Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking for Mushrooms at Sunrise

dragon carrots
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

Certain words now in our knowledge we will not use again, and we will never forget them. We need them. Like the back of the picture. Like our marrow, and the color in our veins. We shine the lantern of our sleep on them, to make sure, and there they are, trembling already for the day of witness. They will be buried with us, and rise with the rest.
Language, W.S. Merwin

On the News Hour last night I chanced upon an interview with the poet W.S. Merwin, of whom I had never heard.
Of course he was speaking about words and so have you and I of late.
So my ears perked up.

Merwin, now in his eighties with such a clear and kindly face, was reading from his poem, In the Start.
I thought, “Oh, I have to share that!”
But, I can’t seem to find the words online.

Instead I came across these excerpts (and I do not even know the order in which they belong). But, they too must be passed along.

In the dark while the rain fell
The gold chanterelles pushed through a sleep that was not mine
Waking me
So that I came up the mountain to find them…

I am not ashamed of the wren's murders
Nor the badger's dinners
On which all worldly good depends
If I were not human I would not be ashamed of anything…

Where they appear it seems I have been before
I recognize their haunts as though remembering
Another life

Where else am I walking even now
Looking for me

from Looking for Mushrooms at Sunrise.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Bit of History

donna de varona, 1964
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

Well-being I won
And wisdom too.
I grew and took joy in my growth:
From a word to a word
I was led to a word,
From a deed to another deed
From the Old Norse, Poetic Edda, (ca. A.D. 1200)
as quoted on Margo’s Magical Letter Page.

After what was then a lifetime of abstinence, I started drinking coffee in my early forties.
My morning routine became: get up, have a cup, climb into the big, old, claw-foot bathtub and soak.

Thus, the fifteen minutes of caffeine-induced luminescent awareness (in which everything that crossed my mind was totally fascinating) occurred in the tub.
These revelations so amused, I felt compelled to share them out the bathroom door.
From the kitchen I would hear polite or bemused responses until I became just too outrageous.
Then, my partner’s head would appear in the doorway,
“You really ought to have your own early morning radio show.”

And that is how it began: oracular bathtub broadcasts.
And not long after that “Word of the Day” became part of the show.
Some word would burst into my consciousness bringing with it tribal rhythms, promised implications, and delight.

Perhaps my fascination with the power of a word began with Donna de Varona, the great Olympic swimmer of 1964.
Her name drove me crazy as I watched her race on TV.
Was it just such alliteration? Donna de Varona! Or was it the snare drum rat-a-tat or the announcer screaming o’er the crowd?
Donna de Varona!
The name pulled me to my feet, set me pacing until my circuits overloaded.

Chalk squeaking on a blackboard never bothered me a bit. But, this name drove me nuts.

I’d turn to my father hoping he might understand or perhaps explain.
“Donna de Varona, Donna de Varona, Donna de Varona!”
Pop just grinned back at me. He did not get it, but seemed fascinated.
He’d just repeat the chant right back to me.
Neither of us understood.

We were discovering the power of a word, specifically a mantra.
“Donna de Varon, Donna de Varona, Donna de Varona.”
I’d say it quietly during the day.
I’d repeat it mentally as I swam my own practice laps with just a bit more power.

Some languages are sacred.
Some languages insist that name and form can become one.
When this happens the gap between word (the name that we speak out) and form (that which word denotes) begins to close.
This is not a horizontal phenomenon, but rather vertical.
Union is gained by going deep within our own consciousness.
It is transcendence that makes language sacred.

I became interested in sacred language when I learned that mantras work via “name and form.”
I became interested in etymology when I realized that Gertrude Stein used it to make poetry, to dive deep within the word and into herself, and that even English retains a hint of sacredness:

a noun is the name of a thing,
and therefore slowly if you feel inside that thing
you do not call it by the name which it is known.
Everybody knows that by the way they do when they are in love
and a writer should always have that intensity of emotion
about whatever is the object about which he writes.
And therefore I say it again more and more one does not use nouns…

I called them by their names with passion and that made poetry.
Gertrude Stein

Well, so much for history.
I haven’t broadcast from the tub in years and
I'm trying now to cut back on caffiene.
But, as I mentioned, we recently formed a “Taoist Coven” filled with women’s weedie-weedie as much as meditation.

I have unwittingly stepped into new energy
and with that step the revelatory Word has reappeared.

We are simply playing with a word. But play can have an impact.
How many myths begin with a gentle slipping, as our heroine’s attention is diverted she wanders deep into the woods and into mystery.
Sometimes, I think the whole story of spiritual cultivation, the Tao, the whole of Life and by that I do include biology can be approached via sacred language and linguistics.

Which I guess is just my own way of coming to the Biblical:
In the beginning was the Word.

So, it seems I’m returned to oracular bathtub broadcasts, except that now I blog – and since the ole blog has fallen into a somewhat quiescent state of late – I thought I’d share the Word of the Day with you all.

But for today, in honor of roots and origins, let’s just go with:
“Donna de Varona, Donna de Varona, Donna de Varona.”

Not at all our usual Word,
but rather a name, one that carries history and my father’s smile.

Oh and hey, guess what.
After Donna de Varona retired from her pool ... she herself went into broadcasting. I hear her now on NPR.

See! It all begins to come together, our connections become more obvious, when you turn inside.

All praise for the Word of the Day!


(Postscript: a friend recntly sent Mom this clipping from our hometown paper. I was somewhat rattled that my own life was slipping into camp - I share it here by way of apology to Donna and for your curiosity. "The History Corner," indeed. I quess that's why my body feels like it does each morning.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Word of the Day: Specious

blue leaf's revelation
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

Some of my Taoist Coven members and I have slipped into the celebration, revelation, and just plain silliness of proclaiming the spontaneously arising, “Word of the Day”
I thought it might be nice to share.

Today’s word is “specious”
Now, a dictionary will tell you that it means:
plausible but false;
"a specious claim";
"spurious inferences"

But, the dictionary doesn’t know that as Word of The Day, “specious” has arisen from the subconscious of a rather wacky Taoist Coveness thus insisting upon a bit more depth.
Perhaps the dictionary definition is somewhat rather specious in and of it’s own self.

Google on:

There seems to be something called the “Specious Present”

An idea to deal with the problem that we can apparently only be aware of what is present,
and what is present must be momentary
(otherwise it would include the future or past and not be all present),
yet anything real must exist for at least some time:
so how can we be aware of anything real…
Introduced by E.R. Clay and quoted William James (1842-1910) in The Principles of Psychology (1901).

The specious present is a short period… allegedly presented to consciousness as all present at once,
though in reality never more than one moment is present at once
(hence the 'specious').

Well, I never knew.
1901 and William James.

All I know is that many of us are trying to stay present in the moment.
We have made it into a spiritual exercise that we can wrestle with and fail.

Maybe we need to realize there is long standing argument that that is all there is.
Will that make it any easier?

And how interesting that when we accept this point of view of being in the present, we really have to question what is Real.
Will that make it any easier to smile? To cease the struggle? To laugh? To love?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Checking In for Christmas

pome and chops
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

It’s been a while since I checked in with Byron Katie to see what she is up to. And since today I have the time, I Googled.

I found this. It is worth sharing. She’s addressing thoughts very much like those I’ve had, very much like thoughts my friends have.

I wonder if similar thoughts haven’t crossed you own mind in the last month.

Katie is responding to someone who has written to her from Texas. I have shortened their exchange a bit. But, you'll get the point:

Dear Katie,
Now that Obama has won, I'm noticing friends of mine are going to the gun store and buying more guns and ammunition. This seems ridiculous to me, but when I ask them why, they reply, "because Obama will take away our guns."

What is wrong with these people?
I tried to talk to them about racism and their feelings before the elections, but nothing would change their minds. I'm sad and upset that these "friends" of mine are so narrow-minded and racist.

What can I do to change them? They are normal, decent people in most ways, except when it comes to politics.
love, J

Dear J,
…I invite you to personally work with “Obama is going to take away our guns” and see what it might be like to walk in your friends’ minds, world, and internal life and fears.

I invite you to look at taking away the gun that you are aiming at your friends, the judgments that you are shooting at them inside you.
Also, try working with “There is something wrong with these people,” “They need to wake up,” “I need to do something to change them,” and “They are not decent people when it comes to politics.”

For now, let’s look at “These friends of mine are narrow-minded and racist.”
Is this true?
Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
Can you absolutely know that it’s true that your friends are narrow-minded and racist? Notice that your mind wants to defend your position, to justify, to show proof of why it is true.
Notice this and return to a simple yes or a no.
Commit to one answer or the other. The Work stops working the moment your mind moves away from the questions and into its old pattern of justification and defense, winning and losing.
Just notice these tendencies and continue to answer the questions.
Give them a respectful amount of time…
There is wisdom beneath the surface answers, there are answers that are pure gold to you, and they offer freedom that you cannot imagine.
When you have given the first two questions plenty of time and answered them, please gently move to the third question.

How do you react when you believe the thought “My friends are narrow-minded and racist”?
Do you feel sick to your stomach, disgusted, sad, even frightened for them? For you?
Do you see images of them using the guns?
Notice how you react when you believe that thought.
Do you see yourself as superior to them?
How do you treat yourself when you believe this thought, how do you treat them?
Give this question some time, be still with it for a while.

Who would you be without the thought “My friends are narrow-minded and racist”? Would you be less frightened, less separated from them, lighter, easier of mind, less judgmental?
Would you be happier thinking of and being with your friends, a closer listener, really hearing their minds, hearts, and fears without separating yourself from them?

Now turn it around. Are you being narrow-minded, sweetheart?
Have you ever experienced yourself as racist, even a tiny bit?
Have you been prejudiced against prejudiced people?
Are you seeing these friends of yours as less enlightened than you, less rational, less wise, less open?

…Find at least three examples of each turnaround, and continue with the next turnaround, or begin to work with another judgment that you are holding on to.

Because until you do,
you are the cause of the separation that is happening in the human race
and that separation in the world is what you are putting out there.
It is what you teach those in contact with you…

I want to deal with anything within me that would separate me from anyone or anything. This is intimacy, oneness, love.

Ahhhh. Turns out Katie wrote a pretty good Christmas Letter for me.

Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter Silence

Fall bounce 2
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
I have become very quiet on these pages, I know.
Maybe it's the winter days now, grey, silent.... marvelous.

I have managed to make some visual art - this little leaf and acorn caught my eye the other morning and brought everything to an immediate halt. I bent over and looked closely, then ran and got the camera.

If you want to read more, go here and visit with Jeanette Winterson.

Or, I found these words of watching and silence yesterday as I inspected a Christmas book:

To have watched from one of your patios
the ancient stars
from the bench of shadow to have watched
those scattered lights
that my ignorance has learned no names for
nor their places in constellations
to have heard the note of water
in the cistern
known the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle,
the silence of the sleeping bird,
the arch of the entrance, the damp
these things perhaps are the poem.

Jorge Luis Borges

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Irrational Exuberance aka Life

I actually wrote the entry, Roots, two weeks ago. But, I never posted.
It seemed too goodie-two-shoes to me.
Too exuberant.
However, today is “hostess’s” birthday and this morning I was once again noticing the straw as I came to work. So, I thought I’d post belatedly as something of a birthday salutation.

In this interim two weeks, I also celebrated my mother’s birthday.
I took her out to Sunday brunch and because the restaurant surprises birthday celebrants with a slice of cake and candle, we knew that the family at another table was also celebrating.
I was already making my way out when Mom said, “I’m going to wish this young girl happy birthday.” So I turned back and waited. By then, Mom was in conversation and had discovered that actually both birthdays were the next day.
“I am going to be eighty-three. How old will you be?”
A universal, “Ahhhh,” went up from the group.
The girl’s mother and my eyes met right then in the midst of that Ahhh. And we smiled.
It was just a moment, then we looked away.
But, in that moment we had got it.
The unspeakable miracle of a single life, of family, of love was right there, an understanding shared amongst complete strangers.

It goes beyond the rational and it is such fullness it must be exuberant...

So, Happy Birthday: Mom, Lily, ... and to all of us!


We’ve started a women’s meditation group. We do meditate, but our talking sometimes leads us rather far afield, though no one is complaining.
Last night, we found ourselves speculating on the meaning of the root “dox.”
Thinking of “Doxology” I’d suggested “god.”
Our hostess immediately replied, “No…” and bowed her head in thought.

She began with “paradox” and “orthodox” and so suggested “idea.”
(If memory serves, I think that was the word.)
But, anyway, she didn’t go with “god.”

The next morning I awoke to find an email: “We were both right!!”

Greek doxa, opinion from dokein, to think; see dek- in Indo-European roots.
Greek doxologi, praise: doxa, glory, honor from dokein, to seem; see dek

Well, this only makes it clearer, I think.
Dek reminds me of the Sanskrit deva:
Deva (meaning "radiant" or "shining") refers to a "god" or "deity"…

I left last night's meditation singing the Doxology to Mary, with whom I car pool.
Had she sung it in her church? When I was a kid we sang it every Sunday after they’d completed the collection.

In many ways, the Doxology brought the service to its peak for me:
The ushers marching up the aisle to lay our money upon the altar
(no fatted calf I grant you but the next best thing, we were Presbyterians, for God’s sake)…
the congregation rising to its feet to sing in unison:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all Creatures here below.
Praise Him above Ye heavenly hosts.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

The organ pipes rang out as we all swelled heavenly,
and then we'd return to earth with this natural bowing of our heads.
This was high ceremony to me. It made me want to drop to my knees and cross myself (but we were Presbyterians...).

I found myself singing again this morning, as I negotiated the path between the parking garage and the construction site that's expanding the School of Public Health.
They’ve scattered straw and grass seed over major excavations, torn up roads, and made a huge mess.
But this morning, right next to the newly poured cement a flock of sparrows was busy gobbling up seeds from beneath the straw.
The sight stunned me, stopped me in my tracks.

It is 35 degrees outside. Winter has arrived in Georgia.
The impatience are frozen solid on my deck.
And here are these little birds, the softest puffs of feather, burrowing along like fuzzy hamsters while in my head I am hearing:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all Creatures here below…

What praise right here at my feet! In the softness, in the Life, with these little birds.
Doxology and doxa, dokein, dek and deva. Right here!

Deva most likely from the Proto-Indo-European deiwos, originally an adjective meaning "celestial" or "shining." But, I prefer the verb: diiv meaning "to play."

As in little birds rummaging through scattered seeds or a good tune running through your head.

As in irrational exuberance.

Happy Birthday, Lily, Mom, and one and all.