Hibiscus Coriander Spelt Bread And Foregone Days

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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.

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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.

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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.

Recipe…

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Food And Meditation, The Mysteriously Good Match

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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.

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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.

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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). :)

At Ten-Thirty

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This is my human heart. It is essenceless, and me too, but that doesn’t keep it from beating inside me. This is me, at ten-thirty at night–bedtime if I were smarter and less attached to my attachments–listening to Shakey Graves and thinking about desire.

My friend Claire told me Tuesday, “It’s crazy, desire. I don’t even know what for.” And me neither. I get that. I mean, I could name a thousand things and the list would be unfinished to the nth degree.

A good night’s sleep-to be held close and tight-warm ocean water enveloping me-candle light in an empty room-dancing by myself for hours without having to wonder about whatever comes next… I want eternity, actually. I want the opposite of impermanence. I want the game of life and death and ignorance to stop for a minute here. I want to press pause and boogie in my underwear without there being any consequences.

But life ain’t like that. It’s all a big in-between. Or uncountable, indivisible little in-betweens. Every moment leads to another damn moment and whatever comes, I get to live, however I’m predisposed to live it. Most of the time, it ain’t like boogying in my underoos, that’s for sure. It’s not bad, either. Rich you know. Teaches me stuff, too. Which is the point of course. But it smacks of impermanence. That comes too fast for the good things and comes at a pace that only questionably qualifies as movement for the hard things.

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I had a conversation tonight that literally sent me reeling to the ground. It was surprising to see how much the body takes in. Facing some one talking at me loudly, not permitting me to respond, totally caught up in a fixed vision. The anger wasn’t directed at me, fortunately, but it still felt painful to absorb it all. I didn’t want to push back, but I didn’t know how to disengage the anger in front me, and probably I couldn’t have if I tried, and I didn’t know to finish the conversation and just walk away either (hard when some one won’t let you talk). I almost fainted, could feel my heartbeat slowing, and my vision getting dark.

What do you do, when you just don’t know how to be with reality? I can’t help but wonder if most of my activity is devoted to avoiding this knowledge. And yet, the whole purpose of a life in the dharma is to face that and learn to master it. I really hope it’s working. Otherwise, this life is major bogus. So that’s me, offering–and supplicating–the best I can, despite all my distraction and desire.

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And this is hibiscus fennel buns and a bowl of hummus, for girl’s brunch tomorrow. Which signifies, if you’re wondering, trying to keep connected with what is, in all its impermanent glory. Good things, hard things, mundane things, things I dunno how to handle. We gotst to keep on keepin’ on. Ain’t got no choice; might as well make this run count for something.

Oh, and hey, apologies for last week’s absence. Still adjusting to the new schedule of life with communications biz plus Bodhi Path study group, and occasional peeps who come to visit, and whatever else life can throw at me (let’s not talk about trying to pass my French driver’s license exam…these people are nuts for regulating minutiae. Effin’ socialists…). Anyhow, I’m trying to figure out this thing called discipline, but it’s um, a work in progress, if you know what I mean.

Why Do We Meditate?

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Here’s the text from the drawing, revised (sliced down) into something that makes sense on its own:

These are the things I have not managed to get out or get through otherwise.

I am feeling a lot and there’s space for that, but also,

I want to go beyond the limits of what I feel to what I understand.

What do I feel?

I feel desire.

I want confirmation that the way I am is okay.

Myself “my self” là ou j’en suis…/where I’m at

But most of all, what I want is this actually—to trust myself. For my trust in the refuge to be strong enough that all of this pain and fear and attachment would leave me.

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Is it comprehensible to say I feel like this? Blurrily staring down at my feet. Trying to figure out where I am, how I am, what I need. What we all need, actually. I want to know how to love. I want the desire to take somebody into my arms and hold them tight until we both lose our sense of self-and-other to be the will to care for every little last being until they are free from their beginningless suffering.

What’s the road between here and there? Can I get there in my socks?

Probably not. Probably I need some gnargnar boots with serious tread. And that my friends is a cracked analogy for why we meditate. Because the gnargnar boots and serious tread that get us the hell out of conditioned existence (i.e. everything that makes us go ouch) is meditation, and meditation works something like this: stability>clarity>discernment. From what I understand, discernment refined to its utmost is wisdom and ultimate wisdom is what we call liberation (i.e. no more ouch). Please don’t ask me to define these terms. I’m so not there yet. But I’m working on it.

That’s where all this nonsense comes from, actually.  Studies of a transcript by Jigme Rinpoche on why we meditate. The goal is understand it correctly, but right now we’re working through it as a group until we reach a consensus and what you’re reading is my tired-person-commentary. So please note that the above is strictly my interpretation, but if if any of that piques your interest maybe try somebody who actually knows.

If I sound a little bonkers, it’s just because it’s a lot to go looking at the path in its entirety. And also because right now I feel more like I’m wandering through this life in stocking feet than with a particularly solid pair of boots. But we can only go from where we are, and I don’t want to whine when I have the great fortune to have good guides, who are willing to help me find the right road, stocking feet and all.

My Hair And Other Topics: Change Through Appearance

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About my hair…I have a lot less of it now. If you’ve known me for a while, you know my hair means a lot to me. More as a tool than a vanity thing, though vanity, of course, plays a part. My hair is one of the main ways I process transitions in my life, those moments when I need to change something on the inside, and the easiest way to set things in motion is by making it show on the outside. When the change is visible, I’m more committed.

I’ve worked my way through everything from bicced bald to butt-length tresses. Dreadlocks and numerous shades of purple, pink, and red have also made appearances. After I shaved my head in 2008, I waited three-and-a-half years to feel like “myself” again because at that point in time me had uber-long, fairy-who-wandered-out-of-the-forest hair. I needed it. Those long locks helped me feel like things I needed to show were visible: that the world is too much sometimes, that though I am trying to get by in normal reality, daydreaming comes easier, that I’m definitely a bit bizarre and also probably more sensitive than average, that I believe in magic, and if you give me the chance, maybe I’ll enchant you.

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(Ahem…apologies to all the people I cropped out for this vanity project. Thanks to all the people who took these pics…Di, Reubs, Bettina, Tay, and thanks extra to my sis for being uncroppable). Anyway…

I lived a lot of years with all that hair or without it but feeling like it was a part of me. I don’t think it’s fair to be categorical about what it all meant, but in the process that led to cutting my hair, a few specific things about what it signified for me kept coming up. So we go from there. When I had long hair, I always felt that people were more inclined to take care of me. Maybe it has an element of little girl-ness to it. My long hair always made me feel a little like a princess from one of my childhood storybooks (they did pretty much all have seriously long locks). I got to be the main character and enchanting and the one you root for and all that, but, in the end, somebody else saves the day, and I just get to ride away on the white horse.

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Maybe this makes me sound more helpless or hapless than I probably am or hope to be, but in the background, I can’t help fighting the outer circumstances that make life hard. Yeah, I want to be a good person, and help others, and develop on the path, but there’s always this part of me fighting what is. Impermanence is such a bitch; it hurts, deep. I have always maintained the part of me that holds on to things I cannot keep. I recognize myself in what is beautiful, not necessarily because I am, though who knows, depends on the day–but because that is what seems good and right to me. I have been told and I have repeated that romantic nostalgia is my primary emotion. I have always been attached to feeling deeply, having big emotions, expressing them, and having them recognized.

So much of my identity as an artist up until recently was about this. So much anguish, but beautiful anguish. If you read enough of these blog archives, you will find certain recurring terms. Keening over moors, wailing like a banshee, feeling small and sorrowful, untamed.

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This is a choice I have always made about how to relate to the world: feeling like I don’t belong to it. Which, in a way, is a rebellion against the fact that its rules apply to me. This is the plot conceit in literature referred to as “man versus nature,” though in this case it’s more “girl versus the nature of reality.” It’s a good story. It’s compelling, with lots of juicy struggle.

But it’s also tiring. All of its resolutions depend on waiting for people and circumstances other than myself to change. Its rich, emotive drama is never-ending. And I…don’t want that anymore.

I think—I’m okay with not being so damn special. I’m okay with not having some kind of magical distance from the gritty, boring, real world, with not always being protected by my paintbrushes and poetry, my big emotions and ready tears, and my wave of a wall of long, long hair. I’m okay with everything I experience not being colored by some kind of profound, sweeping meaningfulness. I’m okay with just doing the hard work, dealing with mundane shit, and looking like a total ass because investing in anything and standing for it—people, projects, ideas—means giving everyone around you the opportunity to disagree with you and judge you. I’m okay with letting reality apply to me.

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Accepting that I am part of this reality seems like a necessary prerequisite for understanding it. And that’s the proposition, isn’t it? Accept the situation. Understand its roots. Realize that it is not permanent. Get free.

And in real terms, that means getting my shit in order and prioritizing. Is it more important to me to protect my vision of myself and the vision that others have of me or is it more important to let others see all of my weaknesses, biases, and failures, so that I can a) grow out of them, and b) get over the importance of myself and how I appear to others? Especially if maintaining this complex system of veils and appearances takes hours of my life that could otherwise be spent on…getting actual things done: anything—reading transcripts, having conversations, doing prostrations, ironing the Lama House couch covers, writing all this perplexing nonsense out for myself, so that I can make sense of it and also share it with you guys.

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And so. I cut my hair. And frankly, I’m thrilled. I still shed in the shower and I still sort of have to do my hair in the morning if I sleep on it too funny. But it’s sooo much easier. I feel it inside as much as outside. Yeah, I know. It’s just a step. I still probably spend the greater part of my time defending my sense of self and keeping up appearances, but at least I can (um…sometimes) admit that I’m doing it, and I have the inner conviction that comes from deciding I don’t want to keep digging myself into this same hole.

That conviction gives me a second of pause before I react when I feel threatened, or, when it’s too late for that, it gives me the perspective to realize when I’ve acted out of fear and self-preservation rather than looking at a situation as a whole. It also seems to slow down the falling-into-depression business because I’m committing to failure as part of the path instead of feeling like I have no power over it and am thus doomed. So that’s something.

Coincidence…or not? This week is Losar. The Lunar New Year. Six days of wrathful protector practice, two ritual fire offerings, the raising of new prayer flags on the hill, and the installation of a golden Kalachakra in front of the Institute, a symbol that represents the Buddha’s teaching across the three times, through the universe and through our own body. It is an auspicious time for change.

May our aspirations be granted—not by somebody else, but by ourselves, because we are committed to realizing them.