chanting at the YMCA

Episode 14 (chanting at the ymca)

The effort of writing;  field recordings from the frozen food aisle; Yeshe walmo invocation and healing practice (at the gym)

Other posts about meditation here

Listen to "chanting at the ymca" on Spreaker.

Bon soul retrieval, running on the treadmill and the longevity mantra

The longevity mantra goes like this:  " So Drum Ah Khar Mu La Ting Nam Od Du Mu Ye Se Ne Dza"   The mantra is the binding element of soul retrieval. 

The soul perhaps means something different in Bon practice than what I would usually mean in conversation, here in Pittsburgh.  In Pittsburgh, we tend to think of the soul as some kind of distillation of our essence, the purest form of our personality.  We think this when we watch the trains trundle through the South Side, and we think this when we see the Monongahela river reflected in glass.  Soul retrieval sounds like it would mean bringing back fragments of the personality,   assimilating trauma,  considering long forgotten insights, remembering previous incarnations:  that kind of thing.

The Bon soul retrieval ritual is an elemental one, meaning it is a ritual to balance the 5 elements of earth, air, fire, water ,and space.

There is Tsa; there is the Lung;  there is  the Ra...these are the life force (Tsa), the life expectancy (Lung) and the soul (Ra).  The  soul (Ra) binds the life force  (Tsa) to the body for the duration of the life expectancy (Lung).

So you see, your natural life expectancy may be 110 years, but due to karmic traces perhaps your soul weakens at 45.  Good practice could  strengthen the soul, perhaps but  maybe not back up to your potential, but certainly longer than before.  The Soul Retrieval ritual is Good Practice.

The soul retrieval ritual can last for days.  I sat in a shortened version, 2 days.  The mechanism for all of this  is  prayer, chant and visualisation led by the lama (teacher) to strengthen and balance our elements.  This naturally strengthens the Tsa by removing the afflictions of ignorance, desired attachment and anger which all combine to weaken the life force.

There are 10 Torma created for each participant.  They are small clay objects made in the form of the physical body, holding  representation of the body fluids, charged with our negative karmic traces, and ultimately offered up as sacrifice.  

The soul is represented as a totem animal.  In Tibet, each family would have a specific animal, but the generic totem for all is the deer.   A beautiful clay deer rests on a plate on the altar throughout the preceding rituals

.Deer and Torma   Torma

A cauldron of saffron infused milk is given a good stir, and the deer is floated on the spinning surface.  We are all now chanting, watching the deer slowly come to rest.  Chanting.  

If you've ever watched a pendulum come to rest, you will know that what 'rest' means changes after 40 minutes staring at smaller but still measurable deviation.  Perhaps it will never stop, and you will be left there, sitting in half-lotus , screaming knees for ever.  

If the deer stops facing the sangha, then the ritual has been accepted, the mechanics have been executed correctly.  If the deer stops facing away from the sangha, then the spinning has to start again.  I think you get three spinning starts before you have to go back to the beginning, which  in our case was only yesterday but in the full ritual would be 5 days ago.  

The longevity mantra distills all of the soul retrieval practice.  Mantras can be used in a lot of different ways.  Repetition of a mantra by itself is beneficial and accumulates merit.  With visualisation, the mantra becomes a vehicle for energy transfer with deity. I sometimes wear a banner embroidered with the syllables of the longevity mantra.  It is wrapped over my shoulder like  a boy scout merit badge sash while I meditate.  These kinds of things I find useful reminders to stabilize and strengthen the practice.  I don't want anyone to think that I'm saying only with this merit badge sash can the practice be effective. My mind is prone to wandering, and sign posts along the way help to keep focused.

So now, in the mornings at the YMCA, when I run on the treadmill.  The first 5 minutes are solid misery.  It has always been this way, even when I was training to run marathons and the run would be lasting 300 minutes.  But at a certain point now I start to stand a bit straighter, I start to sweat a bit and I get an even breath pattern.  I follow a rhythmic breathing pattern, two steps exhale 3 steps inhale.  I heard this is effective for oxygen intake, but that it  also evenly distributes stress across the body because the pattern offsets an alternating  foot strike with the inhale.

I start to feel loose, limber and graceful.  I always run like a moose, so take that as a directional statement rather than a description. I run like a moose with diarrhea, barely stifling a heart-rending bellow.  But then I start running through the mantra, with each step a syllable.  If I start the mantra on the right foot, the next repetition will begin on the left foot, that's just that way it works.  Like this.  Right foot  start " So Drum Ah Khar Mu La Ting Nam Od Du Mu Ye Se Ne Dza"  Left Foot  start " So Drum Ah Khar Mu La Ting Nam Od Du Mu Ye Se Ne Dza"  

Then I become aware of my hands loosely jogging by the side of my waist.  When I start the first mantra on the right foot, I fold down the thumb on my right hand.  When I start the second repetition, with the left foot, I fold down the thumb on my left hand.  Then I alternate fingers on each hand with each repetition, until all 5 fingers on each hand are folder in to a loose fist.   On the next repetition, I let the pinky on my right hand come out of the fist, because I will have started the mantra on my right foot.  Then the pinky on my left hand and so on until I'm back with two loosely held hands.  20 repetitions of the mantra. 

While I'm doing that, I become aware of the central channels supported by my breathing.  This is a very purifying sensation,  breathing  in negative, expelling transformed positive.  Breathing in stiffness, idleness; breathing out vitality, optimism.

Each footstep strikes the ground , and as they do  a lotus emerges.  In the lotus is the seed syllable of the mantra.  It's a lot like a video game where you drive a car around and hit power points.  The treadmill extends off into the distance  and every footstep is a mantra-filled lotus waiting to burst open with my stride.

I'm trying to get back into marathon running shape.  I think it would be a wonderful experience to run 26.2 miles each step reciting the longevity mantra.  Not just for my own decrepit body, but as a healing force for everyone who shares the same course that day.


Toothache, and Chod practice

At the center of the Chod practice are two 'feasts'.  In the first (the White First) I visualize my  heart melting in a cauldron made from my own skull.  The second feast, the Red Feast, the flesh is cut from my bones and laid.  The White Feast is a distillation, the Red Feast is dismemberment.  My somatic body recognizes the experience - head cut open (twice), most recently, a grapefruit (benign) taken from the vagus nerve.

 Chod practice, like all practice, prepares the practitioner for the path of enlightenment, but  with particular attention to the immanence of our own death.

I've had a persistent and difficult to diagnose throat infection.   Several courses of antibiotic treatment cleared up a some secondary symptoms, but couldn't budge the sore throat.   I figured  this was the arrival of another benign but poorly placed tumor.  Then a few weeks ago, I woke up with a toothache.  And I mean an ache, something Dickensian.   I've never experienced anything like it without a self-administered morphine drip. 

I blame a lot on the breathing tubes inserted during surgery and the drainage pumps sucking out my chest while I was in recovery.  I think that tube cracked my tooth on the way out, and I've been suffering a buildup of consequences in my ear, nose and throat.  I'm not a doctor, and no doctor would substantiate what I just said.   But there you go, what do they know. 

I recognize that I'm  holding onto a seed of blame and anger passed through filters of aggreivance, injustice and general irascibility.  I can look at my responses to the experience in one of three ways.  I  can renounce it; I can transform it; or I can self-liberate

If I renounce anger, I can seek  to avoid situations that generate anger.  If I find anger arising, I can practice to settle the anger in my mind.  If the anger arises, I can choose not to respond to  the emtotion, which will plant a new seed for future action.  This is sutra.

If I practice to transform anger, I will recognize the inherent emptiness of the emotion which in that moment could open up a profound realisation through the unification of emptiness and bliss.  This is tantra.

If I self-liberate, I recognize the reality of non-dual perception where anger is not anger.  This is dzogchen.

Physical pain has the same set of potentials, and Chod is a powerful practice to transform.   What I did, I  dosed myself with percocet and avoided not just the pain but also the practice.  Oh well, maybe next time.

On Friday morning, I had  a root canal which helped some but couldn't fix the crack they found  down the middle of my tooth.  On Monday at 4pm, my dentist pulled the damn thing out and everything got better.    I'd lost 7 pounds in 3 days, stripped my knuckles to the bone when I fell over walking the dogs (blame the drugs), threw up the first food I ate after 72 hours (blame the drugs), and didn't shower for what felt like weeks (mea cupla).  I had locked jaw, swollen glands and irritated bowels.  It would have been better for everyone to just leave me out for sky burial on Penn Avenue.

I could have offered up my remains to be used for ritual instruments.  Chod practice begins with 3 blasts on a  trumpet traditionally made from the femur of a practitioner.  Unexpectedly, my dentist let me keep the tooth, which I soaked in peroxide for a day and a night  and now have on my altar.   I don't have a bone kangling (yet) but I do have my own tooth/bone on the altar.

Ekpyrosis and Ecstasy

Ekpyrotic art is an aesthetic that recreates the experience of the eschaton.   Earlier post on Ekpyrosis here

What are the mechanics of Ekpyrotic art?  Trance through repetition:  drumming, mudra, chant.  When material remains consistent, the mind latches on to epiphenomenon.  Perception of a pattern in repeated gestures is to remove the gesture from time and perceive a crystalline structure.  

When physical phenomena are perceived outside of time, the mental attributes of that action are lost , without meaning.  The body becomes  open to new imprints.  Like a new born duckling.  Its a condition before the new material.  Ekpyrosis is liturgical, and ecstasy is a functional  precondition for effective liturgy.  

To this duckling mind, then, we throw contemplation of the immense.  Contemplation of the immeasurable:  large or small. The breath-devouring ancient.  The face-melting future.  Experience of the impossibly loud.  The unbearably silent.  

Imagine the very small.  The nano.  That experience, the full-on contemplation of the vanishingly tiny:  a big part of that is looking back and recognizing our bigger selves.   Like Alice in wonderland. It is an anticipation of our death, as much as an anticipation of our departure from earth, where every glance will be backwards. 

This is not only the definition of, but also the reason for, the Overview effect.  Think on it:  the entirey of your life  - of all life - is "out there", external, not-all-around-ness.  It's  probably like going to a sensory deprivation tank and realising you left your body behind for real, a sensory deprivation tank where your body is vaporised for the duration.

For sure, I feel this sometimes when I look at a map of the US Eastern coast.  I've lived in Washington DC for High school, Lewiston Maine for College, and Pittsburgh for everything else.  A  psychogeographic asterism on the map.

The extraction of the physical gesture in to a space outside of time has some consistent and remarkable sensations.  It feels to me like biting on a piece of metal foil, a clenching in my abdomen, a  slight shiver that feels like it is generated by the muscles at tip of my spine where it meets the skull.  There is  enough of a contraction that my jaws quiver from side to side, although there are no muscles moving  in my face or neck.  A quiver.  An impulse.   At the bottom of my breath, all air expelled from my lungs ( if my eyes are closed)  I  feel a swaying -   or more like there's a cyclone, a small cyclone that I've swallowed,  When I breath out,  I contract enough to touch the sides of that moving wind. 

That's what it feels like. 

Mircea Eliade talks about Hierophany.  Hierophany is the revelation of the sacred,  a differentiating event.  Essentially poetic.   A shift where the pattern is perceived, the physical gesture ("mortality") has been removed from time.   If it isn't an intimation of death, it's an intimation of hypersptial experience.  


meditative awareness: is reality analog?

I've been reading a book called Mastering the core teachings of the Buddha: an unusually hardcore dharma book written by Daniel Ingram. He says something interesting in a section talking about the contemplation of impermanence.

Coming directly after a physical sensation arises and passes is a separate pulse of reality that is the mental knowing if the physical sensation.


Each one of these arises and vanishes completely before the other begins, so itis extremely possible to sort out which is which with a stable mind dedicated to consistent precision and to not being lost in stories

The idea is that at a fundamental level, the brain processes information sequentially. Meditation is a process of becoming familiar with this sequence, and developing stability to recognize increasingly rapid fluctuations.

We perceive objects as a stable, continuing entity only by a trick of the brain, a combination of incredibly fast processing, and by fooling ourselves. We reside a step removed from the experience, we reside in the interpretation of the experience.

This is the Buddhist teaching of impermanence. Impermanence also suggests lacking in an essential form. This is not the same as an illusion. Just because something lacks inherent form and is constantly changing does not mean it is unreal.

I was having a conversation at a friend's studio with Ottoleo. We were talking about thermal energy as noise in an experiment he's working on at McGill. That led to some discussion of white noise, and the nature of sound. I asked him the question I asked in an earlier blog post. Can noise exist?

True white noise is equal excitation of all frequencies at all times. But here's the thing. Between each defined frequency is a smaller partial. It's a form of zeno's paradox, no? 440 and 441 contain an infinite number of possible partials. So too do 440 and 440.1. 440.1 and 440.11

I'm likely to talk about noise as a sonic phenomenon, but noise exists in any medium. Ottoleo, remember, was talking about thermal noise in his lab equipment.

A computer cannot generate true white noise, because a computer algorithm substitutes randomness for completeness. But a computer does not understand random, so white noise generated by a computer is only an approximation of white noise

We talked about for sure there's a capacity of measurement that is discrete. Perhaps this perfect noise exists, but we are limited in our perception of noise by the granularity of our equipment, including the biological senses.

A world that is listened to is still a discrete world, even if we are listening to analog sine waves recorded on perfectly manufactured vinyl. Or the song of the humpback whale. There are frequency differences too fine for our ear to pick up. So we would perceive this continuous wave as an evolutionary convenience. Ingram puts it:

Predictability is used to assume continuity

But surely at some level, the noise exists completely, unutterably? I'd argue that at every degree - maybe it has to be at the atomic or the thermal or the quantum - there are discrete steps. Isn't that what Planck's constant is all about, the unit of a quanta? Planck time,the smallest possible measurement of time: 10^-43 seconds.

Built in to the fabric of space and time is emptiness.

Live blogging the Eschaton (2012) part 7 " Messiaen and music as an epiphenomenon of time?"


Tomorrow morning at 6:11, I'll be drinking tea. By nature, I'm a PG Tips sort of guy, but a time like this, will probably brew a pot of Yunnan Golden Pu-Erh. I started drinking this on afternoons while off work recuperating from surgery. My wife's family lives in an area that produces most of the commercial mushrooms available in the US. The smell of good manure, massive piles of it, steaming, lit by our headlights, crisp the next morning, ready to cook brussel sprouts for thanksgiving dinner. That's what this tea tastes like.

I'll be drinking tea, done meditating, and listening to Quartet for the end of time.

Jeremy Bebgie, in Theology, Music and Time is looking to show how a study of music can help with a study of theology. He writes about the nature of time. How music engages time. How when we listen to music we are experiencing time. So an understanding of musical experience can help understand time.

"By sharing in the temporarily of music, we share in the temporarily of the physical world"

I'm pulling some of this from notes in a moleskine journal, February 2011. We were all up at a cabin, maybe a dozen of us from all over (picture the same group as Thanksgiving, smelling manure). The cabin is shared by the local gun club, my brother-in-law books it each year for Presidents' Day weekend. There's a quarry down the road where we can go target shooting, and I make sure there's always plenty of beer for later. Some years, we've had enough snow to trouble our awesome Subaru all-wheel drive. One year, we got to borrow a snowmobile from the guys at a cabin further in who had needed a winch to get their truck out of the ditch. I wear leggings under my jeans, a fleece dressing gown over my coat, and get to smoke my pipe in the outhouse for warmth.

Walking at the cabin


This year, that night, I couldn't sleep. I'd had my fill of wild turkey, but I couldn't get away from the snoring. I was wanting to sleep off the drink but it was fecking horrible, that snoring. I turned on a kerosene lamp, sat at the large wooden palette table, and tried to keep my shit together.

I know I was reading Begbie's book, and was either writing in the margins or copying citations to my journal. On page 36, I made this shaky note. "its like he read my first SETI paper and built this whole book around it". That's a dubious and ungracious assertion, but I'll stand by it. Here's what he wrote:

"Our sense of time is radically affected by immeasurable biological clocks...within those smaller-scale kinetic rhythm controlled by the central nervous system ( heart, breath, pulse) and within those the very brief subminiature rhythms of the brains electrical impulses along neural pathways. Music intertwined with al of these in ways we are only just beginning to understand. And interlac with these factors are a host of social and cultural determinants which affect the quality of temporal experiences and hence the way music is practiced, experienced and theorized"

Begbie also paraphrases Stephen Hawking. "Real time is not fundamental, but is an epiphenomenon of imaginary time." I had to look it up to be sure. An epiphenomenon is a secondary characteristic that arises from but is not a cause of some other phenomenon. Consciousness, they say, is an epiphenomenon of biology. Music is an epiphenomenon of time.

Messiaen writes music that stands for, presents time as, an object. Fragments of patterns repeat, appear in counterpoint, return with a different context, placed in a different constellation like the progression of the galactic plane.

The other thing about Messiaen's music is that if it were allowed to run itself out, the next alignment of repeated patterns would happen only at a point where to divergent lines cross. ( I'm thinking more of something like Chronochromie rather than the quartet. ) Each gesture holds an intimation of a pattern. The end of time is not a point where all the clocks stops, where entropy ceases to accumulate. The end of time is a position outside time. At the edge of time. Memory extracts music from time. Sound becomes an architectural object to behold. Wallace Stevens "the fire-fangled feathers dangle down".

Sound as a physical phenomenon captures an essential aspect of time. Begbie, again:

"[music is ] especially free to offer a peculiarly intense experience of the temporarily of human existence but of the world we in dwell as physical creatures."

I think this is what Hawking is getting at. Newtonian mechanics places time as a background against which activity occurs. But time is much more a part of things, and music is a phenomena that floats on time's surface deeply expressing some of the contradictory ideas that we hold about time-space. Time-Space is a hack word. Lets use instead Timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly.

See you tomorrow morning!

(All Eschaton 2012 posts here.  Sign up for email notices from this blog.  Follow @Zenglop on the Twitter) 


Live Blogging the Eschaton (2012): Part 6, Kathryn Our Guest Editor

Does Kathryn need an introduction?  I won't embarrass her, but there's a special prize for the first person not on either of our Facebook friend-lists to tell why.  I asked Kathryn to write a short post, one  I could use here as part of the Eschaton Live Blog.  I like it very much.

For me the paying attention, the breath, the movement, all come into the groove of the moment and there is nothing but these things, bigger than these things, simpler than the sum of these things.

Twice lately I’ve had the chance to dance.  Considering how important movement and dance is to me, you would think that I’d do it more.  (Is all movement dance?  Sometimes, often, when I do it.  Be here, be here, feet on the ground. . .)  But dancing to the music, in the second instance to the drums, reminds me of the deeper (sparklier) bits of what it is to dance:  don’t be afraid.  Don’t be afraid to be first, to be ugly, to move as if no one or everyone is watching, to do what the breath calls me to do.  Don’t be afraid of the Eschaton if you breathedancemovebe.  I don’t have a better word for that totality.

Kathryn told me earlier that these comments and guests posts were adding good sparkles to the overall blog - I read 'sparkles' in the sense of adornments to our own thoughts.  Sparkles in the sense of strangeness and charm.  A vastly different quality of light and insight, like a subatomic dance in a cloud chamber.   It comes from the opening of other peoples minds towards each other, perhaps a gentle friction.   

I'm going to  encourage other people to send stuff in.   

Please send stuff in.

I'll add it to the blog.   I'll also post to Facebook, see if I can get some interest there, but if you're not feeling up to writing, pass along the thought to someone else. 

(All Eschaton 2012 posts here.  Sign up for email notices from this blog.  Follow @Zenglop on the Twitter) 

Live Blogging The Eschaton: part 3 "What do I think will happen"


First off, I don't think there's going to be a physical calamity, an earth shaking catastrophe.    Like this guy, over at, who could have gotten in the spirit of things a bit more, don't you think?

I do think that there is a set of senses associated with with mind that are not familiar like the body senses.  This  mind-sense still 'sees' even if the eyes are closed, or if we are asleep. Whatever space this sense perceives is where I think the event happens.  .

I'm comfortable with this, but not everyone is.  That's OK, you don't need to be a monk, a hippy or a stoned quantum physicist to appreciate the 2012 moment.

I think the sense required to experience the hyperspatial bleep (obviously still working on terminology)  is not unusual, is not so unfamiliar to everyone.  We've all undoubtedly felt intimations of that  moment.  it feels like a slight stepping outside of the skin, a skipping outside time - an overlong holding of breath.    It is easier to experience when the body is moving rhythmically, when music and chant are occupying the first regions of the thinking brain. "That moment", the one we are receiving intimations about - it could be the Immanentized Eschaton (thanks, Kenn, for those words).  Maybe it's the moment of our death, or of our awakening.  

Think about a Steeler game.  [If I had an editor...Ed. Note: fabulous transition]   I remember when the Pittsburgh Steelers won one of their many Super Bowl championships.   I stepped outside to watch the victory parade  along with hundreds of thousands of other people, all packed in to downtown PIttsburgh.  There may have been a million people there.  All the members of Steeler's Nation, living and Dead, a hundred million strong descended on Grant street and Market Square to celebrate.  The voices raised in praise, the songs were shared, we all had the same thing in mind (a ring for the thumb...very pagan).   That - now that is surely what Jung had in mind when he spoke about projection "extrapolating its content on to the object".  All of that, the City of Champions, leaping onto the players and coaches.

It was a shared projection that created something  we all felt, something that exists in the mind-sense.  I'm trying to get across the idea that this mind-sense, this space where the Eschaton is a formidable event...this is not alien, not something reserved for practitioners of obscure ritual.

Same thing at a U2 concert.  Plato understood this, and banished music from the Republic.  Too dangerous, too easy to change the world.    This isn't Frippery or Balderdash.  How many political movements have used music for propaganda?  Barack Obama has Bruce Springsteen (Mitt Romney had  wait, who had what? Did I hear some Kenny G.  somewhere? ). No question that sound, image can be used to bring this mind-sense to the forefront and create shared projections.

Terrence McKenna foresaw the opening of a hyperspatial object at the end of a Timewave with a specific temporal reference of this  Friday, 12/21/12.   It's easy to say he was wrong, or that its a shame that he missed it (he died in 1999).  But I think McKenna did find the hyperspatial Omega point and the end of the Timewave..the end of his own Timewave.

I think the moment of transcendence, the moment of death (or birth see earlier Dickinson post) appears as a crumbling of the artifacts we have considered real.  The towers  fall, the horsemen  roam.  But there is nothing unique about that apocalyptic moment.  Each moment holds a potential apocalypse, one accessible through the mind-sense.

The apocalypse is an intimate, universal but unaccompanied moment.  What can be different at 6:11AM 12/21/12 is our attention. 

Consider the evolution of an idea.  A directive offered from  a visionary mushroom consciousness attached itself to the right human carrier, introduced a cultural meme that 'infected' the existing Mayan calendar.  The virus of meaning spread  through the fey new age environment, crossing over to a broader population  via Hollywood blockbuster, and lately ended  up on The Daily Show. 

On my way out of the office today, I heard three people laughing about work tasks for next week that they wouldn't bother about because of the "end of the World".  I did, somehow, refrain from lecturing them on the difference between the End of Time and the End of the World.  How to make friends and influence people, discussing the epidemiology of a meme. 

The mycelium  of a meme is consciousness.   See, that doesn't sound so bad, does it?  Of course a cultural idea ( a meme) exists only in the shared cultural experience.  But what is that?  It's the mind-sense.  None of this weird.  It's just real. A truly effective meme.

If we pay attention at that moment (this moment)  we will experience something.   We will experience something, because paying attention brings up the present moment, which is rich and strange.  Questions like "Who is watching?" , "Who is thinking?",  What is being watched?" . " Where do these thoughts come from, go to?".    Engaging with this, and something happens.  I can't say what that something is, except that  the moment will pass, our attention will move to the rest of the day.  We could certainly say that nothing happened, if asked about the passing Mayan Apocalypse.

But if we pay attention for one moment, we can pay attention for another, later.  This charmed moment. It is easier for the first moment (6:11 AM EST 12/21/12) because lots of other people are doing the same thing.  Fishing for their Big Fish.  Maybe the first question is "What the hell is everyone looking at?".  

There's a structure formed in the mind-sense (really) that we can all hold on to for a moment.  Sit  down, stand up,  do whatever, and pay attention.  Then do it again.  Your  own personal apocalypse,  always available.


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Emily Dickinson in Tibet (a mash-up)

Last week, I had the opportunity to teach a session at Olmo Ling. We worked through the drumming techniques used in the Chod practice. The chants of the Chod practice have a strong structure, centered on two "Feasts" where we visualize offering up own physically dismembered corpse.

Such formal and complex visualizations are part of the tantric path, where the obstacles to enlightenment are transformed. Often quickly, perhaps within the course of a single lifetime.

But what is a practice? Check out this poem, by Emily Dickinson.

The Props assist the House
Until the House is built
and then the Props withdraw
And adequate, erect,
The House support itself
And cease to recollect
The Augur and the Carpenter -
Just such a retrospect
Hath the perfected life -
A Past of Plank and Nail
And slowness - then the scaffolds drop
Affirming it a Soul.

It's like a pith instruction, this poem. A Pith instruction is a lifetime of teaching and practice - meditation and observation - distilled into a single phrase. It is guidance, imagery, and support for the practitioner.

So then, point by point through the poem, taking Emily to Tibet:

And then the Props withdraw. The meditation practices are of the mind. Even the deities, the images of the practices, are impermanent, delusion. Are the deities real? What is "real" meant? Our visualization, or the inherent existence of the deities, is impermanent. Without form. A Prop.

House support itself I don't understand why the House "support" itself, rather than "supports": (Perhaps a koan of declension). But this self-supporting structure is at home in the foundational view of reality. What is that view? That's the question, isn't it. At the least, we are in the manifest, the born.

And cease to recollect // The Augur and the Carpenter. This line intrudes a bit. I wonder if I'm mis-reading the word, "Augur", and that maybe there's some old fashioned tool, like a level or a sextant. There could be a perfectly contemporary tool, like a hammer or a chisel, and it would still sound medieval and alien to me. So probably not the best person to read through this line. Except I'm pretty sure an augur castrated bulls on temple steps in old Rome.

- Just such a retrospect // Hath the perfected life- There's a break in the poem at the hyphens. The hyphens...a Dickinson fetish...marks the break between birth and death. What is that break? Time spent on earth, time spent living - life is wrapped in those hyphens. But such an oblique reference, such emotion left intuited. The blood of childbirth, blood remaining after the augury?

A Past of Plank and Nail // and slowness This really is a perfect description of the practices. Basic, essential, mundane. Workable. Tools. Practice is. Practice does. Even Not Practice is a Kind of Practice.

The foundational practices in Bon are called Ngondro and include prayers to acknowledge the teacher, the teachings, the heart of compassion. To consider impermanence.

One version of the refuge chant as we have been taught at Olmo Ling is translated:

Root lama magnificent source of the three bodies
Buddhas of the three times, the principle saviors of 
sentient beings
The statues, stupas and scriptures are the Buddhas 
and their teachings
Compassionate beings of the ten directions are the 
lamps on the path of liberation
We now and take refuge in these four supreme sources of refuge.

A stupa is a sacred building constructed to a precise blueprint, with meticulous care taken to use all appropriate materials. When I chant the "lamps on the path of liberation" I see a beautiful trail of oil lamps leading to a monastery on the sacred mountain. In another chant, the Mandala offering, we say:

On  the foundation of the five elements Mount Meru 
and the seven golden Mountains
Including the external and internal precious objects of the four worlds and eight continents
And millions of universes, decorated with the sun andmoon
Please accept and bless as I offer these from the 
core of my heart


Traditional lamps in Tibet use yak butter to light the wick, with a rich evocative smell against the darkness of the high sky. This imagery, and these words - they are the repeated patterns that train the mind. A still body is refuge for the mind. A still mind is refuge for the awakened consciousness. This is the perfected life, isn't it?

then the scaffolds drop And don't they for all of us. Impermanence. The young prince Siddhartha saw a sick man, an old man and a dead person. He saw the scaffolds falling.

Affirming it a Soul The word soul is rough. I mean rough in the sense of unfinished, partial. Perhaps there is an aspect of us that is unchanging.... but I don't even now what kind of language to use to say that I don't know. It's moments like this that I wish I could talk to Abraham Lincoln about Emily Dickinson.

So there it is, a a few longer words about a short poem. The perfected life - implied, in retrospect - with birth and death, each being an architectural moment for the awakening mind.


What medium is outside of time?

How to make a work of art from a walk? Not looking for a narrative, a journal entry that contains imagery and foot-sore description.

There is a model, a psychogeographic model, where the walking-voice wanders around, in condensed reflection and reflected conversation. The landscape acts as an irritant, a catalyst. The landscape becomes a skeleton around which these ideas form. The walk is a precipitant. The land is a map for the internal discussion.

A book certainly contains the walk. That walk exists outside of time when the book is unread, or when the book is read and then remembered. But the reading of a book is essentially time-laden.

To create a work outside of time, this will require a craft to propel the reader into a perspective where all facets of the work can be witnessed at once. This is true no matter the medium,whether the reader is really a viewer or a listener.

This is not a feature of the piece, it is a function of Art. There is no art piece that can do this, but there is Art. It is the only art, essentially liturgical, and fundamentally alien. The Technology of Ecstasy.

Asides from all that, I don't know.