About a Poem: Genine Lentine on Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s “The Last Time I Saw Amelia (January 2014)
Shambhala Sun | January 2014
About a Poem: Genine
Lentine on Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s “The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart”
Section one from: "The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart"
Clem Sanders, bystander
It was late spring and silent,
beach-grass switched like skirts
of women walking past shop
windows on their way to church,
heads bent beside their husbands
come up from orange groves
just greening. I was distracted
by a bird, which was no more
than shoal-dust kicked up by wind.
I missed her waving good-bye,
saw only her back, her body
bowing to enter the thing.
“Clem Sanders, bystander” is the first of ten monologues
that comprise the long poem “The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart” by Gabrielle
Calvocoressi, a poet of prismatic empathic imagination.
Clem Sanders is the first to speak, in the first poem, of
Calvocoressi’s first book. I cannot help but assign importance to such
prominent placement, and to hear, in the lyric tautness of his voice, some
instruction about poetry itself, about seeing, about being available to what is
actually happening, rather than holding out for the idealized version.
The poem opens in silence: “It was late spring and silent.”
Silence, and then, pure music: “beach grass switched like skirts.” The sibilant
grass blades give way to the dull chop of propeller blades we hear in the
prevalence of “B” sounds in the final stanza: goodbye, back, body, bowing. Our
bystander enters the scene exactly as he is, listening acutely and possessed of
a kind of panoramic, extra-temporal seeing. It is as if he sees the orange
groves in time-lapse as the green buds break the spring branches.
“I was distracted by a bird,” he tells us. But wait, it’s
not a bird, it’s “shoal-dust kicked up by wind”—that same wind that might have
been set spinning by the propellers of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra. Just wind.
The same wind that may have taken Earhart and Fred Noonan, her navigator, off
Clem Sanders is distracted, yes, but he knows he’s
distracted. He recognizes how quick he is to assign a form to what swirls
before him. I take instruction from him in this. All day long I am constructing
birds out of dust.
Strikingly, Amelia Earhart doesn’t even enter the poem until
the last stanza, “I didn’t see her wave good-bye.” How often do we not get to say good-bye to
someone before they vanish from our lives? Even as I write this, someone dear
to me has been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer and it’s unclear
whether I’ll see him in person again, though last night, in a dream, I crossed
a street with him, leaning in to hear the exact, impossibly kind, breadth of
When Clem Sanders announces himself to be a witness whose
view is partial, he gains my absolute trust. He is not the person who snaps the
photo to prove he was there, inflating his own importance by aligning himself
with a spectacle. He recognizes that he is already aligned.
This poem invites us to think about what it means to be a
bystander and reminds us that our view is always partial, and yet, to inhabit
that incompleteness is a form of completeness in itself. I hold this poem close
because I need its encouragement to speak from within my own fractured,
interrupted, and fallible vision. He didn’t need to see her wave. He could see,
in “her body/bowing to enter the thing,” her vow. ©
Poem from The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart,
Persea Books, New York, 2005.
Books in Brief (January 2014)
Shambhala Sun | January 2014
Books in Brief
THE TRAUMA OF EVERYDAY LIFE
By Mark Epstein
Penguin Press 2013; 225 pp., $25.95 (cloth)
Illness, old age, and death—the story is that Siddhartha
Gautama first confronted these realities as an adult when he ventured out from
the family palace. Psychiatrist and author Mark Epstein, however, points to an
earlier source of trauma for the Buddha-to-be: seven days after he was born,
his mother died. Though he wouldn’t have remembered her death, it’s reasonable
to assume, says Epstein, that her absence permeated his life with the vague
sense that something was wrong. “The presence of this early loss in his
psyche,” he continues, “creates a motif that anyone who struggles with
inexplicable feelings of estrangement or alienation can relate to. The traumas
of everyday life can easily make us feel like a motherless child.” Trauma—from
the minor to the catastrophic—is universal. But, as Epstein makes clear, it
does not have to destroy us. It can, in fact, be channeled into wisdom and
compassion. On the face of it, the subject matter of The Trauma of Everyday
Life is somber. Nonetheless, this is an engaging read peppered with
cultural tidbits and the personal experiences of both Epstein and his
THE HEALING POWER OF MEDITATION
Leading Experts on Buddhism, Psychology, and Medicine Explore the Health Benefits of Contemplative Practice
Edited by Andy Fraser
Shambhala Publications 2013; 226 pp., $16.95 (paper)
The Buddha has traditionally been known as the “Great
Physician,” and the root word of meditate is etymologically connected
with the word medicine. Now a plethora of scientific research is proving
what meditators have known for millennia: meditation and mindfulness can be
applied beneficially in health care. The Healing Power of Meditation is
an anthology that details some of the groundbreaking new scientific research,
maps out the history of how meditation became more mainstream, and explains how
meditation is being integrated into hospice care, psychiatry, and other fields.
Contributors include Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress
Reduction, and the Buddhist teachers Khandro Rinpoche and Sogyal Rinpoche. The
foreword is by Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence.
HAIKU IN ENGLISH
The First Hundred Years
Edited by Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns
W.W. Norton & Company 2013; 424 pp., $23.95 (cloth)
Haiku in English is rich with variety. There is the
poignant, such as David Cobb’s “filling the grave/more earth/than will go back
in.” There is the flippant, such Allen Ginsberg’s “Mayan head in a/Pacific
driftwood bole/—Someday I’ll live in N.Y.” And then there is the experimental,
such as John Barlow’s one liner “a dusting of snow light on the apple skins.”
In the introduction, former poet laureate Billy Collins points out that while
simile and metaphor are common literary devices in Western poetic forms, in
haiku they’re not. The moon is just the moon. It’s not compared to anything
because that would distract from its “moonness.” The important element in haiku
is positioning—setting up a startling contrast that leads the reader to see
afresh. The mundane can be just a line away from the majestic, the synthetic
from the natural. Collins states, “I like to think of the haiku as a
moment-smashing device out of which arise powerful moments of dazzling
awareness. But I also like to think of it as something to do while walking the
CLOSE TO THE GROUND
Reflections on the Seven Factors of Enlightenment
By Geri Larkin
Rodmell Press 2013; 178 pp., $14.95 (paper)
The Pali canon lists the seven factors of enlightenment as:
mindfulness, the investigation of phenomena, energetic effort, ease, joy,
concentration, and equanimity. These factors are also, according to Geri
Larkin, a clear and simple formula “for falling into a sweet juicy life no
matter the situation we find ourselves swimming through.” To explain the ins
and outs of each factor she mines a wide variety of sources, including her
personal experiences, traditional stories from the Buddha’s life, tidbits from
sutras, cooking instructions, and Zen koans. Larkin is the founder of Still
Point Zen Buddhist Temple in Detroit and the author of Plant Seed, Pull Weed
and The Chocolate Cake Sutra. With her warm and unpretentious voice, she
manages to make profound Buddhist teachings something you could actually read
at the beach or while soaking in the tub.
PICK YOUR YOGA PRACTICE
Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga
By Meagan McCrary
New World Library 2013; 240 pp., $15.95 (paper)
Maybe you’ve been practicing yoga for years or maybe your
first mat is still brand-spanking new. Either way, you most likely haven’t
tried every school of yoga out there and you don’t completely grok the
differences between them. My suggestion? Read Pick Your Yoga Practice.
In this new release, Meagan McCrary unpacks the philosophy and practice of
seven leading styles, and gives us tastes of an additional ten. From Kundalini
to Kripalu, Anusara to Ananda, the variety is fascinating, but, as McCrary
points out in the introduction, they’re more alike than they are different.
Ultimately, yoga is always about promoting mindfulness and expanding
self-awareness, and, according to McCrary, every style is valid. The important
thing is finding the one that works for you.
Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of
By Jay Michaelson
Evolver Editions 2013; 256 pp., $14.99 (paper)
In giving his assessment of contemporary American Buddhism,
Jay Michaelson shoots from the hip. He’s grateful to his teachers; he really
is. Yet sometimes he feels like he’s the only non-baby-boomer psychotherapist
in the meditation hall. In short, Evolving Dharma is Michaelson’s effort
to broaden our dharma discourse and strip it of some of what he sees as its
hippie-dippy fear of irony. He begins by clearly stating his own point of view
as a self-identified (off) white, queer, Jewish male. Then he goes on to give
the executive summary of the history of Buddhism in America, primarily focusing
on the last three decades and their chocablock changes. These are some of the
questions that he addresses: How has feminism informed dharma practice? What’s
the outcome of ancient practices meeting modern science? And what does it mean
when your sangha exists only online? Moreover, what’s next? Where’s American
Buddhism going from here?
THE EMPTY CHAIR
By Bruce Wagner
Blue Rider Press 2013; 304 pp., $26.95 (cloth)
A framed narrative, The Empty Chair is two linked
novellas. In the preface, a fictional version of author Bruce Wagner says he
has spent fifteen years interviewing people about the pivotal events in their
lives and that this book comprises two of these interviews in their entirety.
The first interview/novella is the story of a gay sort-of Buddhist. (His
ex-wife calls him a living master of couch-potato Zen, but he refers to his
philosophy as “vanzen” because he lives in his van and can’t imagine life
without “the ol’ Greater Vehicle.”) This character has a delightfully rambling
voice, but his tale takes dark turns, culminating in his son’s suicide. The
second interview/novella revolves around Queenie, who in her wild-child youth
left no New Age stone unturned. Now midlife is hitting hard, and her
grandfather’s penthouse with its infinity pool and view of Central Park is not
enough to stave off the mother of all depressions. Then the phone rings. It’s
Queenie’s ex-lover, Kura, a criminal mastermind with spiritual leanings, and he
has a proposition. How about a trip to India in search of a long-lost guru?
Editorial: This Laughing, Hurting, Busy World (January 2014)
Shambhala Sun | January 2014
This Laughing, Hurting, Busy World
On retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery, a teenager got up in
front of the eight-hundred-plus retreatants and posed this question to Thich
Nhat Hanh: “What is the hardest thing that you practice?”
As he always does before speaking, the Zen master paused.
“That is,” he finally said, “not being overwhelmed by despair.”
During the Vietnam War, Thich Nhat Hanh, known to his
students as Thay, founded the School of Youth for Social Service, a volunteer
organization that aided victims of the violence. One village located near the
demilitarized zone separating North and South Vietnam was bombed, so Thay and
his young social workers helped rebuild it. Shortly after, the village was
again bombed by the United States, and again rebuilt. This happened four times.
“If we gave up, that would have created a feeling of
despair,” Thay explained to the Blue Cliff retreatants. “That is why we kept
When people have given in to despair, they can be driven to
do desperate and dangerous things. So it’s important, Thay said, never to feed
the seeds of despair in others. That does not mean that you should lie about
dire situations, but you should think carefully about your words and frame what
you say in a constructive manner.
Young Vietnamese frequently asked Thich Nhat Hanh if he
thought the war would end soon. The truth was he could not see the light
at the end of the tunnel; the fighting had been going on for so long that it
seemed like it would continue forever. Yet Thay did not say that to the young
people. “Dear friends,” he told them, “the Buddha said that everything is
impermanent. The war is impermanent also—it should end someday. Let us continue
to work for peace.”
In this issue of the Shambhala Sun, you will find the
story of my retreat experience with Thay at Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush,
New York. During the course of this retreat, I got to explore concrete tools
for working with despair and other unhelpful emotions, and what I took away
with me is this: for transforming suffering, mindfulness practice is key but a
community is necessary to support that practice.
“In order to produce the powerful energy of enlightenment,
compassion, understanding, you need a sangha, a community,” Thich Nhat Hanh
says in my interview with him on page 58. “You build a sangha and together you
help each other nourish the buddha and the dharma in you.”
In “Before He Melts Away,” also in this issue, we get an
intimate step-by-step look at how one practitioner used meditation and
mindfulness to work with his despair, grief, and fear. James Hanmer finds
himself in the middle of a nightmare: his toddler son is diagnosed with a
life-threatening form of cancer. There is no silver bullet that’s going to make
this situation disappear, but meditation gives Hanmer insight, strength, and a
measure of equanimity. He realizes that even in his darkest hour, he’s
fortunate. He is, after all, alive and can put his whole heart into easing the
suffering of his family. Though I’ve read this story again and again, I choke
up each time. Be prepared to be moved, but also be prepared for a happy ending.
On my way home from Blue Cliff Monastery, I went to the Earl
of Sandwich in Newark Airport and had my own small experience with the insight
brought about by mindfulness. A week prior, I’d have thought that the noise and
busyness of the restaurant were just ordinary life. But post-retreat I was
experiencing everything through the surreal lens of reverse culture shock—the
cranked-up pop music, the frenetic clink of cutlery, the
laughing-shrieking-talking tableful of women eating nachos.
My sandwich came and I chewed slowly without picking up my
book or cell phone. I contemplated how many beings had worked to make this meal
possible for me. The cows and factory workers. The farmers and truck drivers.
The cooks, waiters, and dishwashers. After six days of practicing with a
sangha, I was open to connecting with my world this way, bite by bite.
I looked around the restaurant and saw a little girl with a
zebra-print suitcase and a solitary man lost in his Kindle. The people around
me were tired and stressed, bored and excited, slightly irritated and slightly
drunk. They reminded me of other people I knew; they reminded me of me. Then
suddenly, if just for a moment, I saw clearly. This whole laughing, hurting,
busy world—it is all my sangha.
—Andrea Miller, Deputy Editor
Joyful Giving (January 2014)
Shambhala Sun | January 2014
’Tis always the season for giving. Six Buddhist teachers — KAREN MAEZEN MILLER, JUDY LIEF, JAN CHOZEN BAYS,
GINA SHARPE, NORMAN FISCHER, and TSULTRIM ALLIONE — on why generosity
is the starting place of all the virtues.
The Heart of Generosity
By Gina Sharpe
The mental states we encounter when we sit in
meditation—difficult emotions, negative thoughts, and even the pains in our
bodies—are the consequences of life-long habit patterns and viewpoints that
result in dukkha, or suffering.
We know from the second noble truth that the source of
dukkha is greed, attachment, and craving. These cause us to hold on to what
appears to give us relief from our suffering—things, people, viewpoints,
habits. Yet, if these give any relief at all, it is at best temporary.
The heart of generosity—giving, sharing, and caring for
others—breaks this cycle of attachment and the resultant suffering. Through
generosity, we let go of self-centeredness and our mind/hearts open into
loving-kindness, compassion, and tenderness. We experience our
interconnectedness—how we rely on the generosity, caring, and hard work of
others for our well-being. These realizations are direct antidotes to dukkha.
Aligning our actions with them brings us true happiness.
Three aspects of the noble eightfold path help us practice
giving: right understanding, the first aspect; right mindfulness, the seventh;
and right effort, the sixth.
With right understanding, we know that selfishness and
miserliness are negative states of mind. When selfishness asserts itself, we
see it, and right mindfulness supports this seeing. Having become mindful of
selfishness and attachment as unwholesome states of mind, we practice right effort:
we make a balanced effort to abandon clinging and to cultivate the wholesome
state of generosity.
One of the ten daily monastic reflections may be helpful in
cultivating the generous heart: “The days and nights are relentlessly passing.
How well am I spending my time?”
Imagine a world in which we all hold on tightly, where
generosity is not an option or worse, is not even known? What would it be like
to live in such a world, where we work only to get and hold on to whatever we
can for ourselves, without any thought for the welfare of others? Is that a
world in which we’d want to live? Or can we together create a world of kindness
and compassion, in which we respond appropriately with generosity?
After retiring from practicing law, Gina Sharpe cofounded
New York Insight Meditation Center.
Illustrations for this article are by Tomi Um
In Search of the Genuine (January 2014)
Shambhala Sun | January 2014
In Search of the Genuine
Feeling disillusioned with this artificial world is the
starting place of the spiritual path, say ANYEN RINPOCHE and ALLISON CHOYING ZANGMO. They offer a Buddhist take on the genuineness we long for.
Many of us turn
toward the spiritual path because of our disillusionment with the world we live
in. Some of us have felt disillusioned for as long as we can remember. Even as
children, we saw that the world does not match up to what we’ve being told. For
others, disillusionment may start to surface as we grow into adulthood. We feel
that everyone else is made happy by a hypocritical world that makes us
miserable. Why is that? What is wrong with us? We may self-medicate by using
drugs, alcohol, sex, or food to escape the reality of our lives. Others just
“give it a go,” trying to fit into our families, our workplaces, and our social
circle the best that we can. In the process, we ignore our inner experience. We
self-medicate with denial.
disillusionment becomes too much to bear, we should consider ourselves lucky.
In the Buddhist teachings, we say that human life is precious. But life is most
precious when we wake up and want to do something about our pervasive feelings
of unhappiness. As a result of our disillusionment, we aspire to make a
meaningful change in our lives. Often, this manifests as the desire to live in
a more genuine way.
One common idea is
that being “genuine” means expressing ourselves with sincerity—stripping away
all pretenses and being in the world “just as we are.” We begin to strip away
the layers of personality we’ve built up like a shell to protect us from
painful realities. We make our first step toward genuine living.
have come to associate this quality of living genuinely, openly, and honestly
with the Buddhist path. This is one of the most beautiful ways Buddhism has
interacted with Western culture. Buddhism is an authentic means of
transformation, and when we take the practice seriously we start to notice
changes in ourselves, our attitudes, and our habits that we thought were
The Buddhist path
makes us genuine in every way imaginable. However, this raises several
important questions. What does it mean to be genuine according to the Buddhist
tradition? What does a genuine person look like? How do we actually become more
genuine? The wish to become a more genuine human being is one of the main goals
of Buddhist practice. However, there are both similarities and differences in
the way Western culture understands what it means to be genuine and the way it
is understood by the Buddhist tradition.
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