May 30, 2008

All in the Head

The other day some people in my office were having a discussion, a small debate. I really didn’t care about the content of the discussion, but the tone in which one of the individuals spoke bothered me to no end. It’s gone around and around in my head to two days and has definitely colored my opinion of this person, even though they’ve never done anything to me and I’d never seem them do anything bad to anyone else. It was just the tone, and what it conveyed, such a strong opinion as clear as though the words were spoken even though they dare not be.

I have written diatribes in my mind about it, both in righteous indignation and friendly advice. I’m not going to write either version here. Instead, I’m thinking about why it bothers me so much, why I feel compelled to go on and on about it, even if only in my own head. Maybe if I had the guts to say something constructive…but I fear I have neither the courage nor the wisdom for that. So instead I just let it bug me and compose essays on the chalkboard of my brain. A good lesson in letting go, that.

So, I’m not even going to write about it, not really, not what I’ve been wanting to say for two days. That would be giving it power, giving it physical form, the very opposite of letting go. Instead, I’m going to mention that it was a good week.

My boss likes my work and so do I. I’m making good progress and learning all sorts of things. Did you know that even though gas prices quadrupled in the 70’s, people didn’t drive any less. Everyone blames the energy crises on the oil embargo, but years before there was an electricity shortage due to the proliferation of air conditioning. They could build and install air conditioners faster than they could build power plants and faster than they could dig the coal out of the ground. The Atomic Energy Agency actually stopped uranium enrichment in 1970 because the enrichment plants used coal and the power plants were running out. Crazy.

The BBC came to our office this week and did some filling as part of a bit about RMI. They filmed our carpet and our skylights and our waterless urinal. They were flying up to Snowmass the next day to interview the big chief. I wonder if the British like American accents as much as we like British accents?

I think that’s a much more useful thing to spend two days pondering, all things considering.

May 29, 2008

In the Moment

While I was in Milwaukee, I went to Walgreens to have two disposable cameras developed, intending to spend $6. A casual invitation to take a look around the interesting neighborhood surrounding the store turned into a two-house shopping trip. The end result was a $525 bill at a trendy little botique with a wonderfully outgoing owner for a grand total of two (count them: 2!) outfits.

So much for living in the present moment. :-)

May 27, 2008

Emotional Insulation

Sometimes I think I’m really lucky. For all the time I spent whining about being lonely just a few months ago, sometimes I think I’m really lucky to be chronically single. Sometimes I think I’m lucky to be “emotionally stunted” and “hopelessly introverted” as a friend of mine once called me.

I see other people after breakups and the various emotional relationship ordeals and I just can’t imagine myself ever getting that worked up. Not to say I’m always all that relaxed. I get upset, angry, sad, lonely to be sure. The worst I ever feel is when I’m frustrated, when I feel like I should be able to do something I can’t, learn something I just can’t wrap my head around. I want to cry, stomp my feet, scream and yell. The difference is, that doesn’t generally involve other people. I’m upset with myself and I usually go out of my way not to pass on my frustration or take it out on anyone.

Sometimes I think my introversion, my lack of reference point, provides me with a kind of insulation, a bizarre form of equanimity or objectivity (as much as any such thing exists). I have occasionally hypothesized that this very thing is also a hindrance to my ability to develop compassion. I wonder over the confluence between suffering, motivation, equanimity, and wisdom.

It seems like suffering creates the motivation to be free from suffering. Wisdom shows us the links between our own suffering and that of others. Seeing these links and knowing suffering creates compassion. Yet wisdom also tells me that equanimity is the means by which to exercise compassion and that ultimately equanimity – true equanimity, that which accepts all happenings with neither attachment nor aversion – leads to joy.

Just thoughts going around and around.

May 23, 2008

Shaking Up

I could get so into this – this neurotic behavior I’ve been noticing of late – consumerism, attention-seeking, self-interested behavior. It would be so easy just to fall right into those habits and pretend I don’t even know they exist.

Oh, well.

I like this having money thing. I bought a few necessities when I came to Boulder, some coat hooks, a clock radio, a curtain and curtain rod for my unfinished room, some moccasin boots. Okay, so the boots weren’t a necessity, but they were cheap (relatively) at a second hand store and I’ve been wishing for a pair for years. See how easy it is to justify consumerism? To look at the boots and see how happy they make me for that moment and not see the underlying causes? I’m actually looking forward to some shopping this weekend, at thrift stores and garage sales to see if I can pick up a real mattress and a small dresser or set of drawers. The real test will be the Boulder Arts Festival on Monday.

It’s not that I really guilt myself over my spending habits, or ever regret my purchases, which I certainly don’t. I just know that in the end these are things I don’t need which I buy purely because they make me happy. And deep down I know that buying things can’t really make me happy. I’d like to get to a place where I don’t even feel the urge. Wouldn’t that be nice?

I’m meeting a lot of new people lately and that brings out the needy in me, or at least I notice it more. I’m living with a wonderful lady named Anne. We chat in the evenings and sometimes I can make her laugh. Her whole face crinkles up and she gives this wonderful chuckle. I find myself wanting to make her laugh more often, but it’s not a pure intent. Whenever she laughs she confirms that I’m witty and smart and funny and I like that feeling, more so than I like taking joy in her laughter. I think it should be the other way around.

At work there has been much “So what do you do and where are you from and how do you like Boulder?” going back and forth. I get the impression a lot of people are being polite, but that’s probably because that’s what I am doing. It took me many years to learn to ask people questions about themselves and many more years to genuinely listen. The refuge of the school outcast is to stop caring about other people in hopes that you’ll stop caring what they think about you. It never really works, but it is a deep habit I have spent years trying to overcome.

I always feel like if they just know a little bit about me, maybe they’ll find me interesting. Maybe I’ll be interesting enough to be their friend, for them to want to get to know and invite out to things or come to events I have. There’s a level of desperation, of lost little girl, in that feeling which I don’t like. I’ve learned to balance conversations and on the whole I’m making friends. The people at work are bright, funny, active, and interesting.

Being in a new place keeps me on my toes. It helps me notice my behavior and all the things going on behind my eyes, underneath my smile. It helps me develop and find my habits. It alters my status quo and shifts my comfort zone. Maybe that’s why I like travel, why I like to live in different places. As much as I learn about other people, places, and cultures, I also learn about myself. Either way, I think this summer will be good for me here. It’s new, but not too new, not so new as to be a struggle.

Just the right amount of shaking up.

Different Drums

The Shambhala Center shares a corner with the United Methodist Church. The Christian Science Reading Room is across a flower filled plaza from The Crystal Dragon with its Bob Marley tapestries and blaring Beastie Boys music. Two people asked me about my protection cord today. Another man stopped me on the street as I came out of the Shambhala Center to ask what that building was. He told me I had a good business handshake.

The gentleman in the Tibetan carpet store wanted to know what lineage I had taken refuge with. From him I learned that you aren’t supposed to buy thangkas in stores. They are religious items, which should not be bought or sold. It is better to commission them directly from monks, and nuns I suppose, if nuns make thangkas, because the money goes to support the clergy. I can’t afford any of the rugs, but he was nice to talk to.

The lady at the Asian home store asked if I was going to see the Karmapa this weekend when he is in Boulder. The tickets have been sold out for months. I didn’t even learn of his visit until the other week when I was at the Milwaukee Shambhala Center. Last time I knew, he was still have trouble getting a visa to enter the United States. She gave me the number of a woman who was selling a ticket and I left a message. She had some lovely kimonos which were much cheaper than the rugs, but I can’t afford them either. She complimented the moccasins I had picked up at the Buffalo Exchange Thrift Store.

A young man at an outdoor cafĂ© told me “good morning” as I passed, and I suppose it was despite being six o’clock in the evening.

May 18, 2008

Back to Shambhala

Returning to Shambhala feels like I never left. Even with the little things which have changed - new flags in the dining hall, new faces in the kitchen, a new fence by the smoking section - it could be the day of August 22, 2007 and I never made that long drive back to Nebraska on the 21st. The bench I like to sit on in the courtyard is still there, under the ponderosa by the mail room. Ed is still a furry grey lump asleep in his bed next to the mail boxes and Tiger still comes right up to stake out a place on my lap.

It's so quiet here. I drove up the long highways from Boulder, through Longmont and Loveland and Fort Collins, they took the long way in up the Poudre Canyon with the Poudre River rushing beside me and the steep forested walls rising around me. I listed to NPR, even as I turned up the steep, winding dirt road from Rustic, but when I pulled into the parking lot, turned off the car and stepped out, it was like entering another dimension, suddenly and undeniably. The sun and wind and mountain were all that existed in that moment. Bright light, rising landscape, and a soft wind in the grass, the trees, making the prayer flags flutter and snap. No radio, no cars, no sound of people.

The straw cowboy hat came back out, to protect against the bright, high altitude sun. This morning it is in the fifties, but I dress like it is the seventies and bask in nature's original microwave oven. I hugged and helloed and smiled. I walked up to the stupa after lunch, then down to the pastures.

Some things have changed. Sylvan trusts me enough to bring the horses down by myself. When he got off work we saddled and bridled them and went for a two hour ride in the back country behind the Kami Shrine, National Forest Service Land. Magic and I struggled a bit, until we found each other's measure. He stopped tossing his head, chewing on the bit arm, and being lazy, and I stopped pulling on the reins and kicking him. I rode English which is so much more comfortable than a western saddle. That was more exercise than I've had in quite a while, but I hope it will become a regular thing.

Every time I come here, I think to myself "It would be so easy to stay. All I'd have to do is not go. It's be so easy..." Sometimes I don't know what it is that drives me to leave, ambition or ego or dissatisfaction. Yes, being here is easy, but it's not challenging. I'm not being challenged when I'm here - and I'm not challenging others. I feel like staying here would be compromising my plan to "save the world." I don't feel like here is the place I can make the greatest contribution - but is that just my ego talking? Maybe, but it's more than that too. So today I'll go back down to Boulder and tomorrow I'll go back to work and in three months I'll go back to school.

But I'll always come back here.

May 14, 2008

Being in Boulder

It’s my second full day in Boulder. I drove eight hours across the length of Nebraska on Monday with a car full of stuff. I made an immediate bad impression with Sugar, but hit it off with Anne. I started work on Tuesday at the Rocky Mountain Institute and today I dove into my special project Cooling the Warming, a book about how buildings impact climate change.

I like Boulder. It is a lovely little town. I am living in a cute neighborhood of tiny bungalows, cottages, and quiet slip-in apartments. I believe it is called Old North Boulder. I can walk down to Pearl Street, a up and coming district of renovation and new construction filled with cute little boutiques, trendy furniture stores, funky import shops, and fancy restaurants. The buildings are all close together and streets are lined with sidewalks and bike lanes. Lest you think this would result in a concrete jungle, there is greenery everywhere. Flowers and trees are growing and blooming, bushes and shrubs flourish, and obnoxious grass lawns are kept to sensible sizes.

There is a Target within walking distance, as well as all the standards, Applebee’s, Wendy’s, and Starbucks. But there are also cute little places called the Spicy Pickle, Red Fish, and Snarf’s. In the other direction is a smaller natural grocer, an integrative pharmacy, and a dozen more reasonably priced restaurants. People walk and bike and ride the bus and I have seen more Prius’ on the busy streets in the last two weeks than my entire time in Nebraska. Yesterday it rained, but you could tell which cars had come down from the high country by the three inches of snow on their roofs.

I work in a nice office, an airy space with skylights and a loft-like feel. I understand it began life as a motorcycle shop. I actually toured it a few years ago when it was home to Oz Architects, who subsequently donated the space to RMI. I work with a group of young, vibrant people about my age and a few seasoned experts to ride herd. RMI provides lunch in the form of the most beautifully stocked kitchen I have ever beheld. In three days I have eaten better than the three weeks prior.

This evening, while Anne was out, I took a chance and let Sugar out of her kennel. We coexisted on the couch, if not easily, then at least quietly. She regards me with her wary mismatched eyes, refusing to wag her mottled tail, but keeping her ears up and alert, not down and sullen like yesterday.

A close friend surprised me by coming down the night I arrived and walking down to Pearl with me to discover a fancy French restaurant and a good bottle of wine. Walking along my street, under the watchful gaze of mature trees, I can see the painted streetscape. Out from their sheltered branches, I can glimpse the vertical majesty of the Flatirons, so very close.

Yes, I think I will like it here.

May 11, 2008

Windhorse in Wisconsin

This is not Vajra land. This is Samadhi land. It holds its secrets close. Passing through, you might mistake it, think you know it, and never look into the smiling face of this land.

The rolling fields team with green grass over gentle swells, like small waves in a calm pool. Here are there brambles hide old rubble walls of stacked stone, now long fallen to ruin. These are not the sharp edged quarry stones, but smooth and rounded like river rock. It was no rushing river nor babbling brook which polished them so, but the millennial movement of glaciers, thousands of years ago. The glaciers carved and then polished this land, leaving gentle pockets of prairie amidst cool forested moraines, secret springs and seeps, and fens where the frogs sing the night into being.

Everywhere there are the signs of people – the old stone walls, barbed wire fences which long ago ceased to fence anything in or out, remainders of cut wood, a few stacked rocks marking a trail now long gone, wheel tracks across the dales, and clearings in the forest once again overgrown or blocked with deadfalls. The land slowly, and without fuss, reclaiming what always belonged to it.

Just so, happily and without fuss, it allows people to dwell here. People build houses and barns and outbuildings. They pave roads and erect telephone poles, set survey markers, and rebuild the wire fences. They till the soil and plant vegetables, and bring cattle and horses to range in the meadows. They brave harsh winters and hot summers and a lucky few might just begin to understand the secrets of the land, and find Samadhi here.

And the wind laughs at them. It has been here long before they came and will continue long after they have gone. It is a playful wind, now gentle, then strong. It is not a deafening wind, a drowning wind. Rather it delights in what it finds and carries sounds for miles – a car passing, the bark of a dog, a tractor tilling a field, a hammer on wood, birds calling, crickets and frogs.

Here and there, if you look for them, you can find an aspen grove. These are sacred trees – trees which have learned how to listen to the wind – trees which have learned how to watch the land with dark eyes on pale trunks – trees which have learned how to talk. Aspens never grow by themselves. One will never find a lone aspen tree, majestic on the crown of a hill. No, they grown in families and groups, along the seeps and swales, amidst the other trees.

In spring, there leaves come out as bright citron green, greener than the newest apple, touched with gold by the sunshine. Soon after they start to talk, rattling and rustling, like the very first wind chimes ever made. They hide among the other trees on the edges of the forest, where there is yet light to smile upon them.

Further into the darkened canopy, little white flowers grow, a single three petal blossom on the forest floor. Vines twist up from the ground, thick and branchlike, and ride the towering trees. Deadfalls clutter the ground. In places they seem to mark trails, all fallen together in one direction or another, twisting along the forest floor like driftwood washed up on the beach. Where the ground becomes muddy and water flows, giant cabbage like plants cover the shady ground, each blade like leaf larger than a lumberjack’s hand. Deer trails, their sharp prints deep in the soft earth, provide the only passage through such places. Birds and frogs and crickets abound and here a hair startles from its hiding place and a crow calls out overhead.

There should be others here. One can feel the ghosts of bears, wolves, cougars, moose, and elk walking beside, just out of the corner of the eye. They have long since been driven off by the people who now claim this land. It is a rich land and they should be here and perhaps they could one day again, when man has grown up and learned how to share.

Emerging from the protective enclave of trees, one feels the sun again, and the wind. Out on the open fields there is no shelter from its touch, now gentle in the warmth of spring, but once stinging in the grip of winter not long past and certainly not forgotten. On the hill, one can look out and see the land continuing on in gentle rolls and swells, here forest on the slopes and fens, their fields on the smoother open land. Here and there it is cut by roads and dotted with giant red barns, small yellow stone and brick houses, and tall blue silos.

And in one particular spot, a solemn weathered green Buddha sits, on blocks of wood, where red tulips grow, before a house with great south facing windows and a bright red door. Welcome to Windhorse.


I went walking in the late afternoon light, at that time when the sun is still warm and golden and the shadows long and lengthening. It is as though the sky winks at us, promising night’s mysteries soon at hand, but still smiling.

I walked in the forest, where the dark trunks made lines upon the blue sky and their shadows made lines upon the brown earth, at a time when spring has just touched the land and the trees still lay bare with promise. White flowers bloomed, three sharp green leaves, three soft white petals apiece, a single plant, perfection with a bowed head.

I followed a vanishing trail along the ridges and around the valleys. I came to the edge of the wood where a farm stood, greenhouse frames still empty, tilled earth rich and dark, barn and outbuildings bright, glowing red with shiny silver roofs. I heard children laughing and calling, a tractor growling, dogs barking. Then as the trail lost itself completely, I heard hooves pounding the earth. As my footsteps crunched in dry leaves and snapped dead twigs, from the edge of the forest two horses ran across their small pasture, flashes of black and gold through the trees.

I could see people now, small people and big people and four footed people trailing along in their wake, dogs and cats alike. A girl came running to the edge of the pasture, in a denim skirt and argyle socks in black and white and red. Her blonde hair was unbound. She squeezed through the fence and called out in the high voice of a child not yet a woman. Two sturdy ponies came to greet her. One was black with white markings on mane and tail, forehead and fetlock. He was content to follow her, happy in her running, laughing company. The other was buckskin and blonde, with shimmering mane and shaggy feet. He ran like the wind in the grass, around and around the other two, kicking his heals this way and that.

I stood in the forest and watched the girl running with the horses. I listed as other children called out and dogs barked and as the beat of hooves rang the earth. I was tall and thin and silent like the trees and I knew she did not know that I watched as she made magic. The horses knew, I think, in the ways that horses do. I stood watching in the stirring breeze and lowering sun and after a while I turned to go.

The girl still ran with the horses as I climbed the hill in the forest, the hill which would take me back to Windhorse.

May 01, 2008

Late Nights In Studio

It is quite possibly my last late night in studio. I have gotten bored of playing solitaire while waiting for the glue to dry. Actually, I got bored of that an hour ago, but kept playing anyway. In between moves I would check the glue, trim, cut, test fit, attach, glue, and wait for it to dry again. I'm almost done, but then I was almost done when I started.

It's a curious thing that studio becomes busier as the night wears on. I'm not sure its a good sign, but it builds a certain sense of camaraderie. In between their own work, people wander around, ask questions, offer help or gummy bears or chocolate. Music plays and people laugh and talk in between the occasional frustrated cursing. This is a graduate studio, so despite the workload no one has made a trip to the emergency room yet. It seems we have finally mastered our exacto blades.

So it fold down and it folds up, but it doesn't stand up. A minor technical detail. In the real world this could be mastered any number of ways. Hydraulic posts, pulleys, bolts which tighten down, springs, expanding cross bars, attachment to the ceiling. In a eight inch by six inch scale model, the options are more limited. But at least the object is complete. So with that I shall say adieu and good night.

Better building on the morrow.

DN Article - On Death

Inevitability of death leads to freer living

This brings my work with the Daily Nebraskan to a close. For this semester, anyway. I expect I shall be back in the fall, under the direction of a new editor. I will miss Chuck and his high fives.

I am looking forward to the wrap party!