Thursday, November 26, 2015

To Each and To All

When cloud dappled sky speaks
to light dappled earth,
We are a unity.

Bodies dash about,
thronging like the tides,
some huddling in pools,
while the greater array
eddies and ebbs, then flows.

All that might be planned
harbors no certainty,
but we forge ahead with intent.

Every measure, every moment,
is a work, a furthering, a passage
to any next, any new, any now.

Ships that sail do not all land,
but those that find harbor
disembark with gratitude,
blessing the firmness of land,
sending praises to Providence.

Settling in foreign places,
sometimes leaving all traces
of “home” behind,

Natives might eye with suspicion
these arrivals for signs of danger,
or threat of infection;

But, when the quake comes,
the fire, the flood or storm,
Everyone joins together.

When people-dappled life sings
to assuage a disaster-torn world,
We truly are a Unity.

And thanks be
to each and to all
for that gift, that blessing.

© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen
As a descendant of families who arrived on the Cape Cod shores of North America in 1620, I see today’s refugee crisis as somewhat parallel to that bit of our history. Refugees from foreign shores are fleeing tyrannies and oppression, in order to find a better life, or at least a place where they can be free to practice what they believe. To feel “at home” and to “be safe”, these are rare and precious gifts. Our history continually reminds us that we are most human when we share. So, on this day, tomorrow, and all the days that we are privileged to live, let us share what we have and what we love with one another

Friday, November 13, 2015

Sutra of No More Sutras

Thus I have heard, once and forever.

In the wake of Shariputra’s death and parinirvana, Ananda spoke,
voicing the thoughts of those assembled.

“Honored teacher, we know your time with us nears its completion.
Pray, tell us how to continue beyond your extinction?”

The Buddha opened his eyes and offered his smile to all,
and then he spoke:

“For many years, we have thus assembled,
and I have given voice to the music of one vehicle,
three treasures,
four noble truths,
six perfections,
ten powers and ten precepts,
twelve causes and thirty-two signs.
I have spoken and chanted into the ten directions:
and these sayings and singings continue to vibrate through the chiliocosm. “

“To you, a good doctrine has been given,
acknowledged by buddhas and arhats,
past, present and future,
and expertly remembered by you, honored Ananda.
Many sermons have been set down,
by scribe after scribe,
in scroll after scroll after scroll.

“Good cousin, Ananda,
these teachings of the way
have been the making of a raft,
one strong enough to float above
the ever-flowing stream of happening
and even of dharma practice.

“But this raft must now be untethered and released,
and each adept must engage
the singular stream of unfolding—
the teaching, and also the teacher,
must be released into the wild unknown.

Because, any other course would come to ruin
in grasping and corruption.”

All present, on hearing these things, quietly bowed their heads.

“Do not sorrow, Dear Ones,
do not sorrow; the great void is not to be feared,
for truly it is indicative of endless potential,
which is Presence,
gleaming and differently perceived in each moment.

“How the good doctrine will flourish
on the ever-flowing river
cannot be foretold by the Tathagata,
nor by all the ranks of adepts in every dimension,
neither can time tell.

“To reside on the scroll
is to miss the point,
it is a surrender to inaction
that borders on forgetting;
one can rapidly become lost
in the thicket of serifs and diacriticals,
grammars and dialecticals.

“This leads to doubt.
Doubt leads to discussion.
Discussion leads to arguments and grousing,
parsing and chasing
after forms and meanings.

“In the end, this activity is
so tarry illogical
to the reality of eternal moment.”

The birds in the trees stopped singing,
cocking their heads to listen.

The butterflies found a place to light,
so they could hear.

The trees bowed their limbs lower.

“The chasing after merit
is also like the chasing after forms and meanings.

“There is only the Way,
and the truth of the Way
is where the heaping of merit occurs
never for the individual,
but only for all of existence,
as served by the Three Jewels.

“These Jewels are Buddha, Dharma and Sangha;
compassion, frugality and humility;
right view, right knowledge and right conduct;
thought, word and deed;
essence, vitality and spirit.

“Any heaping of merit is
unknown and unknowable,
but indeed present in eternal moment.

“Every being who does right in the moment
heaps merit onto the wheel of time and change,
for all and for all time.

“There is no such thing as competition;
all conscious right actions are integral
to the completion of perfection.
This is the essence of the Middle Way.”

A single ray of light burst forth
from between the Buddha’s brows,
touching all with understanding.
The birds, the butterflies and the trees
arose jubilantly.

“Take to the raft of the Way and journey.
Be the gift of goodness in the World.
Do not write it or discuss or plan it.
Be it, in the best way you can, in the moment;
this is how the teaching grows and spreads
to all generations.”

When the Buddha finished this Discourse,
all present were filled with the joy of this teaching,
and, taking it sincerely to heart, they went their ways.

© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


As the last student straggled in to take a seat, Teacher logged the daily attendance. She asked the students to pass the previous night’s homework forward, then collected the papers, tamping the stack of sheets on her desk, to tidy them. She had done this at all the class meetings, for every class over the course of forty years.

Something about the way in which she did it today caught the attention of the class. Everyone became uncharacteristically quiet and attentive.

Tucking the stack of papers into the folder reserved for them, she turned to the class, smiling.

“Today is a very important day. Oh, I know there is no holiday or festival noted on any calendar, but, indeed, this is an important day.”

Turning to the black board, she took the chalk and wrote the following equation:






The students waited. This wasn’t a proper equation; there must be more to it.

Turning back to the seated students, she said, “Shortly, I will be leaving you. A new teacher will come to see out the rest of the term with you. This is my last day; I am retiring. I know there has been no prior announcement; this news may be a shock to some, a delight to others—“ she had heard some intake of breath, some rustling of papers, some fidgeting, “but I chose this hour, before lunch, to be my last.”

The atmosphere was suddenly charged with an odd collective mood, as well as mild curiosity.

“I did not want to leave without offering one last problem, which you see on the board before you.” She paused, obviously having anticipated questions.

Cameron took the bait. “Uh, Miss, that, what you have written up there, is not a real problem, is it?”

She took a deep breath, closing her eyes for just a moment, letting the world settle around her.

“Well, you won’t find it in the textbook.”

That was enough to break the tension; there was some snickering, particularly from those in the back row. She thought, ‘I must leave a note for the new teacher about the back row…’

‘I will confess to you, this is not pure math. It is rather, a philosophical problem with sociological implications.” Glancing at the clock on the wall, she continued, “ah, well, tempus fugit, and so I must soon be on my way. However, I need to give you a bit more information, so that you can really work on this problem.”

Turning back to the board, she took up the chalk, pausing just long enough to savor the dry, powdery feeling of it in her hand. She made a single alteration to the equation:






Shelley didn’t bother to raise her hand, “What does that mean?”

Without turning or answering, she raised her fingers, making small erasures, so that the equation looked like this:






She knew they would not understand. That is actually why she was offering them this lesson.

“This is, believe it or not, my gift to you. I hope you will work on this and find the solution. Indeed, school will not be out for anyone who does not attempt to solve this vital problem.”

Brett shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I don’t think all the information is there. I don’t see how this can be solved.”

“Brett, thank you. I have left out one vital piece of information, which I will give you before I leave. For now, I will make this small change.” She turned back and altered the equation again.






 “We are solving for Z?” Chloe, a student who was always struggling anyway, was clearly distressed. This exercise was as clear to her as mud. All she could picture in her mind was the potential for “F2” to appear on her exercise paper.

“Ah, Chloe, thank you for that opening. No, Z is known; I will give this to you at the end. But, there are some things I must say about the multiplicand.” She leaned on the edge of her desk, crossing her arms and looking up toward the ceiling.

“As I said, this is a philosophical problem, one in which, as long as you live, YOU are the sole multiplier who figures into the expression, each and every day. YOU are required to engage with everything and everyone that the multiplicand represents, in order to solve for the product.”

She lowered her eyes, scanning the faces of her students. A few had a bemused look on their faces, as if it was all a joke.

“As to the multiplicand, this will be different for each individual YOU in this room—indeed, for every YOU everywhere in the world. The multiplicand is the factor you are tasked to discover in this problem. YOU and the product must be understood to be constants. And, the way you multiply yourself with the multiplicand will depend on the precise circumstances in any given moment—specificity about which I cannot provide. I highly commend this exercise to you, and I hope you will share it with others.”

The phone rang, with a jarring suddenness.  Going around the desk, Teacher took her seat and picked up the handset. The students tuned their ears toward the desk, straining to hear anything.

“Yes. I am on my way,” she said, and as she was replacing the handset, she was pulling open her file drawer. She pulled out her purse and gathered up her briefcase.

“The time has come for me to leave you, but I want you to know that this—“ she gazed around this room, this last one, representative of all the rooms she had ever occupied in the course of doing this work—“this has been a privilege and an honor I hope to have lived up to. I want to thank you for all that I have learned.”

She started for the door.

“Wait.” It was Chloe, “Don’t we need to know what the product is?”

“Ah, yes. Thank you, Chloe.” She patted the girl’s shoulder, to reassure her, as she returned to the blackboard.

Shifting her briefcase to her left hand, she took up the chalk one final time, used her fingers to erase the “Z” in the product area of the equation. She put down the chalk, rebalanced her bags while turning, and headed out the door.

“Best of luck to you all!” She said, cheerfully and went on, without a backward glance.

Her students stared at the board. There were yet fifteen remaining minutes of class. They did not know what to do.

Was someone else coming?

Was this equation a real assignment?

Would they be graded?






© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen


Monday, October 12, 2015


After the stormy blasts:
Why are you here?

The question not heard,
but felt from before before,
as if thought-occurred,
but not.

Because of you!

After the air is
completely stilled,
yet poised, bated:
Why are you here?

Because of me!

Even the stilled landscape,
hushed to stasis as it was,
registered a riffling shift
through space and time.


This is where to go
will not be to arrive
at any reminiscent place,
but where leaving
is departing
from old places and ways
as they are irrevocably
and forever
being torn from the fabric
of memory and knowing.

© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

~ kol d'mamah dakah

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sea Swings

Gravity weighs;
whether from weight 
of losses, resulting
in masses,
or the forces
that must be exerted
carrying the daily load,
gravity weighs.

Have a seat!
Let your feet dangle,
Hang like a puppet suspended,
and Take a load off,

While the column rises
to meet the leeward breeze,
and we wait with anticipation.

Slowly, even as we rise,
the rotation begins,
and our feet swish
through the bracing air.

The column head tilts rakishly,
as we fly through the air;
gulls sail by, looking us in the eye,
and we sail with them.

As we rise up,
all our thoughts,
our hearts and delights
come along for the ride.

Together, all rise
in shared boundlessness,
until the ride subsides.

Gravity weighs less
when centripetal force
unites us centrally
in moving straight ahead.

Gravity weighs less,
and tension, too,
when they can make us fly,
and do.

© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Introductions, a Memory

Out of an abundance of need,
two women
—one a sister,
the other a friendly stranger—
drew together in an embrace,
propelled by the spontaneity
only a history of sorrow might trace.

In that moment,
one of life’s mysteries
would find full flower
and understanding.

In that moment:

One realized
her sister had spun
a mantle of love and beauty
large enough to cover family,
friends and neighbors,
while inviting many others in
—a sending of
her family’s values out
to grow in the world.

The other very nearly felt
the beating heart
of the lost friend,
and knew the depth
of that rhythm’s origins
in the family,
from which she had poured forth
as lightness and love,
later fully distilled
into a golden girl child,
united now forever with,
inseparable from, her mother
in death.

Two strangers,
in that moment,
may have shared one,
perhaps the same realization,
and tightened their hold
on one another,
with a strange mixture
of tearful elation and deep sorrow:

Fiercely joyous untold love
had been unleashed into
and would live on in the world.

Parting as strangers,
never to meet again,,
each was consoled
in the knowledge that
She and her Girl,
from whatever beyond,
were continuing
to make introductions.

© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

in memoriam Rachel and Annika

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Step By Step

One foot ahead of the other,
successively exercised,
is a conversation of feet
with dust and pine needles.

Fern fronds reach to
whisper against shins,
like a cat greeting
a familiar friend.

Step by step, each a further
shedding of useless words;
why should the trees care
what anyone thinks?

Each step away
is a step forward
to something new,
like the unfurling of a flower.

Can you hear the hidden stream
that flows inside your body?
Do you know the music
of the falling leaf?

Of most things that can be seen,
all that is heard and felt,
consideration of these
might be most worthy.

For now, the path is all there is
and all there need be;
every step away is a release
from one perspective to another.

© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Good Neighbors: 8. Eight Days, Nine Yards, at the Eleventh Hour

Standing before the empty tomb,
we see its emptiness and weep.

What happened here?
Who can say?

Loss and abandonment hang in the air.

A parent died;
a friend left;
a mentor migrated,
leaving no forwarding address;
the plane crashed,
and we cannot rest until we know why,
for how can there be closure
under the cloud of the unknown?

We all wait,
and what we await
is an eighth day,
when the emptiness can be lifted
—or filled—
by possibility,
so we can move on.

When will our eighth day come?

If we could move,
we might
attempt a full nine yards
to achieve ten,
or, who knows, even more.

The empty tomb
is meant to make us turn to one another,
for solace and for support,
to reconnect and renew.

On that day,
on the day when we break through
—the grief,
            the pain or paralysis—
when we find one another
and work together
—to be with and for one another—
                        only when,
at that eleventh hour of our collective soul
                        only then
            might we truly be known
            as Good Neighbors.

© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

This poem is the final prayer and postlude of a cycle based on the so-called Seven Penitential Psalms. The subtitle of the cycle is “Psalms from the Streets”.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Good Neighbors: 7. Sunday

Hear what I’m saying?
Don’t judge
what you don't understand!

How can you justify
pushing me away?

I’ve been objectified,
            I’ve been abused,
I’ve been both overwhelmed
            and ignored by those who should help.

I remember better times,
when I was able to work,
and could think deep thoughts.

Now, it is all I can do to stand up
            and reach out.
I’m living through a drought,
            and thirsting for true compassion.  Hear that?

Hear me,
Now, as I stand before you,
Don’t turn away,
as if I am invisible.

Let me feel love in the morning;
            if I am to believe in the system,
teach me how it works,
            so that I can freely be in it. 

Deliver me,
help deliver us all from failure and shame;
we’ll follow you to salvation,
if you’ll let us in.

Teach us to live anew,
            for you have found the key;
if you are truly good,
            lead the rest of us to that promised land.

© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

This poem is part of a cycle based on the so-called seven Penitential Psalms. The subtitle of the cycle is “Psalms from the Streets”. This entry is based on Psalm 143, and could be subtitled, “The Abused.”

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Good Neighbors: 6: Saturday

I scream from the pit,
I roar from within the fires of Hell;
when will I be free?

I have killed for my government,
the horrors of my record are known;
during wartime, my skills were needed,
but I am now a discarded “hero.”

My peacetime is an internal war;
I am a danger to myself.

I wait for relief,
I wait for a changing of the guard,
for an eternal watchman to cometh,
and relieve me of my duty.

Really, I want my memory
to be wiped clean;
I want to let it go.

I wait to be redeemed
for a new beginning.

© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

This poem is part of a cycle based on the so-called seven Penitential Psalms. The subtitle of the cycle is “Psalms from the Streets”. This entry is based on Psalm 130, and could be subtitled, “The Veteran”

Good Neighbors: 5. Friday

My prayer went unheard, but not my crying;
in my sorrow, I am both visible and invisible.

My days drift away like smoke:
my heart is so shriveled and broken,
I cannot eat, so I grow thin;
Who knows where I have been?
Or what I have done to pass the time?

I walk alone, in a sea of people,
and no one knows my pain;
how could my life perish so,
though my body be yet alive?

In the blink of an eye,
by a shot in the dark,
my child, my life, was taken from me.

All my days since flow like shadows,
and a drought withers me to my roots;
bread is like ashes on my tongue,
water is as bitter as tears;
I go up and down,
but clouds follow me ever,
taunting me with hope
for a rain that never comes.

What did she do, my child,
to meet such a fate?
What did I do to bring it on her?
How could love fail so deeply?

Can anything be done
to loosen the bonds of time
or shorten the days of this turmoil?
When shall I be changed
from pain into dust?

These days endure;
and I am but a worn rag,
but nothing changes,
all remains the same,
for years that have no end,
while I watch children not my own
grow to carry life forward.

© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

This poem is part of a cycle based on the so-called seven Penitential Psalms. The subtitle of the cycle is “Psalms from the Streets”. This entry is based on Psalm 102, and could be subtitled, “The Bereaved.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Good Neighbors: 4. Thursday

Have pity on me,
have compassion;
you are a person just like me,
so try to understand;
accept me, and I'll feel okay.

I came here to make a better life.
I share a room with five other guys,
so I can send my earnings home.

I know I don’t belong here,
I would rather be at home;
I know my presence offends you,
but you need me to do all the work
you cannot bring yourself to do.
It’s not that I look different,
not that I trip over your words;
my sin is that I am here.

You call it free country,
and then you take it back;
I work for you, and you speak against me
—you think of me as inferior.

I was born of inequality;
this is the stain you helped make,
a stain you cannot wash out
—the truth is on you.

Greet me,
and I’ll feel acknowledged;
pay me,
and I’ll feel my worth
—an honest share will bring me joy,
and I’ll forget how tired I am;
my spirit will be uplifted,
and I will call you fair.

Don’t push me out;
you need me too much,
and I need you, too
—we need one another.

If we can share this beautiful life,
if we can stand together for what is just,
the world will be a better place for everyone.

We both put our heart out there,
we both make sacrifices;
let’s build, from small kindnesses,
a world we can all share,
where everyone has a rightful place.

© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

This poem is part of a cycle based on the so-called seven Penitential Psalms. The subtitle of the cycle is “Psalms from the Streets”. This entry is based on Psalm 51, and could be subtitled, “The Alien.”

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Good Neighbors: 3. Wednesday

You can criticize my lifestyle, 
but you can’t embarrass me.

I see the way you look at me;
I get it: Addiction shows on my face and frame;
I feel it on my skin, it burns in my joints.

I’m in over my head; I can’t get free.
Maybe I’m not beyond rehab, but it hasn’t worked yet.

My sores get infected, but still I can’t stop;
my whole being is a like festering pustule.
All I can do is pick at myself
and feed the monster inside.

I’m a prisoner who wants to be free,
but I don’t have the strength
or will.

My family and friends have disowned me
—they either shun me
or talk about me behind my back;
they wish I would disappear.

I try not to hear their voices in my head;
I try not to shout the curses
that fill my withered heart.

I know I need help,
and I think I want help;
someone’s got to have the key
to unlock my iron cell.

The way things are now,
people seem happy at my failures;
I admit my weakness, and ask for help,
but they revel in their strength,
and revile me for my vices.

People who want nothing better for me
can only be my enemies,
can only do me harm.

Deep within, I want to find goodness;
I want to know what is good
and to be good,
to know a good life.

Please, don’t leave!
Please, don’t abandon me, like all the others!
Help free me from this cycle of pain!
Don’t let me go!

© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

This poem is part of a cycle based on the so-called seven Penitential Psalms. The subtitle of the cycle is “Psalms from the Streets”. This entry is based on Psalm 38, and could be subtitled, “The Addict.”