Equinox

Michelmas 2018

St. Helena Fall 2018. Robin L. Chandler, 2018.

“In a world without forest streams from which to drink, where shall I find forest streams from which to drink?”

From the poem In a World Without Forests by Dick Allen, Zen Master

Tramping alongside the Maacama, I rejoice to still find water flowing towards the Russian River. End of September, the air is dusty; golden fields are baked; creeks are typically dry; and the fear of fire haunts all of us who love California’s rolling hills and rivers. Almost a year ago, firestorms besieged Sonoma County, this beautiful place, displacing and forever changing the lives of humans and animals. I am grateful for all lives saved and mourn for all who lost their homes and loved ones. I am grateful for this yet babbling creek. The cup is yet half full. Little daylight remaining, a great blue heron soars by me settling alongside the quiet creek bank searching for the last catch. In the East, St. Helena soars, sheltering the vineyards below where harvest has begun. Equinox. I whisper a prayer “may we live in balance and at peace for one year more.”

slough time

 

Edison Slough

Edison Slough. Robin L. Chandler, 2018.

Sloughs are narrow, winding waterways where fresh and salt water mix with the rising and ebbing of the tides – a cycle of life, death and rebirth. When the tide recedes the muddy, marshy banks are exposed teeming with life; crabs, shrimps, worms, snails, clams make these flats their home. When the tide rises, these creatures feed on a nutrient rich “soup” created by decomposing plants and other small animals; when the tide ebbs, these shellfish and mollusks become a feast for birds and fishes that also call the slough home. In their time, these birds and fishes provide nourishment to yet other predators. Sloughs are a place measuring time by the absence and presence of water. It is a place for the soul to replenish and connect the tidal rhythm to the rhythm of sustaining our energy and our breath: give and take, in and out, give and take, in and out. Buddha was a gentle human seated amongst the world’s phenomena, contemplating life’s multiple rhythms.

Recently we visited Edison in Skagit County Washington. Walking along Edison’s slough, I was mindful of Gary Snyder’s words in The Practice of the Wild “walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind…the exact balance of spirit and humanity. Out walking, one notices where there is food…there are firsthand true stories of ‘your ass is somebody else’s meal’ a blunt way of saying interdependence, interconnection…give-and-take…what a big potlatch we are all members of! To acknowledge that each of us at the table will eventually be part of the meal is not just being ‘realistic.’ It is allowing the sacred to enter and accepting the sacramental aspect of our shaky temporary personal being.”

open and clear

openandclear

Robin L. Chandler, 2018

A grave illness resides with my father and we, his family, breathe on, our minds plagued with a dull ache that cannot be suppressed. But what goes through a person’s mind at this time? Is death as simple as opening a window? Do you have a clear view of what lays beyond or are you adrift in the darkness?   Czeslaw Milosz writes in his poem Winter:

“…when the sun rises beyond the borderlands of death,

I already see the mountain ridges in the heavenly forest

Where beyond every essence, a new essence waits.”

awaken at the beach

Limantour Beach

Limantour Beach. Robin L. Chandler, 2018.

Winter is my favorite time of year; I love the journey to the year’s shortest day and the new pilgrimage for the year’s longest day. Precious the light of day and the warmth of the sun; most welcome is the night when blessed with a good book by the fire and my cat curled sleeping in my lap.

On Christmas Eve, I walked the landscape of Drakes Estero and Limantour Beach with my beloved wife and dear friend. Just a few days past the solstice the day remained short, and to commemorate the day, I made a watercolor sketch and reflected on darkness and light asking myself what can well-meaning souls do to make the world a better place?

And by a better place I mean: end the rapacious exploitation of the earth’s flora and fauna; take measures to resolve the increasing disparity between rich and poor; respect the diversity of global cultures; and stop the egregious use of violence. No small challenge. No simple answer. In fact, it sounds so impossible to resolve, I might as well give up and run away. Run as far away as possible from the suffering and the death, building tall strong walls to protect me from the pain.

It takes great courage to sit and listen to the suffering, the death, and the pain: within yourself and in others. Many of us feel compelled to fix the problems, and when we can’t we give up and salve our pain with whatever money can buy. Not knowing what to do or how to fix a problem is impossibly hard. But through my Buddhist studies, I have learned that there is a place to begin: listen, stay open minded and be generous. This is how the suffering ends and the healing starts. We are not born knowing all things, and will never learn all there is to know. Mitchell Thomashow writes in his essay Nature. Love. Medicine. Reciprocity. Generosity. “…we can cultivate generosity, open-mindedness, graciousness, and humility in the space of that glorious unknowing. I don’t have the capacity to love every species and every person, but I can develop the capacity to be more generous with those people and species that I do encounter.” Blessings on us all for this New Year!

Reveal in the darkness

Reveal

Revealed. Robin L. Chandler, 2017.

It is in the darkness that kindness is revealed.

Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem says it best:

Kindness
“Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
     purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.”

saves

Savedesert

Texas Desert. Robin L. Chandler, 2017.

Savestorm

Texas Storm. Robin L. Chandler, 2017.

In the desert, on the plains, stripped of all familiar opaque comforts, under the hot sun, at the mercy of storms, we are exposed; and naked before the universe you find the truth. There will be chaos, there will be demons, but maybe there will be the blessing of silence – the pause that saves – contemplation bringing redemption.

 

How can I reach you?

Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth Mountain from Minaret Summit. Robin L. Chandler, 2017.

The Tang Dynasty’s Wang Wei is revered in China as a poet, painter, and practitioner of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism. And for good reason when you read and savor Wang Wei’s work. Wei is considered to be the first Chinese painter to capture the inner spirit of the landscape, originating the mountains-and-rivers tradition beloved by the Buddhist poet Gary Snyder. In his book Mountain Home, David Hinton writes “Wang Wei’s poetry is especially celebrated for the way he could make himself disappear into a landscape, and so dwell as belonging utterly to China’s wilderness cosmology. In Ch’an practice, the self and the constructions of the world dissolve until nothing remains but empty mind or “no-mind.”

A few weeks ago, I travelled with the best companions, reaching the Eastern Sierra and our campground at Convict Lake, after many hours of driving. During our respite, we visited Hot Creek, Long Valley Caldera, Mammoth Mountain, Minaret Summit, and Mono Lake. Walking or sitting amongst the beauty, we were emptied and replenished reaching an awakening, if not the hoped for enlightenment. Wang Wei’s poetry came to mind as I reached for and drank deeply from the cup of friendship and nature. In the Mountains, Sent to Ch’an Brothers and Sisters Wei wrote:

“Dharma companions filling mountains,

a sangha forms of itself: chanting, sitting

Ch’an stillness. Looking out from distant

City walls, people see only white clouds.”

Looking out from distant city walls, people see only white clouds. In Buddhist meditative dharma practice, random thoughts are often seen as clouds passing by. As I meditate I try to reach emptiness, see the clouds evaporate, but often “my thoughts float like clouds and I meander among them until. I remember. Stop meandering. Remember. Concentrate on each breath. Mindfulness.” If most people see only clouds, and I can attest how difficult it is to clear the mind of clouds, how can I reach and expect them to be mindful of our impact upon the earth?

“Anthropocene is the voguish and not yet officially adopted term to describe the first geologic epoch in Earth’s history to be characterized primarily by the impacts of human activity, global warming foremost among them,” writes Glen Martin in the article Hell or High Water: How Will California Adapt to the Anthropocene?

How can I reach others and help them see that for the first time in humankind’s existence – a time now considered the Anthropocene – our actions are raising the temperature of the heavens, the oceans, and the land and thereby changing the fate of all creatures inhabiting these spheres. We must understand the actions we take today impact future generations. And we must understand that human consciousness is formed by our relationship to the sky, the seas and the land: the sky our infinite possibilities, the sea our mystery and the earth our enduring home. What will our consciousness become if the heavens, the oceans and the land are irrevocably changed? What if the air is too dirty to breathe? What if water is a scarce commodity? What if the land is stripped bare and emptied of the creatures with which we currently share this planet? What will it all mean? “We simply need wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to it’s edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves, of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”[1]

[1] Stegner, Wallace. Wilderness Letter. December 3, 1960.