In April of 1944 between excursions for the Merchant Marines, Woody Guthrie found himself in a recording studio.* He was tired of hearing God Bless America all the time on the radio (imagine!). When he sang the words, this land is your land, he didn’t mean that we can do whatever we want. He meant we are the land. Joanna Macy calls this the eco self.**
An original verse:
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.
Science Friday’s listening audience finds out that there is an insect who eats himself. He smells something familiar, something he has eaten before, and then starts in. Does he not feel pain? Does he not know, this is me? Does he not associate the pain he feels with his action, with self? If he had a partner would it be different. Is this real? Is this suicide? Enlightenment or ignorance?
In the 50’s during the McCarthy era, another verse:
One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple,
by the relief office I saw my people.
As they stood hungry,
I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me.
In the summer of 1993 the people of Hokoji were immediately kind to me, through all my sarcastic rants, crying fits, overtalkings and latenesses… I immediately belonged.
Then I learn Returning to Sangha is one of three bodies I can go home to… I mean, it’s a Buddhist teaching.
I blew out the temple candle when it wasn’t my job. I talked during silent retreats. I was overly opinionated and pissed off when others talked. I asked a lot of questions. Jean showed me how to clean incense bowls and what bells to ring. Angie helped me identify toxic shame. For the people of Hokoji I made boiled cabbage, undercooked lentils, overcooked collards, crumbling tofu, and they said, yum. They put up with me slipping out of the Zendo early to do yoga asanas on the porch. They listened, tolerated my handstands, crying, and misfit friends. I didn’t know the term skillful means at that time. I thought I was special and tried to attend to others that way too. I was part of something. It was OK that my sense of self veered toward the fear based, performative, solid sensitive, and dramatic. The practice of sitting would lead me inward. Ta Da! Look around. This path touches and goes. I come up against a wall of what I call me. Realizing my own impermanence and emptiness holds hands with realizing my false ego identification, and intense longing. It’s like I am eating away at my own body. So then hello hello, back to here, wonderful greening moments of being. I don’t know. I don’t know. There is no thing I can call me. This is a hard nut to swallow, so it helped to have a tender voice when it was my turn to meet two eyes to two eyes.
Chloe*** is so afraid of people. She tolerates the acupuncture needle if she can lean into me. When she digs a little, sniffs the ground and plays she forgets her fear. At the tree park, she is completely fascinated by squirrels. I can see glimpses of her true nature.. She doesn’t like to be caught, (who does?) but wants to go for a walk with Jake and me. So she dances, looks away and eventually runs in the house, for the couch, a soft place, where she tolerates the harness and leash. You can do it, I tell her.
Sixteen years back I drew a small dog, curled up, on the side of a big road, and handed it to a Zen teacher. Shinko looked in my eyes and said, don’t worry about paring down the ego. Build it up for a while. Oh. Really? Is it still Zen? Is Zen that kind that it dismantles itself in order to help a little quiver?
Skillful means, appropriate action. Each circumstance needs something different. I memorize something wise that someone said or did and then parrot without a veer off course. My teachers saw this. They say, hello, hello, sit by me. What is it that you like sprinkled on top of your oats? I took showers at their houses; I swung in their hammocks, dipped into their hot-tubs, and ate their ratatouille. I love them unconditional and I love them for this skill and kindness.
I’m no Zen teacher. I’m only beginning to know how to turn and face out from the wall. Regardless, I’m leading a sesshin next month. This means we sit together and eat quietly and then there’s a short talk and then we love our sleep! We have some rough 40-minute periods I suppose. There are naps. There’s a little work period and we might laugh. We may appreciate the practice together, and each other and every little cotton fluff that floats from a tree and makes us sneeze.
Our land. Our land. I don’t like to tell others what to do. How should I know what is best for you and you! The ones that I am telling are not listening anyway, so here goes: We need to take care of our world Mr. and Missus and inbetween.. Earth, water, sky…. Some people may not believe in the earth at all. Maybe these people should go on an outward bound trip. Maybe they should volunteer for hospice. Maybe they should write a poem about this rain tonight, plant a red bean seed in good dirt, and sit and see what happens next, if there is water and sun. Then they could see what happens with no water and sun.
When the sun comes shining, then I was strolling,
With the wheat fields waving, the dust clouds rolling,
The voice come a-chanting, and the fog was lifting.
This land was made for you and me.
~ o ~
a current recording you can listen to (bird songs and all): Phosphorescent- “This Land Is Your Land,” SXSW 3-17-16 – YouTube