New Banner Picture

I’ve used a stock photo since starting this blog. The new photo is the Palisade Crest in the Sierra Nevada mountains taken by my brother.

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Going to Work

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.

Toni Morrison
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Agenda

As my practice deepens, my agenda deepens with it. What I do and what is off the table is key. For rank and file cloistered monastics this is not a question. A higher-up or the tradition decides when they rise, eat, work, pray, meditate, and sleep. I’m retired and a lay person. Outside of retreats there’s no boss to set the agenda. I’m married so our calendars and agendas need to be coordinated. Some of my agenda is set by the needs of staying alive and healthy: 3 meals a day, shopping, daily exercise, rest, recreation, etc.

I can survive without checking the news everyday. We manage our own retirement investments, so stock markets, macro-economic news, and the Treasury rates need some attention. I’ve unsubscribed from most of the e-mail lists, Poem-a-Day, various activist and lobbying organizations, cooking sites. One additional person signing an on-line petition will not tilt the “long arch of history that bends toward justice” noticeably.

Who or what sets my agenda? I am finding my call writing poetry. This blog strengthens my essay writing. Letting non-essentials go gives me more time for writing and reading poetry. With more time, there is more energy and desire to write. This surprised me

Every task that comes my way I ask, “Is there joy here?” If “yes”, it goes on the TODO list. If “no”, I ask is necessary? Even doing taxes has a satisfaction in doing them, having them done, and the necessary bookkeeping. Still there is more on my TODO list than can be done in a day, or a week.

Getting Things Done” (GTD) by David Allen can be helpful. Or a trap. Workaholism runs in my family. I easily fall into maximizing performance/production of what does not matter. David Allen observes that “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them” and advocates keeping tasks in a trusted system so you can focus (be mindful) on the thing thing in front of you. If I’m meditating alone and a clear task comes to me, I’ll pause and put it into my trusted system. Age and chemo side effects make my memory not a trusted system.

Reading GTD from the perspective of a contemplative in the world shows how it can support a contemplative practice/lifestyle. And how it can lead to suffering.

Related: Dying on the Mountain: How Goals Will Kill You and How to Focus on the Process

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The Southern Cliff – a Bigger God

The above picture of the Southern Cliff in the Lagoon Nebula is from NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) blog. It is beautiful and five light years high. From Earth it cannot be seen with the naked eye. The whole Lagoon Nebula is barely visible to the eye. Our entire Solar System, including the Oort Cloud of icy fragments that slowly orbit the Sun, is about 3 light years across. I had imaged a God that created our Solar System, beyond that was more like images on a sky shell.

Clearly my image of God was too small. The Lagoon Nebula is 4,000-6,000 light years away. The estimated size of the visible universe is 93 billion light years across, a size I find unimaginable, as the Scriptures and mystics claim God is.

Today’s Richard Rohr meditation, An Evidence-Based Emergence, talks about how God is revealed in Creation and how science can tell us more about Creation and so about God. Many in the institutional church resist that, often violently, as they resisted the scripture writers, the prophets, and the mystics during their lifetime, then canonized them or made the Doctors (Latin for teachers) of the Church after they were safely dead.

I sometimes think there are more mystics and people with a direct experience of God among the scientists than among the pews.

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Poem in Two Voices

We have built a bridge dear. (You
are in my heart.)  We dance
in a circle, (round our secret
that knows).  No one sees the shared center
we turn about.  (We see what is not
visible to others.)  We saw each other
across the depths of a dark night,
(the vital signs monitor the only light.)
Heard the orderly's quiet tread
come to check my vital signs,
not disturbing (a troubled, needed
sleep.)  This is the bond between us.
(What we saw in each other,) that
no one else did.  (Until we danced
around) our shared center.

First appeared in 2019 issue of Blue Hole, the Georgetown Poetry Festival anthology, edited by Joyce and Mike Gullickson.

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Desperately Made Boats

"How could they go to sea
 in such flimsy craft?"

Ruptured pontoon replaced
by one of reeds.
Motor with enough gas
to carry them beyond
small arms fire, trailing
the smell of war.

Joseph fleeing in the night with
wife and child on the back of a donkey,
left behind his shop, most of his tools
for a foreign land.  Donkey back
was not his first choice,
just the best available.

Lakota Sioux pray,
"May we always be ready
 for the long journey."

First appeared in 2019 issue of Blue Hole, the Georgetown Poetry Festival anthology, edited by Joyce and Mike Gullickson.

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The Water Connects

Metal bowl connects by flowing water
  to its support of rocks,
a fountain of metal and stone.
  Pump drives the connection,
connects to the power grid,
  connects to wind generators out west,
driven by air river off
  the Pacific Ocean.

Stone Buddha, one with the fountain,
  connects to historical Buddha
2500 years ago, half way round
  the world.  It all connects,
the farther you go, the further ago.
  Two million light-years away
Andromeda galaxy shows
  its younger self
in our night sky.

This poem first appeared in WordFest Anthology 2019, part of the Waco Cultural Arts Fest, edited by Sandi Horton.

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October is Poetry Festival Month

As summer starts to wind down in Austin, festivals start up. Austin City Limits was the first two weekends in October. I went the first year. It was in August, high of 103F. Never again in August. Waco hosts its CultureFest the first weekend in October. I was in the Waco WordFest anthology and attended for the second time this year. Joyce and Mike Gullickson of the Georgetown Poetry Festival (3rd Saturday in October) passed out copies of the Blue Hole, their anthology. So in one day, three of my poems were published. I’ll paste them into this blog as time permits.

Both of these poetry festivals are free and contain a lot of good poetry. Waco WordFest featured Loretta Diane Walker from Midland, TX. I’ve been wanting to hear her for two years since I found her in two Web poetry journals where I was published: Illya’s Honey (“There is No Before Cancer“) and Red River Review (“The Grammar of Juggling“, lost in reorganization). We bought two of her poetry collections.

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Rituals

Most creatives have rituals to get them started. Steven Pressfield blogs on the writng process. He writes fiction and creative fiction, but most of his advice applies to any creative endeavor. His latest, “Get Up! Begin Your Day!”, details his and Twyla Tharp’s morning rituals. Both start their day at the gym. A comment of his lets us know what he’s doing in the gym:

I am rehearsing doing something I don’t want to do.
I’m rehearsing doing something I’m afraid of.
I’m rehearsing doing something that hurts.

Steven Pressfield

They are rehearsing for “the moment when she arrives at her dance studio and faces the choreographer’s equivalent of the blank page.” Pressfield’s “War of Art” is a good read on the creative process.

I have my own writing rituals. I start every writing session in my journal with the date, time, and location. This once had a definite purpose: where and when does my good writing happen? The answer? Anytime and the patio outside our apartment. Austin weather makes the patio frequently unworkable. Next best is somewhere with coffee. Perhaps the ritual time and location detailing remains a way to say to myself, “Be Here, Now.”

Examining my rituals I find a more important one is carrying out the promise I made to my wife after chemo. Everyday I’ll tell you that you’re beautiful, I love you, make you coffee, and be silly. The last was the hardest at first. Many days I didn’t make it. Or my attempts were strained. Now, it probably happens most days and it’s not a big deal. Telling her she’s beautiful and I love her is the most important and happens everyday, sometimes several times just to make sure, but not always first thing in the morning.

What does happen every morning we are home is I get up and make coffee. This has been a struggle with: bad water (torrential rains washed 10 times the usual amount of silt into Austin’s water supply), bad coffee (every roaster seems to produce a bag of nasty coffee once in a while, Starbucks and Whole Foods house brand included as well as the local boutique roasters), headaches from something we don’t know about, and changing from drip coffee (Melitta cones then the Clever Coffee Dripper) to espresso (DeLonghi’s nice $140 home espresso machine). Reading coffee blogs suggests we might like a finer grind. Tried it this morning and it does produce more coffee flavor and body without bitterness. We refer to the coffee equipment as our “ritual utensils” and have developed the discipline to ready them every night.

I try to write every weekday. I’m several months behind. Looking at my calendar and what I do accomplish shows me my morning ritual is rehearsal for living, not just writing. My calendar is full of seeing doctors and dealing with aging and the side effects of the cancer treatment. That I must do to write. Or anything else.

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Beauty Every Day

My chiropractor recommended I look at something beautiful every day to get me out of my (rational) head more. I’ve been using the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) for several years. A recent post on Brain Pickings, The Stunning Astronomical Beadwork of Native Artist Margaret Nazon reinforced the value.

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The Hard Work – Anxiety

Teachings are helpful, but often times I need a concrete example. The poem “Beg for Love” by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir is a teaching. The accompanying concrete example, along with the artwork, reminds me how to put the teaching to work.

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