mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Red Pine

spirit stuff . . .

 

DSC_0003As usual in the wintertime, I’ve been pulling out my books on Taoism, Buddhism and Zen to thumb through as the snow keeps falling and falling. The book, I-Ching, stays out for me so that I may ask the Cosmos questions when I am stumped or looking for reinforcement.

Recently, I decided to read over my father’s translation of the Tao te Ching, an endeavor that took his attention for the last four or so years of his life. He died in 2008 and was well known for his research in the field of astrogeology but it was a spiritual quest that included meditation and his work on the 81 verses of the Tao te Ching that consumed him at the end of his life. He was quite deliberate about it because he felt that Western translators who were not native Chinese and unable to read the ancient texts themselves were usurpers or worse. “Interpretations,” not even translations like Stephen Mitchell’s widely acclaimed version of the “Tao te Ching” just drove him crazy.

One of his footnotes to the first page noted his disdain for Ursula Le Guin and others who had used the word “power” as a translation for the word “te” (Tao te Ching) rather than  the word/concept of “virtue.” In hindsight, it almost seems comical that someone could be that furious about something like this, but hey–isn’t that what academia is all about? They love to argue about these kinds of things all the time.

I tend to enjoy translations and writing by a writer who calls himself “Red Pine” (aka Bill Porter.) That’s because he took seriously the idea of Taoist hermits and went searching for them in the wilds of the Sian mountains and wrote a book about it. One of my favorite parts is when he writes that these hermits are not invisible nor necessarily to be found in remote shacks in the wilds but are hiding in plain sight. In other words, there are tons of such Taoist hermits but you just don’t know by looking at them straight on that that’s who they are. I love that.

The reason I wanted to read my Dad’s version of the Tao te Ching is that I wanted to see what he was about in doing this work. Some of his wording belies his training as a research scientist in that he seems to feel compelled to explain everything about everything so thoroughly that you can’t miss it. Of course, if you’ve ever read any of this stuff, it’s almost just the opposite. In fact, in reading articles in a journal called “Buddhadharma” and looking at Zen Monastery websites, I’m at a moment close to shouting that “the Emperor’s Has No Clothes On” because honestly, (and I went to college!), it seems, sounds like and looks to me to be gobbledygook most of the time.

Zen enclaves offer retreats, courses and ask for donations all the time. They are marketing their wares just as much as say, MacDonalds is hawking hamburgers. Buddhist and Zen Priests, Roshis and hangers on congregate, fall in love with each other, have affairs with others (some of the Senseis are notoriously more famous for that than their spiritual leadership.) Deepak Chopra is a rich man. They are not ego-less, that’s for sure, because they’re writing books, making audio CDs, getting published and they care very much about their reputations and how they appear to the world. What’s wrong with this picture, I wonder?

In any case, I trust the I-Ching and its wisdom helps me out all the time as long as I don’t read into it what I think I want to hear. Which brings me back to what all this Tao stuff is all about. Simply put, I believe that the Tao is the Cosmos or the Universe. It is a belief in something greater than ourselves. And to me, it has been beneficent and guiding, not harsh and punishing like some religions that inculcate the young they will go to hell if they eat pretzels during Lent or something. Or that adultery can be worked off by saying X number of “Hail Mary’s” or lighting candles at Mass, for example.

My life has been an exemplar of a greater good guiding, rescuing and helping me every time I’ve been in a difficult life situation. There have been many, and I’m not exaggerating either. I have been helped when it seemed it was fruitless to hope for a positive outcome. I remember when I gave in or up to this higher power when I realized I could not “fix” things just by myself. The rest is history, as they say.

So, whether one wants to read about Spirit in a religious context, in a philosophical context or whatever, it’s really about faith and belief. I’m not sure if that huge Cosmic force works for someone if they don’t believe in it first. I just know that its presence in my life has been constant and has had a huge influence on how my life has turned out. I don’t pray to it per se. But I do ask for guidance and for help. I believe that Helpers are available just waiting to be asked. There’s some level of activity involved in engaging with this Tao–you just can’t rely on things happening without some belief or some giving energy going back and forth. Gratitude is a big component of this spiritual engagement. Asking for help and thanking the Helpers when it arrives serves to activate the belief that one’s life has more to it than just what I can do by myself by sheer will and effort alone.

So, my father’s writing is very verbose, at least in the translation version that I have. It’s a little less so in the draft that my sister has in her possession. And it’s nothing at all like the rather sparsely poetic translations that Red Pine and Stephen Mitchell have published.

As for reading about Zen and the Buddha dharma, it’s a true mystery to me and I’m no longer interested in looking for hidden meaning when I can’t even fathom what the unhidden words are saying outright. As for meditation, my physician said to me that it’s a lot more helpful to practice it than to read about it. Point taken.

So, that’s all the mystery I can think about writing in this post today. Either you believe because you have experienced it or you don’t. Either you have faith in a beneficent Universe that looks over your life or you don’t. It doesn’t really matter to anyone else. It can be a big influence on your life or absent altogether. We’re all different, right?

unseen hand of the universe . . .

Olive 1jpgAfter an intense holiday week preceded by months of preparation, gift-buying, gift-exchanging, wrapping, decorating, shopping for food and cooking immense meals, it’s all over now. Whew!

What, I wondered to myself, will I do now to simplify my life, renew a sense of purpose and find fulfilling things to do?

Well, I needn’t have wondered. The Universe has provided the following ideas and symbolism:

1. For my birthday a couple of days ago, my daughter, C. gave me a framed picture of Mary Oliver’s poem, “Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” superimposed over an upright PIANO and beautifully framed in cherry wood!!  (You might have noticed it’s also the poem/theme of my blog.) Okay, I get that one–which is not to shortchange my enjoyment of playing the piano and listening to music. I made a shortlist of composers I’d like to play: Alkan, Bach, Scarlatti, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin.

2. The mail on New Year’s Eve delivered the White Flower Farm Catalog filled with unusual annuals and perennials. Ever since my ankle injury and recuperation, I’ve been thinking that working in the garden would be good therapy for me AND would also benefit the benignly neglected growth in our garden filled with climbing roses, wisteria, peonies, iris, montauk daisies and other perennials.

Last Fall, I met a wonderful Chinese family who sold incredible dahlias at the local farmers market and also met the zen-like bearded father of the clan. He and I good-naturedly kidded each other about who was older (I said I could tell my kids were older than his were; he claimed he got a late start, etc.) Anyhow, I wrote to them volunteering to help out when the weather gets better and received a warm reply back. It might have been because I also promised not to speak unless spoken to. Fiveforks Farm is the name of their gorgeous FLOWER CSA, a unique concept rather than a CSA for farmers market vegetables!

3. Yesterday, I realigned my Facebook page and was inspired to reconnect with people I’d lost touch with long ago, all of whom responded to my “friend” requests with alacrity and interesting news (thank God.)

One guy that I contacted was someone I’d known since high school, lived in the same town while our children were growing up and whom I rediscovered when HIS DAUGHTER “liked” one of my Facebook photos. Turns out she and my daughter C., were “friends” and classmates in high school. Long story short, we emailed each other last night and he said that only yesterday, he had mentioned me to his grandchildren while they were learning how to use chopsticks, relating an anecdote when he had used chopsticks for the first time at my house when we were in high school. We’ve been out of touch for years so I’m thinking this particular coincidence illustrates that there is indeed something in the ether surrounding this reconnection somehow.

4. Last but not least, I received an email from MeetUp that the New Earth Book Club with 94 members would be closed down unless a new organizer (willing to pay dues) showed up. This is a group I joined just when I broke my ankle and had not managed to attend any of the meetings nor had I met the previous Organizer. I was impressed that over time, there were almost a hundred people interested in reading about how to live with more meaning, to read spiritual and other interesting books and to discuss them together.

It was as though the Universe said, “here you go,” when I wondered how I might meet some new people nearby with similar interests. So, I paid $19.95 to keep the group alive until February 3rd. I sent a message out suggesting a group (re-grouping) meeting in January sometime before the February deadline to see how many, if any, were interested in getting together to re-invent, re-name, re-organize, organize or give it all up, but only after we’d had a chance to decide for ourselves what the future might bring.

This morning, I received an enthusiastic response from a group member who not only reinforced a desire to continue the book group, but offered HER RESTAURANT as a potential meeting place! I’m excited about the possibility that the book group might be reborn. If it is, maybe people will be drawn to books by some of my favorite writers: John Tarrant, Red Pine, Paul Coelho, Gary Zukav and that crazy Zen guy, Alan Watts.

So, to say that a lot has happened in a couple of days would be an understatement. But there’s a little more.

Yesterday in the post office, after I filled out a customs label to Canada for a pair of earrings I was returning, a woman in front of me in line jumped back from me, exclaiming, “WOW, your aura is so STRONG!” I got a kick out of that and asked her what color my aura was. Then, a woman in front of her asked what color her aura was too! It was kind of a hilarious scene in that crowded post office!

In fact, the plain hoop earrings that were too small for me were being exchanged for another pair in the shape and design of an Ouroboros–the serpent eating its own tail, symbolizing the constant recreation of oneself and one’s life. Haha.

Oh, and while I was driving to the dry cleaners yesterday, a great blue heron flew right over my car overhead as it headed for a nearby lake.

I guess the Universe has made its point, wouldn’t you say? It’s definitely in charge, not me, so straighten up, follow its lead and stop questioning what you can’t know until it appears.

As disquieting as this chain of events might appear, I find it oddly and incredibly comforting somehow, don’t you?

sunset on my birthday after Christmas in Dennisport. . .

sunset on my birthday after Christmas in Dennisport. . .

 

 

 

 

 

hermitage . . .

DSC_4374_2(Friday, June 6th): Today, G. and I are making our way up to the coastal town where our granddaughter, A. is graduating from high school tonight. Other relatives and family are doing the same from as far away as Minneapolis, Chicago and Arizona. These family occasions spaced years and sometimes even a decade apart, bring people together who would not normally see each other at all, (like me and my ex-husband.) So, there’s opportunity to either mix and visit or avoid people due to the large numbers of people present. There’s nothing easier than being invisible in the midst of many, is there?

Sort of reminds me of the search to find Taoist hermits that Red Pine and others made to the secluded mountains of Sian in China. Bill Porter thought that hermits were in plain sight sometimes, because you might not know that you were looking right at them. I think it’s a good example to take for this sojourn. I can be there for my graduating granddaughter and to retreat in strength and quietude the rest of the time.

This will be a good tactic because neither of us is wholly well. I am able to walk and go on stairs using a crutch. As of yesterday, I’m even able to drive a little, using my left foot to brake. G.’s back and nerve pain are not much better these days. What a pair we make! The younger generation has taken over in case anyone noticed (meaning me.) I keep a rather firm hand on what we do over the holidays at my house. But my daughters are certainly capable and willing to “take it from here.” We’ll see how this sea change goes this weekend. I’ll let you know too.

(Monday, June 9th): Well, we made it! While it was a little grueling physically and we needed and had lots of help from my daughters, M. and C. to fetch things from the car to our little studio room (see ‘room with a view’) G. and I managed to walk or ride in a wheelchair to the graduation on Friday night and to stay for the socials on Saturday and Sunday. Remember above when I mentioned all the folks convening? There were three pairs of exes and current marriages across two generations. When the reason for getting together is to celebrate a young person’s graduation, poised to enter a whole new world for her, people can be gracious and cordial towards each other, especially when there are lots of people around. This self-regulated kind of gentility can do wonders towards mitigating long-festering resentments, misunderstandings and tension.

On the other hand, some things don’t change that much. Throughout the entire weekend, only one remark rankled me to bits. But G. my husband, had this wise admonition: “a good man is worth reproach.”  In this case, I took his advice. The rest of the weekend went well. The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful. Our granddaughter was happy and relaxed, surrounded by her friends and family. There was plenty of food and I only had to be a Chinese hermit for a little while. We had help packing and emptying the car, only forgetting some of G.’s meds which will be mailed to us soon by my daughter C. Thanks to all for a good time!

artful recluse(s) . . .

DSC_1308This morning as I sat at the table with the sun streaming through the kitchen window, sipping my freshly made smoothie, I came upon the art section of the NYTimes which had a full page painting from 1644 of a Ming dynasty painter. The Asia Society has just opened an exhibition featuring works by reclusive artists so many years ago.

I was taken by the concept since it resonates with so many of my values and perspectives, including the search for Taoist hermits in the mountains of Sian that I had read about earlier. William Porter, nicknamed Red Pine, described his travels seeking reclusive Taoist priests and priestesses who lived alone in huts, subsisting on very little food, rainwater and sitting among pine needles. It was a romantic search, buffered by humorous encounters with some hermits, “hiding in plain sight.”

Living in solitude has long held an appeal for me and the journals of May Sarton, especially “Plant Dreaming Deep” and “Journal of a Solitude” struck a familiar chord with me when I had three kids at home and no solitude as such at all. I tired of reading Sarton after awhile because her writing became more whining and complaining amidst a lifestyle that included a home in New Hampshire and then on the coast of Maine, a multitude of flowers, inside and out, her loyal pets and friends who showered her with care and gifts of food, even as she continued to wring her hands about not being recognized sufficiently as a poet. That’s probably because her journals were her tour de force with women readers during her generation of writing–not poetry. In any case, her writing about the everyday was different from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s but there was a common theme of domesticity around houses, flowers, food and gardening that appealed to many of us at the time.
DSCN3686
I don’t ask myself any longer why living inwardly is appealing. It just is. I have no desire to go on a cruise (esp. when many of the ships keep breaking down) where you’re trapped with hundreds or thousands of people whom you can’t avoid running into. Henry Beston wrote many years ago about living in a small shack which he wrote about in his famous book, “The Outermost House” during the 1920’s in Eastham, Cape Cod. To preserve those areas, the Cape Cod National Seashore reserve came into being in the 1960’s.

I guess if you’re artful or not, taking time alone can allow for a space for reading, rumination, creating and making things that reflect one’s inner senses and individual skill. At least, there’s a possibility to nurture and inform one’s spirit if taken.

For me, the last few weeks of winter have been filled with knitting, the amaryllis and orchids blooming, the canary singing, and I’ve even taken upon myself to (finally) read Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past,” having picked up a used, boxed three-volume Pleiade edition. Come to think of it, Marcel Proust was a reclusive artist too, writing 4000 plus words in his dimly lit cork-lined bedroom describing the mores and human vagaries of French society which are so universal that they may mirror our own.

Let’s see how far I get with THAT while being grateful for peace and quiet, and most of all, time.

signs . . .


Sometimes, I find that signs are visual, like a white bird that appeared three weeks ago, flying along the highway next to my car, then fluttering right in front of my windshield before flying off. It seemed like some kind of sign, but different from all the red cardinals which have swooped in front of me and which augured blessings or good fortune, like a pat on the shoulder from the Cosmos that I had encountered before.

Signs also appear in conversation when I find myself recounting something from the past, as I did with my daughters while looking at their aquarium, about how things were so hard twenty years ago and remembering someone who had appeared to help me and who had also given me a book on the I-Ching, my introduction to this Sage which has guided me to where I find myself now. I had searched for that person a few times over that twenty year span with no luck. This time, I came up with information of her married name, which I had forgotten. And for $1.98, I was able to obtain a phone number and three email addresses. When the voicemail message came on the cellphone, I recognized J.’s voice. It was she.

Days later, I had not received a response and wondered if she wanted to be found. That morning, on Saturday, I happened by a store selling futons, used books and clothing in town. On top of a small stack of books was one called, “A Flock of Fools” by Kazuaka Tanahashi. The name was familiar because I had taken a zen calligraphy class of sorts years ago at the Zen Monastery in Tremper, New York. Truth be told, I was turned off by the egotistical attitude of some of the monks during the sesshin sittings and wondered if this was really Zen. Or Zen-like. I realized later they were just being human. Meanwhile, I read Zen writers like Alan Watts, Suzuki, John Tarrant and the Taoist hermit seeker, Red Pine (Bill Porter). My father, before he died, wrote his own translation of the Tao Te Ching which he took from old Chinese texts.

Anyhow, so I chance upon this book which is signed, no less, and carry it home. When I arrive, there is a voicemail from J. saying she had been on a retreat and would love to be back in touch. Our first conversation revealed that she lived in a remote area of redrock country and will be ordained a Zen monk in December. I kid you not. She told me that she had worn a jade pendant that I had given her a long time ago that she hadn’t worn in years, around the same time that I began looking for her again.

Yesterday, someone suggested to me that I think about becoming a mediator. When I heard that, it was a bell-like sign that resonated with me. Back home, I found quite a number of options for mediator training and wrote to J. about it because they conflicted with a visit and a sesshin that I had thought about coming out for a visit at the end of September. Turns out her Zen practice includes mediation and facilitation as core training and that her sensei had also been a Director of Conflict Resolution for the Judiciary system in Utah. And as J. so succinctly notes, conventional mediation is “great for a transactional universe, but leaves a lot on the table in the transformational domain…Training in mediation and facilitation is a part of our formal (and formational) path — required of all the monks. Welcome to the new Shaolin Temple. Our action logic is no-shadows; no-conflict. An interesting evolution in the form of warrior energy.”

So after a long period of stagnation in my life filled with pessimism, exhaustion and oppressiveness, the appearance of the white bird has opened doors to somewhere new. The pace is accelerating as well. My faith in the Cosmos is renewed. Or perhaps its faith in me is refreshed. Either way, I am grateful.

a taoist hermit. . .

In “About” I write that I think I would like to be a Taoist Hermit. If you read Bill Porter’s books written under the name, Red Pine, he relates stories about looking for Taoist hermits in the wild mountains west of Sian. Sometimes the hermits are in plain sight in a village but there’s no way to truly identify them even if you are looking straight at them. There are stories about hermits who sit alone in their mountain hut on a moonless night, eating only pine needles and drinking drops of dew.

I have been a loner all my life but I don’t think that qualifies me as being a “hermit.”  Here are two definitions of “hermit” I found online:

her·mit:

1. A person who has withdrawn from society and lives a solitary existence; a recluse.

2. A spiced cookie made with molasses, raisins, and nuts.

My existence is pretty solitary which is why being able to write this blog is a way to share who I am and to becoming more known by my family and friends.
So the hermit/recluse part is pretty well established in my lifestyle. Following the Tao begins with a single step (Lao Tzu) and the rest of the journey is the way that I live my life.
Click here if you would like to read a well-written article about the difference between Taoism and Confucianism (or Confuse’em-ism)