Tea Chimes In


An awful and outdated pop song comes to mind: Oops, I did it again. Yep: blog-bloat. So I’ve divided what ensues into chapters & left escape routes between the clips.  Here’s what you won’t get: Dear Mom, Camp is Great, Love Sara.  P.S.:


staying hydrated at altitude

Same Same

“If our reality is not the same as what our appearance is, then we are not really practicing.” –John Daido Loori.  A-hem.

In his equation, reality and appearance are as one: not exactly peanuts for most of us.  It’s a deceptively simple equivalency, whose resolution demands that one travel the breathy breadth of (the fabled) waters of consciousness.  That is: with no health insurance, no dental and no car snacks.  Not even pee-breaks: it’s the Nazi-esque route to nirvana.

There are other means one can try, of the reverse-Snow-White variety.  Such as?  Stare at your image (quizzically, with softened eyes—transcendence like bobbing for optical apples!) in the bathroom mirror, Lacan’s recurrent nightmare. Who’s looking? You ask “yourself” like a good jnani yogini, while your conformist reflection asks the very same thing back.  Qui cherche? Spiritually mature individual as you may be, the mirror leaves only the discrepancy between the dangling question and the reflection’s lack of compelling response.

Meanwhile, the (emotional) elephant in the room bucks and can-cans. You try airing Freud’s litmus test of adulthood; Mirror, mirror, on the wall, have I really surpassed the anal stage this fall? Relax your sphincters (thanks for the tip, H!): proof is in the pudding.  You take another shot at thunderclap enlightenment: What was my face before I was born? The mirror, bi-lingual smart-ass that it has become, thinking it has truly got the appearance-reality thing mastered, answers: You didn’t have one, buddyVous n’aviez pas un. Maybe some Windex is in order.


The “thing” we seek, as practitioners—if it can be thing-i-fied—is a pea buried under countless layers of psychological mattresses, a pea all but lost, even to its mother-pod, on the cement floor of an industrial mattress factory.

It’s what Mark Whitwell refers to as the perfection of “life as it’s given.”

Erasmus and the Academic Ascension

A best-seller in his day (1500s), Erasmus wrote Pope Julius II into a drunken slump before the Gates of Heaven, trying to pick the lock with the key to his personal safe.  Dear God, Erasmus supposedly said as he died with Scholastic Marginalia piled beside his bed and a Latin lexicon, like a monk’s pillow, supporting his head (Ok, I made that up).  Folly, as he had shaped her, did a little jig to the tune of his death rattle.  Tagore: Life like a child laughs shaking its death rattle as it runs.  Whatever we learn, in the end we’re in the condition of the fool.  And so his body’s enzymes, their career as catalysts over, went on their merry way; protein-ous creatures that we are, in the end we’re no more than our own ingredient list.

Erasmus’ Julius dukes it out with St. Peter: they’re not speaking the same language.  A Pope-off: What have you done to Christ’s church? Peter asks.  Julius points at the Sistine chapel, where he was known to mount the scaffolding and get testy at Michelangelo.  Tell me holiness and art are different.  The money Julius has pilfered during his conquests weighs down his papal robes so that, in his disarray, he’s mooning the earth below without even meaning to.  Debauchery stands with her arm through his, waiting for Peter to get the point: humans have a hard time living by the book.

Erasmus’ unwillingness to take sides in the fierce religious battles between Catholics and Protestants that were shredding Europe meant that he was moderate in everything except his loneliness.

But like the most voracious scholars of his time, he managed to pass through the University of Paris.

Grandpa Fashion

Old men in pink scarves are appearing as suddenly as pimples on the streets.  The world needs more of these—accessorized old men, that is, not zits.  Old ladies with linked arms, using their fresh baguettes like canes.  Because the incessant rain that is October’s norm has not come, the Parisians are experiencing the novelty of dry leaves on the ground.  Their sound.  A coated toddler collects the desiccated foliage from the dirt of Champ de Mars, holds it up like the Buddha did his single flower.  The sun, bored with enlightenment, spanks it.

I’m not going to not die.  Shit.

The tiny inroads I’ve forged into the French language make for boulevards of self-congratulation (in my head, that is, o tiny big thing)You go girl, sayeth my Pride: You’re on it.  And if you mastered a French verb, maybe spiritual awakening IS peanuts! Or maybe it is nothing.  Walking behind some locals, I can understand that, looking at their pet urinating on a budding tree, they are discussing their dog, and how it is not really cold out, and laughing.  An old man in a maroon scarf looks aslant at the Eiffel Tower as if she’s a scantily clad whore.

Giggles, I’ll admit, present the least difficulty of translation.

La Ville Nouveau Ain’t Prophylactic: A Thousand Welcomes!

We’re in la ville nouveau, that is, the new city, that slippery, stupid capital of Time’s Imperial District: “Now,” always new.  Like fussy Saran Wrap, you can’t use the same now twice.  Jump in the river or get off the pot; lose your shit or cry over spilled lait.  Mixed-up maxims: could words meander off (puh-lease?) and leave existence unqualified?

In Morocco, it’s almost possible: the C’s took us there on a surprise school trip! I’m stultified by the arid grandeur of the Atlas Mountains, the absentee guardrails, terraced agriculture of its valleys.  In color-splotched, mud-red Marrakesh, the motorbikes, obeying a Darwinian impulse, are willing to render you non-verbal without the compensation of a beautiful death.   We pass the Stork Hospital in the medina, where their beloved birds convalesce.  I would qualify for– I think– the Dork hospital.


bird held bird pose so long it bronzed

The calls to prayer yell out to god from the many mosques—I’m awake, I’m awake! Couscous cakes, camel head displayed outside the butcher, hat-surprise ceramics hiding the food from the flies–

Proprietor: Come in, come in, a good price for you—

Me:  A good price for what?

P: Yes.  Everything a good price.  Wait, come, I’ll take you to my brother’s shop.

Me: Is your brother, perchance, a unique craftsman?

P: Yes, and my brother will be very very happy if you spend all your dirham at his shop.

Me:  O, really?  Brother where art thou?  For my wallet is too heavy.


alleviating the wallet-ache via levitation

Of language: I learn how to say, “I love the mountains” (ishua adrehr, or mountain good) and “it’s all good” (Kool-shi ishua), darling, let’s go, thank you, Habiba, yah la, showkrahn—which becomes my remedial mantra.  I wonder about this: if I learn only how to make positive statements, does the world actually look better?  At least in conversation it comes out ahead.  If I’m low and bothered but the only thing I can squeak out is:  I’m great!  It’s all great! Then indeed, it must be so.  This is an idiot’s version of positive self-talk; not because you mean it, but because you’re incapable of doing otherwise.  Not a bad handicap if you had to pick one.

mountain pose...at sun down

The Window Between Life and Death is Poorly Secured

Not one of us is incomplete as we are, says John Daido Loori, who’s gone out through the “out door.”  Our guide explains to us on the crest of a hill in Fez, Life has two doors—we come in one at birth, go out the second…we can’t take anything with us—

M: except my camera?

And I recall Steve Martin, “I don’t need anything….well, I just need…I just need this toaster oven….”

We look over the medina at the green top of the old university.  The camera lens turns it all into a bunch of polka-dots.  I think the first sense to go at death is vision.  Reality veers towards impressionism.

A observes in the medina a chaos that is nonetheless ordered; it is simply a logic we don’t understand.  Contradictions here are as obvious as the litter that fills the sloping olive orchards.  One kindly guide reminds us that the most important ethos in Morocco is not to make the other feel bad. Rich and poor have always lived shoulder to shoulder; hence, household garbage is covered when put out on the street, so that your poor and hungry neighbor remains oblivious to the scraps therein evidencing your enormous feast of the previous night.

The rented minivan, its backmost window thriftily tied with a wire hanger, flapping in the wind, M’s insulation falling off the door: safety first.  The six of us—and one guitar—barrel across the northwest rim of Africa.  The rules of the road are written between the lines, and we can’t find the lines.

Red clay square domiciles.  The flapping of kaftans and garbage fires rising like a hedged bet.  We arrive at ruins.  This is and isn’t a metaphor for the bigger journey.

Empires End Too

We are at Volubilis–Volubulis, the flower that opens in the morning and closes at night, like civilization itself.  The last of a crumbling wall, one of the oldest in the world, attests to the fact that other people have been here and not so much lived to tell about it as not lived so that other people could tell about it.

Our guide, the enforcer, wields a stick at visitors who dare to mount the half-walls.  A rich person: two olive presses. He points into the crater we are to imagine once was a Roman domicile.  His profile suggests a shark-like olfaction and he moves strategically from shady spot to shady spot.  He narrates in brief the tiled mosaics, so well preserved, like love through the untoward ages, on the floors of the wrecked villas.  Roman Broadway.  Not Manhattan.  200 years after Christ.  Roman.

He’s also the Photo Tyrant: Stand here, best light. OK. Roman.

The Roman toilets: grooved, smooth stone: a lot of time, one might therefore think, was spent hereupon.  Contemplating wax tablets skewering the politicians; enjoying the view through the arched gate to the city: Not California.  Roman. Olive trees, purple ankles of the centipedal mountains, a blue stripe of sky, excessive sunshine.  Not uninspiring to the colon.

Tea & Eternitea

Our guides here all seem to have an agenda: to impart to us some modicum of moral goodness, local style.  The guide at the ruins has an ethos of shade-seeking, of protection from excess brightness.  A thousand welcomes, I hear on many lips.  One welcome, you can presume, is not good enough.  One must sit, wait for tea, mint and green, spiked with enough sugar to…cut through the suffering that our nervous system mutes at every second, albeit sloppily?


parva-tea: to tea or not to tea?

One must, further, contemplate the inner gardens (non-metaphorical), enclosed by the home, while sipping tea (my favorite temporal clause of them all!)—in the open courtyard where orange trees attract song birds.  The birds, then, give the home the hint of paradise.  If the now is only misery, then let ample bird-shit evidence the bliss to come.  A patient repast, lingering over tea, and one can see, in still air, there is more here than is evidently here.  For there is also: expectation, as present as Zeus’ lust-cloud, of the next tryst.

There is a noticeable absence of women at the cafes, where the men look out as if they are sharing more than the strong tea and coffee that clutters the tables.  We hide the women because they are so sacred. This, to me, is no argument, especially since J is convincing me beautifully that surface is as critical as depth, if maligned by our current discourse which tends to place value on the “secret inner” more than the obvious superficiality.

But why?  What if, truly, we wear our core on our sleeves?  The Muslim women are permitted to look out at the men in the courtyard only through latticed grates, specially engineered to ensure their relative invisibility.  I allow that cherishing can take so many bizarre forms.  And yet.  Surface is a problem.  Especially skin.  Especially the permeability of skin.

Tea induces sweating, which draws what is deep to the surface.  The sugar, mountains of it, cools us.  The tea is poured from on high.  The sugar, presumably, is the ground of sweetness, which smothers all the butchery of this life.

Being & Bacteria

We return “home” to Paris.  If one returns to a place one “lives” multiple times, the brain is tricked: this must be home, because I keep coming back to it.   Among other joy– il fait beau, the Chinese sage taxi driver teaches us: the weather is beautiful!—I find the tragic remains of comestibles assumed to have a long shelf life.  Hmmm.  It’s Sudden Fridge Death: the jar of strange Betterave, fermented beets, has one toe in the afterlife, and it ain’t pretty.  A belly button’s worth of mold, mold with an appetite, huger than mine own, for the world.

Next door, in the wooden crates stacked on the sidewalk that wait to be unpacked by the cordial shopkeeper, the mushrooms look like they’ve forfeited to their fungal counterparts.  A kind of blue, Miles might observe.  Not the kind of thing for which one would pay 30 euro/kilo.  Or—

There is a cult of mold here.

It was bacteria which made our lives possible, way back in the natural hot springs of the newborn earth.  Now, we shun the doings of bacteria in our system.  We exterminate them with great medical relish.  But who, really, has a greater appetite for living the world?

The wind chime does not seek to know what the wind is, says John Daido Loori.

The intrinsic value of being alive is no value at all.

Making music, making music, the wind in the form, a breath in a god.

So it’s back to the Paris routine, and I really love routines.  A daily dose of the stretched, challenged, examined, natural breath.  That’s my morning pill.  You can’t hog it.  Airport security never busts you for it.  It calls you out as if a speeding radar on the highway.

Yoga: the unqualified existence, life perfect as given.  Then along comes the human mind and ruins it, like the bully in the lunchroom who threw out your cheese sandwich.  But that was my chevre!

The wind in the chime seeks not to know what wind is.

How to just pass through? How to pass through making music at every touch– and not because you have forced yourself into lightheartedness, but because it is the natural outcome of the breath of the universe on ready material.

Ready material: us.

Come.  Come.  A Thousand, a hundred thousand welcomes.


the heart of reality



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5 Responses to “Tea Chimes In”

  1. rickyb Says:

    A hundred thousand welcomes back. Every word that you write is an invitation to others, a door opening into a spacious, more panoramic view. A bow to you for that, dear Sara, as always. & love,


  2. saraknowsyou Says:

    please keep walking through the door, then. as you are the mother-hen of poetic welcomes.

  3. moatis operandi Says:

    you make my flesh warm, my joints giggle, my pores smile. i bow, nose in shin to you too, and to you too, rick

  4. (0v0) Says:


    I kept reading as far as the pope-off and feeling so satisfied I didn’t get to Morocco until tonight.

    Ishua adrehr. Fifteen years ago a friend first went, wrote a long letter with a weirdly memorable paragraph about the Atlases (is that really their name?) around the city. She called them mountains shrugging in mist. But maybe they’re the certain kind of mountains, really.

    What was my face before I was born? Nothing! That works for me. Thank you.

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