Tag: presence

the dog practices zen

They say it’s Dog appreciation day…. so, an old poem about my old dog, when he was still a young pup.


the dog practices zendarwin the dog

he sleeps upside down
in the rounded belly
of the papasan,
legs askew
hanging in the air.
soft sighs
and twitching toes
testify to his dreams.
even rolling over
is accomplished
with a slumbering vitality
few humans will ever achieve.
suddenly waking,
he attacks his left leg,
chewing it with the same
intense wholeness…
and, surely, stretching
should only be attempted
with complete attention
and unhesitating abandon.


4 may 2006

Take Life by the hand…

take life by the hand - lead it in a dance of Love - open-hearted joy
take life by the hand – lead it in a dance of Love – open-hearted joy

So much has happened this past year, that i can barely process it all.  A lot of things i took for granted were stripped away.  Those last shreds of stability (or the delusion of same) disappeared.  Going through my poetry and blogs from the last twelve months, what i see is a clarifying fire – a lot of what i thought was important and what i assumed would be my path’s easy choices became either irrelevant or unreachable.  i have been humbled by my own failures and limitations.  i had to adapt – i am still in the process of adapting, in fact – and this has been neither smooth nor free of whining.  (And here is my first gratitude: for friends that held my hand and let me break down in anger, frustration and fear.  You rock!)

join us in this dance - wild joy of word and line - melody of dreams
join us in this dance – wild joy of word and line – melody of dreams

What shocks me the most, though, is how much my art changed while i was going through this intense time.  If i am honest, this transformation began a long time ago. Even during my divorce there were pieces of strength and determination amid some of the most sorrowful paintings and grief-drenched poems i have ever created.  For years, i languished right on the edge of the pit, never very far from falling in even when i danced with happiness.  And when i fell, oh, how i fell. i could stay down there for ridiculous amounts of time, thrashing about powerlessly.

Very slowly, over months and years, meditation and the retraining of my brain started to work.  In a way, i don’t think this will ever be fully finished, although i hope i am wrong. So far, though, each time i get over one hurdle or come to terms with one weakness, i find another.  Somehow, i developed a seemingly endless series of habits and assumptions that need to be questioned, shaken up or eradicated.  Still, i began to be more content for longer and longer periods – even when the same difficulties kept flooding my life.  Loneliness did not disappear, the financial instability did not resolve itself, the troubles with anxiety did not simply dissolve, vanquished by sudden bravery.  However, this year, i found a way to enjoy the moment even when the big picture crumbled to pieces.  When i read my words or look at my drawings – particularly these pen and inks – i do not see the sorrow or suffering.  i see the hope, the bliss, the determination that might be madness.

i do not exist - except in these words and lines - where i come to life
i do not exist – except in these words and lines – where i come to life

Maybe i overdosed on stress this past summer.  Perhaps i finally surrendered my last illusions of control. Maybe after 1,000 hours of meditation even the dimmest bulb can get some light. Either way, i have found myself more peaceful and more shockingly joyous in the middle of crises than i used to be when things were going well.  First, my art became joy, even when i felt nothing like that at the time.  Then i started checking in with myself and discovered the joy and peace were really just there, hiding underneath the wild fear and habits of doom.

For this, i am more grateful than i can say.  i know i am not  anywhere near done.  i keep practicing kindness, practicing gratitude.  When i forget, or get too busy, i feel myself sliding back into places i want to go.  This practice has become what poetry and prose have always been – a foundation on which my sanity rests.

On this New Year’s Eve, i could give you a hundred things i wish would change, ten stormandsunthousand that i want to do, i could wax on and on about how i don’t know what to do about my business or where the future will lead me.  My imagination can conjure the most desperate, terrible futures as well as ways everything could change, if i want to invest in fantasies.  i could do all those things – but i don’t want to.

What i want to do is make more joy through pen and ink, through clay, through oils and acrylics.  i want to throw myself into the sanctuary of words not because i have to hide myself there lest i crumble into despair, but because it is wonderful, exciting, hard work.  i want to find that speck of unexpected kindness in the middle of uncertainty.  i want to laugh with friends and hug my dog and pester my cats with love.  i want to enjoy this improbable happiness when so much has gone wrong.  i want to keep growing as i have this year.

And for those desires, i also give thanks.

Have a lovely New Year – and if troubles find you, if they find me, may we all find the sparks of loveliness inside them.

poem: the thief

10614261_289799811205071_4508236065730935590_ni laugh loudly.

i have been told
my laugh bears
the dulcet tones
of a braying donkey.
It explodes out of me –
i become so full
with sudden joy
at whatever tickled me,
that i forget
all the struggle.

This is a salvation.

i can lose myself
in the delight
of a beautiful day,
or the clay flowing
through my fingers,
or the majestic dance
of ink across a page,
or the unexpected delight
of a quietly spoken joke.

Subtlety is not my strong suit.
i cannot keep things hidden well.
Compartmentalization can be done,
but at a high cost
in energy and spirit.

Alas, this means that darkness,
when it grabs hold of me,
also enjoys my full attention.
It dominates and crushes
until i can divert my attention,
until i find some blessed distraction.

So i steal what joy i can
particularly on days
drenched in the blues.
I seek out sunshine,
and smiles.

Like a shameless thief,
i rob from pain,
cramming laughter, flow and celebration
into my experience.

26 august 2014

rosary: optimism

My Lord, my God, you gave me a creative soul. i tell stories as i breathe.

The unpublicized side effect of such creativity is an incomparable ability to imagine the future, good and bad. Which comes up – utopian or dystopian – depends upon my mood.

Christ, all futures are a dream. Therefore, i only have this moment to hold in my hands. Tomorrow’s stress is as much a phantom as yesterday’s pain.

Please, Spirit, fill me now, as i pray.

Hope and optimism flow best without the barriers of projection and anxiety. Christ, i am doing all i can within this moment. Please help me see that is enough.

All this i pray in your Name, Jesus Christ, my Lord. AMEN

poem: your cars

Your cars pass by
like waves of sound
breaking on ancient glass,
as i lie here in a puddle of regret,poem
my heels held by the delusion
i should be doing something else.

My imagination toys with me:
you might have been customers,
or vital contacts,
or people who would have
made me smile
on a terrible day
and fed my dog cookies.

Only i am too weak to move.
My lungs fill with lava
every single inhale.
Pain sears through my limbs.
Worst of all,
a veil of hopelessness
has enshrouded my vision.

All i have,
as you fly past
the only home
i have ever known,
are these words.
They can lead me
to the ecstasy of my dreams;
they give me some reality –
a meager purpose
on days like this,
but enough to force the air
in and out again.

They are my only anchor,
tethering my spirit
to this world.

How it wants to go free –
soar through the clouds,
away from the agonizing,
to find a realm
where my prayers are answered
in ways that makes sense.

The temptation of escape
feels nearly irresistible.

Yesterday, i was defiant.

The day before that,
i fell apart utterly.

Today, i wish
i had something within me,
some inner strength
that could fill me,
let me rise from bed
fearless and powerful,
removing all obstacles
like a fair-haired Ganesh.

Instead, i listen to traffic,
making myself drink
this cocktail
of solitude, pain and failure
until i stop gagging
and acquire a taste
for this moment.

-asha fenn
1 August 2014

The floor won

photo 4Two conversations derailed what I intended to write tonight.  I had gotten as far as typing the title and setting up categories when the evening escaped from my clutches.

I was supposed to describe cleaning the studio – how even though the floor is much cleaner, I still feel like it conquered me more than I conquered it.  For two days I have been bent with pain; even though I wanted to crumble – and did disintegrate a few times – I came back together and returned to work on the job.  My psyche needed the studio to be cleaner, more hospitable to humans.

After waxing on for awhile about the painful tedium of cleaning floors and how fluently cursive can flow from my lips when I’m on all fours scraping newly reconstituted mud up off the floor, and how being present in some moments doesn’t make them less unpleasant, I would have been telling you about how it is all worth it because I get to make the floors filthy again throwing and glazing tomorrow.

Only after two unexpected conversations, my mind is in a totally different place.  My attention has been brought to the person I used to be, to the greatest pains I have suffered and to the woman I am in this moment. This path has taken me through some terrible places and miraculous moments.  My current situation isn’t completely devoid of stress.  I continue to be lonely and feel acutely vulnerable. Oh, Lord, I still have a long way to go on the path of compassion and kindness.  Still, in the middle of all the whining I have done lately, I have found great peace and happiness.

In both conversations, I surprised myself.  In the first, I realized with gentle shock that I was at peace with something that had hurt me terribly five and a half years ago.  Talking about it, I finally could see past the pain of my reaction to what might have been going on in the heart of the other person.  Great forgiveness and compassion filled me. Indeed, for the first time, I could see the whole experience through his eyes, and from that view his actions seemed comprehensible.  A deeper peace settled within me.

In the second discussion, I actually lost my temper a bit about not being heard – because I had learned a great lesson that could not be muddied by misunderstanding. We were on the same page about how living in the moment – not projecting into the future or dwelling in the past – is the key to lasting happiness. I agreed with him that there are times when terrible things happen and you can do nothing to stop them – being present in the moment, even if it’s awful and painful and traumatic – can seem like an impossible thing but is necessary. Running away just makes the healing take longer; it encourages denial and prolongs suffering. Likewise, I concurred, refraining from revenge and hate even when you’ve been badly wounded by another can be necessary for the health of the soul.  Love is always the best way to respond to anything – however, where I vigorously disagreed was in how that love manifests as we walk through the world.  You do not have to keep dipping into the well of abuse voluntarily.  You can forgive and love but simultaneously strive to avoid situations with people who have treated you terribly in the past.  Masochism is not the same as enlightenment.  Ideally, any form of violence and cruelty should be responded to with love – but I argued that practically, in the moment of injury, the most basic act of love can be getting yourself through intact.

There are spiritual levels to love on on hand and the very practical needs of social interaction in the other. We can be compassionate and keep ourselves safe. If we do not stay safe, we can forgive those that transgressed upon us, but not allow them to wound us again. I have not demanded such forgiveness of myself when I was still actively suffering at someone’s hands, as he suggested is the ideal. In my experience, that was too much to ask in that moment. Those nows centered around survival. Peace and forgiveness came later, after the physical danger had passed. Likewise for smaller frustrations and cruelties: as they are occurring, practicality demands that choices be made to accept someone else’s judgment, or defend oneself, or avoid a greater confrontation. Perhaps perfection demands that we never lose our tempers or get irritated (although Jesus did, come to think of it) but reality often means that anger is sparked and we pray for grace in whether or not we stoke the fires and in how the flames escape us.

We can honor God within every single human being, even the ones who leave a swath of destruction through the world, without having to submit to their malevolent behavior.  There are moments that we have to love ourselves enough to be firm and protective.  There has to be a way to face the world in a compassionate, loving way, but do not allow ourselves to be hurt or diminished.  On a very basic level, we must love ourselves and treat ourselves with kindness.  We can get into a great philosophical debate about the non-existence of self and how we are all manifestations of the divine, but as we move through the world in these skin-covered constructions, there remain ways to hurt us.

More than I ever did before, I have been irritated and pushing back to behavior I don’t think is appropriate during the past year. My vision has cleared. It has been incredibly hard for me to finally wake up enough to realize that I cannot fix another’s problem by arguing with them or by indulging their whims to the point of self-injury, or by altering myself to suit their mood, or by letting them hurt me.  Love has to include myself – I am part of creation too.  I love living this life; I enjoy this particular skin-covered construction.  Rather belatedly, I have realized it is alright to make my safety and happiness a higher priority without sacrificing love or being less loving.

Perhaps this is too simplistic.  Almost certainly this is not the most fully enlightened model of behavior.  However, it has helped me quite a lot over the past few months.  Every time I do tonglen meditation, I realize that I can breathe in pain and suffering and sorrow and release kindness and joy and love. There are endless depths to love. The energy of a room can change just by breathing in negatives and breathing out positives. An eternal spring of compassion flows up within our souls into which this meditation taps. This practice helps deepen my understanding of the reality and omnipresence of love.  But that doesn’t mean that I would willingly allow someone to hurt me.

I don’t want to cause harm to other people either, but I have finally found out that I have no patience for those who would cause me pain. I find myself avoiding those who would insult me, or ignore me, or actively hurt me. Even when they are not acting out of malice, I consistently find myself walking away from cruel or judgmental or crushingly negative behaviors. My vexation has been leaking out my lips too often, but I still marvel at its existence. I know that I deserve to be treated better, just because I am a child of God – just like they deserve to be treated well for the same reason. Tonight, I found out that I could say with complete conviction that love for others, a global kind of love, universal love, does not conflict with being kind to the one looking out from behind these eyes.

Ah, I have written too much.  It might be hazy and indistinct because it is already tomorrow and my back is still singing with pain.  After I awake, when the sun has long since risen again, I will deliver pottery to a gallery and then come back to the studio to glaze. Surely the floor will be messy again before the next sunset.  But it will all be well, because I will be back to making art.