Looking For The Low Light

DSC_0029

This mist of busyness plus the-rest-of-life-ness has been continuing. The kitchen project is racing forward all of a sudden it seems. Suffice to say that the kitchen I’ve known for the last two years is no more, just an empty space with shockingly dirty walls…I guess twenty-six years of life and action will do that to a place. In the meantime, we’re cooking in the new outdoor space, which is smaller but has all the joy of newness and a place created with care.

DSC_0021

All of this means lots of spontaneous rearranging of affairs and minor kitchen panic from trying to prepare a meal without knowing where the hell anything is. This week feels like trying to stop sand from pouring down into the bottom of the hourglass. I feel like things may be slipping through the cracks and yet the sand pours down so smooth and soft that I stop paying attention to details and simply focus on the feeling.

DSC_0040

There’s no way I’ll be able to write all the e-mails I want to write in a week, or have all the conversations that need to be had, accomplish all the tasks. And as each week gets closer to Karmapa’s visit I know that somehow in the time he is here, every thing I have not done before will land squarely on my head in those five days.

DSC_0037

And I just think, okay. Things will slip through the cracks. Time is limited. And it keeps spilling out below me. So what to do but relax? Go to the lake and have a drink with friends when your brain can’t crunch any more numbers or formulate any more e-mails and the basics of your to-do list have been crossed off even if the non-basics are literally unending. Let it be a little. Play with your new prime lens and try to understand in life and in photography that place where everything glows a little before the sun disappears and it all goes dim. Every moment is a tiny flash of impermanence, in all its continuous glory. Every second a death from one moment to another, each grain of sand sliding down below us.

DSC_0046

I can capture it in an image, but even the image I think have captured and can hold is a fiction. All things pass. So what is there to do but live them and let them go, and dedicate them when they are good?

Throw up one’s hands and laugh a little, perhaps.

Advertisements

Funfetti Cake And A Different Kind Of Mourning

DSC_0007

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.

DSC_0023

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.

DSC_0010

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.

DSC_0029

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.

DSC_0045

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…

Continue reading

Somewhere In The Low Light: The Opposite of Ambiguity

DSC_0007 I have decided that I need a tripod. The world captured in low light feels like my heart; it trembles but yearns to be seen clearly. Capturing those moments still that should be blurry but for the grace of a stable support: this is the use of a tripod in photography and of meditation in life. Such moments are the precipice where one yearns to feel, but the risk of being seen naked if we truly lay ourselves open still seems far too great. And so we stay in the shadows, where it’s safe, where the beauty of ambiguity cradles us with its ungraspable-ness. We hide amidst the blur. There is comfort in confusion. DSC_0001 Sometimes I realize how much of me really doesn’t want to become enlightened. To see the illusion of all things. I like my things real. I like my cake decadent; I like my sorrow sharp; I like my joy effervescent. DSC_0018 Well, I used to. Now, I still like my cake, but I resent that it makes my intestines sad. I still like my sorrow because it reminds me there are things I don’t understand, but I am mystified by how I can’t seem to turn its sharpness into an understanding that will change the way I act. I still like my joy, but it frightens me because I cling to it. After all, the only transition possible from temporary bliss is to something less than bliss, and it hurts every time. And yet this hurt hasn’t yet changed my vision so that I truly see the beautiful things in life as being as unreliable as they are. As just an essenceless apparition that will dissipate either now or later, unexpectedly or unwontedly. DSC_0020 I asked Jigme Rinpoche about art again today. We were talking about the renovation of the Lama House kitchen, working out details of countertops and credenzas, and which direction the stove should face. It was all very concrete and pleasantly comprehensible. Since January I’ve had this bug in the back of my mind, from our last conversation about life, my life, when he told me, enthusiastically, that it was quite a good idea to be an artist. So I asked why, just there, amidst the sawdust and reflection over water filters.

“Rinpoche, when we talked in January, I had mentioned about wanting to be a professional artist.”

“You want be a professional artist?” He perked up, with what seemed like the same enthusiasm in January.

“Well, I used to. Since I’ve been here, I’ve more been focusing on other things. It’s more on the side now. But when we talked about it, you had said that this was not a bad idea, quite a good thing actually.”

“Yes, good.”

“But why.”

“Because then you can bring to everything.” And he made a gathering motion. DSC_0026 And I sort of framed my ideas around this sentence, trying to see how they fit, and what it all meant. And some notions came up, like how art is a way to turn all of life into a reflection, and one that can be shared. And how viewing the world through an artist’s eye means that one is always looking with some kind of perspective, rather than just being caught up in the experience. I wandered over the idea that maybe in Rinpoche’s view being an artist doesn’t actually mean one has to make things, but is much more about the way one looks at things and approaches things. DSC_0015 I think I kind of short-circuited on this idea, and we pretty much had the above conversation verbatim a second time. I walked away nearly as unclear as before, but with the recognition that until I’m ready to make a commitment to artistry, the view or the act, I’m never going to be able to make very much sense of what Rinpoche says to me on the subject. DSC_0032 I keep trying to give up on art. I keep trying to “let it go” and see if the urge abandons me. So far it hasn’t, but so far I’m also not willing to shoulder the responsibility of whatever Rinpoche was making reference to (what is that motion a gathering of?) and what I apparently refuse to see or clarify for myself. An artist who wants so badly to be an artist but is so unwilling to claim the role. A bit like a bodhisattva who wants to badly to be free and free others but is unwilling to renounce her shackles. When the day comes. You’ll be the first to know.

Darkness And Light And Four Quarters Cake

DSC_0032

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.

DSC_0028

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.

DSC_0056

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.

DSC_0057

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?

DSC_0043

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.

DSC_0047

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.

DSC_0101

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?

DSC_0092

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.

DSC_0123

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.

Continue reading