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.”

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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.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Banana Layer Cake And Kitchen Days

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Today we made walnut blondies for eighty people, chestnut génoise and ginger loaf for sixty, plus cherry almond biscotti for one-ten. Karmapa’s visit this year is the first time we’re cooking for so many guests at the Lama house. We debated about hiring a catering company, but we wanted to offer our own labor of love. Even with the incredible changes to the kitchen, it’s still a family kitchen and not a professional one. All the materials and cooking spaces are far away from each other, and the oven is the size of a postage stamp. This means preparing in advance.

Everything that can be made ahead without sacrificing the integrity of what we’re serving is being made now. Pastries, savory tarts, salad dressing, even a couple main dishes. We’ve set up a camping kitchen with a giant bunsen burner on the terrace and we shuttle things back and forth from the Lama House to the oven in the main kitchen.

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It’s hectic, but it’s joyful. We get the pleasure of working all together without the direct stress that comes with being in the heat of a major event. It’s tiring, but there’s an end in sight–final make-ahead dish is scheduled for the 26th of June. After that we have to start deep-cleaning. So it’s all for a good cause, and I’m often astounded by the reserves of energy we unearth when we are committed to what we are working for.

In the meantime, I’m still trying to figure out when I can squeeze in a little pastry for my homies around here. This cake was to celebrate the last day of our Bodhi Path studies on Wednesday. It’s surprisingly light, almost refreshing if you don’t think too much about the cream, and really easy to make with all the glamour of a layer cake!

I got a request from the collective of July birthday folks for “real American layer cake,” like wedding-style with tiers. Fulfilling such a request will require much more effort for the necessary glamour points, hehe. If you’re looking to impress without spending four days in the kitchen, this is the way to go. As for me and my July birthday buddies…we’ll just see how that goes!

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Funfetti Cake And A Different Kind Of Mourning

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On Friday the Buddha’s relics went back to Paris after a year-and-a-half extended stay at Dhagpo. The fact that we got to hang on to them for so long (safekeeping while the Grand Pagoda where they stay normally underwent construction) was a blessing in itself. It doesn’t do to always want more. But I got so used to their presence. To knowing this manifestation of wisdom and physical piece of the Buddha himself was right nearby. To seeing their glittery little enclosure every Saturday, doing prostrations in the Institute and singing aspiration prayers with all the other aspiring folks. To walking quora all together and tucking some special chocolate I scoped out into the silver offering bowl.

I know the relics are technically just a manifestation, and that even if they are real, historical artifacts and extremely blessed, I can also access that blessing by connecting to the meaning whether they are here or not. But I’m not so good at that yet. And sparkly things inspire me. So, yeah, I’m gonna miss them. Loss number one for the week.

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Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of Shamar Rinpoche’s death (Tibetan calendar, if you’re worried I’ve lost my basic math skills). Similar to the relics, all the good he has put in place for all of us remains whether his physical presence is here or not. But it’s still hard to accept that I won’t ever get to have tea with him in his rocking chair-filled living room in Virginia or serve him his favorite French salami when he visits Dhagpo or sit in the Institute and listen to him crack jokes while he educates us all or feel the silence sweep through the hall as we sink into meditation with him. Or so many other things. Loss number two for the week.

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And also, my sister called me this week in tears to tell me that she needs time. That it’s hard that we live so far apart and we believe such different things at the very basis of our choices and that our paths have diverged so greatly in our short lives despite our deep love for each other. And so we’re taking space. Reflecting each on our own without the worry of having to figure out what to share or how or what moment with a nine-hour time difference and very busy, different schedules. We’re just…waiting to see what happens. And when things are a little bit more clear, we’ll pick up—not quite where we left off, but where we need to be. And this is good, and I’m proud of us for being mature enough to know that there are things we need to figure out on our own to make our relationship work, but also…loss number three for this week.

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And so I find myself grieving, but strangely, for things I have not truly lost. The strength and love we develop through our relationships stay with us, whether the people who taught us such care and resilience are physically present or not. I know this, and I have faith in this fact to carry me through the transitions. But I’m also wobbly on my feet. I’m used to having support I can connect with tangibly. All these various losses leave me only with inner strength and some fuzzy question marks about what those words even mean.

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And so I’m taking cliché flower pictures because it’s springtime and I have a camera and that seems to be what there is to do. And I’m making funfetti cake because it would make both Shamarpa and my sister smile if they were here and though I’m not sure what the Buddha would think of funfetti, I think he’d approve of the togetherness and gratitude that went into this cake.

Love you guys.

Recipe…

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The Week, The Weekend, And Honey Ginger Cake With Sour Cherry Jam

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Today I am just happy.

When I look back at this week, it has been so full. Weekdays can barely be distinguished from weekends but somehow there is a balance amidst all the activity. Meetings beyond count. 20 hours and 800 lines of event budgeting. Driving lessons. Dinner out with friends. Time spent working with the construction team on the new kitchen; time spent constructing the plan for Karmapa’s visit with the kitchen team. The community mini-retreat that is our monthly morning of group practice. A talk with my sister; e-mails with my parents. The first of a series of community discussions about our Future, capital F and what we’d like to share about it with Karmapa when he comes.

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No moment has lacked richness. I did so incredibly many productive things and somehow still had time to make this cake and have a cup of tea with friends this afternoon. I know my two a.m. budget finish line from last night will make me tired tomorrow, but mostly I’m stunned that I’m not already flat on my ass.

This same amount of busy-ness and activity in the past would have knocked me over. I’d have been sick and tired and grumpy as hell. I think partly I have learned how to do more, but also I have learned how to fret less. When I see a whole crap ton of things to do coming, I’m not immediately petrified that it is totally impossible for me to do them and thus not immediately incapacitated and totaly stressed throughout it all. From all of the doing that I’ve been doing at Dhagpo these last two years, I’ve developed some confidence that…I can accomplish things.
And that if I can’t, I can say so and find a way to work with that.

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There’s also another aspect. Which is this place and its people. There’s something in the water, or the trees, or the history, or maybe something much less abstract than that. I think it’s what we call blessing. That often sounds so mystical, but Jigme Rinpoche is quick to remind us that blessing is anything but mystical. It’s practical.

As I grasp it, blessing works like this: understanding leads to change, and both understanding and change develop exponentially more with a group, and multi-exponentially more with a qualified guide who can point you in the right direction to help you refine your understanding.

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At Dhagpo, we have all the pieces. We are blessed. Hard work becomes less hard because it is meaningful and shared, and what we normally think of as not-directly productive (ahem, lieeesure) becomes productive because it supports the bonds that help us work well together. Even cake is a practice when it is an offering.

And so, I’m both grateful to be able to and quite happy to offer you this springtime version of French spice cake. Like typical French pain d’épices, this cake is honey-rich and has a good dose of ginger. But unlike typical French pain d’épices this cake does not have the I-suppose-nostalgic-but-always-disappointing texture of cardboard. And it does have a touch of allspice for additional depth and a generous spread of sour cherry jam for that springtime boost. Moist, surprisingly light, and delightfully simple to make (No creaming butter! Yay for French baking techniques!), it’s perfect for a Sunday afternoon on the deck, or however you like.

Recipe…

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Darkness And Light And Four Quarters Cake

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Okay, so, a mini-onslaught of camera experiments, as promised. The same picture (more-or-less) taken with different camera settings. As I’m being extremely scientific about the whole thing (ahem, not), I can’t precisely specify what settings yielded what pictures. For the moment, I’m just trying to get a feel for things.

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The utter basics…like if I make the aperture small enough, I can take a picture in low daytime light that comes out almost back. I’ve spared you any of those. Also, that if I open the aperture and increase the shutter speed, I can get decent light even at night, but um…things get blurry real fast. I’ve subjected you to one of those.

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I’ve been able to take passable photos of the candle offerings next to the stupa for the first time ever, and I’m overjoyed. This spot at Dhagpo is one of my prime comfort-seeking locales, and I envision a whole ton of candle pictures that are basically the same but ever-so-slightly different in our future.

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I’ve stalked all over the Lama House searching for the best mid-morning light window. Does it figure that it appears to be the window just outside of Karmapa’s room?

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As I play around with being behind the camera, the metaphoric nature of taking photographs becomes ever more evident. I used to think of a photograph as just a freeze frame of the immutable, physical world. But I stopped thinking of the world as immutable or objective a while ago now, and taking photographs only affirms that understanding. What the eye sees is not objective. The shots that we choose, how we frame them, tones, depth of field, angle. No two photographers would take the same picture, even of the same subject matter. Our images reveal our interests, our views, our bias even.

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It’s funny, I think of myself as a big picture person, developed frontal lobe as the brain scientists would say. And yet I like taking pictures of small-things up close, like a way of becoming intimate with the details of the world. I seek out low light and warm light because they feel cradling and haunting. This last is not so easy in the Dordogne, and here I start to see my Californian-ness. I can deal with the cold in the winter, but the grey wears me down and I get lonesome for sunshine and frequent hugs and high fives.

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Maybe this is what the camera is for though, I can’t help think. It is a way to talk to oneself, to say, “Ah yes, this is what my solitude looks like,” and make peace with that. This is my hope anyway, and where all my fumbling clicks and winding of the gears and geared toward taking me. Another tool on the path, you know?

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In other notes, cake. This one I made for my friend Tokpa, one of my prime inspirations for finally daring to get behind the lens. He and his camera are leaving for Nepal tomorrow. His journey was originally planned to document the inauguration of Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche’s new monastery and the anniversary of Shamar Rinpoche’s passing away. When the earthquake hit, he decided to go anyway, to help fix up an orphanage run by friends and well, take pictures, because sometimes that’s what there is to do.

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And so I made cake, because that’s what there is for me to do. A French pound cake, what they call a quatre quarts, or “four quarters,” because it’s one quarter butter, one quarter eggs, one quarter sugar, and one quarter flour. You’d hardly know it’s pound cake, as light as it is from whipping the eggs and sugar. I added a teaspoon of baking powder, but if you want a more typical pound cake texture, you can leave it out. I also browned the butter, for that special savory something, and threw in a chopped pear because leftovers and why not, and it was delicious. This cake is remarkably easy to put together and incredibly refined when finished. For the moments when words don’t suffice, but we still need something.

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Old Stomping Grounds

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Well, first off…cake because I promised y’all cake.

My birthday cake: hummingbird cake improvised with walnut goat cheese frosting, plus a cake for the other April gals at Dhagpo, dense almond cake layered with pastry cream and fig jam, enrobed in marzipan medallions, and of course a cake for the April gents as well, classic tiramisu composed in layer cake form. Sorry, not on top of my recipe recording at the moment…all of these things exist somewhere between the collection of butter-stained paper scraps on my windowsill and my brain, but they don’t yet exist in any shareable form. Eeps, pardon!

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And then, welcome to California. Land of my youth, land of my creation and my formation. This is the Pacific Coast Highway, from behind the windshield, for ours is a land of automobiles and palm trees, winding coastal roads, and shifting coastal mists.

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The dinosaur fountains at 3rd Street Promenade, which seem so much smaller now that I am bigger. Actually, everything seems smaller. I visited the house where I grew up, where my dad has retaken up residence. The garage that I recall as fathomless and dark and daunting, maybe the biggest room ever, is now…basically a normal two-car garage with some stuff in it.

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The palm trees have retained their height, however. Their goofiness and nonchalance. The importance of everything, the color and life and cool self-obsession of this place shocks at first and then insidiously infiltrates my being so naturally that I almost don’t notice.

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That everything should be beautiful seems like a given. That the temperature should always be pleasing, the light always golden, the ambiance always choreographed. Appearance in this place strikes me as ever so carefully manicured. We glamor ourselves into believing that all is well.

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That we are evolving, advancing, improving. The food is all organic, natural, farm-fresh, gluten-free and yes, also delicious. The people are tan and smiling. The storefronts pierce your eyes and call you to with adoration: prosperity! allure! confidence! We’ll give you everything! We buy our clothes, our gadgets, our food, our films, our cars, to decide who we want to be.

It’s startling and exceedingly simple. I can’t get over how pleasant everything is. I feel I could lose myself in this place without a second glance back the way I came. Pick up where I left off, working on being another toned yogi with a health food mission, a creative purpose, and a really inspiring backstory. These are generally good things, but from where I stand today, they also seem like all-too-simple ways to fall back into the habit of trying to simply render everything in this life awesome, rather than also facing its capricious nature and committing to going beyond even the best of the appearances that we are capable of creating. After all, both the most inherent and the most cultivated beauty fade with time, each one like the other.

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Fortunately, amidst all the glamour and temptation, there’s a few things to pull me back to earth. Little unexpected reminders. Amidst the crowd of laughing Buddhas on my grandmother’s bureau, a single, seated, Tibetan-style Buddha. And next to it, a grinning photo of me, circa 1996. Maybe even in her drifting state where past and present blend and future fades altogether, she still hangs on to the essential. She asked me about my life and said, “You like the people? Are you happy there?  You’re so so lucky Jourdie.” Or maybe it’s a just a coincidence, the right coincidence for me today. Either way, she’s right.

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And after all the rest, the people and excess and what we’ve made of this place, there is the place itself. California’s quirkiness is in its nature, as much as its inhabitants. Something about palm tree, prickly pears, and pale, pokey agave totally confirm that it’s hip to be weird.

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Nature always reminds me of my own strangeness and smallness. And the nature here comforts me in that. I’m in it with the willets, and the goopy knots of kelp, and the sandcrabs scurrying under the effervescent bubbles of tide foam. It feels pretty okay to be odd in such good company.

So I wander through the iridescent sunset and wonder what I’ll take back with me to the humid, blessed woods of the Dordogne. How much essence and acceptance can I find? How much may I be lost in the glamor and temptation?

Joni said it best.

“California I’m coming home. Will you take me as I am?”

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Having The Potato And Bread Pudding With Pastry Cream

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Welcome to springtime in the Dordogne. It’s bright. It’s wet. It’s moss on the column of my terrace, and I actually kind of like it.

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Welcome to jokes on the community room white board. In case you’re wondering, that’s a potato. The jokes…well, they don’t make any sense in English, but I’ll give you the direct translation and then the meaning and if you can fit together the play on words in your own head, I bet you’ll get how it’s funny. It really is funny; I promise.

Direct translation:
It’s better to have the potato than to be a potato.
It’s better to be a potato than to get a potato.

What it means:
It’s better to feel awesome than to be a potato.
It’s better to be a potato than to get hit in the face with one.

And then, next to all the judgmental potato commentary, Miss Potato, who says…

Direct translation:
I’ve got the French fry!
What it means:
I feel awesome!

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Basically, potatoes are really funny and the French like using food metaphors to say they’re in a good mood. I’ve got the potato/French fry/peach/banana are all ways to say one is feelin’ good.

It’s springtime, and I’m feelin’ good.

Good enough to whip out the whisk and resume some cake creation, which I haven’t fit in a lot of for the last couple months.

This isn’t exactly cake, but it could almost pass for one. It’s bread pudding baked in a cake pan and slathered with pastry cream pretending to be frosting. It is, dare I say it, a bit more reasonable than cake. It feels decadent without knocking you flat on your ass for the rest of the afternoon. I can’t necessarily say the same for the birthday cake I’m planning for myself, but you know, we can’t be reasonable all the time.

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Fun fact: my Dhagpo anniversary and my birthday are only about a week part. So this week (well, last Tuesday and next Monday) I get to celebrate two years in the humid, mossy, blessed woods of the Dordogne and all the potato jokes I can handle as well as twenty-six years of life on this earth. Hooray!

Next time we chat, I’ll be writing from the good ol’ US of A, where I’m stopping in to say a hello to the people who made me. I’ll also be at the Santa Barbara Bodhi Path on Wednesday the 15th from 6-9 if you want to stop by for a bit of sitting and a cup of tea.

Recipe…

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Hibiscus Coriander Spelt Bread And Foregone Days

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This morning we finished the accumulation of praises to Tara that I mentioned back in January when we began. When I wrote a friend back in February that things were busy, he joked back that it was no wonder, considering we were soliciting a meditation deity associated with activity and prompt reaction every darn morning.

Well, it’s been three months and they’ve been very active. In addition to all the studying and cleaning I’ve moaned about a bit, I also joined the web and communications team. Part of my role has been helping to start Dhagpo’s first blog, a chronicle of the events at the center related to our fortieth anniversary. And guess what, it exists in English too! Curious about what we’re up to? You can read along here. If you click on an article, you can switch the little country flag in the top right corner to read in English. We’re still working out a few kinks with the translation plug-ins, so the whole site isn’t available in English yet.

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Working on web and comm business, I’m learning a lot lately about hard work that goes unseen. Most of time when we’re on the internet, things are streamlined and reliable. Typos and broken links are considered affronts, signs of people or organizations that don’t know what they’re doing.

Having spent the last week entering the new program into Dhagpo’s website, hand copying each course title and changing the dates in the website platform software, I’m starting to see how carefully created the online world is. I’ve been writing this blog for almost three years, and I basically just picked a layout and stuck with it. I never really took the time to explore the complexity behind it.

Joining the web and communications teams at the center shows me just one minute example of the hours of meticulous effort that go into making this place run. It starts me thinking of all the long and serious labors of love that people here carry out that never get noticed or acknowledged. Sometimes in a volunteer community, there are moments when I’ve asked myself or seen other people asking why something isn’t done (why isn’t the community fridge clean; why didn’t you write back to my e-mail, etc).

With a few exceptions for legal reasons (the cook and accountant mainly) nobody’s paid and we’re here because we want to be. Sometimes when we’re working extra hard to make a certain project happen or because it’s a busy time for one department or another, we tend to wonder what the heck everybody else is doing. Just barely poking my nose into a new department, I get the feeling that if we looked into details anywhere, we’d be amazed to see all the hard work and care that go into every aspect of what happens here.

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When you care about something, there’s often a tendency to want to see it constantly improving and there can be impatience about the things that aren’t the way we want them. I see it all the time here: why is the logo a bit dated, why aren’t the electrical connections in the temple that cause occasionally blinky lights fixed yet, why isn’t there a lounge for course participants, why is the hill behind the Institute only partially landscaped? We have a tendency to think somebody must be slacking if things that seem important aren’t done. But I’m starting to think that nobody’s slacking. We’re all applying ourselves with loads of dedication and this is just what’s possible for the moment.

Sometimes, when I work hard and I just see lots more hard work ahead, the days feel foregone. It’s a long damn road. But then I remember that this is how most things get done in life. Not by magic or sudden cataclysim. By regular effort over long days or months or years. When I remind myself of that, I find there’s also something comforting in the rhythm; there’s a stability in hard work. I know that through my daily efforts I’m adding something to the world around me and developing endurance and resilience within myself. It’s a different kind of daily bread than the common sort, but just as nourishing if not more. And I’ve got actual daily bread to keep me going for the rest.

For kicks this week, I included hibiscus petals in my bread and found they add a subtle fruity kick to breakfast. I threw in some coriander for a little spice and brightness and used spelt flour because it’s gentler on the tummy. Nourishment for the long road; it’s a good thing.

A little musical nourishment, too…here’s my bread making and internet updating soundtrack for the evening. Clifton Hicks and Julie Chiles playing a cradling, twanging folk tune called Rocky Island. I’m a bluegrass nerd, if you didn’t know.

Recipe…

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GF Chocolate Chip Cookies And Working With The Heart

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Week five of study retreat. Each week has been steadily less and less in retreat mode, as regular life needs creep steadily in. Around week three I started panicking about all the things that would need to be done if I left them till the end. Around week four I realized that a lot of things couldn’t be left till the end. And now I am just trying not to feel too feckless or lacking in diligence for the fact that, beyond attending the formal teachings and rereading the transcript or maybe my notes once, I’m not devoting my time to studying. Four hours a day is already a lot, but it’s not enough to memorize what’s being given, which is what I would like to do and what feels like doing justice to the teaching.

I know I’m not wise enough and I haven’t studied the prerequisite subjects enough to truly understand the Abhidharmakosha, but I’m convinced that if I could just solder all the lists of associated faculties and mental activities and types of sovereign mind into my memory now, I’d be able to make sense of it all properly in some future time. Only I can’t.

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Partly because the groceries and the new steam-infusing vacuum machine and the pre-Lhosar deep clean and next month’s schedule and departmental meetings and new tasks with the communications team (yours truly may be contributing to a Dhagpo blog in the near future!), not to mention life, like teaching English classes, paying doctor’s bills, and studying for my French driver’s license (speedbumps are called donkey backs here). So yeah, partly all that. But partly also my heart.

Every time I study seriously, intensively, I live this. And every time, I forget. I always tell myself it’s the schedule, the being with people all the time, the intellectual gymnastics. But no, actually, if I can say it this way, I think it’s my heart.

Last night at dinner, Micka said, “After a certain amount of time with the teachings, I start to only see the flaws in everything.”

The first of the Four Noble Truths is that the nature of conditioned existence is suffering. The teachings go far beyond this, to its cause, to its ending, to the means to achieve that. Becoming free from suffering is the whole goal after all–well, half, anyway, getting everybody else free too is the whole goal. But for my part, when I start really looking and listening, I can’t help it, I tend to get a bit mired in the first part.

I am SO far from anything resembling clarity, one-pointed focus, or non-self-referential love. My faith is emotional and my understanding is personal. My discipline is superficial and mostly neurotic when it does function. That long list of mental activities that accompany afflicted mind…yaaah, I know them well.

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Whenever I reach this point, I tend to think of three things. Well, no, actually what happens is that I tend to start slipping into motionlessness, into the grey static where no act is meaningful enough to combat the hugeness of it all, and I no longer know how to greet the day or my mind or other human beings. Trying to be fair, this overwhelmption is maybe part of me, and I will have to accept it perhaps at many turns in my life. But Shamar Rinpoche said that if a person practices calm-abiding meditation long enough, she will no longer experience depression. Until my efforts take effect, I’m building a toolkit for when reality becomes overwhelming.

Here are my three things:

1) Some enlightened being in some treatise or sutra (maybe Gampopa in The Jewel Ornament of Liberation?) once said, “Ordinary beings cannot perceive the true nature of reality, of emptiness. It is too vast for the ordinary mind.” Which helps because it means that it’s normal that touching on this vastness through the teachings sends me spinning. I’m an ordinary being. I can only understand as much as my mind can take, and increasing my understanding means working the edge. Vertigo is part of the process, and I need to rest with that.

2) Dhongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche said in his book Not for Happiness that true compassion is like a dagger in the heart. So all this pain and this vision of anguish perhaps simply mean that I’m headed in the right direction. And practice is learning to see them and keep moving.

3) The Buddha gave us this one directly, and in the Heart Sutra no less: “Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. Form is no other than emptiness. Emptiness is no other than form.” Though I am far from understanding it truly–speaking of that emptiness too vast for the ordinary mind–I try to remind myself that for all of its sharp edges and smothering weight, suffering has no essence. That if I keep going, the illusion will fragment on its own and I will be able to see suffering and its formlessness at the same time. And from there, I will truly be able to act, and act for the benefit of all.

It’s not exactly a monkey wrench or a tape measure, but it’s what I have for now and it helps, even if it doesn’t silence the static completely. And like always, the little worldly things that make up my worldly life are still here for me. They are what I know and where I’m at and maybe I am learning to be kind about what gives me solace on the path. I made cookies almost completely without feeling frivolous, and much more with gratitude for something simple and solid that I understand and touch and share. It’s not ultimate anything, but it might be relative something, and I think it’s going in the right direction.

Recipe…

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