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!