Turning Back The Clock

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Last night most of the Western world gained an hour’s sleep. I woke to chatter of birds rather than the subtle sound of early morning darkness. I woke rested, which I needed, and spent most of the morning working on a new drawing. I haven’t made time for art in the last couple weeks and the simple fact of curling into my corner chair and spreading colored pencils across the teeny expanse of my desk (a scrap of chip board nailed to the wall of my caravan) felt nourishing in ways I can’t explain.

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This is a strange phenomenon I often undergo. An inability to devote time to things that support clarity of mind when I don’t understand what their purpose is other than that and when I don’t understand what it is about them that centers me. Like meandering walks in the woods and through the micro-villages speckled across our nearby hillsides. Until last Wednesday, I hadn’t taken a walk just to walk in months. Rambling amongst the old stone houses and mossy rocks, I let go of tensions and expectations I hadn’t even realized I was holding onto.

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Often in the Buddhist world, we talk about how the goal of meditation practice is not “peace.” It is the ability to rest with the nature of mind–be it calm, be it tempestuous, or be it otherwise. Because I’m not totally sure whether certain things fall into the “peace” category or the “nature of mind” category, I often hesitate to devote time to them, fearing I could be using my hours more wisely.

In one of my classes this week, we talked about the simple (but generally ignored in the daily unfolding of life) fact that death can arrive at any moment. It was a bit like the Buddhist version of the first time I heard the statistic about how many people die in car crashes every day, and all of a sudden I realized, “That could be me. Now.” It is easy to forget, it almost seems necessary to forget, in the moment-to-moment activity of being a person.

IMG_2385 And yet, when I forget this fact, I wind up trying to hold on to everything. All the information I might need in a day. All the tasks I could accomplish. All the wisdom I could develop. To forget that I can die, that I will die, that I might die today, is to believe that, instead of dying, I might be able to hang on to all of my interests, all of my dreams, and all of my desires with no end in sight. Which is heavy, that.

Which leads me to a place where–even when I am engaged in an activity that clearly counts as “productive,” like studying or working on planning for the kitchen–in my head I’m all over the place, trying to keep track of a million things at once, and often devoting half of my energy to agonizing over the fact that I might be failing to do so accurately.

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Sometimes, rationalizing what is good and why is not helpful. Sometimes, it’s just a trap, a way to keep running in circles, feeling like we are getting somewhere because we can’t see that the course only loops back on itself. Sometimes, our belief in the future becomes a reliance on the future, which then becomes a habit of putting aside activities that ground us in the present because we don’t know what value they purport for said imagined future.

It bothers me that I don’t know what art is for. It bother me that I can die, that I will die, that I might die today. And it also bothers me that I don’t really know how to integrate that information into the business of living. But since I can’t turn back the clock more than one hour a year, it seems the best approach is just to keep working on it for the time that I’ve got.

The Conditions For Blessing, Like Sweet And Savory Pumpkin Seed Brittle

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We’re learning a new practice. Compassion practice, but of a particular nature. Designed to be done together, done extensively and done in repetition over several days. We flipped from hours of organization to hours of spiritual apprenticeship. It’s a rich transition.

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During tonight’s study session of the text, Lama Puntso nut-shelled our objective like this,

“What allows us to receive blessing? It is the opening of the heart .”

For us, as Tibetan Buddhists, there are prayers, there are offerings, there are drums and candles and mantras recited many times and times again. There is the sense, the history, and the community of this practice. It is the story in its integrity that works. To take the enlightenment of the Buddha as example and train ourselves in the same nature, that of wisdom and understanding.

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It’s a complex story, but one that works. I have seen it in myself and in those around me. There is kindness here, and understanding that grows and grows. And at its base is this: to learn to see clearly and to open. Which is what blessing is after all, a connection with our own nature, which is fundamentally clear and open, just currently a bit confused.

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One of the fundamental tenets of Tibetan Buddhist practice is generosity. In that spirit, all ceremonies include offerings and one of the general propositions for life is to train ourselves to dedicate every experience of well-being for the benefit of all.

This pumpkin seed brittle is made for that. The spices are subtle; they add a richness, a mysterious depth that beguiles without inspiring thoughts about curry or the like. The salt balances perfectly the caramel and the totality of crunchy complex flavor engenders the wish to share with others and spread the goodness around, as far and wide as we can imagine. It will be on the offering plates in the temple tomorrow and is well worth putting on your plate too. Continue reading

Groups, Things That Grow, and Hazelnut Quince Financiers

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Phase two of massive planning meetings. This week has been spent in daily “ateliers,” sessions of group brainstorm and systematic formulation of ideas related to themes of importance for the center, so far: axes of development, organizational infrastructure, and human resources.

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These are good things. Things that are massively important to reflect on as Dhagpo enters a new stage of development ushered in by the completion of the Institute. And it’s absolutely incredibly to take part and to find myself in a community where all voices have space to be heard.

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Also, it’s really exhausting. Focusing intensely on issues of importance at the same time as navigating group communication, listening to others, and then distilling frequently dissident—respectful but irreversibly opposite—voices into an organized and comprehensible vision of said issue…erm, need I say more? I’m in starfish-on-a-rock mode, if you know what I mean. Relatively dried-out, flailing one arm in a weak attempt to work my way back to water.

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I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we all are. And I can only imagine how the members of the planning committee feel; they’ve been doing this for weeks and are spending twice as many hours a day doing it as the rest of us. And yet, no one’s really complaining. This is what it takes to move forward, to let things grow. Hard work, patience, and a commitment to staying reasonable, focused, and confident of the goal in the face of whatever obstacles may arise.

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I don’t know how others are handling it, but for my part, I’m taking time to cultivate softness around all of the agitation and exhaustion that can come up in this process. I spent yesterday evening by myself in the kitchen, chopping quinces and cracking hazelnuts, focusing on the resistance of batter against wooden spoon as I stirred, feeling grateful that even in moments when I don’t want to talk to anyone anymore, there are still ways to connect with those around me. To share sweetness and offer comfort, to lighten the mood and acknowledge togetherness, to raise an eyebrow to being mutually grateful and a little over it, all without saying a word.

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I am too tired to explain in detail what makes these little cakes so amazing. Basically they are great. Really, really. I almost never make a recipe twice, but ever so occasionally I find something so good that’s its crave-worthy and becomes a staple of my repertoire. This is that. The depth of the hazelnuts plus the tanginess of the quince. The moist, but slightly hefty crumb. Not too sweet, but enough that you’re satisfied that you’ve eaten dessert. Basically, I’m sold. Now I just have to stay at Dhagpo for the rest of my life so I can always have fresh hazelnuts and quinces right off the tree.

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To Reunite (And Not Without Cranberry Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies)

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This weekend marks the pause between two weeks of giant planning meetings at Dhagpo. The “Réunions d’automnes,” or autumn meetings, as it were. I’ve never enjoyed PowerPoint presentations so much as this last week. But when you fill a room with diverse, yet likeminded people devoted to a shared cause, and then spend three days straight, six hours a day, talking about how to further that cause…even PowerPoint takes on some vigor and joy. It also makes me giggle to see a room full of professional, well-educated people discussing infrastructure and finances, all the while sitting on the floor. With cushions, of course, but still. There’s a certain inherent humility there.IMG_2252

Is it dopey that I gush about management and organization? It blows my mind that I want to. To be so enamored of a place, of a vision, of a community, that I’m interested in PowerPoint and excited about Excel. Math makes me cringe, and yet I’m looking forward to reviewing the budget. I want to know everything about how this place works. I want to help it work. What are the blood and bones of building inspiration?

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That is what this community means to me. To be grounded and lifted at the same time. To talk about how the bills get paid, how the flowers get arranged, whether we’re really going to have lentils twice a week for the rest of our lives. If we’re doing our best, if we can do better, if we’re happy, if we need help. To be honest, to be supportive, to be critical when needed and with kindness.

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And then to exhale and let it all go for a moment. To sit under the stars and share a glass of something warming, toast a marshmallow over a candle, eat oatmeal cookies, and revel in the wonder of good people, good times, and good work.

These are my favorite twist on oatmeal raisins cookies. I typically make them at Christmas time, but we had a little regional dinner party, where everyone brought something from their neck of the woods, and it felt like the right time to break out the bag of cranberries I toted back from the States. This cookie dough is fairly simple and versatile. Bake them right after mixing for lacier cookies, or refrigerate for a couple hours to have thicker, chewier cookies. Bake for a few minutes more or less to have soft cookies or crispy edges or crispy cookies. Either way, you will have the perfect balance of toasty cinnamon, tangy cranberries, rich chocolate, with all the oat-y, caramel-y goodness of the traditional American “koo-kie” (as the French say).

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