The backward step…

Maia Duerr, who does the online sangha — Waking Up to Your Life — I’m associated with, sends out a message each full moon, sharing Zen insights and life advice. This month’s message is particularly helpful and wonderful to me, so am sharing here. Hope others find it helpful also.

This is her message for the Full Pink Moon (which isn’t pink, by the way — its name comes from the herb “moss pink” which is coming out this time of year):

Full moon / April 2017

Stop searching for phrases and chasing after words. Take the backward step and turn the light inward. Your body-mind of itself will drop away and your original face will appear. If you want to attain just this, immediately practice just this.
– Eihei Dogen (Fukanzazengi)
In the Zen tradition I practice in, the phrase “taking the backward step” is often invoked as a way to affirm the importance of zazen (sitting meditation) in a fully engaged life. That may sound contradictory – isn’t meditation about withdrawing from life?
Not at all, at least not how I understand it. To me, “taking the backward step” is a revolutionary act, one we must do if we are to have a deep understanding of how the world works, and how we work within it. It’s only through that kind of understanding that we can then take skillful action that does not create further harm, and may perhaps even contribute some good.
When I started writing this letter last week, the U.S. had just bombed Syria, in response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons on its own people. Both of these acts set off a wave of reactions across the globe, and within my own heart. I imagine you, too, may have felt an urgency about responding. When the intensity of world events is that amplified, the notion of “taking a backward step” may seem impossible, and out of step. We have to do something, don’t we? Or at least that’s how it feels.
And then I think of Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh’s stories of being in Vietnam during the war. Even as bombs dropped on nearby villages, he and his sangha continued to practice meditation, but they also went out to help those who were suffering. In his classic book Peace is Every Step, he writes about this decision:
When I was in Vietnam, so many of our villages were being bombed. Along with my monastic brothers and sisters, I had to decide what to do. Should we continue to practice in our monasteries, or should we leave the meditation halls in order to help people who were suffering under the bombs? After careful reflection we decided to do both – to go out and help people and to do so in mindfulness. We called it engaged Buddhism. Mindfulness must be engaged. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the use of seeing?
We must be aware of the real problems of the world. Then, with mindfulness, we will know what to do and what not to do to be of help. If we maintain awareness of our breathing and continue to practice smiling, even in difficult situations, many people, animals, and plants will benefit from our way of doing things.
So as you hear the local and global news each day and perhaps struggle with how to respond, I encourage you to find ways to take your own backward step: a moment to re-connect with your breathing; a morning to take a long, quiet walk; a long weekend to go deeply into your practice. There is no better way to spend your time, for the benefit of all beings.
blessings,
Maia
(Maia offers lots of ways to expand and deepen one’s practice, so drop in on her website and check out all the wonderful stuff there! She’s also doing a beautiful retreat in New Hampshire in July which looks wonderful! — John)

Cedrus libani

A poem of sorts from August 16, 2016:

 

Here. Take this lash.

Whip it across my face. Draw blood.

I prefer that to these words which cut

deep into my heart

and bury themselves in my mind,

waking me in the night with their pain,

manifesting as a dream of the cedar

I found long ago at the corner of Orange and Wayne,

now gone,

mourned in my dreams alone.

Or in the quiet sleepless hours

I roam about in the house, in the cosmos,

once again feeling the loss of the old forests

as if it were my own.

My life and the cedar’s are not so far apart.

 

Will fascism destroy us?

Just saw “The Mockingjay Pt. 2” last night!

Powerful movie, very intense and moving on many levels, and – finally! – makes the message of the Hunger Games trilogy+ clear.

Much of the impact of the first three movies seemed to be glorifying militarism and heroism and all that typical Hollywood bullshit, but in Pt. 2, it’s clear that all that heroism, all that rebellion and fighting against evil, is in vain.

For in the end, it’s just “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” One fascist is overthrown by another fascist, who is succeeded by a general, and we never see what the social results of all this are…

As someone wise once said, your means become your ends. Violence, even against ultimate evil, begets violence. The story uses a clever deus ex machina to resolve the whole thing into a happy ending, but a harder-edged, more realistic ending would have made for a stronger message.

The true message – and of course this story is an allegory of our own society, tho many seem oblivious to that – is that authoritarianism is at the heart of what is destroying the earth and its people. That impulse within some to seize power and within others to worship it as salvation is what has brought us to this sorry state in the societies of the world.

Only if we humans begin to understand and look honestly at those impulses to control and be controlled will we be able to begin to design a world that is compatible with the rest of life. The path to that understanding is not clear to me, but I feel the ideas of a “new story” as presented in the work of a number of current thinkers – such as Eisenstein’s ‘The More Beautiful World’ – point the way to next steps.

My cynical, realist side says that all that now stands may need to be destroyed for a new story to take hold. My love of the next generation makes me hope that isn’t necessary.

Looking at the rhetoric from those who posture as leaders now makes me fear that the next year may be critical in which way that goes. Trump’s parallels to Hitler are not as frightening to me as the parallels in our people to those of early 20th Century Germany. I struggle to find ways of expressing this that communicate well to people with little sense of history and understanding of human social psychology.

If we don’t come together in ways that help all our citizens see these things, I fear the results of our next elections may seal things off in ways that will make it hard to come back…