February 28, 2010

View from Berkeley

Here's a panoramic view of last evening's sunset from the Berkeley hills. We've had several spectacular storms with high winds and driving rains. Very exciting from this vantage point with the eucalyptus trees visible in the photos. These photos don't pick up the distant details of downtown San Francisco skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island, but they are surely out there. On another very clear day I'll try to capture them. Today began with a heavy cloud cover below although we're far enough up the mountain that directly overhead, the sky is clear.

We're working on getting things somewhat regulated each day between Rob's needs, Linda's, and hospice. It takes a village, we know this. But things have been harmonious in this small house which feels spacious because of the vista everywhere. You've only to look out the window and you feel enormous breadth. Being able to look to the horizon is luxurious for me coming from a place in Olympia where the trees surround our land and the sky is obscured by large stands of big leaf maples and cedar that have grown considerably since we first landed in that settlement.

My daughter Laureen and I went out to lunch yesterday in downtown Berkeley. After a night of heavy rains, the skies had cleared and the beautiful weather brought everyone out. At the noon hour, Shattuck Avenue is dotted with small groups of people standing outside restaurants waiting for tables. The restaurant we chose is a busy and thriving somewhat French restaurant La Note. I say somewhat French because no one in the restaurant is French or speaks French, only the menu leans toward the language. Les Oeufs and l'omelette that we ate looked very American on the plate although they were delicious.

While waiting for a table, we fortunately had a buzzer from La Note and were able to hang out at Pegasus Bookstore next door, one of the few remaining independent new and used bookstores left in the area. We browsed the art books and bought two unusual books on Cezanne, Laureen's favorite painter. As Laureen has two empty canvases sitting in her apartment just waiting for paint, we got these books for a little inspiration and study before she sketches in an idea. Nice time together and lovely to be with my daughter.

It always amazes me, the difference between outside any house and walking through the portal of any house anywhere, and the amount of life, challenge, and difficulty it contains. The houses look innocent and beautiful sitting on the steep hills, and as you drive past them you imagine yourself living here or there untouched by the reality of change. We passed Isadora Duncan's house, just down the road from Rob's, a gorgeous place Duncan had built long ago, looking stately and prosperous in its design. But the outside views belie what is actually happening within these homes. And I certainly felt this as I left Laureen's car, waved to her headed down the mountain having together admired the various architectures, and walked the few steps to the doorway, opening into the challenge of life and the activity and intensity of illness and pain management.

So, we go forward this Sunday, quietly and easily after a few challenges. No visitors today at all. This is quite welcome to be uninterruped from simple daily life and being here.

February 21, 2010

April or February?

It's unheard of for us to see this much sun in the month of February. Daffodils are about to pop. Weeds are beginning to carpet the garden. Frogs are out at night and the blessed croaking floats across the lake with a reassuring song. No matter what a mess we've made of things in this weary world, nature continues, spring comes...and, our practice continues.

What a remarkable day we had on Saturday at our retreat. The weather was healing, but the ease and cohesion of practice was heartwarming. Everyone in tune, easy in practice, glad to be there, and grateful for the gift of Zazen. It's encouraging to see a fine mixture of young and old, newcomers and seasoned practitioners together in retreat. How easily we moved from one point of practice to another. And today, the day after, the land is settled and swept, the atmosphere quiet, present.

Josepha Vermote, our visitor from Belgium and Holland will be leaving soon to relocate to Costa Rica. She has found a lovely home to lease in the mountains above San Jose, and who could not understand her choice to find a warm, sunny, paradisal climate in a happy culture. Along wi
th the house, she's been offered workspace in an outbuilding for reconnecting with her love of ceramics, and she looks forward to practice with clay in her daily life there. She'll be about an hour from the Zen center affiliated with Rochester Zen Center in New York and will keep connection to practice with that Sangha. Josepha has been most generous in the time she has given to transcribing my Dharma talks so that we could post them on the website. I'm very grateful to her for that effort as she is the first to undertake this generous volunteer work in all these years. I have numerous talks to edit and will catch up with the editing in the coming weeks while I'm in Berkeley.

Yes, the coming weeks. I'll be in Berkeley with Rob and Linda as Rob sees his first week in hospice. We should have some time for good conversation and deep laughter which inevitably happens when we are all together. Many people will be visiting, so I'll be there in support of the daily activities and events, giving some respite to Linda too. I'll arrive on Rob's 60th birthday, on the 25th, and we'll have a party, I presume. I'll post some photos of the scenery from their deck to give you a picture of the incredible view they have of the whole Bay Area. I'm excited to see a few sunsets, as I almost never see them in Olympia. Trees, trees, trees.

For the moment, this brief blog as I'd like to take time to edit a talk that Josepha finished yesterday which was prompted by my visit with Rob and Linda and the talk is on Non-Attachment and Acceptance, two practices we undertake in Zen life. I'll post in on the website and perhaps put some of it here. We'll see.

Bows to you all with gratitude for the good thought and prayer you are sending Rob's way; with gratitude for the purity and strength of practice demonstrated at this time.

February 15, 2010

While in California

My dear friend Rob Weinberg and one of our benefactors of Olympia Zen Center is in the process of being received into hospice in Oakland/Berkeley, California. In this choice, he felt deeply empowered and looked forward to some days of joyful living with his wife Linda from their new home in the Berkeley hills. The lookout from their deck to the west across the Bay to San Francisco and the coastal range is awesome.

I want to let everyone know about the portal website on climate change that Rob worked on and made truly useful with his friend Jim Callahan. The website is used by about 70,000 people every month. Millions have accessed it since it has been available. The address is:


The site was created by Jim and with the collaboration of Rob's masterful insight, range of imagination, technical knowhow, was developed into a teaching tool for primary and secondary teachers as a resource on global warming and climate change. The site is also important for a lay person too, for parents, children, scientists, anyone who wants to know anything and everything with up to date and reliable information and sources. It has become THE single source for information on global warming and climate change with information on countries around the world.

Rob's master's thesis at Berkeley was in the area of ecology and education. He joined the department of ecology in technical support after graduation and has been an important part of the team in the UCB department.

I spent most of the week in the hospital with Rob and Linda. The Kaiser Oakland facility is a beehive of activity. It's unimaginable how they track the number of patients and their treatments. At the same time with all the tension, the people, the staff, are most caring and considerate. They work under tremendous stress and yet they truly focus on the moment. Great nurses, docs, caregivers, support staff.

Rob was post surgery and quite weak. He did get up for short walks as the week went on and his humor returned as he took his life in hand and made preparations for hospice. He'll go home in a few days with full support of the hospice team and his family and friends. Please email me if you want to send a card and I'll give you his address. Even if you haven't met Rob personally, if you access the website he worked on you have to be grateful for what he provided in education. People from Olympia Zen Center can send a word of gratitude for his support at our founding and then his loyal support over the years. He loves to get cards. Please keep him in good thought and in your prayer. My email: eidosan@olympiazencenter.org

February 08, 2010

We Just Never Know

So I'm on my way to the Bay Area in the morning to see a dear long-time friend, a very early Dharma brother from the days of Haiku Zendo and Kobun Roshi. Without much warning, without many symptoms he has a terminal diagnosis. We're all in shock as this robust man is suddenly given news that his time is limited. He's just around 60 years old. Two weeks ago he was out hiking with his wife and my eldest daughter in the East Bay hills and no one suspected there would be such an abrupt change in everyone's life.

Such news makes the world more beautiful than ever. Last Monday, June, a Zen practitioner and I were out cleaning up the plum tree before it was too advanced in its blossoming. The buds had already started and we hadn't much time to cut some branches without injuring the year's fruit yield. I clipped off numerous small branches for flower arrangements. They represented the transition from winter to spring, the tiny buds just barely articulated on the thin spikes. Then lo and behold, I went into the zendo tonight and beautiful, tender, white blossoms are shimmering on the altar. The world looks more beautiful than ever.

It's easy to talk about impermanence, to say we're merely temporary visitors here, but mostly we know it without a true realization until we or someone close to us faces the reality. We've known about it all along but then the news comes as a shock. Truly, the shock is that we'll be separated, the person won't be here and it makes everything change. The biggest shock of someone dying, at least to me, is that we are cut off from language. We can imagine the person, we can remember their faces, even the sound of the voice, or the smell of them, but we can't sit down together and talk, can't clear up any mysteries, can't inquire or share thoughts. We can only imagine what they might think of something, imagine their response. The loss of language is what startles me. It feels as if they've disappeared. I wonder where they go?

From the standpoint of my own self dying, I don't think I go anywhere, I just think I finish. It's just over. When I die, I won't know I'm dead. What makes us think we will know when we are dead? Dead is being dead. I'm pretty fine with my own death. It's other peoples' going that I find so strange. I am left behind still living when someone else is not. But, no doubt I will take my turn and death will come in its time and place.

Meantime, the world looks more beautiful than ever. The going of someone close makes it precious.

February 04, 2010


Those of you who have read and studied, PRIVILEGE, POWER, AND DIFFERENCE by Allan G. Johnson have already become a fan of this remarkable teacher and educator. Now, his first novel has been published and he has forwarded an email with this information which I copy here. I encourage us all to buy the novel, read it and have some discussion as a follow up to our recent study of PRIVILEGE, POWER, AND DIFFERENCE. Congratulations to Allan on this publication and with gratitude for the courage of his work. I'm headed off to the bookstore now!!
For more on his work, visit his website at www.agjohnson.us

The First Thing

and the Last

A Novel by

Allan G. Johnson

"This beautiful, brave, and liberating book is a triumph of the spirit. Engrossing and exquisitely written, it shines with rare courage and a tender, life-saving wisdom that comes only through facing the darkness we suffer or inflict on others. It is a marvelous story whose characters I am glad to have in my life."

Joanna Macy, Author, World as Lover, World as Self

“Allan Johnson's illumination of the mind of a woman recovering from horrific abuse and loss is miraculous, carried by a story that is both gripping and inspiring. It is a stunning achievement."

Jean Kilbourne, Creator of the award-winning film series, Killing Us Softly

"Allan Johnson's writing is moving, insightful, and deeply human. He takes us inside painful lives with courageous truth-telling, yet at the same time takes us inside of characters who can heal and thrive. This is a novel that rings true, and that we need urgently to take into our hearts."

Lundy Bancroft, Author of Why Does He Do That?

The First Thing and the Last portrays an extraordinary woman who is brutalized – but the abuse becomes her sorrow and not her identity in Allan Johnson's complex, masterful, and exacting understanding of such a woman's life. His ability and willingness to see so deeply, to portray a woman and her story so profoundly, takes our breath away. Welcome this extraordinary and most original novelist to the ranks of American literature.

Deena Metzger, Author of Writing For Your Life and The Other Hand

In the middle of a horrific night, Katherine Stuart barely escapes being murdered by her abusive husband in the kitchen of their suburban Boston home. In the aftermath of utter loss and devastation, Katherine is sought out by Lucy Dudley, an elderly woman living on a family farm in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, who reads about Katherine in the news and is drawn to her by a closely guarded history of her own. Katherine, unable to bear the accusing eyes of her family, accepts Lucy's invitation to come to Vermont, setting in motion a deepening relationship between the two women that frames a universal struggle to heal and reclaim what severe trauma takes from people's lives.

Over a period of nine years, The First Thing and the Last was rejected sixty times by commercial publishers, many of whom were unwilling to publish a novel about domestic violence, no matter how compelling the story or how well it was told. Three editors were turned down by their editorial boards because of concerns about how to make a commercial success of a novel that realistically portrays domestic violence. One editor was overruled by her publisher who declared that he didn’t know why a woman would stay with a man who beat her up. Another editor, after being turned down by the board, wrote, “I genuinely hope you find someone brave enough to take this on.” Which turned out to be the independent literary publisher, Plain View Press.

The First Thing and the Last was featured in the January 25, 2010 Publishers Weekly semi-annual issue highlighting notable first works of fiction.

Allan G. Johnson has worked on issues of social justice since receiving his Ph.D. in sociology in 1972. His work on men’s violence against women began in 1977 as a Rape Crisis Service volunteer. He has authored research, testified before legislative committees, consulted with national and state organizations, and served on the board of the Connecticut Coalition against Domestic Violence. His nonfiction books include The Gender Knot and Privilege, Power, and Difference. He is a nationally known speaker on issues of race and gender, including violence against women.

For more on his work, visit his website at www.agjohnson.us