Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wild Fire & Gratitude

Pfeiffer Fire in the Wilds of Big Sur

Late on the night of December 15th a fire started in our neighbor hood. After assessing the situation, I decided to stay and see what I could do to protect my property. We are blessed. All of the people that worked with me are safe, all buildings on my property and my neighbors on the non-burned-side of the fire line we held are safe. PG&E restored electricity some days ago. We have telephone restored as of yesterday evening! 

On the fire-side of the line many long-time good friends have lost their homes and more, yet thankfully no lives were lost. My heart goes out to those that have lost their homes and possessions… I know I can only imagine the loss and what their journey to recovery will look like.
The fire burned right up to two structures on my property. The fire spotted over the line many times and in many places. I gave up in both mind and body numerous times on being able to save the line and save structures. Like a miracle, people showed up at just the right moment, the wind shifted at exactly the perfect moments… and not a second too late and more than once. My previous efforts at preparation made a difference at just the right moments, the temperature dropped at just the right moments, seemingly prayers were answered at just the right moments — and by the way, thank you all for your many prayers, well wishes, thoughts, and intentions that were sent our way. 
Countless factors, both known and unknown, came together, a few in my control, but mostly out of my control, to be able to write these words. Never in the whole experience did I feel we were “fighting” the fire — that, I think, is impossible. We were engaged in what feels like an epic dance of sorts with something more humbling and greater than human. The fire was more powerful than anything we humans can will to do as we want. We worked hard at this dance. As the nights and days have blended together it feels more like we just kept responding the moments best we could as the moment unfolded, and unfolded they did. We are blessed that the unfoldings went as they did. 
Nothing quite like feeling my mortality to appreciate this life, my friends and family. For now — gratitude, moments of great exhaustion and sadness, moments of seeing the world alive and fresh, feeling blessed beyond words. Love to each an every one of you. Wishing you all a happy holiday and the very best of the new year.
Steven of Bear Creek, Big Sur

P.S. Here are some links if you want more visuals: 
So, my house gets it's 15 seconds of fame? Check out the link: @ around 2:00 you see them zoom into my home; @ 2:20 you can see me going to meet the first fire engine to show; @ 2:50 the camera pulls back so you can see the whole scope of things and the fingers of fire making runs at my structures. This is about 18 hrs into the fire: http://www.ksbw.com/news/central-california/monterey/aerial-video-big-sur-fire-destroys-15-homes/-/5738820/23515542/-/6a9771/-/index.html 
A few photos I put up on Flickr: Pfeiffer Fire, December, 2013

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Autumn hike along the coast of Big Sur

Happy Thanks-Giving to all.

Out on a hike just a few days ago I was high above the Pacific Ocean and in between the silence of the mountains could hear the waves crashing below. This simple line from Rumi came to mind and heart.

"When the ocean surges,
don't let me just hear it.
Let it splash inside by chest!"
~ Rumi (from the Essential Rumi)

On this day that we set aside to intentionally give thanks it comes to the surface again and speaks to me of gratefulness for the human animals in my life. All of you who have touched my life... don't let me just see you — may you splash inside my chest! It is in the "splash" that I feel gratitude.

I often quote by friend Bro. David Steindl-Rast.
"It is not happiness that makes us grateful.
It is gratefulness that makes us happy."

Happy Thanksgiving,


Here are some links for those of you that would like some inspiration and/or are curious about gratefulness:
A Good Day YouTube video with Bro. David
Meal Chant Stew article by Steven on Bro. David's site Gratefulness.org
Want to be happy? TED talk by Bro. David

Monday, November 11, 2013

Zen Life, Wild Life

Abbot Steve Stücky & Steven in the Kaisando at Tassajara

My friend, co-leader, and central abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center has terminal cancer.

Co-leading retreats with Steve at Tassajara has made my life richer and more wakeful. The 2008 fire brought us together. I am blessed to have shared trail time with Steve on the path in and around Tassajara. How lucky I feel to know someone who deeply loves the earth in such an intimate manner. Coulter pines after the fire and Myogen Steve will always carry new meaning… and with them the reminder of life’s wildness and gratitude for our capacity to open our hearts. I hear the bell ring out across the Horse Pasture and attend with wakefulness three breaths and the flood of life pouring in every sense portal. 

With the deepest of gratitude for you — Abbot Steve — two claps, and a deep gassho! 

For those of you that know Steve or have attended retreats with Steve and me at Tassajara here is a link to follow his quickly changing condition: Subtle Eye 


Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Belonging to Earth: Esalen, September 2013

Belonging with laughter... 
(click image to enlarge)

What a wonderful way to complete my Esalen workshop season. Once again, I am filled with hope when I witness the manner in which a diverse group of people can come together and let themselves be so touched by wild nature. The courage I see in our willingness to be intimate, visible, open, and belong is inspiring. "Don't go back to sleep" or to re-frame Rumi, stay awake in your aliveness.

Here are some links of interest:
Photo Set (sorry we did not get a group photo with everyone in it!)
Don't Go Back to Sleep by Rumi
What to Remember When Waking by David Whyte
Poems to Live By (poems I often read)
Trees of the Big Sur
Meal Chant Stew by Steven and recently published on Bro. David Steindl-Rast's Gratefulness.org site

Group member sites:
Erika Gakovich: fineartamerica.com
Mike's Webthresher.com
Eric's first TED talk
Eric's latest TED talk
Bear Creek Studios 
Melanie has a website coming soon. Anyone I missed that wants to be added?

So, dear fellow friends along the path... I invite you to feel your feet on the ground, let the ground feel your feet, align in gravity your hara (belly), an open heart,  a gently in-line head... greeting the world with the whole length of your animal body with senses wide open... and let a full breath and an extended exhale wash over you.

Kneeling to touch earth,

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Art of Pilgrimage: Green Gulch Zen Center, September 2013

Pilgrims along the path...

Here is a version of the Zen story that Jeremy told after lunch from the "Book of Serenity"

Zen Teacher Earth Treasury asked the monk Dharma Eye as he was leaving the monastery, "Where are you going?"
Dharma Eye said, "I am going on pilgrimage."
Earth Treasury said, "What is the purpose of pilgrimage?"
Dharma Eye said, "I don't know."
Earth Treasury said, "Not knowing is most intimate."
Dharma Eye was greatly awakened at these words.

Heartfelt gratitude for all of you that showed up on the first rainy day of the season! And, while it rained hard while we were in the zendo, we were able to walk through a day that included the raucous celebration of plants celebrating the rain, to open skies and sunshine. A wonderful way to acknowledge the equinox. Thanks to Jeremy Levie for co-leading this event with me and for our gracious assistants. I hope to see you next year if not sooner.

I invite you to pause for a moment... and for the next three breaths... I invite you to open your awareness and attend to whatever arises. May we all live "most imtimately."

Here are some links:

Deep bows to each of you,

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Big Sur Wilderness Experience: September 2013

BSWE @ Julia Pfeiffer-Burns State Park

It is said that Big Sur is not so much a place as a state of mind. Although I might add, "and a state of being." Shared time along the path in such beauty, sharing stories of life's ride (joys and challenges), and seeing the world alive is a blessing. What an honor to be among such courage, curiosity, and willingness to say "yes" to life and being with all that life might bring.

Here are some links:
Photo Set
What to Remember When Waking by David Whyte
Prayer for the Great Family by Gary Snyder
Bill's Lizstel Photography 
Meal Chant Stew by Steven Harper
Ojai Foundation (where Adam works)

From the Wilds of the Big Sur,


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Messages of Gratefulness Across Time?

Well hidden in a jumble of an ancient volcanic rocks on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada is a petroglyph that sends a message across the ages. Early humans in this valley expressing something unknown, but perhaps, somehow knowable. The poet Robinson Jeffers speaks about the mystery of another such place in the mountains of Big Sur in this way:

"There's no one to say
Whether the brown shy quite people who are dead intended
Religion or magic, or made their tracings
In the idleness of art..."

I appreciate Jeffer's honesty. Over the years and on many continents I have visited sites not unlike this, where people long gone or in a lost language left us intentional or unintentional messages. I have often felt suspicious when some great story is told about what they mean and why the works were created. As far as I can tell, we often don't know... yet we can let ourselves feel the beauty of such a place. We can feel the shared human lineage in the wonder of "not knowing" and feel the mystery.

I do not know what the intentions of the creators of these rock etchings were. I do know I feel blessed and grateful as I stand before them. In awe and wonder I kneel down and touch the rock and so clearly feel the rock alive — touching me back across time — grateful for the message.



Thursday, July 18, 2013

Simply Wild: Esalen, July 2013

Simply Wild: Experiencing Nature

"With the bare attention of awareness and wilderness as our teacher we show up for our life as it unfolds moment to moment. We make inquiry into to the process of getting out of our own way — doing less and being more. Cultivating silence, space, and simplicity we come into intimate contact with the raw beauty of this mysterious world."

Thank you... each of you, individually, and collectively for joining together in moments of intimate contact with the raw beauty of this mysterious world.

Here are some links to hopefully help weave a thread from this life — to your other lives:
Group Photo Set (including some photos from Hamid)
Gail's Photos (thank you Gail)
Luke's Photos (thanks Luke)
Donna's Photos (thanks Donna)
Adhesive knit Blister protection (In smaller quantities)
The Summer Day by Mary Oliver (the workshop description was inspired by this poem)
What to Remember When Waking by David Whyte
For the Children by Gary Snyder (Michael quoted this poem)
Send me other links to photo galleries if you have them and I will add them here.

Remember your seed qualities... tend them well, growth them strong.

Heartfelt Thanks,


This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness 
~ Dalai Lama

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Father & Sons: Esalen, June 2013

On the wild path... fathers and sons

Thanks to all of the fathers and sons that showed up at Esalen for this weekend. This was my first Father's Day without my own father in the world and I appreciated being surrounded by my own sons, returning participants, friends, relatives, and the field of fathers and sons that came together. I hope we each continue to deepen and build the relationships we each have, and perhaps the benefit will ripple out into other parts of our lives and the greater world. This type of investment has a life long pay back.

Take a moment... name 5 positive things you authentically appreciate about your son or father. Then, state one thing that you can bring and commit to grow and deepen in your relationship. Seeds are planted — may they grown to fruition.

Here are some links:
Group Photo Set
Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Leave of Absence Kes' first short film
Prayer for the Great Family by Gary Snyder (in celebration of the Summer Solstice

With gratitude,


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Walk on the Wild Side: Esalen, May 2013

Walking on the Wild Side of the Big Sur

Photo Links:
Photo Set
Joan's Photo Set

Other related links:
Among the Wonderful (Stacy's website and more) 
Ojai Foundation (where Adam works)
Isabel's website
Charlie's website
Gesine's website
Michael's Hike
Judi's website
John Muir: Nature's Visionary by Gretel Ehrlich 

Poem from our last session:
What to Remember When Waking by David Whyte

Gratitude to all of you who made the journey to walk on the wild side... may you saunter reverently and joyfully wherever you may be.

John Muir on Hiking
"Hiking - I don't like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not hike! Do you know the origin of that word 'saunter?' It's a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, "A la sainte terre,' 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them."
~ John Muir, quoted by Albert Palmer in A Parable of Sauntering



Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Nature of Zen: Tassajara, May 2013

Tassajara Han: Wake Up!

Here are links of possible interest:
Photo Set of Group
Photo Set of Group as Slideshow
Photo Set of Tassajara as Slideshow

Requested additional links:
In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver (Steve read this to our group)
Sleeping in the Forest by Mary Oliver (Steve read this in the zendo)
Support Tassajara Zen Mountain Center
Meditation Timer (iPhone & Android)
iThou Meditation: Virtual Group

I feel profound gratitude for each of you that made the pilgrimage into Tassajara, Tjarn, Myogen Steve Stücky, Tassajara, and the wilds of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

Two claps, Deep bow,


For more of what I am up to this year: Workshops & Retreats

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Big Sur Wilderness Experience: Esalen, April 2013

BSWE in the Wilds

What a great way to start the "season" and to celebrate my 35th anniversary of first coming to Esalen as a workscholar. I am feeling so blessed to be out and about with you all in the wilds of Big Sur... especially in the tender times of recently "losing" my father. My gratitude runs deep for the how you/we chose to show up for "this one wild and precious life."

Here are some links to water the seeds and assist in weaving the threads from this world to our "other" worlds:
BSWE Photo Set
BSWE Photos as Slideshow
Poems to Live By (some of the poems I use in my life and in workshops)
Volunteer in Big Creek 

Some of the amazing talent and gifts of our group:
Tyra's Qigong Site
Cara's Multi-media Fine Art Site
Julie's Fine Art Photography
Chloe's Carmel Belle 
Any Others?

Here is what the rest of my workshop year looks like: Steven Harper Workshops & Retreats

With love,

Saturday, March 30, 2013

In Memory of Kenneth Harper

Kenneth Harper
photo by Janna Fournier

On March 15th, my father, Kenneth passed. His memorial was on March 23rd, 2013.

Always curious, willing to learn, an explorer at heart, he (and I) are now on another journey, not unlike a journey into an unknown wilderness. Words don't travel well in this terrain. Raw emotions, sudden insight, deep gratitude and profound grief, surprise around unexpected corners mixed with pretending my life isn't changed forever. On the wild path, walking the terrain of the unknown, asking the questions that can't be answered in the normal ways — what is alive and what is dead?

Grateful to be blessed with this father, my family of birth, my family, my extended family and friends. I am blessed to be supported and held by so many seen and unseen people and conditions that allow this living — this beauty.

Echos of Mary Oliver's words can be heard...
"Doesn't every thing die at last, and too soon?
Tell me what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"

For now, the open question is a bit less about doing and more like, "How is it you be in this wild and precious life?"

With tender heartfelt gratitude,


Friday, March 01, 2013

Get Out, Get Wild

Big Sur Coast

Suffering from WDD (Wilderness Deficit Disorder)?

Now is the time to deepen our connection, understanding, and relationship with the natural world. I invite you to join me on a journey and let yourself be touched by the healing beauty of wild nature.

Most of my 2013 workshops have been scheduled and are up on my website. Take a look to see what might call to you: 2013 Workshop & Retreats.

In the meantime, I hope you create time to get out, and get in the wilds of nature.

Warm regards from the Big Sur,

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Words as Inspiration for Direct Experience

For many years I have chosen a poem a year to learn by heart and return to as the year passes. The process of learning and returning again and again to the same poem has acted as a mirror of sorts and has deepened my appreciation and understanding of myself and the poem. A good poem suggest possibilities of how I might perceive and engage with the myself, the world, and the many relationships that sustain us.

Sometimes a single line from a poem or piece of prose is enough. Sometimes I will borrow and change the single line and use it as a vehicle for practice — a place to cultivate and deepen a specific concept as sensation and somatic embodiment. Here is short haiku-like piece I borrowed from a longer poem by Rilke called "On a Vast Plain" and have made part of my current practice.

sink back
into the source of everything
go into your heart
as onto a vast plain

Here are links to other poems I have worked and played with — learning by heart: Poems To Live By. Perhaps they too will be useful for you (yes you) as we go about our journeys into the vast wilds of this human experience.