Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘nature’

Taking Liberty With the Truth

586613838e010d433bacb209ce65ea56c69e859e-thumbFor my satirical book of koans, stories, and words of wisdom (Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire), I used the same format that was used in the 1961 classic book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings. Zen Flesh presented the sayings, teachings, and koans of real Japanese teachers, whereas Zen Master Tova takes liberty with a fictional character and the truth, to put it mildly.

From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

Nan-in a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “You are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty our cup?”

From Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba

“Do cats and dogs have Buddha-nature” Sister Sexton asked Master Toshiba.

“Yes.”

“Can cats and dogs attain enlightenment?”

“Yes.”

“Can all animals reach Samadhi?”

“Yes.”

“Do insects and bugs have Buddha-nature?” Sister Sexton persisted.

“Yes, they do,” The Master, patiently replied.

“Is it possible for vegetables, fruit, and flowers to see their true selves?”

“Yes, they can.”

“What about dirt, grass, trees, rocks, and water?”

“All life can become conscious of its true nature, even if it does not have a consciousness, as we know it.”

“Then surely, all women and men can awake to their Buddha-nature and find peace?”

“Yes, all women can express their Buddha-nature and attain enlightenment.” Master Tarantino paused, “As far as ‘all men’. I’ll have to think about that.”

Perhaps this use of fact and fiction are more intertwined than we like to believe, and history is permeated with realities which have been diluted, reinterpreted, and/or intentionally changed, in order to favor, or present events, or beliefs, in the manner and fashion that the writer in the moment chooses, or “believes” to be true. Read Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba and do your own sniff test to see if any of it rings true, or it is a total farce.

Death Like the Old Movies

An excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter.

I wish death happened like it used to in the old movies. You know, those deathbed scenes were everyone gathers around, makes amends, say their good-byes, and drift off with visions of God and the angels dancing in their eyes. But it rarely does. Deathbed conversions are few and far between.

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When death approaches, or has taken place, most people live their faith, their beliefs (or their disbelief) in a God, or the hereafter, the same as they have the rest of their lives. If they believe in some creative force that is more than what we can see, they continue to do so through sickness and loss. If they believe God has a plan for everything that happens, and that Jesus is their savior, they continue to do so until their dying breath. If someone feels that there is no God, supreme being or spiritual meaning for anything on earth, they hold on to that belief after their loved one’s body is buried deep in the ground.

A friend once told me, as their mother was dying, that no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t make herself believe the same as her mother had all her life. She desperately wished she could. She wanted to understand and connect with her mother before she passed on in a way she had never been able to. She said that for awhile she pretended to believe as her mother had, but she knew she was pretending. She even went to her mother’s church and read the same readings and scriptures, without any change of heart.

A client I met with for several months repeatedly expressed her frustration that her husband had never believed in God. She couldn’t understand how he had gone to his death without accepting God into his life. For over forty years she had tried to convert him and get him to go to church, always believing that someday he would see the spiritual light.

A member of my family had an understandably difficult time when my uncle killed himself, and sincerely worried about his soul, wondering if he was suffering as much after death as he had during life. They prayed that God would forgive my uncle and provide the serenity that had always seemed to be just beyond his reach. The only way they could make sense out of the tragedy was to believe that he was “in a better place”. They had always believed that God provides happiness and peace, and used that faith to provide personal comfort, safety and meaning.

Belief in God, a Great Spirit, Nature, Jesus, or some other religion or spiritual path, doesn’t mean that people don’t question, argue, bargain or get angry with that in which they believe.

A colleague of mine was enraged when her daughter was killed in a car accident. She felt like her religious tradition had lied to her. “How could a loving God let such a bad thing happen to such an innocent child?! How could He take her at such a young age?!” She still believed in God, but couldn’t make sense out of what had happened. “Somebody was responsible for this!” she said. “There has to be a reason!” She prayed to God for an answer. “But all I could hear was myself talking to the empty air,” she explained. “It took me years of asking ‘why’, begging for an answer, before God gave me the strength and understanding to live with not knowing.”

Another client blamed God for allowing her abusive ex-husband to survive and live with his alcoholism, while her hard-working, kind friend died from liver cancer. She overflowed with unanswerable questions. “Why didn’t that son-of-a-you-know-what get this awful disease instead? Why does my friend have to deal with this? What did she ever do? Why? Why? Why?” Her friend continued to work as long as possible, and remained true to her sweet loving self until her death a year and a half later.

As in most sweeping statements of finality there are exceptions. Occasionally someone reacts to death and loss differently than they have lived the rest of their lives.

A woman I interviewed a few years ago said she made a bargain with God and it changed her life. As the car she was driving hit a side rail on the freeway, and begin rolling over and over she said, “God, if you let me live to raise my young son I’ll dedicate my life to you.” She had never believed in God and didn’t know where that had come from, but she said she heard a voice answer her that said, “Yes”. She survived the accident, continued raising her son as a single parent, and never forgot her promise. Though she had always seen herself as a selfish person, she started thinking of others and became involved in a number of charities. When her son was killed ten years later she never wavered from her promise and used her son’s death to inspire her to do even more of “God’s work”.

Death and grief can crack open our hearts. They can change our perceptions of how we see the world. They can wake us up to the reality of pain and suffering in ways that we never thought possible. Within the midst of such grief and pain we can reach out for comfort, look within for guidance, and find compassion and forgiveness from our religion, community or sense of personal responsibility.

Mourning can be a catalyst for clarifying our values and deepening our understanding, but it doesn’t mean we will throw our beliefs out the window or change our spiritual faith. We need not despair over our usual conditioned human response to loss. There’s always an old movie with a good deathbed scene we can find at the video store, take home and imagine ourselves saying our good-byes, making last minute amends and being carried off to the heavens!

More support and stories at: Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter.

Singing to the Choir

A lyrical excerpt from Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Sister Melody sang from the moment she awoke until she closed her eyes to sleep. She sang ballads, love songs, sonnets, marches, folk, traditional, blues, and spirituals throughout the day and night. She couldn’t help herself. It was her nature.

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Though she had a beautiful voice, her singing could be annoying during times of quiet meditation. Nobody had the heart to ask her to stop, but many of the Sisters approached the Abbott and asked her to do something. “I’ll see what I can do,” the Abbott always replied, but did nothing.

After a few years of inaction, the Sisters took matters into their own hands. They told Sister Melody that the Abbott had asked her to sustain from singing another song.

Sister Melody was heartbroken, but complied. She became increasingly depressed and morose. Eventually, the Abbott noticed and asked her what had brought on such a state in one who had previously been so joyful.

“You surely know,” Sister Melody replied. “Without song, there is no life. I am dying.”

“Why aren’t you singing?”

“I was told that you forbade me to do so.”

“I did no such thing.”

“You didn’t?”

The Abbott shook her head. Sister Melody immediately broke into song. Her face beamed with delight.

“As a result of their lies, I will have the sisters who told you I’d asked you to stop singing join you every day and have you start a choir. You will practice from ten in the morning until two in the afternoon, daily. You are the director.”

“Thank you Abbott,” Sister Melody sang. “You are the sunshine of my life.”

“Tell me,” the Abbott frowned. “Who is it that told you I’d forbid you to sing?”

“I heard it through the grapevine. I can’t name names.”

“In that case, the entire community will join you. We will bring the same vigor and insight we bring to our meditation practice.”

“Oh happy day!”

Many tuneful stories at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Science of Indigenous Wisdom

Scientific Discoveries Play Catch-Up To Indigenous Wisdom
October 11th, 2012 By Alan Pierce
The Pachamama Alliance

Indigenous knowledge predates the scientific method by countless generations. Perhaps it’s unfair then to fault science for still being in catch-up mode when it comes to understanding Nature as an emotionally intelligent, deeply interconnected organism.

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Curiosity Prevails Over Scientific Dogma

An alive and aware natural world is and has been an ancestral truth amongst the world’s indigenous knowledge systems for centuries.

In its necessity for a structured, empirical approach to describing Nature, it is understandable that science has dismissed ideas like plants whispering to each other, animals grieving for their dead, or the illusion of separateness as merely quaint fables, metaphors rather than reality.

However, recent studies and theoretical models suggest such dismissal might be unjustified and, quite frankly, unscientific.

Ideas such as human-like consciousness in animals, extended awareness and communication in plants, or the emotional toll of death on other non-human species are now being given serious scientific thought. Thankfully, the only thing ultimately stronger than human arrogance is human curiosity.

The Science of Indigenous Wisdom

Here is a list of scientific breakthroughs which demonstrate the profound substance of indigenous wisdom, which understands Nature to be more alive and interdependent than science has given it credit for.

In a very formal affair, scientists recently convened to declare that both animal and human consciousness are alike.

Apparently, a grieving process is not unique to humans either. Death rituals have been observed in species ranging from dolphins, to elephants, to scrub jays, and more.

In this informative video, an ecologist provides thoughtful insight into the amazing way in which trees communicate in a deeply interconnected system, which sustains each individual tree and the forest as a whole.

Researchers in Australia have found a way to document a fascinating communication system between plants, one in which the human ear can actually hear the conversation underground.

Perhaps the most universal indigenous perspective is the idea of a world inextricably interconnected, on all levels, and across time. Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson speaks from a scientific viewpoint as he offers very similar sentiments.

Read rest of article and more at Pachamama Alliance.

Superb Story and Scribe

0670026638.01._PC_SCLZZZZZZZ_A Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans
New York Journal of Books

“Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being is one of the best novels of 2013—and will surely inhabit that position for years to come.”

However you envision or conceptualize life, you will never see it quite the same once you’ve read this brilliant story. “Brilliant” is a strong and suggestive superlative, but it fits this story like the insistent tolling of a bell calling for one’s attention.

Down to earth and intellectual. Filled with judgments and acceptance, separateness and interdependence. Complicated, yet simple. Ms. Ozeki’s characters question their thoughts, feelings, and actions—even how they respond to suffering. They ask whether their choices and lives make a difference, what is the meaning of conscience, and how to explain the nature of existence—and they do so in the pages of a beautiful tale of families struggling to survive, understand, and share their love.

Ruth, a novelist who lives on an island in British Columbia with her husband Oliver, happens upon a diary she finds in a sealed lunchbox she discovers among some kelp that’s washed to shore. The diary is that of a sixteen year old in Tokyo, Japan, named Nao.

As Ruth begins to read the diary—which describes Nao’s family, her thoughts of suicide, and her close connection with her 104-year-old great grandmother Jiko (who is a Buddhist nun living in the area of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami)—we are pulled into Ruth’s thoughts and feelings about what she is reading as well as its impact on her, her husband, and others living on the island.

Every person, animal, life form, building, city, town, and forest in this story feels real and congruent. You can almost reach into the book and pet the cat, yell at the bullies, shake Nao’s father, hear the wind, see the crow take flight, and feel the ancient, chilly, wooden temple floor beneath your knees as you bow.

There are so many exquisite lines of prose within A Tale for the Time Being, that it is difficult to choose a few that will give readers’ a taste of this sweet, caustic, entertaining, and captivating novel. Nonetheless, here are a few morsels.

When Ruth first reads the diary, she describes the letters. “They were round a little bit sloppy (as she now imagined the girl must be, too), but they stood more or less upright and marched gamely across the page at a good clip, not in a hurry, but not dawdling, either.”

Nao writes of a moment when she is holding Jiko’s hand. “I was still thinking about what she said about waves, and it made me sad because I knew that her little wave was not going to last much longer and soon she would join the sea again, and even though I know you can’t hold on to water, still I gripped her fingers a little more tightly to keep her from leaking away.”

Ruth speaks of time and how it interacts with attention. “At the other extreme, when her attention was disengaged and fractured, she experienced time at its most granular, wherein moments hung around like pixels, diffused and suspended in standing water.”

It sounds like Haiku poetry when Jiko is telling Nao about her son (Nao’s great uncle) who died in World War II. “A single frog croaked, and then another. Jiko’s words dropped like stones into the silence in between.” Jiko explains to Nao (who had told Jiko about it feeling like there were fish flopping around in her stomach when she felt grief or was being bullied) that the loss of her son was like a whale in her gut and she was learning to open her heart so the whale could swim away.

A Tale for the Time Being is more than a lovely piece of literature; it also explores science, philosophy, nature, history, psychology, biology, physics, Japanese culture, and the nature of consciousness. There is also a healthy dose of Buddhism and meditation thrown in with subtle precision integrated into the characters and storyline without dissemblance or force.

Read complete review and others, at New York Journal of Books.

Nature Spring & Climate

Dear Gabriel,

Check out our We Love Nature page to learn about animals at risk from climate change. It’s March and spring is in the air. Days are longer. Birds are migrating north to fill our yard with their cheerful trills. And out of our windows, we watch nature come back to life.

Here at EDF, we’ve decided to spend March celebrating all that nature gives us — and all that we’re fighting to protect. Will you join us?

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Kick off our “We Love Nature” month with us! Start by checking out our Warming and Wildlife slideshow. We all know climate change has put polar bears at risk — but it’s also threatening the rest of these beautiful, unique creatures.

As I read about the struggles of the Arctic fox, the sea turtle, and even the flamingo, I was reminded why I come to work at EDF every day — and why incredible supporters like you stand with us.

I hope you’ll click through to view our Warming and Wildlife slideshow. If you enjoy the show, please share it with your friends as well, and stay tuned for more nature love throughout the month!

Thank you for your activism and support,

Heather Shelby
Action Network Coordinator
Environmental Defense Fund

English Tea & High Sierras

There was a little girl of six, who emigrated from England to New England over thirty five years ago and fell in love with nature and the great outdoors. Now a grown woman, she is still madly in love with the wilderness and is leading other women on adventures that combine yoga, hiking, white-water rafting, cross-country skiing and/or snow-shoeing at Yosemite National Park, Big Sur, Sequoia National Park, Gold Mountain, Idaho and Todos Santos, Mexico. Her name is Belinda Ordonez and her company is aptly called Wild Moon Yoga.

Belinda says, “I remember roaming the woods surrounding our home in Connecticut and the small wonders happening all around me; the sounds of bird’s chirping, deer graciously leaping through the trees and the beautiful chorus of crickets. Something magical happens every time I step into the wilderness. It is the place where my heart expands. There is an immense sense of freedom and potential.”

Intertwined with her pull towards nature was Ms. Ordonez attraction to yoga, which she also started at a young age. She was 15 years old when she recalls coming across a book titled “Richard Hittleman’s Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan”. She used that book to develop a daily practice as a teenager and as an adult has trained in the Ashtanga style of yoga as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. She has studied under some of his top students and sought out many yoga teachers around the world.

Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means to yoke or bind and is often translated in English as “union”. Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient form of yoga which uses vinyasas (movements) to link postures (poses) and breath, to form sequences. Ashtanga is a Sanskrit term which means “eight limbed” or “eightfold path” to self-understanding.

Her trips combing wilderness travel and yoga usually fill up quickly, as she only takes a small number per outing, but only women need apply. “Women need an outlet to help them break free of their daily routines to nurture themselves,” Belinda explains. “Many women I meet are overworked, overloaded and exhausted from work, responsibilities and caring for others. Something very precious and nurturing happens when women get together. I remember witnessing one woman being moved to tears by the beauty of an incredible rainbow in Yosemite National Park and many others reconnecting with mother earth and feeling her magic.” Anga Gonzales, who has taken several trip with Ms. Ordonez adds, “Belinda is very reassuring and grounded. She allowed a person like me to relax and play.”

Lucy McCullough went on a Wild Moon Yoga trip to Yosemite National Park that included snowshoeing, yoga and meditation. She says, “The memory of that full moon lighting up the snow on those granite peaks took my breath away.” Another participant, Donna Burr, exclaims, “It was an amazing weekend trekking into the heart of Big Sur. Belinda’s knowledge and confidence on the trail helped to make the trip enjoyable and memorable. Her love and enthusiasm for nature and all its splendor is certainly contagious.”

The trips that Ms. Ordonez arranges often involve transportation and always include accommodations, park entrance and equipment fees, guide, yoga/mediation classes, gourmet meals and snacks. The majority are 2 to 4 day excursions that are planned throughout the year. The costs are reasonable and everything possible is done to accommodate special needs and circumstances. She says her yoga and meditation instruction are fit for any level of experience and none of the excursions are overly strenuous or designed for advanced hikers. A few of the professions represented by her travelers are teachers, therapists, business owners and nurses from every age group.

When it comes to life experience, Ms. Ordonez has been around the block a few times. She is not a new babe in the woods who suddenly decided to take women into the wilderness and bay at the moon. She holds a degree in psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz; has advanced training in wilderness first aid and is a certified yoga instructor. Her background includes her work as a massage therapist, sports medicine, high school coach, career counselor and human resources. For over six years she worked with people living with life-threatening illness at a local hospice.

It appears that there is nothing that Belinda loves more (besides her dogs Max and Maya) than leading women up mountain tops, through valleys, down rivers and in meadows to practice yoga, mediation and even the occasional English High Tea. You can take a little girl out of Yorkshire England, but evidently not entirely remove her British sensibilities. Belinda laughs, “Even though I’ve lived and traveled throughout the world and lived in America most of my adult life, I still enjoy a spot of tea”.

Another former Brit, Stephanie Sandish, who joined in one of Belinda’s retreats in Sandpoint, Idaho, sums up her experience stating, “I found peace in the wilderness, healing in the holiness of nature and new found friends.”

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