July 31, 2007

Sad Story

So, I’m feeling mildly sorry for myself, sitting here counting down the days. Three weeks, more or less, is my time here. I was angry. I couldn’t determine why I was angry, only that I was. I’m still angry, but more sad now, a happy sad.

Part of me wants to leave today, just pack up and go, no goodbyes, just gone. Part of me wants to linger, wait until the last possible moment, hold the embrace.

I have said goodbye so many times before this. I have said hello just as many. Kaeru. I return. I have been here longer than ever before. Friendships go deeper, histories are stronger, saturated with life.

The part of me which is angry, rails against the unfairness. That I should find family here, where life is simple and easy, but not there. I look upon my life at home and I see loneliness. I see many nights spent at home with only my cat for company. I see many mornings working in an empty studio. I see the parties and the late nights and the goings on which everyone else is still sleeping off, not including me.

Yet, the squirrel of my mind, bored and idle for so long now, waits for the lush oak trees of my home. I am eager. I already work on my studio design project in my head. I am ready to learn. I look forward to my classes: Society & Culture in Architecture, Professional Practice, Design Studio, and Basic Equitation, my fun class. I want the challenge. I look forward to seeing the architecture library again, walking around campus and looking at the flowers, riding my bicycle, and shopping at the farmer’s market.

Why can these two disparate worlds not share the same space? Why does it always have to be one, but not the other? Bringing them together lasts such a short time.

I am happy. I have in my life the two things I crave most now, many strong friendships and many opportunities for intellectual growth. I can honesty say life is good. Dammit! That doesn’t seem to have a lot of impact on my desire for it to be better. Though, if I look deeper, I‘m sure I will see that it is already perfect.

This, too, is the suffering of attachment.

July 30, 2007


Listen as the wind blows
from across the great divide
Voices trapped in yearning
memories trapped in time
The night is my companion
and solitude my guide
Would I spend forever here
and not be satisfied

Am I in heaven here or
am I...
At the crossroads I am standing.

Winter's end
promises of a long lost friend.
Speaks to me of comfort

I’m wide awake and I can see the perfect sky is torn.

Thank you India
Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

The moment I let go of it was
The moment I got more than I could handle
The moment I jumped off of it was
The moment I touched down

And I would be the one
to hold you down
kiss you so hard
I'll take your breath away
and after I'd wipe away the tears
Just close your eyes dear

I will remember you
Will you remember me?

Through this world I've stumbled
so many times betrayed,
Trying to find an honest word,
to find the truth enslaved.

But I fear
I have nothing to give.
I have so much to loose here in this lonely place.
Tangled up in our embrace
There's nothing I'd like better than to fall.

Hold on
Hold on to yourself
for this is gonna hurt like hell.

Into this night I wander,
it's morning that I dread,
Another day of knowing of
the path I fear to tread,
Oh into the sea of waking dreams
I follow without pride,
Nothing stands between us here
and I won't be denied.

Hold on
Hold on to yourself.
You know that only time can tell
what is it in me that refuses to believe
this isn't easier than the real thing.

How about me not blaming you for everything
How about me enjoying the moment for once
How about no longer being masochistic
How about remembering your divinity
How about unabashedly bawling my eyes out

Thank you India
Thank you providence
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you nothingness
Thank you clarity
Thank you thank you silence

I’m wide awake and I can see that I am torn.

Weep not for the memory.

This post contains lyrics from Torn by Natalie Imbruglia, Fear, Possession, and Hold On by Sarah McLachlan, and Thank You by Alanis Morrisette.

July 28, 2007


Yesterday, I had to go into town for office supplies. Chlirissa went with me and we stopped at Panera for bagels to share with everyone today. After breakfast today, I went into the laundry room to find the laundry I had left in the dryer yesterday, taken out and neatly folded.

I love karma.

July 27, 2007

The Easier Path

Life is simpler here. Not painless or trouble-free, never that, but simpler. I have one job, one boss, one responsibility, one office. My home is so small it is practically maintenance free. I have so few possessions it is hard to loose track of or make a mess with them. Cleaning is scheduled a week in advance. I never have to worry about grocery shopping (except for my special coffee) or cooking or driving (if I don’t want to). When I go to a lecture or a movie or a party, I can walk home. I never have to worry about parking the car. I never have to worry about when I’ll have time to see my friends, because they are right there at every meal. I never lament the lack of Dharma teachings, because it is everywhere I look.

In less than a month, this will all go away. I will have four bosses again, four professors all making demands, and maybe a real boss at a paying job who will also want a piece of me. I will have a home to care for and keep clean, groceries to buy, food to cook, homework to do, schedules to manage, friends and family to visit. I will have to keep an eye on my car every day.

It would be so much easier to stay. I would enjoy my life here. I know this. Yet, I would never be able to help in the ways I know I can.

There are trade off’s, of course. I am getting addicted to the little adrenalin high I get on my nightly walk home, despite the fact that they have so far been bear and mountain lion free. When the wind blows, I don’t get a sound sleep. Waking up at four in the morning with the urge to use the toilet is never fun. Carrying my laundry half a mile every week isn’t so bad. Sometimes hardly eating anything for lunch because the kitchen decided to make curried tofu gets frustrating when it occurs more than one day in a row.

I like my little third floor condo in the heart of the city, with the view of the state capitol on its lush green lawn. I like to sit in the window in the morning and sip coffee from my own pot and watch the squirrels chase each other around the mighty oak trees. I love going to see movies in theaters with friends. I miss going to the bookstore on Friday nights with Mom & Dad, and teasing Spook, my mother’s old black cat. I miss my little noisy cat, Isis. I enjoy my classes and am looking forward to a studio project I can really sink my teeth into. I am anxious to continue my work with Emerging Green Builders. I actually miss being able to make my own ramen noodles.

Mostly though, I know my path. I know graduate school, an internship, an architect’s license, planner’s certification, and all the knowledge and experience and wisdom which comes with them will enable me to help people in ways I never could if I remained here.

Besides, I never could do anything the easy way.

July 26, 2007

Equanimity or Apathy

Do equanimity and compassion collide? Equanimity is “evenness of mind, especially under stress.” As mentioned before, compassion is “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress and a desire to alleviate it.” (Both according to Merriam Webster Online Dictionary.) When we truly feel others suffering it can affect us profoundly. The profound emotions which arise feed our desire to help those people. Yet, if our emotions remain balanced and stable, even in the face of the almost unbearable suffering of others, what then fuels our desire to help them?

Yesterday evening we watched Blood Diamond, which graphically depicts the atrocities of the civil war and blood diamond trade in Sierra Leon in 1999. Even as horrible as the depictions of the film were, they cannot compare to actual events. Women and children mutilated, raped, and murdered, boys turned into killers, addicted to drugs, others forced to work as slave laborers in the diamond mines, corporate greed, and exploitive journalism.

Yet, I feel nothing. Or something so close to nothing it might be labeled as such, a small sadness, a passing regret, easily displaced by the next moment in my own life. I have struggled with this question my entire life: is this equanimity or apathy?

A friend asked if I ever watched that television show “Intervention.” I told her no, because I was the kind of person who always felt very much in control of her own actions, thoughts, and feelings. I can’t relate to the out of control lifestyles of the people depicted on shows like that. I can understand it intellectually, medically, psychologically, but I cannot relate to it personally and I cannot empathize on any useful level. As a result, when I watch those shows there comes a point in time where I just want to yell “What’s wrong with you? Are you stupid?” Yet I know that urge comes from an entirely mistaken view on my own part. That is what’s wrong with me.

The same is true of movies like Blood Diamond. I have lived a good life, a safe life, for which I am thankful. I have no basis for the “sympathetic consciousness” which can give rise to a strong desire to alleviate suffering. My compassion is entirely intellectually based. Being an intellectual person, that is more than enough to drive me to takes some action, but is it enough to truly give as much as I could?

Marilyn’s death gave me a greater sense of compassion than any other event in my life. I am aware of the suffering of terminal illness, the pain of cancer, the mind numbing effects of drugs, the grief of loosing a friend, a mother. I can feel that deeply in my heart the way I have felt little else. And I can feel deeply for those people who experience similar situations in their lives.

Is my equanimity then a product of my experience, an inborn part of my nature, or is it merely apathy in disguise?

The New Found Online Life

I suppose the moral of the story is “You never know who might be a reporter, so be nice to everyone.” Though personally, I always liked the “everyone is your mother” idea, so I try to always be nice anyway.

I want to thank Matt with the New York Times for publishing the site to my blog in his article. It was rather a nice article, I think. I wish you all the best, Matt, on you travels toward Seattle and hope you return to see us some time. (Everyone does.)

I also want to thank all of you lovely people who have commented on my blog. I usually get one or two comments a week from some people I know personally. This morning when I logged in I had eleven comments to moderate. It is gratifying and a little bit intimidating. Thank you all for your lovely thought provoking comments and your support.

I have in the past tried to answer all comments. I will continue to try to do so, though it may take me a bit longer. I also encourage all of you to respond to each others comments. If this volume keeps up, I may change the comment settings on my blog so that they do not have to be moderated and self-publish, thereby not slowing down the pace of the discussion.

Again, thanks to all of you who are not reading and thinking and commenting and sitting.

July 24, 2007


“This....this isn't real?” Neo.

“What is real? How do you define real? If you're talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” Morpheus

“What is The Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer generated dream world, built to keep us under control…” Morpheus

My slogan card for the day, written by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, is "Reguard all dharmas as dreams." The lower case dharma denotes phenomena, rather than the upper case Dharma which is used to refer to the Buddha’s teaching, the Truth or Law of Buddhism.

This Law is not like the law which we as human beings make to regulate our societies and keep ourselves safe, but more like a Law of physics, existing indisputably (though we’ll argue about it anyway) whether we are aware of it or not. This lower case dharma is the phenomenal world, which obscures the upper case Dharma, the Laws of the Universe, so to speak. Even then, it is not the dharma which confuses, but our minds and our perceptions of it. Therefore, we must observe all phenomena as if we were in a dream, a place where our mind does not distinguish reality from delusion.

Even when were are aware of the existence of delusions, even with our malas of 108 beads to remind us of the 108 types of delusions from which humans suffer, we cannot always see the delusions. It is like knowing that air exists, but only noticing it occasionally, when a strong wind blows, when we change altitudes, when our throat closes off and we can’t breath, when our tires are flat. Then we notice the air, even though we can’t really see it, or pinpoint where or what it is, we at least know it is there.

Similarly we only notice our delusions when given specific cause. I notice them when my equanimity falters in the face of hormones. Or when a friend points out a gross assumption I have made in my continuing effort to connect the dots and make my world into a coherent picture. Or when I hear someone describing the atomic connections of our DNA and I realize we really don’t know anything about how life works, how we work. According to atomic theory, the entire universe is just atoms bumping into atoms bumping into atoms, which rules out any possibility of free will at all. Or is that idea just another delusion?

We like to think we are in control. I like to drive. When I was a teenager, I had reoccurring nightmares of being killed in an out of control car. I conquered this phobia by always being in control, always driving, never letting anyone besides my family and a few very close friends drive. Slowly I have come to realize those dreams are not premonitions, but reflections. When I am feeling particularly out of control of my life, pushed around by the system, by the universe, my dreams reflect that. But how much in control was I ever?

“Do you believe in fate, Neo?” Morpheus.

“No.” Neo.

“Why?” Morpheus.

“Because I don't like the idea that I'm not in control of my own life,” Neo.

The desire for control is based on two assumptions: a) that we need to control our lives, for safety, security, happiness, or any other reason, and b) that we can control our lives.

The question is: Does it matter?

July 20, 2007

The Long Lost Social Life

I’ve been in college for almost a decade now, in one form or another. There are certain stereotypes and expectations which one has for the college coed, expectations I have never particularly met, such as a social life. My social life at the University consists of green builders’ meetings, sangha meetings, women’s commission meetings, the occasional lunch with a friend between classes, and the very, very rare bar-hopping.

Therefore, it is somewhat surreal now, here, to be finding the kind of social life I was always supposed to have - intramural sports, sushi with friends, dates, movie theaters, girls’ night parties, keggers, barbeques, karaoke, cards, ice cream runs, coffee shop music, art galleries, hiking, Dharma talks, movie nights, dance parties, pouring over photographs, and sitting around talking about nothing and everything. I am finding here the sudden expansion of my heart and room for innumerable friends - friends who play academic balderdash, who like photography as much as I do, who ask serious questions and silly questions, friends with broken hearts and open hearts, beautiful minds and crazy wisdom, friends who like strange movies, borrow my stuff and loan me their stuff, friends who like Japanese food, mead, and good pizza, younger and older than myself, male and female (and androgynous), artists and nerds and good people all.

I am starting to understand there are things better than sleep. My precious, protected, sleep cannot compare to getting in at two in the morning after soccer, sushi, and Harry Potter with good friends, one of whom I only met moments before taking him with us. My much vaunted “best skill” can be sacrificed for a girls’ night of dancing, wine, chocolate, and coloring books, or a going away party with firelight, live guitar, and a moonlit horseback ride home. My bed can wait a little longer when I’m being dragged into a banquet, handed a glass of sake, and told to make myself at home. Curfew can be ignored (until the Kasung find us) when someone has new photographs to look through or an insight into the Dharma to explore.

Spending a night at home with a good book, curling up together to watch a movie, or taking an afternoon nap is still as beautiful as it always was. I like to sit quietly in the courtyard and watch the people go by or sleep in on a lazy Sunday morning. I look forward to those things more partly because I know that after I can wander down and find someone to go play pool with at the Pot Belly.

I wonder what I’ll do when I get home to Nebraska?

July 16, 2007


This morning, as I prepare to return to work, I know the exact location and composition of my sit-bones. I can thank Maggie for that, the lovely brown Morgan with two white socks above her rear hooves. Yesterday, as the sun set over the western ridge, we walked, trotted, and cantered the length of the broad northern vale and I learned how to lift myself in the trot and how to keep my seat in the canter. They are Sylvain’s horses and he continuously told me never to do more than I felt comfortable with. He gave me Maggie to ride, who is smart, easy, calm, and very well trained. She also likes to run, but responds very well to the inexperienced rider. I love horses. I never felt uncomfortable on her, in as much as I was never afraid, uncertain, nervous, or worried. My ankles ached, my abdominal muscles strained, and my sit-bones were definitely sending me messages (in verse!), but that kind of discomfort is a tiny passing thing. Would that I could take to people the way I take to fur-people.

Battina flew by on Magic, Maggie’s younger and larger Morgan/Fresian cousin. Maggie is perfect for me to learn about the physical aspects of horsewomanship from, but it is for her brother Magic whom I have an affinity. He is high spirited, though still well mannered as all of Sylvain’s horses are, but Magic is especially willful. You have to earn your right to control him, to decide where you’re going and how fast. When I rode him, he liked the joke of yanking his head sharply down and leaving me dangling over his neck before I could pull him back up. I could tell he was having fun, but I was gaining the upper hand. Each yank pulled me less far forward and met a quicker response. That is the kind of attitude I like to find in anyone, animal or human. I like the challenge of that will, not because I want to dominate, but because I want to earn the trust of an animal who is like me, who doesn’t trust anyone’s will but their own.

Sylvain stopped to check Midnight’s hoof, and stood for a moment, holding the big dark Morgan/Fresian’s neck. Midnight is a big horse, with feathers on his fetlocks from his Fresian ancestry. He looked like a pony with Sylvain’s big arms around his neck, he chin set on Midnight’s mane. Midnight was antsy, riding without his shoes, so we kept to the soft grasses and cool earth in the valleys and stayed away from rocky paths and roads. He has been left behind these last few weeks, to save his tender feet, as Maggie and Midnight stole the show. Today he got to be out and run with his herd, his family.

They are a family, not simply because they are related through their various mothers and fathers, but because they grew up together. When one of them is left behind, they whiny and call, pacing the length of their pasture to try to follow the others. You can see it in how they respond to and try to keep up with each other. Maggie is alpha, despite her smaller stature, the big sister of the three, and Magic and Midnight are rowdy young teenage boys. They bicker like a family, playfully pushing each other’s heads up out of the oats bucket so that they all get a share.

Their desire to always be together is what makes them a family.

No Self No Sangha

On Saturday evening, just after dinner, a caravan of cars came out of the shadowed mountains, heading down the highway towards the bright lights of the city. They converged on a single coffee shop in Olde Town where a woman sat at a old but well tuned upright piano. She sang and played with a soft passion and a strong fervor as the travelers lounged on soft couches, studied the paintings, or wandered the labyrinthine bookshelves tucked in the back. And when she stopped singing, she was greeted by loud applause, whistles, hoots, and calls of encouragement, for she is one of us.

Lilli Louis, late of New Orleans, Louisiana, performed at The Bean Cycle in Fort Collins and drew her own fan club with her. Lilli and Liz, her partner, have been here a few scant weeks, just like all of us. They plan to stay. I am convinced this is the enlightened society Chögyam Trungpa spoke of; a society in which we accept everyone and readily support them in whatever they do.

There on the shelves of The Matter Bookstore, tucked in the back of The Bean Cycle, I found Five Philosophers, the collected works of Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Kant, and James, published in 1962. I opened it randomly to find the previous owner had underlined sections lightly in pencil. (I love used books!) There she highlighted:

“It must be some one impression that gives rise to every real idea. But self or person is not any one impression, but that to which our several impressions and ideas are supposed to have a reference. If any impression gives rise to the idea of self, that impression must continue invariably the same through the whole course of our lives, since self is supposed to exist after that manner. But there is no impression constant and invariable.”- page 196. No self. David Hume’s got it going on!

There is a calligraphy framed and mounted in Elkhorn, the staff’s one refuge on the land, “The next Buddha will be a Sangha.” We are a sangha, but we are not a self. We must keep within us the idea that we are building an enlightened society not for ourselves, nor for our sangha, but for all. Just as there is the concept of No Self in Buddhism, so too is there No Sangha. If we allow ourselves to become set apart, we cannot fulfill our goal. We cannot destroy the notion of self by wrapping our identity within that of a larger group and we cannot save the world unless we save the entire world. (Sometimes, it sounds silly to speak of “saving the world,“ but when faced with an oath to work towards the liberation of all beings, I think silliness is a saving grace.)

When Lilli’s set ended, the group that had gathered in the coffee shop called out a rousing “Ki Ki So So Ashe Lha Gyelo Taksen Kyun Druk Dhy Arke!” Three times we chanted in support of Lilli, and it was rousing happiness. I chanted as well, swept up in the fun of it. And the coffee shop staff and other patrons looked on and shook their heads. To some degree, I believe this willingness to challenge others perceptions is good. They may see that we are different, strange even, but they cannot fail to see that we are happy. However, it brings a caution to my mind.

The Dalai Lama said: “…the embracing of a particular religion does not mean the rejection of another religion or one's own community. In fact, it is important that those who embrace a religion should not cut themselves off from their own society; they should continue to live within their own community and in harmony with its members. By escaping from your own community, you cannot benefit others, whereas benefiting others is actually the basic aim of religion.” The Dalai Lama’s Webpage

Let us be a community, but not a community apart.

July 14, 2007

Level Two

“When you live your life in accordance with basic goodness, then you develop natural elegance. Your life can be spacious and relaxed, without having to be sloppy. You can actually let go of your desperation and embarrassment about being a human being, and you can cheer up.” - Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chapter Ten.

How did he know that? How does he always know this stuff?

On Thursday morning I slept in. I didn’t have to work. I only had to be down by nine o’clock for the beginning for Shambhala Training Level II: Birth of the Warrior. I was prepared for two days of alternating between sitting and walking meditation, a few talks from a senior teacher, some additional meditation instruction, maybe a discussion group, and an aching back. I was not prepared to have fun. I was not prepared to enjoy myself.

This lineage is a marvelous thing. I don’t know how they know what they know or how they have managed to pass on what they know to so many, many people. I don’t know how these people know what to tell you, when to tell, and how to get you hang on when you feel like you are thumping your head against the wall. I don’t know how any of them had the faith to get even this far just based on the word of some strange Asian man with a funny accent, let alone the hundreds, thousands, it has taken to put the support system we now have in place so that skeptics like me can come this far.

I have been approaching my daily half hour of meditation as a chore. I was treating it like brushing my teeth or doing the dishes, just one more thing to check of my list every day. All I had to do was get through it. My intention was missing. It was a cyclical problem. Lack of motivation leads to a loss of intention which in turn feeds negative results and further diminishes motivation.

I can’t approach a training level like that. Twelve hours of meditation can’t simply be checked of the list like milk and bread. Moreover, if I truly intend to pursue this path, am I really going to go all the way through Level V just going through the motions? How stupid would that be? And what after that?

Meditation can not be a token gesture. Meditation brings mental stability which leads to insight. It cannot be forced. Stability cannot be gained through effort, only through willingness, sustained, repeatable willingness. That’s why there is “no point.”

The first morning I twisted in the wind, but it was a light breeze and I was otherwise calm. That afternoon I found giddiness (my “Bear” mind), and then a light hysteria. Not the screaming, panicking, running away waving arms panic, but the giggly, hilarious, totally inappropriate hysteria. “I wonder what would happen if I snapped her bra strap? Pinched his butt? Oooo, he took off his sweatshirt and that tank top is tight. I could just lick the back of his neck….Hehe, I wonder what she would do if I poured her water bottle on her? Wouldn’t it be cool if the magpie flew in through the open door?”

The second morning the rain cleared and we walked outside. Flagstone has such and interesting texture. It is fuzzy. In the afternoon they asked us to walk inside. There was irritation and annoyance to work with there. I have never walked that slowly! The room was thick. Then, like lightning it was over.

Jim Yensan was our teacher and he gave wonderful talks, answered questions, and growled at us, which only endeared him to me more. This was an all staff level, so our meditation instructors, umzes, coordinators, and assistant directors were all staff as well. We watched The Matrix as our evening “Dharma movie.” At our celebratory dinner we each had a “red pill” and “blue pill” (M&Ms) waiting for us on our plates. Tea snacks were filled with slightly edged laughter and barely contained energy.

My back does not hurt. I paced myself. Sit in my little rocker seat. Walk. Sit. Walk. Lie down on a zabutons on the floor with a couple of gomdens under my legs. Walk. Sit. Walk. Sit. Walk. Lie down. So on and so forth. I used my right foot falling asleep to keep myself awake. I decided this is not a good technique because, while effective, the feeling of the foot falling asleep and coming back awake is very intense and really only serves as a distraction, a kind of strange entertainment. I learned how to rock my neck every five or ten minutes to prevent it from stiffening, and how to fold, unfold, stretch, and refold my legs after I had decided not to let them fall asleep.

I didn’t figure it all out. I didn’t achieve any great epiphany. We talked about the cocoon of our habitual patterns, all those things which we use to protect ourselves from the world, to distort our view of the world into something safe. We talked about fear and going beyond fear, to fearlessness. We talked about the birth of the Warrior. And about red pills and blue pills and growling.

So passed Level II; it was because I was willing to let it be.

July 10, 2007

Meeting the Masters

So my meditation instructor told me to hang into and “lean into” that feeling of not wanting to be there during sitting. She said the easy thing part of sitting on the bench was just spacing out, not meditation because it wasn’t done with any intention. When I told her I constantly find myself thinking “I don’t get it. What’s the point?” she said there is no point and something about not being able to go into it looking for some specific goal.

If there is no point, how can there be an intention? If there is intention, shouldn’t it be an intention towards something? Doesn’t intention have to have a goal? A point? Can intention be pointless? If there’s no point to meditating, no goal, no benefits, then WHAT IS THE POINT?

I don’t understand what she means by “lean into” that feeling, but I didn’t ask for clarification because I figured if that was the best way she could describe it, I probably wasn’t going to understand what she was talking about. I’ll just keep on noticing when my mind starts rattling cage and see if that is what she meant. She said this time when my mind really starts to rebel can be a very fruitful period if I just stick with it.

It wasn’t the most helpful meditation instruction I have ever gotten, but I’ll do my best to follow her advice. Whatever it was.

Last night I also go to meet The Sakyong, the head of Shambhala International and the Dharma Heir for his father the Vidyahara, Chogyam Trungpa. He seemed tired. I know he has to be over forty, but he seems very young. We chatted briefly, but I didn’t sense any kind of connection.

The level of deference shown to him bothers me a bit. One lady, who has been in the sangha since his father’s time, even referred to him as “His Majesty.” Despite my liberal Buddhist tendencies, I’m still American and there is just something slightly creepy about that. He’s late for everything, too. I’m a punctual freak, I admit, but I tend to view tardiness as at best disrespectful and at worst dishonest. He seems like a nice enough fellow and I like his book Turning the Mind Into an Ally. I haven’t read his latest book, Ruling Your World, but I find the title a little off-putting.

I wonder if my own tiredness (I think I’m missing something in my diet here), my dissatisfaction with my meditation practice, and my financial difficulties (the saga continues) which are just making me less charitable towards everyone lately.

“All suffering, without exception, comes from the desire for happiness for oneself, while perfect Buddha hood is born from the desire to make others happy. This is why completely exchanging one’s happiness for that of others is a practice of the bodhisattva.” - His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Essential Teachings, p.52

He’s the Dalai Lama; he should know, right?

July 09, 2007

Sitting On My Ass

The Buddha said: “Truths cannot be acquired from words out of other people’s mouths. Before truths can be internalized, they must come from one’s own realization and practices. Through a lifetime of personal practice, human beings are capable of revealing all the secrets of the cosmic essence. You are your own best judge.”

So, people tell me this meditation thing is good. “Go sit!” they tell me. Even the Buddha tells me “Delight in meditation,” in the Dhammapada. People tell me it makes them more stable, more sane, more clear. Even scientists show links between meditation and cognitive function, attention span, and stress reduction. They tell me it is necessary to achieve enlightenment. They make dathün a prerequisite for seminary. Meditation is beneficial, they say.

I don’t get it. I have maintained a stronger sitting practice than ever before these past two months. I don’t see it. I don’t feel calmer, clearer, or more in touch with the present moment. Hell, I’m a raging intellectual for crying out loud. An intellectual is “given to study, reflection, speculation, and to the creative use of intellect, which is the power of knowing as distinguished from the power to feel and to will.” (Merriam-Webster Online) I keep studying, reflecting on, and speculating over meditation while in the mean time I am attempting to know the benefits experientially through practice. I don’t get it, and yet…

I commonly experience states which have been described to me as part of meditation practice, but not in sitting. One of my favorite spots here at the mountain center are the benches in front of the breezeway in the downtown courtyard. I like to just…sit. I watch the people come and go, when there are people, and the birds chase each other around, when there are birds, and the clouds drift by, when there are clouds. Sometimes I read, but mostly I just…sit. I don’t even particularly think. My arm stretched across the back of the bench, my coat behind me for padding, my foot swinging in a soft rhythm, eyes unfocused, breathing soft, I don’t pay attention to anything at all, not even my breath. It’s good. I feel calmer, clearer, and more in touch with the present moment.

I can sit like that for an hour or more. Sometimes before meals, sometimes after, sometimes in the middle of the afternoon, but never at any specific time for any specific reason. Things come and go, people, birds, cats, clouds, leaves, thoughts, but I don’t hang on to any of them. Sometimes I say hello and I smile, naturally, spontaneously, without thinking about it first. I like it. I do it a lot, naturally, not matter where I happen to be living, long before I had even heard of meditation. Ironic, huh?

But this formal stuff, I tell you! I’m not sure formal meditation is for me. I think it is the discipline. I never really took to schedules or routines, at least not those of other people’s making. I never liked doing anything just because someone else said I should. It didn’t work when I was five, so I don’t know why I think it should work now.

Plus the whole idea of dedicating a half our of my time to intentionally do nothing just bugs me. I could be doing something useful, like saving the world. I could be doing something fun, like reading a book, or napping, or talking with friends. Or sitting on the bench watching the world go by. Oy! It really all is in my head, eh?

In the staff shrine room for a half hour every day I fidget, I rage (mentally), I judge, analyze, tell stories, berate myself, tell myself to stop berating myself, I stretch my stiff neck, my aching back, my tingly feet, I fixate on tiny details of the clothing and hair of my fellow meditators, I whine, complain, giggle, sigh, fall asleep, and silently beg for the umze to ring the damn bell already. And I really don’t think its good for me.

I’m better at the physical act of sitting. I can go longer without fidgeting or adjusting my posture. I don’t avoid it as much as I used to. But I can say the same about brushing my teeth or doing the dishes. The difference is that I can clearly see how those things really are good for me to do. I have an interview with my meditation instructor tomorrow. I’ll see what she says. I am having serious doubts.

What’s so great about sitting on my ass?

July 05, 2007

Alone, And Not

I’ve never tried to write with someone else in the room before. It is proving to be a unique experience. I generally write when I am alone. Not always completely alone. I often write in my office, which is in the shop, with all its many comings and goings. Before I came here, I would often write in studio. While I share my studio with fourteen other students, I would usually be the only one there before noon on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday (unless someone was still asleep under the drafting tables from the night before). Sitting here now and trying to think, and being distracted by the quiet presence of David (who will probably read this later) working on his herd of Macs next to me, I realize just how often I am alone.

John just popped his head in. I remember now it was he who asked me, those many weeks ago, if I ever get lonely. The answer has not changed, I am not lonely. Being by myself, even being isolated, is normal, preferred even.

My boss (my eternal boss, though she is not my boss at this moment), Sandi, once explained to me a difference between an introvert and an extrovert is where they get their energy. Extroverts draw energy from their interactions with other people. They need these interactions in order to give their world context and meaning. Introverts draw energy from within themselves, and need to retreat from the world at large in order to recharge.

After many years of sharing a five bedroom house with anywhere from four to seven other people, I finally moved into my little condo when I went to school in Lincoln. I had been living with irritable bowel syndrome since I was a child, though I was only diagnosed and medicated when I was fourteen. I refilled my prescription, small white pills taken only as needed, religiously every month for ten years. After moving in August, I went two months between refills, then six. Finally it took a year for my last bottle to run out and I didn’t refill it.

I had always been told that IBS was stress related, but I never particularly considered myself stressed. I still don’t really. Though I am an introvert, I am still naturally very sensitive to others and will do my utmost to accommodate their needs at all times. Finally living on my own I realized that I had spent my entire life with a part of my consciousness always, eternally, vigilantly, unknowingly, silently dedicated to noticing the people around me. Suddenly, there was no one else to notice. It was just me, and my cat, Isis. I no longer had to worry about leaving my dishes in the sink, taking a shower at the wrong time, choosing a television show someone else just couldn’t stand, or cleaning up some else’s spilled juice in the refrigerator. I would never have thought the difference could be so profound.

Now, after having lived alone for three years, I come here. I need my prescription again, but I do not regret it, and after having it filled have used it far less than I feared. After having lived alone for three years, I have developed a desire for something I never sought when I lived in that big house: a relationship, close and long, with another person (preferable male, single, smart, and funny).

So now I sit here and write with someone else beside me and I am aware of that presence, every click of the mouse, every tap of the foot, and I am aware of my own presence, every type of the key, every pause, every song that comes up on the music player.

It’s not so bad.

July 04, 2007

The Look

I am constantly amazed at the high level of style found here at Shambhala Mountain Center. The irony of it is that when complimenting a nice shirt, skirt, vest, or a new set of curtains, more often than not the response is, “Oh, I got that in the Free Box.”

The Free Box, or during the summer, Free Tent, is the secret to dressing well. The population here is extremely transient. After having lived here for a bit, one comes to realize what one can live without and certainly travel without. Thus, the Free Box. It is also the final resting place for lost items if not claimed promptly.

Brightly colored sarongs and wrap pants and flowing skirts catch the breezes, and when the weather is chill, people wear them anyway, with jeans underneath. Molly works everyday on Land Crew, whether filling pot holes, shoveling compost, or planting flowers in one of several tiny, brightly patterned sundresses. Anzara glows in her bright flowing dressed and shaved head. Farradee always looks smashing in her tunic tops, big hoop earrings, and fabulous makeup. Joshua can make a Hawaiian shirt look like a tuxedo.

I have “dressed up” more since I have been here than the entire previous year. In “civilization” they air condition every building to within an inch of its life, so my shirts and nice blouses stay tucked away and only jeans and hoodies stave off pneumonia.

Today I dressed in my patterned black and white silk wrap around skirt, my black backless shirt, a burgundy scarf pulling my hair back under my new black fedora (the “piece de resistance”). Mark commented that my Shambhala look is now complete.

Chogyam Trungpa said in Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior,

“The way you comb your hair, the way you dress, the way you wash your dishes - all those activities are an extension of sanity; they are a way of connecting with reality.” - p.32

“Human dignity is not based on monetary wealth. Affluent people may spend a great deal of money making their homes luxurious, but they may be creating artificial luxury. Dignity comes from using your inherent human resources, by doing things with your own bare hands - on the spot, properly and beautifully. You can do that: even in the worst of the worst situations you can still make your life elegant.” -p.81

That makes sense, straight out sense. I can understand that. But then,

“For the warrior, clothing actually provides an armor of discipline, which wards of attacks from the setting-sun world. It is not that you hide behind your clothes because you are afraid to manifest yourself as a good warrior, but rather that, when you wear good, well-fit clothes, your clothing can both ward off casualness and invite tremendous dignity.

“Sometimes if your clothes fit you well, you feel that they are too tight. If you dress up, you may feel constricted by wearing a necktie or a suit or a tight fitting skirt or dress. The idea of invoking internal drala is not to in to the allure of casualness…You are tempted to take off your tie or your jacket or your shoes. Then you can hang out and put your feet on the table and act freely, hoping that your mind will act freely at the same time. But at that point your mind begins to dribble. It begins to leak, and garbage of all kinds comes into your mind…How you dress can actually invoke upliftedness and grace.” -p.112

So, you’re telling me that appearance really does matter? What happened to “never judge a book by its cover” and all those other things we tell children when they start to notice they look and dress differently from others? When they start to notice their big years, or nobby knees, or that their clothing isn’t the latest brand, the hundred dollar jeans, and they start to get teased. We always tell them beauty is on the inside and looks don’t matter.

So when I got to this part of the book, I chocked it up to Chogyam Trungpa admonishing the hippies. This was written in 1984, before “business casual,” before everyone wore jeans and T-shirts. But now…..I think maybe I see what he was getting at.

I feel better when I dress nicely. I feel like it is a way of putting myself out there for the world, not for vanity or to hear people tell me I look nice, but to say “It’s for you. I want to look nice for you. I want you to have a good opinion of me so that when you need help, I can be there for you, with no reservations.”

It also says “I am a good person. I respect myself. I love myself. I am confident.” I am uplifted.

So the skirt cost $10 in Chinatown NYC ten years ago, and the shirt was a $5 thrift shop find, and the scarf was 5 pounds at a tariff free shop in London eight years ago. The hat probably cost the most, $12 last week at the gift shop. Why does it matter? It doesn’t. When Chogyam Trungpa speaks of upliftedness and dressing nice, he doesn’t men dressing expensively. He just means wearing whatever we have with dignity, even if it is just jeans and a T-shirt. By dressing nice we practice, we get used to that uplifted feeling, and we learn to wear that instead, every day, every where we go.

That ‘Look’ comes from the inside.