Monthly Archives: April 2009

buddhist carnival: april 2009, poetry month

chaos in kanjithe 15th, buddhist carnival time. it’s april, poetry month, so i’ll post only poems and poetry-related articles.

from last month’s montreal zen poetry festival

i longed to visit the eastern cliff
countless years until today
i finally grabbed a vine and climbed
but halfway there met mist and wind
the trail was too narrow for clothes
the moss too slick for shoes
i stopped beneath this cinnamon tree
and slept with a cloud for a pillow

— han shan (translated by red pine)

if you have time …

from danny fisher’s blog

if you have time to chatter
read books
if you have time to read
walk into mountain, desert and ocean
if you have time to walk
sing songs and dance
if you have time to dance
sit quietly, you happy lucky idiot

— nanao sakai

the role of poetry in zen and meditation

zen mirror has an interview with zen master sÅ­ngsan about the role poetry plays in meditation practice as well as in teaching and conveying zen mind to the western world.

dc: thank you very much for all your wonderful gifts! that’s a very good answer. i was wondering about when you compose a poem, do you actually reflect on the situation and then write using “beautiful language?”

zmss: no. only whatever situation comes up or appears, then i will compose a poem. not so much checking situations, and not so much making something.

go here for the restof the interview.

haiku posted a nice piece about haiku, with a few good examples, for instance

from the nostril
of the great buddha
comes a swallow

haiku database
and while we’re on the topic of haiku, i found this treasure of haiku related info – for example a whole section on the “season words” that are an important part of traditional haiku, or a whole section on the moon in haiku, this one, for example

calligraphy of geese
against the sky —
the moon seals it.

(not directly buddhist perhaps, but i just had to tell you about this great find!)

breaking haiku rules

on dragoncave, some musings on haiku rules. here is a haiku by issa, one of his best-known buddhist pieces:

this world of dew
is just a world of dew”
and yet . . . oh and yet . . .

inmensity taps at your life
poetry chaikhana is a blog about spiritual poetry from all over the world. here is a poem by jane hirshfield, who is described as a secular or eclectic buddhist


it is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.
even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.
that great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books –
already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

i noticed …

and finally, allan ginsberg’s beautiful poem on the cremation of chögyam trungpa

i noticed the grass, i noticed the hills, i noticed the highways,
i noticed the dirt road; i noticed the car rows in the parking lot
i noticed the ticket takers, noticed the cash and the checks and credit cards,
i noticed the buses, noticed mourners, i noticed their children in red dresses,
i noticed the entrance sign, noticed retreat houses, noticed blue and yellow flags
noticed the devotees, their trucks and buses, guards in khaki uniforms,
i noticed the crowds, noticed misty skies, noticed the all -pervading smiles and empty eyes –
i noticed the pillows, coloured red and yellow, square pillows round and round –
i noticed the tori gate, passers-through bowing, a parade of men & women in formal dress –
noticed the procession, noticed the bagpipe, drums, horns, noticed high silk head crowns and saffron robes, noticed the three piece suits,
i noticed the palanquin, an umbrella, the stupa painted with jewels the colours of the four directions –
amber for generosity, green for karmic works, i noticed the white for buddha, red for the heart –
thirteen worlds on the stupa hat, noticed the bell handle and umbrella, the empty head of the white cement bell – noticed the corpse to be set in the head of the bell –
noticed the monks chanting, horn plaint in our ears, smoke rising from astep the firebrick empty bells –
noticed the crowds quiet, noticed the chilean poet, noticed a rainbow,
i noticed the guru was dead —

go here for the rest.

have a buddhist blog?  want to be featured here next month?  drop me a line.

the calligraphy here spells “chaos” and was done by ~C4Chaos

the depressing (side) effects of antidepressants

the following is a guest post by kat sanders, who regularly blogs at MRI technician schools. she welcomes your comments and questions at her email address: katsanders2 at

the opinions expressed in this post are kat sanders’ – i personally don’t take as strong a stance as kat, mainly because, as i say time and time again, psychoactive drugs have different effects depending on dosage, circumstances and who takes them. i don’t think we are at a point (yet) where we can say that there is “a” truth about any psychoactive drug, antidepressants or otherwise. similarly, while i obviously think that psychotherapy is useful, and that it’s a good idea to try it before, while or after taking antidepressants, like anything else, it’s not a magic pill that works for everyone.

having said that, i think kat offers good points for discussion.

have you taken antidepressants? have they worked?

here’s kat’s article:

the depressing side (effects) of anti-depressants

life has its ups and downs, and while we’re all able to enjoy the ups, most of us are unable to handle the downs. some of us bounce back to normalcy soon enough; but for the others, they sink into a mire of depression from which there seems to be no escape. when this situation continues for a while, they are taken to see a psychiatrist and prescribed anti-depressants. the truth about these drugs is that while they may have a calming and uplifting effect in the short term, they’re not advisable after a period of time because:

  • they have been proved in clinical trials to work only 50 percent of the time.
  • they cause you to gain weight. while the initial increase is not much, you do tend to put on a lot of weight over a period of time.
  • they are likely to cause a relapse when you continue to take them over a period of time. so there’s a high probability that you will slip back into depression just when you think you’re getting better.
  • they cause sexual dysfunction, mostly in women. you feel yourself losing interest in sex and anything related to it. relationships suffer as a result of this side effect and your depression worsens.
  • they cause some people to experience insomnia, intense somnolence, and other sleep disorders
  • they cause you to feel tired all the time. the fatigue prevents you from doing any worthwhile work.
  • they may also cause nausea and diarrhea.
  • they increase anxiety.
  • they cause you to fee mentally dull and uninterested in anything.

we need to realize that depression is something that cannot be managed only with anti-depressants. it’s an emotion, one that is brought on by a set of circumstances and that affects us mentally. instead of resorting to drugs, we need to understand the reason for our sadness and attempt to resolve it. that’s the only way we to treat depression – face it head on and tackle the underlying reason for it. anti-depressants must be used only for a certain time during which we need to find the strength to deal with the problem and get over it.

the problem with anti-depressants is that they cannot be stopped cold turkey, because when they are, they bring on the same symptoms as those caused by long-term usage. the dosage needs to be minimized and the patients weaned off them as slowly as possible. it’s not advisable to discontinue anti-depressants without consulting your medical practitioner.

a sound poem

water in italyi can hear the
water running steady
a light gurgling
and then
quiet rushing

but those are not
just words
i want to tell you
– really, i want to
tell you –
what i hear, not
words for water-actions

i want to tell you
about the sounds
how much those
vibrations mean to me
each night, brushing my teeth,
washing my hands once again
a quick shower that
clears much more than sweat

i want to tell you
about what happens
in my ears
who feel soothed
my brain
who feels calmed
my heart
who feels a
closure for the day
when the water runs,
on another saturday
night here on the
west coast

image by italianjob17

musings on the meaning of good friday

jesus was a mystery to me two years ago, and he still is.crosses

so let me muse on him a bit more, today, on good friday. a day that changed everything, for a lot of people in the last 2000 years.

many adults have experienced days like that. bifurcation days – before that day, life was X, after that it was Y. one of my bifurcation days was the birth of my son. the change is so sharp, it’s as if there is a change in brain chemistry, maybe more than that – you’re a different person.

a friend was telling me today that in her church, they gradually strip the altar during good friday until it is totally bare. then a big wooden cross is pushed, it falls on the floor with a big BANG. then everyone leaves in silence.

good friday – the big bang.

is that part of jesus’ message, part of the message of good friday? that life will never be the same again?

in a lovely, too short facebook chat with my good friend nancy, we mused about other meanings of good friday.

we mused about the parallels between the last supper and jesus’ dying on the cross with the two others that were being crucified. in both, there was communion, intimacy and generosity.

the communion and intimacy in breaking bread together, and having one’s life broken, together.

the generosity of offering wine and bread. the generosity of sacrifice. the generosity of forgiveness.

perhaps it seems to you that the religious message of good friday is just for christians. i believe there is also something in this story of jesus’ death that can resonate with all of us. what do you think?

image by foreversouls

mental health and mental illness in different cultures

the last few days, i have been thinking repeatedly about the ideas fellow vancouver blogger karen fung has brought up in her post on march 9. she muses about three topics, all of which fascinating. the one about mental health issues with immigrant populations is particularly intriguing, perhaps because for the past year, i’ve mostly worked with immigrants, and also because ethnic diversity is something very close to our hearts at the canadian mental health association.

karen says

as i have become more aware of my interaction with others and of my personal power in my relationships, i’ve realized how important language of empowerment is – and in some cases, even just language more broadly. one interest that i have (that i’m not sure i’ll ever be able to meaningfully pursue) is exploring mental health issues with immigrant populations …

what is the status of mental health stigma more generally in non-english media, and how are efforts at pushing that envelope? this is entirely out of self-interest; however, with populations around the world being more mobile and cultures more in flux, my read is that the ways of dealing with mental health issues the way my grandparents did – through self-medication, secret lives or behind closed doors – seems less and less viable all the time …

on a more specific, linguistic level, i’ve found english to be amazingly malleable in making words match the concepts ” people change and adapt phrases all the time to reflect, however artificially, a higher level of thinking that is non-judgmental, inclusive and accepting. but i can imagine that with other languages (say, the one i have most personal experience with, cantonese) this willingness to shift things might not exist the same way.

these are intriguing ideas. one thing that this makes me think of is that in german, my mother tongue, the concept/words “mental health” are not nearly as much in use as the concept/words “mental illness”. for example, if i search the english speaking for the terms “mental health”, “mental illness” and “depression”, i get a close to 1:1:1 ratio. in, on the other hand, the word “geistesgesundheit” (mental health), even when i add the related term “geistliche gesundheit”, relates to “geisteskrankheit” (mental illness) and depression in a ratio of 1:20:130.  mindboggling!

just to spin this a bit further – it seems to me that german has a similar malleability at the semantic (meaning) level but not on the sociolinguistic level. that is, the language structure is very capable – maybe even more so than english – of being bent this way and that to reflect many shades of meaning but on the level of actual language use, that just does not happen as much as in english.  similarly, the concept of political correctness, which is born from the desire to make language more reflective of societal changes, is not nearly as significant in german as it is in english.

what does it mean, then, when a person struggling with mental health issues lives in a country where mental illness is a much more frequently used term than mental health

i’ll assume that the situation in chinese speaking countries (china, hong kong, taiwan, singapore, parts of vietnam, malaysia, philippines, etc.) is similar to the situation in germany. one of my friends from mainlaind china agrees with me.  but that’s just two opinions – correct us if we’re wrong!

and what does it mean for a person from one of those countries when they move to a place like canada, the US or australia and encounter a totally new approach to mental illness? is it freeing, confusing, stunning?


haikuit’s sunday inspiration time, a meme created by my friend sojourner.

today i am inspired by

  • reading and writing haiku
  • my 2-year-old grandson and his single-minded focus on choo-choo trains
  • my professional immigrant clients from china who are giving up impressive professional success in their country to start from scratch in a totally new culture
  • my friend tina who refused to let a label of “learning disability” stand in her way
  • kathi bentall who dedicates herself to provide refuges of calmness and relaxation to the people in vancouver’s downtown eastside with the listening post, a little meditation oasis on main and hastings, and rivendell, a beautiful retreat on bowen island
  • people who use social media in friendly, respectful and creative ways, with the intention to mutually rich relationships and make the world a better place – like sojourner
  • my friend a. who is throwing perfection to the wind and has decided not to wait for the ideal job, the ideal wife or the ideal apartment to be happy
  • stephen baxter’s book manifold: space; a book of such extraordinarily epic proportions that “inspired” is almost too small a word
  • the people in my support group, especially the guys – it’s not easy to bare your soul in a roomful of women if you’re a man
  • the characters in my novel. so imperfect and still stumbling towards honesty, love and freedom
  • twitter people who tweet about one of my all-time favourite writers, alice walker
  • bishop td jakes on free your mind  (yes, despite the controversy)
  • bob marley. always.

who (or what) inspires you today?

(i guess i should ask particularly you, vivien from InspirationBit)

image by monkeysox