Saturday, December 19, 2009

Happy Birthday, Bodhisattva

I was just thinking about the celebration of Christmas, and the gift that Christ gave to us with his sacrifice and divine example. He not only died with his faith as his close companion, but he attained what the Tibetans call the "rainbow body" leaving nothing but a shroud to mark his place.

Most of all, he remained with us in spirit so that all who call upon him can benefit from his wish to ease our suffering and darkness.

I am so glad that at least one Bodhisattva is celebrated every year as we gather in warmth and love, and give each other gifts that symbolize the great gifts from Jesus to all of us here in our human cyclic existence on this planet.

May we truly open ourselves to his love and wisdom, and follow his example.

As the great Shantideva said,

"For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I, too, abide
To dispel the misery of the world."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Born to Write in Candlelit Cafés

I am breathing
Aive and seeking
Purpose, worthiness to be alive
I am drinking chai
The spice tingles on my throat

The photograph of a thistle
Hangs above me
The thistle has more right
To be here than I do
My carbon footprint is large

My mind is a tumble of
Computer games and half-
Remembered dreams
And attempts to file everything
In folders tamed by
The proper color

A soft alto sings in the
Background about beauty and destiny
I have one and not the other
You can guess which
I am waiting for my Indian food

I may be no good for this world
But I will never kill myself
He said

I take his words as a benison
I remember them when I need
To take myself less seriously
I know he lives
Because I live

The music has changed
I can see the boy with his
Snare drums
I was born to write
In candlelit cafes

I was born to bring that
Novel into being
Even chased by the cowherd
With the leather whip
Even parceled into chapters
And campaigns

Didn’t I make it eat its tail
Like all good heavenly serpents?

I live, I breathe
And yet I have no
Union to this life
Other than the sculpture
I’ve assembled out
Of scraps of family,
History and friends,
My endless mistakes
And unquenchable hope

Despite my training
And my boring fear
I hope eternal
Like the wind’s soft lick
Of promise

I make a gift of that
To you.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Magic of Hay Bales

When I was growing up, I used to visit my Grandmother who lived on a place in Maryland called Rockdale. Although her genteel house never hinted of it, it was a working farm that ran to several acres. Over the years, there were a hundred secrets and mysteries for us kids to experience.

Down the lane there were apple orchards. In the front yard was a huge snowball bush and what used to be a fountain. A strange-looking gazebo sweetly rotted away.

There was a bridge where we used to play Pooh Sticks. The trickle of Winters Run went underneath, and all the way around the property. We could go swimming in it if we were willing to brave the steep climb down through the woods to the sandy banks below.

One of my favorite places was the summer house. It was made of stone and had a peaked roof and no windows. On summer nights, my Grandmother would have parties and hanging paper lanterns along the garden.

But during the day the summer house was unused. I used to sit in there and pretend I was a gypsy living in the woods with a horse. I would imagine my bed over there, my fireplace here, and in the nooks along the eaves I would place my treasures.

Beyond the fence was a huge rock that I called my dreaming rock. The field was rarely plowed and the grass would be waist high and blow in the wind. Sitting on that rock, it seemed I was in the middle of a huge ocean. Sometimes I could see cows in distant pastures.

My other favorite place was the top of the hill where there was a particular tree I used to lie under. It was a willow tree and I liked the patterns it made with the sun.

That was the hill where my mother would take us blackberry picking and raspberry picking with buckets filled to the brim and our legs covered with little red marks from the briars.

In the fall, we would play with the milkweed silks peeping out from their hard pods, and blow wishes to the wind. If I twirled around very fast, all the colors of the autumn trees would melt into a swirling rainbow.

I especially liked it when I would see bales of hay neatly stacked. It seemed like magic. Who did it - and when? It was always a question in my mind, "Will there be hay?" as I was climbing.

Only once I saw the tractor pull up and men jump off and load the bales onto a bed. The boy that drove the tractor was barely older than me. Maybe 13 or 14. I marveled at his prowess with the tractor and formed a crush. I named my kitten after him - Snooks.

I happened to see a photo of some hay bales today, and all these memories came tumbling out.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dreaming in Technicolor

I recently received an email with some dream research that made me stop and think. One of the points was about dreaming in color which was seen to increase in subjects tested after 1960 as compared with 1915. The researchers had hypothesized that the increase in people found to dream in color might be attributed to the switch from black-and-white images on TV and film to color.

I can offer some anecdotal evidence about color dreaming. Long before my family even owned a TV, I dreamed in color. In fact, until around the age of 4 or 5, my dreams were in a particular kind of color that is more saturated and beautiful than real life. The trees and grass, for instance, were in various shades of blue and red and purple and pink and orange - all sorts of colors. There was almost no black or brown in my dreams, only these brighter colors.

I actually recall the last "technicolor" dream I had because I was so sad afterward. I never had those brightly colored dreams again.

I was standing on the banks of a pond. It was winter and there were people skating on the ice but I didn't feel cold and I was not dressed in winter clothing. The trees and grass were brightly colored, as I have described. Then I suddenly noticed for the first time in any of my dreams a little house - it was a small, brown cabin made of brown wood. There was smoke coming from the roof as if a fire was burning somewhere inside. I noticed skaters coming off the pond would then go into the little house, so I became curious.

I walked over and went into the house and smelled hot chocolate. People were getting warm drinking hot chocolate. The colors inside the house were what I now think of as "normal" and I had never dreamed of normal every-day colors before. I went over and got some hot chocolate for myself and drank it, even though I was not cold.

After that dream, I never saw the "real" bright colors anymore.

This dream might almost be one of those cautionary fairy tales where the hero is supposed to take the worn, leather bridle instead of the the silver or golden one. Or perhaps even worse - the one that advises you not to open a certain door.

I have more anecdotal evidence about color. I was told when I had my son that babies see colors more brightly that we do, and as they grow up, they learn to limit their color palette to match the expectations of others.

My son is bi-racial (his father is (black) African-American and I am (white) Scotch-Irish-French-American.) So we had a lot of friends of all different races and my son would often draw pictures of them with his crayons. Whenever he drew a dark-skinned person, he would make them purple. When he drew light-skinned people, he made them orange. I am sure these are the colors he actually saw because when he was older, the colors became more muted.

I have only had one black-and-white dream in my whole life and it really scared me because I was afraid the colors had disappeared. It was after I had been given sleeping pills after surgery in a hospital. The dream was also frightening because I didn't have any control over my dream body. I saw my son playing on a sliding board and he was going to fall, but I couldn't run over and catch him because the sidewalk I was standing on began to undulate like the ocean.

I have never taken sleeping pills again.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sun and Rain

The rain, fond visitor
breath of warm
wet sky and
smell of trees
this is heaven's

All sensation
enwrapped in
warm skin as
as a cloud

The sun travels
across the sky
we abide
like helpless cattle
while seasons

All purposes
fleeting and empty
our teeming minds
dripping with
we hardly
notice the
circle enclosing
our lifetimes.

I combined these two poems which were fragments I wrote in my journal in those moments while waiting for an appointment or a friend. I felt how much life is illustrated or demarcated by the weather and seasons, how much it informs our thoughts.

Friday, June 19, 2009

One Wish

When I was a little girl my mother read me fairy tales from an old book that is now out of print called “Sven and Svea, or the Tales of Lapland.”

Few books stand out in my memory as clearly as that one. It could be that stories that are read to us sink in better when we are young, and particularly when we are in bed sick, which was often the case with me. At any rate, certain images and ideas were embedded in my mind.

One story was about a girl named Svea who with her brother Sven went on a perilous quest to convince the fearsome Bergsfrau to spare her family. The Bergsfrau (which I suppose might mean literally, wife of the mountain or woman of the mountain) lived way up high in the mountains in a cave and of course, it was snowing the whole time. Svea was often afraid but she was highly resourceful.

At the end, she succeeded in her task and the Bergsfrau offered to grant her one wish. She could be beautiful, wise or good. Without a moment’s hesitation, Svea requested to be beautiful. For, as she reasoned, anyone can become wise or good, but beauty is only given.

I may not have all the details right as my child’s memory is not as good as it once was. I wonder if we were given the same chance today, would we have answered as Svea did? Is the quest for beauty the ultimate goal? Or is wisdom? Or, perhaps goodness is the quality that will bring the most happiness.

I look around at my peers and especially fellow women in my country and I believe we are all under the same spell. We want to be young and beautiful and will do anything to attain such a state. Wisdom is debatable. One woman’s wisdom is another woman’s folly. Goodness is fine, of course, but in contemporary society, a bit tedious. The dangerous and the immoral fascinates us more, if you pick up any magazine or turn on television.

So, I wonder if perhaps we need to redefine what we cherish the most. Do the traditional values of compassion and kindness still hold a value for us? Or do we yearn for something more related to material success and well being?

Is mere survival enough? Having food, clothing and shelter might be the ultimate goal for the majority of humans on our planet. But for others, an elusive promise is always over the next horizon. It might be an award or honor or achievement, or challenge to be fulfilled. For some, a marriage; for others, a divorce.

All those superlatives are such slippery words. Goodness – wisdom – beauty. Everyone has their own concept. But when we are given images continually of what is considered beautiful by society at large, it is difficult to cling to one’s own conception. We each have to walk a dangerous path in life to find the true wisdom, and we each have to make a lot of choices to attain any measure of goodness. But beauty? I think we have lost the way.

What perhaps Svea knew better was that beauty is all the way through from the inside to the outside, like a perfect ripe apple just off the tree. I think she wanted what was inside of her to show on the outside. If we could apply that idea in our lives, perhaps we would have more than one wish come true.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Walking in Lhasa

The street is bare today
I can see the blue sky
And hear the voices of the dakinis

But the shops are closed tight
Leaving only their two language signs
With the Chinese letters always bigger

Our syllables hang like prayer flags
From the mala of a million mantras
Echoing into each mountain pass

I never forget the juniper incense, forbidden now
The prayer flags on the roof
Where the red flag flaunts its yellow stars

I can’t forget
My husband prostrating along here
Before he went to prison

Sigh. How long ago was it that
They let him come home to die?
His black eyes still gleaming

The soldiers at the end of the street
Do they know where they are?
Lhasa, the holy place, where a god once lived

Where so many gods still live
Except the ocean of wisdom
Who fled so long ago

I touched his robe as a girl
My hair in braids so tight on my scalp
I yelped at my mother that morning

The khata in my trembling hands
How long ago was that?
I shall never forget

The crane never flies to the evergreen
Since the soldiers came
They ate him for dinner, that beautiful bird

The snow leopard fled
The eagles and elk and reindeer
All of them meals for the soldiers

Vultures and crows keep their vigil now
Wait for them to die and leave this holy place
The birds will eat up every scrap, all but the bones

There they are, all dressed in black
With helmets to protect them from virtue
Do they know where they are?

Or are my old eyes deceiving me?
Are they just pilgrims, my kinfolk
Come to celebrate Losar?


This poem and painting were inspired by a photo taken March 14, 2009 that appeared on the Phayul website. The caption read that shops were closed and paramilitary and plainclothes police had established patrols and checkpoints throughout Lhasa on the first anniversary of the anti-Chinese riot.

Friday, February 27, 2009


You were always a head taller than me
Your slim, strong form
Perched on that fiery horse
Who was only gentle for you

In your presence I was brave and bold
In your aura I knew my worth
My words came free and easy
My thoughts skipped and danced

Your laugh made everything right
In your chuckle a million fairies gathered
Children reappeared like destiny
Grown men listened

Together we could ride into the country
Leaping fences, streams and boulders
Nothing too daunting
With you beside me

Because of you I think clearly
Find the options never seen before
Walk with grace and
Keep my eyes focused

Because of you I hear
The voices in my heart
And pay attention.

This poem is dedicated to Rosa Fletcher, Stella Henderson, Annette Johnson, Margaret Ballew, Pose Crocker, Charlotte Silver, Miriam Robinson, Marie Stirling and Margaret Timmington.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Losar - Tibetan New Year - Earth Ox Year

No singing, no dancing, no drinking of chang
Our prayers are sent skyward all the day long
For our lamas and kinfolk still in Tibet
We keep in our hearts and never forget

Oh, precious teachers and Holiness dear,
May you all be protected throughout the Ox year
You have taught us to keep our compassion alive
So that no matter what, Buddadharma survives

So we pray for the fallen and we pray for the jailed,
We encourage the diplomat whose efforts have failed,
We honor the ones who secretly pray
Who teach in Tibetan without any pay

We pray for the spirits of all the departed
Who died for refusing to be downhearted
Just as they did not give up, we also should strive
To keep the spirit of freedom alive.

May Tibet, the beloved homeland endure
And the dharma flourish without fear once more,
May the faithful whose hearts have been guided by grace,
Be rewarded by blessings and peace throughout space.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine for the World

It seems rather silly to devote one day of the year to Love when every day is an opportunity to love with a Capital L. Not the little, ego love that shouts from every popular song, that masks a need or want .. but Love that simply is. Love that encompasses all of us, all the time, everywhere, without exception. All sentient beings are loved.

So I reach out my heart to the world today, the animals big and small, from the mighty whale to the tiny ant, the plants and trees in every garden and forest, mountains, rivers, oceans and streams, volcanoes, deserts, stars and planets circling overhead. And even the people.

Let us cherish this beautiful blue green marble that we live on ... not just today but every day. May she withstand even our rude tenancy. Let us protect and maintain her for our children and their children.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My Real Job

Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted to be a writer. Although I went on to write poems, stories and myriad thoughts on scraps of paper, there was one vision that remained in the background. It was something special that I carried inside like a potential embryo.

This vision that would steal over me at night just before I drifted off to sleep was a world underground where dark elves lived. I was very young and my imagination was pure and free. There were no boundaries or guideposts. I saw flickering lights as soft as milkweed silks, and messages floating in the air of this underground world with the symmetry of Queen Anne's lace. Sometimes the elven people flitted into the shadows by the pond at twilight.

Eventually, as an adult, the novel was born. The hardback came out last year, and now, here's the paperback. My latest book signing went quite well. I had a wonderful time, met a lot of writers and readers, and sold five books.

It was bitterly cold outside, we'd had three inches of snow the day before, and my car wouldn't start in the morning, so I'd had to get a jump start. I haven't made a living as a writer yet.

In a perfect world, my book would be made into a fantasy adventure film starring Iman as the heroine Tiala. Claire Danes would be the fox-woman, Patrick Stewart the blue warrior elf, Clive Owen the wizard and Linda Hunt the ironic General Gudrun. Brad Pitt would be Obsidian.

Wesley Snipes could play the evil Dekhalis with great aplomb. Grace Jones would make a compelling ancient Nightwing on her death bed. Wallace Shawn could be typecast as the likeable villain Prince Mischa. Other parts would go to Venus Williams as Eleppon the cavalry-woman, Halle Berry as the diminutive Noth, and perhaps some yet untried newcomer as the innocent Inuari.

So many parts to play - so many opportunities for great acting - would fall like ripe apples from the tree. But like many artists, I will probably not live to see my own success. Of course, as a Buddhist, I try to stay in the middle ground between success and failure, indifferent to both. To be honest, I rather like the ignominious status of the undiscovered. I rather like unborn fame.

It's just one more dream to dream.

Monday, January 5, 2009

When You Wish Upon A Star

Though I might be more cynical now, this old Disney classic still has the power to send me back to childhood. The first time I listened to it, I was about five years old. We had a new black-and-white TV and we kids were not allowed to watch anything except the occasional Saturday cartoon or Disney which came on at 7:00 p.m.

This song would come on at the beginning or the end of the program. I admit I don’t remember, it was so long ago. I think it might have been at the end, and I seem to recall being so sad if the song didn't completely finish or a commercial intervened, or my parents told me to go to bed.

I remember how small the TV screen seemed to be, and how hard I wished to transport myself into it, and away from my parents and brother and sister in that living room. I just wanted so badly to be in that magical world where wishes come true.

Of course, children know what’s real, what’s important and what’s possible, and maybe have a much better grasp of these things than adults do. Even though you may have promised yourself at age 10 or 16 or 20, that you would never forget the lessons of childhood, I would bet that somewhere along the line, you could not keep that promise. At least, I failed to do so.

When we look at the stars, we still see the endless possibilities as limitless as space. We still see the twinkling lights of the cosmos, a constant reminder that we are merely a speck in the eternal diagram. And in knowing this, we may feel comforted that there is a larger picture and our small actions fade to nothingness in comparison.

Yet, as Pascal said in his Pensées, when we look under a microscope and see the infinitesimal size of the tiniest cell, we feel enormous, and our significance in the world appears to be gigantic. And conversely, when we look at the stars, we understand our insignificance. Both are needed. Our actions are important and do have an effect.

Contemporary science proves that emotion that is heartfelt and intense, affects DNA even when split off and separated by hundreds of miles. When it comes to real feeling, there is no time or space.

When it comes to heartfelt wishes, we may find that the child becomes our teacher, and in the words of William Wordsworth, “My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky: So was it when my life began. The Child is father of the Man.” Or woman.