The Perfect Prison

August 8…
Last night
in the middle
of the night
back and forth
post on blog
post on listserv
post on blog
post on listserv
no, I won’t
post on blog
I don’t want
to lose
my reputation
post on listserv
not mine to do
That went on
and on and on.

This morning
I woke up though
remembering all
the blocks the shaming when
I was raped
17 year-old virgin
showering/destroying evidence
morning after pill
beloved teacher, questioning me
lie detector test
keeping silent
at school
and on and on and on
because no
one believes
the victim.

No matter
what the
except my family
my best friend Ron Maas
the school counselor

I thought of
the women
who asked
to talk to me.
about something.
no wonder
they don’t want
to talk to me
right now
maybe sometime. later.

Lose my reputation
because if I
said something
I would be known as
probably forever

Sweet faces
of kind practitioners
going about their
sangha way
not knowing
what about those
who are victims?

Lightning, thunder
crashes in my mind
This is where we are
Where is the light
the path?
abused bodies
and hearts
where are you now?

So many BLOCKS
to saying
to me, to others

Because they
will punish us?
or perhaps they
have created the
perfect panopticon.
no walls needed.
to keep us
as prisoners
of silence.
so we believe
they will
even though
they can’t.
punish us.

morning mists

Intimate with
in and out

Gentle kindness
embracing a troubled
heart and mind

Calm, space.

Moist tears of
realization and compassion
gathering like
morning mist rising from
the body of the earth
as she is touched by
warm rays from
the heart of the sun.

a poem for winter

Even in the dead of
a dark dreary winter

Life teems in
the garden of my heart

Bright yellow Winter Aconite
blooms off branches
dusted in snow

Blue sky mixes with
rain clouds, fog, and
a sun low in the sky

Light reflects within
the shadows of
sadness, sorrow,

A tender, timid love
gently, bravely
warms the cold
edges AND

A mysterious enlightening
shows me the way home

Nisi 2017


let birds sing me
let the sun shine me
let mud mud me
let leaves rustle me
let cedars perfume me
let vistas amaze me
let a broad grassy path
open me wide
let gentle breezes
caress my face and arms
let footsteps touch shadows
let clouds carry
thoughts away


the forest is humming

Yellow jackets. The forest was humming with them. The air vibrating, pulsating. A sign of summer.

Birds. In the spring and summer, the birdsong is alive in our neighborhood, and our back yard. We also have turkey vultures flying overhead and roosting in the tall fir tree beyond our deck–high above the Willamette River below. I knew turkey vultures feasted on dead animals, but wondered how they could ever consume the flesh of all the birds in my neighborhood dying throughout the summer and fall. For all the living birds, I rarely saw a dead one. What happened to all those birds when they died?

Recently I was at the Abbey for a personal day of mindfulness, spending most of the morning and late afternoon up in the woods on Abbey land. During my morning walk I came upon a small bird, obviously sick, almost dead. A slight shudder and fluff of its wings was all the movement it could manage. I put a bit of water on the ground near it, and offered a quiet prayer that it would be well and not suffer greatly.

When I walked past that bird in late afternoon, it was dead, lying on its side. This time, just a few hours after my morning walk, the bird was swarmed with yellow jackets. The hum around the bird was an amplification of the humming forest.

I used to think of yellow jackets as dangerous pests. I have been stung and bitten by them in the past. Earlier this summer I disturbed (kind of broke) a yellow jackets’ nest hidden in some dried leaves near the side of our house, and they were fierce in their protective attack. So I left them alone and have been watching them, rebuild their nest and continue their lives. They are quite industrious and not so dangerous as I had previously thought.

Then, watching the yellow jackets consuming the bird’s flesh, I realized that maybe it was yellow jackets that helped to take care of birds when they die. Suddenly, the humming in the forest took on a deeper meaning for me. The death of the bird was the continuation of the yellow jackets in the form of nourishment. And the forest was alive with the humming of yellow jackets. Birthing and dying–the forest was full of it.

The Buddha taught that this is because that is. This is not because that is not. When causes and conditions are sufficient, manifestation happens. When causes and conditions are not sufficient, manifestation ceases. The conditions of the seasons help to manifest new birds in the spring and summer. The manifestation of birds and insects helps the yellow jacket wasps to manifest. The Buddha called this interdependent co-arising. Thay has called it interbeing.

Something is not born from nothing, and when something dies it does not become nothing. Thay has taught that birth and death are only manifestation or non-manifestation. Everything exists in the ultimate dimension. Its manifestation in the historical (that is, physical material) dimension depends upon causes and conditions. Even the birth of understanding (in this case, mine) depends on causes and conditions 🤗

Soulmates of the Buddha

At this year’s 21-day retreat in Plum Village, France, Sister Annabel (Sư Cô Chân Đức)  gave a talk about the title of the retreat, “Soulmate of the Buddha.” It was based upon Thay’s teachings during the 2012-13 winter retreat that he offered in Vietnamese to the Plum Village monastic community.

Sister Annabel said that after the Buddha became enlightened he thought, “What I realized at the foot of the Bodhi Tree is very deep and wonderful. It cannot possibly be described in words.” The experiences that liberated the Buddha were impossible to put into words. That is why initially he did not want to teach. But the Buddha eventually decided to teach anyway. Why? God Brahma told him that people in the world, they suffer so much, and they need the teachings very much. So he began. He also realized that he needed to offer the teachings in a way that was appropriate to the people he was teaching.

After the Buddha’s death, his teachings were transmitted orally for four hundred years. Things may have been added or lost, based upon the understanding of the person(s) transmitting the teachings. Then every time they were written down it could be the same thing. As Sister Annabel said, when we write down what the Buddha said, the truth of what we are writing depends upon our understanding. Are we transmitting the deep teachings of the Buddha? She said that our understanding depends on our practice. If our practice goes a little bit astray, then our understanding will do the same.

So, in the winter of 2012-13, Thay taught for three months on the subject, “Soulmate of the Buddha.” He shared many “correctives” to what he saw as the lack of understanding that has caused Buddhist practitioners to go astray over time. Many of these “correctives” can be found in the 40 Tenets of Plum Village Buddhism.

Sister Annabel said she’s not sure if “Soulmate of the Buddha” is a good translation–maybe it could be “someone who understands the Buddha.” She said not to get caught in the translation, as it may cause us to go astray! She offered this question as a way to explore the deep meaning of the Buddha’s teachings: “Have we understood the Buddha yet?” We need to give ourselves space and time to understand the meaning of the Buddha’s teachings.

The deep teachings of the Buddha help us touch a dimension that is beyond time and space. And yet it can only be touched right in the midst of this very life we are living in the present moment. I invite us to continue this practice of exploring the teachings, questioning and practicing so that we may be living continuations of the Buddha, soulmates of the Buddha.