10.8.18 Monday Night Class: “Speak only that which is kind, true, necessary, and at the appropriate time…”

Blue Waves

10.8.18. THE DHARMA OF SPEECH. SPEAK ONLY THAT WHICH IS KIND, TRUE, NECESSARY, AND AT THE APPROPRIATE TIME.

I’m still getting over a very bad cold so will keep this post brief. This week’s class centered around one of my favorite teachings, The Dharma of Speech. And went on from there to encompass the beautiful Tara mantra, om tara tuttare ture swaha; a verse from Mary Oliver’s astonishing riff on the 145th Psalm; a particularly luminous verse from the Tao Te Ching; and a story from Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power. While at its root this story is the antithesis of the dharma of speech, still, it makes a fun complement to our contemplation…

Here’s the opening dharana on Tara:

 

Here’s my dharma talk:

 

 

And here are the readings:

Tao Te Ching, Verse 21

The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao;
that is what gives her radiance. 

The Tao is ungraspable.
How can her mind be at one with it?
Because she doesn’t cling to ideas.

The Tao is dark and unfathomable.
How can it make her radiant?
Because she lets it.

Since before time and space were,
the Tao is.
It is beyond is and is not.
How do I know this is true?
I look inside myself and see.

*  *  *

On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate(Psalm 145)
Mary Oliver

7.
I know a man of such
mildness and kindness it is trying to
change my life. He does not
preach, teach, but simply is. It is
astonishing, for he is Christ’s ambassador
truly, by rule and act. But, more,

he is kind with the sort of kindness that shines
out, but is resolute, not fooled. He has
eaten the dark hours and could also, I think,
soldier for God, riding out
under the storm clouds, against the world’s pride and unkindness,
with both unassailable sweetness, and consoling word.

published in Devotions, p. 137.

 *  *  *

from The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene

Down on his luck, the screenwriter Michael Arlen went to New York in 1944. To drown his sorrows he paid a visit to the famous restaurant “21.” In the lobby, he ran into Sam Goldwyn, who offered the somewhat impractical advice that he should buy racehorses. At the bar, Arlen met Louis B. Mayer, an old acquaintance, who asked him what were his plans for the future. “I was just talking to Sam Goldwyn…” began Arlen. “How much did he offer you?” interrupted Mayer. “Not enough,” he replied evasively. “Would you take fifteen thousand for thirty weeks?” asked Mayer. No hesitation this time, “Yes,” said Arlen.   [p. 32]

September 17, Monday Night Class: It’s Never Too Late to Become What You Might Have Been

After weeks of brutal heat and humidity, the rains and cool weather have come. Reminding me that nothing, NOTHING, is forever. And while everyone tells me I don’t look or seem my 70 years, the reality is, I’m standing on seven decades. I now know in my bones what I only knew in my mind even just a few years ago. Every moment is a blessing and a gift. Cherish it…

Class has resumed after a long summer break. And what a joy to be back in the Monday Night groove. Driving to class I was listening to an All Things Considered interview with Sally Fields who cites the quote (attributed to George Eliot) with which I’ve titled this post.  It’s never too late to become what you might have been…

Yes.
This is the truth.

Here’s this week’s dharma talk and reading from David Whyte’s book of essays, Consolations.

This passage from David Whyte perfectly articulates my feelings about the essence of what class, in fact, what all of my work is about…

…the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.

Here’s audio of class chanting. With apologies for recording quality. Daniel was at class so listen for his amazing tabla…

The Mangalam 

Gayatri and Om Namah Shivaya Mantras

July 22, 2018, Back Home in Princeton…

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I came down to my office a couple of weeks ago. It was early morning and I needed to get something. Once down here, I thought I’d check the AC filter. I was expecting dust and cat hair. What I found was a small handful of ants. A bit of a shock but nothing I couldn’t handle. I took the whole mess outside, sent them on their way, and slipped the filter back into place. Or tried to. Except I couldn’t get it back in. And since I’d turned the unit off before pulling out the filter, and since it was already hot and humid outside, the room was heating up.

It was only then, so intent had I been on the filter, that I noticed the real problem. A huge stream of ants was pouring in through a tiny opening at the seam where the window meets the wall. Hundreds of ants, winged and wingless, invading my now sweltering office.

I raced upstairs, grabbed the vacuum, brought it down, plugged it in, and began my attack. It was brutal. I was brutal. It was overwhelming. I was overwhelmed. And those ants kept coming. At a certain point, I had a moment of pure terror.

And that was when it hit me. I realized that what I was feeling was not so different from what people opposed to immigration feel. My border was breached and I was desperate to protect it.  That was the moment my heart opened.

Which is not to say  I’ve changed my position on immigration, refugee crises, and open borders. I have not. Closed borders make no sense to me. I’m as engaged as I can be in the fight to right what I believe is a terrible wrong. But those ants showed me I’m not so different from those “others” I tend to vilify. We may profoundly disagree. But I am damned if I’m going to let my heart close down. The ants taught me that.

There is no great moral to this story. I tell it to bear witness to my determination to stay open to people with whom I disagree. It’s really that simple. If I’ve learned one thing in seven decades of life, it’s that staying open is actually much safer than shutting down. And a whole lot more interesting.

I’ve been catching up on Krista Tippett’s On Being podcasts this week. If you’d like some excellent soul medicine for staying open, I highly recommend her conversation with Luis Alberto Urrea. Click here to listen.

 

A French Interlude, Part 3

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May 23 – June 5, Haut de Cagnes

This most recent trip to France was the first time I’ve returned to Europe in 50 years. I was last there in the summer of 1968. We travelled for a couple of months, driving from London to Rome and back up to Denmark and Sweden. I still remember key moments from that trip. But the one that’s haunted me ever since was my experience at the Foundation Maeght in St. Paul de Vence. I was twenty years old with no sense of who or what I was. But walking through the sculpture gardens there I felt a profound sense of self-recognition. It was years before I fully understood this experience. Which was an awakening of my artist mystic self. It was so powerful however, I never forgot the place or the way it felt inside me.

And this is the memory — what we’ve taken to calling my “through the stones” moment, that was the inspiration for this most recent journey. If you’re wondering if I felt the same mystical sense of aesthetic rapture in 2018, the answer is “Yes and perhaps even more.” If you’re wondering why it took so long to return, well, that’s a question for another time…

We decided to spend our first week in Paris because really, how can one go to France for the first time in half a century and not go to la Ville Lumière — and to then head south and spend two weeks in Provence. Ideally in a medieval village halfway between St. Paul and the Côte d’Azur. Which is how we ended up in Haut de Cagnes, a place neither of us had ever heard of. And hats off again to Coby, my amazing daughter who discovered this place so many artists call home, it’s been nicknamed the Montmartre of the Côte d’Azur. Talk about perfection…

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There is something exquisite about living in a medieval village. I think this has partly to do with the abundance of stones. One has the sense they’ve seen everything. Not just seen it. Sheltered it. Supported it. Protected it. Haut de Cagnes dates back to 1340. So  those stones have some stories to tell…

IMG_3691.JPGIMG_3686.JPGOne of my favorite activities was wandering around the village. I loved walking down to the market in the morning. Even loved walking back up the hill. Which was so steep that  depending on how full my basket was, required two or three rest stops. How great though, to sit for a moment to catch my breath and gaze at the Mediterranean. And then come home for le petit dejeuner and feast on warm croissants with butter and jam, apricots, peaches, and comte, the ubiquitous cheese of Provence. OMG. I never eat this way in the States. I’m allergic to wheat and have lactose intolerance… In France, we ate croissants in the morning, cheese and baguettes in the afternoon and evening. And I always felt great. Vive la France...IMG_3792

The doors in Paris blew me away. They are stunningly majestic. Clearly I am not the only person to think so. Check out Raquel Puig’s book, Doorways of Paris. She also has an Instagram account.

The doors in Haut de Cagnes are built on more of a human scale. Which makes them very welcoming. Even when they’re closed.

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On one of my first walks down to the market I discovered Modigliani’s house and garden. Just a few doors down from where we were staying. It’s not clear in this photo but if you peek through the arch and over the trees, that’s the Mediterranean off in the distance. I loved walking by this dreamscape every day and breathing in the creative magic still alive there…IMG_3632.JPG

Another thing about living in a medieval village is the sense of timelessness. There’ such a strong connection to the past. I mean really, it’s right there. Right here. Ancient past and immediate present have merged into one. Which has a very softening effect I think on that ego-driven sense of our own importance. Life comes into a much truer perspective I think in a place like this. I can only speak for myself but for me, there was such a comforting sense of my infinitesimal place in the great matrix of time and space.

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A French Interlude, Part 2.

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May 23, Paris – Nice – Haut de Cagnes

People talk about the haughty French, especially Parisians. This was so not our experience. Even Olivier, the meet and greet guy at our apartment warmed up after his initial disdain. My cousin Lorin (who manages this apartment for his in-laws) had warned us — Olivier is very punctual and has a very French way of being (this is a way of saying that he behaves somewhat like he’s annoyed all the time). Nevertheless, he will meet you at the apartment at a pre-established time, give you the keys, show you around, and reluctantly answer your questions — so we were appropriately zipped up and met his Parisian attitude with our own 😉

That first day in Paris we were in an “I simply cannot believe I am here” state.” Coby’s sixteen years of studying French 2nd grade through college came back within moments of landing at CDG. I’m in awe of her facility with this language. When I don’t understand someone or can’t communicate what I want or need, I just point to ma fille and she takes over.

Once Olivier had departed and we were all settled into the apartment, we went down to the street in search of le petit dejeuner. And right downstairs, among a plethora of boulangerie, was one with a line snaking into the street. Baguette and croissant perfection. A designed in heaven pear pistachio tarte. And a smoked salmon, creme fraiche, and cucumber sandwich to die for.

Although I have a great appreciation for food, I’m nowhere near foodie status. And  have realized on this trip that I am not an adventurous eater. In other words, I pass on organ meats, sweetbreads, rabbit, lamb, foie gras, and pigeon; am not a huge fan of goat cheese, even when it’s really really fresh; or truffles; or for that matter, caviar or cassoulet. That still leaves an abundance of plenty and walking through the markets here (les marchés) is like entering heaven.

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Every French market we visited was a feast for the senses and medicine for the soul.  So satisfying to walk through stalls laden with fruits and veggies, eggs, fish, cheeses, breads, meats, desserts, spices, dried fruits, nuts, flowers, on and on it goes. And to buy directly from another human being so there’s that moment of exchange between two people. It’s quite intimate really. Very different than shopping in the supermarket. There’s that sense of community, of camaraderie. Of we’re all in this together.

People generally thought I was British, not American. At the Bastille Market the day after Harry and Meghan’s wedding, every shopkeeper I spoke offered congratulations on the joyous event…

Here I am at the flower market in Nice. In all my years of buying and arranging flowers, these were possibly the freshest and most aromatic roses I’ve ever encountered. We walked all around Nice carrying that huge bouquet. Stopped for lunch, then a 40-minute bus ride back to Cagnes-sur-Mer, 15 minute shuttle up the hill in Haut de Cagnes, and the final walk from the shuttle stop to our house. I was concerned that so much walking and riding in the afternoon sun would take a toll on our roses. That they’d be wilted and sad when we finally got them home. Au contraire. These were, after all, French roses. They had attitude. They had joie de vivre. They had shakti!

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Late lunch in Nice and a glass of shimmering rosé.  I tried to drink a glass of rosé every day. Didn’t quite make it but came close. It really was like drinking sunlight. Then I came across this quote attributed to Galileo. Yes!!!

“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.”
                                                            -Galileo 

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A French Interlude…

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2 June. 2018. Haut de Cagnes.

It’s Friday afternoon in Haut de Cagnes. I thought I’d take my laptop outside and finally do some blogging but the internet connection on the terrace is intermittent at best and it was impossible to motivate myself to stay indoors. Until I realized I could sit on the floor by the windows. Our house is called “La Grande Vue” and you can see from the above pic why…

We’ve been here for nearly two weeks. I sit on the terrace every morning, writing in my journal and gazing at the sea. More gazing, actually, than writing. More gazing actually, than just about anything. Including my intention to blog every day. The Mediterranean sings to me and her voice is so much more beautiful than my own, all I can do is imbibe it. I find myself unable to do much more than simply be…

I started a France Trip Blog when we were still in Paris and managed one post before the vortex of this journey swept me away.  Now that this journey is near its end, I’ve decided to bring that lonely post over here and create a French Interlude within the Monday Night Blog. And so, voila…

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19. May. 2018. Paris.

Four days in Paris and already the thought of leaving seems impossible. I knew this trip was important but thought my “through the stones” moment was more about Provence. Which may yet be the case. But for now, being in Paris has me in that same sense of wonder I experienced in St. Paul de Vence fifty years ago. That same sense of belonging. Why this is, je ne sais pas. And why it’s taken me fifty years to return is a question for another time. But here I am and what a joy it is.

In the months before leaving, everyone had suggestions of must-see must do’s in Paris. Being here though I have little interest in doing anything. Content to simply be here. Wandering the streets, soaking up l’esprit de Paris, stretching into the grace and light and beauty of this most magical city.

 

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20. May. 2018. Paris.

I can barely find words to express my experience of being in Paris. I walk around in awe, marveling at the beauty and grace of this icon of icons city. What has been most startling however is the deep sense of connection I feel.  The irony is, that when I look back at my life, I realize this city has been calling me forever.  And yet I never quite grasped what is now so startlingly clear.

When did I fall in love with the idea of Paris? Was it playing the music of Debussy, Ravel, and Satie, reading Stein and Toklas, Anderson, and Nin. Was it the magic of Cocteau, Picasso, Ionesco, and Duchamp. Or the philosophy of Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Gurdjieff. All of these and something else too. Some ineffable substance of soul. Way more mysterious I think than deja vue or past life impression. And it is a wonder and joy to rest in its embrace…

 

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21. May 2018. Paris.

We’re staying at an Air BnB in the 11th. Which was way off my radar in the planning stages of this trip. The word on the street was to stay in the Marais. Which is fabulous for sure. And I’ve loved every moment we spent there. But it’s quite nice in the 11th. Way more chill than the more interior parts of Paris. And I find I quite like it here. Always nice to get back to the relative calm of these streets…

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22. May. 2018. Paris.

I know people want to see photos. Alas, I’ve been very slow to shift into doing mode. Just can’t go for the phone when I’m walking around in a state of wonder. Fortunately we have Coby, my amazing daughter, who is the great documentarian of this journey. So it’s all there on Facebook.

Here’s a handful of Paris photos I do have…

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C’est moi sur le Pont Neuf (je crois)…

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Caron and Coby having a moment of joy at the Bastille Marche. I got separated from them and ended up at the honey man who tried to fix me up with his friend who was evidently a famous local actor who worked on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Midnight in Paris. Alas, never occurred to me to get a photo of the three of us ;(  For that matter, I didn’t even get his name. Between my French and his English, it was a lot of smiles and laughter with not too much comprehension on either side… As I keep saying, etre seulement; pas assez de faire!! C’est domage….

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One of the many things that strikes me about Paris is the myriad monuments of and to the Sacred Feminine. Such a relief from the ubiquitous male war monuments we’re so used to in the USA…

Most tourists in Paris go to the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. We did not. We did however go on an expedition in search of the sublime sandalwood perfume we kept smelling on the streets. Here’s Coby  hot on the trail at a parfumerie in the Marais…

We did go to to the Renoir Museum which is on la rive Gauche and has a sublime garden. Here’s Coby and Caron and the roses. Ooh la la. Speaking of flowers, France and flowers… OMG. The French really do know a few things about living the most beautiful life.

 

 

 

 

 

December 4, 2017, Monday Night Class: “Not-knowing is true knowledge. Presuming to know is a disease…”

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March 11, 2018.  A week ago, it seemed like Spring. And then a wild crazy nor’easter blew in. The Mother of All Storms. Thick heavy snow coming down a mile a minute. Thunder and lightning adding to the show. Trees down, power out, and the time that rules the dance of daily life stood still. Truth be told, I rather like these times that are, in their way, outside of time. In the space between…

Years ago I was in a meditation retreat with Baba Muktananda. He was teaching the ham-sa mantra. Part of the practice was to focus our awareness on the space between the breaths. To remain in that spaciousness for as long as we could, Four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, maybe ten seconds. He showed us how in that space between the breaths, we touch eternity, poised outside the limiting constructs of time…

One of the curious experiences I had during that weekend retreat was excruciating pain in my left hip. Which began in the Saturday morning session and continued through the closing on Sunday night. Ardent yogini that I was, I soldiered through. And here’s the thing. At the end of the retreat, the pain was gone. Gone. And has never returned…

Was the pain — and I am talking about 48 hours of non-stop physical agony — a kriya, an illusion, something burning up? I will never know. But it did teach me that what I perceive and what is actually happening are not necessarily the same. That when I think I know, or as the Tao Te Ching verse quoted above says, when I presume to know, the odds are, knowledge is not happening….

It’s a tricky business, this knowing and not-knowing, this “I” with all its presumptions, agendas, associations, projections, and attachments. It really does close up the space. And I won’t say I know this. But I sure do feel it in my bones. The spaciousness of that space between the breaths, that’s where it’s all happening. Or not-happening. That is where I want to live.

Here’s my dharma talk from Monday, December 4th. It could be called, What we are is so much more interesting than what we think we should be…. This is a rather freewheeling talk with a handful of LOL moments.

AUDIO OF DECEMBER 4, 2017 DHARMA TALK

AUDIO OF ON TARA TUTTARE TURE SWAHA OPENING OF CLASS

AUDIO OF NAVARNA AND OM NAMAH SHIVAYA MANTRAS

THE TEXTS 

We were reading this text back-to-front but this verse called for a front-to-back context so I also read the two preceding verses. I’m copying them here in that order…

72.
When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend upon authority.

Therefore the Master steps back
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.

70.
My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.

My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?

If you want to know me,
look inside your heart.

71.
Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First realize that you are sick;
then you can move towards health.

The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus she is truly whole.

Prepping for this class which happened to fall on a Super Moon evening, this poem from Lex Hixon’s Mother of the Universe, jumped out off the page.  This book used to be my go-to text. As I’ve grown simpler with age however, Lex’s versions of Ramprasad strike me as being a bit too thick. I want everything pared down to its essence. Reading this poem over and over though and typing it out just now, well, let me say that myriad adjectives not withstanding, it’s a rather potent map. And quite soaring.

I am a child reaching out to catch the moon
Ramprasad/Lex Hixon 

Who in the world can know what Mother Kali really is?
She is beyond the reach of every scripture,
every system of philosophy.

As the radiant blackness of divine mystery,
she plays through the lotus wilderness of the sacred human body.
The practitioner of meditation encounters her power
deep in the blossom of primordial awareness
and within the thousand-petal lotus
that floats far above the mind.

Kali is the conscious core,
shining through every awakened sage
who delights in oneness.
This has been demonstrated by countless realized beings.
Ma Tara is the queen of freedom within all hears.
She reigns timelessly and tenderly.
Planes and dimensions of being
more vast and subtle than anyone can imagine
are found within her womb of encompassing wisdom.
The Goddess alone knows the extent of her power.
Who else could possibly know?

Laments the singer of this mystic hymn:
“Everyone will laugh at my attempt to swim
the shoreless sea of her reality,
but my soul belongs to her
and my heart delights in longing.
I am a child reaching out to catch the moon.”

As usual, the final word goes to Mary Oliver. This poem is vast. We can read it over and over again, and always discover something new…

The Mockingbird
Mary Oliver

All summer
the mocking bird
in his pearl-gray coat
and his white-windowed wings

flies
from the hedge to the top of the pine
and begins to sing, but it’s neither
lilting nor lovely,

for he is the thief of other sounds–
whistles and truck brakes and dry hinges
plus all the songs
of other birds in his neighborhood;

mimicking and elaborating,
he sings with humor and bravado
so I have to wait a long time
for the softer voice of his own life

to come through. He begins
by giving up all his usual flutter
and setting down on the pine’s forelock
then looking around

as though to make sure he’s alone;
then he slaps each wing against his breast,
where his heart is,
and, copying nothing, begins

easing into it
as though it was not half so easy
as rollicking,
as though his subject now

was his true self,
which of course was as dark and secret,
as anyone else’s
and it was too hard—
perhaps you understand—
to speak or to sing it
to anything or anyone
but the sky.