Friday, April 7, 2023

Like you, I’ve had countless past lifetimes in samsara, though I don’t remember them yet. Probably you don’t either. This time around, I was born in northern New Jersey in the spring of 1941. World War II and the Holocaust were raging. The atomic bomb was being developed. A new house cost around $4,000. Cheerios was invented. Commercial television broadcasting officially began. I never learned any details about my birth, but I do know that the first few weeks of my life included some dramatic elements. For one thing, I was thrown out of a car. I never learned who was driving, or what precipitated the accident. All I heard was that my godmother was holding me, and both of us flew out of the car. She held onto me tightly and I was not injured, according to my mother. 
No further light was shed on this event until I met the masterful Tibetan doctor Trogawa Rinpoche when I was in my early 40s. Reading my pulse, he told me that I had undergone a life-threatening experience in my first few weeks, and the shock from that event had affected my life force. Finally, thanks to the deeply refined skills of Dr. Trogawa Rinpoche, I had an explanation for the experiences of terror and dread that comprised some of my earliest memories and continued through my childhood. I am not schooled in pulse diagnosis, but it seemed to me that Trogawa Rinpoche’s ability to discern my early experience was due to his level of wisdom refinement. 
I cried incessantly during my first few weeks on Earth. This seems perfectly understandable. Pushed through a birth canal, thrown out of a car—it was not reassuring. Years ago, I offered a form of healing work that brought people back to their birth experience, in order to help them move through it in a more positive way. Most people were not ecstatic about being born. On some level, they knew that they were probably in for a rough ride on a rocky road. I certainly belonged in this category.
My distressed parents finally brought me to see Dr. William Carlos Williams, who practiced pediatric medicine in a nearby town. In addition to being a physician, Williams was a poet, who is now considered to be among the foremost American poets. I doubt that my parents knew much or anything about his poetry. After examining me, Dr. Williams told my mother and father that nothing was wrong with me, except that I was very hungry and needed to be fed more. I imagine that I received increased rations, because I have lived to tell the tale. When I began writing poetry in my teens, my father teased me by saying that he was sure that William Carlos Williams had thrown some poetry dust on me when I was a baby. Perhaps he did. I and much else in northern New Jersey could have benefited from a big dose of poetry dust. Though it seems that loosening the entanglements and purifying the sludge of samsara requires quite a bit more than poetry dust.
The area where I grew up played a key role in the growth of the Industrial Revolution, and it felt like that--crowded, busy, intensely focused on the mechanisms of production and progress. Thomas Edison developed one of the first hydroelectric power plants in the world at Great Falls, in the nearby town of Passaic. The American silk industry was centered in nearby Paterson from the end of the Civil War to the 1930s, as immigrant workers from Italy, Poland, and Germany brought their skills to a new land. There we dwelt, my lovable, funny alcoholic father, whose drinking ate into our lives like a hungry spirit, my beautiful, coolly critical mother, my dear little turtle-happy brother and I. 
Of course, I had never heard of samsara, karma, or the illusory nature of reality. I was a little girl who felt confined, who dreamed of freedom in wide-open places, dreamed of being let loose amidst mountains, plains, meadows, and rivers. A little girl who dreamed she was Indian, riding a horse like the wind, far from the sorrowful constraints of her family’s travails. I was raised Catholic, but I had an imaginary friend when I was young, someone who was different from anyone I had ever met. He was old, very old. All he wore was a cloth tied around his lower body. He had a long white beard and his long hair was partially tied up on his head in a topknot. He sat at the entrance to a cave, high up in snow-covered mountains. When my heart hurt too much from the pain of ordinary life, I would climb up to sit with him. We didn’t talk. We just sat there. He was the most peaceful, loving being I had ever met. Was he real? Did I make him up? To me, he was very real, though I knew I could not tell anyone else about him. They would mock me. I could not bear to think of it, how they would scorn him. He was so pure and loving. 
As I grew older, however, I tried to forget him and eventually, he faded away. As he disappeared, something in me mourned in a muffled, confused way. Many years passed and then in 1977, I had the good fortune to meet Gyatrul Rinpoche, the Tibetan master who has been my spiritual guide ever since. In him, the mountain yogi returned.  This is one of the greatest blessings of my life, to be living all these years in the womb of the holy.


Tuesday, September 20, 2022

 The Apocalyptic Koan

 When I was living in Berkeley in 1975 I often went to weekly Chenresig practices at the dharma center of Lama Kunga Rinpoche. Sometimes I played volleyball with Lama Kunga and his brother Khen Rinpoche, another wonderful lama. It was very relaxed and familial. A fortunate interlude.

Khen Rinpoche seldom did any formal teaching but one day  Gyatrul Rinpoche  asked Khen Rinpoche to give a teaching at his center. I attended and decided that it was my opportunity to ask a question that troubled my mind in those days. During the question and answer time after the teaching I ventured to speak about my pressing concern.


 “People say the world may end soon. What do you think?” I asked.

He looked at me with an expectant expression. “You know the answer to that, don’t you?” I felt disturbed. A great deal of space opened up in that brief moment. I was afraid that I knew what he meant, but I couldn’t admit it. 

“Not really. That’s why I’m asking you,” I replied.  

In a way that seemed both playful and wrathful, he said, “You will end before the world ends.”

I contemplated that provocative koan for many years, remembering the expression on his face as he said those words. I will end before the world ends. I will end. The truth of that echoed through all my hiding places. It was like looking at my own dead face. It felt like a time bomb that could explode at any moment. How strange it seemed that I will end, that snow will fall over the fields, then spring will come again and the buds will swell and I will not be this particular woman anymore. 

It was also embarrassing-- to think that I considered myself so important that the whole planet had to die for me to die. It was deeply painful to think over and over about his answer. 


I began to think that Khen Rinpoche meant something else as well when he said “You will end before the world ends.” I was amazed that I hadn’t seen it before. 


Wasn’t he speaking of the death of my self-cherishing? Wasn’t he alluding to my attachment to the self and resistance to spiritual transformation? Wasn’t he alluding to something deep inside me that wants to move in spiritual unfoldment, dying to everything I was before, surrendering my attachment to this mirage I called my life?  


I think when he said “You will end before the world ends” he meant it not only in the way flesh and mind part at death lifetime after lifetime, but the way a perfect radiant drop of light joins a brilliant limitless expanse of light, like a drop of water going in the ocean, like a child jumping into the lap of its Mother. “You will end before the world ends.”  


Absolute certainty, going home—finally, after countless lifetimes, the time will come.


I look forward to that moment. 


Meanwhile, here I am at 81. It is the start of autumn. The first rains came. Snow returned to Mt. Shasta. I took a drive out into the Applegate Valley for vegetables at Whistling Duck Farm. The sky was beautiful.



Saturday, August 13, 2022


Into the Deep Woo-Woo and Beyond


“There is no question that there is an unseen world. The problem is, how far is it from midtown and how late is it open?” - Woody Allen


“That which secures life from exhaustion lies in the unseen world, deep at the roots of things.” - Rudolf Steiner





The word woo-woo is often used in a snide way to describe those whose gullibility leads them to gravitate to supernatural, paranormal, occult things. Apparently, the word made its appearance during the 80s. Some say it was intended to imitate the kind of eerie music used in sci-fi/horror films. 


I don’t think of myself as woo-woo, but I probably qualify. So did my father, who became quite animated whenever he explored the possibility of UFOs, Sasquatch, and other strange, inexplicable things. Even as a child, I had similar leanings. As my mother sometimes pointed out, we were two of a kind.


This woo-woo tendency has led me into the main preoccupations of my life, including astrology, homeopathy, energy medicine, the Enneagram, pendulums, crystals, sound healing, and more. I don’t feel the need to convince anyone about the depth and validity of these forms of learning. We human beings are attracted to many different things to further our evolution. 


Even though our culture tends to discredit and mock the energetic and unseen world, I continued to be drawn into those territories. I yearned to make sense of my confusing life experience. I wanted to understand why I was alive. Nothing else seemed to have provided useful answers for me, until I turned to astrology in desperation, the way a person who has gotten every kind of conventional test, diagnosis, and treatment without any result finally turns to Chinese medicine, naturopathic medicine, or homeopathy, not understanding anything about it, fearful of having gone outside of the accepted bounds, but desperately hoping for some help. As it happened, astrology was very helpful. In my 30s, I had my first real understanding of the underlying themes and challenges of my life, thanks to a natal reading by astrologer Demetra George.


I kept a page of the notes I took and have referred to them over the years when I need a reminder. They begin “Sun & Moon in Taurus. Taurus Rising. Completion phase of a karmic cycle, visionary, characterized by feeling that there is something “weird” or different about them. Feeling of having a special destiny. Distillation of their experience passed on as a legacy. Large constellation of planets in 12th house. The collective unconscious, Bodhisattva intention. Uranus on ascendant. People who have this usually have unusual lives. Uranus the awakener, breaking up old forms. Revolutionary, but because all in Taurus, connected with Earth. Lifework involved with establishment of metaphysical, bringing spiritual down to Earth and grounding it.”


I remain grateful for that reading. Thank you, Demetra George. My long friendship with astrologer Kate Maloney gave me continued guidance and insight over the years.


I’m sure it was my inclination to plunge into the vast mysteries of the unseen world that led me to Tibetan Buddhism, an esoteric form of study and practice that has been at the heart of my life for 50 years now.


Here’s something that convinced me early on that I was in the right place. I was studying at the time with Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche at his Nyingma Institute in Berkeley. In the neighborhood of Padma Ling, where Tarthang Tulku lived, a father had died. Two of his grown daughters knocked on the door, asking if they could speak with Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche. They knew nothing about Buddhism. They were disturbed because their father had died with a terribly contorted body and a horrible facial expression. He did not seem to be at peace, and they wondered whether Tarthang Tulku had any way to help.


After hearing their story, Tarthang Tulku gave them a flat metal disc covered with various prayers, and told them to put it on their father’s heart. In addition, he suggested that they recite the mantra Om Mani Padme Hung at their father’s bedside. The daughters followed his suggestions. I don’t know how much time went by, but their father’s body relaxed completely, and his tortured expression became peaceful. They returned the metal disc to Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche and reported what had changed, and they were very grateful.


I felt great joy on hearing this story, and even now, decades later, I rejoice. How wonderful that the consecrated metal disc and the daughters’ prayers had a positive effect, even after their father’s physical demise.


I had not yet learned anything about how important the life/death passage is in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I knew nothing about phowa, a yogic practice for sending one’s consciousness out the top of the head at the time of death. I had no idea that the bodies of some highly developed Tibetan yogis remained warm for days after their death, with no sign of decay, as they rested in meditative concentration before exiting. I had no idea that the bodies of some evolved practitioners actually dissolved into rainbow light at the time of death, as they allowed their consciousness to stream back into primordial purity. 


But even before I knew anything about these rarified examples of moving through the life-death transition, that story of how the tormented father’s body and face relaxed into peacefulness gave me confidence that I was in the right place to learn about how to encounter and navigate death-- a topic that seems to belong in the category of deep woo-woo. 


I'm going to be writing more about death, so stay tuned. And drink deep of the beautiful summer.



Sunday, July 10, 2022


                                                           Meadow Flowers by Minni Herzing


Summer Reflections


Small clouds of insects darting in the sun, the sound of bees in the flowering trees, bees in the fragrant lavender that blooms all over town. The cool water of nearby creeks. Wonderful bird songs. Summer. A beautiful season. I am 81, and I’ve experienced many summers. Of course, this one could be the last. Or not.


I was lying on the loveseat looking out at the sky, and I was recalling three deaths that occurred during my childhood. Each of them resonated in me for years. Perhaps you had similar experiences when you were young. I wonder if you did.


My Uncle Steve was my godfather and I loved him more than any of my other relatives. But our time together was short; he died when I was 5 or 6. When my parents told me about his death, they seemed deeply uncomfortable, as if they were unsure of their footing. It felt as if we had suddenly become lost in the midst of a deep fog. What was wrong? Was it so bad or dangerous? Wasn’t he still nearby even if he was dead? I wanted to see my dear Uncle Steve again, to say goodbye. I begged my parents to take me to see him. They looked down, looked away, and told me no, that was not possible. I felt very alone. I don’t know what they felt. They believed that death was just too much for a child to view or navigate. Children had to be shielded from it. So, I endured my loss in a lonely way, feeling misunderstood and terribly deprived. Although I could not have articulated it then, it seemed wrong to keep me from saying goodbye, wrong to prevent me from expressing my grief near his body. Of course, I was not allowed to attend his funeral.


There was a tragedy in our neighborhood a few years later. Larry, a little boy who lived down the street, was hit by a car and died. I was playing in his backyard with several other children when it happened. Before being pushed away and ordered back to my house, I realized that my mother was the driver. Standing near her car, she sobbed hysterically. She was driving very slowly. Larry had run right out in front of the car. Of course, we were not allowed to see Larry.  Later, I heard my parents talking. Larry’s parents were angry at my mother. Because of her, Larry was dead. They were acting as if she had done it purposely. I was stunned by Larry’s death. I had been playing with him moments before. But my mother’s torment is what I most remember.


Our house was closed in. The shades were pulled; the curtains shut. The priest visited every day. Crying continuously and praying her rosary, my mother stayed in bed in her dark room. The smell of the frankincense the priest offered filled the whole house. It was hard to bear my mother’s suffering. I wondered if light would ever enter our house again, if she would ever smile or laugh or if she would always have the stark, afflicted visage she showed us then. I was frightened. Eventually, the priest stopped visiting. My mother grimly, wearily rose up out of her bed. We raised the shades and opened the curtains. It slowly lightened. But it was grayish for a long time.


Then there was The Beauty Lady, who had a place of honor with the kids in our neighborhood. She was a petite woman who wore a jaunty hat, and carried her purse just so. She was not a classic beauty. The name we gave her was a tribute to her spirit. We loved greeting her as she walked down the street. She seemed genuinely interested in us children, smiling and paying attention to us in a way that few other adults did. It made us feel happy. The Beauty Lady had no children of her own. She lived with her husband in a little house at the end of the street.


One day, my friend Shirley gave me some awful news. She told me that The Beauty Lady was dead and that her body was lying in a coffin in her living room, awaiting burial. Of course, we quickly determined to go up to her house and say goodbye. We made our way up the woodsy driveway at the end of the block. Her husband, looking very sad indeed, opened the door and invited us in. Nobody else was there. There she was, The Beauty Lady, looking peaceful and still. Shirley and I cried as we sat by her body. Her husband sat quietly, tears streaming down his face. How meaningful and sacred that moment was to me. Having the opportunity to say goodbye to The Beauty Lady changed me. I had been invited in and given the time to be with her.


I never said anything about our visit to my parents. I had a different perspective than they did, it seemed. 


Thursday, February 3, 2022

Writing My Eulogy in 2021


I was a writer, but just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean it’s easy to write your own eulogy. Actually, I wondered whether writing my eulogy was a last-gasp grasp at the illusory self.


And what about all the voices within—which one should I use? That sardonic, ironic, caustic one? The tender, nostalgic, melancholy one? The cheerful one that’s intent on inspiring? Voices and sub personalities-- another element to contemplate. I share this information in case you are ever tempted to write your own eulogy.


A eulogy is supposed to honor and extol the person’s special qualities, accomplishments, and achievements. Of course, I had special qualities, and I hoped that everybody would notice them. Is this something to celebrate?  I am done tooting my own horn. I say this with a big smile and a blast of white light for good measure.


I shared my dreams, adventures, epiphanies, betrayals, and delights with many beings, including whales, frogs, coyotes, birds, parents, children, friends, enemies, strangers, lovers, and husbands. I wrote about some of my life experience in poetry and memoir. I wrote a few books. I sang some songs. I liked to lean into the timeless.


The most fortunate thing that happened to me was this: in my 30s, by some wonderful magic, I began to meet amazing Tibetan masters. They were not ordinary people in any way. They embodied such depth. I began receiving empowerments and teachings. I began a practice to purify my karmic obstacles. I learned about returning to original purity.


It stirs me to say even a few words about the grandeur and scope of these teachers -- the Karmapa and Dudjom Rinpoche, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Yangthang Rinpoche, Chagdud Rinpoche and others. Dear Sister Palmo, my refuge lama. And beloved Gyatrul Rinpoche, who became my guide for the rest of my life--his humor and playfulness a doorway into vast stillness and radiance. I was fortunate to be close to him. To practice being at one with his vast mind. He was the love of my life. I bow down. I bow down. I bow down.


To conclude, I beg you to forgive me for anything I did that hurt you-- and thank you for everything. Onward!

Sunday, October 10, 2021


A Brief Meeting


The opera was about to begin but I didn't know where my seat was located. I held out my ticket to the white-haired usher who stood nearby and said "Excuse me sir, but can you...." But he turned away from me, leaning heavily against the big door that led into the opera house. Putting my ticket in my pocket, I reached out to touch his arm. 


"Are you okay?" I asked. When he turned toward me and began to fall I saw that his eyes were wonderfully blue. He began to fall towards me without a word, his face flushed, his hair pure white. Our eyes met. It was just a momentary glance. I want to say that he fell into my arms. I surely intended to catch him in my arms, but as he came closer, moving as slowly as a cloud, I missed him somehow. It was as if he passed through my arms like water. Slowly he fell and his body hit the floor, crumpling down onto the carpet of the opera house lobby. 


He was still, as boulders are when they have come to rest at the bottom of a hill. I gently turned him onto his back. His wonderful blue eyes gazed up into space. He was not in the ordinary world, whatever the ordinary world meant to him all the other moments of his life. He was elsewhere in some more expanded reality. He looked innocent as a baby and entirely as vulnerable. And when I looked down at him, he was not simply a dignified, corpulent older man in a dark gray suit who had fallen suddenly to the floor. 


He was very beautiful. Perhaps it was his absorption that made him so beautiful. All of his customary faces and attitudes, whatever they might have been, had dissolved and he was simply there. It occurred to me that he might be dying. In fact, I thought he was dying. Perhaps I was being arrogant to think I knew the moment of his death. I wasn't a doctor. Yet it appeared to me that he had had a heart attack and was dying. When I looked into his eyes he seemed as if he was already moving beyond his body, out into the blue reaches of the sky where everything was the color of his beautiful eyes.


More than anything, I wanted to comfort and reassure him. I took his white haired head into my hands and held it at the crown. I stroked his face. "It's all right. It's all right," I murmured softly to him. While I stroked him and spoke these words I communicated with him. For he and I were linked in some place where ordinary time had given way to the boundless reaches of the timeless. I held his head, stroked his beautiful face and looked into his blue eyes as they gazed far beyond our mortal meeting.


And I thought to myself, what would I wish for if I had fallen as he had, in a public place far from my family, if I were ill or dying as I thought he might be at that moment? I imagined myself in his place, my apparently secure everyday reality suddenly swept away. What would I want then? I would wish for warmth, love, and calm. I would wish for someone to help me align myself with my spiritual essence. So I tried to give him those things with my hands and my intention.


It never occurred to me to be anything other than calm. Someone else would call the ambulance. Someone else might attempt to revive him. If it was his time to die, then he could die safely here. He could send his consciousness out into the light through the top of his head. There where my fingers touched him, he could send it out. That's what I focused on. Meanwhile, a man rushed up and began to shout excitedly. " Help! Help! Call the ambulance! He needs to breathe! Get this loosened! His neck is constricted! Loosen his tie! His shirt!" I said nothing while he frantically tried to unbutton the top shirt button and to loosen the necktie. The white-haired man was still. and his stillness aroused frenzy in the man who came to help. I think it reminded him of the stillness that would one day overcome him, too. "God damn it, God damn it! I can't do this," he moaned and shouted as he worked at the buttons and tie. Then a woman in a cobalt blue dress arrived. She began trying to resuscitate the white-haired gentleman, pushing mightily on his great chest and breathing into his mouth. The frantic man finally succeeded in unbuttoning the top button and loosening the tie. Then with frustration and anger, he wildly pulled the white-haired man's entire shirt open, cursing and shouting.


If I were dying, I would wish for someone much more calm. "Whether this man is living or dying, you are not helping him with all your shouting," I told the shouter firmly. He subsided, shocked. Another man arrived, saying that he was a doctor. He and the woman in the bright blue dress took turns trying to revive the fallen man. It seemed as if time trailed out to the ends of the universe. Pressing, releasing, breathing into the mouth over and over, and yet the fallen man exhaled only two great breaths under their mighty efforts. His mouth turned dark. His ears grew purplish red. The woman stuck her fingers way into his mouth to see if she could unclog his breathing. Still, his eyes gazed up innocently into space. I continued to hold his head and to stroke his face. They could not find a pulse. 


The ambulance came. The emergency crew rushed up the stairs with their equipment and stretcher. Silently, I told the man that I was letting go of his head, but that I would continue to visualize him as a being of light. I would continue to visualize his consciousness exiting from the top of his head. I would continue to be connected to his passage. I walked to my seat in the opera house. My hands remained hot for hours. Sitting quietly as the music washed through me, I visualized holding the head of the white-haired man, and gave thanks for our brief encounter.




Monday, September 28, 2020

Three Years Later, Hello Again


Forty years ago, I orchestrated a spring equinox gathering in a field in Ashland. The event was quite glorious, as this photograph shows. We did a lot of singing, drumming and dancing in those days. Creating our special hippie brand of tribal ritual.  A couple of weeks ago I was thinking of that land. Wasn’t it in the path of the fires that just swept through? I decided to take a ride to see what was what. Indeed, all the houses in the area had been destroyed. But the house on that land where we gathered so long ago, that house was standing. There was Giuseppi by the driveway building a shed for his tractor, because the shed had burned down. “We decided not to evacuate. We stayed to fight the fire,” he told me. I was very glad to see that their house was still standing, amidst the terrible ravages of that fire, which left thousands of people without homes. It's brave to stay to fight a fire, seems to me.

Thousands of people without homes. Many of them Latinos or elders, whose mobile homes were not insured. I didn’t have to evacuate. My apartment building was not in the path of the fire. But like many others in our community, I have been deeply unsettled by the fires.

The moon is already up. I can see it from where I am sitting. It will be full in a few days.  In the 17th century Japanese poet and samurai Mizuta Masahide wrote a haiku about the moon that remains famous among those who love haiku. 

"Barn's burnt down

now I can see the moon."

I doubt that anyone who lost their home in the recent fires would appreciate his relaxed perspective.

When the full moon arrives each month, I miss seeing it out in the Colestin Valley after gathering with my Buddhist sangha at the Tashi Choling temple for the full moon puja. No gatherings at Tashi Choling. It’s autumn and we are seven months into a global pandemic. Now we do pujas on Zoom. 


My brother Phil died a month ago, and before the cremation, I viewed his body at the funeral home on Zoom. Which of course was strange. I spoke with his four daughters, his partner, and his estranged wife on Zoom. Yes, my younger brother, a loveable and funny personage, has died.


Loss. Loss and isolation. This seems to have brought me back to this blog after three years hiatus. I will leave it at that for now, unvarnished and not nicely arranged. 


Today, high winds and very dry conditions. Praying for rain. Seriously. “This is the time and the record of the time,” as Laurie Anderson wrote in a song long ago. Wishing you well. Wishing you very well.