Because You Are Awesome And I Miss You.

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I am so grateful and tickled and touched by all of your love and support and kindness. The amount of people who have reached out to say hello and congratulations and all sorts of nice things is incredibly moving. Wonderful people from so many times and places in my life have popped up to say a good word or throw down a Facebook like, and it just reminds me how lucky I am to know such fine folks. It’s encouraging to be bringing a new life into a community, spread out as we all may be, of caring people.

I admit though, it is pretty irksome at times that modern technology allows us to feel as though all the amazing folks we have ever known are right at our fingertips, but at the same time, the rhythm of life and the rules of the time-space continuum prevent us from actually keeping up with all the good people. I mean, I Facebook stalk you all when I can, and I totally rejoice in your awesome adventure photos, hilarious work anecdotes, tasty food pictures, and various other tidbits that give me a sense of where you are and what matters in your life. But it’s so not the same as just hanging out. I wish to pieces I could sit down for coffee (no, tea, no, juice, maybe, water…in my current prego state), or go on a hike, or make dinner for each and every one of you.

I am curious to know where your life has taken you. What are you doing; where you do you live; who do you love? What’s your current obsession, your next big plan? Is life an up, a down, a sideways, lately? Nothing would make me happier than to get word of you. If you leave a comment or send a message with a bit of news on life, I promise to write back. The time-space continuum can go kick rocks—I promise.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Forgiveness Is A Lesson

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Happy Solstice.

It’s ten pm and bits of orange and lavender are just showing up on the horizon. The moon is a pale crescent across the still-lit sky.

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Happy Father’s Day.

I spoke to my Dad tonight with a mix of sadness and gratefulness. Gratefulness because, you know, my Daddy. And sadness because, well, I see the struggle to cross the bridge of communication. It’s nine pm in France and noon in LA. He’s retired and I’m burning the candle at both ends. He’s ready to listen but I’m too tired to talk.

No matter how much you love some one, you still have to learn their language and feel out their rhythm and even when you manage, all the love we can muster doesn’t change the fact that humans being misunderstand each other and misunderstand ourselves and don’t manage to love everyone and often fail the worst at accepting ourselves and our life’s conditions enough not to blame others.

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Of course, I am thinking about South Carolina. A lot of thoughts have crossed my mind, but they are too complex and political to fully articulate late Sunday night.

I can’t help wonder, though.

When we use the word, “injustice,” how far do we stretch the line of blame? The gunman, his educators, the government, history? Can we honor the dead without putting somebody else’s head on a pike? Can we recognize wrongdoing without criminalizing those who carry it out? When we talk about violence, where do we find its root?

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We live in a society that cultivates violence and thus breeds the type of individual that carries it out. When we focus on division, we invite more standard bearers and more trigger-pullers.

The media plays on inciting indignation. We get more and more riled up, and I just wonder when we are going to consume ourselves in this desperation for justice. Has there been an act of violence in this world that wasn’t based on a sense of seeking justice? How much, by wishing for things to be right, do we continue to make them wrong?

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And, if this is the case, what other action is possible? In the face of violence, in the face of loss and aggression and lack of control, what is the other option between doing nothing and being a bystander and buying into the blame and becoming a perpetrator? How do we consciously, peaceably act to stop the cycle?

Being right does not seem to be the solution. Being forgiving has not been popular throughout history and up until now, has not sold as many papers as being incensed and righteous. Maybe the brave relatives of the Charleston victims can help change that. Maybe they can help us start to answer these questions.

Heritage

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Our study retreat finished this week. On the last day, Khalsang Puntsok told a story about the end of the Buddha’s life. The Buddha, with his attendant Ananda, went into to the forest to find the right place to pass into his final meditation and leave this life. As he lay between two trees, the gods sent a rain of flowers and the trees bowed down. The Buddha asked Ananda if Ananda thought that this pleased him.

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Ananda said yes and the Buddha, replied that, no, this was not what was important to him. Then he asked Ananda to summon all of his disciples. The Buddha’s disciples gathered from near and far, but there was one monk who did not come. Others set out to fetch him, but the Buddha said to let him be. He was practicing and it was good that he continue, and this, in fact, is what the Buddha wished for, that his disciples would be diligent and practice what he taught them.

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This is about the right conclusion for us now. We have eleven months to work through all we received in order to be ready for the follow-up next year. Pretty straightforward.

But I admit, all through the story, I was expecting, in part, a different emphasis. A famous aspect of the story of Ananda and the Buddha’s parinirvana is that the Buddha gave Ananda several opportunities to request for him to stay and not to die at this time, but Ananda did not realize until it was too late.

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I thought of Shamar Rinpoche and how many of us must have asked ourselves what chance we missed to make the right request. Listening to Khalsang Puntsok these last five weeks, I realize how close we are in many ways, all of Shamarpa’s students. In Nepal this summer, the monks and nuns from Asia were mostly a sea of burgundy to me. Hearing KP tell stories of playing soccer with Shamarpa, of a torrential downpour that stopped on a moment when Rinpoche addressed a gaze to the sky, of the stories that Shamarpa told them at Kalimpong Shedra that they are telling us now here in France…it’s strikes me how little separates us, how much we are indeed family.

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We didn’t grow up speaking the same language or eating the same food. I am sure many of us never imagined we would see or set foot in the other’s home country, but when we meet to talk about the Dharma, we share the same roots. And whatever chances we may have had or missed or that were never really there, the Shamar Rinpoche we knew is gone, and in his place he left us his teachings and also each other.

And so the Buddha had it right, as usual. What there is to do is to share them and to live them, together. Also to remember that our heritage is not just that of Shamar Rinpoche or the Kagyu lineage, but that of the Buddha himself. And the family is not only those of us who love and learn from the same masters, but all beings, whatever their creed or calling.

I guess that’s about where five weeks of philosophy gets me; now it’s back to the salt mines to put it all to work. The steam-infusing vacuum machine and pre-Lhosar deep clean await!

The Fêtes, With Aah-mazing Chewy Gingerbread

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So Christmas happened. Happy Christmas, y’all! (And late Chanukah and Solstice and other meaningful winter happenings).

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I did the road to Bordeaux with friends and a lunch stop at their family home. So many creches from so many countries! Guatemala or possibly Peru above. There was an old-fashioned American pinball machine too…we may have played a couple rounds, and I may have done not horribly. All those years of pizzeria pinball and early computer game versions apparently paid off.

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I did Bordeaux with the sis. We stayed at one of Dhagpo’s sister centers, Dhagpo Bordeaux and got the best welcome ever. Warm beds, homemade bread, and sole meunière with good humor. All of these families that aren’t actually my family somehow made me feel like it’s family Christmas after all. It doesn’t made me any less nostalgic for my actual family, but it makes me appreciate them even more for how they have taught me to love and to share.

There’s a sweet old cemetery by the center and we went to visit the departed. Could seem creepy, but it was more peaceful than anything. The wrought iron alone merited the visit.

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Things got pretty real too, as far as actual family goes. I realized it’s been a year since I’ve seen my sister, the longest we’ve ever gone. We know each other less well than we used to and we have less things in common than we’re used to. But we still know each other better than any one else in the world (except maybe our parents) and there’s a commitment in that. To promise to keep track of someone, to follow their story, to face their disappointment, to own up to what we could do better and what we simply cannot yet do for the love of them.

My sister makes me appreciate how often the best relationships are the ones where you don’t agree on everything, but you care enough to figure out why and understand what the other believes.

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We visited some gardens. Saw some lollipop trees and spiral hedges, the odd castle in the mist.

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History, people. I think it matters. To understand where we come from, how we came to where we are now.

Tomorrow, the year end course at Dhagpo begins. Jigme Rinpoche will talk to us about meditation, and we’ll try to listen and get wiser. Another year is passing, has passed. Time is precious. This is good to remember. To cherish and to share it.

This is obvious perhaps, but it strikes now as the time comes for resolutions and reflection: I want my heart open. I want to love with all I have and embrace the whole of the world. Forget the smallness of my self and remember the vastness of connectedness. We are causes and conditions, and we depend upon each other. All we can do is look after one another.

Happy New Year people; I’m thinking of you.

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And um, cake, because apparently I’m on a cake roll again. This picture is terrible and usually I try not to post recipes with truly deplorable photos, but I’m doing it mostly for myself. Because this cake is so good that I need to have the recipe recorded somewhere easily accessible. You don’t have to make it or be convinced; this is a simple, humble cake. But if you’re curious, I’ll tell you: it’s like a hug from some one you have been missing a long time. You feel their arms around you and it’s like plugging in a light; the current runs down the line and the connection is direct. You know you’re in the right place and you are grounded.

This cake is all molasses and spices. It’s chewy like a brownie with a deep, enveloping flavor. For me, it’s comfort and it’s definitely the taste that goes with the hearth at wintertime. Also happens to be friendly for gluten and dairy sensitive people because I’m on that kick too.

Recipe…

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