Tales from outer turnip head...

Tales from outer turnip head...

Sunday, October 29, 2017

"A perfect falcon, for no reason, has landed on your shoulder, and become yours."

“The Seed Market” --by Rumi.
Translated by Coleman Barks

Can you find another market like this?

with your one rose
you can buy hundreds of rose gardens?

for one seed
you get a whole wilderness?

For one weak breath,
the divine wind?

You’ve been fearful
of being absorbed in the ground,
or drawn up by the air.

Now, your waterbead lets go
and drops into the ocean,
where it came from.

It no longer has the form it had,
but it’s still water.
The essence is the same.

This giving up is not a repenting.
It’s a deep honoring of yourself.

When the ocean comes to you as a lover,
marry, at once, quickly,
for God’s sake!

Don’t postpone it!
Existence has no better gift.

No amount of searching
will find this.

A perfect falcon, for no reason,
has landed on your shoulder,
and become yours.

Back in 1992 I went to India at the suggestion of my mentor Royal Rhodes, a wise man who sent me on a journey where I found much of myself:
Royal W.F. Rhodes, who joined the Kenyon faculty in 1979, teaches primarily the history of Christianity. His other interests include liberation theology, third world religious experience, monasticism (East and West), and religion and the arts.

In 1994 he was presented with the Trustees Award for Distinguished Teaching. In 2002 he became the first incumbent of the Donald L. Rogan Professorship in Religious Studies. (
I went to study Buddhism in a Burmese monastery affiliated with Antioch College. I knew almost nothing about India nor Buddhism; it seemed like a cool thing to do while in college. While on this journey I met Chokyi Nima Rinpoche, another wise man who seemed to know I needed to "not belong" while still being accepted:
Born in 1951, in Nakchukha Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche is the eldest son of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, who was considered to be one of the greatest Dzogchen masters of our time. When he was only eighteen months of age, Rinpoche was recognized as the seventh incarnation of Drikung Kagyu lama Gar Drubchen. Not long after being recognized as the tulku, Rinpoche was enthroned at Drong Gon Tubten Dargye Ling, in Nakchukha. Rinpoche also studied under Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

Rinpoche and his family fled Tibet shortly before the Chinese invasion of Tibet.Rinpoche and his younger brother, Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche soon enrolled at the Young Lamas Home School in Dalhousie, India. At age thirteen, Rinpoche entered Rumtek Monastery and spent eleven years studying the Karma Kagyu, Drikung Kagyu, and Nyingma traditions.

Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche left Rumtek in 1974, and established Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Chokyi Nima Rinpoche allowed me to be a guest, allowed me frequent access to his time and space, treated me with tremendous respect, and served as the capstone experience for my time in Asia. (He also had a great sense of humor.) He taught me more through his behavior and affect than through direct teaching, and he gave me a name, of which's meaning I have tried to "be" ever since. It is a constant act of engaging in humility and confidence simultaneously. What a gift he gave me. One of his students is Lama Tenzin Sangpo:
Lama Tenzin Sangpo was born in the Tingle region of Tibet in 1967. Following his escape from Tibet in 1976, he received ordination and a traditional monastic education at Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s monastery, in Boudhanath, Nepal. He successfully completed a traditional three-year retreat and served for many years as the recitation master of the monastery’s extensive Buddhist ritual practices. He is one of the most knowledgeable and respected lamas at Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling.

Lama Tenzin Sangpo is thoroughly versed in the various Buddhist philosophical systems and is a highly skilled meditation practitioner. Presently, Lama Tenzin Sangpo serves as the resident Lama of Gomde Germany-Austria and travels to teach at many Gomde centers around the world.
I listened to Lama Tenzin Sangpo this past weekend in Shelburne Falls, MA. It was a Friday night, a perfect fall day, warm in the sun and cool after dusk, an intimate room with cushions and incense, and me, trying to sit still and learn. Much of what was offered was lost on me, Tibetan specific lessons mixed in with practical wisdom. I keyed in when Lama Tenzin began speaking about taking advantage of the moment one is in, rather than looking off to a possible future. He was humorous (much like his teacher) and patiently, humbly wise. His lesson reminded me a bit of Rumi's poem, The Seed Market...

So there it is, my reflection for this Sunday morning, "A perfect falcon, for no reason, has landed on your shoulder, and become yours." What ever shall I do with it?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

"This is not going to go the way you think!"

Luke Skywalker: "Breathe. Just breathe. Now reach out. What do you see?"
When I was five my worldview changed dramatically (just as any five year old's life can change in response to a dramatic event). I saw Star Wars for the first of many times... Now, I was raised Episcopalian; I believed in God; I went to Sunday school; later, I recall, I would walk to school (downhill, both ways, by the way) and have debates in my head about whether I was a good person or not, chiding myself that my "good" behaviors were only done to try to impress an all-seeing deity, not because I was inherently "good"; I had irreverent thoughts that I was uniquely special, at times "chosen"; and I had a solid belief that there were things unseen that could be real...

Rey: "Light. Darkness. A balance."
So when I was five I saw Star Wars. I was not alone in how it affected me. There is an entire subset of people my age who know their childhood timeline by the experiences of each successive Star Wars release, and the revelations that each held for us. [1977: There is a Force; 1980: Evil has a way of messing with your mind, you need friends to get through the dark times; 1983: The Dark Side is powerful, but good prevails, and there is redemption for all of us.] And back then there was no straight-to-VCR a few months after a film's release in order to capitalize on revenues (we waited five years for Episode IV to be released, and yes, I watched it a gazillion times after that)...

Rey: "I need someone to show me my place in all of this."
I have a strong memory of trying to use the force on small objects in my back yard soon after the film came out. My best friend and I decided we would have the best chance of success if we worked together, because, perhaps we only had a little force—being so removed from the galaxy that was so long ago and so far away from our time and space. And yet, we believed wholeheartedly that it was real. It, the Force. It played into a deist model of the universe that suggested "everything you see might not be as it seems" and thus "anything you think can be reality." I mean, the space between particles that make up atoms is far more vast than the space those particles take up; why couldn't one simple pass through a wall, allowing the molecules of our "selves" to shuffle right by the molecules of the wall,  if we just believed hard enough? We had been taught that Tinker Bell's life could be restored with collective clapping; why couldn't the "real" science of mind over matter, that Buddhist concept of iddci, "psychic powers", not be real?

Luke Skywalker: "It's so much bigger."
And so we tried to move small objects. And when one moved ever so slightly (perhaps it was a pencil placed on end on top of an old stump that toppled over), I was crazy with the possibilities, the implications, the revelation!; my friend Jonathan pointed out that there had been a slight breeze. I never stopped believing (I am not sure he did either.)...

A short digression through high school:
Jonathan and I edited the school literary magazine together our senior year. He is an amazing doer, and ever so smart. The school literary magazine had become defunct, and I had been in line to be the editor. We petitioned the administration to restore the budget and give us a tiny office on the third floor of the school (having been kicked out of the much nicer and larger, second floor, shared office with the school newspaper). We revived the dead literary magazine that had been Vantage, renaming it Paragon (Jonathan's choice, or maybe Allen's), and created a supplementary "zine" called Advantage. Those were the days of wax galleys and typesetting (after sending ascii text files to the typesetter on 3.5 floppy disks via horse-riding curriers). Allen and Jonathan did much of the heavy lifting in our first issue, and so Jonathan—then assistant editor—became my co-editor in chief (and Allen was promoted to associate editor) for our second and final issue. Allen was another one of us. We were artsy, punky, sci-fi-geeky types leading a staff that was much similar. I think we liked to see ourselves as the dreamers and creators who were slightly off the main path of our reasonably straight-laced prep school. I can't say for sure that is how my staff thought, but I know I did, for sure. The piece I placed on the inside of the back cover (editor's prerogative) of our last work together was the following:

what can i do to make you see
that anything you think can be reality?

And so, despite being the doubter and skeptic I know I am, I continued deep down... to believe...

Luke Skywalker: "I only know one truth: It's time for the Jedi... to end."
George Lucas' prequels (Episodes I, II, & III) make me feel violent. I will not dwell on how he took a simple story about deep truths and morphed it into a CGI effect-driven complicated piece of terrible acting, derivatively offensive species, and weak motivation. Episodes IV though VI will remain core to my identity, and I can choose to leave Episodes I, II, & III behind...

And then in 2012 Disney bought Lucasfilm for 4 billion dollars and rumors of new Star Wars movies began to circulate. I foolishly and pre-judgingly asserted that I would never watch a Disney-made Star Wars movie. And then Episode VII's trailer came out and I was in love once again. My goodness, it made me so excited at an acute time in my life when I was struggling to find hope. I was clearly thirsty for joy.. and so, I take it all back, the horrible promises to boycott Disney's control of my childhood franchise...

My father took me to see the film on a very emotionally dark Christmas (for me). I was excited, but preoccupied with my own "reality". And the opening notes played, and the scrolling text arrived, and I bounced in my seat quietly clapping my hands with a smile as wide as any young child's filled with pure joy. I left my troubles behind for two hours while I found my five year old self once again. And now two years later, I have found much more joy, I have hope in my heart, a balance has been restored to my worldview and Episode VIII is ready...

I cannot wait for Christmas to arrive fast enough...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

and then some…

Fiery flower in Shelbourn Falls.
and then some…

a flower…
its simplicity astounding

and a flower…
complexity deceiving

life and all…
assuredly worth living
but death…
passively comforting

and a river 
it flows over
hills and under 

swirls around 
boulders and through 

always changing
eternally cycling 

Mercury Cavern. Credit: Guy Tal
we - the tunnelers that we are -
work to passing 
above --
through -- 
in --
when down and 
when not… 


when we could live simply and die cyclicly 

and like 
quicksilver flow inwardly and
glisten changingly 
and move where 
nature leads us… 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

"As long as you can breathe you can survive"...

Opening shot from David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986)
He smelled like Captain Black: There is a story that goes like this: A little boy had a kind old grandfather who brought him gifts and smelled of pipe tobacco. The boy's name is inconsequential, his grandfather was Fred, but the boy called him Gran-pa...

Yellow-green skies and brown-grey pipe smoke: The boy has a memory of running into the yellow-green-skied tropical winds of his backyard during Hurricane David's run up the east coast while Gran-pa watched on from the shelter of a side porch. It's a strange memory to have and might be corrupt*, but in it the sky was so weird, the wind powerful enough to knock the boy down, and the pipe-smoking kind-smiling leather-skinned Gran-pa, so calm. It's a suspicious memory that might be a hybrid with ties to two or more separate side porch moments, perhaps even spanning two homes and multiple days in the late 70s; but it is a powerful recollection, nonetheless, for a seven year-old contrasting exciting yellow-green danger with calm brown-grey pipe smoke...

He was a great man: Gran-pa, at one point in his life, had been a mayor of a small town that surely had white picket fenced houses, a candy store on the corner, and a gazebo/band-stand at the center of town across from the soda fountain/diner. He was married to a woman who was elegant and had one child who fit right-in on the fall-harvest float in the town parade. Gran-pa had also been a volunteer firefighter in his time; and he had a kind smile. Gran-pa died when the boy was seven of emphysema. Everytime anyone spoke to the boy about his grandfather, they said things like, "He was a great man. He was a firefighter, you know." The little boy always heard, "Your grandfather was a great man, BECAUSE he was a firefighter." And so he always thought firefighters were great men (and women)...

Life imitating fiction imitating life: The boy visited the local firehouse in North Baltimore throughout his youth, and eagerly watched any movie or show that featured firefighting as he grew older:
  • Emergency (1972-1977) - TV
  • Towering Inferno (1974) - Movie
  • Code Red (1981-1982) - TV
  • Backdraft (1991) - Movie
  • Firestorm (1998) - Movie
  • Third Watch (1999-2005) - TV
  • 9/11 (2002) - Movie
  • Ladder 49 (2004) - Movie
  • Rescue Me (2004-2011) - TV
  • Chicago Fire (2012-present) - TV
The quality of some of these cinematic depictions of firefighting is suspect, as is the acting and plot in places. Director of Backdraft Ron Howard has commented on how hard it is to film fire well, but makes it exciting in Backdraft, and the fire in Jay Russell's Ladder 49 is near perfect. What is captured consistently in each of these shows and films is the camaraderie of the firefighters themselves as they do the work they are trained to do and rely on each other as soldiers must in any conflict...

And so the boy decided one day to be a firefighter and perhaps be a great man like Gran-pa...

"If this ain’t the greatest job in the world, I don’t know what is.": Many events from my childhood, along with relocation to my own small town with picket fences and volunteer firefighters, and ultimately the events of 9/11 (2001) moved me to join the local fire department and train to be a firefighter. God, I love my jobs! Both interior firefighting and wildland firefighting are a mix of exciting yellow-green danger with calm brown-grey pipe smoke... We don't run into buildings or forests on fire, spazzy and uncontrolled; we walk in, find the beast, look it in the eye, and kick its ass. The chaos of an interior fire and limitations of equipment on light-hearted communication makes fighting structure-fires acute and exciting, but lacks the slow buddy-building that fighting a fire in the woods might. Wildland firefighting is its own beast, and requires different gear and training than interior work; it yields a different sort of camaraderie, not better or worse, just different. Walking into the woods at dawn with your crew to resume battle on a fire that has been resting all night but ready to spring back to life is an amazing feeling...

2013 events fictionalized in 2017: On October 20, Columbia Pictures will release Only the Brave, a movie based upon the story of hotshots battling the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire of Arizona. Although the director, Joseph Kosinski, is reasonably unproven, the trailer for this film has me very excited nonetheless. "We’re only seconds away, it’s going to feel like the end of the world. As long as you can breathe you can survive"...

* I called my mother after writing this and found some facts. Oh, how memories can be corrupted by time. We lived on Midherst until Summer '78. The porch there had steps leading into the back yard. Fred loved that porch. He visited Overhill before he died and loved the porch there as well, but it does not have stairs leading to the back yard. Hurricane David did not land in Maryland until Fall '79, several months after Fred had died. Memories of green skies and brown grey pipe smoke are just the mind of a boy grasping at wisps of his beginnings it seems...