> jumping into life.




There is a secret heart that breaks inside of me. Today is sunny and clear again, with the clink clink of construction down the road, a breeze still cool through the yellowing treetops. He has sent me special tea, and I drink it slow as I can. The sound of children's voices drifts down from the school nearby. Chocolate melting on the tongue. My heart breaking quietly, secretly. I try to catch my breath, to slow it down enough to follow, try to wrap my mind around it and nothing else, but he nudges softly the back of my neck. No use being anywhere but here when here is where I am. But the heart has already turned her head, her eyes are back on the horizon, longing. She dreams of mittens and barnyard steam, and of his eyes in the morning once again. A letter comes from Tassajara, and the bodhisattvas will keep hitting the high pretty notes, the bluegrass ones, the ones that make my bones turn to clear cold water, and this morning I sit half-lotus for the first time. The brakes whine on the bus grinding to a stop, and the lady in the hat getting off turns her face up to the sun sliding its way into winter, and for just one moment out of the full-day sitting on Saturday I was awake.


The man I love is not a man of poetry. He has a native eloquence, no doubt, but it is not poetry. If poetry is a cathedral, he speaks in gardens. If poetry is a garden, he speaks in trees.

This used to bother me. I've loved many a poet, and after all, who doesn't want a sonnet composed in her honor? It used to bother me because it felt like somehow I'd suddenly ceased being worthy of poetry. It made me hesistant to write poetry for him; eventually made me hesitant to write poetry at all.

The man I love is not a man of poetry; he is a man of deep tenderness and compassion, a man full of romanticism and silliness, a man of unbending integrity. It used to bother me that he would not bend that integrity for me. I was used to pushing the men I loved and used to them flexing to accommodate. I thought that meant they loved me; I thought I was suddenly no longer worthy of that kind of love.

What a thing to discover that he could stand up straight and that I could meet him there. What a thing to discover that his particular and straightforward speech lets him say what he means, and that he will in fact say it. That he remains always himself, and that by refusing to compromise that self he honors rather than undermines our love. And that he will accept my poetry with a smile. As he accepts me.


My roommate has a list beside her bed of things that make her happy (or, maybe more accurately, things that support her mental and physical health). They include running, zazen, tea, and dental floss. I've been thinking of what would be included on such a list for myself. I think the core of it is, unhierarchically:

Enough sleep. Enough water. Fresh fruit. Zazen. Hiking. (Which may be the same thing as zazen, really. I haven't quite figured that out yet.) Writing. Creating-things-of-some-kind (knitting is currently filling this space). Poetry (reading and writing). Reading, in general. Music. My toothbrush.

Also, I am compiling a list of things I want to do while I'm in San Francisco:

Visit the Golden Gate Park (on the schedule for today). See a play (maybe an opera). Visit museums. See some live music. Go kayaking. Summit Diablo.

Any suggestions for the second list would be welcome.


Leaving the office for lunch today, I ran back inside to grab my sunglasses. Last time I was at the optometrist, as I explained, I was roundly scolded for not wearing them. Light blue eyes plus a family history of eye disease means I'm at risk. Since I've been in the city, I wear my sunglasses almost every day.

At Tassajara, I didn't wear them. I wore a hat often, but never sunglasses. Nobody wore sunglasses; with very few exceptions, you could tell who was a guest by who had sunglasses on. I think it was because they create a barrier between you and the world: if I am wearing sunglasses, you cannot meet my eyes. You cannot follow my gaze. At Tassajara, there was so much focus on and support of emotional honesty and intimacy that wearing sunglasses seemed vaguely rude. Like wearing shoes in the zendo, it was a sign of disrespect.

In the city, I wear my sunglasses almost every day. If I am wearing sunglasses, you cannot meet my eyes. You cannot follow my gaze. I wear my headphones almost every day. If I am wearing headphones, I cannot hear you calling, begging, screaming. They are a barrier between me and the world. A deliberate, and false, barrier.

I overtly do not want to create barriers between me and the world. And yet I am afraid of the world these days, unsure of my place in it, unsure of how to function in a place where people sleep on the street and ask me for change and scream obscenities to the empty air. It is naive, I know it: of course this is the world. But I have been shelterred from it for so long, have sheltered myself deliberately. What would it be like to walk down the street without fear, without anomie, without throwing up barriers and closing myself in? I can do it at Tassajara. I do not know how to do it in the city, where feeling sexy means feeling vulnerable and being dressed for the office feels like becoming a walking representation of privilege. This is the peace I have not made with the city; it it a peace within myself.

Time to sit.


If I ever got up every morning so regularly over such a period of time, I wasn't paying attention. This summer, the wake-up bell came by at 5:30 sharp every morning, and every morning I stumbled out of bed and up the path to the zendo, where we congregated like silent ghosts around the coffee machine until the han hit the first rolldown. In early May, when I arrived, there was light enough to clearly identify your mug by the masking-tape name written on it. At our solstice ceremony, at six-thirty the sun had cleared the hills and was busy heating up the valley. By August, the wake-up bell ran with a flashlight and the stars were brighter than I'd ever seen. Sometimes the moon shining over the pre-dawn darkness was bright enough to see by.

I watched the sunrise from the roof last weekend: it didn't get through the fogbank until seven thirty or so. This morning the light ran liquid orange down the sides of the buildings as we swept the sidewalk out front. The air was cold and smelled like rain, even though now there is nothing but blue sky and haze. A passing man smirked strangely and said, "What does Buddha do? Buddha sweeps!" Of course Buddha sweeps, I wanted to tell him, but he had already turned the corner. If Buddha's got anything to do in this world, it's clean up.


Grey sky finally to counter a week of blue. I know that one should be grateful for blue sky in San Francisco, but all I want is a good rain. I haven't seen rain in months and months; I can't remember the last real rain and I want it. Not the little misty droplets we got here last week, lovely though they were. I want rain, I want a rainstorm, I want thunder and big wind and the vague, thrilling fear that maybe this time it'll wash us all away.

It is harvest time. Most of our produce is coming from Green Gulch these days: piles of perfect apples, pumpkin stew, potatoes in gold and red and purple, salads full of every green a body could think of. I miss cooking, but we are well-fed here, and there is more good food nearby than can be reasonably consumed in a lifetime. Where else but San Francisco could you go to a sushi restaraunt that's playing Minor Threat - that is, until the mariachis come in, and they turn down the music and give you maracas. And the sushi chefs take another shot of sake and sing along.

Today I'm hiking Diablo with Chris, and maybe maybe maybe it'll rain.


These days I feel imperfectly balanced between steadfast awe - look at the trees outside my window! look at architecture! look at this functioning community! look at the warblers in the cypress in the park and the dogs wagwagging and the the blueblue sky and kahlua mocha fudge ice cream! look at how he loves me! - and my old creeping despair. Look at the cement, stretching on forever. Look at the racism bubbling in my own mind. Look at the fear.

I haven't made my peace with the city yet. Suggestions?


The snarl of jets flying low and fast put me on edge all last week. I found myself shrinking down each time they passed overhead, the way I do in a parking garage with a low ceiling or when I go through a tunnel on a rollercoaster: even though I know it makes no difference, my body doesn't want my head to get lopped off. The sound made me anxious. It is a sound of warfare. On Saturday night, the belly-deep bass of detonations made me look up from my book, curious and then uneasy. Maybe music? Not music. Explosion. Somehow the obvious explanation evaded me, and I padded downstairs in my slippers to find someone awake. What is exploding? Do you hear it? Can you feel it? He chuckled: fireworks. Go up to the roof.

And indeed there they were, off over the bay.

How strange that the sound of jets and explosions in the middle of our city doesn't send us running for cover. How strange that we engage in mock-battles for entertainment, send explosives into the sky for celebration.

Not that I don't understand the desire to see power on display. Not that I don't enjoy fireworks. It's just strange. I've lost whatever it is that allowed it not to be strange.


I am sitting, in a half-hour window of free time, in a wide-open window streaming sunlight, with my feet sticking out into the city, my heart solid in a foundation of love, my spirit held by the strong arms of practice, after a Dharma talk in which the teacher began by reading us a children's story and finished by feeding us chocolate-chip cookies and mint tea. I am listening to good music and about to have a lunch which I don't have to cook, clean up or pay for. The next time I tell you I'm feeling depressed, please send me back here.


Do you remember the hawks that ushered us into Burlington? One after another they appeared, dark against the snow and the winter sky. We smiled, delighted, called them Omens, called them Blessings. I was afraid even then; I am afraid now. I didn't understand it then, nor do I now, what deep yearning pulls me towards you, what deep fear pulls me away. I loved you from the moment I saw you: impossible but true. Perhaps that is the root of both tendencies, the love pulling me near, the fear of love driving me back.

Fear of love? It feels like a betrayal to admit it. You see me more clearly than anyone I've known, and I am afraid of that. You love me, perhaps, more fully, and I am afraid of that. If I am to be loved completely, seen completely, completely met and understood, there will be no room to hide. There will be no space to evade, to play the tricks or pull the wool as I am accustomed to doing, to pretend that I am something other than - less than - I am. I think that you will force me to be completely myself, with all the flaws and also all the potential I am afraid of. So I am afraid of you. It is easier to ride in mediocrity, for all my brash announcements to the contrary. Easier to stay with the familiar. Easier to engage in relationships wherein I have the upper hand. You will push me out of all that, and I want it and I am terrified.

But I want it. I want it more and more clearly these days. The practice demands it, too. Perhaps that is some of it: I have begun to see how deep a change might be wrought by coming fully present to myself. Again the two-pronged pull. If I face you - heart in my teeth - I must face myself. What could be more terrifying? What could be more liberating? What more could I want? The hawks wheel in the sky of memory, inviting me in. Everything must be forsaken if we are to be transformed. Let go; let go; go.


My roommate and I were seatmates in the zendo all summer, and there is a sort of intimacy between us that I've never encountered before. We are also friends; we were in a writing group together and the group explored some deep territory, so that there are things we know about each other that very few other people know. But it isn't that. I know somehow the shape of her presence, the meter of her breathing, the way she fills space and moves and how very quietly she can cry. We move around each other easily in the container of our room. Brother David talked about sharing a hotel room with a Zen student he didn't know, that their common experience of monastic practice allowed them to be "like two fish that had shared always the same bowl." We are perhaps not quite so elegantly attuned, but it is interesting and lovely to note how simply comfortable we are together.

There was a point in the summer when I could tell who was walking behind me in the zendo. When I would pass someone in robes on a dark path and know who I bowed to without needing to lift my eyes. We learned each other quietly, bodily, in a way more deeply physical than I think most people would expect out of Zen. The whole thing - this tradition, at least; my experience of it, at least - is deeply phsyical. In practice discussion we are asked to locate the feelings we describe - where is it in your body? What does it feel like, physically, to be angry? To be in love? We are asked to ground ourselves in our own physical reality, beginning with the breath. Ending with the breath.

When I enter my body and think of him, I feel solid. There is a falcon-winged flutter of fear, no doubt. And there is a lightness. I know my intentions these days enough to distrust them, but I trust my body. The mind can trick itself, but the body can't lie. In the end it was my body telling me to leave him; it is my body telling me it is right to go back. The heart is at its center, after all.

Besides: in a world such as this, when love is pulling me one way and fear pulls me the other, I know by which I want to live my life.