Posted by: Tess | November 15, 2012

My new website:

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” ~ Seneca

When I started this blog over a year and half ago it was with the intention of sharing my day to day life with all its turns and wobbles along the road of this human existence. I called it Suhurat… Day’s End to connect with the wonderful meaning of this Middle Eastern word, to go with what arises in life, and find the solace at the end of the day to gather my words on this intangible writing tablet.

I feel I have stayed true to that direction and with my ever deepening commitment to Buddhism it felt that the time had come to give this blog a more authentic name that spoke to the content of my posts and my practice.

So, a new website is born. It will still be my blog, in fact all the posts from this blog are waiting patiently over there now, but I also see it as broadening to share voices from others and serve to convey the changing directions of my life now and in the future.

Join me at If you are a subscriber to this blog you will automatically begin receiving emails from DHAMMA scribe. If you are not a subscriber, I hope you’ll sign up at the new site. You may of course unsubscribe at any time.

This will be the last post at Suhurat..Day’s End. Thank you for reading my words; I’ve treasured your visits and each of your comments.  I hope you’ll share your voice with me at the new website. We’ve got so much to talk about.

Prayer for What is Lost

by Stuart Kestenbaum

We are moving forward
or in some direction up,
down, east, west, to the side,
down the canyon walls,
watching the light fall
on the cliffs, which makes
the light seem ancient because
the red stone is hundreds
of millions of years old,
but the light is from today,
it is what the plants are moving
out of the earth to meet,
it heats the air that lifts the birds
that float and hover
over what is made from now.

“Prayer for What is Lost” by Stuart Kestenbaum, from Prayers & Run-On Sentances. © Deerbrook Editions, 2007.

Posted by: Tess | November 4, 2012

Somebody that I used to know

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” ~ Anaïs Nin

Since I started down the Buddhist path I’ve seen pieces of me change and morph into new semblances of what I define as this being called Tess. I’ve witnessed some parts fall away with mindful gratitude and other times the transition leaves me with a sense of amnesia, trying to remember when the shift occurred and tracing my steps back to the last time I recall being my old non-self.

Slowly a deeper quaking started to rumble inside of me. There was an incident a couple of years ago when I was going to have a come-to-Jesus conversation with someone I worked with who irked me to no end. I had my entire diatribe planned out and as we sat across the table from each other I felt this unexpected and glorious wave of compassion swell over me. All the words and feelings of superiority were washed away in a torrent of caring for this person, and it stuck. I found in the next weeks and months that I had laid down the gauntlet of blame towards that being. It was a revelation that things could be another way and, as it turned out, more of a come-to-Buddha kind of awakening than I had anticipated.

In the past year I’ve felt a pronounced redefining in how I see the world and myself. The changes have been dramatic and also subtle, so much so that in many cases it’s only in doing what I’ve always done that I realize the old status quo just doesn’t fit anymore.

Although I wouldn’t call myself a potty mouth, I have been known to bandy about swear words with just the right amount of shock value and well-placed humour. Now I find coarse language disagreeable to my constitution and it actually feels like a finger jabbing at my chest when I hear it. Once upon a time I was a Hollywood screenwriter and not only enjoyed blockbusters films, but wrote a couple of action scripts for the fun of it. A few retreats at a Buddhist monastery and now when I stroll through my local video store I find very little that appeals to me. I was an-Olympic-level-consumer, increase-my-credit-card-limit, buy-enough-for-free-shipping shopaholic. This month I cancelled two of my credit cards and next month I’m planning to have a party to give away many of my belongings.

What astounds me most in all of this is that there was no trying to find this way; it found me. And in that lies the rub. Renunciation, nekkhamma, is one of the ten perfections of Buddhism. It presents a freedom from sensual pleasures, a falling away of attachments and cravings. In these shifts in my perceptions, perhaps I’ve gotten a glimpse of that freedom. I’ve felt for the briefest of moments the immense peace of nibbana, the possibility of no suffering and the pure and utter lightness of being in a state of undefinable grace. I believe wholeheartedly in the Buddha’s words and teachings. Yet there is a stumbling and a sadness in finding this new way. I knew how to be in that other world, what tricks to play, what lines to recite, how to make people laugh and also how miserable I could feel through it all. Now that has changed. I’ve seen the wizard behind the curtain and I can’t go back. In this new skin of awareness comes a re-patterning and a shedding of old ways of being and knowing. Trying to fit into that old life feels like looking through eyeglasses with an outdated prescription; they just doesn’t work anymore. And with that understanding comes the realization that I don’t need a new pair of glasses; in fact I don’t need any glasses at all. Clarity of vision unmasks even the most lucid of dreams, whether awake or asleep.

So now what?

It may sound trite, but it’s all a day, an hour, a moment at a time. When I feel the rush of peace warming my blood I know I am where I need to be. Watching “The Matrix” the other night I saw the film in a different way in light of the changes in my life. Themes of what is real and what is an illusory sensual world resonated with added intensity.

I took the red pill. How about you?

Image credit:

My brother by mickepe at morgueFile

Posted by: Tess | October 28, 2012

Nothing, thank you

“…nothing is as eloquent as nothing.” ~ Sonmi~451 from the novel, Cloud Atlas

A crush of garnet, orange and yellow leaves now cover the sidewalks and streets of the city I call home. Fall has returned with her wet skies and brilliant tapestries both underfoot and floating down from the heavens of satellite trees. This morning as I walked towards the ocean under those grand, wind-kissed branches, my mind drifted to what I had to do today, what I would have for lunch, what to write in this blog post.

In the midst of all the thoughts I stopped the petitions to the future and reminded myself of the delicious presence surrounding me. For the briefest of milliseconds I was in the arms of nothing.

I’ve nearly finished reading Cloud Atlas, the stunning and powerful novel by David Mitchell. Besides being a creative tour de force, he manages to weave themes of reincarnation, cravings, the illusion of self, suffering and end of suffering into a tapestry of six interlocking stories. There’s a scene in one of the tales in which Sonmi~451, a futuristic being cloned for servitude, learns for the first time of Siddhartha, the Buddha. She sees a cross-legged carving of him in a mountainside and is told he was a man “that offered salvation from a meaningless cycle of birth and rebirth…[he] taught about overcoming pain, and influencing one’s future reincarnations.”

Sonmi~451’s journey is marked by pain and shattered illusions, and what she learns near the end of her life is indeed the crux of Buddhism: nothing is as eloquent as nothing. Nothing is total presence, mindfulness, the end of suffering, enlightenment, Nibbana. Holding at bay our monkey mind and emotions, our hopes and schemes, our regrets and longings, and staying in the complete and utter mercy of no thought, no past, no future, that state of no thing is true liberation. Living in the cradle of emptiness we can see ever more clearly the impermanence of not just the autumn leaves, but everything in this life. Seeing nothing as the means and the end cuts the cycle of suffering for there’s no need for cravings, no need to hold onto the illusion of a self that wants another pair of shoes or a better life or to write one more word.

Heading home under those same gilded trees, two women approached me and pointed to an owl sitting in a tree up ahead. There he was, not more than 10 feet off the ground in the late morning light of a busying day. His eyes clear and bright, he surveyed the ground and the tree, swiveling his regal head with graceful ease. He wasn’t thinking about how he looked or remembering the meal he had yesterday. His world existed only in the empty vessel of now, the nothing bowl of each present moment, and watching for what might cross his path and become his meal for today.

I watched him for awhile and held the presence we shared with gratitude and wonder. Eloquence had its moment with us. Now it was time to fly.

Buddha in Glory

By Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Stephen Mitchell

Center of all centers, core of cores,
almond self-enclosed, and growing sweet–
all this universe, to the furthest stars
all beyond them, is your flesh, your fruit.

Now you feel how nothing clings to you;
your vast shell reaches into endless space,
and there the rich, thick fluids rise and flow.
Illuminated in your infinite peace,

a billion stars go spinning through the night,
blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that
will be, when all the stars are dead

Buddha in Glory by Rainer Maria Rilke, Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Stephen Mitchell, Modern Library, copyright 1995.

Image credit: Korea south silla stone Buddha via Wikimedia Commons

Posted by: Tess | October 21, 2012

Ground Control

Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror, no feeling is final. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Re-entering into everyday life after returning from my recent meditation retreat, I was pretty confident that I had this whole Dhamma thing worked out. Impermanence – check. Suffering – check. Non-self – oh, yeah, a big checkorooni. I carried the lessons I’d received on retreat in the backpack of my being for handy reference. Any emotions that arose were examined and dismissed with a surety of compassion and equanimity that felt hinged to my cells. My meditations on illness, death, aging and loss were vivid and focused. Loving kindness pervaded every waking breath.

Then I got a cold.

It’s funny how clear and mindful one can be when illness is a thought playing in your head vs. the sensory experience of snot dripping from your nose, your head feeling like a Zeppelin, and your body aching so much from relentless fits of hacking that you’re sure you’ve just coughed up a portion of your lung. Checking in with myself a week ago as to how I was feeling, I’d hear  “Joy”, “Tranquility”, “Peace”. Now I heard a surly adolescent grunt “Miserable”.  Okay. You have to start somewhere.

With my throat raw and sore, I felt guilt about missing work and guilt about wanting to miss work. When I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t breathe, I felt sadness that I wouldn’t get to spend time this weekend with my friends visiting from out of town. As I sat at the computer and considered writing, exhaustion swooped in like a vulture and carried my best intentions into the stratosphere of a rain-filled sky.

Yes, this is just a cold, and as I’ve found over the last four days, finding serenity through discomfort can be quite a challenge. I’ve done it before in meditation when pain showed up in my back, my legs, my hips. I could look at that pain, sit down next to it and not get lost in its appearance in my body. Those times, however, the discomfort pretty much disappeared when I got up from the cushion. My current ailment has proven to be a bit more difficult  since my cold symptoms actually lessen when I meditate. It’s stepping off the seat of enlightenment where I stumble back into  body or form, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, consciousness, in Buddhism called the Five Aggregates.

Looking at the lessons of the Dhamma over the last few days, I feel in some ways like Sisyphus staring at his rock at the bottom of the great mountain. Again. The sensory discomforts, the swirling feelings, perceptions ranging from clear mindfulness to viewing myself as through a window, gazing in at this tortured bag of sea water. My thoughts have been focused and at other times like pinballs rattling around in the machinery of my clogged consciousness. I see clearly the impermanence of my illness, but what if I had a chronic condition or some disease that would terminate in my death? Making peace with the mere elements of me and seeing them as just skin and flesh, bones and phlegm, there’s a permission granted not to hold on so indelibly to the outcome of anything. In setting aside the attachment to my stuffed up nose and my annoying cough I can sit down next to them with compassion and not be pulled into misery and suffering. By seeing the parts of my body with casual attention I can remove them from my experience of a self and step into a place of serene loving kindness for this beautiful, snotty body.

What a gift this cold has been.  Admittedly I’m feeling better symptom wise so my reflections on joy and loving kindness may have more to do with my less foggy head, but I know last night as I slept, whenever I did wake up, I reminded myself of serenity and smiled as I followed my breath back to sleep. I feel joy in the light reaching through the clearing clouds and contentment in pushing the rock of effort towards a clearer way of being, not just when my air passages are clear, but in every moment until my last glorious exhale of this life.

There is no ground control, no one to guide us on the Dhamma path except ourselves. The road is laden with colds and wrinkles and waking up to the truth that each moment is breaking new ground on our journey. And just when you think your feet know where they’re headed, put your helmet on and prepare for a tumble back down that mountain.  When you land flat on your back to begin the quest yet again, remember to stay there awhile and smile up at the sun and the moon and the billions of laughing, radiant, stars gone by.

Space Oddity

by David Bowie

Ground control to major Tom
Ground control to major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
(Ten) Ground control (Nine) to major Tom (Eight)
(Seven, six) Commencing countdown (Five), engines on (Four)
(Three, two) Check ignition (One) and may gods (Blastoff) love be with you

This is ground control to major Tom, you’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare

This is major Tom to ground control, I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
Here am I sitting in a tin can far above the world
Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles, I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows
Ground control to major Tom, your circuits dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, major Tom?
Can you hear me, major Tom?
Can you hear me, major Tom?
Can you…

Here am I sitting in my tin can far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do

“Space Oddity” by David Bowie, copyright 1969

Image Credit: Sisyphus by von Stuck via Wikimedia Commons

Posted by: Tess | October 7, 2012

Crossing Over

I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding. ~ John O’Donohue

A week has passed since I returned to my noisy city life after spending 10 days in tranquil silence at Birken Forest Monastery. I’ve written before about the transcendence I feel when I dip my mindful toes into meditation retreats at Birken. This time once more I feel my practice has tapped into deeper pools of wise waters, the roots of my understanding of the Dhamma stretching into the bedrock of holistic commitment.

When I think back to my first sits four years ago when following my breath felt akin to watching my mind play pinball with every entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica, I marvel at the menu of meditation practices that I now choose from with avid curiosity. Besides the breath and its myriad of variations, I found myself at the retreat savouring with serene concentration my beloved metta (loving kindness) practice, as well sampling some new contemplative entrees including the Five Subjects of Frequent Recollections (aging, illness, loss, death and kamma), Paṭikkūlamanasikāra practice encompassing the Contemplation of the 32 Parts of the Body and cemetery contemplations (yes, more death), and the Three Universal Characteristics: anicca (impermanence), dukkha  (suffering) and anatta (non-self).

Another less grim meditation practice was proposed by Ajahn Sona, my teacher and the abbot at Birken. He suggested I review my life as if it were a movie, backwards and forwards, time and time again to witness the events where I did a good job and those instances where, well, I could use a bit of improvement. Commending myself for the positive actions and re-writing the scripts on the negative ones helped me to see where in my past I would have perhaps taken another road and also how I would like my future life to unfold. Seeing another way to be in the face of anger, agitation, fear, doubt, greed or any number of not so wholesome emotions opens up life to more positive outcomes and an easier journey along the noble path.

Although I waded back into the deep end of life and living with some trepidation this past week, I’ve been noticing that I’m aware of my arising emotions earlier in their ascent than in the past. Here’s where the script re-writes of past encounters comes into play. When shame (or anger or anxiety) started to sneak into my day, I gave myself a humungous bear-hug of metta, a couple of noogies on the noggin and reminded myself that I didn’t need to carry that feeling around. A quick switcharoo of joy for the unsavory emotion and I was well on my way again like a toddler’s owie kissed miraculously away.

This morning, a perfect matcha latte in hand, balmy global warming-induced temperatures greeting my every step, I headed blissfully down the street for my Sunday walk along the ocean. For the preceding hour or so hundreds of runners had been sprinting past my apartment window as part of a citywide marathon. I hadn’t given that much thought to the route of the race until I reached the corner where I normally cross and was greeted by an impasse of runners in full competition vigor surging in both directions on either side of the street. As I waited and waited for an opening to cross over, I felt irritation start to seep into my body. Across the street the ocean crinkled under the sun’s caress and the peace of the walking path, abandoned due to the race, beckoned me to its contented side.

The Buddha’s parable of the man and the raft came to my mind. A man was once trapped on the side of a river where chaos and danger surrounded him. On the other shore he could see there was safety and peace. Gathering up branches, leaves, and rope the man fashioned a raft and with great effort using his feet and arms he crossed the river and made it to the side where he found peace and contentment. Once accomplishing that, what would be the need for the raft? Would he continue to carry it around on his head out of some sense of gratitude since the raft had carried him to safety? The Buddha’s teachings, the Dhamma, are like the raft; once we have reached the other side and know the Dhamma, there is no need to hold onto it any longer.

Slipping away from the chaos of my mind I immersed myself in loving kindness and set down the irritation I had been carrying. A sweeping sense of calm soon pervaded my body. A few minutes later a gap opened on both sides of the stream of runners and I crossed the street with ease.

I walked for a bit along the ocean, the peace I felt in my heart, the perfect companion against the backdrop of runners and water stations and the shouts of well-wishers urging their loved ones on to the finish line. I stopped for a bit to look out at the ocean and the mountains in the distance, their snow nearly gone and hungry for replenishment. I wanted to bask in the joy and contentment I was feeling and didn’t want to let go of the raft that had brought me this far. Perhaps this Dhamma thing will stick this time, I thought.

Just then I turned and saw a handmade sign across the street tucked into a traffic barricade.

Go Tess.

I couldn’t help but laugh. Thanks, Dhamma Cheerleader, wherever you are.

In Blackwater Woods
By Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

“In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver, from American Primitive. © Back Bay Books, 1983.

“Fluent” by John O’Donohue, from Conamara Blues. © Harper Collins, 2004.

Image credit: Sailing up the Padma River by joiseyshowaa – Flickr Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

Posted by: Tess | September 19, 2012

Sending Off This Letter

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”~ Rumi

My new article at was published today. It’s a love letter to Canada, my home. Here’s a snippet:

It’s funny. Sometimes you don’t see your next door neighbour as anything more than a border until one day you go through customs and suddenly realize it could be the country you’ve always been looking for.

After living here for over four and a half years I’ve finally taken the plunge and applied for citizenship. The wait will be nearly two years, but Canada, you’re so worth the wait.

Shane Koyczan’s love poem to Canada, We Are More.

Posted by: Tess | September 16, 2012

The Crack in Everything

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ~ Leonard Cohen

Washing dishes in the warm ease of a recent morning, something shifted in me. I don’t remember what I may have been thinking or what my plans were for that day, but as I rinsed a glass and placed it on my dish rack a beam of sunlight bounced through the tumbler and changed my life forever.

That may sound over-the-top dramatic and more than a bit on the woo-woo side of the tracks, but in a real sense I saw the world in a new way. For a spectacular instant I didn’t recognize the sun ray as anything I had ever experienced before. Its presence, the way it split into brilliant miracles of light in my hand as I held the glass turned on something inside of me. Or perhaps, turned off something. It was like listening to a radio station and the signal shifts ever so slightly so that the familiar song you’ve heard a dozen times before becomes crystalline and alive. You hear it, feel it in an entirely new way that you would never have known if that frequency had not changed. A shift in perception, a startled moment of setting aside all that I knew to be “true”, and stumbling upon unknowingness that felt like liberation from the day and all that I had believed with such assurance before that tip of the glass.

Even giving the experience over to words alters what I felt in an instant of sheer newness. Naming it sullies the interchange I witnessed with the glass and the light. Walking the path of Buddhism, I practice each day to find the novelty, the uniqueness of a breath or a step or an emotion, watching each with attentive tuning so that perhaps the clarity of wisdom’s eloquent frequency will touch my life. Each instant is a birth and a death, a chance to sense this life experience on a wider band width, attempting to stay open to the immense wisdom hiding behind the thousands of moments I live each day.

The feeling of wonder stayed with me. As I walked downtown I found the leaves of trees sounded different. Their green coats opening to the crisp notes of fall seemed to be breathing, their songs in the wind a symphony of exalted ripples against the sky. The people I passed were more luminous, more keenly felt in my heart. I tried not to hold on to the sensations or expect more of the grandeur I was feeling, but I couldn’t help slipping into an attachment to the ethereal nature of nature. As I found myself craving it more, it left me as gently as it had arrived.

This week I will be off to a 10 day meditation retreat. I expect there will be moments of clarity and chaos, silence and cacophony and perhaps, if the tuning is just right, a crack in my perceptions to let the light shine in.

i thank You God for most this amazing

By e. e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Photo credit: Sunrays through window, courtesy of Morguefile

Anthem by Leonard Cohen

Posted by: Tess | September 9, 2012

Shame (and Pride) On Me

“Pride is nothing but lying.” ~ St. Vincent de Paul

“Shame is like everything else; live with it long enough and it becomes part of the furniture.” ~ Salman Rushdie

A few days after Clause, my cat died, I was speaking to a friend on the phone and told her I was glad in a way that he was gone now. Less cat food to prepare, less litter to scoop, less to clean, less money to spend. Almost immediately I slipped into shame over what I had said, and not so much that I had spoken the words, but shame in what my friend would think of me now that those words had escaped into the bright light of truth. Even now I feel a gnawing need to justify my relief in his dying. Like the dust gathering on the furniture, it can seem invisible until pride starts fluffing up the pillows and points out shame’s dirty presence.

Pride, or conceit, is one of the 10 fetters of Buddhism that enslave us to our suffering and keep us from achieving nibbana. Pride elevates us and forces us to look down on others with judgement and superiority. Shame is simply the other bracelet of the same handcuff. It drops the floor out from under us and we fall into a pit of victimhood that demeans us and demonizes those we consider better than ourselves. Whenever we believe we are greater than or less than another, we have built a wall of arrogance that enforces our delusions of the Three Poisons: greed, hatred and ignorance.

Since that conversation with my friend, I’ve been paying more attention to pride and shame shifting in and out of my days. My ego nimbly points out how cool I must be to win One Lovely Blog Award (and then it made me add this link to the blog post where I wrote about it) and promptly kicks me in the shins, reminding me that in the universe of blog-land my posts are mere lint riding on the back of a dog who belongs to some really, truly awesome blogger. Pride lobs one over the net when I pat myself on the back for not having the muffin at coffee with friends yesterday and shame wins the set today after I burrow my face in a jar of almond butter with a generous side of honey. Pride pulled up a chair next to me in a restaurant last week when I was on a date and pointed out all the flaws in my companion while shame sneered at me for not being entirely honest with him as our evening ended and I told him, sure, I’d love to see him again.

In the midst of my to and fro dance with pride and shame, I’ve tried to find the middle way of humility. Unlike the polarizing effects of pride and shame, humility reaches across the divide of better or less than and extends a hand of equanimity and compassion. Humility is not a dressed down version of pride nor is it shame without the sport of self-abasement. It’s an honest recognition of our cravings, our aversions, our inability to see things as they truly are. When I’ve touched the hem of humility, a lightness of being sweeps through me that supersedes any attachment I  may have to outcomes or thoughts of otherness. In that moment I feel like a beach of fine white sand, cleaned by the waters of loving wisdom.

It’s been three weeks now since Clause died and I sense him less and less. I don’t hold the same expectation of him walking around a corner nor the anticipation of his absence from my doorway. Instead there’s a peace that has filled the rooms where he once walked and ate and slept. Jack, my other cat, has taken to sleeping in places Clause used to frequent, yet he doesn’t seem much altered by the lack of a second cat. The other day though he scratched and meowed at the wall in front of my meditation cushion. Did he sense Clause’s presence? Sometimes I think I hear his step in the kitchen or see a shadow pass down the hall, but even those are fewer as the days start to move faster again through my life.

There is indeed less of him. Less of his coat burnished reddish brown in the warmth of the sun, less of his body brushing against my legs, less of his plaintive meows for food, less of his warmth curved against my side in the bed at night, less grief to meet me each dawn. And there’s less shame in the words I spoke after his death. Sometimes I miss him, yet there is a relief in his end of suffering and the end of his care. In the place of shame is a present filled with more time and more spaciousness, more ease and more peace.

Even in death the earth still blooms.

The Task

By Jane Hirshfield

It is a simple garment, this slipped-on world.
We wake into it daily — open eyes, braid hair —
a robe unfurled
in rose-silk flowering, then laid bare.

And yes, it is a simple enough task
we’ve taken on,
though also vast:
from dusk to dawn,

from dawn to dusk, to praise, and not
be blinded by the praising.
To lie like a cat in hot
sun, fur fully blazing,

and dream the mouse;
and to keep too the mouse’s patient, waking watch
within the deep rooms of the house,
where the leaf-flocked

sunlight never reaches, but the earth still blooms.

“The Task” by Jane Hirshfield from The October Palace: Poems, Harper Perennial, copyright 1994, courtesy of Poetry Chaikhana.

Quote by Salman Rushdie from his book, “Shame”, published by Jonathan Cape, copyright 1983.

Image: Pensacola Beach 1957 White Sand – Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Posted by: Tess | September 2, 2012

One Lovely Blog Award

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. ~ Ernest Hemingway

It never ceases to amaze my wee mind how much magic can pour into a life when space is cleared and vanquished unnecessities are swept out the door.

Since opening up my Sundays to empty spans of spacious writing I have found words are ever more a part of my waking hours. In addition to being a contributing author to (a new article was posted last week), I was recently asked to become one of its associate editors. I exuberantly accepted. Editing our department’s yearly catalogue assuaged my hunger for more creativity in my day job. I’m entering short fiction contests and submitting essays to magazines. And then of course there is this blog which is my heart’s child and labour of deep love.

Last week my dear friend and inspiring writer, Margaret Doyle, dished up even more sweetness with her nominating me for One Lovely Blog Award.

Wowser! I was over the moon delighted, excited, giddy and humbled to be honoured in such a big and bodacious exclamation point kind of way on the wide expanse of the blogosphereic world.

There are just a few demands of Lovely Blog Award winners. One is that I would thank the blogger who nominated me. (Well, that’s just plain manners.) The second is I must share with you seven things about myself. (Hmm…let me ponder that a bit.) The third request is to nominate about 15 other bloggers for this delightful award and thus spread the seed of their delicious harvests of creativity. (I love when awards just keep on giving.) Finally I’m to leave a comment at each blog nominated so they know to expect some new guests real soon. (My pleasure.)

So, first and foremost, thank you dear Mags, for the nomination. Your stories always bring a smile to my face and light a fire of “oh-yeah” in the recesses of my memories.

Seven things about me. Okay, here goes:

1. I have a tattoo of the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral located somewhere on my body. Enough said.

2. At one time I was owned by seven cats and three dogs.  Again, enough said.

3. Living on a small island killed my lust for a closet full of shoes. Now I find comfort and almost a transcendental peace in cut, stacked and exquisitely dried firewood.

4. The perfect day includes at least one nap.

5. I travelled to Turkey by myself a few years ago. More travel please.

6. I enjoy meditation as much as a matcha latte. Sometimes they are the same thing.

7. I sometimes contemplate being a Buddhist nun. Or living over a bakery in Paris and writing. Maybe both.

Now, for the pièce de résistance. Drum roll please…

Here are some of the amazing bloggers I visit and love. Check them out. Like them. Share them. We need their words in the world.

Greetings From Coupeville – brought to you by Michaelene McElroy, a funny, bright and remarkable woman. She is also the author of the luminous elastic reality novel, The Last Supper Catering Company.

Life As A Human – okay, I write for them, but I followed the articles long before anything of mine was ever posted. A place of inspiring words from dozens of writers.

True for Now – gorgeous poetry and dazzling photos. Check out her sister blog too.

Fernwood Zendo – insights into Buddhist practice and teachings. Where I meditate and find community.

Nick Bantock – the author of Griffin and Sabine, Nick’s blog delivers quirky and wry sensibilities in stories and commentary on the world and its workings. A marvelous site indeed.

Buddhism Now – wonderful teachings in the Theravadan tradition by some of the world’s leading monks and scholars. Good stuff.

Paper Pen Pencil – necessary reading for writers looking to get their words out into the world. Thanks Nicole Zimmerman!

Ahava Shira – an amazing woman of insight and reflection, her words also find a way to enliven my view of the world.

Tiny Buddha – a place of reflection and some pretty great everyday wisdom.

Intense City – the blog of Luke Storms whose words I always find rich and wise. I lose myself here.

Bicycle Buddha – Carmen Mills’ passion for Buddhism and bicycles always proves to be enlightening.

When Angels are Born – stunning images and equally compelling poetry. Scrumptious.

I’ve heard some people say bloggers are not writers. Anyone who says that clearly doesn’t write or they would know the same blood, sweat and hair pulling goes into writing a blog post as writing anything else that will be sent out into the big, strange world. In some ways its even more vulnerable, more on the brink of self-illumination because it’s immediate, compulsory, begging to be birthed now without the fretting and protection of re-writes and corrosive editors, both internal and external.

So here’s to bloggers. Thank you for your marriage to the keyboard, for your combustion engines of discovery and self doubt. Thank you for being part of the frontier of blogdom. I am proud to be in your ranks. And if you are thinking of starting a blog, do. We need you.

So You Want To Be A Writer

by Charles Bukowski

 if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

“So You Want to Be a Writer” by Charles Bukowski from Sifting Through the Madness of the Word, the Line, the Way: New Poems, published by Ecco, 2004

Posted by: Tess | August 21, 2012

Homage to a Noble Cat

If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat. ~ Mark Twain

Yesterday evening as the sun was tipping its brilliant countenance towards the horizon, Clause, my dear friend and most regal of cats, died in the warm embrace of my bedroom in the care of someone who was not me.

There are moments that seize us in suspended states of time, like a long forgotten moth held with tender care in the gold heart of ancient amber. Seeing it in that gallery of beauty one can almost sense the air catching under its wings, the sweet tug of sticky nectar and the scent of rain calling in the distance. I’ve had many amber moments since last night and I hold each of them with tempered observance and deep reverence.

I’m not upset that I couldn’t be with Clause when he died. I’ve known this day would come for quite awhile. Last week I wrote about our time together on that same bedroom floor, knowing he would be leaving soon, knowing I would grieve and feel the wake of his absence lapping against my life. I could see his essence diminishing and felt his wobbles and missteps with pained compassion. Where just days before he would move from my yoga mat to my meditation cushion, from the bathtub to the bedroom floor, from his spot on the sofa to his sheepskin rug under the dining room table, in his last days he chose the hidden womb of my laundry basket tucked into my bedroom closet or pressed his thin body into the cool wood floor nearby.

This past weekend stretched into four days for a joyful visit with a longtime friend. I told Clause and my other cat, Jack, about the trip and when I would be back. I reminded each of them how much I loved them, how much it meant for me to know them in this life. I asked Jack to watch out for Clause and to take good care of him and I shared with Clause my wish that he return as a human in his next life and that I may meet him again. Before I walked out the door I touched his face and said as much as I wanted to see him when I got back, I didn’t want him to suffer any more. He didn’t need to hold on for me. I watched him until his eyes met mine and I chose to see that he understood.

I love cats because I love my home and after a while they become its visible soul. ~ Jean Cocteau

He was not alone his final day. My friend, Dhar, and my angel of a building manager, Don, were looking after him. They could tell death was coming soon. Clause hadn’t eaten in a day nor moved from the floor. He lapped up a near full bowl of water from Dhar and then couldn’t keep it down. As much as he would fight being cleaned in his prime, he surrendered to Dhar’s motherly touch to clean him as a final gift of love. Don told me he was sitting with Clause in his last hour, assuring him I would be home soon, but he didn’t need to wait if he was ready to go. Laying on a fresh white towel he stretched out as if inviting the breath to partake of his body a few more precious times. He didn’t seem to be in any pain as he took his final breath at 5:02 p.m. Don met me on the sidewalk just outside our building at 5:48 p.m.

Stepping into my apartment I felt a room less filled with life, yet heavy with murky silence. I found him where he died, still stretched out on that soft cloud of terrycloth, a plastic bag tucked under his rear quarters to catch what liquids his body had given up. I touched him, held him, honoured him for going ahead of me. I waited for tears to arise and watched the ebb and flow of emotions and equanimity. I had watched his weight go from 18 pounds down to eight and seen his sturdy legs fold into spindles of sheer will and pride. For weeks on end I had offered up loving kindness in his name, finding comfort and peace in my Buddhist practice.  Holding his lifeless body against mine I released him to death’s patient hand and yet the tears did not come.

There are two means of refuge from the misery of life – music and cats. ~ Albert Schweitzer

I brought Jack into the room and watched as he inhaled the scent of his fallen friend and cleaned Clause’s cool black coat with his warm rough tongue. As the evening went on I read him prayers from The Tibetan Book of the Dead and bathed him in lavender water. At one point as I gently wiped the warm cloth down his body I heard a small exhale leave his chest and thanked him for the honour of witnessing his truly final breath. I carried him out to my altar and sat in front of him on my mediation cushion where I smudged his body with the smoke of sage fanned by the feather of an owl, a symbol of death and good luck. How fitting a gift from my friend before I returned home yesterday. How noble to brush its promise of sacred flight against the burnished fur of so blessed an animal.

Every now and then as the hours slipped by I wondered why he died when he did. Why not sometime over the long four day weekend when I was away? Why that day, that hour, just before I would walk through the door? There were no regrets in the question, no wringing of hands or crushing of ego; only a curiosity as one would ponder the reason behind circumstance and coincidence.

With Clause at my feet I closed my eyes and settled into meditation. My breath followed its way to his body, moving in and out of my chest until I could feel the tether of our heartstrings playing against each other. My thoughts awakened yet again: why had he chosen that time to die?

A moment later I heard an answer as clear as any I could fathom. It was a male voice, young, confident and free of pain.

If I had seen your eyes again I wouldn’t want to leave, and I was so very tired.

The words wrapped me in a glowing fragment of time frozen amber. A stunned gasp made way for the tears to finally crest my sorrow swollen heart. I picked Clause up and held him tight against me, sobbing until I could feel my body melting in warm welcoming grief. I buried my face in the crook of his neck and inhaled the smells of sage and death and peace at last.

I left him by the altar last night and asked for a dream, but none came. I slept well and met the day with one less cat to feed, one less litter box to tend to. I read him another prayer and we sat in silence again, my breath finding a cadence of its own beyond the strings of a faded heart song. I wrapped his empty black body in the whiteness of the towel that was his last bed and Dhar and I took him to be cremated. All the goodbyes were said and my heart thanked Clause for his life and the gift of his death.

Sitting here in the cusp of afternoon’s surrender to night, the silence has lifted its pall a bit, but I still slip into the golden seal of amber, waiting to hear his claws clicking down the hallway floor or his meow ordering his food to be served. Somewhere there is a field fresh with dew asking him to join the dance. Someday I will meet him there.

By Mary Oliver

Salt shining behind its glass cylinder.
Milk in a blue bowl. The yellow linoleum.
The cat stretching his black body from the pillow.
The way he makes his curvaceous response to the small, kind gesture.
Then laps the bowl clean.
Then wants to go out into the world
where he leaps lightly and for no apparent reason across the lawn,
then sits, perfectly still, in the grass.
I watch him a little while, thinking:
what more could I do with wild words?
I stand in the cold kitchen, bowing down to him.
I stand in the cold kitchen, everything wonderful around me.

Reprinted from New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver. Beacon Press, Boston; copyright 2005.

(With respect and apologies to Mary Oliver for changing the cat subject in her poem from the feminine to the masculine. Clause would have approved.)

Image credit: First two photos by Tess Wixted (all rights reserved); final photo from a collection with Dhar Booth (all rights reserved).

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