June 29, 2006

The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, Which Liberates Upon Seeing.
Shambhala Mountain Center, Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, USA.
Taken May, 2006 by Monica.
(Mouse's eye view.)

June 28, 2006


Sandi went home early today. Sandi is my new boss at the Nebraska Rural Initiative. I like her because she is nice to me and is teaching me how to do research. She just finished her PhD in Human Sciences. She has pictures of her daughter and two grandkids in her office where I work.

I have known she was having health problems, having many doctor visits and tests. They don't know what it is. The nurse at her doctor's office left a message on her cell phone that they found a spot on her lung. I don't think Sandi appreciated her leaving something like that on a message. She left the office to call her doctor's office. She started crying when she got back. She dried her eyes and left for the day. She said she just wishes they could find out what it is so they could begin treating it. She is worried about her husband.

I feel ackward. I asked if she was okay to drive home. I thought about hugging her, but we don't know each other well, and I'm in no place to offer false reassurances even if I might have.

I don't know why exactly I feel ackward. Some of it is because I have compassion. I want to help Sandi, to make her feel better, but I don't know how. I don't have the wisdom to go with my compassion.

But I fear some of the ackwardness comes from the fact that I fear I don't have enough compassion. I don't share her pain and that bothers me. At least I feel I don't share her pain as fully as I should.

Does this stem from the fact that I have no similar experience? Or worse, is it I simply don't care? Is my compassion superficial? Something where I wish Sandi were happy only because it would make it easier on me?

Is such instrospection akin to selfishness?

By this merrit, may all obtain omnicience

From the stormy waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death

From the ocean of samsara

May I free all beings

June 27, 2006

Things I Find

I found craig’s list today. They have a haiku section, which makes me smile. What do you think?

Precariously eggs Balance in the door no more Sticky floor results

That happened on Friday.

June 26, 2006

Arches by Susan Lynn, watercolor.
Erosion by Susan Lynn, watercolor.

An Artful Weekend

Friday evening began with dinner at my place. I served cheese tortellini in alfredo sauce, tomato and pesto cream cheese brochette, and cooked spinach, raisin, and pine nut salad. I also drank my wine a little too quickly as I was warm and thirsty from cooking. I ended up giving the remainder of my glass to John to finish. After dinner, while I was packing up my laundry, Noreen joined me in the bedroom to cool down and Melissa shortly followed. Soon John was there as well, bragging that he was sharing a bed with two women. “This is going in my journal!”

The Comedy of Errors performed by the Flatwater Shakespeare Festival was quite good. It was a small theater in the old carriage house at Wyuka Cemetery. The stage was in the center, an area open to the sky, with three aisles of seating on both sides. It was the first time I have seen a Shakespearean play close enough to read the actors’ faces. They were quite good. I realized the woman who lives in the apartment above me played the courtesan. I laughed until my face hurt. Afterward, I rode back to Omaha with my friends, who dropped me off at my parents’ house.

On Saturday, I convinced my parents to come down to the Summer Arts Festival in the Old Market. It was rainy and cool, which was much preferable to the classic hot and humid of a Nebraska summer. I saw many wonderful things. I find it easier now to appreciate beauty without the need to posses it than I did before I began Buddhist practice. The most tempting of all were paintings by a watercolor artist from Kansas City, Susan Lynn. My mother bought a print from her. I enjoy the vivid colors, the simplicity, and the elegance of her paintings. My mother particularly enjoyed the subject mater, stating “Now this is a ‘country’ I can understand!” On her website, I later found some work she had done in Brooklyn.

Later, my friend Marilyn picked me up at my parents’ house and we went to dinner in her lovely little BMW convertible. That is a fun car! We met Noreen, Melissa, and John at a new restaurant called O! The walls are painted a deep red. I enjoy anyone bold enough to use such a color. Black and white architectural prints hung on the wall, including one of a garden Buddha. There was a water wall behind the bar, making me hope no one was too susceptible to the power of suggestion. The entrĂ©e was nothing special. They did make a wonderful orange martini which I shared with Noreen. Also, the chocolate torte was fabulous and highly recommended! Life is short – never leave out dessert! We shared the single dessert amongst the table, as is our habit. After, we went back to Marilyn’s house and Noreen trimmed Marilyn’s hair while we all sat out on her deck with her dog, Max.

I miss Marilyn sometimes because she can’t come to all the fun things we do. She has cancer, peritoneal meisothielioma, which is caused by asbestos exposure. While she is not on chemotherapy this summer, the tumors in her abdomen are painful and restrict her breathing. When she talks of dying, our friends give the standard optimistic reassurances. I don’t, knowing that she needs someone with whom she can talk strait, someone other than her doctor. We’ve talked about hospice arrangements, funeral arrangements, and how her kids (17, 19, & 21) are handling it. It is a hard thing to accept, but my practice has taught me that life is transitory and all things change. Marilyn handles it well and I only hope I can be as level headed when my time comes.

On Sunday, my parents took me back to Lincoln. We did some antiquing along the way. I found a very interesting set of green and gold china for a reasonable price, which I left. There was also a wonderful chest of drawers with drawers perfectly suited for quilt squares or scrap booking paper. It was also a good price, but again, it remained behind for some other lucky person to find. I have a feeling it will not be there long.

The weather has been cool, with rain and thunder off and on, and a nice breeze from the north. My apartment has cooled down nicely since Friday and I finally turned my air conditioning off last night. My cat, Isis, missed me and I missed her. I washed to dishes left from Friday and read my book, Wolf’s Head Wolf’s Heart by Jane Linskold. I thought much about the painting I saw at the art festival. I shall have to try some paintings of my own soon. I have been neglecting them lately, but now I find myself with time.

Now I have a new inspiration.

June 23, 2006

Turning the Mind into an Ally

I never considered my mind to be my enemy. My brother (the true technophile) just sent me a quote attached to his signature line: "I think that technologies are morally neutral until we apply them. It's only when we use them for good or for evil that they become good or evil." -William Gibson. I don't know who William Gibson is or was, but I think this statement applies to the mind. It is just a tool.

I am reading "Turning the Mind into an Ally" by Sakyong Miphan Rinpoche. It is very good. I can see much of myself in the chapters on boredom and laziness. Especially laziness.

People don't believe me when I say I'm lazy. I am a full time student and work two jobs. They don't realize what I'm really trying to do I escape my own laziness; to hold it at bay. I'm afraid that if I don't over-schedule my time, I'll spend it camped out on the couch doing nothing at all. Which I've proven over the last few weeks by spending my evenings reading and watching Friends and doing almost nothing else. If I make a commitment to other people, a teacher, a boss, a friend, my honor compels me to keep it.

Even then, I'm constantly searching for the ways to do things with least effort. I've never had a job in my entire life that was able to keep me occupied for all the hours I was there. I suppose that is where the boredom comes in. Sometimes there are things I could do, but simply can't compel myself to do. After all, if I do that now, what will I have to do tomorrow? Procrastinate, that's what. I probably shouldn't worry so much considering things do get accomplished. My bosses have good opinions of me, I get good grades, and I'm well known among my friends for always being early.

The Sakyong's book draws a very clear picture of the mental processes of boredom and laziness, of which I am intimately familiar. However, he also describes detailed remedies. He illustrates a clear view of what is at stake and describes how to practice right effort and maintain mindfulness. He never says it will be easy. There are no false reassurances here and I appreciate that.

It is hard, but when I dwell on exactly how hard it is, I feel myself falling into the mindset of a whiny child. Then my natural "get over yourself" instinct rises up and bitch slaps that child up the side of the head.

And the meditation continues.

June 22, 2006

Evening Plans

Tomorrow evening, some good friends are coming over for dinner. Then we are going to go see A Comedy of Errors being performed by the Flatwater Shakespeare Company. Tonight, I am going to pedal down to Open Harvest, our local food cooperative. I am cooking dinner. In the absence of meat, I hope cheese tortellini, spinach salad, tomato bruchette, and lemon cake will satisfy this group of carnivores. My friends have accepted my conversion to vegetarianism with good grace, but don't seem at all inclined to follow.

I often say I am a 'nominal' vegetarian. The truth is I am a vegetarian raised by a family with a long history of cattle ranching. I like meat. I love a good steak. I accept my omnivorous biology. I simply don't like killing. I also don't like the ecologic impact of modern cattle ranching in which acres of grain are used to fatten cattle in feedlots (where disease spreads more easily and necessitates the use of broad spectrum antibiotics) instead of being used to feed hungry people.

I am also an opportunist. When my grandmother (who says the word 'vegetarian' like it is a curse) makes pot roast, I eat pot roast. When we go to a steakhouse where even the salads include chicken, I eat chicken. However, I don't buy meat at the grocery store and I don't order it in restaurants where any feasible alternative exists. Despite this I usually end up eating meat about three of four times a month.

I never said I was a good vegetarian.


I don’t keep track of dates well, so I have to think back to events. I moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, in August 2004 just before beginning my firstyear at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Also that August, just beforemoving, I made my first trip to Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado. It was both better and worse than I had ever thought it could be. I loved the mountain center. I hated meditation.

Perhaps ‘hated’ is too strong a word, but I really really really didn’tlike it. I still don’t, to be truthful, but I am getting better. So why would someone keep doing something they really really really don’t like? Well, I didn’t, not for a long time, and even now only in fits and starts. Meditation is not one of my skills, but I am getting better. So why bother?

I figure it’s like sex. Many women, maybe even the majority, don’t have agood first sexual experience. If it is not outright bad, at least it isnothing good. (I got lucky, but many of my friends can’t say the same.) So why bother trying again? Because it feels good, really good. Obviously sex and meditation are different. They are both good indifferent ways. Meditation is good for the mind, and sex is good for, well…sex, I guess. It is not exactly the best analogy, but it is what comes to mind at the moment. I’ll explain why later.

I spent that first year in Lincoln working and attending school at theUniversity. Prior to that trip, I had spent quite a bit of time in the past year reading about Buddhism. Now my college studies consumed my time. I had been admitted into the College of Architecture professional program after having completed my pre-professional studies at a sister college, the University of Nebraska-Omaha. I took things a little differently, delaying my third year architectural design studio classes to finish a minor in Japanese while taking the third year structural and building systems classes. I think it was good thing in the end, since third year can be overwhelming to most architecture students, but it enhanced a sense of isolation, of separateness.

I needed a sense of belonging badly by the time I was able to return tothe mountain center. I found it in the set up crew. People, mostly young, come from all over to stay at the mountain center beginning during the first week of May. In exchange for room, board, and program credit they set up the hundreds of residential tents and dozens of large program tents over the course of five weeks. Many stay on for the entire summer, being hired by the center to work in various departments.

I think I learned a lot during those two weeks and I returned to Lincoln with a resolve to begin making new friends and start a real social life. That has worked to a greater of lesser degree. I have experienced more camaraderie and gone out more often, but I am still slightly set apart. It is something I am used to and will probably always experience. I am alittle older than most of my classmates, and often have a different mindset than your typical college student.

I started design studio in the fall of 2005, which is a hard experience to describe. All I will say now, is that you spend many sometimes frustrating hours in the same space with the same people, all being slowly driven mad by our professors. I felt for the first time a real need to get away from this place, these people. I used the credit I had earnedthe previous year to spend spring break at the mountain center.

It was a lovely time. It snowed almost every day, but it was a gentle white place. I was not part of a program or a crew. When asked what Iwas doing there, I simply answered “Nothing.” I made many friends, some new and some I’d met before. One in particular is Dickie (Richard), who saw me doing homework on my laptop in the dining hall. (There are no true vacations for architecture students, I’m afraid.) This sparked a conversation which has led to a strong friendship and new opportunities.

I was scheduled to return in May 2006 to work on the set up crew, but I was stolen by Dickie (with my enthusiastic permission) to work on a special project. I spend two and a half wonderful weeks hiking the length, breadth, and height of the seven hundred acre valley. I added new structures to the out of date map and created floor plans for cabins which had gone thirty some years without building permits, a fact the county hadrecently become aware of. Being built by hippies in the 1970’s, some of them were quite unique. Most had been made into lovely and cozy homes for the center’s staff. Luckily, the county is allowing them to stay, provided they are not dangerous and obtain building permits, for which a floor plan is required.

Before leaving and since returning, Dickie and I have been working to create a collaboration between SMC and the College of Architecture at UNL. Today, on the summer solstice, I learned SMC has approved the project and added it to the Expansion Department budget. It seems some kind of celebration should be in order, and while my coworkers dutifully congratulated me, it was still obvious that this was simply another one of Monica’s odd ideas. (Not that I mind. ‘Odd’ is a compliment in myfamily.) I find myself happy that this project is going forward, yet sad that I have so few to share it with you truly understand. I have been able to bring together two of the greatest loves of my life: Buddhism and Architecture; Shambhala Mountain Center and the University ofNebraska-Lincoln.

It is hard being a Buddhist in Nebraska.