Love Letters

“Every day priests minutely examine the Dharma and endlessly chant complicated sutras.They should learn how to read the love letters sent by the wind and rain, the snow and moon.”
~~ Ikkyu

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An Owl’s Perfect Song

This moment of joy is an owl’s perfect song

Again and again each time the same

How does it know to sing just this way?

The thought like the owl can’t be caught and held

It drifts on its way but the joy remains.

An open heart leaves nothing outside

receives all yet holds none

so owls can sing and then fly away.

– Lisa Ernst

Partners in Crime

Yesterday afternoon I got word that a friend and long time Buddhist practitioner Rita Frizzell died of cancer. Rita and I were dharma friends, having first met as board members of the Nashville Buddhist Festival back in the early 2000’s. Rita was always ready to offer her time and talent, giving so much to establishing Buddhism in Nashville. She even designed One Dharma Nashville’s beautiful logo as a dharma gift. After many years affiliated with the Padmasambhava Buddhist Center, Rita broke away to begin her own sangha, Luminous Mind. She created a dedicated community of practitioners who met every Friday at her home. I know Rita’s sangha will deeply miss her guidance and love of the dharma.

 A couple of years ago, shortly before she was diagnosed with cancer, Rita and I met for lunch and shared notes about our sanghas, upcoming retreats and Buddhism in Nashville. As we parted, I’ll never forget the sly grin that came over her face as she said in a conspiratorial tone, “You and me, we’re partners in crime.” Thinking of that moment today brought tears to my eyes.

In Rita’s honor I decided to meditate at dusk. As I began my meditation, I reflected on her life and journey through cancer over the last 18 months. Just three weeks ago she was optimistic after getting some good news about her one of her tests, which gave hope that the cancer was diminishing. But it wasn’t to be; she had a sudden decline just two days before she died. Gone so fast, I thought as a tear trickled down my cheek. Where did she go? But the question dissolved into the sound of frogs singing and rain falling softly on the trees. Love, just like this.

Rita with her beloved rescue dog Stella

Rita with her beloved rescue dog Stella

Aching with Longing

This is a blog post from Gareth Young, a co-founder of Red Clay Sangha in Atlanta. His sangha, along with the Insight Meditation Community of Georgia hosted a Lovingkindess and Brahma Vihara retreat that I led March 2 – 5 in the North Georgia Mountains. Thanks to all who made this happen. Here’s Gareth’s post:

Aching with Longing

Today I finished a short meditation retreat led by Lisa Ernst from Nashville and co-hosted by the Red Clay Sangha and the Insight Meditation Group of Georgia: Zen-based and Vipassana traditions coming together for an interdenominational Buddhist retreat.  We had invited Lisa to lead the retreat using her own style of practice and she focused the retreat on metta.

Like most Buddhist teachings (for my mind this is actually an attribute of all legitimate Buddhist teachings) metta practice is a set of tools that can be used by anyone regardless of their faith tradition.  In simple terms it is is designed to cultivate loving kindness and compassion for self and other, and it centers upon repeating continuously a series of phrases such as:

May I/him/her/all beings be free from danger
May [I/they] have mental happiness
May [I/they] have physical happiness
May [I/they] have ease of well being.

It may sound banal, even silly, but it is extraordinary and it works – though it does require a lot of patience!  And by focusing on the self first it naturally allows one to deal with feelings of self-loathing, inadequacy, being unlovable and the like that are so common in our culture.  The premise, which I think is correct, is that only from a place of self-loving can one move into the world and unconditionally love the other.

The genesis of this blog post is not metta practice itself – though I commend it to you – but a beautiful poem by Tagore, a giant of Indian literature who I knew shamefully little about until I just read about him.  Lisa waited until this morning after our hearts had been opened up by a couple of days of metta practice before reading the poem to us and it blew the doors open for me.  It is a piece of pure beauty that hopefully will blow a tempting gust of air through your own doors, too:
On the day when the lotus bloomed, alas, my mind was straying, and I knew it not. My basket was empty and the flower remained unheeded.

Only now and again a sadness fell upon me, and I started up from my dream and felt a sweet trace of a strange smell in the south wind.

That vague fragrance made my heart ache with longing, and it seemed to me that it was the eager breath of the summer seeking for its completion.

I knew not then that it was so near, that it was mine, and this perfect sweetness had blossomed in the depth of my own heart.

To read more of Gareth’s blog, go here.