May 31, 2010

At Felsentor

I went by train, boat, and cable car from Zurich to Felsentor which sits on a shelf high above Lake Luzern. Since all the connections are timed, there is no waiting from one conveyance to the other, simply a reasonable time to go from one to the other and then it departs, almost always on time. Only something extraordinary would keep the trains behind schedule. It's Switzerland!

Lake Luzern has mountains than come straight down into the lake and in a fog they are mysterious and exotic with stone walls that shine with dampness and are alive with small waterfalls. The day I arrived the weather was fine, but afterward we dealt with either rain or fog and thunderstorms at varying times throughout the day and night. As it is quite slippery on the trails when it rains, at one point a rescue helicopter hovered about 30 feet from my room, looking down the ravine to see if there was someone who needed assistance. Many people need rescue at this still wet time of year.

The word "Felsentor" means stone gate and it comes from a Franciscan monk who lived on the mountain a few hundred years ago. When the hunters came in search of animals, the monk called the animals into the protection of the stones and away from the hunters. Legend has it that the stone developed into the shape of a monk. Indeed, it clearly looks like a monk and it is the gateway to the piece of land that sits out on the shelf where the residence is and where the Zendo is. The priest who developed the present place of practice is Vanya Palmers, a Transmitted priest of Kobun Chino Roshi. Vanya has also developed an animal shelter to save animals from the slaughterhouse.

There are seven residents who live full-time and work to maintain the facility for retreats. Two are administrators, one is a cook, one is full-time with the animals, and the others are works who garden, keep up with repairs and the myriad duties that are needed to keep such a place going. Access to Felsentor is either by a 15 minute hike from the cable train, or by the old vehicle that is used to transport food and supplies from the cable train. It's a rugged drive and not for the feint of heart.

I spent a quiet weekend sitting Zazen with the residents in the mornings and evenings, reading, sketching, taking photos, and just looking out at the mountains. My workshop had been cancelled and although it was difficult on Felsentor, I was thrilled to have the time to myself. I'd not been feeling so well and it was a chance to take the mountain air and just quiet down. I also enjoyed wonderful vegetarian food which we ate in the dining room that looks out onto the great vista. Even in cloud, it's breathtaking.

The Zendo was built in San Francisco and then transported to Switzerland. The only way to get it up the mountain was by helicopter where it was delivered piece by piece and then reassembled. Pricey, eh? I can't think of what it would take, but we might build our Olympia Zen Center several times over. But, it's a gem and a treasure on the Rigi Mountain and hikers stop to admire the beautiful Japanese architecture.

More later. I must get ready to take Esther, my granddaughter to her ballet lesson next door to the Opera House.

Memorial Day Poem 2010

The Cathedral in Bern

Every year on Memorial Day I post a poem
written by my brother, John Carney,
a Vietnam Vet.

Here is a new poem for this year.

(Memorial Day)
John Carney 5/29/2010

Who fully understands
The meaning of this day?
The parents, spouses, sons and daughters
Who waved them on their way?
Is it the comrades in their midst
Who saw them where they lay?
Many do not comprehend
And some may not even care
That the sacrifice that was made
Is a bond that others share.

And this is not a matter
It is not the important thing
As they laid down their lives
That only some then felt the sting.

What is important for us all to know
and to realize in some way
Is that the meaning of this time
Though passion only some display,

Is we are a country, we are a people
And this liberty we hold dear
Is kept alive by our willingness
To respond when threats appear.

It may be arguable or seem wrong
And with that make some outcry
Against the leaders and their acts
Have them explain their reasons why.

But do not let this day go by
Without some pause for thought
For the fallen and their loved ones
And their comrades who also fought.

As as a nation, as a people
And our actions in this world
We should recognize and honor
Today when the flag's unfurled.

It's one time we should all realize
It doesn't matter if you fully understand
But take some time to respect such cost!
They died in service of our great land!

May 23, 2010

Toronto Airport, Zurich and Bern

A few hours layover at the Toronto Airport and I run into a Richard Serra sculpture smack in the middle of the international section of the airport. It’s almost the same sculpture I saw with Rebecca at the Los Angeles County Museum a few years ago. It’s a miracle for parents because the kids waiting for flights can run off some steam as they race through the passageways making crazy sounds that echo off the panels. It’s a wonder the structure of such height can stand and not fall over. Thrilling to see in the midst of an airport.

But the trip was long although uneventful. When I arrived in Zurich it was late morning and the sun was brilliant and warm. What a relief to see weather leaning toward summer. Everyone was out, the city abuzz on a holiday weekend: Pentecost. The Swiss close down their shops for religious holidays as well as other secular holidays. So everything is closed Sunday and Monday. No food shopping, no other shopping. It's annoying if you've forgotten to buy things you'll need, but really nice to feel the city quieted and unhurried. I went out with the kids to the park the day I arrived and fought through to evening before giving in to sleep. I hadn't slept at all on the plane except for a few hours of lucid dreaming. I finally gave in after dinner and slept through to morning.

Sunday was another brilliant day. I went out with the grandkids, Julian and Esther in the morning to see how many trams we could ride in one hour and then be back to get ready to go to Bern, the Swiss capital, for the afternoon. We only managed four trams as the ice cream shop we'd planned to go to was closed so we had to substitute for an ice pop at the main tram station and then we walked along the lake a ways. When we arrived back home, Nicolas and the kids and I got ready for the train ride to Bern, one hour from Zurich.

The Swiss trains have family cars with playground equipment in the middle of the car. Parents sit on either end of the play area and relax while kids get their exercise. Quite pleasant. We ate a picnic lunch on the train and arrived happily in Bern to meet Nicolas' sister Franzisca who is Esther's godmother. The plan was to leave Esther with the godparents for a special godparent outing. Esther's godfather, Martin a Swiss national who lives in Santa Monica was visiting and they all planned to meet at the Zoo. All very complicated.

Meantime, Nicolas, Julian and I went to the cathedral

and climbed high into the bell tower with a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. The Alps were still a bit misty and I couldn't capture the view with my camera. Nevertheless, the rooftops gave a fine view and we could see the Eiger and Jungfrau which are fairly close to Bern. Afterward, we took a bus out to the zoo and met the group at a restaurant next to the park. Lovely time together. Then we were back at the station for a 5 p.m. train back to Zurich. In no time at all we were home and having dinner together with the weather still warm and summer like.

So, I'm in Zurich, the kids have no school Monday and the plan is to go to the Zurich zoo with just the kids and I hopping on and off trams along the way. James Joyce's gravesite is up near the zoo so I may drag the kids into the cemetery on the way. Nicolas is going into the office, Ellen is going into her studio to work. She is producing some very gorgeous new photographs which I'll get permission to preview here although she's fussy about letting things out before they are ready. At the moment I'm still in jet lag and up at 4:30 a.m. But I'm not so tired as I slept deeply and long the first night. I'm definitely improved from the mean flu that hit before I left Olympia. Things are looking up. It's a good change to be away.

May 05, 2010

Containing Contamination

Oil seepage in the Gulf of Mexico is disturbing to say the least. Earth and humanity seem besieged with calamities far larger than we can easily contain. I'm afraid to list them in case I should leave out something so immense because I can't hold them all in my mind. Haiti, Chile, China, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Iceland, New Orleans, the Gulf, Indonesia, India. All these are recent occasions of natural and human influenced disasters.

I've always felt that the earth was a mirror of my own body. The rivers and oceans are the blood stream, the stoney mountains are the skeleton, the trees and bushes are the hairy covering of the skin. When I look across the lake and think, oh that is my body, I also feel like a Lilliputian with a puny brain in relation to the size of my body, the earth. And that, of course, is the case. There's a relatively small brain engineering the human entanglements of steel towers on and off shore however remarkable the designs. We aren't exactly sure of how to solve the problems of contamination when destruction occurs. Whatever we build is destined to collapse and decay, but it's usually not in our scope when we first assemble the ladders and rigs.

Recently I saw a 4 minute YouTube film about the Hubble space telescope and the Ultra Deep Field. (See and "Hubble Ultra Deep Field 3D.) The Hubble, for ten days, was pointed into a tiny dark spot in the sky about the size of a grain of sand. The attempt was to find out if it was only dark space or if anything was out there. The camera revealed an unbelievable world of galaxies about 13 billion light years away. They did it again a few years later in another dark spot near the constellation Orion. This discovery is known as the Ultra Deep Field with yet thousands and thousands more galaxies. There are over 100 billion galaxies in space. This is nearly impossible to comprehend but if we look into the sky and realize the galaxies go on forever, we can see how miniscule we are in relation to the field of phenomenon.

What I'm getting at is to say that we know so little. Nature is ultimately more powerful and yet the contamination is taking its toll. It gets harder and harder for nature to respond in a healthy way. Scotland, for instance, used to be all forest. If we beat down the trees enough, they will disappear, at least for a certain time. Where I live in the State of Washington, we are slowly and surely depleting our canopy. People come from other places for the first time where there have been few trees and they are astounded at the abundance of green. However, Olympia is half what it was 25 years ago. Every day, something conspires to contaminate.

So, all this to ask, if the earth is the mirror of my body (and yours) how am I participating in the contamination? Our arteries are clogged and so are the rivers and oceans. It does begin with my own thinking, and then proceeding with those thoughts in action. The Buddha says we are what we think. Almost anyone would admit there is an awful lot of contamination in the mind. Much of the way of thinking is habitual, just like needing to drive a car. We get set in our patterns and have a heck of a time trying to change, often because it's inconvenient. But, what can we hope for if we cannot have custody of our own habitual patterns that contaminate the space around us. We (in America especially) have got to take charge of this. We have got to come to our senses and wake up.

This tiny, miniscule spot in space where I stand influences all other space. This breath that does not belong to me must enter and then leave with the same pure quality of intention. I must allow this body and mind to be influenced by it. It is Wisdom itself at work in the body of existence, in the expression of the Buddha. Let me contribute to the healing in the Gulf by being responsible for my own correct thinking and action in the world. Let me contain my own contaminating flow. This is what we work on every day, every moment, in every activity. It is called practice, and every morning Zazen is the best way to begin.