From this article about developing character and becoming “deeply good.”
Well, first off…cake because I promised y’all cake.
My birthday cake: hummingbird cake improvised with walnut goat cheese frosting, plus a cake for the other April gals at Dhagpo, dense almond cake layered with pastry cream and fig jam, enrobed in marzipan medallions, and of course a cake for the April gents as well, classic tiramisu composed in layer cake form. Sorry, not on top of my recipe recording at the moment…all of these things exist somewhere between the collection of butter-stained paper scraps on my windowsill and my brain, but they don’t yet exist in any shareable form. Eeps, pardon!
And then, welcome to California. Land of my youth, land of my creation and my formation. This is the Pacific Coast Highway, from behind the windshield, for ours is a land of automobiles and palm trees, winding coastal roads, and shifting coastal mists.
The dinosaur fountains at 3rd Street Promenade, which seem so much smaller now that I am bigger. Actually, everything seems smaller. I visited the house where I grew up, where my dad has retaken up residence. The garage that I recall as fathomless and dark and daunting, maybe the biggest room ever, is now…basically a normal two-car garage with some stuff in it.
The palm trees have retained their height, however. Their goofiness and nonchalance. The importance of everything, the color and life and cool self-obsession of this place shocks at first and then insidiously infiltrates my being so naturally that I almost don’t notice.
That everything should be beautiful seems like a given. That the temperature should always be pleasing, the light always golden, the ambiance always choreographed. Appearance in this place strikes me as ever so carefully manicured. We glamor ourselves into believing that all is well.
That we are evolving, advancing, improving. The food is all organic, natural, farm-fresh, gluten-free and yes, also delicious. The people are tan and smiling. The storefronts pierce your eyes and call you to with adoration: prosperity! allure! confidence! We’ll give you everything! We buy our clothes, our gadgets, our food, our films, our cars, to decide who we want to be.
It’s startling and exceedingly simple. I can’t get over how pleasant everything is. I feel I could lose myself in this place without a second glance back the way I came. Pick up where I left off, working on being another toned yogi with a health food mission, a creative purpose, and a really inspiring backstory. These are generally good things, but from where I stand today, they also seem like all-too-simple ways to fall back into the habit of trying to simply render everything in this life awesome, rather than also facing its capricious nature and committing to going beyond even the best of the appearances that we are capable of creating. After all, both the most inherent and the most cultivated beauty fade with time, each one like the other.
Fortunately, amidst all the glamour and temptation, there’s a few things to pull me back to earth. Little unexpected reminders. Amidst the crowd of laughing Buddhas on my grandmother’s bureau, a single, seated, Tibetan-style Buddha. And next to it, a grinning photo of me, circa 1996. Maybe even in her drifting state where past and present blend and future fades altogether, she still hangs on to the essential. She asked me about my life and said, “You like the people? Are you happy there? You’re so so lucky Jourdie.” Or maybe it’s a just a coincidence, the right coincidence for me today. Either way, she’s right.
And after all the rest, the people and excess and what we’ve made of this place, there is the place itself. California’s quirkiness is in its nature, as much as its inhabitants. Something about palm tree, prickly pears, and pale, pokey agave totally confirm that it’s hip to be weird.
Nature always reminds me of my own strangeness and smallness. And the nature here comforts me in that. I’m in it with the willets, and the goopy knots of kelp, and the sandcrabs scurrying under the effervescent bubbles of tide foam. It feels pretty okay to be odd in such good company.
So I wander through the iridescent sunset and wonder what I’ll take back with me to the humid, blessed woods of the Dordogne. How much essence and acceptance can I find? How much may I be lost in the glamor and temptation?
Joni said it best.
“California I’m coming home. Will you take me as I am?”
Welcome to springtime in the Dordogne. It’s bright. It’s wet. It’s moss on the column of my terrace, and I actually kind of like it.
Welcome to jokes on the community room white board. In case you’re wondering, that’s a potato. The jokes…well, they don’t make any sense in English, but I’ll give you the direct translation and then the meaning and if you can fit together the play on words in your own head, I bet you’ll get how it’s funny. It really is funny; I promise.
It’s better to have the potato than to be a potato.
It’s better to be a potato than to get a potato.
What it means:
It’s better to feel awesome than to be a potato.
It’s better to be a potato than to get hit in the face with one.
And then, next to all the judgmental potato commentary, Miss Potato, who says…
I’ve got the French fry!
What it means:
I feel awesome!
Basically, potatoes are really funny and the French like using food metaphors to say they’re in a good mood. I’ve got the potato/French fry/peach/banana are all ways to say one is feelin’ good.
It’s springtime, and I’m feelin’ good.
Good enough to whip out the whisk and resume some cake creation, which I haven’t fit in a lot of for the last couple months.
This isn’t exactly cake, but it could almost pass for one. It’s bread pudding baked in a cake pan and slathered with pastry cream pretending to be frosting. It is, dare I say it, a bit more reasonable than cake. It feels decadent without knocking you flat on your ass for the rest of the afternoon. I can’t necessarily say the same for the birthday cake I’m planning for myself, but you know, we can’t be reasonable all the time.
Fun fact: my Dhagpo anniversary and my birthday are only about a week part. So this week (well, last Tuesday and next Monday) I get to celebrate two years in the humid, mossy, blessed woods of the Dordogne and all the potato jokes I can handle as well as twenty-six years of life on this earth. Hooray!
Next time we chat, I’ll be writing from the good ol’ US of A, where I’m stopping in to say a hello to the people who made me. I’ll also be at the Santa Barbara Bodhi Path on Wednesday the 15th from 6-9 if you want to stop by for a bit of sitting and a cup of tea.
This morning we finished the accumulation of praises to Tara that I mentioned back in January when we began. When I wrote a friend back in February that things were busy, he joked back that it was no wonder, considering we were soliciting a meditation deity associated with activity and prompt reaction every darn morning.
Well, it’s been three months and they’ve been very active. In addition to all the studying and cleaning I’ve moaned about a bit, I also joined the web and communications team. Part of my role has been helping to start Dhagpo’s first blog, a chronicle of the events at the center related to our fortieth anniversary. And guess what, it exists in English too! Curious about what we’re up to? You can read along here. If you click on an article, you can switch the little country flag in the top right corner to read in English. We’re still working out a few kinks with the translation plug-ins, so the whole site isn’t available in English yet.
Working on web and comm business, I’m learning a lot lately about hard work that goes unseen. Most of time when we’re on the internet, things are streamlined and reliable. Typos and broken links are considered affronts, signs of people or organizations that don’t know what they’re doing.
Having spent the last week entering the new program into Dhagpo’s website, hand copying each course title and changing the dates in the website platform software, I’m starting to see how carefully created the online world is. I’ve been writing this blog for almost three years, and I basically just picked a layout and stuck with it. I never really took the time to explore the complexity behind it.
Joining the web and communications teams at the center shows me just one minute example of the hours of meticulous effort that go into making this place run. It starts me thinking of all the long and serious labors of love that people here carry out that never get noticed or acknowledged. Sometimes in a volunteer community, there are moments when I’ve asked myself or seen other people asking why something isn’t done (why isn’t the community fridge clean; why didn’t you write back to my e-mail, etc).
With a few exceptions for legal reasons (the cook and accountant mainly) nobody’s paid and we’re here because we want to be. Sometimes when we’re working extra hard to make a certain project happen or because it’s a busy time for one department or another, we tend to wonder what the heck everybody else is doing. Just barely poking my nose into a new department, I get the feeling that if we looked into details anywhere, we’d be amazed to see all the hard work and care that go into every aspect of what happens here.
When you care about something, there’s often a tendency to want to see it constantly improving and there can be impatience about the things that aren’t the way we want them. I see it all the time here: why is the logo a bit dated, why aren’t the electrical connections in the temple that cause occasionally blinky lights fixed yet, why isn’t there a lounge for course participants, why is the hill behind the Institute only partially landscaped? We have a tendency to think somebody must be slacking if things that seem important aren’t done. But I’m starting to think that nobody’s slacking. We’re all applying ourselves with loads of dedication and this is just what’s possible for the moment.
Sometimes, when I work hard and I just see lots more hard work ahead, the days feel foregone. It’s a long damn road. But then I remember that this is how most things get done in life. Not by magic or sudden cataclysim. By regular effort over long days or months or years. When I remind myself of that, I find there’s also something comforting in the rhythm; there’s a stability in hard work. I know that through my daily efforts I’m adding something to the world around me and developing endurance and resilience within myself. It’s a different kind of daily bread than the common sort, but just as nourishing if not more. And I’ve got actual daily bread to keep me going for the rest.
For kicks this week, I included hibiscus petals in my bread and found they add a subtle fruity kick to breakfast. I threw in some coriander for a little spice and brightness and used spelt flour because it’s gentler on the tummy. Nourishment for the long road; it’s a good thing.
A little musical nourishment, too…here’s my bread making and internet updating soundtrack for the evening. Clifton Hicks and Julie Chiles playing a cradling, twanging folk tune called Rocky Island. I’m a bluegrass nerd, if you didn’t know.
Sometimes it’s good to streamline. There’s a practice called Nyoung Nay that’s pretty much made for that. It’s two days plus an early morning at the shortest, and can go on for months if one is really dedicated and has the free time. It’s a practice that involves fasting, silence, and not drinking anything. Today is the first day of my mini-version Nyoung Nay. I’m still allowed to talk and drink water. The Buddha didn’t say anything about internet use, but I think it’d be a definite no-no for tomorrow, when the silence begins. Because even though typing and talking aren’t the same thing, it’s pretty much the same territory: focusing on the outer world instead of the inner one. So here’s a hello from the time when I can still talk.
This is a practice for when you need to be cradled, uplifted, challenged, thrown into the wind to see that you can fly. I’ve heard that people either love it or hate it. I love it.
This practice pulled me out of a gnarly winter depression and helped me start the springtime with something resembling confidence and good health. After my two-day experience last year I gave up eating dinner, which is part of the practice and also recommended as a general support for meditation practice. I never thought I’d be willing to give up one third of my daily boost of joy and comfort, but I found that this habit actually helps me balance my attachment to food with the awareness that what I eat has consequences for my body.
I still struggle with sugar cravings and cheese overdoses and chronic intestinal issues, but connecting food directly with my meditation practice makes me more vigilant about what I eat and more forgiving when I don’t take as much care as I’d like.
Meditation has also encouraged me to think of food as an offering, as something I offer myself directly, and something I offer others through wishing that they may have the nourishment and culinary joy that I am lucky to have. Also, this isn’t in any text I’ve ever read, but I know that what I eat affects my health and thus my mood, so in a way, each meal is also an offering to others in the sense that the more care I take of myself the better I am able to take care of others. And this can be extended to lots of things besides food.
The longterm goal of Buddhist practice is to attain enlightenment, but Jigme Rinpoche often reminds that it can also help a lot in the immediate. Sometimes it’s nice to accept that I’m allowed to feel better when feeling better is an option. Nyoung Nay practice helps cultivate that option.
If you ever have the chance to try it, it comes recommended. Talk soon (but not tomorrow). :)