Study Days and Celery Root Snack Cake

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We’re two weeks into the second of two study retreats. It makes for busy days with much to reflect on. I’m using the time to ruminate on both the philosophical groundings of the life I’ve chosen, as well as the practical approach to facing situations where my vision or my style of communication feel at odds with the people around me. This is how we expand our sense of self until it is so vast that it evaporates. That’s the plan anyway.

I give you two quotes and one cake that colored the days of my last week.

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Before he left this world, the Buddha said this to his followers,

“Be attentive; take care to this: all phenomena are impermanent.

All that appears based on cause and condition is by nature impermanent. Whatever the phenomena, all that we acquire, all that appears, everything, finishes by coming apart, exhausting itself. All things eventually run out; sooner or later they fall to dust. All that is united finishes by coming apart. Even the greatest love, the closest relationship, sooner or later separates. All that is living finishes in death.”

Though this reflection is painful, its truth can carry us through both the deepest and most minor losses, for they could never be otherwise. All will one day be lost; we must then let it go.

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Yesterday we had a meeting with Jigme Rinpoche, the spiritual guide of the center, about the future direction of Dhagpo. He told us this,

“When we see what we want to obtain, this allows us to choose a path and make a commitment.”

I want to obtain the deepest understanding, the greatest love, and the capacity to aid beings. For that, I choose the path of practice, be it on the cushion or in the kitchen, developing confidence in enlightenment or in everyday life.

I have been taught that even the smallest act may yield the greatest result if the intention is pure. Mine’s not yet, but I’m working on it. Here’s to baking with loving-kindness.

As for the recipe, this was an experiment born from my deep love of carrot cake mixed with interminable curiosity regarding ingredient substitutions. The result was rather polarizing. Three-quarters a room full of people found this cake subtle and complex, an unexpected wonder. The other quarter thought it tasted like the ocean and this was weird and unpleasant. As far as tasting notes go, the flavor of this cake is the magical fifth taste discovered in Japan and called umami. The other four are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter, if you were wondering. Umami is a kind of richness that’s vaguely earthly with herbal tones. If you’re a traditionalist and you like dessert that tastes like dessert, better to wait for next time. If your tastebuds appreciate novelty and you’re a fan of sweet-savory combos, then this is for you.

Recipe…

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Rolling Rocks And Sympathy

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I am sitting on a bench trying to find words. I’ve made a lot of mistakes lately. Said the wrong thing; not said a thing; not known the right thing to say or just not wanted to say it. And then seen the ill created around me for all the times I do not know or cannot do what is right.

I feel like an ill wind, and a bit untrustworthy. But if I cannot trust myself, then where is stable ground? I have heard people say that Dharma pulls the rug out from under your feet, and from what I’ve seen that’s true. But this isn’t a cute philosophical crisis; this is the business of everyday life. I can deal with losing the cushioning but I’m not ready to be groundless; I need at least a hard wood floor.

In case it is not clear what I’m talking about–and I imagine that it’s not–I’m talking about limits. I’m talking about the places where kindness and patience run out, but where they run out so fast that you don’t even notice that they’re gone, and you just reactreactreact.

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In a concrete sense, I am talking about things like grocery lists gone wrong and unplanned menu changes and finding some one to do the dishes when you thought you had clarified the issue the day before and before and before, but still, no. I am talking about money spent and time wasted, or perhaps not, and all of the hard edges that come from feeling like you are pushing a rock up a hill that will just roll down when you are finished, but oh also, you will never be finished. And that sentiment without even the peace of a stable task on which to rest your mind. Like rolling ten rocks up a landslide at the same while it hales and marmots bite your ankles and some one wants to know where the scissors are and something smells like it’s burning and meanwhile you are supposed to be graceful because you are doing this for all sentient beings and also your esteemed teacher is having tea in the next room.

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Will you do me a favor, friends? Don’t give me sympathy. Lately sympathy just turns to self-pity, to the idea that it is that hard, and it will get better, and this situation is the struggle. But you know what? From what I understand, the situation is a bitch. People are independent and think differently and put ourselves first even when we try not to because half the time we don’t even realize we’re doing it. This is the bitch we call Samsara.

Maybe things could be easier for me than they are at the Maison des Lamas, but I am so tired of thinking I’ll someday not be tired and becoming hard and wishing for things to be different that I don’t want to keep wanting easier circumstances. I want the capacity to no longer see hardship as difficulty. I know I’m not there yet, and I know I’m going to need a hell of a lot more sympathy before I get there, but for today, I need that kindness to come from inside. Because right now I just turn everything else to righteousness, and I want no more of that.

Wacky Mexican Cake, Maximum Study Time, And A New Drawing Series

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Today is a day of pause. The morning rose grey blue and fog-covered. I call it “brumineux,” a mix of the French words for luminous and foggy. I am listening to The Oh Hellos and trying to think what I could tell of this week, this world, and what things of use have come my way.

The center closes to the public for five weeks starting tomorrow, so that we, the folks that run this place, can get edjumucated. So that when you come here we can tell you not just what times meals are and where to park your car, but also maybe some useful things about um, you know, the Dharma or something. And also so that we have the opportunity to benefit from the teachings and development we generally devote our time to make available to others.

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We started classes this past week. It is both elevating and, erm, hardcore. The topic of last week was suffering. How it happens, why it happens, that’s it is all around us even when we aren’t paying attention to us. Chew on that. Also how to get out of it, fortunately (Yay!). Which is to understand that the self is an illusion and permanence is an illusion. Which I am barely just beginning to have a useful conception of, but if you have questions, go ask a Lama because I am just not there yet. Maybe one day.

In the meantime, I am busy between class sessions cooking for Khenpo Rinpoche, our adorable and unimaginable wise teacher, and also squeezing in moments to make cake and chicken soup for my leetle Dharma family, the members of which have been both having birthdays and getting sick a lot lately. (The Buddha said something about aging and sickness didn’t he? Maybe he was onto something there…).

IMG_0799So right, cake and pictures.

Cake: this is wacky cake, a one-bowl, no eggs, no dairy chocolate deliciousness. It is Mexican because there is cinnamon, chili, and coconut frosting involved. I made it for the birthday of a wacky Mexican, so it basically couldn’t be more perfect. It’s simple to make, complex in flavor and surprising without tasting weird.

Pictures: I’ve begun doing one a day, roughly, just to keep me drawing. Because I think I’m funny, I call the series “Valeurs Journalières Recommandées,” which is French for Recommended Daily Values. Each image is a drawing and caption of a thing I’m wishing for each day. Not all are things that would be nourishing them, but expressing them is. Here you see, “to calm down a bit,” (still suffering from that old hag insomnia, but better days/nights seem to be slowly arriving), and “to have care for all beings like that of Khenpo Rinpoche” because his care for beings is boundless and gentle and full of humor, and that, my friends, does a being good. I can testify.

Recipe follows…

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In The Silence, There Is Noise

Happy New Year. Sorry for a bit of radio silence there.

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This is how my brain feels. Blurry, and a little dark in the haze of the New Year, yet lit by a persistent sun. I am eighteen days jet-lagged, and I feel like shit, as I have for eighteen days, and I am tired of it. I want things to change. I want people to change. I want to feel better. I want to be better.

I’ll tell you what, it’s exhausting to be exhausted. I highly recommend against two-way, nine-hour time changes, coupled with family Christmas, major event planning, and the New Year, in a two-week time period. But then again, maybe I will recommend it, but with a fat #beforewarned.

The thing about true exhaustion is that it doesn’t let up. When you have no energy left–you don’t know what time it is, what country you’re in, or what language to speak, and your whole body is shaking from the confusion–and you still have to keep going; well, you can learn a lot about what goes on underneath the daily trill of who you think you are. Where you hang your hopes, where you seek respite, where you place blame. You can get all wrapped-up in a deep artistic righteousness or even a deep artistic altruism. You can overflow with love and overflow with need. You can set yourself apart and you can melt into a group. You can wish with all your heart that all of your recourse will free you from having to do it all again the next day and the next day and the next day.

But it won’t. Because this is life. And it’s exhausting. All the time, even if the toll becomes more notable when travel makes you lose your sense of time. But it’s also okay. Because it’s rich. And it strengthens us. And softens us. And makes us ready to be here. All the time. Because we are here, all the time.

IMG_0786Happy 2014, kids. I wish you…a New Year full of wisdom.