Not a Curse, A Blessing

Sansaku: Not a Curse, a Blessing


Fairytales are shameless when it comes to changing the story. Hansel and Gretel might be siblings in one story then married in the next.   After their time in the forest, they transformed. No longer brother and sister, they’re still a pair just husband and wife. I haven’t yet asked about children.

Not that he was looking, but the nose must have caught a scent. Hansel had the eyes to see Coyote. Most couldn’t. He brought him home to Gretel. “Look what I found.” Coyote said, “It’s the other way around.” Hansel didn’t argue.

Tom Petty died this week and two of his songs keep playing in my head. They alternate like a current. “Free Falling” suddenly turns into the anthem, “And I Won’t Let Go.” Polarity.

When Adam and Eve lost their innocence, the Dragon looked down and said, “Why are you hiding? What’s with the fig leaves and downcast eyes? Why won’t you look at me?” The humans were ashamed. It’s what needed to happen and the Dragon was waiting.

Change the names and they become Hansel and Gretel. The Dragon says, “You have lost your innocence and are no longer children. Now that you’ve tasted the fruit of experience, it’s time for you to journey on. They leave the garden, not with a curse, but a blessing.

We bear the mark of initiation in our souls.

Japan is a shame culture because so much value is placed on acceptability and conformity. The social expectations are extreme. Your character is on the line, not just guilt.

It’s one of the dividing lines.

In America, land of the independent individual and the free, we’re a guilt culture. Those who feel guilty are constantly making amends. Most try not to get caught and even red-handed will act like they’re not. Our leaders model this lack of shame and guilt.

The shadow side of Japanese shame and conformity is the mind-shocking surprises typifying Zen. It’s humorous, creative, wickedly present, and carries a stick to wake the sleepy.

Americans might be wild, diverse and free, but the shadow from the Collective Committee on Un-American Activities stretches all the way to Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq.   We project with impunity.

Japanese conformity might be easy to mock, they do look a bit like bees or ants from a distance. Go closer and enter the buzz and the hive, they are highly attuned to each other. And here’s a kicker, the high school girls have uniforms, but create more style with socks and ties, and the way they hike and wear their skirts than I imagined.

I walk past high school students in Durango. I know why the Zen master told the hippies who came to Japan, “Take off your beads and cut your hair. With robes and shaved heads, I’ll be able to see you.”

Coyote looked out the window of the cottage and said, “It’s kind of ugly and noisy.” There’s no hiding that. It’s out of the garden, for sure.

If guilt demands amends, shame requires you change your self and become a better person, not so stupid, but wise. Dragons are beyond shame and guilt. It doesn’t apply. Coyotes cross the line.

Shame is a good thing when it comes to the human. Those who are shameless and have no guilt are not to be trusted. Sound familiar? Coyote said to Hansel and Gretel, “I’ve come to take you back. You’ve met the Witch, it’s time you meet the Dragon.”







Trouble at the Crossing

Sansaku: Trouble at the Crossing


Children can spot an odd grammatical sentence. They don’t know why. In fact, only a few select specialists can accurately analyze and explain. It’s like the way babies are wired for anomaly, no one need tell them.

When I first heard about the limbic, the speaker said, “That’s what it’s all about.” I found the sentence both odd and anomalous. What’s the what? When it comes to the anatomy and physiology of experience, it helps to study the brain.

I didn’t know the terminology, but the brain functions were more than familiar. I decided to give them my own names. The old brain, the ancient one, I called the dragon. And we’ve had two hundred million years to evolve our coyote brain. We come fully loaded and these brain beings are more present than we realize.

The newest version of the brain, the human, is not necessarily the wisest or the smartest. It’s too adolescent, too early to tell. Collectively we’re dangerous and lie like the devil. There’s going to be hell to pay. It’s not the dragon that’s the serpent in the garden.

But I’m drifting. I’ve been watching a documentary on the war in Vietnam by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

When taken prisoner, our soldiers complained of inhumane treatment. They were told by the Vietnamese, “You’re not prisoners of war. You’re criminals. You’ve dropped napalm on our villages. Don’t talk about humane.” One of the American generals said they had to completely destroy a city to save it from the communists.

Some of the soldiers dehumanized and called them gooks. They called us the enemy invaders, like the French and Japanese imperialists.

The war was raging during the time I was coming of age, in high school and college. We watched the body count news while we ate dinner off of television plates. Do they still have those things?

One thoughtful soldier said, “People think the army turns young men into killing machines, but that’s not the truth. I learned that we didn’t become the top species on the planet because we were nice. Far from it.” The dragon isn’t tame and the coyote is clannish and hell on the herds. The human is learning, there’s a language older than words.

The documentary is fairytale vivid in terms of good and evil. What matters to me is the way I now see it. Who’s Hansel and Gretel, who’s the Witch? What happens next?

Fairytales and dreams seem to stretch the truth, but they exaggerate for good reason. Emotional truth demands it. Imagine the dragon looking down from his high mountain cave, he’s been there for ages untold and sits upon a time treasure.

Imagine the coyote at the edge of the forest. He’s looking down at the city and land life. “What are they doing? Don’t they see the mother?” I don’t know about the fairytale wisdom in Vietnam, but from the look of those fighting farmers, they spoke coyote better than us.

America lost its self-reference point. We went to the dark side and didn’t even know, except that we did. The lies and the shame are still haunting us. We’re prisoners of that war.

What happened? How come we’ve lost the eyes and ears to discern the truth? Dreams are thought to originate in the limbic region. All mammals dream, not just humans. It’s the borderland, the bridge. I think we’re having trouble with the crossing.

When Coyote came into the city, he didn’t know he was looking for Hansel and Gretel. He stumbled into them.








The Pair

Sansaku: The Pair


I know two towns really well and they figure in my dreams. Both are on the edge. My sister said, “The Boulder we knew no longer exists.” I’m not so sure. I’m still sniffing.

The other town is the one where I’ve lived for the last forty years. If the one lives mostly in memory, this one exists in the present time zone, even when I wish it didn’t. It’s like looking at my face in the mirror. It’s getting hard to remember.

I’ve driven the road from Durango probably a hundred times. It feels like a dream. I was a child the first time I came over Wolf Creek and I remember crossing the divide again when I first came to live in Durango. It’s also where I named my van. I was camping that time.

I woke on a chilly fall morning and noticed the aspen leaves were the same golden color as the car. I’d had a dream that night about a woman I met in Mexico named December. I’d just bought the van and wanted to name her. That was it, September. I have favorites.

I was deep in the sleep of memory when I woke on Crow Hill, just outside of Bailey. Driving a rental car, a little too fast, I came around a corner and had to hit the brakes. I’d been warned about traffic. We called our friends. This might take some time.

Down below the Beast, the Metropolis, the Big City, Denver. I could feel the electrical hum and oil-fueled beat. I didn’t like it. What were we doing here? I felt like a different species forced to rely on instinct.

We took the back way through Morrison, past Red Rocks and all of those concerts. There’s a cut-off to by-pass Golden. It sneaks around the city. We came into Boulder on the Rocky Flats road. It turns into Broadway and memories galore. Talk about ghosts, unbelievable.

My brother and sister can spend hours resurrecting the city and know it far better than I. My landmarks are different. I remember different things, people. I’m carrying her ashes.

When Yogi Berra was asked where he wanted to be buried, he told his wife, “I don’t care. Surprise me.” I told Irma as best I could, “I’ll try to surprise you.” She liked that.

My sister was born in the hospital across the street from the medical center. I can still smell alcohol and shots. I hated going there, but loved the map of Fairy Land they had in the lobby. I’m sure my brother has a copy. “Here’s were Hansel and Gretel found the gingerbread house and here’s where Jack climbed the beanstalk.” My lessons.

The streets are alphabetical and easy to remember. We were headed right on Iris. I used turn left on Hawthorn. My heart felt some regret.

That night two coyotes came to town, the scent of synchronicity. We learned about it the next day. We’d eaten lunch at Chautauqua with our friend and ran into a neighbor. He’d seen the pair at night and was warning folks. “Be careful with your cats.”

I’m sure they spotted me. I get up early. I was sitting in the dining room, cross-legged, two lights on bright, and framed by a large picture window. I was reading old journals and writing a new one.

When Martin came down the stairs and greeted me, he asked if I’d seen them. I wasn’t sure what he meant. “You heard Addie barking?” he asked. I did. “Did you see the coyotes?”

Domestic geese go crazy when the wild ones fly over. The same is true with dogs. The coyote pair was curious, but didn’t stay for long.



Coyote Comes to Town

Sansaku: Coyote Comes to Town


Psychopaths are greatly troubled by conscience and try to get rid of what little they have. In the case of Hansel and Gretel, in order to survive their encounter with the witch, they needed to get a little shadow-smart and properly psychopathic.

How else would Gretel have been able to trick and kick an old lady? Then, after she murdered her and busted Hansel out of prison, the two sacked her house and looted the treasure.

The task moves from innocence to experience, from good to evil. Who knows what will happen? If we do as we’re told, we’ll end up in cages, nice and fat, while the rest of us heat-up the ovens. Both serve the witch, the psychopathic system. The hero escapes and takes the shadow-treasure back across and home.

Like the witch, we’ve buried the gold and jewels of the fairy tales in books. Schools don’t teach and the media perverts. Children know it’s wrong. They want these stories told out loud at bedtime, just before they dream. They’ll get angry if you try to sweeten and change them.

I haven’t thought much about Hansel and Gretel since childhood. It was one of those stories I loved and never tired of hearing. It’s impossible to forget the gingerbread house, the kids breaking off chunks, and that witch in the oven. I didn’t realize the story was so ominous.

The parents can’t feed the kids, there’s a famine in the land, and the mother suggests they get rid of them. Father’s not so sure, but goes along with her. Since we were poor at the time, the story held some interest for me. Like Hansel and Gretel, I knew what was going on. I could hear them talking at night. Mother played the father’s role.

And when the parents finally succeed in ditching the kids, a strange white bird leads them to the witch’s house. What’s that about? Birds have served two functions. First, they get them lost by eating the crumbs. Now starving, the bird guides the kids to food and witch.

After the kids learn to lie, deceive, murder and steal, all for the right reasons, another bird will help them return. They must cross over water. So many deep symbols. They even respect the small bird’s capacity to carry and go one at a time. They have grown.

It’s no coincidence the kids return to find the bad mother has died. She’s gone with the witch. With all that booty they’ve safely stolen, there’s no more problems now. But I’m curious how Hansel and Gretel, especially Gretel, have changed. There’s no way she’s the same after killing the witch. Besides, she’s tasted shadow food.

Coyote comes to mind. He stays away from the gingerbread city during the day. He sleeps peacefully in his cemetery hide-out and dreams about finding a mate. It doesn’t get any better than this.

At night, he wakes and wanders the neighborhoods. The lights are bright and Coyote sits in the dark and watches the people inside their homes. What is wrong with them? He’s very curious.

There are fat cats to feed on, but the dogs mostly bark. They’ve forgotten how to talk. Coyote wants to get closer and this gets him in trouble. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be a trickster.

Coyote thinks he’s too smart to get caught, but he looks like a dog on the loose and just like Hansel, he’s about to be trapped and caged. It will involve a fence and a female. She talked back.

He’ll learn about the oven at the pound, where’s he’s fed by mostly loving, well-intentioned people. Since tricksters have the gift of change and can be very seductive, he’ll get himself adopted.
















Ashes to Trees

Sansaku: Ashes to Trees


While we were up in Boulder, I went looking for my grandparent’s grave. Couldn’t find it. Chyako and I walked back and forth across the grass and read a thousand names. There’s only headstones in this cemetery, no monuments. I wanted to bury some ashes.

It’s not my favorite cemetery in Boulder. I know the other two far better. I went to elementary school by the oldest in town and after I turned adolescent, walked through another to get to the woods and the Enchanted Mesa. That’s actually it’s name.

I do have a correction to make. When I wrote about a certain bristlecone pine on Trail Ridge Road, I seem to have been mistaken. The park naturalist said the closest were a hundred miles south.

But since I write half-fiction, I don’t mind that one lone bristlecone somehow wandered a little farther north than it’s supposed to grow. It was rooted near the tundra and an old trail. The Indian ponies who crossed here have turned into cars and a highway.

Who knows what the old bristlecone thinks? The elves knew how to ask and maybe they helped with the Latin names for the two species we find in the west. One reminds me of Long Lived and the other of Aristocratic. If Yoda were a tree, he’d look like one of these.

I took some of Irma’s ashes with me. I intended to bury a few pinches beside that bristlecone I couldn’t find. But she’s up there in the park. I’d found two spots two days before. Both were next to limber pines. One was high on a ridge looking down into glacier gorge, the basin behind Long’s Peak. We’d just passed some magnificent cow elk. I’d never been as close. The peace. How can I describe?

The second spot was near the shore of Dream Lake. It’s one of the iconic postcard points in the park. I’ve climbed the peak that reflects and know the hidden glacier just below. The wind was blowing hard.

I’m partial to the high elevation whitebark pines, the bristlecone, limber, and foxtail. They’re living monuments of a kind no cemetery can boast. And since much of these trees is dead and looks like sculpted stone-bone, it works for me.

I found the perfect spot to bury her ashes. I hoped the tree who feed on them. I can’t exaggerate the beauty of the place. We climbed to the top of a rock to worship and eat our lunch. My kind of church.

I was halfway through my sandwich when a gust of wind suddenly stole my hat. We watched it disappear. I gave chase. I expected to see it drifting in the lake, but looking down from the edge of the cliff, it wasn’t there. And then I saw it.

One branch of the limber pine, the one where I’d planted her ashes, overhung the lake. Perched on the end of that elegant branch, my hat. I had to do some climbing, but I got it. Chyako said, “Irma’s here.’’ I felt her presence and won’t forget the way she caught it.

I also left some ashes in the center of the sunrise circle at the top of Flagstaff, it’s one of Boulder’s picturesque foothills. I considered an old ponderosa overhanging the city. I stayed with the circle.

When she dated Corder in college, this sacred site had just been built. Since the road is still quite precarious, I can only imagine how wild the ride back then. She would have been weak in the knees.

They went up there to talk. At least that’s what she said. But as soon as she said this, she paused and smiled. Her memory was graphic and she wasn’t the kind to blush.








Crumbs and Pages

Sansaku: Crumbs and Pages


When Hansel and Gretel went into the dark scary woods, there wasn’t a path. It’s why they left bread crumbs to find the way back. The birds and small animals were pleased the humans left food for them. It usually went the other way.

They could have left piles of rocks or tree branches, but it’s not what the fairytale wanted. It was time to grow up and get real.

After the witch tried to eat them and they crossed back over the river, I don’t think they ever returned to the gingerbread house. It’s been years since I read the story.

I wandered myself into similar woods, but instead of crumbs I wrote in a journal and left behind pages to mark the path. Now I’m gobbling the crumb pages and catching up fast. I want to return.

Once upon a time Coyote decided to go into the dark place. He chewed small pieces of meat and left them to mark the way back. He didn’t need eyes to find them, he could see with his smell. Besides, they were small caches of food and would fuel his way back.

When he entered the dark place, he couldn’t tell day from night. He closed his eyes to feel the way and failed to open them come morning. When he did, he turned around and saw a small flock of Birds and a few Small Animals. They were following and curious. “Why were you walking backwards with your eyes closed?” He didn’t have an answer.

They thanked him for the offerings and Coyote knew they’d eaten up his signposts. He said, “I suppose you’re welcome.” But he was thinking, “How will I ever get out?” The Birds said, “We could take you back the way you came, but that’s not why we’re here.”

The Small Animals said, “You’ve given us food, now we’ll find food for you.” They wouldn’t say where they were taking him, even when he asked. The Birds flew high overhead.

Normally coyotes eat small animals and don’t pay attention to birds. But he didn’t try to chase the Small Animals and closely followed the Birds. They were guiding him up a tall mountain and very close to the tree line the Small Animals said, “This is where we’ll leave you.”

One of the big Birds landed, “Don’t look for food up here. Drink flowing water only. You’ll know how to find it.”

Before he continued climbing, he turned and thanked the Small Animals. They said, “You will not be alone.” The Wind echoed and Coyote heard deep inside, “You will not be alone.”

Coyote kept walking and didn’t close his eyes. The Wind echoed louder inside and he seemed to grow light. He was almost at the summit when he heard the roaring on the other side. Coyote slowed down.

This is when Hansel and Gretel see the Gingerbread House. It’s one of those moments in stories. There’s a choice to be made. Will they hide or check it out? They’re hungry and tempted, and it’s probably too good to be true. They go for the cookies. They don’t know about Witches and they’re about to be food.

When Coyote crossed over the last glorious ridge and looked down, it was something he never expected. The Birds circled around and came close. “What is it?” he said. The Forest was gone and the sound, smell and sight were all bad. “It’s a city,” they said.

Gretel got pissed at the Witch, who wanted to bake her brother. When she kicked the Witch into the oven, a symbol of transformation, something happened. Coyote hasn’t a clue what he’s going to do.









Just Enough Salt

Sansaku: Just Enough Salt


During the one-month retreats at Spirit Rock, Chyako tells me they only serve chai once a week. “You don’t know when and they don’t announce it when they do. You’re either there or you’re not. And since there’s no talking, no one will tell you. You don’t even know when you’re missing it. It keeps you looking.”

She says it’s distracting to be on the look-out for chai, but good practice to notice. No wonder she can teach.

Sometimes I’m mindful drinking tea. Just now, I gulp and swallow. I feel the hot rush of liquid as pleasure. It’s more than a bit erotic. I probably shouldn’t say that out loud.

I’ve got a teapot clock and a sunrise poem to remind me, I want to stay awake. Especially to beauty. When I finish the first pot of tea, it marks the first hour, I look out the window. The sky says it’s time to write a short poem. I want to remember.

Gongs and bells in meditation halls. I use the sunrise and tea. Against the dark sky, the shadow of trees. Alive.

I am often told dame, which is Japanese for not doing what I should. The sky is never dame.

When the sky turns mauve, I think about the word. I know the color. When the sun comes and strikes the leaves chartreuse, the word fits the color.

I had a friend who wanted to sell her beautiful house and move to a smaller, simpler one.   At the moment, I’m identified with mine. I look a lot like this old woodshop, pottery studio, storeroom, turned to study. I’m reminded of something my Zen teacher taught in college.

Too much salt will ruin good soup. It’s still good with too little, but will lack in flavor. Just enough, not too much, too little is better. Salt is one of those symbols.

I’ve forgotten most of what I studied in economics, but some of the salt remains. The curve that describes marginal utility gives the same Zen advice. If pleasure is added like salt, one pinch at a time, two points can be observed. The first where pleasure begins to diminish and the second where it starts to decrease.

The maximum point of pleasure is not at the top, but comes at the inflection, the tipping point to the rising joy. It’s the soup in the mouth, not on the spoon or down in the stomach. It’s chai day.

When statistics were being done on general levels of happiness, the findings suggested those with lower expectations did better than those with high. They weren’t disappointed as often and were often pleasantly surprised. It’s relative, of course, and there’s always exceptions. Sometimes you can’t get enough.

I find this is true when it comes to the highest levels and stages of development. To find the soul’s goal, try to describe the ideal.

In the fairytale story, I tend to identify with the younger brother, the prince who will never be king. Younger brother feels he’s dodged the bullet of responsibility and takes to the woods. He wanders around and gets in the good kind of trouble. He’s kind of slow and likes it.

One day he chances upon an old man living in a cave. It’s a paradise sort of place and he asks if he can stay. The old man says to the young prince, “I wondered when you’d arrive.” They have the same eyes.

“I was a younger brother, not the heir, and I went looking just like you. And just like you, I found an old man living in a cave. He said the same thing I just said to you, “I wondered when you’d arrive.”