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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It’s Official!

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Just a quick head’s up. From now until the official project starts, I’ll be writing over at the To Dare To Offer page to guide people to the project. For each post, I’ll drop a photo and a link here to keep everybody connected.

Go here for the word on who and when.

 

Groups, Things That Grow, and Hazelnut Quince Financiers

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Phase two of massive planning meetings. This week has been spent in daily “ateliers,” sessions of group brainstorm and systematic formulation of ideas related to themes of importance for the center, so far: axes of development, organizational infrastructure, and human resources.

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These are good things. Things that are massively important to reflect on as Dhagpo enters a new stage of development ushered in by the completion of the Institute. And it’s absolutely incredibly to take part and to find myself in a community where all voices have space to be heard.

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Also, it’s really exhausting. Focusing intensely on issues of importance at the same time as navigating group communication, listening to others, and then distilling frequently dissident—respectful but irreversibly opposite—voices into an organized and comprehensible vision of said issue…erm, need I say more? I’m in starfish-on-a-rock mode, if you know what I mean. Relatively dried-out, flailing one arm in a weak attempt to work my way back to water.

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I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we all are. And I can only imagine how the members of the planning committee feel; they’ve been doing this for weeks and are spending twice as many hours a day doing it as the rest of us. And yet, no one’s really complaining. This is what it takes to move forward, to let things grow. Hard work, patience, and a commitment to staying reasonable, focused, and confident of the goal in the face of whatever obstacles may arise.

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I don’t know how others are handling it, but for my part, I’m taking time to cultivate softness around all of the agitation and exhaustion that can come up in this process. I spent yesterday evening by myself in the kitchen, chopping quinces and cracking hazelnuts, focusing on the resistance of batter against wooden spoon as I stirred, feeling grateful that even in moments when I don’t want to talk to anyone anymore, there are still ways to connect with those around me. To share sweetness and offer comfort, to lighten the mood and acknowledge togetherness, to raise an eyebrow to being mutually grateful and a little over it, all without saying a word.

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I am too tired to explain in detail what makes these little cakes so amazing. Basically they are great. Really, really. I almost never make a recipe twice, but ever so occasionally I find something so good that’s its crave-worthy and becomes a staple of my repertoire. This is that. The depth of the hazelnuts plus the tanginess of the quince. The moist, but slightly hefty crumb. Not too sweet, but enough that you’re satisfied that you’ve eaten dessert. Basically, I’m sold. Now I just have to stay at Dhagpo for the rest of my life so I can always have fresh hazelnuts and quinces right off the tree.

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To Reunite (And Not Without Cranberry Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies)

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This weekend marks the pause between two weeks of giant planning meetings at Dhagpo. The “Réunions d’automnes,” or autumn meetings, as it were. I’ve never enjoyed PowerPoint presentations so much as this last week. But when you fill a room with diverse, yet likeminded people devoted to a shared cause, and then spend three days straight, six hours a day, talking about how to further that cause…even PowerPoint takes on some vigor and joy. It also makes me giggle to see a room full of professional, well-educated people discussing infrastructure and finances, all the while sitting on the floor. With cushions, of course, but still. There’s a certain inherent humility there.IMG_2252

Is it dopey that I gush about management and organization? It blows my mind that I want to. To be so enamored of a place, of a vision, of a community, that I’m interested in PowerPoint and excited about Excel. Math makes me cringe, and yet I’m looking forward to reviewing the budget. I want to know everything about how this place works. I want to help it work. What are the blood and bones of building inspiration?

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That is what this community means to me. To be grounded and lifted at the same time. To talk about how the bills get paid, how the flowers get arranged, whether we’re really going to have lentils twice a week for the rest of our lives. If we’re doing our best, if we can do better, if we’re happy, if we need help. To be honest, to be supportive, to be critical when needed and with kindness.

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And then to exhale and let it all go for a moment. To sit under the stars and share a glass of something warming, toast a marshmallow over a candle, eat oatmeal cookies, and revel in the wonder of good people, good times, and good work.

These are my favorite twist on oatmeal raisins cookies. I typically make them at Christmas time, but we had a little regional dinner party, where everyone brought something from their neck of the woods, and it felt like the right time to break out the bag of cranberries I toted back from the States. This cookie dough is fairly simple and versatile. Bake them right after mixing for lacier cookies, or refrigerate for a couple hours to have thicker, chewier cookies. Bake for a few minutes more or less to have soft cookies or crispy edges or crispy cookies. Either way, you will have the perfect balance of toasty cinnamon, tangy cranberries, rich chocolate, with all the oat-y, caramel-y goodness of the traditional American “koo-kie” (as the French say).

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Every Day a New Year, with Honey Apple Pudding to Celebrate

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Yesterday was Rosh Hashanah, otherwise known as the Jewish New Year. It is one of three New Years I celebrate each year, along with the Western January 1st and Tibetan Losar, in February. The more cultures you belong to, the more fresh starts you get, I suppose. It’s kind of nice having multiple opportunities to reflect on the state of my life and eat corresponding celebratory food.

The state of life right now seems to be settling in. I live in France. Okay then. Today I woke up with thunder shaking the woods. It felt grounding. The rains come; the seasons change. I eat granola and drink rooibos tea, bake bread, and write e-mails. I meditate, joke with Lama, reflect on the year to come for and in and with this community.

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We answer questionnaires, plan budgets, clarify responsibilities. We get ready for the “réunions d’automne.” Three days of presentations and five days of meetings about what it is we do here and how we plan to do it for the next twelve months. We muse over public relations and gluten-free ingredients. We talk finances and management and teamwork, and then we go out for dinner because it’s been four hours and it’s just that time.

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I discover more about this fascinating phenomenon called “being an adult,” where people trust you with organization and autonomy and directing others. I take phone calls about last minute lunch guests and plan menus on the fly. I walk quora around the stupa to make wishes to be more patient and less impulsive, a better listener and less headstrong, to trust change and bring goodness.  I make apple honey pudding to nourish all these near-and-oh-so-dear and make manifest the wish that the year to come will be sweet. Go team. Happy (this particular) New Year!

If you’re wondering, apples and honey are a traditional Rosh Hashanah combo, for the healing/nourishing/wish-making properties stated above. Usually, a direct apple slice, honey dunk method is applied, but sometimes you just have to reinvent tradition. In this case, super worth it. This is like the Jewish cousin of sticky toffee pudding. Soft and sticky and melt-in-your mouth. Sweet and earthy with the tiniest bit of tang from the apples. New Year’s food worth celebrating.

Recipe follows…

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