Donna's Painting and Two Poems

Anthropomorph III (Ambivalence)—Donna Dechen Birdwell

The first woman
arrived in the night,
after the sun
fell asleep.

She popped up
like a bean stalk,
with feathers
on her arms.

Her feet rooted,
unable to go
and nothing to see
and only one job to do:

to wonder.
What else might there be
and are there others
like me?

Are things like this
or different?
Will I get
And where is here, anyway?

I hear something—my feathers are blowing.
Why can't I remember
where I came from?
My mind is empty.

I reach in
the darkness
to see
what else is here.

I lift up one foot
and then
I can take a step.

But where am I—
where will I go?
Oh I see something now—
over there.

How bright
that is!
What comes next?
I will fly.

—Kim Mosley



Roots have always eluded me.
As a child, I lived first one place, then another. Then another.
I have lived in at least a dozen different towns or cities.
Sometimes in a sequence of houses.
I have tried to be married. Three times.
My children are perhaps the only constants in my life.
But you could hardly call them roots.
Even as adults, they continue changing, moving.
But there is something that connects us.
An energy of love. Shared memories.
Caring for one another.
Always maintaining
That space in which the other feels safe and happy.
We chatter to one another across phone lines
And internet like a small flock of birds.
Calling, always connected,
Even while on the move.
Yes, they fly away.
But then they return
Or they call to me from the other trees
Where they build their own nests.
My children's freedom is as important as my own.
Our roots are in the sky.

—Donna Dechen Birdwell

What The Window Washers Did

Donna Dechen Birdwell

A window is a tentative, limited passage.
It welcomes light,
A breeze,
A few bugs and flying things,
Once, a bird,
The smell of rain,
Before we run to close it.

A door is more profound.
The light and the breeze come in,
As do the small creatures—
not so earthbound as we—
which also enter windows.
But the door also welcomes my friend,
My neighbor's dog,
At certain seasons of the year,
A pumpkin
Or a Christmas tree.

What of these other windows, then,
These windows of the soul?
These too collect grime,
Become obscured
By organic accretions of time
and neglect.
What of the open door of the heart?
Sometimes it lets in a sudden
Boisterous gale of wind—
Sometimes a thief.

Every threshold,
Every window,
Every door
Has two sides.
Maybe you and I can work together
To cleanse the windows
To mind the doors.
Meeting there,
To teach our hearts, our eyes
To trust openness
And light.

—Donna Dechen Birdwell

Is Buddha Fallible?

Lately the news has been getting me down. Between Ebola and the war in the Gaza Strip, I can hardly stand up. When someone says they don't listen to the news I feel a certain jealousy, thinking that no one deserves that kind of peace when so many are suffering. And then I think they are being irresponsible, as if to say, if you listened you could affect change and all would be well.

I like to tell this story about a girl who needs help but is turned down by a yogi in the sixth realm of consciousness. “Don't bother me,” the yogi says. “I'm almost there.”

I've been thinking about the difference between the Buddha, the man, and the Buddha, a stone statute. Did you know that stone and bronze statutes came about six hundred years after the Buddha lived? Earlier, there were sculptures of his feet, but nothing else. Feet are very special. After the Buddha ate, his attendants would wash his feet. That's a bit different from what we do, isn't it?

So the question came up about whether the Buddha was fallible. I thought he was not, but then my teacher said that not only was he fallible, but that he [my teacher] would never follow someone who wasn't.

So there are Buddhas and there are Buddhas. The stone ones probably don't make too many mistakes. They sit there and don't flinch no matter what we do. On the other hand, the human Buddha needs to negotiate every turn in the road.

The Dalai Lama was asked if he got excited when he saw a beautiful woman. I expected him to say, “of course not, I'm way beyond that.” But instead he said, “Of course, and then I realize the ramifications of an involvement with her.”

So would a perfect Buddha be like a stone? Would he always say the right thing? In fact, if he were really good, wouldn't he be able to end suffering instantly?

The bluebird sings, reminding us of a different world than that of disease and Israeli Hamas cease-fires. Is the bird irresponsible for not paying attention to the ills of the world? Is there a little message in the bird’s song that could resolve some of the world's conflicts? Perhaps!

—Kim Mosley

A Path of One's Own

When the Zen master asks, “Can I show you the path?” the proper answer, I imagine, falls somewhere between “yes,” “please,” and “thank you!”

A couple months ago, asked by the head teacher at the Austin Zen Center “Can I show you that path thing?” my response was, “Show me the path?? That’s why I came here!”

My path this past summer involved a two-month trip to Texas, Missouri, and Nebraska, the majority of which I spent in Austin. The centerpiece of this sojourn was a residential period at the Austin Zen Center, the home of my first consistent, shared Zen practice, the place where reading, dabbling, and solitary meditation found fertile ground in ritual and community. Separated from that community the previous year, I wanted a chunk of immersion, a chance to recharge the batteries of my practice and reconnect with friends.

While five weeks of near-daily sitting were marvelous, the ten days I spent living at the center were particularly refreshing and invigorating. In addition to multiplying my daily meditation sessions, I spent a lot more time in work practice. As you may know, Zen centers supplement sitting and walking meditation with periods during which one applies mindfulness to the mundane, daily tasks of cleaning and maintaining the place. The idea is that one should bring the same concentration and close attention to cleaning a toilet, say, as to something lofty, like inner peace or enlightenment.
In keeping with the intensive, retreat-like dynamic of residential practice, these work periods ran an hour and a half each day. And thus it was that I found myself staring at a corner of the extensive grounds, with the head teacher showing me a corner of the walking meditation path. Essentially, he wanted me to construct a bypass, to round off a corner so that the path didn’t come quite so close to the street. “I’d say take it from around here,” he said, as I followed his finger, “to somewhere over there. And maybe put a curve in the middle.”

That was it for instructions. At no time did he ask if I had any experience constructing a walking trail (I didn’t), or if I had even the slightest idea what I was doing (ditto).

It was at this point that a curious thing happened: