Cats In Trees, Moons, Leaky Ceilings, And Choices

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This is a picture of a cat in a tree, taken by my love at twilight yesterday, in a friend’s garden.

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This is me on a swingset, same twilight, same garden.

Last week marked the beginning of downtime at Dhagpo. The period of the year when paperwork gets done, when it’s not a crisis to come down with a cold, and when you can take a day at home (occasionally, if truly needed) and only venture out to pick up the kid in the evening from a friend’s house and snap a couple kitten shots in the process.

Life isn’t a pressure cooker like it is in the summer time. It’s more like endives braising on the simmer burner; the heat rises slowly so you almost don’t notice, but every once in a while a bittersweet smell floats through the room. It’s the time of year when all the work you haven’t done because you were busy running around taking care of urgent things comes back to the surface. When all the inconsistencies and ambiguities that the overbooked-ness of summer allows for start to suddenly seem a lot more uncomfortable, simply because you have the space to notice them.

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The full moon (taken with a flash, thus the disco-Kandisky effect) probably doesn’t help. Sometimes it seems like everyone is asking for clarity and nobody knows how to furnish it. Me first, of course.

I started my morning with the discovery of a two-meter long fissure in the Lama House ceiling, from which a parade of water drops was permeating the dining room table, the seat cushions, the carpet, the old parquet floor. Fortunately, the source of the leak is easily fixable (a broken part in a toilet reservoir); remains to be seen if the same is true of the ceiling (this is my makeshift leak solution–post chair and carpet removal).

photo 4I had planned this morning as a comm department day–for tying up loose ends of old articles on Dhagpo’s blog and getting on schedule with new ones. Suffice to say the ceiling took the lead in the list of priorities. In the meantime, got some news about developments in the comm department. It’s funny, or maybe not that funny, how somebody just asking for a clear description of what I can and cannot do feels like an ultimatum (especially when it comes in the form of a mile-long official e-mail). I kind of just want to say, “I’m trying to do everything that needs to be done, but sometimes the ceiling starts to leak, or the sheets needs to be rematched, or my team, who have patiently gone four months without a regular monthly meeting, sends me a polite e-mail proposing we all have tea.”

And I have to ask myself why it feels like an ultimatum. We’re volunteers after all; we’re here because we choose to be and not because some one makes us or pays us or threatens our kids. Maybe it’s just the other person’s stress seeping through the computer screen in their typed-out words. Or maybe it’s me, realizing I’ve spent nine months investing in an idea and projecting an idea of what I can do that doesn’t match up with what I can actually do. Or what I want to do, after all. Or also what seems right to do. In any case, ain’t nothing worse than a good dose of self-awareness.

So I’m trying to get clear and get calm and get on board with the changes. Be gentle and patient and not whine too much. It’s just that the ceiling is leaking. And I stepped in the puddle, so now my socks are wet. And it’s the full moon and I feel like a cat in tree who got herself up but isn’t sure how to get down or even how far down she needs to go.

It’s not, um, very comfortable. But I think it’s probably the best place to be. The moments when you’re stuck, and all you can do is look, are also the moments when you maybe start to see something clearly. So if you need me, I’ll be busy working my way around this tree.

Meow.

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The Rhythm of Reflection

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Today we went for a walk in the woods. Something I used to do all the time when I lived near the mountains in the US, and something I’ve done only rarely since moving to France. I mean, I live in the woods, so I guess I technically walk in the woods just going from place to place, but going for an actual hike is a rare occurrence. It’s a Sunday thing, to fill up mind and body with green freshness before the week starts.

Tomorrow regular Dhagpo life starts again. The last two weeks have been a different kind of rhythm, two different kinds of rhythm, actually. The first week, we spent in retreat, studying a teaching Karmapa gave here this summer and practicing together throughout the day. The center was closed and we were focused on the meaning of what we do; it felt like a proper vacation in that for a whole week, I just got to relax: enjoy my friends, enjoy meditation, enjoy the teachings…chill out. We closed it out with big group dinner (including this pear cake with butterscotch frosting), and then, the second week came.

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Hours of meetings a day to define what our department is about, how it contributes to communicating Dhagpo’s values and cultivating resources for the center’s activity, and what other department it would be good to work with in order to further these missions. It’s rich business, this reflection, but holy smokes it’s exhausting.

Of course the whole idea was to start with a basis in the meaning of our efforts here and then bring that into the practical sphere. And it worked; our discussions came back much more often to how our activity demands and teachings patience and to the importance of connecting the hard parts with what it can develop for the community, rather than resting simply in the sphere of goals and difficulties. That said, in terms of my own responsibilities, I couldn’t help but see all the things I feel I’m supposed to accomplish face-to-face with all the potential and actual obstacles. The desire to devise a system and lock down a perfect solution is visceral. Finding a balance between different activities in different departments, the different needs of different volunteers as well as other departments, the grey areas in Dhagpo’s structure…I just want to find a way to make it all work smoothly and reliably right now, or better yet, yesterday.

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But as life frequently reminds us, a theoretical solution often does not solve an actual problem. Karmapa told us that something “only becomes a problem when we try to solve it fast or over and over again.” And that, I think, is the real lesson. When we wish for our challenges and stresses to be other than they are, they magnify to take up all the space in our minds and we become trapped by them, in them. And if we just let go of the idea that we need to fix it now and stay cool with the work at hand instead, while of course maintaining a clear view of our objectives, harmony between all the different elements comes on its own.

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This is what I keep telling myself. And yet, those moments when my Google cal has so many overlaps that it defies the time-space continuum–I have trouble remembering. And when this or that person comes to say that this or that thing really should be done differently when I’ve worn myself out trying just simply to get it done, I have trouble remembering. And when I look at life reeling out before and feel like it might always be this fight between my own expectations and the way people and things work, I wonder just what is possible.

But hey, it’s not for nothing we have guides. Karmapa says we “shouldn’t over-the-top worry,” but “just follow our daily responsibilites.” Okey dokey, here goes. So, back to the salt mines, doing my best to remember that “if you keep practicing […] automatically there’s harmony.”

Things Unfold: Paris, The Pyrenees, Other Pieces

So, it’s been a month.

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Did a few things.

My Papa came to town. We went to Paris. Visited the latest Frank Gehry building.

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Visited the oldest art store in town.

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Ate a lot of pastry. (This is the nicest picture, but if I put them all…you’d be impressed by how much sugar we managed to consume in three days, and that’s not counting hot chocolate consumption).

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We worked our way south, chateau by chateau, bigger and bigger: Beauregard, Cheverny, Chambord.

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There may have been bicycling involved, but the helmet/neon vest pictures are too incriminating to be posted online. You’ll just have to use your imaginations.

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Excess, even beautiful excess, always makes me grateful for simplicity. I run a house with eight guest rooms. I shudder in sympathy for the person responsible for cleaning this place.

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All eight guest rooms filled up at the end of September. After Papa made it safely back to the States, Dhagpo rhythm picked up for a final summer shabang. The famous/infamous Lama Ole Nydahl came to town. He’s a walking polemic, and I’ll abstain from commenting on politics and just say he’s warm and personable face-to-face, at least in my experience. To be fair, my interaction is generally limited to offering duck confit and fresh fig tarts rather than arguing about religious rights, and yet, it’s not every important person who is kind to those that serve them. Beyond that, we each have to find a teacher that we understand and respect, and that is a personal business.

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Right on the heels of the busy weekend, we gave ourselves a weekend off. It was mon amour’s birthday and we took ourselves to the mountains with a small troupe of friends.

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It’s been a while since I’ve asked so much of my body, and partway up the 3,000 foot ascent, I wondered why we find it necessary to risk our lives accomplishing such feats. We were smart enough not to try for the peak with the wind and fog and ice, but even so, the wilderness is pretty much a risk by nature (oyvay, pun not intended but un-ignorable). And yet, once I got to the top, I felt the same affirmation as always: I’d do it again.

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The world is vast and we are priveleged to have the luxury to consider its beauty, to have the security and stability in our lives to take such risks. Sometimes I forget that, just how much of a luxury my liberty is. Sometimes it helps to exercize it, to go climb a mountain and remember what privelege allows us. It helps me come back grateful and perhaps more ready to work with the other priveleges I can fall into taking for granted.

This week and next are community time at Dhagpo, a week of practice and study retreat followed by a week of organizational meetings. Both can be trying; both tend to show me my limits–of patience, of concentration, of wakefulness. And both are a privelege of enormous proportions: to have access to the Dharma and to have the opportunity to take part in Dharma activity. Whatever the ascent, we have to climb the mountain.