poetry

Poem: Seeing Clearly

Wisdom from Mountain Lamp

Diminishing sight causes me to kneel to get intimate with bleeding hearts, buttercups, coral bells, delicately shaped, resounding colors. If suchness neither comes nor goes Spring blossoms in my heart through all the seasons.

The great oak gives its strength without action. The bird song wafts into the clear mind. It is not in the doing that you give without need for return. It is the heart pulsing, the out breath of compassion that spreads the Buddha essence into the world.

– Alexa Singer-Telles

Alexa Singer-Telles, True Silent Action, practices with River Oak Sangha in Redding, California. These poems were inspired by the Diamond Sutra Retreat at Mountain Lamp in 2012.

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Poem: Upon Your Death

mb16-Upon There is a pain which never stops hurting which cannot be healed; and dignity will carry it. There is a wound which never closes and cannot be touched but by the love of a bleeding heart. There is a fear which never leaves— no place to hide— and cannot be embraced but by empty hands. There is a loneliness beyond abandonment and it will not vanish nor be filled, but the patience of my solitude makes me smile.

Nel Houtman, True Marvelous Shining Zurich, Switzerland

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Poem: Blossom

I am a bulb.For many years I have been locked inside a cold garage. I have been very sad. I have been very lonely. I almost turned into dust. It's a wonder I survived! But I am here now still, and this season I will be planted; happy to be in the warm, moist soil. With tender loving care I will blossom, smile, and carry many flowers, bringing great joy into the world.

Royce Wilson Sonoma, California

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Poem: Untitled Poem

The following poem by Jim was read at the memorial service by Jim's friend Ed Miller. mb17-Five

Remember me in fall, when days are warm and nights are cool, when trees show off warm colors stored up from summer's heat, and everyone has somewhere to invite me to go.

Remember me in winter, when everyone has a holiday and I love to celebrate them all, when the Solstice promises longer days to come.

Remember me in spring, when young lovers lie in grass by the river, when warmth of midday lets us swim in nearly full canals, when the promise of summer brings such joy to my heart.

But especially, remember me in summer when the bright heat of day warms me to the bone.

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Poem: Untitled Poem 1

A blessing of winter to you--
When the earth lies asleep in the dark
In the cord that can chill our bones,
May your heart stay awake and attentive
May you hear how "creation still groans."

A blessing of springtime to you--
When all rivulets gurgle again
And wet branches unfurl their green,
May your heart's tears of joy and
of gratefulness
Be the water to wash anger clean.

A blessing of summer to you--
When in orchards the fruit starts to glow
And in gardens the flowers are flaring,
May your heart come ablaze with the fire
That can kindle compassionate caring.

A blessing of autumn to you--
When the fragrance of fruit fills the air
As we wake to the call of wild geese,
May your heart find the home that it longs for
May you know where to seek your true peace.

Brother David Steindl-Rast

Open Eyes

By Sam Dubois

Please do not ask me to shut my eyes
until you have demonstrated what a lotus is
and how I may be able to be it;
until you can show me how to understand
that along with the terrible, even unspeakable,
I carry along some kind of potential.
I do not mean to take advantage of you--
believe there is no viable alternative.
I know about being "saved" only to continue to hurt;
nothing exists beyond suffering and pain
and what little I can take
before someone takes again from me.

--Sam Dubois

Pour years ago, I started sitting, reading, and reaching out through Buddhist practice for a basis to begin understanding who I am and how I had come to deserve to be where I am. Two years ago, I received the first kind letter and some beautiful books from Therese Fitzgerald. A year later, she honored me with a humbling, joyful personal interview while she was in North Carolina. Therese spent some time with our chaplain and started the wheels rolling towards having two hours each month set aside for meditation in our prison chapel. Bob Repoley of the Charlotte, North Carolina Sangha, led our first Sangha-behind-bars in Harnett Correctional Institution. Joined by eight nervous fellow inmates, I sat on two hymnals for a cushion, trying to be still with my monkey brain climbing, shoving, swinging, and jumping over my extensive internal obstacle course. Not exactly a textbook meditation group, but an important one.

I would like to share some thoughts about practice in this setting from my own experiences. First, any generalization is suspect, but an awareness of who is in our prison population may be helpful. Most of us, through a combination of causes, have developed lies on which we base our thinking and through which we process any situation we encounter. We may manipulate and rationalize our behavior to allow ourselves to be unmindful. I believe most inmates would like to confront their errors in thinking. I also accept that some are operating from apparently sociopathic or even psychopathic reasoning. They may be incapable of empathy or compassion, and unprepared to be aware of the suffering they cause others and themselves.

There are no valid excuses or reasons for inappropriate behavior. There are only wrong choices, which come from a lack of values, morals, or precepts. More than anything else, the men, women, and youth in U.S. prisons need the firm, compassionate Mindfulness Trainings. Please understand that many will not be ready for the message, and a few may even be hostile. Yet some will, perhaps without being able to communicate it, find a degree of mindfulness and set in motion immeasurable actions that will constructively affect those they come into contact with, and prevent the suffering of those who would have been caught in the cycle of mindlessness.

It is also important to know that many inmates have been incarcerated since their early teens and know nothing about life except their experienced negatives. Most inmates have seen and/or caused too many things they do not want to think about, much less confront in unsupported stillness. One brief case history illustrates this point. It is a true story, and the worst is probably untold: A boy is born to a crack mother, with extensive prenatal abuse. His earliest experience is not being responded to when crying in hunger or need to be changed. He grows up without physical, social, moral, or sexual boundaries, knowing nothing except being violated and violating. Carries a gun to school in fourth grade to prevent assault on his person. Runs a line of prostitutes younger than he by the time he is 15. Snitched on by a disgruntled coke client. After four years in detention, four months on the street was enough time to earn 20 years in prison for assault, larceny, and possession. He is a streetwise young man, familiar with murder, betrayal, and distrust, afraid to walk down any quiet forest trail.

And finally , please realize that "prisoner" is another word for person, neighbor, friend, daughter, son, sister, and brother. We are not ignorant or irreversibly fixated in immaturity. We are very misinformed because of the absence of a constant, imitable experience. We are not unwilling nor incapable. But we have learned to expect social injustice, rejection, and failure.

I thank you for listening, and wish I could express myself more clearly. Every day I am angry, lonely, sad, and afraid. I know that the highest gift is the awareness that we do not have to fear. And I know this beautiful gift cannot be given or received from someone merely saying, "Do not be afraid"-it must come with risk and patience, wrapped in honest and persistent demonstration . .

Sam DuBois is a peer counselor in the S.O.A.R. (Sex Offenders Accountability and Responsibility) program at the Harnett Correctional Institute in North Carolina. He invites readers to share thoughts and questions with him at P.O. Box 1569, Lillington, NC 27546.

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Seasonal Family Practice

By Sister Fern Dorresteyn

Winter is a wonderful time to have family practices which bring us together. When I was younger, I lived in a community that celebrated the darkness of winter as a time to kindle the inner light. In December, every Sunday evening we gathered in a dark room. A child would light a candle placed in a beautiful wreath and then we would listen to two stories. One was a magical fairy tale about a poor soul lost in the cold winter night, who found the flame of truth, love, and goodness. The other was a true story of how someone like Nelson Mandela found light in the midst of suffering and darkness. After this, we sang songs about the beauty of winter. While in my community this season is called Advent and is based in Christian tradition, the practice can nourish people of any faith. Here are some ideas for family practice in the winter: Create a beautiful centerpiece, like a wreath made from pine boughs. Use treasures from nature gathered with your children which cultivate feelings of warmth and joy. Everyone can have their own candle in the centerpiece.

Begin your evening with walking meditation. The clear, crisp night sky in the winter is wonderful and refreshing for the spirit. When you come back, each person can light a candle from the center one and say a special prayer: 

Winter is here, the time of night we make our heart fire bright.

When we are kind and loving, we give warmth to the hearts of others.

Happiness is like the candle flame shining light into darkness.

Afterwards, share hot milk or tea by candlelight. Sing songs, tell stories, draw, read poetry, and express appreciation of each other. If you celebrate the Solstice, Christmas, or Chanukah, it might be a nice time to share the deeper meaning of these special times and talk about your own tradition. You may have a specific prayer each week to nourish the seed of loving kindness:

Week 1: Thinking of my family, I wish each one of them feels happy and loved by me.

Week 2: Thinking of the animals living outside, I hope they are warm and have found some food. May they be happy and safe through these winter days.

Week 3: Thinking of people who feel sad and lonely, may they be warmed by friendship and love.

Week 4: May all beings, people, animals, fish, birds, trees, and the whole earth be happy and peaceful.

You may like to take the prayers one step further by asking "What can we do? We often feel too busy for acts of generosity but doing them with our children gives us energy and helps us feel more connected with others. Bake a pie for a lonely neighbor. Invite some friends who need cheering to a tea party. Donate a blanket or food to a local shelter for people who are cold and hungry. Share with your children what happens to animals in the winter with picture books from the library, and then make a bird feeder or visit a local shelter. You can wish the whole world peace.

Sister Fern Dorresteyn, Ha Nghiem, pictured below with Bettina Schneider and Gaia Thurston-Shaine, lives at Plum Village. She was ordained as a novice nun in 1996.

Ben's Laces

By Peggy Mallette

Sitting contorted on the floor, eyes peering over bent knees, foot held firmly in place by fists clenched on two ends of a shoelace, the process begins. Forming a giant loop with two hands, grasping the loop in a fist  with the left hand, circling the loop, the fist is in the way. Opening the fist, the loop collapses. Concentration increasing, forming a giant loop again, circling the loop and tucking it into the fisted grasp, separating the fingers to allow the other hand to seek the tangled lace, the loop collapses.

Concentration increasing, forming a giant loop again, circling the loop and tucking it into the fisted grasp. But Ben has now pivoted his body in a circle pursuing the elusive lace ends, and I was unable to see the magic movement he made with his fingers that completed the knot.

I crane my neck to see the completed product and discover he is not yet done. Now he is grasping the flopping loops of the bow in two fists and crossing them over each other in the elaborate ritual of a second knot that would ensure not having to struggle with the first one again.Patiently he turns to the other shoe and with equal concentration accepts the repeated challenge. All completed very matter-of-factly, he stands and trots off. No expression of the injustice of shoes with laces, no self-criticism at taking so long at the task. When I am overwhelmed with a struggle and feel the need to demonstrate competence immediately, I will remember Ben and this shoelace gatha:

Struggles are a reflection of inexperience and maturation, not inadequacy.

Peggy Mallette is a mother, school counselor, and member of the Open Way Sangha in Missoula, Montana.

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Always Coming of Age

By Ariadne Thompson

I took the Five Precepts when I was 13 years old. I felt completely ready and knew that I wanted to live my life following these guidelines. Many people thought I was too young to make that big a commitment and wondered why I decided to do it.

The precepts are a basis for my spiritual life. They motivate me to be a better person, living my life in peace and harmony. I practice mindfulness and meditation wherever I can, incorporating the precepts into my life where I know they will be helpful. For instance, when working with the fifth precept, I refrain from watching movies or reading books that are based on senseless violence. When I have not followed this precept, I often get a frightening image stuck in my head which brings fear into my life. I learn from my experience that the precepts are worthwhile and make deep psychological sense to me.

One of Thich Nhat Hanh' s most important teachings is the concept of interbeing, an interconnection and oneness among all beings. We are interdependent on each other. We would starve to death were it not for the farmers who grow our food, the earthworms who strengthen the soil, the truck driver who brings it to the store, and the store owner who sells us the food. Reminding myself each day that I am connected with everything else in the universe is refreshing to me. It reminds me to be aware of and grateful for my connection to the whole, and of the fact that we are all responsible for each other. I want to respond in an open, clear, healthy, compassionate way, no matter what the circumstances surrounding me may be.

Today is not the only day that I come of age. Every morning when I wake up I am coming of age. Every time I take action or responsibility, I am coming of age. At 26, 46, 66 years old, I will be coming of age with different tasks for different stages of my life. In our coming of age group, we have called ourselves "blooming adults." I feel honored to grow into myself in the supportive presence of this congregation. I would like to close with a poem I wrote about the spirit of mindfulness in my everyday life: May I develop the capacity to be alone; to take time out from my day and go places that I love to speak with the earth, reflecting on the beginning of the world or talking about the weather.

Ariadne Thompson, Peacemaker of the Source, is 15 years old and lives in Santa Monica, California. This is an excerpt from a piece she wrote for her Coming of Age Ceremony in the Unitarian Church.

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Poem: Greg's Tree

Soft rain sweeps over pliant meadow grass.Sparrow flocks scatter as we slosh along trails pungent with bay. Fog-veiled curtains hide an entire world from our view. Through laughter and tears we press on, remembering, approaching, Greg's tree.

An image steals into my mind: You, sitting there cross-legged, smiling impishly, waiting for us on a carpet of damp fallen leaves.

Wispy sprays of mist blow sideways around your tree like the soft ash particles sprinkled from a bone white vase. Dressed now in green finery of damp velvet moss, your solid trunk supports us in our need to lean against your strength.

To trust this firmly rooted reliability is to touch, once more, the same solidity that your living, breathing human form once gave us, in our need for you to lean against our strength. Spouse, Friend, Father, Son, Spiritual Brother to us all.

Jewels glisten on spider webs, trusting permanence until they evaporate.

Wind gusts tear at such delicate threads. Acorns stashed in a hidden crevice remind us of how we try to hold on to what we love.

Stephanie Ulrich, Santa Cruz, California

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Poem: A Child's Grace

By Alice C. Henderson The silver rain, The golden sun, The fields where scarlet poppies run, And all the ripples of the wheat Are in the bread that I do eat. So when I pause for every meal And say this grace, I always feel That I am eating rain and sun And fields where scarlet poppies run.

Nine-year-old Shoshanna Brady of Takoma Park, Maryland learned this verse n Waldorf School. Shoshanna and her family practice with the Washington, D. C. Mindfulness Community.

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