it feels as though I’m past

the pedigreed part of my life,

finished with bloodlines and credentials

done caring if he/she/it/we

are descended from a long line

of champions–“mister hester chester

of nestor farms” –done with leashes

done with heeling, with coming

when called, done

with staying for treats

it feels as though now

it’s the random genes of the pound

and the hardiness of the unexpected mutt

as if from now until animal control

finally sweeps me up

from the street

it’s nose to the wind, feet in the mud

and burrs in the long fur

it’s chasing whatever moves

and rolling in the dead stuff

it’s running all day and licking whoever

and whatever needs to be licked

it’s smelly and dirty and deliciously wet

from here on out–it’s sleeping

like a dog


© J.A. Fink  2013

the futility of poetry

somebody blew up boston

yesterday, but at least it’s sunny

here, though I must say

still cold. this bookstore

has an entire room given over

to poetry, row upon row of new

and selected, collected this

and that, each page scratching

toward something that might be true.

three dead, seventeen legs

torn off, the face of a dead

eight year old boy smiling

from the front page of the Times.

spare me your metaphors, this

is a truth that explodes

all reason, this is a truth

that kills us all. Boom, my children,

Boom, then Boom again.

© April 18, 2013

J.A Fink

Going All In- Part II

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about this quality of going “all in.” Since then, I’ve been working a lot with what this means in practice, and a couple of specific things have surfaced.

First, it seems like diving in, to whatever pool your working with, involves one big decision (“JUMP IN!”), immediately followed a thousand smaller decisions (“stay in.”) Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to talk about what he called the BIG NO, cutting directly through habitual patterns (which, of course, is also a BIG YES to whatever comes next.) This is what I was reaching for with the notion of going “all in,” — cutting through “holding back” or, as Acharya Pema Chodron puts it — renouncing “holding back.”  This is the cold wind, the sharp blade, the step into space.

Yet while it’s invigorating and inspiring to make a leap, the guts of the matter come later, when you first come up for air and it starts to sink in that now you’re in for it. From here on, it’s a thousand small decisions that collect like dust under the bed into what we generally call a life.  If the initial inspiration is a vajrayana dragon, the rest of it is the Zen of “chopping wood, carrying water.”

Here’s where we typically wear out, where the rush of the resolution has passed and we start to get bored with having to face our habitual patterns over and over again – our habit actually wears us out before we can cut a new groove, form a new pattern. It’s not that it’s so tough really; it’s just not very exciting. This is where perspiration supersedes inspiration, where we need to put the shiny stone of our resolution in our pocket and just start walking.

The second piece around this is closely related- it’s the quality of staying with something until it comes to be “ordinary.”  I met a guy on the mountain recently who asked me how many days I’d ski this winter. I told him 40-50 (a lot by most people’s experience, not so much relative to a lot of folks who live here in the mountains.) I wouldn’t want to ski that much, he said, it wouldn’t be special anymore.

And he’s right – that’s what happens. I got to this point with road biking last summer and wanted to get there this winter with skiing- I wanted to see what happens when I’m no longer “GOING SKIING,” and get to where I just “go skiing.”

What I’m reaching for here is the quality of interiority, of familiarity that emerges when we stick with something long enough for the novelty, the specialness, to subside. This is a big part of the practice aspect of meditation – getting past the entertainment value of the novel, the new, and just sitting.  And I don’t think we can ever really get to this point if some part of us is still looking backward.

So here these pieces come together. We begin with inspiration, with resolution, which is essential. We commit to go all in, and then we repeatedly need to decide to stick it out, to wear through the veneer of novelty and to settle into the ordinary, to keep doing whatever it is we’ve decide to do until we feel like we might die from boredom.

And then we die.

Or rather, a part of our “old self” dies. Our old way of seeing starts to die, and we begin to develop new eyes. We begin to notice a level of interior detail that we were too distracted or too speedy to see before. The depth of the subject begins to reveal itself, and the world actually changes, taking on a previously invisible three-dimensional quality.

But this can’t happen without going “all in.” Until we go “all in,” we’re forever on the outside, never completely inside whatever it is we aspire to do or be. We have to fall completely into whatever “thing” it is we’re giving ourselves to, to hang in with the terminal boredom, choosing again and again to stay.

Until we get bored, literally, out of our minds.

Then the exquisite detail of this sacred world can slowly and magnificently begin to unfold before our entirely new eyes.


I recently spent two weeks at Karme Choling, the Shambhala meditation center in Barnett Varmont.  The founder of Shambhala, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, was cremated there upon his death and lay in state in the shrine room where we practiced. This has always been a powerfully special place for me.  This poem was written during that retreat. I offer it in honor of the Vidyadhara, CTR in recognition of the anniversary of his death on April 4.


my teacher made this room

placed these posts, laid out

this floor where his corpse would lie

in this room at the foot of this hill

where his body would burn

we are all burning through this life

as if we were each the bright hot tip

of the fuse.  where does a Buddha go

once the smoke has cleared?

I can see his red round face, feel

his strong back against mine

come with me he says, climb this hill

follow me into the fire, we have

just one heart, this single flame

and we must all burn together

© J.A. Fink, 2013Image


spring in these mountains

is a fibrous season — winter’s

age-hardened fingers gripping the land

like the hand of a dying man.

after every warming day,

while the streams run full

with the blood of the melt, the moon

climbs a constellated sky,

and the cold deep of space

drops again to harden these hills –

how reluctant to open is this

human heart?

how many times must we hear

the quiet voice- we are each of us

crucified, all resurrected

none immune, none denied.

think of the dreams

of those who came before,

the great projects and empires

of the dust we stand upon.

the kingdoms of the ancients

amount to nothing

beside a single open and bleeding

heart – look to your hands

they were built for nails—

look to your heart

it was built for heaven –

this morning there was snow

on the trees again, and only now

do the birds begin to sing,

starting to rise between the branches

drawing back their wings, exposing

their hearts to this bright

and warming day, like dozens

of feathered crosses


J.A. FinkImage