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Nearing a Full Circuit of Wayfaring
A Note to New Subscribers and Loyal Wayfaring Patrons
Greetings Good Travelers and Wayfarers.
It’s hard to believe we are rounding the bend toward August, which is the one-year anniversary of The Poet’s Dreamingbody. Deep thanks to each and every one of you for traveling along on this journey, and to those of you who have shared The Poet’s Dreamingbody with fellow Travelers in your respective orbits.
Deep gratitude also to all of you who have chosen to be Wayfaring Patrons (paid subscribers and donors) to this humble venture of exploration. I’m truly grateful. (My noodle bowl, teapot, and saké cup thank you too!)
Though I have not — thus far — parsed out any content on The Poet’s Dreamingbody exclusive to paid subscribers, in Year Two I do hope to offer some additional items for those of you who have been loyal and generous patrons. More on that at another time.
At this particular juncture, I simply wanted to express my gratitude for your support, and thank those people who have sent me notes, helpful feedback, constructive criticism, and questions.
I also want to take a moment here to reorient us to the spirit of this exploration and offer a brief orientation for the many new subscribers that have joined us recently.
Thus far, our journey at The Poet’s Dreamingbody has been one of exploring the lives and verses of various Wayfaring-Poets through a monthly podcast, along with some additional quotes for contemplation (both ancient and modern), and a few supplementary posts here and there reflecting upon some of the concepts and principles that are part of this perennial tradition of Nature-oriented creative spirituality.
The overall aim has been to humanize these artist-meditators; to get a sense of their own process of spiritual formation, the experiences that shaped them, their personal cosmologies and psychologies (what made them tick, in other words), and to help us to see that, though they are undoubtedly the elders and forerunners of this Lineage of Wayfaring Heart-Mind, we aren’t that different from them.
We, too, live in disorienting times of strife and challenge — just as they did.
Like the Wayfarers of old, many of us are also trying to figure out ways of being true to our artistic and spiritual paths in a world that habitually undervalues Nature, poetry or artistry, spirituality, or cultivating heart-mind.
Many of us are also actively trying to maintain a connection to what I call “soft attention”; or, to put it another way, we are trying to practice what a few of us modern Wayfarers call Slow-Culture — which can be challenging in a society hellbent on greater complexity, velocity, mindless consuming, chasing after wealth and fame, and the resulting collective karma of all of the above.
Slow-Culture ( jokō bunka, J: 徐行文化 ): an easygoing way of living artfully; a contemplative journey through life that emphasizes a deliberate, quiet, slower rhythm of living and creativity
In this way, personally speaking, I view these Wayfarers-of-old — both those we have explored thus far on The Poet’s Dreamingbody, and those yet to come in the podcast series — as spiritual ancestors, mentors, teachers, guides on the Way; grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, who have offered us a rich practice tradition, a way-within-the-Way, my late teacher called it — replete with themes to contemplate that are relevant to our times, orientations that act as antidotes (such as the medicines of impermanence-aware sacred idleness, voluntary simplicity, and authentic nourishment over empty extraction), and various practices that can enrich a thoroughgoing life of staying close to a certain kind of call.
This call is the binding thread of the Wayfarers through time — ancient and modern. Despite being of different cultures, different times, different ages, different genders, different sexual orientations, and different religious affiliations (including not affiliating at all, or departing from prior affiliations), all of the Wayfarers felt this call, and all of them followed it — each in their own way.
Some struggled on their paths. Li Bai (a.k.a. Li Po) and Santōka, for example, struggled with addiction. Ryōkan and Grandmother Rengetsu faced extreme poverty at different times. Bashō and Shiki struggled with depression and painful illnesses during their short lives. Yet, all of the Wayfarers found a sense of inner peace, profound connection to Nature, creative alignment, and personal mastery before all was said and done.
The other common denominator, which we’ve discussed before, is that nearly all of them took inspiration from the lifestyle(s) and written works of the Wayfarers who preceded them in time (sometimes by hundreds of years). They looked to other Wayfarers who had answered the call before them, but each of them also — at certain stages in their development — innovated concepts and approaches that emanated from their own originality, vision, and personal experience.
“The Way is akin to an academy or college without walls, a virtual institution of learning constituted by various circles of students, teachers, and an archive of circulating texts defining its history, traditions, and models.”
Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen, Murmured Conversations: A Treatise on Poetry and Buddhism by Poet-Monk Shinkei (1406-1475)
So, in turning our own soft attention to this ancient curriculum, as they did, namely:
> to the Wayfarers who preceded us
> to Nature
> to cultivating heart-mind (through various forms of meditation practice)
> to the images and energies stirring within our own “dreamingbodies”
> to the verses and colors dripping from our own brushes (and hand-formed pottery, hand-held cameras, and hand-held garden shovels in some instances)…
we are also answering the Call of the Wayfarers.
When we do, we step in among them; we step onto a path that can bolster us, feed us, and nourish one another. Indeed, we may even find ourselves accompanied in some profound and surprising ways.
Follow the path of Wayfaring long enough and one realizes the path was always here. Efforts toward embodying Slow-Culture have been cultivated for a long time, tethered to consciousness, awareness, dedicated attention, creative exploration, and practice.
In truth, this same path was under each and every one of us on the day we sucked our first breath from the brightening air around us. It was here when our own senses awakened to flowers and tadpoles, sunsets and cicada song, mountains and rivers, and the paths that take us up and out, away from “the world of red dust” for a time. This path was here when our own multidimensional senses stirred and we realized there is both a visible and an invisible world. And, the path will still be here, it will still be under us, supporting us, guiding us, on the day we draw our final breath and move onward onto the next leg of our journey.
As my late teacher was not only fond of saying but actually lived into herself: “The great expedition of the Wayfarers does not end with the loss of a body.”
QUEST-I-ON / QUESTION
As we round the bend toward the one-year anniversary of The Poet’s Dreamingbody, I want to pose a few of what my late teacher called Quest-I-On Questions. If you look at the word ‘question’, we actually find three words: quest, I, on.
Quest-I-On Questions are a certain caliber of questioning. They are the types of questions that can really stop us in our tracks and drop us into the heart of our being— spiritually, artistically, psychologically, even ecologically, or on the level of engaged service and activism.
A good Quest-I-On Question is like a gate. The question is posed to us, or perhaps we invoke the questions ourselves, and we step through the gate of the question. Having done so, the Quest-I-On Question becomes a path. The Quest-I-On Question is what we might even call “soul-orienteering.” By this I mean, we may never arrive at a complete answer, but if we stay with the question we find that it leads us into greater connection.
We’ve talked about the Call of the Wayfarers.
What is your calling in these strange and troubled times?
How are you answering the call?
What is your way-within-the-Way?
How are you embodying your way?
ANNOUNCEMENT: NEXT PODCAST EPISODE (late July-early August 2023)
I wanted to let you know that the next podcast episode will focus on Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), one of the prime innovators of the Nature-oriented poetic awareness practice called haiku.
I don’t aim to reinvent the wheel with this episode. There are numerous volumes dedicated to the life and poetry of Bashō written by much more able-bodied Bashō-dedicated scholars. While I do aspire to do due diligence to the important facts and shifts and creative outpourings that flowed from his brush, I also want to explore Bashō from the perspective of the lived experience and concept of the dreamingbody (or dreambody, a term coined by Arnold Mindell). If you aren’t familiar with this concept, there will be an orientation to it within the unfolding exploration of Bashō’s path.
TWO BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS
I wanted to share a couple of delightful books I’ve been journeying with recently: Zen Vows for Daily Life by Robert Aitken and One Hundred Butterflies by Peter Levitt.
Robert Aitken (1917-2010) was a lay Zen master in both the Harada-Yasutani and Yamada lineage. He was what the late Congressman John Lewis (1940-2020) would call a stirrer of “good trouble.” In addition to serving as co-founder of the Honolulu Diamond Sangha and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Aitken a.k.a. Chotan Roshi was heavily involved in social justice and environmental causes — advocating for the rights of women, the LGBTQI community, and Native Hawaiian self-determination.
In Zen Vows for Daily Life, Aitken-sama shares some wonderful pith phrases in the style of Buddhist gathas (aspiration prayers), some profound, some profoundly hilarious. A few of my favorites:
Preparing the garden for seeds
I vow with all beings
to nurture the soil to be fertile
each spring for the next thousand years.
When people praise me for something
I vow with all beings
to return to my vegetable garden
and give credit where credit is due.
Raking the leaves from my yard
I vow with all beings
to compost extraneous thoughts
and cultivate beans of the Tao.
Preparing to enter the shower
I vow with all beings
to wash off the last residue
of thoughts about being pure.
When I check my face in the mirror
I vow with all beings
to present the original woman
who preceded the Buddha-Tao.
When someone tears at the fabric
I vow with all beings
to come forth with the voice of no-source
and show how it cannot be torn.
And there are dozens of others.
Order Zen Vows for Daily Life here » Wisdom Publications
The other book comes to us from Peter Levitt-sensei (b. 1946), a modern Wayfarer I’ve been learning about this past year. Born in New York City, Peter has taught poetry and creativity workshops internationally, for such organizations as the C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles, Naropa University (my alma mater), Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Antioch University.
Now a Canadian, he is the founder and guiding teacher of the Salt Spring Zen Circle in the Soto Zen lineage of Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi.
Peter’s work in poetry and translation is prolific. He edited both Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of Understanding and Jakusho Kwong’s No Beginning, No End. He worked with Rebecca Nie on the book Yin Mountain: The Immortal Poetry of Three Daoist Women. His collaborations with Kazuaki Tanahashi helped to produce Shobo Genzo: Zen Master Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, The Essential Dogen: Writings of the Great Zen Master, The Complete Cold Mountain: Poems of the Legendary Hermit Hanshan, and A Flock of Fools: Ancient Buddhist Tales of Wisdom and Laughter.
All of that said, he is also the author of a number of his own books including Fingerpainting on the Moon: Writing and Creativity As A Path to Freedom, and a number of books of poetry. But, it’s a re-issue of his book of poems entitled One Hundred Butterflies I want to mention here.
These are one hundred short poems filled with rustic spirit, humor, and bone-deep wisdom resulting from everyday Zen. There are subtle hints of flavors of the great Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) here but the verses are masterfully simmered in their own utterly unique umami broth of open-heartedness. Here are few of my favorites:
Jakusho’s shaved head
just like a fish
hard to grasp from outside
and even the broad river
hide in the mist,
I saw clear to the other shore
Don’t eat so fast
When you use your sticks
you frighten the rice.
You ask my lineage?
Plum blossoms in spring,
beneath a winter sky.
And, there are 96 more!
Order your copy of One Hundred Butterflies here » Blissful Monkey Press
A POSSIBLE RESOURCE FOR TRAVELERS & WAYFARERS
I haven’t made mention of this over the last year. However, because I have received some recent questions and inquiries from listeners and readers, and because we have been talking about the topic of “callings”, I decided I would mention one of my own.
Taking its name from my first book of poems on Homebound Publications, The School of Soft-Attention is the name I landed on for the vehicle to carry the work I do with people, which, at present, involves a single discipline — what I refer to as contemplative soulwork (contemplative: inward-looking, soul: called ‘psyche’ in Greek and ‘anima’ in Latin — the deeper interior of our being).
Though I have a M.A. in counseling psychology, have studied Jungian and transpersonal psychology in-depth, and have pursued various related post-graduate studies, contemplative soulwork is not psychotherapy or mental health counseling. My own calling crystallized in recent years and that is to support others in their own spiritual and creative unfoldment.
Some have likened my work to what is called spiritual direction in the Christian tradition, but I don’t personally use terms like “spiritual director”. In the work and sacred dialogue of contemplative soulwork, we are co-walkers on a path, mutually tracking the deeper stirrings, creative churnings, and aspirational directives of soul. I am not the director, the soul is.
In part, I am carrying on the work of my late teacher, another Wayfarer who believed in the power of Slow-Culture. In part, I’ve realized I am an offshoot, a tributary, of my own parents’ life orientation: ministering to others. In part, I align with the words of Shakyamuni Buddha, who said: “The whole of the holy life is fulfilled through spiritual friendship.” (Samyutta Nikaya)
Thus, my own calling has led me to work with caregivers, therapists, chaplains, artists, poets, musicians, writers bringing books into being, Christians, Zen Buddhists, priestesses (from various mystery traditions), individuals traversing the sometimes disorienting landscape of midlife, people seeking to integrate powerful experiences (of a spiritual or entheogenic~psychedelic nature), highly-sensitive / highly energy-aware persons, and people exploring their own Quest-I-On Questions.
If you or anyone you know would be served by such work, I invite you to explore the website for: The School of Soft-Attention.
If you’re interested in any of the soundworlds that have been flowing behind my note this evening, one is Sherry Finzer’s new release called The Warrior (on Heart Dance Records) and the other one is called Ancestral Resonance by Byron Metcalf and Shane Morris (on Projekt Records), both of which can be found on Bandcamp. To hear more from both of these albums, explore the links to learn more about these musicians » Sherry Finzer & Byron Metcalf / Shane Morris
Thanks for being here Good Travelers and Wayfarers.
Until we meet up again on the road with Master Bashō in a few weeks, be well, and good dreaming — both night-time and day-time.