On Bill Scheffel & Mary Oliver

A few days ago my friend created a group to memorialize and remember our friend and teacher, Bill Scheffel. I want to share about him and what he meant to me. But I don’t want to be a grief groupie. Others were much closer to Bill and yet he was a HUGE and life changing person in my life. He was such a loving person, he lived a good life and towards the end his quality of life deteriorated greatly with increasing mental health obstacles. He died on July 8 (my brother’s birthday) through self-immolation, in his car in a remote area of Boulder. Some schools of Buddhism may view this not as suicide but of service. I’m not so sure about that, but in searching the details for anything that makes sense, I can appreciate that he did it in his car because he was California baby until the end. He was and is so loved and missed. May he be free and at peace.


Bill was my writing and meditation teacher at Naropa University. He taught me how to write and how to sit like a dignified person moving as openly as my breath. We both left Naropa at the same time and corresponded for more than a decade via email, as well as sometimes seeing each other at workshops and my brief dabbling in his online I-ching class.

Know this: he taught me that writing moves like butterflies, jazz and God. And that meditation and connection to the earth offers a sense of protection.

One of my favorite Bill quotes is from a workshop he taught at the Shambhala center in Boulder a couple years after we met. He said “Luxury is experiencing reality, smelling the cow shit.”

I always imagined I would study poetry with Bill, one day.  It’s a missed opportunity now… With the news of Mary Oliver’s death (in the words of my friend Meesh she was a mystic fucking poet) —I want to share my favorite Mary Oliver poem.  It’s so good I have a line from it tattooed on me (the last line). I looked up this poem because my friend Mario had these lines from it written on his djembe at Naropa and I remembered it years later when I finally googled it:
and a sense
of loss—a memory
not yet of a word,
certainly not yet the answer—
only how it feels…

Photo from Bill’s sukhavati (Buddhist death ceremony)

To read a more detailed and beautiful account of Bill’s life and read some of his poetry visit The Chronicle Project.

DREAMS by Mary Oliver from Dream Works

All night
the dark buds of dreams

In the center
of every petal
is a letter,
and you imagine

if you could only remember
and string them all together
they would spell the answer.
It is a long night,

and not an easy one—
you have so many branches,
and there are diversions—
birds that come and go,

the black fox that lies down
to sleep beneath you,
the moon staring
with her bone-white eye.

Finally you have spent
all the energy you can
and you drag from the ground
the muddy skirt of your roots

and leap awake
with two or three syllables
like water in your mouth
and a sense

of loss—a memory
not yet of a word,
certainly not yet the answer—
only how it feels

when deep in the tree
all the locks click open,
and the fire surges through the wood,
and the blossoms blossom.


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