In The New Year

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I dedicated the first day of the new year to…building a Lego ferris wheel. Like, nearly all of the first day, if we include meals and hot chocolate pauses for weary minds and weary eyes. I’m tempted to say that being a kid was simpler in my day. Toys did not involve six hours of minuscule toil with three sets of hands just to get them running. Then again, in my day, Legos were just a fancy way of making your own mismatched, multicolored castles and did not involve spinning parts, the possibility of becoming motorized, or ice cream stands (Lego ice cream!)

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And despite the complaints from my neck and back for being hunched over looking at teeny, tiny bits of colored plastic for most of a day, it was a pretty awesome family activity. The little one was quite pleased with her Christmas haul, and I, for my part, was pleased to start the New Year constructing something joyful all together.

Later on in the New Year, we moved from one manual activity to another. After I gave Ema a crocheted scarf (complete with bobbles) for the holidays, she got inspired to try the craft herself, so we spent an evening working out chain stitches and discovering together how a right-handed person can teach a left-handed person to crochet. I have a lot more sympathy now for the travails of the lefty community. Everything is backwards to them.

It’s wild to me to see both how children can be molded by what we bring into their field of vision and also the ways in which they come into this world with their own ways of being questions to work out and all we can do is try to field useful answers at the right moment.

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This morning at Dhagpo, we began the third annual winter study retreat, a month-long intensive teaching on a foundational Buddhist text. This year we are in phase two of the Abhidharmakosha, a text written in the 4th century by the Indian scholar Vasubandhu, which discusses all knowable phenomena, and particularly those which guide us toward liberation and those with keep us anchored in cyclic existence.

Technically speaking, all things connected with the emotions of aversion, attachment, and ignorance keep us firmly planted with our feet in the muck of Samsara. And yet somehow, in the messy world that is the modern day, I often come back to a story of a practitioner who, each evening, made a pile of white stones and black stones to count his positive and negative actions for the day, slowly working his way toward just one pile…white stones of course.

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Despite all my attachment for those I care about and all I wish to accomplish in this life, plus the frustration that arises when things don’t go my way, they’re source of more white stones than black at the day’s end. Jigme Rinpoche often says that emotions are not negative in nature; it depends what direction we take them in. If our desire and attachment lead us to practice, then they are useful.

Who knows what the side-effects of my attachments may be, but since I’m far from calling it quits on ordinary life and high-tailing it out to a cave with a handful of nettles and barley grains, this is where I am. And it’s fitting I think, to put the nature of reality as described by the Buddha and his disciples on one side, and ya know, real life, on the other. Because in this day and age,¬†this is what we have to fit together on the path.

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