Monday, November 30, 2020


We debated trust. She said it was about someone being dependable. I said it was about someone being who they are. She didn’t trust the thief. I did, saying that you could depend on the thief taking every opportunity to steal. I presented this quandary to my Zen teacher, hoping, of course, that she’d side with me. She said that we were both wrong, and that you can trust the universe. I told her that she kept saying that. “Maybe someday you’ll hear it,” she replied. So then I ran it past my friend A, who said that it was in the Heart Sutra. There are a few zen texts like the Heart Sutra that say everything, so that’s always a safe bet. I asked her what she meant and she said, “form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” Maybe I’ll understand that someday. So I changed the subject and said that we have to both see that everything is the same and also, that everything is different. So being “colorblind” is necessary, treating everyone as just another member of one’s tribe, while at the same time recognizing that they are so different. Then she said that this is just about semantics, which to me is a “heads I win tails I lose” argument because if you deny it you aren’t really listening and if you accept it then you are just wasting your time. So back to the question, what does is mean to trust in the universe. We can trust that we’ll be surprised by “what’s next.” Or we can use the idea of probability to explain everything. Like, “it was bound to happen.” That feels cold and actuarial. We use the word “refuge” in Zen. Trusting the universe seems like taking refuge, beyond using probability. I can trust the universe to keep me on my toes, and to encourage me to be authentic and loving. Life will not be an easy race, but the ride is fun.

(2 days later) I've been thinking more about "trusting the universe" and it keeps coming back to karma. Whatever we do volitionally creates karma. We can depend on the universe in that regard. My sister and I would drink my parent's scotch, and then add water so the level wouldn't change. We got away with it for awhile until we were busted. I think a lot of people think like that. They drink and drive and didn't have an accident so they think they are home free. But the universe is dependable in the way that we make a difference even when we fail, and that nothing goes by unacknowledged. We can trust the universe in that regard.

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Dreams Escape

20201127: The Dreams Escape

Dreams are rising from the sleeper
like steam from a hot towel.
They waft past bedstead and dresser
bump and jumble their way toward the window.
The sleeper thrashes his sheets, 
throws off his blanket.
Fragments of dream—llama quilt-suited
for winter, striped Christmas candy,
spaceship diving toward Earth—
collide as they float.
Out they go into the damp of the night,
drawn by the need of dry-minded sleepers
up the hill, across the bay, fog on the water.
They are eager to say what they can't quite say,
share their stories that won't stand still,
find their way to dream islands, dream continents.
A wave of them—puzzle pieces, shards of letters—
float from the house, followed by a second,
and the dreamer drifts toward the day. —Sarah Webb

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Blocked Out Fiber

Do you ever think you are getting any closer? This mean guy wanted to kill Buddha. As he walked toward Buddha to do the deed, Buddha stood still. Yet the distance between the two remained the same. Finally the poor guy succumbed and became Buddha’s disciple. Last night we looked at the koan where the young monk wanted to know about Zen. His renowned teacher asked him if he had eaten his porridge and then told the monk that he should then wash his bowl. According to the koan, the monk was then enlightened. I wondered why at this older age I’m still the kid, the youngest in my family. The monk, so to speak. Why do I identify with one person in a koan rather than the other? How many lifetimes will it take to identify with the master? To be the one answering the question rather than asking it? Getting closer means to reduce the distance between you and it. Yet just the opposite seems to be true. For me, getting closer is not even like standing still, but it is like walking backwards.

So earlier I was on the floor moving a keyboard drawer so that it would center on a larger monitor. At the same time, Mensa was talking to our 6-year old who was reading to us. If I was a good grandfather, I’d drop my tools and focus on the conversation with this delightful kid. But instead I thought about how I needed to finish the keyboard so I could get the turkey in the oven so I could do the 5pm family zoom call so I could do my 7pm class and so on. I became very anxious and started thinking about the neuropsychologist who did a podcast talking about how it is the job of the brain to regulate the body. So what is my brain doing? Why were these particular chemicals being produced and not others. If I was a Valium user, I would have done that. I knew I was stuck in this anxiety of getting all this stuff done, and yet that didn’t make it go away… or at least it could have quieted down. Within me there were two of us… the one who was anxious because, damn it, he had a plan to get a bunch of things done, and then there was the one who had an opportunity to forget the plan and pay attention to his precious 6-year old.

So I keep walking, apparently faster and faster. Sometimes I can almost touch it, and other times I reach out for that banana split and bruise my hand on the glass that separates us. Maybe if I walked backwards more I’d move forward. Moving forward just doesn’t seem to work. My daughter-in-law was talking about how when you walk in the room you should be authentic. I said something like then you can’t be wrong like when you are trying to be someone else. We talk in Zen about returning to our original self… our original nature… our buddha nature… who we really are. It is a long road, like when the Israelites took 40 years to take what should have been a one-day journey. They couldn’t have taken a longer road if they had tried.

I think that if it was easier it wouldn’t be so much fun. It would be like playing darts except the dart would be attached to an elastic band that went right to the bullseye. What fun would that be?

Sunday, November 15, 2020


To "Ran" by Kim Mosley

It is not what we see
in the bright shapes of the day--
a crinkled gold of sunshine
on flowers and steps,
a pond we walk by catching the sky
a watered lawn the right green.

These are there, of course,
and true in their way,
as is the gray of concrete,
rainy morning duty
where we rise with not enough sleep
and drink our coffee, shake our arms,
our shoulders, to rouse ourselves.
Look at the sunshine creeping
under the blinds, we say,
You can do this—get out there!

But behind all that—the sun catching
rainbow on the drops from the sprinkler,
the paper we draw from our briefcases—
lies an ocean that sun and paper
float in, a dark they rise out of, like islands.

An antelope runs the plain.
It leaps the absence,
the gap,
the lightless fjords between the known.
Its body—not-body—is a black possibility,
a night that turns into the face of day

that turns into so many things—faces
and oranges and isthmuses,
crowded onto our mainland of the real.

Beyond it float fragments and wires
of the ungraspable,

an island of fog
where the unnamed and the unnameable
rub against each other in the mist

and the broad water beyond it all,
the deep below things and their names,
the black of everythingalltogether
not yet born
ready to rise.

Sarah Webb, 11/16/20

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Sling Shot

The rabbi said today that it is God who puts thoughts in our head. I imagine a gal with a sling shot, shooting thoughts here and there. Of course, sending thoughts to billions of people must be a fairly difficult task. And keeping track of what thought to shoot at what person would be even more challenging. Sometimes my thoughts change with every breathe. My arm itches, my arm tinges, my forehead itches, I hear my shelf rattling, and so on. But what about my less trivial thoughts, like when I’d like someone to fall down the stairs. Is that a God thought as well? And if you are one of those weirdoes who censors mean thoughts, are you actually censoring God as well? How might she feel about that… being told that we won’t accept anything but positive thoughts?

What about inventions? Did GOD know about the airplane all along, or was it a new thought that was shot into the heads of Orville and Wilbur Wright? Or the vaccine for COVID? Does God know the formulation and is she holding back so that we learn some great lesson, or because she’s lonely and wants some new ones to take up residency in her domain?

There is another take on this. Since God made us, maybe the thoughts were all there when we were born, and they make appearances with great rapidity from the moment our brain is formed. Since the rabbi didn’t say that God puts the thoughts in as we think them, maybe all our thoughts are there from the beginning.

In fact, there is an ancient story about how we know everything at birth, and then an angel comes and touches us below our nose and erases the blackboard, so to speak. I do believe that for a few Mensas, the angel fell asleep and all the knowledge remained. Angels aren’t the best at sticking around, according to Jewish legend.

I like the slingshot theory because it allows us to forgive people who have especially evil thoughts. Or even mistaken thoughts— like the reason we have so many covid cases is because we are doing a lot of testing, or the reason Mr. T. is losing the election is that votes are being counted. Can we blame Mr. T for these seemingly erroneous thoughts if they are an “act of God” so to speak?

So what did the Rabbi really mean? Can we simultaneously be our own person and a child of God?

Sunday, November 1, 2020


To Kim Mosley’s “Meteor” on the Eve of the Election

Ooh, coming right at us
the slam!

hurls us upside
and sideways
splashes a thousand
into the clouds

steams us
wrings us

buildings to house-
under the sand
the archaeologists can puzzle over—

Oh, why not?
mutter lava
and melted coins

A tree stands here and a
segment of

Maybe a mountain range
can make it through
a child
a deer
or two.

Sarah Webb, 11/2/20


Meteor Sent on Monday….
by Martha Ward 11.2.20 ODD as ever

The meteor was sent on Monday,
a prompt to Earthlings that we must
improve our state. We’ve been measured
and found wanting. We're in bad shape.
Our humanity, about which, we once,
had a clue, has gone missing.

The meteor's strange encounter, will
take us back to dust. Its angst fueled
with full blown disgust, for what
we’ve done to this planet & to us.

Our current steep climb up the COVID
record chart shows we’ve wandered way,
way, away from doing our rightful part,
simple & needed each day.
For good?

Wait, Meteor! Before you start smashing
things & fall apart, note the many
of us making poetic art! We grapple
with truths, ponder each word & phrase.
Note our creative endeavors on full display!
Meteor, please, radiate a message back
the other way.

Messy as we are, we are doing our part,
creating for us Earthlings, all, a renewed
humane & healing start.



Stardust streaking through
space. Hale-bopp—the
sweetest trace of rock
I’ve seen. It felt like
a gentle love light
falling through that late
summer night. Or was
autumn and does it matter
that I can’t recall the season?
I was alone and on a high
hill and I’ll never see it
again but it burned in my
heart, it seared, seres,

He had a meteoric
rise and then fell as young
men do, too quickly rich,
too dark, too drawn to
women who care for
such men. I truly know
nothing of meteors or
quick rises to fame.

I know how spiked the
bluejay is after having
his bath. And how the
dove, having splashed
and cleaned her brown
body, looks like a sodden
heap of feathers. Someone
needs to wring her out if
she’s to fly again. I could
use her as a chamois
and clean my car while she
coos and mourns as only
a dove can do.

I know about the hyacinth bean,
deep mulberry on the vine and
the morning glory who’s never
come to my garden but showed up
last week, hidden in the pittosporum.

I know the names of every dog on
my street and most of the
children as well. The parents’
names, not so much.

I walk around skirting the fear
our country holds, trying to
breathe in hope and not despair.

I would not mind at some future
time, leaving this blue orb as a
meteor myself, burning through
the atmosphere of all our sorrows,
rising to the dark of all things.
Disappearing behind the moon.

—Beverly Voss, 11/2/20



Mutated corona,
meteoric diversion,
humanity imperiled
by divergent realities,
truth trumped by propaganda,
ill will goes viral,
the weary dare not inhale
the fiery breath of fools.

Powerlessness breeds anxiety,
anxiety breeds fear,
fear feeds on insecurity,
proliferation of ill-bred emotions
that become prey to
the baser impulses of
human nature.

But fear that spins
through the dark spaces
between good and evil
in meteoric reversion
can perhaps shed its prickly crown
and settle gently on the
edges of a new reality.

—Marilyn Duncan
ODD Monday prompt poem, 11-2-20


A bell rings …
Silently I turn my attention from the quiet outer world to the bustling inner chitter-chatter.
And, with one clear breath I invite that inner world to calm, to simply consider stillness for a moment.
But the clamor within won’t submit so easily.
Perhaps they will align on the task of sensation…
Where is my resting point of balance?
Where is my being sensing the environment I displace?
Indeed, where am I in touch with this earth and this life?
And, now with less sloshing about within, I open my eyes to see with more curiosity.
And my attention begins to popcorn again and outward thought conversations ramp up.
Noticing it doesn't even require another person to have this sort of conversation: I smile having seen myself.
And another breath, I close my eyes and find inner conversations were induced. Now calming again.
Alternating inner gaze with outer attention I begin to appreciate this inter-being.
Freedom from reaction, more clarity toward truth.

—Ed Pierce

My mom insisted that we be home before dark. She also insisted that my dad be home at 6pm. If any of us didn’t follow the law, she was a raging maniac. We had to be home before dark because it was the South Side of Chicago and she didn’t want us to be …. With my dad, it was that we needed to have a family dinner. There was fierce intention in her wishes. I’ve been thinking about presence and intention as I tear up my photos and then staple them back together. Sometimes the intention that is contrived. I try not to do that. I do try to be deliberate in my choices. I imagine a Flamingo dancer. There are pauses and sweeping movements. Everything is planned and everything is smooth. But it is the dance itself that we see, not the individual steps.

Tomorrow, Nov. 3, 2020, is the election. That’s what everyone thinks. But actually the election is over in the sense that the work for the Bodhisattva has been defined. Even if the good guy wins, tens of millions of people will have indicated that they need to go back to school. There are character issues, there are science issues, there is a Covid storm that is taking the lives of many people. Our work is cut out for us. We are like the captain of a ship in rough waters. Maybe we’ll need to steer a little to the right or maybe a little to the left. But we as educators and we as parents and we as citizens have failed miserably and we have to pause and look carefully and what needs to be done now to save the democracy, to save its citizens, and to save the earth.

Buddhists talk of equanimity. In rough times is a difficult challenge to to be equanimous. It does not mean to be unaffected by whatever happens. It is better illustrated by the doctors and nurses in ER. They may be fairly calm even as they deal with life and death situations. They don’t need to increase fear around us nor do they bypass the fear and turn everyone into smiling zombies. We have work to do, whether it is feeding the poor or making a good connection with our neighbor. We need to begin the process of transforming our country to respect life of all forms.

Back to the art work, “Meteor.” I’ve often though about how I might create a dirty dinner plate. No matter how hard I tried, could I replicate the perfection of what is left when a meal is eaten. No. I try to give up control with my pictures. My best work comes when I’m having a conversation with someone or watching TV. There have been a number of artists who listened to music or watched TV when they worked. It might seem counterproductive… but my thinking is a culprit that I have to constantly avoid.

Our meteor whirls through space. It may hit the earth or not. It either case we need to prepare. Maybe we need to lay down a formless field of benefaction, as we say in our robe chant, so that we can open our arm as it graces the earth. This is a time to embrace, not to say, should Biden win, “ha, ha, we beat you.”

—Kim Mosley


Joshua, 1980