Monday, June 20, 2022

What Is "Real" and What Is "Magic"?



Early yesterday morning, I went down to the spring where I make offerings to the naga on the days when nagas are supposed to be active, according to the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual tradition that I follow.

I was greeted by a hawk upon my arrival. S/he appeared to be hunting squirrels in the woods next to the parking lot. I always feel uplifted when I see a hawk because my mother's maiden name was "Faulkner" so there must have been a falconer in my ancestry way back when.



The spring where I make the offering has been browned out by high river water for a long time. We had a lot of rain last year and the nearby rivers all reached various flood stage levels. I was happy to see that the spring had cleared up, so I could wade into the water to pour the offering. I don't like going into brown water where I can't see what's around me because I've seen snakes swimming in that spring and I know they're there.

I hadn't been able to see the actual boil of the spring for many months, the spot where water bubbles up out of its limestone vent. The boil was visible yesterday and after I made the offering to the naga, it seemed like the spring sent out a really strong ripple in my direction. I imagined that the naga might have been coming out to receive its gift. Some people can see nagas, but I'm not one of them. I take their existence on faith, because I trust my Buddhist teachers and they've told me that these half-humanlike, half-snakelike creatures often guard treasures that can be hidden in sacred springs and trees.

After I left the water, I wandered around the edge of the spring and took some photos. When I got home and had a chance to look closely at those pictures, I could see that the play of light from the rising sun had etched shapes on top of the water in the spring. Some of the shapes appeared to me to evoke the energies of Kuan Yin or Tara. Others looked like dancing dakinis or nagas. One reminded me of Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa. Another one reminded me of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), who--as legend and/or history (take your pick!) have it--tamed the wild spirits of Tibet and helped to solidify Buddhism as that country's predominant religion.

This wasn't the first time I've seen what I interpreted as "a being" in the water; see the photo at the top of this blog entry!

So although I *KNOW* that the shapes in my photos from yesterday were simply lights on the water at the spring, that doesn't take away their magic. There's a part of me that resonates strongly with this magic of the natural world that surrounds us; I understand why indigenous cultures and other cultures have viewed our world as alive and imbued with magical energies--because it is!

In my mind, at least, science and magic coexist peacefully. The interplay of the two--these questions about "What is real?" and "What is magic?"--lie, for me, at the heart of the wonder of this world.

I hope you enjoy my interpretations of what my camera captured, below.

First, Kuan Yin appeared (look at the light on the water just to the right of the center of the photo).



Then I saw the Kuan Yin shape as Tara, a bodhisattva in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.




This next shape evoked His Holiness Karmapa.


And here is Guru Rinpoche!


There were several photos that had lights dancing on the water, like dakinis; I think of the squiggly lights as evocations of the naga spirits.




And so I wonder:  If we see figures or objects in nature, are the images we project upon such things culturally conditioned, or could they have another source, perhaps past-life connections in our mindstreams? The anthropologist Marlene Dobkin de Rios surmised that the visions people experienced while taking hallucinogenic drugs were culturally conditioned. I wasn't on drugs at the springs--I haven't taken any hallucinogens in many years--but I would surmise that other types of visions could also be culturally conditioned, and I've certainly had enough exposure to Buddhist iconography and beliefs that I can't discount that "cultural conditioning" for the shapes my mind imposed upon these lights on the water.

The real lesson here (if there is one), I think, is that we humans are hard-wired to interact with Mother Nature who surrounds us. How that interaction takes place depends upon many things, but our spiritual orientations and beliefs are a big part of that--of how we relate to what Karmapa calls "the container" within which we are "the contained." 

Is the natural world a "real" commodity to be exploited for profit? Or is it a "magic" or even sacred connection that's essential to life? Or something in-between? Or something else entirely? 

For the Tibetan Buddhists with whom I study, water is Mamaki, one of the five female Buddhas (image by Eleanor Mannikka).


How does your spiritual tradition view water?



Saturday, December 4, 2021

The Ghosts of Dudley Farm



How do we measure progress? It depends upon who we are.

The capitalist measures progress in cement and steel, the return on investment, the expansion of the fractured skyline of the metropolis.

The bureaucrat measures progress in budget allocations, increasing efficiency and effectiveness, widespread acceptance of and conformity to organizational rules.

The farmer and the green witch measure progress in the health of crops and livestock, the cycles of growth and harvest and decay that mark the shifting cycle of the changing light.

I measure progress in the growth of spirit, development of clear vision, reclaiming the primordial knowledge that there is more to the world than meets the literal eye.

 *** 

People are hungry for the psychic, not the fake-psychic telephone lines but the real psychic dimensions of spirit--which we have relegated to the realm of the psychological and psychosocial shadow.

I saw this hunger at a friend’s fourteenth birthday.

Ten girls--a group that ran the gamut from the very shy to the boy crazy to the troubled teen to the extraordinarily well adjusted--practically stormed the kitchen table where I sat in semi-darkness, flanked by a crystal ball and an assortment of lit candles, shuffling a deck of Tarot cards.

We played a Tarot game, and I taught the girls a smidgen of the ancient symbolism--pentacles for craft and wealth, swords for conflict and intellect, rods for country life and new beginnings, cups for love and intuition--and then I did a reading for each girl.

I sat for nearly four hours, from nine in the evening until after one in the morning.

“How’s the line in there?” the girls would call from the next room, wondering if their turns were getting near.

The most popular question was, “Will I have a boyfriend this year?”

One girl asked how she could improve her relationship with her father. Another asked how she could become a better person.

The readings were wildly divergent. Some were troubling, some were reassuring, others revealed the normal teenage turmoil of fourteen-going-on-fifteen-and-waiting-for-my-license-to-drive-and-permission-to-date.

*** 

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to Dudley Farm. 

I come to the Tarot after years of interest and loving the images, but with very little real, practical reading time. The experience of reading for nearly four hours straight for a group of fourteen-year-olds was both exhilarating and exhausting.

When I’m weary, I always seek solitude in the countryside. So, the week after the Tarot party, I found myself at Dudley Farm twice in the same week. The farm is a home for my soul.

*** 

I could tell the story of the farm--how P.B.H. Dudley moved to the land near Newberry in western Alachua County before the Civil War, how his descendants farmed that land until the mid-1990s, how Miss Myrtle Dudley honored her mother’s wish to keep the farm intact by donating the homestead to the Florida Park Service so the land could be preserved as a working farm, how the Park Service dragged its heels with plans for the property until Miss Myrtle died and the bureaucrats suddenly realized that the farm was a potential cash cow.

But there is a level at which the farm must tell its own story to each visitor, must speak in the language of soil and sunlight, full moon and shadow, falling leaves and rain, legend and ghost story.

*** 

It is not hard to imagine ghosts at Dudley Farm--indeed, it is hard not to imagine them, here on the land where generations of Dudleys lived and loved and died--especially when time stands still on late October afternoons and the setting sun pours gold-orange shafts of light through the tree-lined lane in front of the old farmhouse.

In the early 1900s, it was down this lane that cattle were driven to market. It was down this lane that families arrived from nearby areas to shop or post letters at the farm, the community center for the area that we know today as Jonesville. 

And it was down this lane, one clear moonlit autumn night, that four ghosts came riding. 

*** 

Here is how the last Dudley to live on the farm, Miss Myrtle, described the haunting. 

She was a little girl at the time, and the front porch of the farmhouse was filled with people--probably relaxing and telling stories after supper and a hard day’s work--when the sounds of voices and horses’ hooves were heard coming down the lane. 

Four riders approached the front gate. Myrtle’s Uncle George stood up and went to the gate to meet the visitors, as was the country custom. 

But as little Myrtle and the whole porch full of people watched, all the riders simply dissolved into the clear night air. Disappeared. Vanished. In plain sight of everyone there. 

“It wasn’t just one or two people who saw it,” Miss Myrtle said. “The whole front porch was full. There wasn’t much sleeping going on here that night, after that experience.”

Then, almost as an afterthought, Miss Myrtle described another apparition who was often seen in the lane--a woman in a blue dress, walking, who vanished when anyone tried to approach her.

“They never did understand it,” said Miss Myrtle. 

*** 

But maybe it’s not so hard to understand, when you know that “Dudley” comes from an Old English word that means “place of the dead.” And when you know that it was to Dudley Farm that neighbors brought their dead to be prepared for burial. 

And especially when you know the farm on a cool October twilight, when scudding clouds blow past the waxing autumn moon. Then you can revel in the chill, feel the veil that separates the worlds of the living and the dead begin to part, and--out of the corner of your eye--maybe even see the ghosts of the past dancing in the air or moving across the land that the Dudleys farmed for more than a century.

*** 

I took a friend with me to the farm that week, a woman who is gifted with clear vision and so can see between the worlds. I told her about the riders at the gate and the woman in the lane, and how I worry that air pollution and modern life may wreak havoc on the old wooden buildings. 

I reminded her that I had asked her advice about preserving the farm once before, and that she had told me the only thing that could stop the destruction was an old person sitting on a front porch in a rocking chair.

“Look,” my friend said, pointing to the four rockers on the front porch of the farmhouse. “Look. All the chairs are moving.”

I looked. She was right. Each chair was rocking, ever so slightly, back and forth, back and forth.

There was no breeze. The chairs were empty. 

*** 

We are, all of us, hungry for the psychic. We have banished this dimension of our spirits to the nether worlds of illusion, television and motion pictures, repressed dreams of the soul that longs for contact with something larger than itself--something not split apart.

So now we rock on our porches and tell ghost stories in the twilight, whisper our visions in the dark, and begin, ever so slowly, to speak the truths that we have known, all along, but have been pressured by the idea of “progress” into forgetting.

***

And up the tree-shaded lane, four riders are approaching.

And up the tree-shaded lane, a woman in a blue dress is walking in the afternoon light.



(c) 1998 aww
Part of this appeared a number of years ago in an article in The Gainesville Sun. 




Friday, November 19, 2021

Once Upon a Time



Once upon a time there was a civilization that considered itself "advanced."

The people of that time were given priceless gifts by Mother Nature--clean oceans, fertile estuaries, and pure freshwater springs that sparkled like diamonds in the sunlight.

The people of that time were also given priceless tidbits of wisdom in old sayings, stories and scriptures that were passed down through generations:

  • A myth about another advanced civilization that had destroyed itself.
  • A scripture about the dangers of worshiping a golden calf (material wealth).
  • A cautionary tale about not shitting where you eat or drink.

And what do you think happened?







Kali Yuga (A Snippet)

The lie becomes truth
Up becomes down
The bold inherit the earth

Poles shift
Weather changes

We rearrange
Our lives

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Today in Florida, I Will Attain Enlightenment (a Vow)

 




today
to benefit the manatee
I will attain enlightenment

today
to benefit the gopher tortoise
I will attain enlightenment

today
to benefit the panther
I will attain enlightenment

today
to benefit the scrub jay
I will attain enlightenment

today
to benefit the indigo snake
I will attain enlightenment

today
to benefit the key deer
I will attain enlightenment

today
to benefit the bonneted bat
I will attain enlightenment

today
to benefit the Miami blue butterfly
I will attain enlightenment

today
to benefit many tiny mice
I will attain enlightenment

today
to benefit the sea turtles
I will attain enlightenment

today
to benefit the sturgeon
I will attain enlightenment

today
to benefit the pigtoe mussels
I will attain enlightenment

today
to benefit the wood storks and roseate spoonbills
I will attain enlightenment

today
to benefit the American crocodile
I will attain enlightenment

today
to benefit all sentient beings
I will attain enlightenment



a word witch
11-10-2021

Saturday, August 7, 2021

sliding into this dark abyss

 


climate change
global pandemic
sixth extinction

    I'm washing lettuce
    at the kitchen sink

Gulf Stream collapsing
ice caps melting
wildfires burning

    beautyberries turning purple
    outside the dining room window

science deniers
conspiracy theorists
angry coup organizers

    fox squirrels in the field
    deer feeding near the fence

    autumn light approaches


(c) lfm, 8/7/2021

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Two Poems on the Parinirvana of My Buddhist Teacher/For Bardor Tulku Rinpoche

 




not apart, yet
not together

how to explain
this grief, this joy?

an orphan, with
mind full of jewels

I step into the world and
try to shine

**

year to year
month to month
week to week
day to day
hour to hour
minute to minute
breath to breath
everything changes

4-3-2021 and 4/28/2021