Today we wrote poems together. Following the poems I describe how these poems were written.

The Way Forward

I sit in zazen awaiting clarity.
Wishing and hoping for openness.
But freedom comes from being open to confusion.
This is what it means to be alive.

May we find our freedom in the bird-song
and feel our confusion like the cool
humid, gray day that it is.
Soft, allowing, opening, now.

Even though anxiety or sadness comes in the way, at the end
we can find peace and calm
during zazen and our daily life

How do I not choose between emptiness and other entailments?

It Hinges on Now

Life springs from death
Death ends life
Choose, or not choose
The question is, where is the hinge?

Is the focus on new plantings?
Or is it on bird poop?
Balmy or torrential
Where is the hinge?

Tenderness is what holds my heart as I sit
Charged – alive and tingling – is how I move through the day

What does it mean to be completely myself?

Why Must There Be Adjectives?

What and where is awakening?
Is it becoming alert to this presence?
Is there compassion in the practice of becoming alert?
Is there compassion for myself?

The compassion of grey.
Alert flowers!
A constant drizzle.
An answer in the wind.
(Why must there be adjectives?)

In anticipation of some preconceived goal
we shutter ourselves up in self criticism.
Poof! The calm vanishes.
Our dreamy illusions keep us bound.

What does my practice mean?


with the sunset the suffering still there but more suddenly
the waves of the sea bring quietude on my life
being present every moment in this life is buddha’s nature
suffering comes and goes; it’s more painful if we attach to it

Clouds gather and I fear suffering
Birds singing I remember freedom
Pleasant temperature my heart is uplifted
Fresh air sweeping change through my life

Empty sky and I am released
Calm certitude
Tingling awareness of …

How can I let go and just be as I am in this moment, dropping thought and thus grasping and evaluation?

The Heart’s Outpouring

Always sitting in the morning
Nothing special, just showing up
In the sanctuary of the stillness
Equanimity comes visiting

The wind blows
through the sunlessness of my soul
Coolness surrounds my heart
Do the seeds grow?

I stay I stay I stay
Pressing up against my own restlessness
Open to my own grief
What is washes over me

How do I meet this?

Awaken to the Unknown

In the midst of unknowing openness,
I feel loved
and experience a soul filled to overflowing with compassion

A touch of wind stirs
The music of chimes
There is always change
And the cardinals
are there, a flash of
red, bright + beautiful
in the midst of it, alive

The possibility is always there.
Even when we can’t appreciate it.
Meet each moment with gratitude.
Remain hungry for what may be ahead.

How can I be the best wife and friend? How am I to be in best relationship with all?

Everything Just as It Is

Open your dusty heart
In real presence, there
is no above or below,
higher or lower,
better or worse
There is only you + me + everyone else just as we are
With a sweaty red face + tired feet
or with muffin tops + wondering what to wear
or with fears about containing it all and
how best to love each other
There lies compassion

Grey clouds above, green grass below.
I walk through fields of buds.
My feet are wet from the moist grass.
The moisture in the air hugs my face.

My heart is filled with confusion
I observe it with honest curiosity.
I trust that with abiding patience and love
I will continue to follow the way.

How can I detach from my conditioning thoughts?

Living in Freedom

In confusion
The call is for patience,
To be comfortable without knowing,
To become the big-mind.

Still stirring thoughts, even though
is freezing outside we can seedling every
moment on our life to become more
aware each moment.

Becoming aware of fear
Becoming aware of constriction
Tired of holding on
Ready to give up the struggle

How do I live in freedom?

The exercise:

Some of you know I was fortunate enough to participate in the workshop yesterday with Marie Howe, a wonderful poet and teacher. Here is are two of her best-known poems that I really love. [“The Last Time.” “What the Living Do.”] In the workshop, she used some exercises that reminded me how helpful a little bit of structure can be in using writing to discover what is most true for us. So today I’d like to offer a little exercise in writing to connect with our Zen practice in the context of our sangha. Don’t worry if you don’t consider yourself a writer, or especially if you do. This is a shared exploration for our mutual discovery. But first, a bit of a warmup. You should have two pieces of paper.

First, the warmup, a very short exercise in freewriting, only 30 seconds. The rule is you must immediately begin writing, and you must continue without stopping until the end of the 30 seconds. You may say anything you wish, you can repeat a sentence, you can write that you hate writing, or whatever comes to mind. It’s a bit of a sprint, because it is just a short time, but you don’t have to hurry. Just write at your own pace for 30 seconds without stopping. Go. [30 sec.] Now read what you’ve written, leave a line space, and write the one sentence or phrase from it that strikes you as most true or most interesting or most surprising. Put that paper aside (you can keep it), and take out the second paper. Fold it in half, it is like a little book. Number the pages at the top, from one to four.

  1. Allow yourself to become mindful, and settle. Now, on the front page, at the very top of the paper, leave a couple of blank line spaces, then write four words that somehow relate to your practice or your understanding of Zen. Just write them in a single line, with commas between.
  2. Hand your paper to the left. Read the four words. Let yourself become mindful, and then using all of the words on the paper you received, write a four line poem, or four sentences that include those words.
  3. At the top of page two, write four words that relate to something you have actually observed today in the weather or the season, or something in nature.
  4. Hand your paper to the left. Read what has already been written, and the four words on page 2. Using those words, continue the poem with four more lines.
  5. At the top of page 3, write four words that somehow relate to a thought or a feeling you are experiencing right now. Hand your paper to the left. Read what has been written so far, and become mindful. Using those four words in some way, continue the poem with four more lines.
  6. Hand the paper to the left.
  7. Read the poem so far and let yourself become mindful. On page 4, write a real question that you have, in your life or your practice.
  8. Hand the paper to the left.
  9. Read the poem so far, then add a title at the top of the first page.

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Comment by Lisa Kuntz on April 13, 2014 at 7:12pm

I'm glad Joan Harman alerted me that you wrote poems this morning and that Peg had alreadyposted them! They touch tender places in my heart, and, since I'm experiencing confusion right now, I felt very reassured by the amount of "confusions" in the poems. "Freedom comes from being open to confusion...."  Gratitude.

Comment by Flint Sparks on April 13, 2014 at 4:55pm

These are amazing and touching. Reading them here in Mexico I get a warm feeling for our beautiful sangha. I bow with  gratitude.  Flint



Appamada is not just the occasional mindful thought or attentive state of mind, it’s actually a commitment to being attentive. It’s more than just a meditative state of mind, it’s more than just being mindful. It has to do with that primary ethical or moral orientation we have in life, with which we bring into being whatever activity we’re engaged in. Whether in formal meditation, in our interactions with other people, in our social concerns, or in our political choices, it’s the energetic cherishing of what we regard as good.

—Stephen Batchelor


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