Here are four things I suggest may be worth several minutes of your hard-earned life-force, when the thought arises that you could use a break to think about something other than what you’ve been thinking about. ~ Douglas John Imbrogno
‘AT THE YELLOW DOOR’ | Bill Hart still-life. | Appalachian outback | december2023 | thehartofthematter
With his weirdly wonderful mindspace and multifaceted know-how, Bill Hart is one of the most fascinating fellows we know in the American outback. The video below is the latest installment from a kind of slow-motion documentary on Bill’s life, which several of us have been unfolding at theHARToftheMATTER (Free subscribe at this link). You’ll glimpse his remarkable artistry, woodworking mojo and wizardly know-how in birthing musical instruments while living in the Great Beyond. If electricity were a language, Bill would be one of its acclaimed poets. Plus, he is a wise and witty old soul, horse-whisperer and a raconteur of tales from a widely lived life. The video’s soundtrack features a sweet waltz by two world-class musicians and dear fellow travelers, Heidi Muller and Bob Webb, from Heidi’s “Dulcimer Moon” recording. You’ll also hear dollops of William’s own musicality on stereo pennywhistle (with Bill, that’s a thing) and a monster Flying V bass likely more suitable for a Klingon than a human.
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Lately, Bill has been through the ringer with health matters of some significance. So, this filmic montage, which includes cameos from my camera-wielding brother David Imbrogno, plus Major the Wonder Horse in search of crackers (although birdseed will do in a pinch), goes out to Bill with love and gratitude. I invite you to share this plus other dispatches from Hartsville into your own connected spaces and spread the peace and harmonic convergence. In times of political tumult, with joyless thugs roaming the land hungry to spread black-heart meanness, it is important to lift up the example of what the ‘human’ in ‘human being’ means.
‘FOCUS GROUP’ | Paul Corbit Brown’s fixings for his portrait of Bhante G. | Bhavana Society | december2024 | thehartofthematter
I am glad to report that the eminent Buddhist magazine Tricycle recently reprinted my keynote remarks from a Dec. 7 Bhavana Society celebration at the Buddhist monastery and retreat center. The event marked abbot Bhante Gunaratana’s 96th birthday and the Wisdom Publications release (in June 2024) of his book “Dependent Origination in Plain English,’ crafted with Veronique Ziegler. The address includes a thumbnail sketch of how a Buddhist monastery led by one of the West’s leading Buddhist teachers and authors sprouted up a backwoods road in West Virginia and how I showed up in 1989 to report on this odd phenomenon as a reporter. And what happened next. The photo atop the Tricycle piece is a portrait of Bhante G (as he is known globally) shot with a nearly half-century-old Hasselblad by West Virginia-based photo ace and brotherman Paul Corbit Brown. Bhante G is an esteemed teacher and worldwide avatar of metta or loving-friendliness. His words, books, and teachings are very much worth encountering (that’s a biased link, by the way). Below are the opening paragraphs of my remarks:
Tricycle published this piece on its website on Dec. 27, 2023
Excerpt from “On the Occasion of Bhante G’s 96th Birthday” | Tricycle.com | Dec. 27, 2023
I first came to the Bhavana Society in 1989, as a journalist. I was a newspaper feature editor in the capital city of Charleston, West Virginia, and heard of this curious conundrum five hours to the east of me, deep in the Appalachian hills. A full-on Buddhist monastery had sprung up on a back road in Bible Belt West Virginia. Back then, I possessed only a cursory comprehension of Buddhism and the Buddha’s teaching, although I had long been intrigued by what I understood to be the Dhamma’s way of looking at the world.
At the time, I did not know this Pali pronunciation of the more familiar Sanskrit word ‘Dharma,’ referring to the body of the Buddha’s teaching. Or that this monastery was of the Theravada Buddhist tradition — ‘the Way of the Elders,’ if you look at the etymology of ‘thera’ and ‘vada.’ And that the forest monastery’s co-founder and abbot was a Theravada Buddhist monk of some renown from Sri Lanka. When I was growing up, in the latter half of 20th century suburban America, perhaps the most likely place you might encounter this word was in the title of the book “Dharma Bums,” by Jack Kerouac, one of the crown princes of the BEAT movement, whose often outlandish, convention-defying, in-your-face antics thumbed a nose at straight-laced society. The BEATs were intent on forging another, freer path through life — and your rules, expectations and conventions stood in the way. Was being a Kerouacian “Dharma Bum,” somehow reflective of the spirit of Buddhist behavior and thought?
I myself had grown up Roman Catholic. In my long red cassock and white surplice — very monk-like! — I served compliantly as an altar boy from 5th to 8th grades, at possibly the most Catholic-sounding elementary school in all of Ohio: Our Lady of the Rosary. Yet by my early teen years — beset by an inquisitive, questing mind, an autodidact in the world’s literature, mythology and faith traditions — I began a long walkabout exit from Catholicism, away from its — confounding-to-me — tales of virgin births and crucified sons of bearded gods. The questing, flexible mind of the great American Trappist monk Thomas Merton birthed a book that I came upon, ‘Zen and the Birds of Appetite,’ which boldly drew comparisons and correlations between the monotheism of Christianity and the left-field, godless spiritual approach of Zen Buddhism. For years, I carried that book in my satchel, since it felt like a passport to an appealing distant country, a way of seeing things of the spirit that were as yet half-formed and not yet clear to me.
So, that was sort of my state of mind and experience when I first showed up in late October 1989, at age 32, with a photographer in tow, for a weekend of interviews and poking around this new, intriguing place. Co-founded in 1985 by Bhante G and Matthew Flickstein, Bhavana had only just opened its doors to the public earlier that year of my initial visit … | READ ON
They are named after a real-life natural disaster that slammed into Huntington, W.Va., in 1937. But The 1937 Flood has evaded disaster ever since its founding and has become a Mountain State institution, living up to its billing as ‘West Virginia’s Most Eclectic String Band.’ When you look at the many folks who play — and have played — with the Flood over half a century, you realize the band is maybe more of a kick-butt, ever-morphing collective of troubadours, minstrels, balladeers, bad-pun makers and superior musicians. I was honored to sit in for a short set at the Flood’s 50th Anniversary Concert this New Year’s Eve, in the cool confines of the Alchemy Theatre’s Geneva Kent Center for the Arts in Huntington (the things you can do with mothballed elementary schools!). Behold in the video above a Flood tributary pickup-band singing out on the last day of 2023. This band-let features himself on guitar and vocals; Michelle Diane Hoge on hurry-up-and-wing-it vocals; Danny Cox on lead guitar; David G. Bub Ball on acoustic bass; and Sam St. Clair on harp. We attempt the great Gillian Welch tune “Orphan Girl.” NOTE: As one is wont to do when winging tunes on stage, I mussed up the lyrics a bit. Here they are below in their correct entirety.
‘ORPHAN GIRL” by Gillian Welch
I am an orphan on God’s highway
But I’ll share my troubles if you go my way
I have no mother, no father
No sister, no brother
I am an orphan girl
I have had friendships, pure and golden
But the ties of kinship, I have not known them
I know no mother, no father
No sister, no brother
I am an orphan girl
But when He calls me I will be able
To meet my family at God’s table
I’ll meet my mother, my father
My sister, my brother
No more orphan girl
Blessed Savior, make me willing
And walk beside me until I’m with them
Be my mother, my father
My sister, my brother
I am an orphan girl
For years now, I have meme-ified my favorite, wisest, most dead-on or crankiest quotes by cool people at the ‘QUOTE | WORKS’ foundry of theSTORYistheTHING. One of these days, I shall devote an entire issue to some personal favorites. Meanwhile, below is a Thought for the Day/Week/Month/Year. Find more inspiring words from Elie Weisel, (whose Holocaust memoir of Auschwitz and Buchenwald “Night‘ rocked my teenage soul), at sampleposts.com/elie-weisel-quotes.
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