That which is before you is it, in all its fullness, utterly complete.
--- Huang Po

jeudi 10 avril 2014

Farewell Peter Matthiessen

"Zen is really just a reminder to stay alive and to be awake," the Zen master and great American writer Peter Matthiessen once said. "Zen practice is about appreciating your life in this moment. If you are truly aware of five minutes a day, then you are doing pretty well.''
Until he died on Saturday at age 86, Peter served as a sterling example of staying alive and being awake. His was an extraordinarily rich life. He was a prize-winning writer of both fiction and nonfiction who explored the wilds of nature as well as those of our inner life, and championed endangered species and the oppressed, particularly Native Americans.
Here are some links to get a feel for him:

A profile
An obituary
Some words about him from his teacher, Bernie Glassman (Peter was Bernie's first dharma successor)
An excerpt from a radio interview in which Peter discusses his Zen practice

His last novel was published on Tuesday, three days after his death. Called "In Paradise," it is the story of a group of people who come together for a retreat at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. Peter had been trying to write this book for nearly 20 years, since his own participation in such a retreat at Auschwitz in 1996, at which I first met him. How is it possible to write anything about this place? we both wondered. Eventually, we both did it - or tried to - for better or worse.
His was a grand life of adventure and inspiration. On the last postcard he sent to me, about a year ago, he wrote that he hoped we would have the opportunity to see each other once again "before the smoke clears."
On Sunday, after learning of his death, I sat in my garden in the city, beside the little apple tree in bloom, the spring birdsong rising and falling with the breeze. It could have been the Himalayas, it could have been Long Island, it could have been Poland, it could have been New Guinea or any of the lands near and far that Peter visited and loved and appreciated moment to moment. But it was right here that I sat with him in the afternoon, wishing him safe passage on his journey, now that the smoke has cleared.

mardi 25 février 2014

Easter in Portugal with special guest Catherine Genno Pagès Roshi

Ten years ago, in October 2004, the first seeds of our Wild Flower Zen community in Portugal were planted when the Porto Buddhist Union invited my teacher, Roshi Catherine Genno Pagès, to visit for the first time. I accompanied Genno Roshi for that ground-breaking trip, and have since returned alone to Portugal year after year, cultivating those first seeds and helping them flourish with the help of innumerable dharma friends and practitioners in Portugal.

Now, it is my immense pleasure to announce that for the first time since that 2004 visit, Genno Roshi is returning to Portugal as the special guest of our Easter retreat near Lisbon, April 17-21. Genno Roshi is founder and spiritual director of the Dana Zen community in Paris and is among the leading Zen Buddhist teachers in Europe and the West. This retreat offers a rare opportunity to not only meet a great Zen master, but also to experience directly the living, embodied lineage of which we are all a part and to share with Roshi the fruits that have matured in Portugal since her first visit.

I'm hoping that the Portuguese Wild Flower Sangha can thank Roshi for her years of devotion to the dharma by welcoming her with our own wild, rich and deep practice that has blossomed thanks to her. Please join us for this exceptional retreat. For info and registration: wildflower.pt@gmail.com

mardi 18 février 2014


It's been days since my last entry. Nothing special to note here tonight except this, which came to me via email, among a variety of "inspirational" quotes, and I couldn't let it slip away without sharing it with my zenscribe friends:

Generosity is the ornament of the world.
Through generosity, one turns back from the lower realms.
Generosity is the stairway to the higher realms.
Generosity is the virtue that produces peace.
From "The Sutra of the Recollection of the Noble Three Jewels"

dimanche 2 février 2014

The same again: Happy Birthday James Joyce

Feb. 2 is so many things for so many people: an ancient pagan day of celebrating light, as the days begin to grow longer after winter's long darkness; a Christian day of celebrating Christ's "presentation to the temple;" a French festive day marked by making crêpes; Groundhog Day in America, which is another version of celebrating light and the coming of spring... It also happens to be the day James Joyce was born, in 1882, and the day on which his books A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (in 1914) and Ulysses (in 1922, on Joyce's 40th birthday) were published.
So happy 132nd birthday, Mr. Joyce.
And in case you're interested in a taste of Joyce, here's a recording of him reading from his last book, Finnegans Wake, in 1929. A wonderful, rare example of language as music, written and performed by a master. I call this literature as koan, for like koans it opens us to a direct experience of the true nature of all things.

mardi 28 janvier 2014

Rest in peace, Pete Seeger

Sad day: The indefatigable songman and peace activist Pete Seeger died today, at the age of 94. He was a national treasure for all those Americans who stood up and spoke out, who refused to let the country pursue its hateful ways of war and oppression. His banjo was decorated with the message: "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender."
Many of us grew up with his songs in our heads, and his greatest gift, perhaps, was inspiring everyone to sing along, to follow his joyful songline.
"Realize that little things lead to bigger things," he once said. "And this wonderful parable in the New Testament: the sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousand fold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of?"

mardi 14 janvier 2014

Yes in hazy moonlight

There was a hazy moon in the dark sky tonight. I noticed it earlier this evening when I was returning home after a day at work. And I saw it last night, too. But each time, when I checked for it later, the haze was nowhere to be seen. Only a brilliant moon remained. All alone with me.
From where I sit now in my warm house, in a chair at a desk tapping on this keyboard, the night seems to be so deeply quiet, as if it's there but invisible under a blanket of silence.
And yesterday I came upon a book designer's cover for Joyce's great "Ulysses." The lettering looked like this: UlYssES
Like hazy moonlight and the night, yes is always there.

mercredi 8 janvier 2014

Keep touching the ground

Back at work and other activities this week after the traditional holiday "break.'' Seems a bit strange, like I've been away for a long while, and strangely just the same, as if I've never left. I guess the truth is that both are true...
I've also been thinking how lucky I am to have "activities" like work and family and household tasks, which at times I consider to be burdensome obligations. How nice it would be to have "total freedom" to write and to devote myself "fully" to cultivating my Zen practice and work as a teacher! Actually, though, I know from experience that the way my life unfolds - just as it is, busy or not - is really, truly the very best "place" for me to "fully" live an awakened life. Right here at my office desk is the ground of awakening!

Yesterday I came across this perfect view from Thich Nhat Hanh:

Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are three precious jewels in Buddhism, and the most important of these is Sangha. The Sangha contains the Buddha and the Dharma. A good teacher is important, but sisters and brothers in the practice are the main ingredient for success. You cannot achieve enlightenment by locking yourself in your room. Transformation is possible only when you are in touch. When you touch the ground, you can feel the stability of the earth and feel confident.

Please stay "in touch" all together in the coming year, my friends.

mercredi 1 janvier 2014

Completion and renewal

As 2013 has come to a close and we enter 2014, it's a great moment to remind ourselves where we have been and also to look clearly at where we are: at both an end and a beginning.
Think of a circle, which is both a completion (2013 is complete) and a renewal (a new year, 2014, is starting, not even 24 hours old yet). The possibilities for awakening and embodying loving actions are thus endless, whatever the circumstances, at every moment of life!
May we deepen our practice together in the coming year, realizing the full potential in our lives and enriching all those around us.

vendredi 29 novembre 2013

After Thanksgiving

Fog started rolling in last night, hovering along our street as my son and I returned late from a Thanksgiving feast. He noted the odd brilliance it cast, affording a seemingly incongruous clarity to the briskly chilly night lit only by street lamps. We were filled to the brim with autumn's singular pleasures. And most thankful for it all.
Fog remained over the city this morning as I descended through a forest of high-rise office towers to my own place of work for the day job. Air was warmer, but it was as pristinely clear as it was last night.
And now, I'm as thankful, too, for the unexpected invitation to the Thanksgiving dinner, the shared pleasures of food and drink and conversation, a photo of a wild and beautiful beach across the Atlantic sent via text message from another Thanksgiving celebration, and a foggy autumn night and day in Paris.

lundi 25 novembre 2013

Retreat calendar spring-summer 2014

2014 (spring and summer) multi-day retreats with the Wild Flower Zen Sangha and Sensei Amy Hollowell:

April 17-21, Portugal (with special guest Roshi Catherine Genno Pagès)
May 9-16, Belgium (co-led with Sensei Frank de Waele and Sensei Corrine Frottier)
July 26-Aug. 2, Portugal

for information about retreats and registration: info@wildflowerzen.org

lundi 18 novembre 2013

Perfect zero

Today, wars all around and other natural disasters, the "economy" in tatters, hunger, disease, plastic surgery rampant. And in my weekly agenda, dotted with quotes from artists through the ages, there is this:

"Il réalisait parmi les hommes cette figure parfaite que le cercle réalise parmi les lignes géométriques. C'était un zéro."
Victor Hugo, note destinée aux Misérables.
("He accomplished among men that perfect form that the circle accomplishes among geometric lines. He was a zero.")

Well. My day will never be the same.

mardi 12 novembre 2013

Lou Reed's wide-awake death

It's been a couple of weeks since I learned of Lou Reed's death, the day after he died, as I returned to Paris after retreat in Portugal. And only now did I finally find what his wife, the great Laurie Anderson, had to say about his death, about him, about them. Here's a beautiful excerpt:

"As meditators, we had prepared for this - how to move the energy up from the belly and into the heart and out through the head. I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou's as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn't afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life - so beautiful, painful and dazzling – does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love.''

What a marvelous teaching.
You can read the whole thing here.

vendredi 8 novembre 2013

The Hidden Lamp. Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women

Finally yesterday the book I've been awaiting for months and months arrived. When the postman knocked and rang at my door, I was sure he had what I wanted: "The Hidden Lamp. Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women."
My delight did not meet with disappointment. What a treasure this is! The book is a collection of 100 stories and koans involving women, with commentaries by 100 contemporary Buddhist women teachers. But, as the American male Zen master Norman Fischer writes in the foreword, the book includes "not only the long-missing stories of women, but, along with them, a spirit and attitude of open-handed teaching that the commentators and the text as a whole reflect."
Perhaps I am biased: I am, I admit, a contributor to the book, as is my own teacher and other women from my lineage. But as I dip into the book again and again, I keep discovering an unfathomably rich trove of precious wisdom for the ages and for right here and now.
But of course, as always, don't take my word for it; check it out for yourself.

mardi 29 octobre 2013


Back in Montreuil today. Lazing in the late afternoon with Proust. I look up from the book for a moment, out the window, and there, a magnificent rainbow curves across the cloudy sky like a dome. It seems to hang there, stretching horizon to horizon above the trees, forever. But then finally once when I look up it has vanished, nowhere to be seen in a perfect blue sky.
I'm stunned for a second, and sad, too, that the rainbow is gone. I see how I would have liked to hold it, fix it, keep it.
And yet, I then feel that it's a marvel that it was there and that now it's a marvel that it's not there, too.

dimanche 27 octobre 2013

Retreat notes: Brilliant sun and fly buzz in Coimbra

Here I am on retreat in Portugal, amid ribbons of highways, under brilliant sun overlooking Coimbra.
Great sitting all day altogether. Someone said this morning he was happy to be here and thanked me for coming. I told him the same thing.
Meanwhile, a fly has been hanging around in my room since Friday night. Wonder why he doesn't go out. I guess he's doing what we all do, buzzing around and around in our little spaces, not realizing the endless world is all around.