The Poetry and Prose of John Omniadeo

The Poetry and Prose of John Omniadeo

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Flowers of Hopelessness

Before I tell what happened on Tuesday, the night of the Full Moon, I need to tell you about an interesting thing I've noticed.

I've noticed it in a few readers who have commented or have contacted me personally about these blog posts, but I can't really put it on them. It happened in me too. In fact it is my fault. It has to do with losing focus on what's important.

Originally my idea was to write about doing prostrations as a modern, Western non-affiliated practitioner of the universal dharma, because I have personally benefited from doing prostrations over the years and I wanted to share this very beneficial practice with others. So I wrote a blog post on prostrations on Ken Mcleod's Unfettered Mind Ning social networking site, “a place for...those whose path lies outside established centers and institutions.” God knows that's me.

Poor Ken. He may not have known just how far outside some of us hopeless outsiders could get and he himself stopped writing on the ning site right after I started. I don't think it's a total coincidence, but I run on the paranoid side and even if it's true, who can blame him? I was sorry to see him go. Ken has been a translator and done two three year retreats and his writings have helped me a lot and he is very interesting.

Prostrations, like the vast majority of Buddhist practices, are basically boring. Only an expert bullshitter like me could write a book about prostrations, because there really is only so much you can say about them. (I manage, though, so buy the book.)

In prostrations you just do the same thing over and over and over ad nauseam, and that ad nauseam is the really important part. Jean Paul Sartre called his first novel La Nausée, and to me it is also boring, but Buddhists don't just write about this stuff, we practice it.

Anyway, with some reservations I decided to make things a little more interesting by doing prostrations in downtown San Francisco, in Chinatown and the Tenderloin where I lived and meditated “outside established centers and institutions” as a young man. I developed a fondness for the people in those places, especially in the Tenderloin, where you might say I spoke the language better, and where la nausée goes on around you ad nauseam, but it's usually pretty interesting if you find humanity in extremis interesting.

That was the idea, but making things interesting was a compromise of sorts and when I first started this series of blog posts I was concerned that I was distracting would-be prostrators from the helpful boredom of prostration and moving their attention over to a lot of entertaining (and self-aggrandizing) stories about Big Bad John in the Big Bad City.

I was concerned. But I guess not concerned enough to stop. I can't help myself. “My name is John and I am an entertainer.” I am powerless over this urge.

I went even further and started to talk about Stealing Fire and Summoning Protectors and Rending the Veil and Santissima Muerte. But the most distracting topic of all was when I started to talk about penetrating the Mysterious Secret Female Place.

Nobody is thinking about boring old prostrations now!

And when I got up on Tuesday the Full Moon of my retreat, I wasn't thinking about them either. All my attention was focused on preparing for that momentous occasion under the Full Moon. It was no longer a Prostration retreat. More like an Anticipation retreat.

But what can I say? This kind of thing happens. Especially when we are in love. And there is nothing to do but work with it. Anticipation may be about the future but it can only happen in the present like everything else.

I had bought the Santissima Muerte candles the night before. They were packed in my knapsack. I had the Silver Monday Moon Earrings (the precious gift of the slimy Tenderloin sidewalk). I had specially selected pieces of the schizophrenic's Candy. (There were some white ones that seemed appropriate, so I chose those. I don't know what flavor they were. It was cheap candy—schizophrenics are not usually wealthy—and it all had the “one taste” of processed sugar.)

Monday's rainy weather was gone, so I knew that a visible fat Full Moon would be provided. Loony John's Heart-in-Love would come up with some suitable poetic sentiment. Everything was in place. What a night it would be! My hopes were higher than a Tenderloin crackhead.

Then I realized I did not yet have a suitable Offering of Flowers. A certain amount of anxiety began to creep up on my high hopes. This is not uncommon with high hopes. More than one encounter with the Secret Female Place has been ruined by high hopes leading to excess nervous energy which leads to anxiety and then failure at the critical moment.

All the experts tell you this. “Don't be goal oriented when it comes to the Secret Female Place.” “Stay in the moment without goals and expectations.” “Open your heart and just let things happen.” “There is no failure.”

It's all good advice but I always wonder, when they are writing this, are they in love? Or just writing books and giving talks.

I was in love.

I left late that Tuesday morning to go down to the Tenderloin with my love offerings. I knew I would be out all night on my date under the Full Moon so I let myself have the extra sleep. I didn't want my energy flagging when I needed it most. I tried to chant the Tara Mantra but thoughts about Hope and Hopelessness drifted in between and through and below and above my chant.

It's funny, but when you are Hopeless, there is Hope, but as soon as you feel Hope—it's Hopeless. Personally I spin around in this conundrum all the time. I breathe and stay in the moment and all that, but I am not going to lie to you. I can be one confused motherfucker at the same time.

I went into St. Boniface's Church to see La Virgen and light the Santissima Muerte Candles.

I offered a dedication: “For my Love and for all my sponsors and their hopeful hopeless Loves, our friends and our enemies and those unknown to us, all hopeless hopeful beings without exception.”

I looked down and saw a drying bouquet. The thought occurred to me that these might be the Flowers of Hopelessness I could offer for my Love.

Hmm. This would be a little different than Stealing Fire which remains behind when you steal it. I am not really a moralist. It wouldn't be the first time in my life I had taken the old five fingered discount. They were just old flowers. They would probably be cleared out soon anyway.

I asked La Virgen what to do and I received the answer by that deep knowing within that poets relate as a voice from without:

“You can have the Flowers, John. But you know these are not the real Flowers of Hopelessness for your Love. You will have to find these yourself and offer them tonight in the light of the Full Moon of Mind. I appreciate that you left your cardboard mat and your donation box behind. I accept your Candles of Death and will send their romance with you. Take your Sweets and your Silver Moon Metal Jewelry and present them and yourself as you are, and see what happens.”

I didn't argue and I didn't steal the Flowers. "What's the use?" I thought.

I left the church and tried to do prostrations on the green grass by the library, but nothing really worked that well that day. My right knee was very sore and stiff and that slowed me way down and distracted me. Great. I will be a limping gimp when I see Her. I had lost my cell phone so I felt like a scattered loser. I was all wrapped up in trying to impress my readers and sponsors and myself so I knew I was a phony. I couldn't stay “in the moment” at all that day. And what's worse, I couldn't get out of it either. All I could do was painfully anticipate my momentous date that night under the Full Moon.

I wanted to call the whole thing off, but I am a proud s.o.b. and that was out of the question. It was hopeless, but I would just have to go on and hope I was dealing with the kind of Female who doesn't expect a guy to be perfect.

Love to All,

John O.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Santissima Muerte

How did I get myself into this one? I promised my friend Andrea that I would penetrate a Secret Female Place after I stole Fire and rent the Veil of the Temple.

I even went and said that I “did it” like some High School locker room braggart. And now, of course, everybody wants to hear the juicy details. Well, something went down that Moonlit Tuesday night on my prostration retreat.

I think.

Truth to tell, I am worried because there are all these more experienced people out there and, when I talk about it, they might laugh at me and mock: “That was it?

Comparisons are odious. And when you are talking about penetrating the Secret Female Place, they are downright odoriferous. It's a very private thing and it's hard to describe. Of course you can describe it from the outside in a way, but that really doesn't capture what it is like.

Fortunately, I have a few things I need to recount first anyway, so I can stall for time.

Probably the most important one is when I gazed at the Full Moon of Mind and completely lost it. That's important because if you are self conscious when you approach the Secret Female Place, things tend not to go so well. But that doesn't happen till Tuesday and I am way ahead of myself.

It's generally best, not always best, mind you—there are no absolute rules in this game and sometimes things just happen—but it is generally best if there is a little romance and foreplay first. So when I woke up on Monday morning, I'm thinking Candlelight, Flowers, Precious Metals, Full Moon. I'm not the most original guy in the world. But these things generally help.

I am also a modern person so I like efficiency and economy. In my post about how I Steal Fire I related my attempt to light candles for my St. Anthony's Dining Room sponsors. (There were no candles so I stole the Fire instead.) Now this is either embarrassing or brilliant, but I figured I could buy some candles and use the same ones for my sponsors and the romance at the same time. I mean is anybody really keeping track?

Where I live there is a large Mexican population and a big Day of the Dead celebration right after Halloween. That means the Mexican grocery stores have lots of Santissima Muerte candles for sale. Ordinarily (unless your lover is a Goth or something) candles dedicated to “Most Holy Death” might not seem so romantic, but in John O.'s magical poetic world, Death and the Secret Female Place are definitely related. Without a strong awareness of Death, you are not likely to get anywhere near Her Mystery.

I knew what I had to do: I would go back to the statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe at St. Boniface's Church in the Tenderloin and light three Santissima Muerte candles.

Just thinking about it made me feel romantic as hell.

It's true, I was concerned that you sponsors might find it a little scary to find out that I lit Death candles for you, but I never promised you guys I wouldn't light Death candles for you, and I think you'll live—and die eventually too.

It was raining Monday morning and I left my room in my ex-wife's garage before the stores opened in the Mission district, so I wouldn't be able to get the Santissima Muerte candles till that night.

A truly amazing thing happened though. On one of the very worst stretches of Market Street, I looked down and found two genuine ER 925 Silver Earrings on the disgustingly gross sidewalk. Precious Monday Moon Metal right in the slime. This really happened!

All I needed were the Flowers of Hopelessness and romance was in the bag.

I was relieved to find my cardboard reasonably dry under the plywood by the dumpster. I wandered the Tenderloin looking for a dry spot that didn't reek of urine or have a homeless person or two sleeping in it. I finally found the perfect spot under an overhang across from the Mark Twain Hotel on Taylor.

Not much happened that day. I did lots of prostrations with few distractions. There were not many pedestrians and the cars drove by me without a glance.

I gave Lenny from Louisiana $10. He “needed a train ticket to Pleasanton to make a court appearance.” I said, “Sure let's go get one.” This was a little cruel because I knew it was probably bullshit. Sure enough, on the way I could feel his tension build. He had a twisted posture and his face got just as twisted as he screwed up the courage to level with me. When he did, I gave him the money and said I didn't care what he did with it as long as he didn't hurt himself.

I could tell he had been abused as a child and told him I knew someone had done him wrong back home. He said it sure was nice to talk to someone who knew what happened. He showed me the scar where he had a lung removed at General Hospital and said he was told he would be dead three years ago.

When I shook his hand he asked what he could do for me. I asked if he believed in God. He looked like he didn't want to offend me, and said, “I don't know what I believe.” I said, “I don't either, but you can still pray, 'Go John' for me.” He said he would.

I gave Anita $5 “for her medications.” She said, “Wait, I'll be right back.” Forty-five minutes later she returned with a really nice inflatable mat and a blanket.

I was amazed that I was starting to accumulate too many possessions! I gave the mat and blanket away to a homeless person in a doorway on the way home that night but I accidentally left my cardboard with him too. “Oh well,” I thought.

Then it came to me that tomorrow, Tuesday, on the Full Moon I would leave the box with the schizophrenic's candy home also. Maybe just take a few pieces as a romance offering. It was scary, but I felt ready.

If you want to penetrate the Secret Female Place, Sweets, Candles, Flowers, Precious Metals and the Moon are all to the good, but sooner or later you're going to have to just get naked and go for it.

Love to All,

John O.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I Rend the Veil (Sunday final)

This is being written after my prostration street retreat which is now like a dream. It has become a story, and all stories are to some extent lies. I am not making anything up exactly, but the “real experience”  was just a mysterious lived moment, and I am selecting out experiences and my interpretations of them, which are just more experiences, and you, Dear Readers, are getting even those third or fourth hand. Communication is inherently frustrating.

Dharma teachers warn us against living in our stories. To a great extent, “waking up” is about finding out how imprisoned we are by them. But those teachers all tell stories. That's because some stories are told to help us “untell” our stories, and, whether I succeed with you or not, those are the kinds of stories I am trying to tell.

For those joining in, it's really best to start at the beginning where I try to Keep on Bowing in the Free World and work up to this post. But even if you start at the beginning I may not make a lot of sense, because the beginningless is the ultimate point here. In the world of stories the beginning is usually a good place to start, though.

I went up to Grace Cathedral on Sunday afternoon to rend the Veil and penetrate the Female Mystery Place. As I left my Tenderloin adventures and friends behind, I thought of the Bob Dylan lines:

Now I'm going back again
I got to get to Her somehow
All the people we used to know
are like illusions to me now

I was getting sunburned, so I did prostrations on the cool north side of the Cathedral in the shade with my cardboard mat on the clean Episcopalian concrete. I noticed a priest, a woman, come out and size me up (to see if I was sleeping on my cardboard, I think) but when she saw me bowing she left me alone. I admit I was curious to see if anyone from this religious institution would ask me what I was doing, but nobody ever did.

There was a meeting of the “Bishop's Society" going on in the building north of the church. I saw a sign to that effect, printed in slightly gothic-esque type, a bit like the kind used at castles at amusement parks announcing “Ye olde” this or that. “Ye olde restroom,” that kind of thing. Occasionally a couple or small group of upper middle-class people wended their way toward the building, presumably to see the Bishop. Two male priests walked by one after the other on the way to join the Bishop's Society and both had remarkably similar silver hair with expensive looking haircuts. I kept bowing but I was becoming aware of a tightness in my chest and from my observations in this paragraph you can probably guess what was starting to happen. What you might not guess is how it relates to the Veil of the Temple.

After my time in the Tenderloin, surrounded by the impoverished, the wretched and the despised, I was having a harder time feeling compassion for these people up on tony Nob Hill. Comparative thoughts and certain deep feelings of resentment and bitterness were working their way up through my refuge and compassion prayers and becoming harder to ignore. But I had practiced all day and I was self aware enough to recognize a pattern.

Compassion for others based on their transitory and relative circumstances is really not compassion at all. My thoughts and feelings were outing me as a phony. Nothing new here, but uncomfortable to look at.

In the Christian tradition “the Veil of the Temple” refers to the curtain that kept the profane from seeing into the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place in the Temple of Solomon where (ritually speaking) God was mysteriously more present than in any other spot on Earth. When Jesus is crucified and willingly gives up his life as a sacrifice for all the sins of mankind, the Veil of the Temple is “rent in twain from the top to the bottom.” This is high poetry and poetry is profaned when explained, but it's safe to say that the passage refers to a new understanding of the relationship between human beings and divinity.

In my meditation tradition divinity per se is not a factor, but in my magical mind of poetry the Veil had come to mean whatever kept me from intuiting the sentience, and thus the tathāgatagarbha , the Buddha nature, of any other (particularly human) being. At the moment the obscuring Veil was my focus on the economic and societal status of the humans up on Nob Hill (or Snob Hill as many call it). This was also related to my unfeeling defensive behavior with the Guard.

Apparently, it is easier for me to feel “compassion” for the poor and powerless in the world than for the rich and powerful. But that is not real compassion. I knew that if I were to rend the Veil this attitude of mine would have to go. But how?

I finished my set of prostrations and walked down to the labyrinth on the North East Corner of the Cathedral. Grace Cathedral is home to two different labyrinths, the heart-children of Dr. Laura Artress, an inspiring Episcopal Priest up on “Snob Hill.” I love to walk the outdoors one. That and the shady church courtyard and my intuition about rending the Veil and penetrating the Secret Female Place were the reasons I had walked up on Nob Hill. I stood and surveyed the labyrinth.

I was too tired. I felt sleepy. There was no way I was going to rend the Veil and penetrate the Secret Female Place. I could barely keep my eyes open.

I crossed the street to Huntington Park, situated at the highest point in downtown San Francisco between the Fairmount Hotel and Grace Cathedral. I spread out my cardboard, lay down on it with my body in the sun and my sunburned head in the shade and dozed off into a fine half conscious nap. As I went under I could hear conversations around me. Trips to Europe. Dog grooming. Real estate prices. When I came awake I saw two separate women in silk pants suits walking well groomed lapdogs, apparently from the Fairmount.

I looked over at the playground. Almost all white, well dressed, smiling people with their children.

But I sensed something else. A nervous awkwardness in their dealings with each other. Subtle fear.

I held the Veil in my hands.

Refreshed by my nap, I left the park and went back over to the Cathedral and the labyrinth. I was ready. I did a round of prostrations again by the Cathedral and then came down to the labyrinth. There were two men smoking cigars and talking business on the benches. Uh oh. Cigars.

When I got a whiff, though, I was completely won over. These were not Swisher Sweets at a Mission bus top. Their cigars were obviously expensive, as aromatic as any incense I have ever smelled.

I started the labyrinth, switching for the first time on Sunday from the Mani to the Tara Mantra. Years of marginal city living have made me very unselfconscious in public (much to my poor son's dismay on many occasions). I chanted my mantra inaudibly, but I danced a little side-step and turn dance as I wound and wended my way, moving in and out and around and away from, but always working toward the center.

The Center! I prepared myself for something. I had come to enter a Secret Female Place and the labyrinth is certainly a cultural survivor from an ancient Goddess worshiping matrifocal religion and here I was dancing and swaying to the Tara Mantra (which I personally believe is also pre-Buddhist and descended from a related cultural matrix) and this could just be it.

Drifting into my awareness, woven among mantra and whiffs of cigar smoke I started to hear snippets of conversation from the cigar smokers.

“So you give them a hundred and fifty grand a month and in ten months they have a million five...”...OM TARE TUTARE TURYE SOHA...“I thought getting Dean Witter was a stroke of genius...brilliant...they got cash and position...”...OM TARE TUTARE TURYE SOHA...”...Obama's right about one thing, infrastructure...”... OM TARE TUTARE TURYE SOHA...

The investment bankers, for I am pretty sure that's what they were, were dressed casual, not flashy at all. One had on tee shirt and jeans, the other office casual slacks and a collared shirt. Their wives were much better dressed (for Church I think) and huddled in conversation away from their cigar smoke. I couldn't hear the women, but I got the impression from the way they were leaning in towards each other that they were not talking politics or banking, but more probably family concerns and quite possibly the trials of living with the bankers.

I was halfway through the labyrinth to the center. Whenever my little dance allowed I started to take these guys in and check them out further. Both had paunches but one looked reasonably fit while the other looked like Type II diabetes was on the horizon and possibly had arrived. His health caught my attention and I felt concern for him.

The Veil was being pulled a bit..

As I danced towards the center of the labyrinth I remembered a job from my youth. When I first started practicing meditation I thought it would be good idea to expose myself to old age illness and death. I quit my job at the airport parking lot where you could get stoned and throw frisbee in between flights and took a job as a nursing assistant at a convalescent hospital.

The convalescent hospital was in a very wealthy section of Southern California and the clientele—or inmate population, depending on how you look at it—was very upscale. Doctors, wealthy businessmen, a Judge whose family held vast amounts of valuable land, an Ivy League professor from another wealthy family, to name just a few.

It was one of the hardest jobs I have ever had. You had to get 12 people up and dressed and fed and I don't remember what else, but you never had enough time and the staff was underpaid and burnt out and when no one was looking we cut corners at best, and (though most were well intentioned) some staff treated the patients with, shall we say, less than respect. I watched the landowner Judge get spanked like a baby once by an irate NA for an infraction I can't recall.

Aside from the staff's behavior it was—and still is—a messy business with memory loss, feeding tubes, bedsores and wheelchairs; shit, piss, vomit and pain, (mental and physical) everywhere and death (merciful perhaps but still feared) just around the corner at all times.

As I approached the center of the labyrinth I saw the investment bankers and the people in Huntington Park dying in some such circumstances. Even though they would not be in a wheelchair in the Tenderloin, their money would not protect them and I felt sadness and heartache. Tears came.

I stepped into the center of the labyrinth knowing deeply and perceiving directly in my heart that, whatever their advantages, money and power were no protection from death and suffering.

The Veil was rent.

I did nine prostrations and stood up. I had rent the Veil and here I was at the center of the labyrinth. Was this the Secret Female Place? Had I penetrated Her Mystery?

The answer came with the kind of knowing within that poets often relate as a voice from without:

“No John. You rent the Veil and you are free (for the time being) of your misperceptions about others and their illusory differences, but you have not penetrated my Mystery. You are just standing in the center of a design on a concrete slab. I do not give myself to anyone just because they want me. You will have to win my heart if you want to penetrate my Secret Mystery Place.”

I danced back out of the labyrinth and did a few prostrations by the Church before I picked up my cardboard and headed back down the hill. I did a few more in the Plaza before I stashed my cardboard by the dumpster. (I felt bad about the way I treated the Guard, but not about my cardboard hiding place.)

I chanted the Tara mantra as I walked the three miles home. As I went to bed, I thought about how I would win my heart's desire and penetrate the Female Mystery Place. More romance and foreplay were obviously required. 

Tuesday would be the Full Moon. There was plenty of time for poetry, flowers and candlelight. I had high hopes, which is never a good thing on retreat, but I was in love, so please “look upon me with eyes of compassion.”

Love to All,

John O.

Friday, October 14, 2011

I Summon the Protectors (Sunday cont.)

My Prostration retreat started all bright eyed and bushy tailed on Friday the 7th, but ended last night around midnight with a round of somewhat seedy, distracted and flaccid prostrations in Chinatown and then at UN Plaza on the grass. My bones ache.

As my retreat ended I ate the last of the schizophrenic's candy and offered its sweetness and anything good from my practice to Diotima and her fellow practitioners in Montreal sitting Zen Sesshin (a real retreat and not some trumped up John O. fiasco) and to all real practitioners, and to the many who have supported me, including you, Dear Reader, and to my Saint Anthony's Dining Room sponsors, and to the people of the Tenderloin and all of San Francisco and everywhere, and to my friends, my enemies and those unknown to me, all beings without exception.

I hope you all get something out of this because I feel like a failure. I am still John and nothing has changed.

Just because I am a failure, doesn't mean you are, though. Meditation is about living life as it is, and whatever your life is, it isn't John's life.

The whole point of these writings is to encourage friends to explore different types of prayer (I like the word “aspiration” but in everyday talk “prayer” will do) and different ways of approaching and practicing meditation and dharma in its most universal sense. All this stuff about John's adventures is just so many blurbs on the cereal box. I'm going to forget that from time to time, so it's best if you don't.

I will talk about doing the prostrations and how they relate to prayer and meditation at some point but it's a lot better story if I get there by way of Summoning the Protectors. One problem is that when it comes to prostrations there is not much to talk about, as my co-bower and friend Muddy Bill points out wittily in his report about his own prostrations. You just keep doing them over and over and sometimes when you start you're stiff and can hardly do them at all, and sometimes you are distracted or weak and end up pausing too long facedown in a day dream on your cardboard, and sometimes you get in a flow in the present moment and it's all downhill on spiritual easy street and the heart opens and the connection between your heart and your throat and your eyes opens and you are able to take in everything inside of you and outside of you without judgment. As I said, there's really not much to talk about. So it's easy to just start talking about something about which there is so much to talk about, and if you're John, John comes easily to mind.

Anyway, bowing, mantra and prayer are good ways to summon the Protectors. The only ways I know, personally. (If you add a little discrete fasting sometimes, that can help too.) So let me tell you about them, since that is closer to being about me.

Obviously the first Protector to show up on this retreat was the schizophrenic with his “this will help” candy. That's why on Sunday (we're still on Sunday) I brought the donations box, the one with the sign that spymistress Emma Peel said was too small. Even though I was not getting donations, it had the candy and the dollar from my first donor and a few other coins in it and I wasn't ready to leave home without them.

(The mysterious Emma Peel, by the way, was the second Protector to show up on this retreat, but she left Friday so I wouldn't be over-protected. She was not wearing stiletto heels when I saw her, looking for all the world like another Starbucks clone so none would suspect, but it was clear she would wear and do anything necessary on assignment.)

When I bow I usually recite my version of a refuge prayer, but because I had been inspired by thinking of Lama Lodro on the crack dealer's corner I had decided that all day Sunday I would sing the Mani while I bowed.

I hope I haven't butchered the melody too much over the years, but I learned this way of singing the Mani by listening to Lama sing it on an Eight Nyung Nye retreat. He said he learned it from some wandering yogi whose whole practice seemed to be to wander and sing it. The old yogi sneaked across borders without papers all over Central Asia with a shrug saying, “I don't do anything wrong.” He probably got the practice from his Guru, but Lama wasn't sure. It is a rich deep melody that climbs from low registers in the belly to high registers through the forehead and then returns to the heart, seeming to touch and free all centers as it vibrates. OM MANI PADME HUNG

The point of meditation is not to seek altered states. Those aching distracted, despairing moments are just as important as when you're in synch and grooving with your mantra. But as long as you stay aware, you can be with both, so you don't have to NOT groove with your mantra when that happens either. The point then is to raise energy to power more awareness so you can surf the waves of pride and shame and not drown in them. Every mantra, along with its other meanings, is saying “wake up.”

Now on Sunday, I was grooving. I had stolen Fire. I knew how I would rend the Veil. The prostrations flowed. My soreness seemed to leave me. I was in the zone.


When I stood up, my head lifted upright above my chest and shoulders and I could feel my heart open to the mystery of myself and all the other experiencing, sentient beings around me seen and unseen. I knew our miseries and joys and the emptiness thereof. Their miseries could come to me. The Lord of Love could handle them all. The benefits of my practice could go to them. Nothing to hang onto.

I went down and breathed out the whole John fixation onto the cardboard and just gave up on any attempt to contrive or manufacture or react to experience at all. I let go. My prostration retreat was working.

“Get the FUCK up!”

I turned my head to see a woman whom I have seen downtown over the years. She has a bull dykish buzzcut with a little mohawk look to it and rides her bike and spews streams of obscenities while grimacing wildly and chewing her own teeth. (I believe this is an extreme form of Tourette's syndrome. It used to be called possession by a demon.) She has never noticed me in particular before but has included me in her general disgust with everything around her from time to time.

Today, Sunday, the Lords Day, because I am doing prostrations and bowing while chanting the Mantra of the Lord of Love, she has noticed me in particular.

“You heard me. Get the FUCK up!”

She throws her bike down in disgust, making it clear that I will pay for making her treat her own prized possession so badly. She walks across the sidewalk swaying and dangling her arms in a universal primate move that translates as, “Your ass is grass.”

She squats next to my donations box. It would not be polite to repeat everything she called me. She reads the too small sign, and says, “You got no permit, I am clearing this shit out.” She reaches for my box.

Now even when we have opened our hearts, there are times when we have to take action. We might justify this by saying we are acting for a greater good. Or we might admit that we are still attached to some things (like cardboard and candy) and just let our actions arise with the play of phenomena.

I remained cool and saw the Lord of Love in the center of her Neanderthal stance, radiating her contorted grimaces.

“Please don't take my box,” I said.

She seemed ready to grab the box and I'm not sure what I would have done if she had, but two things happened. First she seemed to become aware of something behind me, so she was starting to rush things a bit. And then she became aware of the schizophrenic's candy.

Her eyes lit up and she grabbed a handful of the precious “this will help” sweetness, thrusting it at me and taunting me with it, as if to say, “I'm taking it, so try to stop me.”

I started to say, “Take the candy, it's yours,” but I realized she needed a victory so I said, “Oh please don't take my candy,” in a tone that was probably a little too flat. But she didn't notice. I had dared her.

She stole the schizophrenic candy brazenly and defiantly but she was retreating very quickly, and I saw why she was willing to compromise on the candy.

A tough looking black man came at her threateningly from behind me. He was not actually that tough, but all black men are tough by definition to many people, and he was trying to look tough, and he had big shoulders and a cane that was obviously not for walking because he was walking just fine and raising it like a weapon.

“Git the FUCK out of here and leave him alone.”

She had retreated, but he was going after her. I said, "Hey man, it's okay; don't hurt her. She just livin in her own world.”

“She a bitch. I don't care if she crazy, man. I know she crazy. But she oughtn't to treat you like that. I seen you man. You cool just doing your thang here mindin you own bizness. Don't be hurtin nobody.”

He is still acting like he might go after her, so I try a little redirection.

“I like your cane.” He suddenly seemed sheepish.

“Aww it's a cheap thing. Fact, I hit her, it probly break.” He laughed at that and so did I and I knew the incident was over. I asked his name. Ricky.

“Thanks for the protection, Ricky. You the man.” We bump fists.

He went off feeling like he had done a good deed, not knowing that he too was probably saved by the schizophrenic's candy.

I went back to my prostrations and thought about all the Protectors. Of course the crazy mean woman was one of them. She told me to “Get the fuck up” when I was getting too comfortable in my practice. That's how you summon the Protectors, by the way. By seeing everything and everybody just that way. The Mani helps.

This made me think of the Guard and how I had slammed shut the Veil of the Temple by being so mean and laughing at him. It was time to go rend the Veil up on Nob Hill. Of course at that time, I thought would penetrate the Secret Female Place on the same journey, but I have a lot to learn about women, and “How I Rend the Veil” will be my last post about Sunday, The Lord's Day.

After that my retreat starts getting weird.

Love to All,

John O.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Steal Fire (Sunday cont.)

I bowed later in the day yesterday (Wednesday) and into the night because I was out under the Full Moon almost all night Tuesday. I will keep this more nocturnal schedule today as well for various reasons, including minimizing my sunburn.

My attempt to penetrate the Secret Female Place was ultimately successful, but these things always come at a cost we don't anticipate in the heat of love. You probably don't want to hear about the costs, though. You want all the steamy details and you may get them, but all in good time, and I get ahead of myself. Back to Sunday, The Lord's Day.

Some may ask how I rent the veil of the Temple, but that comes later. First I had to steal Fire.

After a cycle of prostrations in the Plaza, I went to light candles for my St. Anthony's Dining Room donors at St. Boniface, an amazing old Franciscan church, and the quietest place in the Tenderloin. I used to go and meditate there when I was young and lived nearby. I have always been fond of a certain statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe. In fact, when I did take refuge with Lama Lodro and attended my first empowerment in Tara practice, I stopped by and paid my respects to her and more or less asked for her blessing. (I got it. She is not controlled by the official Church, as near as I can tell.)

La Virgen is poised at the opening of a secluded alcove which is usually empty and, if you can handle the cold hard floor, is perfect for a set of prostrations. A few prayerful devotees have come across me doing prostrations there. No one has ever batted an eye. I finished a set and went to study the candle situation.

Obviously economic hardship has hit the devotional life here. In the old days there would be a donation box and a bunch of candles to light on the honor system. Apparently that had put the church in the red. There were now just a few candles already lit. I would have gladly made a donation but I couldn't see any way to get more candles. There was a Mass in Tagolog going on in the Church, so I didn't want to go disturb anybody about it. I just knelt and practiced Mantra and then silence.

I always feel power at such places, not so much because of the official religion involved but because you can feel the depth of the people who have been there with their problems and joys in prayer. It seems to me that to some degree all official religion runs by harnessing the power in ordinary people in a manner similar to the way an energy company runs by harnessing the universal power of fire.

I knew what I had to do. Since I could not light a candle I would steal the Fire in the candles there and take it out into the Tenderloin. I took one of the bamboo sticks they use to light candles and dipped it in the wax. I lit it and walked out with my little blazing torch right past the Mass. No one noticed me.

I was amazed by how long my torch burned even out in the brisk breeze, but eventually the flame went out and I watched the smoke disappear into the Tenderloin sky. I buried my charred stick in a tiny plot of weeds. I felt refreshed and I knew it would be a good day.

I walked through the Oxycontin and Heroin dealers who always proffer their wares right on the corner by an HIV Clinic and Resource Center at Leavenworth and Golden Gate (A couple blocks away they call out "lightning" which is new to me but I think is probably speed in these parts now. It used to be "water.")

I turn down toward the Plaza. At the bottom of the hill at Leavenworth and McAllister a thin weak, but clean looking black woman in a wheel chair asked me for help getting her up to the top of the hill. She looked like she had seen better times and I could see her in church or at a club meeting with a hat and a dignified gaze. She said she had eaten at a free food place and was sick. (Not St. Anthony's. I asked.) When I said I would help her, she got teary, pulled me closer and kissed me very sweetly on the cheek. I pushed her to the top of the hill and gave her some money on the way up where no one could see us.

I asked her name. “Regina,” she said. “But you can call me 'Genie'. Don't you think 'Genie' s a nicer name?”

I told her, “I like Regina because it means 'Queen' but I like Genie because you are probably magic.” She laughed weakly but sincerely. When we got to the top of the hill she went on her own, but she asked, “How can I ever repay you?” I said, “My name is John. You can pray 'go John!' and pray for yourself too.” She said she would and that seemed to make her feel better.

Off she went into the hard Tenderloin, my act of kindness disappearing like the smoke from my stolen Fire.

I went back to UN Plaza and retrieved my cardboard. A security guard spotted me and approached menacingly. I walked up to him with my cardboard and explained the situation. My name is John and I do prostrations...

He became very serious and threatening. I was storing and retrieving my cardboard prostration mat on Federal Property. Here I confess I performed the only act of meanness on my whole retreat and I confess it to you, Dear Readers, as a sin most grievous: I laughed in his face. I really do feel bad about this and at that moment the Veil of the Temple was drawn—or rather slammed shut, more like steel than linen.

As it happens when I did alternative theater in San Francisco with my genius wife and Teacher at the time, I supported myself as a legal assistant and have prepared many cases for trial at the Federal Court nearby. The thought of entering that august chamber to talk about my cardboard seemed entirely entertaining at the moment, but I did harbor hostility to that guard and relished showing him how powerless he really was. In fact he looked very upset and hurt like he was going to cry. He was just doing his job, if perhaps with a bit less humor than necessary.

I went and did prostrations, upset that I had been so mean. John makes a pathetic stand for the people and his precious cardboard. What a joke.

It's a good thing that when you sing the Mani, it doesn't matter who or how mean you are. The Lord of Love doesn't make distinctions and doing prostrations while singing OM MANI PADME HUNG freeform using a beautiful tune that I heard sung by Lama Lodro (but have no doubt butchered since) is a lot easier than doing them synchronized to my refuge and bodhicitta prayer. I was having my ups and downs, but they were feeling pretty good.

It seemed that the guard and the heroin dealers and I—and even Genie—were all getting a fresh start. It's up to each of us whether we make use of it or not, and life always hurts and death is inevitable anyway, but that fresh start is always there.

I had stolen Fire and was more than living to tell about it. In spite of my having slammed the Veil shut by my meanness to the Guard (or was it because of it) I knew what I had to do to rend the Veil.

But first I had to summon the Protectors.

Love to All,

John O.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sunday, The Lord's Day

I promised my friend Andrea that Sunday being “the Lord's day” I would ascend to a high place, rend in two the Veil of the Temple and penetrate a Secret Female Place.

 I did ascend to the high place, Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill, which is why I was unable to find net access and post on Sunday. Yesterday (Monday) it rained and I hung out in a dry spot across from the Mark Twain Hotel on Taylor and did prostrations and didn't get to typing then either.

As we shall see, I did also rend the Veil of the Temple. But that Secret Female is playing hard-to-get. I am told there needs to be more romance and foreplay first. (I try to act nonchalant, like this is not news to me.)

Tonight, Tuesday, is the Full Moon and I have high hopes. (I am slacking a bit today and writing more, because I plan to bow and bum my way through this Full Moon downtown tonight.)

But let's go back to Sunday, the Lord's Day.

My biggest concern as I packed yesterday was whether my cardboard prostration mat would be where I stashed it by the dumpster at UN Plaza. I thought about leaving my donations box unpacked, the one with the schizophrenic's candy offering in it, since I only got about thirty-five cents in donations at UN Plaza.. (“This will help,” the schizo said, and it did save me from the Rastafarian's temptation.)

I couldn't do it. In went the donation box and the precious candies. As you will read later, they saved me again.

I walked downtown from the outer Mission by way of Valencia Street. It was there at the corner of 15th Street across from the Valencia Garden's projects that I met my Guru under unusual circumstances.

I was living near there in the eighties separated from my fiancee while we figured out if we really wanted to get married. After living together for years, we were experimenting with an “open relationship,” which in the way of things was going better for her than for me. She was seeing another fine man who was in love with her, while I was pursuing a young woman who wasn't with me. I was fragile and it hurt, so I did what I always did in those days when things got tough: I got in half lotus, faced a white wall and tried to “just be there” with all the complicated fireworks inside me for hours at a time.

I had just formally taken refuge at Kagyu Droden Kunchab after about ten years of sitting practice, including some fairly intense long retreats in solitude. I was more than intrigued by Lama Lodro's presence, but the formal tradition was confusing me and one of the things I was confused by was my relationship to the Christian tradition.

Like most modern Western dharma practitioners I had an aversion to much of the theology and the moral codes of Christianity, but as a poet I was steeped in Christian symbolism and was trying to work it all out. So I took out my Tarot cards and looked for guidance..

I won't go into the details, but the reading was powerful and I came away feeling like I had made a break-through in understanding. Buddhadharma would be the tradition I practiced in the outer “solar world,” but in the inner “lunar world,” I would study and write poetry as a heretical Christian, like my hero William Blake.

Excited, I left my room to walk and there one block away, on the corner of 15th and Valencia, was Lama Lodro!

To really appreciate this you must know that at that time this was one of the biggest crack dealing corners in San Francisco, crawling with buyers, dealers and gang bangers; guns, drugs and money. (It has been rebuilt and cleaned up since.) To see this Lama, who had practiced in caves in Tibet, studied with the 16th Karmapa personally , whose picture touching foreheads with Trungpa Rinpoche was prominently displayed at the center, to see him standing on this corner smiling at me was uncanny. I was speechless, but bowed and said, “Lama.” He clearly would have talked to me, but seeing that I was too shy, he nodded and we passed.

He married me and my fiancee, and I went on retreats with him and had personal interviews and conversations, but I was his worst student ever. I admired some of the people who studied Tibetan and “joined up” so to speak, but it was clear that for me this was not to be.

I never asked him what he was doing there on the crack corner. In the prosaic world of ordinary experience he was just this chubby guy who had a son out of wedlock and a string of girlfriends some of whom were probably ticked off at him and a marriage or two, but he conducted extraordinary meditation retreats and had a combination of fierce pride and disarming humility I had never seen before. His every move seemed to have meaning even when it seemed casual or even “wrong.” Tiny things he said and did have lived in my imagination and answered numerous questions of the mind and heart ever since.

In my world of poetry and magic, I knew why he was there and I have never forgotten. He gave me the Tara Mantra and the Mani and inspired me to practice mantra and prostration right here in this crazy crack head world. There was also something in his presence that had nothing to do with any practice or experience at all. He might not even remember me, and he certainly would not approve of many of the things I have done but he was extraordinarily unbearably and relentlessly kind to me and never judged me either. For me he is mysteriously inseparable from the rest of my life and our social relationship had little to do with it. Some may say that invoking him in devotion is purely a matter of my mind, and has nothing to do with him. Maybe this is so. Who cares?

I bowed at the corner of 15th and Valencia and chanted the Vajra Guru mantra and recited my poem to him:

Let every thought of you be a million bows
and every bow be a million more
Kind Teacher think of me
These six senses I gather up for you
Please use them to make others happy
In every lifetime may I be your worst disciple
cut off and alone, lost and confused
taking suffering, spreading joy
calling only on the Love and Kindness in your Heart
let me sing your Mani among the forgotten people
till the War stops

This poem never fails to make me weep. I decide that today as I bow, instead of my refuge prayer, I will sing the Mani in a way I learned from Lama Lodro. On I went to the Tenderloin to bow.

Next, I will steal Fire and rend the Veil.

Love to All,

John O.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Display of Experience

Woke up stiff and sore and ate the breakfast burrito I bought on the way home yesterday. Packed another burrito into my backpack for dinner, showered, glanced at the aspirin and wondered, “would that be cheating?” Not if I confess it to you dear readers, so the truth is out: anti inflammatories are used on JO prostration retreats as of today.

Yesterday I took a rug and my ukulele downtown. The rug seemed like a good idea and the ukulele was in case I felt like busking in the subway. But the rug became a drag to carry around when I was evicted and repositioned by the authorities or had to go the bathroom, and I was too tired to get the proper busking mojo going, so today I decided just to pack a yoga mat and make it simpler. Also packed my Tarot box and thought I might offer some readings by donation. I decided to walk the 3.5 miles downtown doing Tara practice to loosen my joints.

I walked and chanted in the predawn cool air and everything, even the vomit on Mission Street seemed magical. (Counted three separate incidents—all looked just like those fake rubber vomit gags you buy in joke shops). Suddenly I realized I had forgot the yoga mat. Uh oh. Prostrating in wet grass or pigeon shit was not going to be pleasant, but I didn't want to walk back either. “Guess the Lord—or 'causes and conditions' or whatever the hell it is that provides—will have to provide,” I thought and kept chanting but started looking for cardboard. The same helps them that help themselves.

I was losing faith when I arrived at UN Plaza. Lo and behold there they were! A pile of Office Depot folding table boxes exactly the right size. I was worried that I would have to read “office depot” all day long as I went down into the horizontal position, but I folded them the other way and they were as empty of content as experience is empty of substance. Just restful brown cardboard. I felt happy and free. Little did I know I would spend the rest of the day worrying about losing this prized possession. Cardboard is worth money on the recycling market and there were far more scavengers interested in my cardboard than there were thieves interested in my old rug. “You sure you want that dude?” they would ask, looking at it like it was a dollar bill.

It's a good thing we are not looking for “progress” on retreats, because I am a lot slower and more distracted today; slowed by sore muscles and distracted by a quivery vulnerable feeling in my chest. When I pray “Please look upon me with eyes of compassion” while in the vertical position with my chest opened up and my attention on the in-breath, I feel near tears. I would like to say it is because I am surrounded and moved by suffering humanity and urban animal life. (Counted three men without any legs and two pigeons with just one within an hour or two, and that's not even getting into the countless eruptions of anger around me, some by people spiting angry gibberish to themselves, others by people throwing angry threats to one another.)

But actually I think it is because I am feeling ashamed of the whole thing. Who am I to do this?

“I” is in there somewhere anyway. The fact that there is soreness and less strength today is not that big a deal in itself, but I don't have the same steady rhythm of prostrations to distract me from myself. And self is a spinning wheel of pride and shame. Heaven and hell. Today it's shame. Hell.

Oh well. Keep on bowing, John. Open your chest and let the “awakened one” see the shame. Breathe it out and let it go into the brown cardboard. Get up slowly (fewer prostrations per hour today for sure!) and do it again. When the tears do come, notice that they actually feel pretty good. Or rather the welling feelings that radiate from the heart through the throat and eyes feel good. Admit it. And no one will notice here among the almost unnoticed.

Almost unnoticed.

Here are my two favorite encounters of the day:

I was in the vertical position with my palms together in the universal mudra of prayer, when a movie star-handsome though somewhat mask-like chiseled face leaned into me like we were buddies sharing beers at a bar. He was wearing a black leather jacket, clean and well dressed and pulling a stack of luggage on a handcart. He motioned with hs thumb to the next block of Market and with buddy-buddy intimacy smiled and said:

“You tellin me that's the only titty club left on Market? Back in the eighties there were like five of them.”

I smiled and said that now there were so many full service massage parlors, maybe no one felt the need for the clubs anymore. He replied, “But you could get it there in the eighties. I's in there with a buddy and he said, 'don't look behind you,' but I did of course, and she was fucking this dude right there!”

I shook my head and grimaced in the classic male, “is that so?” move, and he shook his head, gave me a thumbs up and moved on with a “later, man...”

I recalled knowing a dancer or two at those old clubs, through my beautiful and relentlessly friendly ex-wife no less, who knew and knows everybody in town it seems. I returned to my prostration. “Till all are free...” I noticed my buddy pulling his luggage up and down the same couple of blocks for the next hour or so, as if maybe the clubs would reappear if he just kept at it.

Lunch today was on Rhoda, a lovely sweet filipina who asked me, “Would you like a sandwich?” Sure. (I am no liar in such matters.) She gave me a McDonald's burger and a Dr. Pepper and asked me whether I knew God loved me. As a matter of fact I did. I was in no mood for theological disputes with anyone so kind, and, anyway, I was feeling loved somehow. I said, ”Yes that is what I am doing here, bowing and feeling loved.”

She let the lack of a deity in that sentence go right past her. She was obviously pleased that I did not want to argue. “God loves everybody and He is in control,” she said. Here I was more tempted by theological dispute. I wanted to ask her why, if God was already in control here, did Jesus pray that God's will be done “on Earth as it is in Heaven”? But I agreed, smiled back at her lovely eyes and drank my Dr. Pepper instead. They were divine and the sweetness of both revived me.

She told me not to despair, and as a matter of fact I was feeling better as she went off to give a sandwich to an angry looking tattooed dyke who looked like she might be coming off a bender. Rhoda seemed bewildered but intrigued when I started bowing again.

Gotta love the display of experience.

Love to all,

John O.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Keep on Bowing in the Free World

Found a cafe with wireless and decided to post before I go back for the remaining 5 hrs of today's prostration retreat.

I was up till 2am giving  friend a Tarot reading, which was not very smart and made my 5am start time slightly unrealistic, but I was on the corner of Powell and Market doing prostrations at 6 sharp.

If you are thinking of indulging any tendencies toward exhibitionism, I do not recommend prostrations on the streets of San Francisco. You have to be a lot weirder than me to get noticed here, and as most of you know, I am pretty weird. Most people looked at me with about the same level of interest as they might have in a dying pigeon.

Except for a phone call to wish Diotima well before her sesshin, I bowed for three hours straight and during that time I had one person give me a dollar. But a schizophrenic came by spouting gibberish and dumped a handful of hard candies in my donation box. His only recognizable words were "this will help!" I took that as a good omen, and it is my proudest accomplishment of the day.

A dear friend from out of town came by and took some pictures which I might share at some point. She said I needed a better sign than my little hand printed one.

My only other visitors were San Francisco's finest, who asked me "Who are you bowing to?" I said, "You," and they didn't get my subtle reference to their Buddha nature, but made me promise to leave that spot by 9 am. They were back promptly at 9 to see that I bowed somewhere else and recommended UN Plaza where the riffraff hang, which is where I belong, no doubt about it. "We will welcome you there," said the smiling cop. He was pretty nice about it, and I thanked him.

After breakfast and an interesting discussion with my friend, I went to UN Plaza and bowed on the grass there till the sun came from behind the buildings and threatened me with melanoma. I moved to a shady spot near a building and was moved by security to a spot where I had an opportunity to practice with the "one taste" of Mahamudra. Well, "one smell" anyway, since the distinct odor of urine wafted from somewhere nearby. Actually a boombox playing old Shuggie Otis tunes was harder to deal with. Just keep bowing, John.

Before she left, my friend sneaked a $20 bill into my box and I planned to donate it along with some sponsorships to St. Anthony's Dining Room. But then a desperate rastafarian came by and gave me a very sad family hard luck story and begged me to buy a cannabis bud for $5. I happen to be a recovering canabbis addict and  offered him the $20, saying, "Here, man, your lucky day."

He was confused; in fact looked at me very suspiciously, but took it, and then after hesitating, as if it might be bad luck to do otherwise, he dropped a very nice looking bud in my box and left.

Great. Here I am trying to impress you all with my dharmic dedication and suddenly I have to fight off the urge to go buy a pipe and get loaded!

No problem, while listening to a conversation between the angel on my right shoulder and the devil on my left, a down-and-out hustler came by and offered to sell me me some probably hot luggage. I declined. He spied the candy and said, "Hey, candy! Can I have some?" I said, "Sure."

After he left, I looked and of course he stole the bud. Problem solved. But for quite a while I couldn't decide whether I was pissed off or relieved. Actually, I still don't know.

Another noteworthy event was that while I was bowing, trying to raise money to feed the hungry a group of people came by and handing out free lunches and I took one. Peanut butter sandwich, an orange and a carrot. Delicious! I talked to him and he told me they are a group of 10 people with no name who just make about 200 lunches and give them away.

I took a break and went over to St. Anthony's Dining Room to donate the $100 I collected online from generous sponsors. They were glad to get it, and I got a receipt, but the system seemed a little loose, and I started worrying that maybe the staff kept it for themselves. Hmm. Ah well, they looked like they could use it too, I guess.

All this karmic accounting is confusing as hell. Better get back to the streets.

Keep on bowing in the free world.

Love to all,

John O.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tenderloin Meltdown Bowdown

To the pregnant schizophrenic girl who had me touch her belly
and told me she would birth the Savior of the World.
Your face was yellow and the swelling of your skinny body felt like a tumor.
My Teacher's painful vision of my overweening pride,
I never saw you again.

I bow down to you.

To the Vet who wept and told me “I killed them for nothing.”
You took my five dollars for a sandwich and a beer,
said “thank you, brother” and hugged me when I said I too have killed.
My Teacher's painful vision of my paralyzing shame,
I hope you found a job.

I bow down to you.

To the broken and addicted,
squealers, dealers and afflicted
to greedy johns and needy whores
and their mamas doing chores
and the hustlers running scams
and the bustlers trying to scram
to the children off to school
ignoring all the butts and drool
to the rollers cruising through
saving many from a few
until they lose it will-nilly
and beat some poor lone bastard silly
to those who preach the Unknown God
transgendered with the unreal bod
and the ladies cutting hair
while the crazy spit and stare
to the howlers and the moaners
cheap liquor vendors and bar owners
I too will do what I must do
until we don't.

I bow down to you!


John O.