We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Conifer Journal

Fall                                                                              Harvest Moon

Jackie

Jackie

scootersKate and I go to see Jackie at Aspen Roots. After growing my wizard beard and having it often end up it in my mouth after a night’s sleep, I decided to get it shaped. I like Jackie and the time out is another thing Kate and I can do together. I’m better groomed now than I’ve been in years. Change up. After my haircut and beard trim and Kate’s coloring and cut, we went over to Scooter’s, a relatively new restaurant here in Conifer. A down south style barbecue joint-they cook up the meat in a huge metal barbecue that sits outside-their food is good. St. Louis ribs, macaroni, onion and cucumber salad with cornbread and pinto beans and Texas Toast. Hmmm.

We stayed out so Sandy could get the downstairs done before we came back home. Nap time. After the nap Kate drove into Lakewood, about 30 minutes away, to Swedish Hospital for her regular Remicade infusion. Her right shoulder, which has been wonky for some time, osteoarthritis probably, has passed her-high-pain threshold and become a daily and more significantly a nightly nuisance. A new shoulder may be in her future. We do our part to support the medical-pharmaceutical complex.

20170902_163055Gertie has recovered well from the removal of her lesion last Friday. Instead of the cone of shame we now put t-shirts on our wounded dogs, so she’s been wandering around with Kate’s pink Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History. It gives Gertie, hardly a well-behaved female, a certain panache. Rigel continues her reignited predator ways, sniffing the deck and barking under the shed. Kep’s a sweet boy, eager and happy. With Vega dead he’s much less volatile in pack dynamics. No idea how that works.

I’m looking forward to talking with Joe and SeoAh about North Korea, get the perspective of a native South Korean and a USAF Weapon’s Officer. Germane points of view.

 

 

Fire and Fury. Big, big trouble.

Lughnasa                                                                               Kate’s Moon

My family’s Asian pivot began decades ago when Mary went to an Indiana University campus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She’s still in Asia, though now for a long time in Singapore, thirty years or so later. Brother Mark began teaching English as a second language and worked in Taiwan, then in Thailand and Cambodia. He was in Southeast Asia over twenty years and still considers Bangkok his refuge, if not his home. In 1981 Raeone and I welcomed a four-pound, four-ounce baby boy into our home from Calcutta, India. That boy turns 36 this fall. In 2016, after a year long deployment in Korea, Joseph married SeoAh, a native born Korean he met in a coffee shop in Seoul.

SeoAh’s family lives in the south of Korea near Gwangju. Better, I thought, than being in Seoul under the current circumstances, but Joseph says no. He knows far better than I do. This means that all the saber rattling going on between two tyrants with low impulse control is personal. We have family literally in the way of any outbreak of violence.

 

 

 

Family Celebration

Midsommar                                                                          Kate’s Moon

Jon has made it through, all the way through, a year plus of divorce drama with court appearances, lawyers, contested final orders. Those final orders, written in November of 2016 and recorded then, have now been in place for over six months. The daily crisis mode has fallen away, replaced by the gradual establishing of new norms. Both Jon and Jen must find a new balance, as must Ruth and Gabe. When kids are involved, you’re not divorced from someone, you’re divorced to them.

To celebrate we all went to Domo. It’s a unique restaurant, one of my favorites in Denver, that focuses on serving dishes typical of rural Japan, especially its mountain prefectures. Below are some pictures.

Waiting for supper

Waiting for supper

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Inside

Inside

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Krishna Janma

Midsommar                                                                   Most Heat Moon

Krishnas-birth-in-prisonLooking for light in prison. An assignment for the kabbalah class tonight. Rabbi Jamie suggested watching a movie like Hurricane, about Rubin Carter. I thought of MLK and Letters from the Birmingham Jail and Nelson Mandela, too. Then I remembered a portion of the Mahabharata I’d watched. This DVD version, 94 episodes, aired in India in the late 1980’s. Bought it to watch while doing long sessions on the treadmill.

Krishna Janma was episode 11. A prophecy tells Kansa, a king, that his sister Devaki’s eighth son will kill him. At first he looks for the easiest solution. Kill Devaki. Vasudeva, her husband, pleads with Kansa not to kill his sister. “I will bring you each child to destroy.”

Kansa considers this and agrees with a condition. They have to live in chains in his dungeon. Six sons are born. Kansa comes in their cell after each birth, grabs the newborn and throws it against the wall. When the seventh son is born, a friend of Devaki’s visits her in the cell and takes her pregnancy as her own. This causes Kansa great consternation but he can’t do anything since the seventh pregnancy seems to have mysteriously ended.

krishnaFinally, nine years later, Devaki is pregnant again, this time with the eighth son Kansa dreaded. This son is Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu.

“Whenever righteousness wanes and unrighteousness increases I send myself forth.
For the protection of the good and for the destruction of evil,
and for the establishment of righteousness,
I come into being age after age.”

— Bhagavad Gita 4.7–8

Happy-Janmashtami-Images-Wishes-Quotes-SMS-Status-Greetings-09

When Devaki gives birth to Krishna, a light shines in the cell and a voice, presumably Vishnu, tells Vasudeva to take baby Krishna out of the dungeon to another couple. Vasudeva wonders how he can accomplish this but the dungeon’s many barred doors swing open, the guards are put asleep and he walks out into a raging storm with his eighth son held over his head.

Krishna Janmashtami is a Hindu holiday that celebrates Krishna’s birth. It’s a lunar holiday so the date changes from year to year, but this year Janmashtami is on August 14th.

Depth

Beltane                                                                    New Moon (Summer Solstice)

everbean_colorado

Lunch with Bonnie at the Everbean, a coffee shop overlooking Lake Evergreen. Bonnie is in a mentored adult education style path to becoming a rabbi in the Renewal Movement. I wanted to discuss my material for today’s mussar session. She was the mussar point person as Beth Evergreen managed a two-year grant awarded to them. The program focused on how to integrate mussar into synagogue institutional life. 22 congregations received a grant and coordinated their work with each other. (If you don’t recall what mussar is, here’s a reminder website.)

Bonnie encouraged me that my approach, focusing on the application of the ideas of hasidut (a person of loving deeds) and chesed (loving-kindness) toward grandmother earth was in bounds for a mussar dialogue. We’ll see how that works out later today. I’m excited.

In the evening Kate and I went to a havurah, a fellowship gathered for a specific purpose. This havurah is a once a month mussar session that features food and wine before exploration of a middot of the month. The Thursday afternoon mussar group studies a text and meets weekly.

Bonnie led a session on tikvah, hope. She took us into the idea by using the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah.

I found the melody haunting and the poem, written in 1877 or 1878, used for the lyrics, a profound expression of the yearning for a place to call home. Bonnie led us in a close reading of the poem’s stanzas used in the anthem, only two.

The lines that struck me most were these:  “Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two thousand years…” The two thousand years here references the destruction of the second temple in 70 a.d. It still amazes me to be in the midst of this group of Jews, members of the tribe, whose time horizon extends far back. This two-thousand year old hope marks a rebellion by the Jews against the Roman empire, a failed rebellion since it ended in the destruction of the temple built to replace the first constructed by King Solomon.

Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin, 1929-1930: "The Jews march captive out of Jerusalem bearing a golden Menorah or candlestick of the Temple."

Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin, 1929-1930: “The Jews march captive out of Jerusalem bearing a golden Menorah or candlestick of the Temple.”

What amazes me is the historical reach while genetic and genealogical descendants of that same history sit around the table as we discuss these things. My viewpoint toward religious matters is radical and skeptical, but I also have a conservative side that relishes history and personal connections to history. Judaism, like the Chinese civilization of the Han and Japanese civilization, all cultivated over several thousand years, appeals to me in part for this reason. These older, truly ancient trails offer a correction to the almost ahistorical sensibilities of American culture.

 

The Light In Me Honors the Light In You

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

Working on a presentation for our mussar class at Beth Evergreen. Want to include Berry’s idea of the great work for our generation: creating a sustainable human presence on earth.

Homo-sapien-citizensAlso want to include Aldo Leopold’s land ethic:

“All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively the land.” The Land Ethic, A Sand County Almanac.

natureThe date of the presentation happens to be Emerson’s birthday. So, from Nature: “The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.” introduction to his essay, Nature.

Linking up with the parsha* (Torah portion read in Shabbat services) I found Leviticus 25 filled with interesting ideas about the land. Here are a couple that fit well with these ideas.

Lev. 25:18 “…you shall live on the land securely.”

Lev. 25:23 “…the land shall not be sold permanently for the land belongs to Me, for you are all strangers and temporary residents with me.”

Of course, this is a mussar class so all of this has to connect with the Mesillat Yesharim, Path of the Upright, that we’re reading. To do that I think kedusha, holiness, hasidut, piety, and chesed, loving-kindness are key. These last two come from the same root.

kedushaHere are some ideas about holiness from the parsha of a couple of weeks ago, Kedoshim. Leviticus 19:2b: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” In commentary on Kedoshim the Conservative text* that I have quotes many famous Jewish scholars.

Martin Buber: Holiness is not found in rising above one’s neighbors but in relationships, in human beings recognizing the latent divinity of other people, even as God recognizes the divinity in each of us. The commentary adds, “As human beings we can be Godlike by exercising our powers to sanctify moments and objects in our lives.” Namaste.

I can also link this idea to the Japanese ichi-go ichi-e, once in a lifetime, attitude gleaned from the work of Japanese tea masters, especially the renowned  Sen no Rikyū. He learned ichi-go ichi-e from his master, Takeno Jōō.  “Jōō believed that each meeting should be treasured because it can never be reproduced.” wikipedia

ichigo ichie

ichigo ichie

Another of my favorite Japanese ideas is shinrin-yoku or forest-bathing. Here’s a one-line summary from the website linked to here. “The idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved.”

More from the commentary on Kedoshim: “The modern distinction between “religious” and “secular” is unknown to the Torah. Everything we do has the potential of being holy.”

Again, from Buber, “Judaism does not divide life into the holy and the profane, but into the holy and the not-yet holy.” Another scholar, a man named Finklestein, adds, “Judaism is a way of life that endeavors to transform virtually every human action into a means of communion with God.” or, perhaps with a pagan sensibility, ichi-go ichi-e.

namasteI say perhaps intentionally because my reimagined faith could intersect with these ideas in a positive way, especially so if the locus of the divine is the individual soul, that part of us that connects with collective unconscious, Brahma, the three Sephirot: kether, the crown, chochmah, wisdom and binah, understanding, that part of the other to which we bow when we say Namaste. Or, as I quoted Buber earlier, “Holiness is not found in rising above one’s neighbors but in relationships, in human beings recognizing the latent divinity of other people…”

This, too, is in the commentary: “…(find) ways of sanctifying every moment of your life. We can be as holy as we allow ourselves to be.” again, the Japanese ichi-go ichi-e and shinrin-yoku.

I’m also trying to pick up some ideas about Hebrew roots but that, so far, has eluded me.

Somewhere in this stew is enough material for a session. Just gotta sort it out.

 

 

 

*Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary, The Rabbinical Assembly, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. 2001. New York, N.Y. 10027

Ichi-go ichi-e Once in a lifetime

Beltane                                                                                   Rushing Waters Moon

Fog this morning over Black Mountain. It comes in and out of view as the mist moves toward us. Now it’s gone altogether. There’s a thin scrim of icy snow on the solar panels. Colder last night.

Kanō Eitoku (1543–1590), Cypress Trees

Kanō Eitoku (1543–1590), Cypress Trees

My Japanese informed aesthetic often finds resonance here in the mountains. The ponderosa pines that surround Beth Evergreen’s synagogue present heavily crenulated bark, twisted branches and a sturdy calm. From the sanctuary, looking south and east, one window pane has an especially crooked branch that reaches up like a hand. When the snow comes, it looks like a portion of a Kano school gold screen. Ravens and crows land on these branches, too, also emulating the scenery that inspired so many Japanese painters and printers.

Moon watching, a Japanese pastime, has its analogue here as well. The moon rising and setting among the mountain peaks, clouds placing a thin gauze in front of it, the stars as its context, emphasize the moon’s romance. I can stand on my deck here off the loft and watch clouds cross the moon’s face. Its silvered light makes beautiful shadows of the lodgepole pine.

Hokusai (1760-1849), Boats and Moon, an ukiyo-e print

Hokusai (1760-1849), Boats and Moon, an ukiyo-e print

Big eared mule deer and thick, tall elk come down to Maxwell and Cub creeks, lapping up the cold fresh melted snow. Mountain lions slip noiselessly through the undergrowth, lie prone on rock cliffs waiting for them to pass nearby. Bears root up tubers. Minx, bobcats, pine martens, smaller predators, hunt for prey. Rabbits and squirrels and mice feed, look over their shoulder. The web of life is vibrant.

Bull Elk, Evergreen, 2015

Bull Elk, Evergreen, 2015

Ichi-go ichi-e is a Japanese phrase often associated with the tea ceremony. The tea master arranges art in the tokinama, chooses teas and sweets, decides which tea bowls and tea pots and tea utensils to use, then greets their guests as they arrive, often no more than one or two. He does this to create an ichi-go ichi-e, a once in a lifetime moment or for this moment only. It connotes the treasure of each meeting between or among people.

Each moment of the day Black Mountain offers ichi-go ichi-e to those of us who live near it, if only we stop and look. To appreciate ichi-go ichi-e though we need to pause, or as mussar teaches us, put a space between the match and the flame. If we slow down our glance, our gaze, let it come to rest, if we take a breath and consider what is right there in front of us, then we find once in a lifetime moments happening throughout our day.

Ponderosa Pine, Beth Evergreen, April, 2017

Ponderosa Pine, Beth Evergreen, April, 2017

These do not, as you might think, cheapen or dilute over time, rather they enhance our experience of the world. We recognize the fleeting nature of life, of this moment and that moment, of the unique and precious and irreplaceable flavor to each encounter. Nothing is old, all is new, always.

In fact, to the extent that we can gain an appreciation of ichi-go ichi-e, then we never age.

 

Gong Fu Cha

Spring                                                                        New (Rushing Waters) Moon

Friend Bill Schmidt knows me well. A while back he noted I’d not yet written anything about tea while here in Colorado. He was right. Two or three years before the move out here I’d somehow gotten to making tea the Chinese way, gong fu cha. This was after years of tea from tea bags and the occasional loose tea steeped in tea infusers.

Song dynastyThe impetus may have been my favorite object in the entire collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, a Song dynasty tea bowl. I don’t recall now.

Gong fu cha involves various implements and techniques that differ significantly from British/American tea preparation and drinking, but also from the Japanese chanoyu, which is a direct descendant of gong fu cha.

20170425_070506Gong fu cha inspired visiting Japanese monks to introduce tea to their Buddhist compatriots as a way of staying awake during long sessions of meditation. The Japanese tea ceremony grew out of this cultural exchange beginning in the 12th century.

Over a period of years I acquired several yixing teapots, many different teabowls (including one with a leaf embedded), tea scoops and picks for tightly compressed chunks of pu’er tea, a bamboo tea tray and, of course, several varieties of tea.

20170425_070713

Zojirushi

The Zojirushi is my favorite tea appliance. The Zojirushi, a Japanese model, boils water to a particular temperature and has a large reservoir so water at the right temperature is always available. Water temperature, the teapot and the quality of the tea itself are the critical variables in gong fu cha.

I considered making tea in the loft a final flourish to the work on it, so I waited until everything else was finished: book cases, art table, things put in their places. Why? I don’t know. Gong fu cha became, in my mind, a symbol that this space was ready for serious work.

20170425_070423Right now I’m drinking Master Han’s loose leaf pu’er from 2000. Very smooth and smoky. I guess that means I’m getting serious about the work.

Bill knew me well. Now I’m truly here. Yixing pot in hand.

 

Here’s One You Weren’t Expecting. Shaolin Monks Fly. For Real.

Imbolc                                                                                             Anniversary Moon

Violence and Holy Wells

Imbolc                                                                       Anniversary Moon

It was with sadness that I read of the fight at the MIA last week. No matter the apportionment of blame between the two groups, this kind of violence within the museum shocked me. It also underscores the danger of cynics and demagogues setting the tone for our national conversation. Fists and physical confrontations are a means of dialogue, a blunt means, but one nonetheless. When the Whitehouse itself makes racism, anti-semitism, misogyny, xenophobia, terraism (violence against mother earth) not only acceptable, but for some normative, then this country will descend into further acts of violence, often one on one or many on one.

bowl650

When I first started volunteering at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2000, continuing education events for docents and guides (I was a guide at the time.) were held on Mondays in the morning. An excellent speaker on some aspect of art, art history or museology would give us an hour to an hour and a half presentation. I have a three inch thick notebook filled with notes from those events.

After the lecture the museum was open, but closed to the public. That meant we could take as long as we wanted to wander the galleries, taking time with this work, then that one. No interference, no one walking in front of you or talking loudly. It was my favorite meditation, of all the ones I’ve tried.

Study for Improvisation V-Kandinsky

Study for Improvisation V-Kandinsky

I had certain favorites: the Bonnard with its wonderful colors, Dr. Arrieta by Francisco Goya, the Rug Merchant by Gerome, the tryptych Blind Man’s Buff by Beckman, Kandinsky’s wonderful painting in the same room, the Doryphoros. I also loved the ball game yoke, the Olmec jade mask once owned by John Huston, but the Asian art always occupied most of my time. The tea house, the tea bowls and implements, the tatami room with its beautiful screen of the Taoist Immortals, the seated Buddha, the Scholar’s room, the ferragana  stallion in metal, the Song dynasty ceramics, pieces carved from jade, the Wu family reception hall, the sand mandala, I couldn’t spend enough time with them.

images

On those quiet Mondays these works all became my great friends, friends that stay with me now, even 17 years later and 900 miles away. Also, on those quiet Mondays I found an alternative spirituality, one not rooted in the earth nor in the world’s great religions, but in the inside out nature of creativity. All of these works, some in overt ways, some in the covert way of working within a certain tradition, reveal the inner worlds of the artist. Reverting to the language of the post below the art allowed me-and you-to dive into another’s holy well, to see their inner life. This is a rare and privileged thing which explains to my satisfaction the enduring power of all art.

It is also the diametric opposite of Trumpism/Bannonism. The museum is a place to see what a world without these men can be.

 

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