a sip of sake'
a glance at the autumn moon
this Fall, no mourning 

doña Río (Darion Gracen) was a truly remarkable person. To be in her presence was to be ushered into a state of radical wakefulness. You couldn't "hide" with her. You couldn't pull the wool over her eyes. Man or woman, she would not allow you to run away from the truth of who you are. She was 'a lightning rod for change.' 

Though she was working on a book before her death, Tracks of the Bear: The Transformative Power of Innerwork in the Wilderness, it was a book that never saw the light of day. A rabid dog called "cancer" took her in 2007.

Like an annual heavy cloud that suddenly blows in, I have mourned my late teacher each and every November since her passing -- the loss of connection, the bond, the laughter, the learning, the sense of standing on a shared path, the sense of occupying a living mandala of cosmology and practice with someone who held a similar vision; something I have not felt since.

Yet, her death has also been an enormous source of instruction. To a large degree, her path and teaching-inspiration was that of a nature-hermit. What greater teaching for a student of such a path than for the student to be turned back onto themselves?

With the writing of this reflection, I celebrate crossing a decade-long "night-sea journey" of loss and grief, and land on the Other Shore. From this vantage point, I look back.

My Teacher

When I first met doña Río it was under formal circumstances involving academia. She was both my Master's thesis advisor and my internship supervisor when I was training in counseling. Though these were the designated roles she was expected to play with regard to my graduate school journey, she ended up becoming so much more to me; an older sister figure, a friend, a confidant, Zen teacher, earth-spirit guide in the wilderness of New Mexico.

doña Río had a particular perspective about people. 

"Every person has an inner landscape,
an inner ecology, a territory to explore,
though many people are largely unconscious of it,
and thus incapable of committing to the
vast inner resources that await within."

Her central role in life: Introduce people to this territory, then journey with them through it by teaching them how to journey through it themselves. 

From her perspective, each individual is a coagulation of shaping energies and influences. Ancestors. Dreams. Personal traumas. The impact of societal, global and environmental catastrophic events. Cultural prejudices. Leanings and preferences. Things we didn't get in childhood that we've been trying to "make up for" and extract from somewhere or someone else ever since. We're made up of inspirations but also, at times, radical resistances that we allow to prevent us from full-bodied living and expression.

We have hopes and we have fears...and then...there is the ever-present reality of...reality. 

"The trouble is, you think you have time."
--Jack Kornfield, Dharma teacher,
author of A Lamp in the Darkness:
Illumination the Path Through Difficult Times

No less than the blending of forces in any other ecosystem in the natural world, each person is a blending of essences that play themselves out within the context of an individual life. Heavy. Light. Deep-feeling. Calloused. Mindful and compassionate, and utterly self-absorbed, self-conscious, unconscious. Profoundly giving, generous, altruistic, devotional, and, in contrast, impulse-driven, addicted, obsessed, awash with a sense of grasping self-importance.

Helping people learn about their inner landscape, its secret language, and assisting people in learning how to "tend a good rich garden within" was the focus of doña Río's life. Only now am I beginning to find my stride and rhythm with it. 

It has been nearly ten years since doña Río passed (or "Kuma-sensei" as I liked to call her; kuma being bear, sensei being teacher in Japanese). I have some quotes of hers from some of the "warrior circles" she would hold in the mountains. One day, those quotes will find their way into print. Until then, I leave you with a poem I sometimes ponder written by her. She kept a journal religiously and frequently wrote poetry, but this is the only poem of hers I have in my possession:


Your life.

Your life.

It isn't what you think.

It isn't anything to do

with what you think.

Your life.

Your life.


Two sides of the same coin.

You say you want freedom.

Look down at your own feet.

They're already standing in the Pure Land.

Follow them.

You say you want love.

Be love.

That fortress you've been building

crumbled a long time ago.



The one who dies

with the fewest toys wins.



A great cosmic joke on the ego.

The you of this moment


is not the same you

in this moment.


The river never stops.

Stop defending the illusion

of a fixed "self" in space and time.

Enjoy the journey.


doña Río

(c) 2017 / Frank LaRue Owen / purelandpoetry.com






To learn more about the deep-earth ambient music of soundscape maestro Roy Mattson, and the recording called MESMER, visit his Bandcamp page. 



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