Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Wedding Poems

There's been so much going on, joyful (our wedding) and hard (Mom being in the hospital and missing our wedding) that sitting down to write has been a far lower priority. I'll be getting back to it more since there's been a lot I've wanted to write about, but for now my return to posting is to share the three poems we had read during our wedding ceremony.

Oh, and a great picture taken by a friend after the ceremony!


CK's mother read this poem:

I Want Both of Us

by Hafiz

I want both of us

To start talking about this great love

As if you, I, and the Sun were all married

And living in a tiny room,

Helping each other to cook,

Do the wash,

Weave and sew,

Care for our beautiful


We all leave each morning

To labor on the earth’s field.

No one does not lift a great pack.

I want both of us to start singing like two

Traveling minstrels

About this extraordinary existence

We share,

As if

You, I, and God were all married

And living in
a tiny


One of the Zen priests, a dear friend and inspiration to our practice, read this:

Entering the Shell
by Rumi

Love is alive, and someone borne
along by it is more alive than lions

roaring or men in their fierce courage.
Bandits ambush others on the road.

They get wealth, but they stay in one
place. Lovers keep moving, never

the same, not for a second! What
makes others grieve, they enjoy!

When they look angry, don’t believe
their faces. It’s spring lightning,

a joke before the rain. They chew
thorns thoughtfully along with pasture

grass. Gazelle and lioness, having
dinner. Love is invisible except

here, in us. Sometimes I praise love;
sometimes love praises me. Love,

a little shell somewhere on the ocean
floor, opens its mouth. You and I

and we, those imaginary beings, enter
that shell as a single sip of seawater.

Another friend from our Zen community read this:

The Plum Trees
by Mary Oliver

Such richness flowing
through the branches of summer and into

the body, carried inward on the five
rivers! Disorder and astonishment

rattle your thoughts and your heart
cries for rest but don't

succumb, there's nothing
so sensible as sensual inundation. Joy

is a taste before
it's anything else, and the body

can lounge for hours devouring
the important moments. Listen,

the only way
to tempt happiness into your mind is by taking it

into the body first, like small
wild plums.


A Bitterness

Mom's back in town and I took her to see NEM on Monday. She was in really poor shape. She talked about her disappointment at not feeling better and the expectations she'd held close that the Chinese herbs and acupuncture would be more significantly healing. There is also the resentment she feels toward her husband and the motor home trip they took recently that should have been restful and connecting, but wasn't. She talks sadly about not having the energy to be a better mother to me and says she means in the present. A not insignificant part of me believes she's wishing she could affect the past by suddenly improving now.

I shared with her what my Zen teachers offer - that clinging to those expectations, even having them in the first place, leads to suffering. My Mom and her expectations, and the suffering of not having them met underlies so many of the selfish decisions she made in my childhood. She wasn't overtly hostile to this information, just unable to really hold onto the idea of trying to not have expectations.

When I see Mom like this, in terrible physical and emotional pain and so clearly suffering, it is difficult. I feel deep sympathy and compassion for her, I try not to let it slip into pity. I feel anger at her all in the same moment as the love and concern. I hear her regrets, her bitterness, her disappointment and know it is the same thing I've been hearing my whole life. It is painful and I struggle to accept, without guilt and shame, that when she is gone I will feel tremendous relief.

I've been mulling one of Mary Oliver's powerful poems. So many of them capture practice, nature and life so well that I just sink into the words. A handful of her poems cut right to the core of suffering and seem to haunt me. One of her poems, A Bitterness, has been resonating with me a lot recently around what I feel about my Mom and the way I see her many cancers as some kind of physical manifestation of all the anger, resentment and bitterness she's held close to her heart during my life.

A Bitterness
by Mary Oliver

I believe you did not have a happy life.
I believe you were cheated.
I believe your best friends were loneliness and misery,
I believe your busiest enemies were anger and depression.
I believe joy was a game you could never play without stumbling.
I believe comfort, though you craved it, was forever a stranger.
I believe music had to be melancholy or not at all.
I believe no trinket, no precious metal, shone so bright as
your bitterness.
I believe you lay down at last in your coffin none the wiser
and unassuaged.
Oh, cold and dreamless under the wild, amoral, reckless, peaceful
flowers of the hillsides.


We Merely Need to Shine

On Sunday CK and I were watching the second installment of 'The Story of India' which particularly deals with the history of the Buddha. In talking about Gotama's death I mentioned to her his last words, in doing so I was reminded of Mary Oliver's poem, The Buddha's Last Instruction (which is at the bottom of this post). I had noted this to her as well so today I went looking for it again to send to her.

The instruction from Gotama as he lay dying was, "Make of yourself a light". This fascinated me when I started investigating Buddhism, I thought it was very beautiful this last directive to continue to looking within the self for guidance, not outside.

Investigating Zen lead me to Shunryu Suzuki Roshi's playful interpretation of these words, "We say, to shine one corner of the world—just one corner. If you shine one corner, then people around you will feel better. You will always feel as if you are carrying an umbrella to protect people from heat or rain."

This sentiment is something I've found myself repeating many times. All we need to do, each of us, is to concentrate on shining our light in just our corner. Merely by making this effort we positively affect those close to us, encouraging them to shine more brightly in their corner. Think of the illumination of the whole world if each person merely concentrates on doing their very best to shine brightly in their corner.

I try to remind myself of this regularly. I tend to try to do too much, push myself too hard, and am far too quick to offer criticism to myself. At those times I try to recall that when I treat myself like that I'm not shining in my corner, I'm cultivating darkness instead. It is good to remember to just do my best at those times, to make the most ethical & compassionate decision I can make at any given moment. By doing this so I can still shine even when I feel tired, in pain, and uncertain.

The Buddha's Last Instruction
by Mary Oliver

"Make of yourself a light"
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal-a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire-
clearly I'm not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.