Meetingbrook Dogen & Francis Hermitage Update
Theme: Nonsiding, Undeciding, and Nothing Special – A Buddhist, Christian, and Ordinary Reflection of This Season
My heart hurts at the sides and decisions of current war in Iraq. Even the nothing-special that is Meetingbrook considers what to do.
IApril is not a cruel month. Cruelty is the work of men and women intent on forcing their beliefs on others. Cruelty accompanies betrayal. Betrayal is holding on to broken beliefs. Broken beliefs are sharp slicing shards that bloody the hand of the person holding tight to them. This hand usually strikes out at those considered unbelievers. In striking these faces both hand and face sear with pain and blood. Each suffers. All suffer because broken belief is held tight.
There is nothing wrong with having beliefs. Beliefs provide guideposts to us on our way. What we hold as true helps us on our setting out and setting forth. Beliefs sometimes shore up faith. Faith is seeing without certainty. Faith trusts what it sees to be what it is. Belief is the wrapping we place on faith. We feel often that belief strengthens faith. This is a feeling based on a belief in what faith sees without certainty.
Seeing requires itself and what is seen.
Seeing is what faith embodies. Embodying what is seen is a direct connection not mediated by anything outside of the intimate interpenetrating encounter. When seeing sees what is seen, there is no separating the reality-come-to-light.
Nothing can be said. Nothing is what is said when seeing embodies what is seen. What is seen and what is said is nothing. Between what is seen and what is said is nothing. This realization of nothing is an experience of emptiness.
In emptiness each is what it is. Each is whole. Nothing comes between one thing and another thing, one person and another person, or one thought and another thought. This nothing, this empty-no-space, allows immediate response -- whether with word or activity -- to take place on its own. This response is responsive to the one evoking, what is being said or what is being done, and the one being evoked by the word or the act.
Broken beliefs are to be discarded. They are to be let go and not used against others. What is important always is right here. What is right here is what is right here. This right here is also called the true. What is truth? Truth is right here and (as a Zen Master once said) "just like this." What is this? This is what is taking place in and with our presence. What is presence? Presence is this moment speaking or acting without interference by thought or doubt.
What is thought? Thought is the attempt to hold what is taking place. What is doubt? Doubt is calling into question what is taking place. Both thought and doubt are useful enterprises. However, when they interfere with direct engagement with what is taking place this moment, presence suffers. Or, we suffer the absence of presence. Absence of presence is the distance inserted between our words/actions and what is taking place right before us.
Absence of presence is similar to grabbing one view as it attempts to pass us and holding it fast. We are jerked from the flow of seeing what is taking place, and riveted to a particular view – like snapshots from vacation – sidelining us a distance from where we are.
Very often we fade our lives in that distance. We disappear in that absence.
When we become attached to views we stagger-stop on our journey through daily life and life as a whole.
It is curious to consider life fading and disappearing -- curious to live distantly and absently. To do so might be part and parcel of the ability we have to decide, the ability to make a decision. Deciding is a useful enterprise. Surely it is. And yet, what of undeciding? What value is there in undeciding? In our culture undeciding is confused with indecision, and therefore considered a flaw or weakness – we say, ‘They cannot choose between two things,’ or ‘They are plagued by indecision, they are indecisive.’
To be undeciding is not the same as indecisive. Undeciding suggests there is no decision to be made; indecisive suggests an unwillingness or inability to choose between two things or paths.
In this Easter season there is an aspect of resurrection we might explore. Might we understand incarnation in light of resurrection, and resurrection in light of incarnation? Was Jesus' resurrection his very incarnation? How come to see whether one thing is isomorphic (i.e. of one form) with or separate from another? What if there was no "decision" to be made? (The word ‘decision,’ from ‘de’ – ‘caedere’ = to cut off, means cutting away the other.)
Is the uniqueness of the Christian metaphor the undeciding of the divine/human? Was Jesus' incarnation/resurrection the undeciding of anything other?
Buddhists say that no choice, choicelessness, is strong practice leading to clear seeing of each as-it-is.
Bankai, a 17th century Japanese Zen master said, “Don’t side with yourself.”
Meetingbrook is at its annual April nexus of decision. The question is whether we can afford to keep the doors open of the bookshop/bakery, or to fold merely into hermitage without harbor presence in Camden.
The issue is simple: the shop on the harbor is a place of hospitality, quiet respite, and refuge, sharing of views, laughter, and conversation. The shop is lovely, but we can no longer fund it on our own with the work we do.
There are many friends of Meetingbrook. We have one person (of the many people who consider Meetingbrook a touchstone and a safe place to reveal and converse varied points of view), who thinks we should not be open. She feels – not inaccurately – (especially for Saskia the first 4 months of the year in her other work to pay rent) that the strain to finance the shop is too high. This person, with wise connection to 12 step views, no longer comes to Meetingbrook, not wanting to enable its continuance. We are delighted to have her as friend-in-absence. The rest of those who come in and out feel it would be very unfortunate if we closed.
Expenses and income for Meetingbrook Bookshop and Bakery result from goods for sale. This venture is mostly a wash, i.e., no real profit from retail sales. We are distinctively small. In Camden there are now two other full-service general bookstores and two other used/antiquarian bookstores as well as a store that sells books alongside their games and clothing. Meetingbrook’s specialty niche of books is related to monastic, interreligious, interfaith, ecumenical spirituality as well as ecology, poetry, prayer and religious thought – we are less a retail force than a place of hospitality and reflection. In this regard we utilize the room above the shop as a retreat room or place of respite stay for short periods of time by those in need, (as one might a sanctuary). There is no set charge for the use of this room even though this is one of the sweetest rooms on the harbor; rather use of it is by donation only. The room is available for general use daily when not occupied. People have likened Meetingbrook to a Poustinia in the marketplace.
An additional service Saskia provides is taking anyone who asks, especially those with no prior experience, on short sails during the summer months on her 26’ O’Day that she shares with her nephews. These sails are also no charge and serve either as an afternoon’s outing or an overnight retreat. She takes a wide spectrum -- from paraplegic and elderly or those with illness, to those who would never sail except for her gentle captaining. Her’s is an everyday gift of the sea.
In addition to the shop, Saskia works with self-insured worker’s compensation audits in the first quarter of the year. I teach part-time as adjunct, now two courses, in the fall for the University of Maine System at Thomaston. Income from these efforts is folded into the running of bookshop/bakery. Some who frequent Meetingbrook make financial donations. In the past three years this has been between thirteen hundred and eighteen hundred dollars each year. To date, we have not requested nor actively sought any financial help, choosing instead to make a go of it by ourselves, with the quiet generosity of those wishing to donate to the tea-pot to help defray rent. We have neither reserves nor independent means to draw from to keep the shop functioning.
If we were more clever retail business owners we might be on better footing. But from our opening day 8 years ago we have been intent to be, first and foremost, a place of contemplation, conversation, and correspondence. Much of our time is given to matters of individual or communal importance, interpersonal or personal interest related to any individual coming through the doors. Attention to each is vital, and the intention to practice deep listening and loving speech, are hallmarks of both ordinary and formal conversation and interaction. It is our practice to be present. Sometimes it is wearing. With financial strain it is more wearing.
Still, we do not bring in sufficient income to relieve the economic strain. Something must change.
Some suggest strategies to look for monies to continue us as a community resource.
There are suggestions made to us:
For eight years we have said, “All events at Meetingbrook are free, open, and informal.”
Might we undecide our presence?
Contact us with your way of good will. April’s end is the nexus to end or continue our lease.
Is there a difference between thoughtless action and action without thought? Thoughtless action, also called acting on impulse or from ideology, is acting in reaction to what is taking place. This often appears as blind striking out, or anger-slap. Action without thought, also called right-action or engaged-activity, is acting in harmonious concert with what is taking place. This often appears as seamless embrace, or effortless kindness and assistance.
When we act from intention or motivation that is separate from the reality of what is taking place right before us -- or in some other geographical region of the world -- we fall into a doubtful reality and an absence of kindness. In that pit we've fallen into is unreality and cruelty. The longer we stay there, the more unkind and cruel we become.
My heart hurts. The pain is from unkindness and cruelty. And I cry there.
I cry because I am unkind and cruel there. I cry because unkindness and cruelty reach me from anyplace they are committed by any person, any nation, or any betrayal.
What can I do? At first it feels like nothing. Then I go beyond. I feel the hurt and accept the pain for what it is. I cannot ignore it or pretend it isn't there. Iraq pains me. The actions of the American government are hurting. The intentions and ideology slapped on others by this dubious war are hurting. The broken beliefs and self-siding heresy preached by doubtfully ordained executive pretenders are frightening weapons -- they bloody the hands faces limbs and hearts of many men women and children throughout the world every day.
What is heresy? Heresy means other opinion. What is opinion? Opinion is what we hold onto in the absence of truth. Opinions are substitutes or blankets for truth – especially when truth does not serve well our opinions and needs to be hidden. Opinions in service to falsity are lies in costume. How do we arrive at truth? A Zen Master once said it was simple -- to arrive at the truth just drop all your opinions.
If opinions are dropped -- what is there then? Yes – this is a koan -- 'what is’ is there then -- or, here now. ‘What is’ – by any other name – is what is. Variously called God, Truth, Reality, the Absolute, the Ground of Being, Source, Way, the One, or the Good – ‘what is’ is what is no matter what it is called. Positing this ‘what is’ in the forms of these names is explanation human consciousness arrives at through history and evolution of thought, experience, and intuition,
My heart continues to hurt. My mind runs frightened. What to do? Run away? Become cynical? Despair? Sit still? Pray silently? Shout dementia down? Or, speak honestly the promptings of my heart -- breathe and open to what is right here?
The season of departures engages and enters this season of arrivals.
Letting go attachments, not siding with my ‘self,’ undeciding, embracing nothing-special and allowing what is whole to remain what it is – this is the nexus.
This is the binding connection we each have with one another – namely --what is light and what is true.
I finish this Update on April 19. It has been unwriting itself for three weeks. This morning, in his ever-welcome “The Writer’s Almanac” Garrison Keillor notes:
“… On this day, April 19, 1943, the first day of Passover, hundreds of German soldiers entered the ghetto in rows of tanks, planning to destroy the ghetto in three days. But resistance fighters fought back with the guns and grenades they had been storing. Fighting went on for days; when they ran out of grenades and bullets the Jews fought with kitchen knives, chair legs—whatever they could get their hands on. They hid in their trenches and tunnels and in the sewers. They held out for almost a month, but on May 16 the revolt ended. Nazis burned down buildings, shot many of the remaining Jews, and sent the rest of them to concentration camps.
On the forty-fifth anniversary of the uprising, a survivor named Irena Klepfisz said, "What we grieve for is not the loss of a grand vision, but rather the loss of common things, events and gestures. . . . Ordinariness is the most precious thing we struggle for, what the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto fought for. Not noble causes or abstract theories. But the right to go on living with a sense of purpose and a sense of self-worth -- an ordinary life."
What is there?
What is here?
Even if we disappear -- it is a joy to serve each one, to serve what is here.
19 April 2004,
Patriots Day in New England, Running of Boston Marathon, 4th Game of 1st Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees 2004 meetings, Second Monday after Easter, and our ordinary Monday off.
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December 2003 Update
December 2001 Update
December 2000 Update
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