A quick breath

Falling closer to stillness

A gift before the tree excused me

A gift before the tree excused me

Glancing up, I happened to see the rain begin to slow. Not let up. Still plenty of it drizzling down. Before my eyes, its falling suddenly shifted into something closer to stillness coming in mid-air, as each drop, every drop, took a gentler pace, no longer hurtling toward the hard ground below to burst asunder in a splash, rather now easing downward to tenderly meet, settle onto, and soak into the supportive earth. My chest ached as the metronome of my heart was, in that instant, rendered out of sync with the grace of the moment. What is there to do but breathe?

Raindrops, now snowflakes
falling closer to stillness–
more time in the sky.

A quick breath

What yield?

Grapevine pruning

Did you know they weep when cut?

Pruning the grapevines–
choosing what lives and what dies,
will the yield be good?

Neglected vines. Dead vines. So many buds. Blackberries thorning their way through. Start cutting. Cut away the spent ones, living only as the mold that eats them. Cut away the damaging ones, who rub another to wound or choke it. Cut away rows and rows of buds–so many potential vines, fruit, forms. Feel the vines’ tears as they land on the back of your neck or wrist. Shed a few of your own. Keep cutting. Apologize and thank the cuttings, now just sticks on the ground. Keep choosing. Concentrate the growth. Cut your hand on a stubborn blackberry vine. Find a tool to dig it our from the roots. See how far they spread. Return to cutting.

A quick breath

Frost on an airplane window

Frost calligraphy on an airplane window

As one of Tanahashi Sensei‘s seals reads: one brush line embodies the universe

It cannot be read–
calligraphy everywhere,
singing of what is.

Branches against the sky. Shadows on the bedspread. Wrinkles on the dog’s tongue. Needle and thread. Patterns in the sandpaper. The hairs on your arm. Dust in the sun’s rays. Spots on the slug’s back. Oil swirling in a puddle. Steam rising to the sky. Waves dancing on the Sound. The iris of her eye. Your shoelaces. Tamari on rice. Pine needles on the ground. Lines in the palm of your hand. Cracks in the pavement. Exhaust from the car up ahead. Crumpled paper lying by the side of the road. Crumbled cornbread being fed to the birds. Their feathers. Their droppings. Wood grain. Eye wrinkles during a smile. Frost on an airplane window.

A quick breath

One being

Reflection at the PDX Japanese Garden

We’re all the puddle.

Everywhere, just look–
organs in the same body,
one being, one breath.

Plant breathes out; you breathe in. Whose breath is it? Eat the plant; whose body is it? Plant fiber is broken down by the myriad beings in the gut. How many are you? Drink water that has danced through the sky as snow, refracted countless rainbows, passed through seas and sewers and the veins of ages of beings before you. You are mostly water; who haven’t you been? Every cell made of recycled matter that was once an oak tree, a cow pie, a squid–and before all of that, a star. Feel how you still shine in the sky?

Is your eye truly separate from your intestines? Would you rather do without one or the other? How about your heart? Is it truly separate from your brain? Could you do without one or the other? Can the intestines beat, or the eye think? She may be here, and you may be there; but where do you end, and where does she begin? Take a closer look. Well, actually, the closer you look, the more elusive our boundaries get, until…

A quick breath


Dewdrops on lacinato kale in my patch at the Johnson Farm, Bainbridge Island, WA

Dewdrops on lacinato kale in my garden at the Johnson Farm, Bainbridge Island, WA

Sparkling dewdrops–
the stroke of the day starts here;
don’t forget to smile.

At Tanahashi Sensei‘s recent Calligraphy: Heart of the Brush workshop at Upaya, in which we covered material and techniques from his book of the same name, Master Kaz taught us that every stroke starts even before the brush reaches the page: with presence, with breath, with a smile–“not a ‘cheese’ smile,” as he says– and with a conscious, arching approach. When that motion does bring brush to paper, each stroke almost always begins (and often ends) with a “dewdrop.”

A leg up

Resisting rain

Rain drops on my head
down my neck, shoulders, & back
Just moving on through

Seattlites, and all us other residents along and around the Salish Sea, do not use umbrellas. Tourists do, of course, but we residents have long since taken the presence of rain in the 9-and-a-half-month-long wet season as a given and purchased waterproof coats.

Even so, now and then, something in the look of the sky or the scent on the air tells us to leave the jacket at home. Maybe it’s a little warm out. Or, perhaps, the forecast said there’d be no precip today. For whatever reason, even us seasoned locals end up getting rained on a fair amount. It’s certainly happened, and continues to happen pretty regularly, to me.

A few years ago, though, I noticed something about it. When unexpected rain came, and I heard it on the roof or saw it out the window, I’d feel that familiar, awful, sinking “oh, no!” Then, as I approached the threshold, I’d tense and tighten. Once out in it, I’d rush to get through it, thinking I was somehow minimizing the inevitable wetness by contracting my body. Making myself smaller & faster, I somehow thought fewer drops would hit me, I guess.

Then, one day, the thought rose up that I was going to get wet anyway. I realized that all that tension and resistance and rush was self-imposed. So, I let it go. I let my shoulders settle, opened my chest, and got my head back up on top of my neck where it belonged, and I just walked. Same side walk, same rain drops, same steps, and yet, a completely different experience.

I have since tried and found that this same phenomenon holds true not just for rain, but for snowy cold, muggy heat, or any other fleeting condition–even pain. When infection blooms and from it my body thrums, or the roots of my teeth inexplicably ache right up into the backs of my eyeballs, or my spine lights up with its electric fire, I’ve learned that, like the rain, it just is, and when I let it be and just move on through it, it’s a completely different experience.