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.

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.

Pumpkin Scones And Identity Politics

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Scones because sometimes you just need a baked good to bring it all home and pretend you have nothing else to do than sit in a cozy room and drink tea. Scones because sometimes a lot of things happen in one week that point to the same question and it’s a hard question. Scones because I usually keep my mouth shut about politics because what could I say in light of the vastness of it all? But especially scones because I’m about to go out on a limb and actually talk about politics so first a food offering to show that I come in peace.

How do we talk about politics without pointing fingers?

I think this is my question for the week. Underneath it is a bigger question. How do we relate to our individual identities–to diversity–and to the inequalities, and yes violence, that we can experience based on these without pointing fingers?

The media does not report the news objectively. It does so based on categorization of gender, race, class, religion, sexuality, and more…you name it. The media is written, read, and created by ordinary human beings. We do not regard each other objectively. We regard each other based on the aforementioned distinctions and so many others.

Both daily inequality and largescale violence arise from these distinctions. Examples in my mind this week (it’s been a hell of a week for violence and inequality): the shooting at Charlie Hebdo, the bombing of the NAACP in Colorado, Scarlett Johanssen’s latest casting, and one’s woman’s experiment on walking down the street. There’s religious and ideological aggression, there’s race aggression, there’s the silencing of race and religious aggression, there’s gender aggression. And in all cases the aggression tends to go both in the direction of aggressors towards victims and victims towards aggressors. Which makes us all aggressors in the end.

If we generalise, we can maybe sum it up like this: extreme religious groups versus liberal cultural groups; racial majorities versus racial minorities; men versus women. This week’s prime aggressions range from the grave taking of lives and the attempt to do so, to the silencing of a certain group’s experience by erasing them from the media, to the daily antagonisms created by generations-long habits (because apparently men are used to having space made for them and do not get out the way when walking in the street).

At the end of the day, it’s a lot of violence. What I wonder is this: does outrage at violence do something other than create more violence? And if it doesn’t, then how do we react differently to create something other than violence?

I see all this stuff and it makes me heartbroken. It also makes me exhausted and angry. Looking at my own experience, I would postulate that positive change happens when we work from the heartbreak, because this is our love for others. When we fall into frustration and anger, we only sow the seeds for further violence and aggression. Can we rally for each other without rallying against some one else?

Still waiting to find out. And trying to start by keeping my finger pointed firmly at myself; change begins here. Because until I clarify my own aggression, I don’t think I can do much for the rest of the world.

Other than make scones. Recipe…

Continue reading

To Hold On And Let Go

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This is me letting go of frustration and disbelief, anger even. I have a hard time believing that human beings can be so at odds, and yet it appears we can. It’s strange to be Chinese by blood and culture and feel so completely alienated by the political choices of the Chinese government. It’s strange to be upset with an entity as abstract as a government. It’s strange to find myself drawn into a story of global politics when I’ve always tried to keep my nose pointed in the direction of things my hands can actually touch and change.

Here’s one for the history books. I’m offering you a petition. I generally make a habit of staying away from protests and petitions. I find it difficult to obtain the level of information I feel is necessary to take a stand for any issue and to declare that such-and-such a thing is right or wrong. I also have doubts about the efficacy of such means. Does it really make a difference if a few thousand people sign this electronic document that the person it’s addressed to may never see?

I’ll tell you what. I don’t know. I do know that Western political pressure can have an effect on politics in other places, as this power is not always used to good effect. I also know that at the end of the day this issue isn’t about one person or country being wrong or right. For me, it’s about thousands of people who are grieving, and the anguish they will bear for a loss with no real conclusion, no final goodbye. Maybe it’s better not to mix sentiment with politics. Maybe I don’t so much give a damn today. I’m willing to hold on to a little disgruntlement if it can help others in this time of loss.

To sign the petition for Nepal to allow Shamarpa’s body to enter the country, go here.

To read a slightly informal, but fairly informative article about the background of this issue, go here.

**This post is part of a larger project culminating in a week of creative journalism in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal chronicling the cremation (or maybe not–I guess we’ll see) of the Tibetan spiritual master Shamar Rinpoche. To find out more or make a donation to this project, go here.

Cold Hard Cash

There’s something I want to say. I haven’t dared because, well…it’s complicated in my head, and being able to share it with you means working through the complications. Also, maybe you won’t agree. Maybe you won’t care. Maybe something else. But it’s important, so here goes.

Let’s start with this. Asking people for money is hard. There’s an aspect of judgment and also an aspect of worth. Do  you like what I’m creating? Does what I’m creating move you or offer you enough that you want to invest the currency that your hard work and effort brought you?

Asking for money brings up a lot of emotional stuff about me. Why do I keep making things? What is the value of art? How do people perceive me as an artist, as a Buddhist, as a person? It’s a muddy river to wade through, and it’s awfully preoccupying. It’s also only about me.

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And I didn’t create this project just for me. Partly, yes, to force myself to grow and practice. But I also created it to bring people together, and to put into practice Shamar Rinpoche’s teachings. If I have a role in any of this, it’s as a conductor. I find it hard to describe, conceptualise, or concretize what Shamarpa brought to my life that was so important and what makes the loss of him, as a physical human being anyway, so upending. But I think the simplest term is confidence. Confidence in my own ability to be joyful, loving, and of use in this world. And equally as much, confidence in others’ ability to do so as well. He brought a sense of not-being-aloneness that completely surpassed all of the divisions I normally create between myself and others. The purpose of this project is to try to tap into that confidence, and to spread it, and grow it, and share it.

In the realm of the world, this activity is a small thing. I show up. I write a thing. I sometimes draw a thing or photograph a thing. But it takes a bit of gumption every day to do that. To say to myself, “Whatever I’m living, some one else out there is maybe living the same thing or something similar, and if I can just–bear witness, and share it, maybe that helps.” I do it in the hopes that the willingness to go just a tiny bit beyond my borders can connect others to their own ability to do so. This is the gift Shamarpa gave me: to be bolder and braver and less trapped by all of my ideas about me. To put myself forward despite my uncertainty in the hopes that I can benefit others.

Part of the benefit of this project lies in its financial aspect. I could have found quieter, more comfortable ways to pay for this journey. I could have stuck to the writing and images as ways challenge myself to be a little brave and share. But it didn’t seem right. Donating money is making a commitment. It’s giving up part of our own hard work and effort for some thing other than ourself. Doing so, when we truly want and are moved to do so, helps us develop a mindset of prosperity, trust, and care for others. Shamarpa had an infinite care for all of us, and it only seemed right to conceptualize this project in a way that lets us connect directly to that.

**This post is part of a larger project culminating in a week of creative journalism in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal chronicling the cremation of the Tibetan spiritual master Shamar Rinpoche. To find out more or make a donation to this project, go here.

L’absenceLaprésenceLaconfianceLeslarmes

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Traduction française pour ceux qui ne parlent pas anglais. Je m’excuse pour les fautes de grammaire, orthographe, et cetera.

For anglophones, scroll down to the previous post in English.

On en a perdu un bon aujourd’hui. Un des meilleurs.

Il y a précisément deux semaines je prenais un thé avec Shamar Rinpoché. On parlait du bouddhisme en Occident, du futur de ses centres en Europe et aux États Unis, et mon propre avenir en tant que pratiquant, disciple, enseignante aspirante, et serveuse diligente dans le fonctionnement des centres du dharma de la lignée Kagyu. Pour presque la première fois dans ma vie, j’ai eu le courage de demander quelque chose que je voulais, d’amadouer et persister et oser parce qu’il me semblait important. Et j’ai réussit à l’avoir. Un entretien avec mon enseignant. Le guide que je suivais, mais de loin, pendant les derniers huit ans de ma vie.

Quand j’ai découvert le dharma à l’age de dix-sept ans, un peu perdu en Nouvelle Zélande, la dame qui m’a introduit à la méditation et l’enseignement du Bouddha était une étudiante de Shamar Rinpoché. Quand j’ai décidé de poursuivre l’étincelle de reconnaissance que je sentais avec la pratique et la philosophie bouddhique, je l’ai fait dans un Bodhi Path, le réseau de centres établit par Shamar Rinpoché. Quand j’ai décidé de quiiter la Californie en quête d’une vie enraciné avec le dharma, les enseignants qui me diriger sur la route était sous guidance du même. Quand j’arrivais en Inde, j’ai eu l’opportunité incroyable de rencontrer le disciple primaire de Shamar Rinpoché, le Karmapa, le jeune successeur de la lignée Kagyu. J’ai même croisé Shamar Rinpoché lui-même, mais j’osait pas dire allô, tellement intimidé j’étais par ce figure que a influencé si profondément ma vie, sans jamais connaître qui je suis.

Et puis, il y a un mois, j’ai décrochée la téléphone à la maison des lamas avec mon salut habituel, « Maison des lamas. C’est Jourdie, » pour entendre une voix commandante qui disait, « Bonjour ! Où est Jigmé Rinpoché, » en anglais. Il m’a pris que quelque phrase d’anglais couleurées par l’accent tibétain pour me rendre compte que la voix avec qui je parlais appartenait à personne d’autre que le détenteur de la lignée, mon guide de loin, le seul et unique Kunzig Shamar Rinpoché. Cela est devenu encore plus clair quand il disait, « Tu es l’americaine. Moi, je suis Shamar Rinpoche ». Non seulement je lui reconnaissais, mais beaucoup plus surprenant, il me reconnaissait aussi. Pendant que je vérifiais que Jigmé Rinpoché n’était pas en France, était en Espagne, était à Malaga, était parti pendant encore cinq jours, Shamarpa me posait des questions sur ma vie. « Alors, tu vas bien à Dhagpo ? Tu n’a pas encore visité le centre en Allemagne » ? Tu es trop occupée par manger du saucisson français et du bon baguette » ! Quand je mentionnais que je faisais mon propre pain récemment, il a dit, « Ah oui ? Et quand est-ce que tu vas venir faire du pain en Virginie ? On commence à installer la réfectoire. On en parlera quand je viens ».

Il m’a laissé dans un tourbillon d’émotion, en me demandant si je serais emportée par le destin et la nécessité d’une vie que j’adore vers un autre chemin, utile mais imprévu. Shamarpa est connu pour cela, pour retourner ta vie complètement pour t’apprendre à être souple et léger avec tes attachements. Il est connu pour ne pas apparaître pour ces enseignements ou pour apprraître dans un pays autre que celui qui avait été décidé. Il est connu pour amener des monstre d’orages et pour détruire toute planification—cela je peux témoigner, comme j’ai vécu les pires pluies et coupures électriques de mon temps en Dordogne, en plus un vent qui éclaté la moitié de la bonne vaisselle de la maison deux jours avant notre grand événement. Il est connu pour se passer des procédures cérémonieux dans un contexte et les demandant dans un autre. Il est connu pour être imprévisible, brusque au point d’être tranchant, et entièrement pas disposé à conformer aux normes désignés pour faire les gens confortable s’ils ne les font pas aussi plus conscients.

Il n’est pas connu pour être doux, cajolant ou avunculaire. Il n’est pas connu pour être patient, direct, et rassurant. Et malgré cela, je ne me suis jamais sentie aussi soigné de ma vie qu’en parlant avec lui. Comme le tout de mes incertitudes était accepté, valorisé même. Comme je pourrais étaler tous mes espoirs et mes peurs sur la table devant lui, et ensemble on trouverait le sens là-dedans. C’était pour cela que j’ai demandé de lui rencontrer pendant qu’il était ici. Sachant qu’il est tout le temps occupé à aider tous les êtres, sachant qu’il s’occupe des douzaines de centres et projets et enseignants, sachant que je suis petite et récent et j’ai d’autres personnes pour veiller sur moi. Il m’a fait sure que j’ai quelque chose à offrir et qu’il valait le temps et l’effort pour découvrir comment mieux faire.

Et donc, on a pris un thé ensemble. J’ai amené un panier d’offrande du centre et une écharpe de prière en soie, toute blanche, des choses traditionnelles envers lesquelles je me suis sentie peu à l’aise. Et puis j’ai amené aussi des choses de moi. Un saucisson artisanale de la ville à côté. Une lettre pour lui dire des choses que je craignais je n’arriverais pas à dire voix haut. J’ai mis le panier sur la table, où il restait jusqu’à, j’imagine, dix minutes après mon départ, quand quelqu’un l’a ramené à Dhagpo pour être consommé par les êtres voraces et mondains qui sont moi et mes collègues. L’écharpe de prière j’ai laissé dans ma poche.

Le saucisson, je lui ai donné directe, et il l’a touché à sa tête ; comme on fait avec un texte sacré en bénédiction. Je lui ai donné la lettre, qu’il a lu sur le moment. J’ai avalé ma salive, ai sourié à mon anxiété, et me suis rappelée de mon engagement. La lettre disait, « Je m’engage pour le tout ». Je suis là pour toi, pour l’activité de la lignée, pour le bienfait des êtres, dès maintenant jusqu’à l’éveil. Y compris : je suis terrifiée et limitée et même que je doute ma capacité pour atteindre ce truc qu’on appelle l’éveil, je sais que vous ne le doutez pas, et j’ai confiance que c’est la chose pour laquelle ma vie vaut le plus. Donc, voici ma vie. Mon cœur, mon esprit, mes mains, et tous mes souhaits. Aidez-moi à trouver la voie.

Il l’a lue, il l’a repliée, et me l’a ré-offerte. Je lui ai dit de la garder, pas en pensant qu’il allait faire quelque chose avec, mais parce que moi, j’avais besoin de ça, de donner mon engagement de façon concrète. Puis on discutait la France, le Virginie, la Californie, les retraites de longue durée, la possibilité d’enseigner l’anglais et peut-être un jour le dharma. On discutait la tradition, la culture, et l’esprit occidental. Il m’a dit que certaines personnes n’acceptent pas la philosophie parce qu’elle veulent que leurs enseignants soient des déités. « Ils ne croient pas que nous sommes très humains » il a dit. « Nous sommes cent pour cent humains ». Je me suis rendue compte que je n’y croyais pas tout à fait non plus.

Il m’a dit de rester à Dhagpo, d’étudier, de m’entraîner assez pour enseigner si je pourrais. Il m’a dit des choses dans une heure qui va m’aider à décider ma vie pour autant de temps que je la vis. Et quand j’avais plus de questions à poser, il a fermé ses yeux et s’est à moitié endormit. Il y avait une partie de moi qui voulait rester, qu’un tout petit peu, pour continuer à me sentir soignée. Et il y avait une partie de moi qui me suis rendu compte que c’était l’heure, que je devais commencer à vivre le souhait que son soin me portera et que j’apprendrai comment prendre soin de moi-même.

J’ai dit, « Merci, Rinpoche » et il a ouvert ses yeux. Il a retiré sa chaise, s’est levé, et a levé ses bras. Je me suis approchée, le menton rentré, les mains devant mon cœur. Il a touché ses mains aux côtés de ma tête et dans l’espace de la bénédiction j’ai dit « grâce » pour tous les êtres. Je me suis souvenu de l’écharpe de prière dans ma poche. Je l’ai déroulée dans mes mains et j’ai dit, « un peu de tradition, pas trop », ce qu’il m’avait dit toute à l’heure. Il m’a touché encore aux tempes, et a posé l’écharpe sur mon cou. J’ai fait un grand sourire. Il a sourit en réponse à ma jubilation, en faisant oui de la tête. Je suis partie par la porte vers la voiture pour faire les courses, pour éffectuer mon engagement, pour m’entraîner à aider les êtres.

Ce matin, je me suis réveillée comme toujours. J’ai pris mes vitamines, ai remplit mes bols d’offrandes, me suis assise pour méditer. Au milieu de la pratique, j’ai senti un jet de douleur dans mon œil, et quand je me suis levée le blanc était complètement injecté de sang. J’ai Googlé « signifiance émotionnelle conjonctivite » à aucun résultat logique, a hoché ma tête à mes superstitions, a mis mes lunettes, et est allé déjeuner. Nybou m’a vu monter les escaliers et il s’est arrêté d’un coup, son regard fixé sur moi. Je me suis demandés si mes veines étaient tellement autant visibles que ça, ou si c’était la nouvelle mode pour dire bonjour. Quand je suis arrivée à côté de lui, il a cligné ses yeux deux fois, a mis sa main sur mon épaule et a dit, « J’ai une mauvaise nouvelle. Shamar Rinpoche a eu une crise cardiaque en Allemagne ce matin. Il est décédé. C’était il y a une demi heure ».

J’ai fermé mes yeux sur mes veines toutes rouges et j’ai maudit Google, et l’impermanence, et tout ce qui me reste à apprendre. J’ai mangé mon petit déj, ai formé une bénévole, ai tourné en rond autour du stoupa avec ma famille tout stupéfiée. Puis je suis entrée dans une pièce vide, est tombée sur mes genoux, et ai pleuré.

Pas pour lui, mais pour moi et pour nous. Je me sens petite et récente et incertaine. J’ai le sens qu’autant parmi nous nous nous sentons comme ça. Je me sens comme j’ai trouve ma famille et maintenant une partie essentielle est partie.

Des gens continuent à me dire qu’il n’est pas parti. Sa sagesse demeure. Le corps change, mais la nature de l’esprit reste. Et c’est vrai, je le sais; je suppose ; j’accepterai. La lignée est intacte. Merci aux Bouddhas pour Karmapa et Jigme Rinpoche et tous les enseignants qui restent pour nous guider. Et la réincarnation, c’est une chose que les maîtres comprendre gérer, et probablement il va revenir. J’y fait des souhaits ; on y en fait tous. Et son activité continue, et les centres devéloppent. Je fais des souhaits pour cela aussi : on en fait tous.

Mais vous savez quoi ? Nique rationalisme et stoïcisme, juste un tout petit peu. J’ai besoin d’eux et je le comprends et je suis reconnaissante que les choses soient claires—il faut se soutenir, soutenir le dharma, développer de la sagesse et être dévoué. Mais au même temps, je fais un deuil, et je suis mortelle, et on l’est tous, et finalement, ça pue grave. Du coup les larmes arrivent, et je les laisse.

Et j’espère que vous reveniez vite et que j’aie plus de force que je pense. Et je vous aime et je suis reconnaissante et je suivrai vos instructions, même si je ne trouve pas ce leçon final très drôle.

Voyagez-bien, mon enseignant. Shamarpa chenno.

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Photos prise par l’excellent Tokpa Korlo Mendel, frère de Dharma et pote de la Californie.

In A Mad World

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I’m caught between two strange things. The overwhelming love I have experienced in those around me in these recent weeks, and an act of great violence committed in my hometown.

On this side of the world, I’ve the fortune to welcome Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche–the lineage holder of the Karma Kagyu tradition, numerous translators, teachers, artists, center coordinators, and even friends from back home in California to today-home in Dhagpo. I had a kitchen so crowded it was easier to walk out the front door, around the house, and in the back door to get something on the other side than just to cross the kitchen. It felt like how I always imagined Christmas would feel when I was small and still believed Santa Claus was a person and not an idea and a love you have to create.

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I had help from all corners to prepare the house, welcome the guests, and make the food. This is the one shot I managed to take and I can’t even take credit for the aethetic awesomeness of this plate. I can, however, thank my lucky stars for having such a rad team. What could have felt like an insane catering event instead felt like an epic family reunion.

So there’s that.

And then there’s the fact that a young man, a kid really, killed six people and himself about a week ago in Isla Vista, the college town near Santa Barbara.

When I heard, my first thought was, “Ow.” And immediately after, “Again?”

I think I’m pretty much stuck there.

Killing is bad. I get this. But I can’t bring myself to feel horror at some one like Elliot Rodger. A lot of that ow is for him. People who feel loss and grief have at least enough joy and love in their experience of the world that they have something to mourn for. I can only fathom that people who take life have an experience of the world so bleak and anguished that the taking of life is conceivable because life is a hateful and valueless wretch. I wouldn’t want that existence for anything, not least because of harm that comes out of its confusion.

After the initial pain wears off, for victims, and perpetrator, and society as a whole, my own confusion sets in. Why does this keep happening? Gun control, media, pharmaceuticals, antiquated gender roles. The list is long and the issues are complex.

One person in the room said this: “Population control; somebody’s gotta do it.” The blackest of humor in a rather dark moment, but it points to deeper questions. Is the violence of modern times really new? Or have the methods for violence simply changed? In what way is violence societal and in what way is it human and individual? At what level do we address violence juridically, scientifically, or sociologically? And at what level do we choose to take responsibility for our own violence?

I held a handgun once for the purpose of sport, but couldn’t bring myself to lift my arm, the thing felt so treacherous in my grasp. I’ve never taken a human life, but I’ve considered taking my own. I have felt terrible pain and wished for others to feel pain. I have tried to do good and wound up causing harm.

My point is that the domino topple from plain human experience to outward violence is not simple and not external to any of us. Some of us have better tools and better luck but even when we’re not committing the violence, we are subject to it. Coordoning off those who seem dangerous in order to feel safe only maximizes the risk. The deeper our sense of self and other, the easier it is to harm. If something feels foreign enough, it no longer feels real or valuable, and that makes it easy to destroy. I don’t deny that the world is mad, but I do think we’re in this together. Working on that understanding, as individuals and as a society, is the only thing I can think of right now to improve our current conditions.

Pictures Of Places.

IMG_1343Periodically people ask me if I’ve been to the restaurant down the street from Dhagpo, or if I’ve visited such-and-such center, or if I know this or that part of France. Generally the answer is no, and generally my response is, “Um. I don’t leave Dhagpo much. Like, almost ever.” I meeean, I go to the movies every couple months. I think I ate out once last fall and a couple times in the summer. I’ve visited one out of the three or four other nearby Tibetan Buddhist centers. But that’s about it.

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Until now.

My dad came to visit for a week, and now I can officially say that I have been places. And I have pictures to prove it. You know you’re in France when everywhere you go seems to include at least one building with a vaulted ceiling and a sensually ambiguous copper-tinged fountain. Bordeaux is a clear win for these.

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And you know you’re in the Dordogne when every corner you turn seems to reveal yet another magic castle or sickeningly charming secret garden.

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There may or may not be briar roses and eighteenth century chandeliers. If you’re in St. Léon-sur-Vézère or Chateau de Hautefort, well, there are. I didn’t run into Sleeping Beauty, but it’s possible she had a run-in with a spindle and was passed out in a tower somewhere.

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She wasn’t in this particular tower. However, the coolest hand-crafted beam-and-strut wooden roof strucure was. My dad’s an architect. We geek out on good engineering.

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And good design. Which is easy to do if you stay at Les Garachons while you’re in Auvergne. The owners of this totally adorable B&B are former caterers and write a food blog (which is normally in Dutch, but which I Google-translated with reasonable success) about their current endeavors. Every detail is well-placed and makes you feel like life could, perhaps, be as tidy and nourishing as an issue of Martha Stewart Living.

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Which I quickly realized was not the case upon arriving in St. Etienne. It’s an industrial city that has been reimagined as a center of design. Despite hosting a major biennial design fair and being home, in its surrounding environs, to the second largest concentration of Le Corbusier buildings in the world, the city is rough around the edges. It’s a working class melting pot that reminds me that bucolic comfort is for one thing a luxury and for another not everyone’s ideal.

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Le Corbusier designed his buildings in response to a need to house large numbers of impoverished people. But his vision of buildings was a humanist one; constructed spaces are meant to be egalitarian and elevating. He developed engineering to allow for walls shaped by imagination rather than structural constraints. He melded geometric and organic forms, blended color and arithmetic. He dreamed of ways to build cities that would facilitate human life rather than simply contain it.

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He was a visionary. My dad tells me he’s known as the most influential architect of the twentieth century. He changed the way that buildings are conceptualized, the way that humans create our own space. It’s a pretty big legacy.

I haven’t seen any of his other work up close, but I was surprised by these. They are concrete blurs of line and form with dabs of color. To me they look more like abstract paintings superimposed on a landscape than like buildings. I found them ambitious, but a little sad. The concrete is heavy, maybe a reflection of the weighty times. After all, these buildings were designed to respond to post-war poverty in the mid 1900s. Le Corbusier designed whole cities. In some ways, the buildings that exist are prototypes of a great dream that was never realized.

I wonder if he didn’t quite believe the dream himself, though. The roof of St. Pierre Chruch is speckled with glass tubes that illuminate a man-made constellation within the somber interior. You can see the stars he’s wishing on, and the central space rises hopefully from the roof toward the sky, but in the end, the resignation of dense concrete remains. The space is dark and grounded and only the artificial stars remind us of what could be.

IMG_1457But this is what life is like, isn’t it? A balance between beauty and disappointment. Extravagance and actuality. For every castle, there was a whole region’s worth of peasants. For every perfectly baked cake, there is a slew of unsightly experiments. Despite the best attempts of engineering and artistry, the only cure for the human condition is living, and doing so consciously.

To see other places is useful. I’ve concluded that whevever we are, the work is the same. I’m grateful to be good where I am, grateful to be reminded of that, and grateful to be free to experience contrast and draw my own conclusions. Autonomy is for sure a liberty. Now it’s back to the home that I choose and the business at hand.

Precious Human Body And Apple Jelly Spirals

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Rain is trammeling down the twilight. The drops form a shower of diamonds in the blue-grey light of evening. I am sitting under the gentle parabola that caps the Institute and listening to two brave souls from this winter’s study retreat on The Jewel Ornament of Liberation recap the explanations on the precious human body. This body is precious because it is difficult to obtain.  Precious because it is easy to lose. Precious, for, once obtained, it travels unerringly towards its end. This body allows us to reflect on our suffering, to act to alleviate it, and to aid others with their suffering as we develop understanding through such reflection.

Let’s say the suffering of beings is like a vast desert of cracked earth (me talking now, not Gampopa). Then I suppose compassion and the just action that unfolds therein is the nourishing rain which allows the tender shoots of wellbeing and clarity to set forth their first leaves and all that follows. In the face of such immensity, at times I feel like a single drop of water destined to evaporate upon immediate impact with the steaming heat of so much anguish.

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Perhaps this is melodramatic. Also, perhaps–from another point of view–this is the answer. For though we experience our selves and our lives and all of our manifest suffering, this experience is also illusory. We are not formed and fixed as we believe ourselves to be. Our suffering is subject to change, as our self is subject to change. As a drop of water is wont to evaporate and the most parched earth is blown away by a gentle wind, so our suffering may be soothed, if we awaken to its temporality. Change is kind. It feels cruel when we do not welcome it, but in fact, change can be a balm.

It’s a harsher form of change to accept that that this body will not last. But there’s work to be done in the meantime. Reflection to call the rain.

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For me, reflection pairs well with manual activity. This way, the benefit of beings gets accomplished not only through deepened understanding, but also through better afternoon snacks. Plus, this precious human body needs loving nourishment. Lately, the dining hall kitchen has taken to fielding me puff pastry scraps that can’t be reused for big group meals, and I’ve taken to turning them into tasty spirals to go with post-lunch coffee or tea. This is the perfect happy ending for all those homemade spinach triangle leftovers or times you needed a round sheet of puff pastry but could only find a square one.

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You can fill a puff pastry spiral with just about anything: nut butter or, duh, Nutella, sweetened cream cheese, good old-fashioned cinnamon-sugar. I chose to get a little ambitious here and make a batch of fresh apple preserves. It’s remarkably easy and totally ups the schmancy factor. You end up with a crispy, tender, gooey, sweet moment of worldly, impermanent, totally delicious happiness. (Bite me post-modern literary and grammar mores; I will use as many adjectives as I want to, and I nearly ended this sentence with a preposition.)

Recipe…

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I Could Cry

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It is spring, and I could cry with joy. Not that winter was so bad. It was mild in fact, with just a bit of frost and nary a snowflake in sight. But three days hence, all decked out in sunshine, I am nothing if not grateful.

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Lately I’ve developed a habit of collapsing unexpectedly into a puddle of tears, and usually not for joy. I generally flee human company at such times, marvel at the unpredictability of my experience of the world, and try not to judge too much. Emotion–it’s a thing sometimes.

It’s a thing a lot these days. I find myself overcome with paralyzing sadness or desperate hope, none of which lasts but all of which shakes me around like an acorn on an oak branch in the midst of a winter storm. It’s all I can do to hang on.

So that’s what I try to do. Hold it together when I can, let it go when I can’t. Ask for help; accept that help. And also just generally try not to leak overwhelmption all over the place. Because that’s heavy, overwhelmption is, and most people have enough of their own to carry without me dousing mine all over them unbidden. And, um, I think it’s generally working.

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But the thing about being an acorn in a storm is you can either watch the storm or close your little acorn eyes and just not. Erm, duly noted that acorns don’t have eyes and this analogy has overstayed its ability to be applicable, but you see what I’m getting at here…I’m trying to be an acorn with my eyes open.

And in the storm of my emotions, there’s a lot to see. I see how joy is based on believing in future happiness. I see how sadness comes from a vision of future loss. I see how pain grows from witnessing others’ hardship and my own, and feeling trapped in an inability to fix or often even lessen that hardship in the moment.

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As far as I can tell, looking and holding on is what there is to do. The ability to be helpful, to others and myself, increases with understanding. I’m not useless, even if I feel like it on occasion. I’m just a lot less useful than I’d like to be.

But this is the deal with keeping our eyes open. The more we pay attention to all the uses we could fill in this world, the more we experience the limits of our present usefulness. Which is hard, but it’s not bad. I am doing the best I can do. I’m pretty sure we all are. And if I keep paying attention, and somehow learn to balance sadness and vision and motivation, my best will continue to grow. And I think that’s all I can ask for. Storms are not that comfortable, but acorns need rain to grow into oaks (usefulness of analogy regained–ha!).