Introducing…

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Okay, so I’ve been holding out on you.

This is Little Bean. He will be joining us in early December. I don’t anticipate that we will put that on his birth certificate, but until the whole family agrees on something definitive, I like having something to call him other than “tiny, magical being who makes me extremely nauseous.”

So yes, I am about three-and-a-half months pregnant. And very excited. Also very impatiently waiting for the early pregnancy boat-travel symptoms to wear off.

I don’t know what to say, you guys! I anticipated writing a very long and thought-provoking thing about the reflection that goes into having a child in conjunction with commitments to the Dharma. It’s an interesting subject with so many angles. And yet, I can’t seem to sit down and be academic about it all because I keep glancing at this photo of this person who I am getting to know right as he’s entering this life, and I sort of just get dazed.

I also thought about writing a clever, semi-snarky article about all the essential pregnancy foods that don’t exist in France. You’d think a country known for its cuisine would be more on top of it, but I guess the demands are so personal and specific that I can’t really take them to task for it. While getting all my culinary/nutritional gripes down on paper still does sound like a whole lot of fun, I am currently having the same basic mental reaction.

I kind of just want to keep pointing at my tummy and being like, “Guys. There’s somebody in there!”

What does it mean?

There are so many reasons to have a kid or not. You get x-amount fewer hours a day to devote to all the rest–meditation, study, volunteering, personal projects, your partner, sleep. You become a slave to a being who, for most of its existence, could pretty much care less about all you’ve given to feed, clothe, educate, and entertain it. If you have particular time-consuming plans like long-term retreat, you deliberately delay them a good twenty years, and with full knowledge that all your friends and study buddies may go off together while you’re busy with somebody’s angsty adolescence.

And at the same time. You get to experience the unconditional love that naive new beings feel for their parents. You get to experience the unconditional love that being the parent of a naive new being gives rise to in cynical, old beings. You get the joy of bringing a being into the excellent conditions of a human life connected to the Dharma and the challenge of being as generous and kind to that being as possible. You get a watertight, irrefutable excuse to watch animated movies, eat Goldfish (if you live in a country where they actually exist, sniff), go to the fair, and decorate the house for every holiday ever.

Basically, as far as I can tell, there is no math for deciding to have a child or not.

I think it’s quite simple in the end. We wanted to have a kid. Like any choice on the path, there is no objective algorithm that determines whether or not it will take you in the right direction. All of the reasons that we can cite are just our reasons. Now, there’s somebody in there. And so we just get to do our best to give him the best conditions possible to make use of his precious human life while continuing to work on doing the same ourselves.

And, of course, go on being giddy about the whole thing. Because well, on a relative level, some choices are still more exciting than others, and this one rates pretty damn high.

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After The Summer

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À la rentrée. This, this is the hopeful refrain of the moment. When the new year starts. Dhagpo’s program functions like the school year, with an autumn through spring schedule, then pretty epic summer school. For volunteers, summer is the busiest time of year, and vacation is a week in June to recharge and a week in September to fall on your face. Then we come back and the resident curriculum restarts and housekeeping things like annual budgets and structural meetings happen. In theory, it’s a little bit calmer.

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In short, summer is over. Aside from one bigger-than-usual course at the end of September, we can all let out the breath we’ve been holding the last three months. Now that this moment has arrived, I don’t so much know what to do with it.

I mean, show up here and say hi for the first time in a while. I miss you guys. I miss the process that goes into making this place alive. I have a few excuses about why I haven’t been around, some better than others and one pretty good one. I lent my camera to the photo/video department for official reporting, and that sort of cramped my style. I cooked a lot and made a ton of cake, but it pretty much all went straight to the table and when it didn’t by the time I had a moment to consider writing about it I had a hard time mustering up the motivation to type out a whole damn recipe and on top of that say anything other than, “It tasted really good.” So there’s that.

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And as for life, as for all those juicy reflections of practice and activity and what it is I’m trying to do here as and those certain things I think we’re all trying to do here as human people…well, between Karmapa’s visit and, um, another thing, my whole sense of perspective has been so thoroughly knocked out of its usual, comfortable orbit that I haven’t really want to put words on it all just yet.

But okay, I feel like I owe you guys an explanation, and also life is life and sometimes you just have to tell it like it is even when it makes you feel a bit queasy and cheesy and worried about the future. What happened is…I fell in love.

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Now, I know that this is normal and happens to pretty much everybody and thus requires pretty much no explanation, but, but, I’m still so surprised about the whole thing and feeling around for the right words that I have the sense that I am supposed to say something. But what can a person say about such a phenomenon? It is only in the experience that we remember what this strange mystery is. That goes for me anyway.

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For my part, I was all set. I hadn’t been single for that long, but you know, long enough to get used to it. Three years alone for a relatively solitary person in a community with a strong tradition of monasticism can yield a certain stoicism about the matter. My official approach was that sharing my life with some one sounded nice, but I was a) not totally convinced I’d be willing to give up my autonomy if such a some one should appear and b) rather skeptical that said some one actually would arrive or was even to be found.

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I know it’s incredible, the self-absorption one can develop in solitude, but on the other hand, I was just trying to be pragmatic about the matter. The pool of applicants was relatively small. An attractive, single, straight male who is intelligent, knows how to laugh and how to be serious and get shit done, who likes art and food and nature—who has dedicated his life to the Dharma, to the lineage, and to the activity of our guides and teachers. Who is not put off by the fact that I’m planning to go into retreat for at least three years of our life together and that this point is not up for debate, only causes and conditions. And also who I can live with. And who can manage to live with me.

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You can understand why I was skeptical, I think. I mean, I was pretty sure I had met all the possible options. It’s not a super huge community, after all, and though I was far from seeking a mate, a girl can’t help but notice when the rare single-man-below-retirement-age crosses her path. And considering the specificity of my criteria, some ravishing person walking in off the street would never qualify for the post. Not only do I want some one who knows what his life is about, but it’s got to be the same thing as mine. In a world with a population of over seven billion, Dharma practitioners to begin with and Karma Kagyü Buddhists to boot aren’t that abundant at the end of the day. And it’s not just about the lineage, but the commitment and understanding in regards to the teachings. We can grapple with it and live it and express it in different ways, but when push comes to shove, there has to be some agreement on the sense. So, all that considered…hopes not so high.

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Well, sometimes life surprises you. And you get tasked with renovating a kitchen with some one you’d met briefly in the past, who you first knew as some one’s partner, but who isn’t any more, as the father of a tiny person you’d become friends with over the years, who still is that, who has a reputation for his temper, but who is softer and more thoughtful than you’d imagined in actuality. Who always asks if he can make tea before filling the electric kettle, who always offers you a mug, who always washes and dries and puts away his own before leaving the kitchen.

Who tells you in the beginning he doesn’t want to pull you away from a direction in which you are meant to go. Who tells you later on that he’ll wait the three years for you whenever they come. Who reminds you at the right moments that one of his deepest wishes for you is that of the transmission he himself had the merit to receive earlier on in this life. Who has a picture of your heart teacher hanging above his hearth.

Who takes you to the Sunday market with the same joy and stillness that he sings the evening prayer with you. Who makes space in the closet and tells you to take your time. Who knows how to cook and clean and garden, to do handiwork and do paperwork. Who quotes Shantideva to you when you’re anxious and who makes very loving fun of you when you’re all fired up. Who’s that mix of all the normal life things some part of you has always wanted and also the understanding that none of it matters if we don’t put it to use to benefit others and develop towards enlightenment.

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It’s scary you know? Being in love. I’d forgotten that feeling of heart-stopping when you realize everything you have to lose. But maybe there’s a kind of restfulness in knowing that in any case, I’m going to lose it all, and what matters is to make it count, to put all of this joy and blessing to work to carry us up the rungs of understanding to something, someday, that goes beyond ourselves. It’s hard work too—this business of being in love. Coming back to patience and listening and continuously choosing to let go of that autonomy you willingly put aside for the benefit sharing your life with some one (or some ones, for sometimes your some one comes with a smaller some one and a canine as bonuses).

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I guess that’s about what I can say on the matter. It’s a day-to-day affair. It’s practice, on the path, just like everything else and somehow unlike anything else. It’s kind of entwined with everything right now, so I’ve been mostly just focusing on figuring it out…well, and enjoying the hell out of it. I make no promises on regularity of posting here for the moment, but know that I’m around, thinking of you guys, working on a new rhythm and figuring out how to put all the pieces together with love and joy and the wish that it all goes for the good.