The Unending Sea of Blessings

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The below contemplation was used for several tea and dialogue sessions with an explanation that “The unending sea of blessings,” a phrase used on scrolls hung in Zen temples and during tea ceremonies is not a closed concept. It tells us what we can sense when we remove the obstacles we put in our own way. Wilson discusses it in The One Taste of Truth, Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea on page 135.

The ability to experience pain is necessary for biological beings. We need to recognize and avoid what is dangerous in order to survive. But humans can easily get stuck cycling in stressful worry and doubt. We can forget that compassion also comes naturally to us.

Compassion is. It matters as much to us as sensing pain. That understanding is common to spiritual traditions the world over. We are born with an instinct for compassion. Even babies too young to speak will pick up something that is dropped and hand it back to you.

Bringing in self-compassion when it is needed makes it easier to see the caring generosity from others and nature all around us. It shows us the unending sea of blessings. Research provides evidence that when we offer support to others, we benefit our own wellbeing, health and resilience.

We can open to the preciousness, the beauty of the transient tides we swim in. We dance the unending sea of blessings as much as it dances us. We have the capacity to do small acts of kindness as simple and important as a smile. We can recognize the light in each other that shines through our uniqueness.

We belong to the source of all waves
Colors never seen before
Floating and becoming and blinking out of existence
Only to well up again with
All the moldy, composted, and fertile mysteries
That make up our days
And the recognition when we see
Our own water light colors in others’ eyes
Facing waterfalls and the ocean, we recognize
The call in our sea salt blood ever coursing
We answer our cries for compassion
From no-thought belonging

Resonant Stone Arrangements

As children, my brother and sister and I loved to catch fire flies and release them down by a falling-apart stone structure behind our camp site in New Hampshire. Dolly Copp, an early settler to this location in the White Mountains had constructed a well-like structure to capture the water of a stream and then pipe it to her homestead downhill. Over the years as we returned to the camp site, we watched as the structure became less recognizable as it tumbled apart.

I tried to capture that structure at one stage of its existence in my own garden. I stopped moving the stones about when they seemed to “disappear” – When they had blended into the universe comfortably with no need to speak individually for themselves.

rock arngmt - version 2

Before I travelled to Japan to see its remarkable gardens, I had read about the famous Japanese garden Ryoanji with its stone groups set in raked sand that you can see in this video. I doubted that this garden would live up to all the hype, perhaps to save myself from disappointment.

We avoided the crowds by arriving at opening time, but there was no way to avoid a blaring broadcast in English. I tuned this out as best I could, until it ended with, “each person must find his or her own meaning.”

Although it was overcast, I noticed shadows on the sand cast by the surrounding wall and trees. One of my first impressions was the importance of the wall. I then became impressed by the large amount of open space; clearly, the point of this garden was not just the individual stones, although each was beautiful:

ryoan-ji

Gradually, I became aware of a low singing current passing from group to group and stone to stone. This grew in strength, zinging about. The key to this phenomenon seemed to be the specific arrangement. The intensity grew to unbelievable levels, and the stones ‘disappeared.’ It seemed like the configuration before me was a model of a vast, singing version out in space. It was full of immense power and it was beyond beautiful.

Although precious to me, my garden stone arrangement does not evoke the vast energy I experienced at Ryoanji. I sometimes think about Ryoanji’s designer and what price was paid to be able to get that particular arrangement just right.

The Colors of Jade

While it is known for its shades of green, jade can be found in many remarkable colors, some softer and some more brilliant. It is also carved in a wide variety of styles and forms. The pendants and bangles in the photos below show just some of its possibilities. They were carved in the United States, New Zealand, China, and Guatemala, some a while ago and some only recently. Each has a story to tell, and since jade is such a tough stone, it is a refuge that will last.

smalls
two rabbits
bangle
three NZ
tree
haitiki
bird head
bangle2
Schiling's pendants
dragon

Abalone Portraits

When the abalone shell arrived, it had a crack in it. I decided to take a photo anyway. What I saw in the image was much more than I expected. We are like this, I thought. We forget the extraordinary beauty that comes right up to our cracks.

I could not stop taking close-ups as abalone arrived at my door from all over the world. The slightest shift brought dramatic color changes. In this conversation with light and mystery I sensed a deeper connection. There were so many lessons here, a spiraling out to a universe of being. Joy and grief blended with so much at risk for the abalone and for us.

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The Abalone Are Dwindling

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The abalone are dwindling
In their rocky abodes
Along our coasts

It matters not that the
Maori and others
Understood their sacredness

With only dim sight
They sense their limitless world
Of kelp and water

Once they thrived
Breathing and mating through
Holes in their shells

Clamped down and
Holding tight was enough
As the tides found them

Now I grieve for the
Extraordinary beauty
They created never seeing it

The Goose Feather Sequence

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Spiraling down from
This fall sunset sky of geese
A lone tail feather

Dreaming here in my garden,
I sit watching a feather spin.
Warm light bathes the soft sweet moss
in welcome to this winsome sprite.
Bounding fast lest it escape her,
the clumsy cat misses it!

Held in her mouth like
A dagger, or a rose,
The goose feather trophy
Must smell strongly
Of potential prey
To my hungry cat –
She wants her dinner.

No need for any plucking
With feathers flying about,
Her poultry comes in cans
Extracted by turning
A gear and applying
A blade to cut the
Lid round ‘till it snaps.

I’ve been told, geese are the
Perfect prey for humans, when
That dire time comes with all
The secret factories abandoned
And we must revert to honesty
About the brutal sacrifice
Of those we prefer as food.

Music of the Spheres and Your Brain

Because I am taking a course on meditation and the brain, I have been thinking about how miraculous our continually changing human brains really are. I try to remind myself that even though we have names for parts of the complex brain, that does not mean we understand all that is going on. Could it … Continue reading “Music of the Spheres and Your Brain”

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Because I am taking a course on meditation and the brain, I have been thinking about how miraculous our continually changing human brains really are. I try to remind myself that even though we have names for parts of the complex brain, that does not mean we understand all that is going on.

Could it be that our brains are singing meaning along with the universe?

For example, articles make broad claims about the benefits of singing, and my experience would agree. But studies also make clear that a better understanding of specific aspects might lead to useful practical applications. I began to wonder about whether the rhythms and compositions I intuitively frame in my close-up photos make use of skills enhanced by neuronal connections formed during many years of singing. My ability to detect and relate to subtle nuances in tone of voice certainly grew over that time.

Recently while meditating, I had the feeling that the fact that everything is constantly changing is not just an annoyance. It seemed a fundamental building block of reality and, in fact, worthy of awe. I had the odd thought that when our sun consumes our planet, that transience will still be vitally “alive.” I found that oddly reassuring.

Toward the end of this talk on the brain, Keith Kendrick mentions that the time series of activity in the brain carries meaning, not just the structure or individual signals. This resonated with the musical quality that physicists seem to find at all scales including the probability waves at the heart of quantum theory.

Of all the problematic human undertakings, we can be proud of the music we make using our miraculous brains and bodies. As this article on modern physics and music describes: “Music resonates, it pulses, it leaps into our psyches. It offers a safe space for scientists and musicians alike to work through the paradoxes of modern physics.”

A Personal Garden Refuge

It takes many years to really get to know a garden so that you are in each other’s bones. I encouraged the moss that already liked to grow here. I added stepping stones and a tea hut. I watched for the new maple leaves, and took their portraits in the fall. Children jumped on the stepping stones. Raccoons drank from the water basin. The garden and I bless each other with mutual nurturance even as we continually change. Peace gathered and peace extended.

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Noticing Stones

It is the rare child who does not like stones. Some of us never stop picking them up. It is not just the stones but the process – the adventures involved in finding them and the friendships.

These evocative examples lined up above my monitor speak of the larger natural world, a quality that is much appreciated by the Asian scholar.

Viewing stones on shelf

A close looks provides access to amazing colors, details and dreams:

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When Once Is Enough

When I first came across a Morrisonite pendant, I could find very little written about the rare jasper, so I decided to write an article myself. Now photos and articles about the jasper and the site where it was mined are available online.

I bought a digital camera with super-macro capability and sought out opportunities to take photos of its incredibly diverse patterns and colors. Making friends with miners, lapidary artists and rock shop owners in the course of writing that article led to an invitation to visit the mine site, itself.

Of the seven of us on that adventure, two had mined the jasper, three had websites selling it, and one was the grandson of a rock shop owner who had known the discoverer of this spectacular stone. We took two four-wheel drive vehicles so as to have a back-up just in case. It would not do to get stuck in the desert highlands in the middle of nowhere in eastern Oregon.

On the way to the steep canyon side, we passed farms, fruit orchards, wild flowers in clumps, sage brush (nice fragrance), cattle, horses, antelope, a coyote, a hawk flying with a snake in its claws, jack rabbits, and grouse. Despite the relative dryness, the area is very fertile because of ample volcanic ash.

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The final dirt track was intentionally left rough to encourage folks to stay out. We drove very slowly jouncing over large rocks and ruts. Beyond the second switch back on the final approach, it was no longer possible to drive, so we got out and made our way down the steep track contending with loose pebbles and sand.

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While the others hiked down the steep canyon wall to the mine site, I stayed in the top area with a friend who had a bad shoulder. The weather was perfect. It was a very dreamy location to spend an afternoon largely in silence, exploring two abandoned miners’ cabins, watching the light shift on the canyon formations and looking to see if there might still be some Morrisonite left in situ that I could photograph (there was).

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I only visited the mine site that one time. However, looking at the jasper (raw unpolished specimen below), and my special relationships with those who share my passion for Morrisonite became treasured refuges.

Cropped science fiction rough

As for the mine site itself, sometimes being just once in a magical place can provide nurturance for an entire lifetime.

On the trail at M Mine 62010 This last photo by Linda Stephenson is a favorite of mine.