I'm feeling better after having spoken with Mom on Friday. It was good to hear her talk about her feelings around not wanting to seek major treatment (chemo, radiation, surgery), but rather to focus on keeping present and enjoying what time she is able to. Any of the traditional treatments would really lessen her ability to experience happiness and may not be successful either. She seemed lighter about the decision, more so than I've seen her about most anything.
Despite it having some reassurance this still is very hard and it felt like I was in a funk part of today. While making dinner I was particularly mindful and present. Letting the act of creating our meal be a mediation, letting my attention focus on the simple tasks, so rich in sound and scent, settle my mind. I was gratified that applying myself to cooking this way once more helped me feel grounded.
By 7pm I admitted that my tension headache had been with me since rising from the bed and the pinch on the right side of my neck & shoulder hadn't loosened up at all. Both were resistant to ibuprofen and revisiting how I felt about the stuff with Mom at at session with GM didn't help much at all.
I decided to stay home from the women's Dharma group but was mindful to sit at the same time I'd be sitting with them had I gone. Sitting wasn't quiet, my mind was all over the place in a familiar fashion. Zazen felt somewhat restful and I was able to be accepting toward the voices. I was eventually able to shift my focus from my breath to doing Metta practice for my Mom.
Rich with sound, scent.
Nothing more is
Several weeks ago I sent my teacher Hogen an artist trading card I'd made. It has the quote from Rumi on the back, that bit that has had me thinking and meditating around it since CK gave me the book for my birthday!
proudly into sunlight,
not looking back.
Take sips of this pure wine being poured.
Don't mind that you've been given a dirty cup.
It has been useful to consider myself as the cup and the various abusive moments in my life as the stains of the cup. The imagery has become a way to see that in being caught up in the stains I'm entirely not present to the pure wine being poured, not able to appreciate my life. When I am stuck in the pain, and the habitual reactions around it, it is like drinking the wine while complaining about the cup.
When I sent the trading card to Hogen I enclosed it inside of a beautiful card with koi painted on it. Faced with the blank interior of the inside of this card my mind rushed to put something, anything that might sound like I'm a decent student. In that speedy awkwardness I wrote down something about practice being a way of cleaning the stains of the cup.
Only it isn't. I'm totally wrong in thinking that. Believing that if I just practice hard enough I can somehow clean the stains. I can't make history go away, it is impossible. It is falling into the trap of hoping that Zen or Yoga are somehow a kind of self-improvement program that will make the past not matter.
I'm missing the point. The point is to not care about the stains, not to find some way to clean the up. This wondrous, present moment is the pure wine of life. The cup holds the wine, why in hell do I care if it has stains?
On Sunday I was hanging out after the retreat, a busy time when Great Vow gets even quieter as residents head into their day off or to attend events in Portland. I happened to catch Hogen as he prepared to head into town and mentioned what I'd realized about practice. That what I'd first written him was wrong because I still cared about the stains if I was hoping practice would clean them. I told him that the whole point is for me to not care about the stains anymore.
He smiled at me, nodded and commented that the real point is that when I no longer care about the stains then the cup will clean itself.
I had to laugh to myself as he walked off, considering the aspiration to become self-cleaning pottery.
All that and a haiku for late winter!
Late winter sunshine
Inspires flowers to burst forth.
"Spring comes!" they assert.
This weekend's retreat was unsurprisingly powerful and emotional. I felt very strongly supported by my Portland friends, something CK helped to remind me of by prompting some friends to send me very positive text messages on my way out to Great Vow, and by the Sangha there. Looking back at the weekend I can see the many ways the residents at Great Vow were supporting and helping me through a retreat I came to very reluctantly.
One thing I figured out that was good to learn are the times when my Critic is silent. That critical voice or sensation in my body is so often present that it feels like I am never with out it. However, when a Dharma sister from our Portland program and I agreed to talk about when it isn't there, since the conversation was shorter, she helped me to see two times when I am utterly free from this feeling.
Unsurprisingly cooking was one of those times. When I am engaged in preparing food there is no critical voice. I am merely present to the activity of my hands, the timing of the cooking, and the food I am transforming. When I serve a new dish to someone the voice comes back, but most of the time I'm pretty confident that what I've prepared will be delicious.
I also realized that when I teach yoga there is no Critic. Even if I am anxious or terribly upset right up until the very moment I begin a class, once I start to teach the voice goes away and I am present and alert. When I transmit the Lineage of Yoga there is no space for the Inner Critic. None.
It was good to connect with these two times when I am clear and free of my Inner Critic. Now I'm wondering when else it is gone!
In a few minutes I'm headed out to Great Vow for the weekend for the Transforming the Inner Critic workshop. People have assumed I've already done this workshop, but the truth is I've avoided it like a plague. I'm really very anxious.
It isn't helped that I made a rather big decision today about my life. It is a positive decision and for the best, but like any big decision it brings up a lot of worry. It really fires up the Inner Critic.
So off to engage my Inner Critic in the safe environs of Great Vow Zen Monastery. I dread crying. I already know I will be. I hate crying in front of people and I feel like I do it all the time at Great Vow if there is any kind of overnight stay involved. My therapist said she thinks I should try and come back having attained some compromise with my Inner Critic where I'm allowed to feel OK when crying.
Have my pictures packed and silly Buddha ATC someone sent me (bling-tastic, hilarious). I have snacks and CK made cookies last night. I even packed up some supplies for making some art myself. Ready as I'll ever be for this retreat.
Today was a pretty rich day. On one hand it was somewhat frazzled feeling. It also had these amazing moments in them to remind me to be grateful for and appreciate my life.
This morning I received deep reminder about how grateful I am for my ability to make wise, compassionate choices in my life, particularly in choosing to be vegan. The world is full of people who have very few choices, particularly about what food they it. If they eat. Those people are as far away as the other side of the world and as near as your neighborhood.
I dished up a very nice salad, made from vegetables donated by local markets, for people at Blanchet House, a shelter downtown. This is the second time my team at work has done this, volunteering to help serve meals at lunch, and I was struck again at my good fortune.
I am in my own home, in good health, employed, share my life with a loving partner, have sufficient income to pay my bills, travel, and choose what I want to eat. This connection today to people who are depending upon benefits for food and find that they run out of what they do get too quickly, or people who are homeless - people for whom these meals are a lifeline, they get what is served to everyone. Like oryoki, the people there might not choose to eat all that is served, but everyone is served the same food.
Several times throughout the day, especially when back at my desk eating my meal of steamed broccoli, grilled tofu, steamed buns & salad, how grateful I am. How precious it is to choose what to eat. It feels to me that it is so very precious a gift that it cannot be squandered on food that comes from the suffering of other sentient beings.
Cooking miso, udon soup for us for dinner was a joy. Making food often is joyful or grounding, or both. It is very meditative for me and tonight it was such a gift. To touch the vegetables, the pots and pans, appreciate the aroma of the dashi I'd made last night and the rich tang of the locally crafted miso. Again, so precious to choose compassionately.
Later at the Dharma center I had the chance to connect with someone about sesshin practice, painful childhoods, and Zen. Another chance for me to openly talk about being hurt and thriving in spite of it. I also acknowledged the tremendously painful parts of my sesshin last April. I was open and honest about these things and once again, to my surprise, I didn't explode. In fact there was connection and more gratitude. Positive reinforcement that telling is good.
And will all that gratitude I am off to a retreat this weekend with all-around amazing Zen scholar, artist, and translator, Kaz Tanahashi. My first event at Great Vow where speaking will be allowed and there will be art! Lessons in Zen calligraphy for the next three days. Another precious gift in my life.
Today CK and I checked out the Letterpress Printer's Fair this morning. It was a lot of fun and great to see a huge crowd of printing enthusiasts of ages there. I picked up a pack of awesome recipe cards which might be fun for giving away recipes to friends (some read, "Yum!" and others, "Eat me"). We both got to use an old press. CK carefully kept her piece untouched and I forgot so the ink got a bit smeary on mine.
Some lunch was had at Por Que No on Mississippi before we packed up the cookies CK had made and headed off to Great Vow Zen Monastery for the Jizo-Bon festival. Neither of us had been before and were looking forward to it a lot.
We made prayer flags and hung them in the Jizo garden. CK added a little drawing of Atari on the flag she made. I did a large tree in the center of Jizo's stamped all around the edges with the words, "May all beings be at ease."
Calling all you hungry hearts
Every where, in every time.
You who hunger, you who thirst
I offer you this Bodhi mind.
Out in the garden several of the monastery residents were playing the part of the "Hungry Ghosts". The wore dark costumes, capes, masks, had painted faces and some wigs of Crazy Hair on. They howled and sobbed from the woods. As we entered the garden we laughed in response to the silliness as well as the eerie quality of their wailing.
I felt tears spring to my eyes at more than one point as we made our way along the path. I recalled the weight of grief people leave in the garden during the Jizo ceremonies for those who have died, especially children. My own tokens for my step-dad and father, which by now have become part of the garden, and my cats, which still sparkle in the trees, are in this garden. When we came to the big tree, near to the Jizo that represents the childhood I was denied, we gathered around and enticed the "ghosts" to join us
We feed them popcorn as a representation of the spiritual food that can truly sustain us. Again, a mix of grief and hilarity. Shivers of memories coming up while watching Hogen dump popcorn out of an enormous bowl onto the head of a "ghost" howling in the leaves at his feet.
We coaxed the "ghosts" to join us in the zendo for the Ksitigarbha (the Indian name for Jizo) ceremony. Some of us taking a "ghost" by the hand to encourage them in, comfort them. The ghosts continued to shake, occasionally cry out and some tried hiding beneath the cushions. Eventually they settled. When the ceremony was over we went outside and set of some fireworks.
I commented to others afterward that watching the "ghosts" in the zendo was like seeing what my mind goes through in sesshin. The howling, crying, and desire to flee, or hide beneath the cushions, before eventually settling is what my mind processes through in one day, one sitting period sometimes, during retreat practice.
The 2007 Fall Ango Zen Community of Oregon reflected upon a teisho from my teachers' teacher, Maezumi Roshi. The particular teaching we studied was entitled, "Close the Gap Between Yourself and Yourself". Hogen suggested that I really look at how to cultivate pride and appreciation for my accomplishments.
It struck me as "pretty un-Zen" at the time. When I talked with GM about it during that Ango she said she wasn't surprised I didn't get it. One of the things she notes is an area that could use some improvement is my ability to really appreciate my accomplishments. I downplay my achievements all the time.
Really most of the time it doesn't feel like I'm doing anything extraordinary. It just feels like I'm chugging along, humming & drumming through each moment.
So I struggled with this topic and a few weeks into Ango I went back to Hogen and asked for help. It struck me as somewhat comical that I was asking my Zen teacher just how one goes about cultivating pride. He suggested that I consider the task of digging a 100 foot ditch, irrigation or some such thing. He said that when one is digging a really big ditch it is necessary to turn around after the first 5 feet and recognize the effort that has gone into that work. Not to just keep feeling overwhelmed by the 95 feet yet to be dug.
GW agreed that I spend most of my time worrying about the other 95 feet. CK, after she got to know me weighed in with her agreement of this assessment.
This spring for some reason I'm finally starting to get it. In most things in my life I've been a quick learner, adapting with speed to new things. Sometimes Zen makes me feel like a rather poky student.
My doctor, the same physician I've had for over 15 years, called me "skinny" when he saw me last month. He checked out my blood pressure & pulse statistics, shook his head and smiled. Maybe it is that his reactions are so candid, so human that it is finally sinking in that my weight loss is something unusual. There have also been friends and teachers who have been telling me again and again that the changes I've made in my life, have maintained in my life, are unique.
This takes me to the berry patch at Great Vow Zen Monastery. Last week at sesshin my work duty was out in the gardens. In particular, the berry patch where another retreatant and I had been asked to remove pepper cress. There was a lot of pepper cress, it is very successful at sending seeds spraying out in all directions. It seemed like an enormous task.
The first work period I just sat down at the far corner and started pulling pepper cress. By Friday I realized I'd cleared nearly half the berry patch! I stood up looking at the ground, cleared of the invasive weed (although it is edible). I nearly started to laugh as I stood there feeling a great deal of pride in what I'd finished. On Saturday my silent partner and I finished the last 3 feet in a great flurry of weed-pulling after the clean up bell had rung. We closed the gate, laughed together merrily, and I performed a small celebratory dance, waving my 5 gallon bucket in the air. We grinned at each other and continued to chuckle while emptying our buckets before heading back in for more zazen.
I still feel a little uncomfortable with this new sensation. But I can feel the way pride is good. That it is OK to look at something I finished and really let myself feel the accomplishment, the appreciation.
Uh, yeah, busy.
I've been reminded of my blog silence so here is something paltry to answer that silence.
There are boxes everywhere making what is left of the living room feel particularly cozy.
There is no longer an enormous fridge in the dining room. It has been moved to the garage, soon to appear on a CraigsList near you. I emptied piles of scary "once food" into the compost pile yesterday. This would appear to by "my" job since the site of decaying food makes CK flee the vicinity.
This also means you can once again appreciate the lovely arch between the living and dining rooms. I am very happy about this and ate my dinner on the floor last night in the space the old fridge once took up. Just because I could.
AM still has some loose ends to tie up. A pattern he and I have known in our relationship for a quite a long time. At least by stepping in to make sure I'm address my own anxiety around this alleviates some of those fears and regrets. Just making the effort to keep things moving and rolling up my sleeves (sometimes literally) to get the work done feels something like progress even amidst the chaos. It is an interesting challenge to my practice which makes me think about things much more carefully than I would have before in my life.
I went to sesshin last week. It was very, very hard. At times it was the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life. It was also beautiful, worthy and rewarding. I actually reached the "glad I went" stage pretty quickly from the "I'm glad I'm done" stage. I've already moved onto looking forward to August's sesshin, 'Grasses, Trees, and the Entire Earth'. There is a lot to process and write about on this, but the moving madness must take priority.
This arose out of a comment made by one of the Zen priests in my community during kinhin, or walking meditation, last night at the Dharma Center. He remarked upon the deliciousness of the sounds of kinhin in the zendo. Later that night CK remarked that kinhin at the Monastery, with the beautiful bamboo floors, that it sounds like a heartbeat.
And thus haiku arrises...
The sounds of kinhin --
Footsteps moving in rhythm.
The zendo's heartbeat.