Category Archives: poetry

Tail of a Whale of a Tale

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. ~Abraham Lincoln

orca’s tail ~d nelson

During her early years
she was a sailor
seeking calm seas
& fair winds at her back.
A smile on her lips when she somehow
remembered intermittent calm
& fair times in a weather-worn life.

orca’s tail 5

At a recent Assisted Senior Living Center
visit I found her wearing a shirt that fit
her to a tee, with an image of a whale
and a quote,
They whispered to her
“you cannot withstand the storm”
She whispered back,
“I am the storm.”

Proud of her maintaining dignity in a life
colored by men’s ignorant dominance.

In the background, CNN news was blaring
for the benefit of the hard of hearing.
Seemingly several of these elders, animated, energized
began blurting out opinion & commentary;
“This is not normal, not even close”
“Why doesn’t the gov’t care about us anymore?”
“He’s got an interesting relationship with the truth.”
“We’re facing a Code Orange of greed, corruption, vulgarity & malice.”

She laughed at fellow cohabitant’s commotion,
then saying she’s been grieving
over men’s misuse of power.
May the next world be matriarchal,
kind, compassionate
and welcoming 
to all, equally.”

Closing her eyes, a tear as nostalgia awoken
of sailing through the San Juan Islands.
“Quite a tale they told
calling them killer’s whales,
but they are actually dolphins”, she insisted!

orca’s tail 7

I smiled when she said
as I was leaving,
“I’ll get on back home
one of these days.
More Yin,
Less Yang.”
Calmly I breathed
a gentle understanding.


Happy Continuation: an epi-blog of VietNam ’07

Staying in the shade @ Trung Hau retreat ~d nelson

I believe it’s possible for a people, for a society to heal from deep-seated injury & trauma. Some of us live in such a time, now, in need of convalescence.  I experienced such a collective, extraordinary healing ten years ago.

Thay introduces abbot

Thay introduces abbot from Dong Dac temple; as Thay came by he told us that many important masters had studied and practiced at this temple.

On this 10 year anniversary of participating for the 3 months on a healing tour to VietNam, accompanying Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh to his home country, from which he had been exiled from nearly 40 years, I witnessed healing of a country which lost over 6 million citizens to war. There are relatively few men still living over 60 years of age, especially in the north. Words below are re-posted from May 12, 2007, without further comment.

Sr. Jewel leaves a smile

Sister Jewel leaves a smile

My Dear Friends, Cheres Amie,

On the way to the Hanoi airport, after nearly 3 months on an amazing pilgrimage which began in Ho Chi Minh City, en route to flying home I read an article in the Vietnam News with the following quote: “President Nguyen Minh Triet hailed high-profile Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s visit as a great contribution to Vietnam’s religious activities during their meeting in Hanoi Saturday (May 5th). Triet said he hoped that the “Zen Master” would make more trips to Vietnam and contribute further to national solidarity and development. Hanh has been in Vietnam for a three-month visit since February 20, during which he held three chanting ceremonies, known as Grand Requiems, for those killed in all wars and accidents in the country. Triet told Hanh that Vietnam always respects religious freedom and is determined to make all religions welcomed.” I smiled reading that Thay’s call for the President and/or Prime Minister’s support for the ceremonies to reconcile a nation and other events offered by the sangha had, in part, been realized.

early morning flower market

Hanoi flower market

Today sitting in my dirty car, while slowly being hauled through the Bubble Machine Car Wash’s suds, some questions came to my mind. Like, what will be the karma of the pilgrimage? What does it mean to travel across a country supporting the provision of teachings, practices as well as healing ceremonies to affect deep-seated pains of the past, manifesting in the present, in individuals, families, communities and societies? Seeing so, so many people sincerely taste fruits of mindful living practices and find their joy and happiness by using their breath, steps and actions to arrive in the present moment was unforgettable. When might a country who suffers so much, such as America, be ready for such healing, and who would have the credibility and a big enough heart to do it? Despite a lack of awareness published in Vietnam’s government controlled press about the upcoming events or their intention, tens of thousands came out, and countless other Vietnamese and friends of Vietnamese all over the world set up alters and prayed during the ceremonies to remember the victims of the “American and French wars.” Having had witnessed and participated in one of the greatest acts of love towards Vietnamese people, if not all people, animals, plants and minerals, how should I and the hundreds of other western sangha members who gave so much of there time and money to travel together, continue living out our lives, continuing Thay’s intention? Thich Nhat Hanh could conserve his precious energy by staying in Plum Village, occasionally giving talks and continuing sharing his wisdom through writing books. Where does an eighty year old Zen master derive the physical, mental and spiritual energy, boundless bodhichitta (great heart and mind of compassion), to carry out such an epic intention to heal his nation and the world? All of us westerners had moments of shear mental and physical exhaustion keeping up with the schedule. At times it appeared to me that Thay (Vietnamese for “beloved teacher”) had done nothing short of summoning the Buddha within for strength and direction. Upon finishing the car’s wash I wrote these questions down, then started the engine and drove off, bringing full attention to the Southern California drivers zooming around me.

thousands end walk

Crowd at Huong Son temple welcoming Thich Nhat Hanh

At the final retreats and talks in and near Hanoi Thay continued sharing practical practices from the Lotus sutra, Diamond sutra, and other sutras including the full awareness of breathing, mindfulness and living alone. Attendees at the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and industry were treated to teachings on deriving insight from our experience, rather than just theories or book learning, and tapping into mindfulness of the breath and awareness of what is going on to find happiness. Negative habit energies of continuing to seek happiness in money, power, fame and sex will most likely lead to more suffering, as is experienced in the West. Buddhism is attractive in the West because it is very scientific in its approach to addressing problems within us and in the environment; being viewed more as a philosophy rather than a devotional religion. Thay made it clear over and over that people and the environment share the same fate and continuing to pollute and destroy nature would be our demise. Thay shared how he has counseled many Western government and business leaders that the way out of our shared predicament is by practicing the mindfulness trainings. During his last public talk in Vietnamese at a retreat in Trung Hau temple, a powerful discourse on the teachings of love was given to the people of Vinh Phuc Province. Love is made of understanding, compassion and wisdom. Relationships and love are not individual matters, as is most often practiced in the west. The happiness of the family and community are also at stake in relationships. Parents and children must use loving speech and deep listening so that they can understand each other for what they truly are, continuations of each other. So often each side is caught in up-side down thinking, or having the wrong perceptions and views. In the East there is a tradition of respect, for parents, for our own bodies. This is practiced by dressing modestly, cooperating, being discreet and couples treating each other as guests, even after being married. Thay said that now many young people are in a state of bewilderment with what they see and hear in their environment, on TV’s and hear in music. Many 14 and 15 year old girls are having sex and getting pregnant, without ever knowing what true love is. Their despair ultimately is transmitted to their children who may well go down the same road. Thay concluded by suggesting that this talk on the 4 immeasurable minds should be given over and over to young people so that their happiness can grow in the knowing that true love is an act of friendship towards oneself and others. After this talk the temple’s Venerable monk told Thay that his community must have accumulated much merit from their ancestors to receive such a powerful teaching, and that he does not know how to repay the generosity and compassion.

hello restaurant staff

hello restaurant staff red apple restaurant in Da Nang offered us a nice meal

At the end of each of the 4 segments of this 3 month journey across Vietnam, members of the western lay sangha wrote comments of gratitude, observations of the beauty of Vietnam and it’s loving people and personal transformations, in a journal. After the final dharma talk in Hanoi the book was presented to Thay. I’m told he smiled and gratefully commented that he wished that we all could accompany him and the monastics to Hong Kong and Thailand, where they will continue giving talks and retreats until early June. Thay made it clear in his words and actions during the entire trip how our lay presence was helping support the healing. We have benefited from his wisdom of no coming, no going, realizing that we are in him, and he is in us; insight passed on by a great teacher. It’s astonishing to think that later this year he plans to give retreats in Europe and America. May he and the sangha have both good health and fortune in their continued efforts as bodhisattvas.

alms round flowing

Alms round of Plum Village & Bat Nha monastics in an orderly line before encountering Bao Loc crowds.

During the next month or so I will produce a video of the pilgrimage so that other sangha members around the world, who were either there or not, can see for themselves glimpses of what happened. You’re welcome to let me know if you’d like a copy. In the mean time there are many pictures and accounts available on the web, including mine at . Smiles to you and best wishes in your practice of touching the joy and happiness which is you, already,
david, Compassionate Guidance of the Heart, Truly Holding Equanimity

Full of love

Sister Chan Khong visiting rural school her compassion program financially supports

in flowers i trust

When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

exquisite bloom, golden girl rhododendron ~d nelson

delicate, ethereal beauty
with not a fret as to fate
or seeing grounds to wait.

only offering his or her best
in each transient moment.
there is oneness upon recognizing
true blossoming elegance.

not disposed to having complexes
of superiority, inferiority or sameness.
not needing to be liked or disliked.
not above the law –
not laws of humanity,
nor the laws of nature.

not into making others feel
troubled or uncomfortable,
or lose their sense of direction
no matter how alike they are
or different they are from so-called, others.

givers, offering vivid generosity
by a true, compassionate presence.
not taking from others;
not time, nor space,
not their livelihood, their dignity,
their healthcare, their freedom,
their loved ones, nor their lives.

if only i could live
a life of such humble, selfless dignity.
to be happy, even if cut
& put in a vase.
…at this moment, offering
forgiveness to myself
& others for so much
harm inflicted, in just this lifetime.
I wish that I could come back
as a flower.
For as a flower
others would smile
& have no reason
to lose trust.

Inner Explorers’ Courageous Acts of Curiosity

The future of all life, including our own, depends on our mindful steps. We have to hear the bells of mindfulness that are sounding all across our planet. We have to start learning how to live in a way so that a future will be possible for our children and our grandchildren. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

mindful steps upon mother earth ~d nelson

Curious meditators diligently
collect, then release data;
cultivating hearts of understanding
& minds of love.
As experienced practitioners
they seek to distinguish
science fact from science fiction.

Space: The final frontier!
These, the voyages of diligent contemplators
on lifelong missions;
To explore strange, ever-changing inner & outer worlds;
To protect all life and live in harmony with all civilizations
To boldly go where no fool has gone before.

Stay authentic to your heart & mind
dear seekers of truth.
All who have come before,
those who are here now,
and descendents still to come,
here on mother earth & beyond
depend on your wise action.

Please support each other
on & off the meditation cushion
with smiles, love & kindness
as our time, in the here
& now, is of the essence
when looking into climate,
ozone, & other darkness’, especially
Earth’s 6th great mass extinction.

Community & Friendship’s Delight

delighted sitting Buddhas ~d nelson

Dear WordPress Community, and Friends on the path,

So easily mind goes here, then goes there.
The mind can go in a thousand directions
including thinking that it’s alone.
But, with mindfulness, concentration & insight
we can remember the path upon which we’re stepping.
On this path are also countless beings supporting us,
at this moment, some of them are of the human-type.

delightfully recycling, together in Deer Park

I’m reminded of so many elders and others
who are isolated and feeling lonely right now.
They wish so much to be with other human beings.
I’ve had these feelings arise, myself
and I’m only almost an elder.
Perhaps you’ve longed for human companionship, also.

delightful flower

I’m offering a bow of gratitude for all the friends who came
joyfully together on retreat with me recently.
It felt very comforting, connected and safe to be vulnerable being
with those I’ve known for years, but see infrequently.
I feel so fortunate to have had conditions which introduced me to teachings
of understanding & love, the mindfulness community and many friendships.
I recognize that not everyone has had such favorable conditions.

interbeing rock delight

A diverse collection of friends took a moment to share in a beautiful portrait of what community is about, each in their own words. Community as relationships with others; sometimes neighbors, sometimes spiritual or like-minded friends, sometimes far away, or even scattered across the blogosphere.
I’m touched by their personal expressions of how crucial community is
to our most basic well-being and feelings of connection.
Their intention is to help others feel welcomed and welcoming into a community.
Some of us may feel encouraged to let go of feeling alone
& build or strengthen our own “community”.

collective energy of mindfulness

This 7 minute collage of many voices, entitled Community & Friendship’s Delight can be viewed on-line at:  (There’s even a rare glimpse of me towards the end)   🙂

Signlessness Liberates, but Please Show Us A Sign!

Where there’s a perception, there’s a deception ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Antonio: Me siento bienvenido (I feel welcome) ~d nelson

The miracle of sight & other senses brings extraordinary
shapes, beautiful colors and pleasant sensations
into this ordinary daily life
of privileged human existence.

Generally when I see, say, a flower
then bend over to touch and smell it
my perception is validated by sweet fragrance
and a sharp, thorny prick.

welcoming people, prickly flower and dog neighbors

All too often I find that reality
& my perception are at odds.
At first I saw a snake,
but upon closer examination
it turned out to only be a rope.

Buddha approves of this message

Signlessness is a door to liberation
helping us see what is and is not there
without the external sign or form.
Perhaps we cannot see our parents
or ancestors except in old photo albums.
But if we look deeply into our own two hands
we see that, as continuations of them,
our ancestors are in every cell of our bodies.
A farmer can look out, now
and see fields of healthy, organic crops
that will be there when the conditions
of planting, nurturing and time have passed.

signs acquired for my community!
purchased at:

While signlessness is a spiritual/philosophically rewarding/enjoyable pursuit
sometimes it’s quite proper, even necessary to show a sign.
Right now as many peoples are being outwardly
discriminated against, facing verbal & physical abuse
it’s important to show compassion and welcoming
to neighbors, without discrimination.
How will the vulnerable know that they have allies?
How will other neighbors know they are
not alone in caring about others?
I’m certain most citizens are caring, open and inclusive.
By showing a sign of our caring, we move on
from being a silent majority
to happy, connected neighbors & friends.
It would make me smile
hearing how your community
shows signs of Jesus’ teaching
to “love thy neighbor.”

signs of neighbors welcoming all neighbors


We the Jury Find the Defendant…

After spending a week and a half on jury duty, in the same courthouse as 2 years ago,
a renewed confidence comforts that when an alleged crime comes to trial,
justice is possible, at least in my community. May it be so, someday, across our lands.
Therefore I’m re-posting this piece from a couple of years ago, below 🙂

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. ~ Wm Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

blind justice ~ nelson

blind justice ~ d nelson

The Judge states that jury duty is our civic obligation & should be served with pride. That she is there as a judge of the law. That charges are on paper, but not yet proven. The prosecution is required to demonstrate the burden of proof, beyond reasonable doubt. That we sworn-in jurors are to be judges of the facts, the facts based on testimony & evidence presented during the trial. That the accused is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. He is being charged with forgery & second degree burglary, both, felony offenses. A digital beeping is heard in the courtroom. Then a digital voice stating, “low battery, low battery.” It is the radio collar placed upon the defendant’s ankle. The court is recessed for this technical interruption. Hereafter, the names have been changed to protect those involved.



Direct Evidence:
Mr. Accused Citizen, hereafter referred as MAC, entered on the Bank on Sept 1st and handed a check to be cashed made out to him for $1609 along with his ID to the teller. Upon looking at the check and thinking it may have been altered, she took it to her supervisor for approval. The supervisor also thought the amount looked altered, and the written payee name looked suspicious. She came out and told MAC it would take a few minutes to process. Supervisor looked up the phone number & called the customer of whose check was presented. Customer, an older woman, confirmed that the amount and name were not correct and she would come to the bank to confirm. She had made the check out for $69 to the water company, placed it in the mailbox to be picked up. The next day she notice her mail missing before the mail carrier arrived. The police were then called to the bank. When the supervisor came out MAC had fled the bank, leaving the check & his ID behind. After the police arrived the supervisor received a phone call by a younger woman claiming to be the customer; she says it’s ok to cash the check. Upon being asked by the supervisor her date of birth the phone is hung up. This is reported to the police. The bank teller, supervisor & customer testify as eye witnesses to these events.

jury badge

jury badge

Circumstantial Evidence:
Images from Bank’s surveillance camera shows MAC at the teller’s window. There’s the check which was altered; MAC’s first & last name are written around the water companies name. The amount is changed by adding numbers & words, from $69 to $1609. Displayed with the overhead projector, this looks like it was changed by a child.

The officer testifies that she found MAC walking down the street a week after the crime. He approached her and asks if she’s looking for him because of his ID being left in the bank. She reads him his rights, informing him that he is under arrest. She then asks for him to write down his name, the date and a few other words. He gives her the handwriting sample. He tells her the check was being cashed for an acquaintance who made the check out to him. Says he knows he did something stupid. He’s brought to jail and held for a couple of months until a hearing occurs and he is granted bail. At initial hearing the officer testifies that MAC told her that he saw acquaintance writing on & altering the check. This confession is not in her initial or follow-up written reports.

courthouse, upstairs jury room

courthouse, upstairs jury room

Walking peacefully upstairs with others to the jury deliberation room, smilecalm breathes deeply to relax inner anxious energies. Other jurors start speaking out on their views. There’s a general sense that MAC did not “mastermind” this crime, but that evidence implicates MAC’s guilt in the lesser offense of possessing, with the intent to pass on to the Bank, an altered or counterfeit check, knowing that the document is counterfeit. Were this decided, the requirement for burglary would also be met. After many voices speak out loudly, smilecalm remarks that some of us are more quiet, less competitive and would benefit from an orderly and inclusive discussion. To that request there is agreement. Smilecalm asks if we can read the written definition of these charges, which is done. We start to recount from memory & notes what MAC testified on the stand. He seemed angry, he swore, he apologized. He told of his being home that day. That Jen, the acquaintance, came by looking for her closer friend who was not at home. She then asked MAC to help her out by cashing a check. Said she was given this check by her grandmother to whom she had sold a wood chipper. She could have the check made out to MAC, and she would give him $200. She didn’t want to cash it herself because she had a warrant out for her arrest. He said Jen had not caused him any problems in the past, so he was willing to do her a favor and make a little money for the effort. She left, returning about an hour later with the check. MAC has no car, so she drove them both to the Bank & went in together. MAC said that after the supervisor came out and said to wait, he noticed Jen had left. He figured at that moment something was wrong so he left to find her. He knew then it was stupid. He asked “why is my life so much trouble?”



Fellow jurors argued that while there was no evidence that he had stolen the check from the mailbox, or that he had done the altering of words and numbers on the check, he must have known this check was altered. Somehow jurors remembered MAC saying he saw Jen writing on the check. This would create doubt in MAC’s story. Smilecalm said he did not hear him say that, rather, only that was stated by the police officer. The court testimony record needed to be re-read to the jurors. After some time the court recorder arrived and read his words. He indicates she brought the check already filled and he looks at it briefly, sees his name, the amount and that it’s signed, all while on the way to the bank. He never sees Jen writing on it.

Those in the room confide that they would not cash a check for someone that they don’t know well, who states they can’t cash it because they have a warrant out for their arrest, and that they would look carefully at the check scrutinize it. Exhibit 2b is passed around the room. It is a court document that shows that Jen was convicted of check & credit card fraud & possession of an illegal fire arm in this same court one month ago. Expressing what is true in his heart, smilecalm shares about his time with others living in poverty & despair, in urban areas & Indian Reservations. How it is possible to do what MAC had done, without realizing the crime or consequences. That if MAC truly did believe Jen’s story; that a check from her grandmother for an item sold was made out to him to cash, to help her out of warrant’s eyes, to make a couple hundred bucks, then there was reasonable doubt that he committed the crimes, as defined. Other jurors shared their experience with down & out, so called low-life relatives & acquaintances. How low self esteem & unmet economic, social & emotional needs can give rise to ill-advised actions. The energy of empathy and wisdom spread throughout the room. There was no longer any certainly that MAC knew before going into the bank that this check was “not true”, and therefore intended to defraud. With with collective sense of harmony for the sake of justice, Smilecalm offered his gratitude to each of them as they prepared to leave.

enter fearlessly

enter fearlessly

Returning to the courtroom, the judge asked for the verdict. She glanced at the paper, then looked over the 3 pieces of paper, one for each charge, over again. Nodding affirmatively, she handed the papers to the clerk to read. We the Jury Find the Defendant not guilty of forgery, … not guilty of 2nd degree forgery & … not guilty of 2nd degree burglary. Everyone in the courtroom looked surprised, including several bailiffs awaiting, as if expecting this defendant to continue playing out the sad role of a throw away in this society. The judge thanked us for our service and dismissed us. Walking out, I smiled to the prosecutor, to the weary public defender, to MAC, to the women in the gallery weeping, perhaps a mother & sister. A fellow juror commented that he appreciated the compassion conveyed during the deliberations by smilecalm, who smiled humbly in return. May all involved in this dance of justice be well, May we all find fairness, compassion & mercy when our judgment day comes.

court wi-fi access code, with fingerprints :-)

court wi-fi access code, with fingerprints 🙂

“The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose.” ~Hada Bejar