again

[two containersone infinite, one finitehold space—connecting valves open and shut to control in/voluntary flow—allowance for expansion / contraction]

Outside, surrounding spaceunbrokenlimbs recede at the height of uncertainty

(11-12.14 / 7.17)

[revised] guidance [from two years ago]

There is nothing where you are going.

What do you mean…nothing.

I mean what I say.

That means nothing.

I understand it to mean something.

I think it’s just something to say…

[shrugs]

But there are things here…around me.

Are you certain.

Yes.

Describe them.

Leaves scattered on the sidewalk. A car’s headlights flicking on in the predawn gloom. The distant whistle of a train.

And do these things have meaning to you.

I-I’m not sure.

Take a closer look.

Well, I notice them.

And what about faces—do you see faces.

They are obscured.

Do you wish to see them with more clarity—to distinguish one from another.

Perhaps.

Now it is you who are evasive.

It is in my nature.

And everything that came before—what happened between when you left and when you returned—is it now gone.

Yes, for the most part. I see only glimpses but I cannot bring it all into focus.

In those glimpses you see more than in what surrounds you now. The latter is of little consequence.

How do you know.

It does not matter. What matters is in between.

In between what.

The words.

prettyboy reservoir

Prettyboy Reservoir, Baltimore County, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Clouds near Prettyboy Reservoir, Baltimore County, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

respect everything

The other night in the zendo I felt movement on my leg. At first I thought it was just the fan blowing on me, but then the movement continued in a path up my leg. I tried to let it go from my mind, as I usually try to do with minor sensations that arise while sitting. Eventually the crawling stopped. But then about five or ten minutes later I felt it again on my arm, heading down toward my hand. Whatever it was must have circumnavigated my body. It reached my wrist, hesitated, turned around and began crawling back up my arm before finally moving off my skin, probably onto my clothes. I did not feel it again for the duration of the sitting period.

Afterwards we talked about sensations that arise during zazen and what to do about them, specifically what qualifies as something worth moving your body for, at the risk of becoming a distraction for the people sitting next to you. As someone pointed out, meditation is a good time to experiment with reactions one might not default to in everyday life.

In this case, clearly there was some type of insect crawling on my body and my first instinct in daily life would be to (a) look at it and/or (b) brush it off. The outcome of (a) would most likely determine whether reaction (b) manifests itself. If I saw that it was a mosquito or a large spider, I would no doubt immediately brush it off. I might even brush whatever it was off without first looking at it. The mere feeling of something crawling on me could provoke an action designed for instantaneous removal, at the risk of potential injury or even death to a living organism.

If last night I had jerked my arm when I felt the crawling sensation I would likely have disturbed the people sitting to my left and right. Knowing this I sat with the sensation and in turn experienced a curious response within myself. I felt connected to this insect of which I did not even have a visual image. All I had was the feeling of its legs as it moved in zigzag motions along my skin. I felt its uncertainty as it paused and turned back the way it had come. I felt a friendliness toward it growing as we momentarily shared the same space.

As Shunryu Suzuki once said:

When our life is based on respect and complete trust, it will be completely peaceful. Our relationship with nature should also be like this. We should respect everything, and we can practice respecting things in the way we relate with them.¹

¹Suzuki, Shunryu. Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen. Edited by Edward Espe Brown. New York: HarperCollins; 2003.

Moment death–
each day a thousandfold.
From atop the promontory:
Ahoy! The headwind wakes.

Connections cleave–
backwind pushes us.
I cannot stop it.
I cannot step into it.

Clinging tendrils,
even unthought-of,
gulliver us
to the not-now.

Tripartite refuge limps
on weakened limbs.
Ever-widening eyes
Astigmatized.

you and i have created it

What is the relationship between yourself and the misery, the confusion, in and around you? Surely this confusion, this misery, did not come into being by itself. You and I have created it, not a capitalist or a communist or a fascist society, but you and I have created it in our relationship with each other. What you are within has been projected without, on to the world; what you are, what you think and what you feel, what you do in your everyday existence is projected outwardly, and that constitutes the world. If we are miserable, confused, chaotic within, by projection that becomes the world, that becomes society, because the relationship between yourself and myself, between myself and another is society—society is the product of our relationship—and if our relationship is confused, egocentric, narrow, limited, national, we project that and bring chaos into the world.

Jiddu Krishnamurti, The First and Last Freedom, p 36

three friends

There were three friends
Discussing life.
One said:
“Can men live together
And know nothing of it?
Work together
And produce nothing?
Can they fly around in space
And forget to exist
World without end?”
The three friends looked at each other
And burst out laughing.
They had no explanation.
Thus they were better friends than before.

Then one friend died.
Confucius
Sent a disciple to help the other two
Chant his obsequies.

The disciple found that one friend
Had composed a song.
While the other played a lute,
They sang:

“Hey, Sung Hu!
Where’d you go?
Hey, Sung Hu!
Where’d you go?
You have gone
Where you really were.
And we are here—
Damn it! We are here!”

Then the disciple of Confucius burst in on them and
Exclaimed: “May I inquire where you find this in the
Rubrics for obsequies,
This frivolous carolling in the presence of the departed?”

The two friends looked at each other and laughed:
“Poor fellow,” they said, “he doesn’t know the new liturgy!”

—Thomas Merton. The Way of Chuang Tzu [vi. II.]. New York: New Directions, 1969.

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