Sunday, April 22, 2012

A day of contemplation in the garden

Photo: CC*BY FlyingSinger
Today is Earth Day. I am spending as much of it as I can outside just being in the garden. With my cat. She's so laid back.

Kitty Girl
What luck! We're joined there by the Austin symphony of spring birds playing their best solos -- its the spring breeding season and no one wants to be ignored. Over the course of this single day I've heard, in no particular order, Chuck-will's-widow, Summer tanager, Louisiana waterthrush, White-eyed vireo, Golden-cheeked warbler, Nashville warbler, Northern cardinal, Spotted towhee, House finch, Lesser goldfinch, Black-crested titmouse, Carolina chickadee, Carolina wren, Great-horned owl, Great-crested flycatcher, Black-chinned hummingbird, Eastern phoebe, White-winged dove, Purple martin, Blue-gray gnatcatcher. I must be forgetting somebody.

And there are a few that seem to be missing. Where are the Blue jays, the Northern mockingbirds and the Chimney swifts? What about the Bewick's wren and the Red-eyed vireo? I heard them yesterday. Well, so it goes.

Photo: CC*BY .:[Melissa]:.
I hope I never forget how beautiful a place this is, how sweet and fresh the air, how delicate the web of activity that brings it all to life in an unending process of birth, growth, decay, death and renewal. Like those little 8-spotted Forester moths that showed up recently, innocently hanging out around the Virginia creeper. And then a few weeks later, what? What on earth is skeletonizing the Virginia creeper -- oh -- it's a little caterpillar, which I look up and find is ... 8-spotted Forester moth larvae. Of course. And the birds love to eat the caterpillars. And I learned today that it's no surprise that the Summer tanagers hang out here. We have a bee-hive in the side of our cliff and Summer tanagers eat, yes, bees. Their favorite thing. It's like poetry only more beautiful and without words.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Reflecting on a symposium

I attended a symposium in mid-April. Following are my notes about and reflections on one of the panel discussions. You can find the traditional takes on the conference, and the presenters' materials, as well as a treasure trove of resources at the Symposium Website.

My notes, however, in poetry form, convey something different, something unlike a typical set of notes from a conference. I listened and watched utilizing the practice called contemplative observation -- seeing what the senses perceive, how the mind reacts with thoughts and feelings, and which body sensations the whole experience evokes. The contemplative education department at Naropa University teaches the practice, developed by Richard C. Brown. It helps integrate the benefits of a meditation practice into daily life. Most importantly, one learns as much about oneself as about the events taking place in the surrounding space.

It is somewhat like Birding with Buddha, observing contemplatively "to see beyond ordinary thinking to a wordless awareness that unites us with all phenomena in the all-encompassing process that life is" (Harper, 2011).

So, it may sound a little crazy, and it is, but that's what keeps the practice interesting. Enjoy!

Life symposium -- see, oppose, breathe, rest, accept


The room a mix of art deco drab brown and tan
Participants -- black and dark shades of blue and gray
The speakers all men, the audience mixed, but mostly men
The first speaker’s tenor is witty and frank
His voice, high-pitched as he admits his earlier naïveté, plaintively advocates letting things sit and allowing people to "bolden-up" (which he knows we all have in the last ten years)
“Congress screws up when it tries to deal with the future, rather than settle disputes of the past”
Ambiguity is slack in the system; he likes that


Me too


We sit around large round tables, all facing the stage, quite still, some heads bowed, like mine while I type
Sipping coffee


Barely breathing, shallow, cramped breaths
I remind myself to breathe; I forget to breathe
I notice that my shoulders are hunched
I lower them 
They creep back up
When the speaker makes jokes I laugh and some of the tension dissolves
Then it comes right back

I wonder, “Am I the only person in jeans?”
Ah, a guy, an earring, and jeans
I am not at home with these still black, blue and gray guys

But only moments ago -- embraces, kisses, laughs and joyful chatter graced and filled and expanded and warmed the space
No one else is really here
Only old friends; 20 years of practice
Twenty years of practicing… what? And what for?

That sinking feeling
I’m overwhelmed
What did he just say?
Fear of missing an important and relevant fact
There’s just too much
See, I'm holding my breath – oh that helps…

Ah, but there's a different way to see, to hear, to know
I straighten up; I breathe, raise my chin, raise my eyes
The room is still the same
It's still, really still
Everyone here cares, even industry
A lot
I could not have seen that before clear seeing, heart knowing

Register wants to amend Section 108
My opposition, a surprise
I don’t care, do I?
I wish not
Breathe -- I do
I see that now

Suddenly I notice -- my clothes so tight around me
They squeeze my chest, my arms, my legs, my back
When the speaker says “I saved this!”
I smile
I smile, laugh and really listen
I do not feel so overwhelmed
I lose self-consciousness
I don’t feel squeezed
But then preoccupation returns


He’s ranting


Does he not see
So SNCC is defunct – so there is no one to complain
His risk is zero, or close to it; he need not worry so
Sit down; shut up
I need to move around
I have been sitting too long


Rick Prelinger – wearing a tux? No, but
Polished silver hair, parted down the middle
A fabulous sense of humor
Security through obscurity; he collects ephemera


Ephemera, like the color of his hair, my skin, our positions, our health
Like thoughts, like feelings, “like clouds in a windy sky” as Hanh (2006, p. 53) says of feelings
He collects ephemera; not wanting to let it go
It’s what librarians do; saving things for others to see, to touch, to feel, to listen to, to learn from – ordinary prajna
I lean against the chair back
Breathe easier
The puzzle is so complex; my part of it so small; I smile about that; not so much to worry about after all

But people who want to remodel their homes must petition the copyright board in Canada for permission to reproduce their own blueprints
How screwed up is that?


Prelinger makes the 1%/99% argument
The third speaker to make it
We get it, but…


He is the best, making his argument so eloquently, still, outside this room, no one will listen to him
Congress will solve the 1%’s problem
The rest of us be damned, and we will be ignored
Whether we speak eloquently, with wit and charm, or yell and rant and curse them and their horses and dogs and children
This is the way it is here
I read today about icebergs making slow slides into the sea, speeding up more than we thought
And so it will go, all of it

Concluding Reflection

Observing a panel session at a conference in this way, contemplating, not just listening to, what is being said, but also the manner of its presentation, the attitude of the audience, the engagement across the divide between podium and floor, and my moment-to-moment formulation of various responses to it – in my body and my mind, my thoughts, feelings, sensations, the ups and downs of the flow of my energy – this is priceless.

Aware of my self, of the space, of what is going on across the field of sense perceptions, I come to a new understanding of how to communicate with those with whom I work who want to know about copyright law.  I think differently with the part of my brain that does not always need words to inform me, I trust in a process other than analysis and synthesis to respond to others. I see that ordinary analysis and synthesis, while quite valuable, are nevertheless dualistic, so they are not all there is.

Contemplative observation allows me to glimpse the field of being where we’re all really in this together. Presence is the key. "When someone opens completely to what they are experiencing, the personality -- which is an activity of judgment, control, and resistance -- disappears for a moment" (Welwood, 2000, p. 103). And I need those moments of full presence, those glimpses of clear seeing to help me touch lightly the sadness I feel when I think about all the pain we experience, the achingly beautiful world we share, and how we must all let it all go, one by one. I can balance with this a little better each day. I am so grateful.

The ultimate practice here is learning to remain fully present and awake in the middle of whatever thoughts, feelings, perceptions, or sensations are occurring and to appreciate them, in Mahamudra/Dzogchen terms, as Dharmakaya -- as an ornamental display of the empty, luminous essence of awareness. They are the radiant clarity of awareness in action (Ibid., p. 106).


Hanh, T. N. (2006). Present moment wonderful moment: Mindfulness verses for daily living (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.

Harper, G. (2011, March 8). Zen birding. Lifelong learning. Retrieved from

Welwood, J. (2000). Dialectic of awakening. In T. Hart (Ed.), Transpersonal knowing: exploring the horizon of consciousness (pp. 85–106). New York, NY: SUNY Press.