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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Rainy Day Reflections And The Three Pillars

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I don’t think I can come close to describing this week. In French, there is a term for when life is so dense that you just are just filled up to the tip-top and no more experiences fit in. Being saturated, like when a sponge is soak-sopped full with water or when you ram the colors up to an extreme in Photoshop. Whatever the analogy, it’s all just a bit too much.

I think I hit that point around Wednesday, and I’ve spent the last three days slowly squeezing out the excess, all the while trying to stay productive. This is life right now, a new exercise in productivity. Every time I think I have a full and busy life, new important things appear: a training program connected to the Bodhi Path centers that could one day help me fulfill Shamar Rinpoche’s instructions, the conception of a Dhagpo blog to celebrate our forty year anniversary (how happy I am to be included in this “we”), a renewed vigor to actually try and run the Lama House in an organized, efficient way rather than just running around trying not to let it all get the better of me, burgeoning usefulness as a native English speaker and translator, and deepening relationships that are nurturing and thus need to be nurtured.

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And all this falls into the the category of “action,” not even yet speaking of meditation or study. These are the three pillars of the Buddhist path, or one way of laying out the path anyway. The volunteers got called together for a special chat with Rinpoche on Wednesday, which is maybe not a small part of why my head reached near-exploding point that day. For three hours we exchanged with him about what the program of life at Dhagpo is about and what that means to us and for us. He said, “I think everybody here wants to be useful. Wants to be a good person. For this, we need these three together.”

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So now I am looking at my days, color-coding them in my Google calendar, and figuring out how I can tetris my life and schedule into making me useful, making me a good person. Into making all of my time count. And also into understanding that time is an extendable concept; in a way there is always more, just as there is never enough. What matters is being both present and relaxed such that the activity of this moment is part of the path, whatever form it may take.

Also, well…happy Valentine’s Day. I go back and forth between hating this holiday because it perpetuates an idea of love and romance that I don’t understand or ascribe to–one that is commercial, exclusive, and imagined to last forever–and kind of secretly getting into it because it’s a great excuse to make everything pink and red and heart-shaped and tell everyone I know that I love them. Making heart-shaped cookies and red cake didn’t fit into this year’s V-Day Google cal, but that doesn’t change how much love you all and wish you hugs and sweets and whatever it is you need on this day of celebration. Buy yourself a damn rose and a box of chocolate. I’m thinking of you.

Heritage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Unite The Family (Choco-Vanilla Cupcakes Are Not A Bad Start)

**Quick note. So I had this whole plan to publish everything related to To Dare To Offer on the project page to funnel people over there with the idea that this makes it more likely that folks will donate, but I’ve realized a few things.

At its base, this project is about sharing. My goal is to tell stories and connect people. Yes, at this moment, I’m seeking support to be able to tell a particular story in a particular time and place, but I also don’t want to make people click on four different things to get to a story, just in the hopes that they’ll donate. Donation is meant to be a positive experience of involvement and camaraderie, not some kind of sneaky gimmick. So. The donation link is at the bottom; the story is here.

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Today is about connection, about Shamar Rinpoche’s vision of community, and taking action to make it real.

Today a group of Dhagpo folks piled into cars and went to visit a sister center called Marfond. Unlike Dhagpo, which is a public center, Marfond is a retreat center, where the volunteers spend eight months in closed practice. Their retreat ended in May, and they came to help us prepare before Shamarpa’s big teaching. They’ve been here often since his death to take part in group practice.

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Shamarpa set up and supported many different microcosms within the Kagyu lineage, different approaches for different kinds of people. At the same time, he wanted us to work together, and now we finally are. Since he died, students from different centers with different styles and in many ways different cultures, have been coming together to mourn and to celebrate our teacher, but also to exchange, to discover, and to develop a shared vision of the future. We’re realizing that the community, the mandala, as it’s called, isn’t just the people we know and work with every day, but tons of other people practicing and growing in the same tradition.

And beyond that, as support pours in from individuals, groups, cities even that don’t have anything to do with the lineage or Buddhism at all, I for one, am seeing ever more clearly that community is everyone, so long as we are willing to connect. I know the folks at Marfond will be grateful to follow what’s happening in Kathmandu, and for this alone it’s worth sharing, but who knows who else might connect with this moment and this story. Sometimes you just have to throw things out into the universe, make wishes, and let things happen.

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And well, if you’re me, you also bring cupcakes everywhere you go to show that you care and you come in peace.

Wish for the day: “D’unir la famille.” To unite the family. To help bring to life Shamarpa’s wish for all of us.

If you’re feelin’ it, you can donate here.

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As far as cupcakes go, they’re a handy way to build community. This is the easiest yellow cake recipe I know with melted chocolate on top. It’s not about laziness; it’s about simplicity. It’s about things that are so good and so classic that there’s no need to embellish them. It’s also perfect for the blazing heat of summer, which keeps the chocolate deliciously partway melty.

Cupcake recipe follows…

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Ten Days Out

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It’s been a week and a half. I have been to Germany and back. I have said goodbye and I will keep saying it. I have felt so many things that I’m a little tired out on feeling. Mostly now what’s left are pictures and glimpses of memory.

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The sight of the funeral home and the thought of Shamar Rinpoche laughing at us, a motley mix in a mixed-up place. The temporary altar with two times a thangka of his image in traditional dress, and to its left a mural of Jesus and his disciples. We were in a Christian cemetery, the only place big enough and legal enough to keep his remains and all of us. A blend of Tibetan masters and Western disciples with few Western masters and Tibetan disciples. A bunch of French monastics in Germany, a crowd of Diamond Way practitioners at a Bodhi Path center and a handful of Americans from nowhere and everywhere.

After the evening ritual each day, we sat around laughing and crying, talking with people we’d heard of but never met or never heard of but were glad to meet. And one day some one said, “It’s just like him. To think, Dhagpo and the centers in France are going pretty well. The Bodhi Path is really developing nicely. Things are good with the Diamond Way centers. Now how do I get them to work together? Ah, I’ll die.”

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The resinous smell of formaldehyde and the feel of synthetic carpet against my skin as I prostrated before the casket. The wish to cry and the absence of tears. An internal ruefulness that says, “Fine. I’m here.” You dragged me out of my comfortable ambivalence. I was happily following the carrot of contentment in front of my nose before I met you. You got me involved in this whole mess of bodhisattva activity and being diligent for the benefit of beings, and just like that you’ve gone beyond. Not beyond where I can reach you. Not beyond where your teachings and protection can aid me and bolster me. But beyond where I can pester you with questions to make sense of things, beyond where I can take comfort in your physical presence.

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Karmapa coming from India. Arriving unexpected from the back gate. Me standing outside the funeral home on the hot stones, looking for my ballet flats amongst the sea of footwear on the shoe shelves and grumbling about dirty feet and disorganization. A ripple in the air that might have been his presence or might have been the crowd suddenly standing upright or both. He came striding down the cemetery path, robes flying out like wings or wind or downright disregard for the physics of reality that kept him from yet reaching his objective, the mortal remains of his teacher. He was as pale as ever, but with a darker expression. He looked like a king and a specter, powerful and present in this world but belonging to another. His grace undiminished, but on this day rife with sadness and resolve. Come to take up the legacy you leave behind.

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The sound of many voices in many moments, and the voice in my own head, repeating this sentence, “We have to grow up now.” Time to take care of each other. Time to care of the lineage. Time to take care of our teachers, our community, and the understanding that allows us to move forward instead of sliding back or simply staying in one place. Time to get over cultural differences and disparate histories. Time to move past needing recognition or affirmation. Time to grow up.

Not that it ever wasn’t. It’s just more obvious now.

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The images are part of a drawing series I started in November; each drawing represents a wish for the day. In English, the captions are as follows:

De vous garder avec moi. To keep you with me.

Que tout soit une offrande. That everything would be an offering.

De rendre hommage. To pay homage.

De reprendre le fil. To pick up the thread.

De mûrir vite. To ripen quickly.

To Run and Then To Breathe

IMG_1377Normally you breathe while you run. Unfortunately, I haven’t quite got that one figured out. My life lately feels more like  I ran for days and days and then all at once remembered to take a deep inhale, whereupon I promptly fell over from exhaustion. I’m in recovery now. From my repose, here’s what all happened.

IMG_1370For four days, two thousand people streamed into Dhagpo: ate on the lawns, meditated in the temples, danced on the parquet, and did Tai Chi in front of the stupa. For four days, I cooked from eight in the morning until ten at night with an hour break to talk to people about art. In addition to the usual stupa, there was also a stupa of vegetables, to inspire people over their lunch buffet.

IMG_1360Sleep-deprived wittiness aside, inspiration was the focus of this event. Even though I’ve been here less than three months, and I’m leaving in a week (only to get my papers in order for a longer visa!), this place is my home. It’s home to many people, from the fifteen people who live here all the time to the twenty more who work here five days a week, to the couple hundred who live nearby and visit regularly to volunteer their time and take part in study and practice. The power of this place is that it lets us feel at home, not just here, but in ourselves. The goal of the Inauguration was to bring people together to share that sense of power and possibility.

IMG_1376On a practical level, the goal was to raise money to continue financing the Institute. Over four days, we succeeded in gathering over 200,000 euros toward the 1.6 million that remain to pay off the construction of the building. In case you were wondering, I designed the lovely donor-meter that you see above…again with the boxes with wings, again with the explanation still to come. In addition to economic exchange, a major part of the event focused on creating connections with people to the center and the history and spiritual life that happen here.

IMG_1372Throughout the four days of Inauguration, there were regularly scheduled teachings, and the event culminated in a two day initiation and blessing of the wisdom deity Gyalwa Gamtso. For practicing Buddhists, this is a link to a long tradition and a step toward deepening one’s practice down the road. For visiting guests, it is an opportunity to experience a traditional ceremony and take part in a vibrant community.

IMG_1355For me, it was a chance to share a profound experience with a ginormous room full of strangers and friends alike, and to pause amidst the rush and realize how truly fortunate I am to have the support that I do in this life: spiritual, emotional, financial, et al.

In between the kitchen and the ceremony, that installation I’ve been talking about got finished and seen and (piece by piece) sold. Overall, it garnered around a thousand euros toward the financing of the Institute. Because so very many things have gone down recently, and because I am so very exhausted, I’m splitting this story into multiple parts. Still to come: the installation and the Institute…what do they look like; what are they for?

Much love for now.

This Is Life Lately

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This is a boîte à donation, a.k.a., a donation box, ready to accept funding for notre chère Institute, our dear Institute. It’s also a boîte à ailes, a winged box. More on that in a sec.

IMG_1283This is a family of boîtes à dons, inspired by me, I suppose, conceptualized by Rohen — who conceptualized an enormity of cool things and talked me through all my own conceptualizing too, — built by Vincent, and painted by Christine. Teamwork, yo.

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This is a family of boîte à ailes en papier, origami winged boxes, made by loads of people. Special shout outs to Guillaume, Collette, and the traveling Germans for folding multiple hundreds each. These will all be inflated into proper box shape and  hung by fishing wire in the installation. A few will find other homes. This is me leaving a trail of crumbs for future posts. Be intrigued.

IMG_1294This is a bunch of paper and wire spirals, which will turn into the growth of the seeds of wisdom, in part a representation of the Three Jewels. It’s a long story. I’ll explain later. Promise. There will be more pictures, and they will be awesome. In no small part because of Barbara, who paper-mâched like a fiend today, and Mylène, who keeps sending people to help me.

IMG_1290This is a fuzzy picture of my painting studio. For that, the infinite gratitude that every artist knows who has her own space to work. In this case, to Julien, and not just for this, but for finding me paint, finding me help, reminding me not to get overwhelmed, and also, ya know, building the structure of the whole installation. Ain’t no thang.

And more gratitude on top of that for too many people to name who are making all of this possible. The ladies at the Lama House for picking up the slack and making me smile. The homies on the range (erm, residents) for keeping it real and keeping it cool as the pressure rises. The in-and-out people from around the hood who pop by and get inspired. All the administrative peeps and money peeps and infrastructure folk who let this happen and made this happen.

This is happening. And it’s gonna be rad. And I can hardly believe it, but I will show you everything when it is ready.

And thanks to you, for being here, for keeping me connected to the wide world and letting me know you care. This is awesome; you are great.

From Dusk ‘Til Drawn

Every summer, the Contemporary Arts Forum in Santa Barbara hosts this awesome event. They keep the gallery open from 6 pm on Friday to 6 pm on Saturday. They fill the interior with tables, and fill the tables with artists, who, over the course of the 24 hours, fill the walls with art. It’s a continuing exhibition with artists making work and the public visiting, viewing, and buying work as it is created.

The walls are labeled by price and artists simply tack up work wherever they feel. The price points are reasonable: twenty-five, seventy-five, one hundred and fifty, and three hundred dollars. From Dusk ’til Drawn brings artists and the public together, and helps make art available to everyone. Many of the people drawing are well-known, mid-career artists, so buying their work here is a real steal!

Some artists stay the whole twenty-four hours. They’re known as marathoners; there’s food and drink and even a lounge with beanbag chairs and sleeping bags for them. I went in on Saturday morning and stayed for five hours. I got to draw with and talk to everybody from a five-year-old kid with scented markers (mmm!) to some cool young surfer guys in art school to some wonderfully friendly working artists. I met Julie B. Montgomery, whose work you may have seen on a TV show like Law & Order or How I Met Your Mother, and James Van Arsdale, co-founder of local art stronghold Can(n)on Studios.

Some Beast, 10″ x 10″, ink and watercolor on paper

I also made this guy, who got bought right off the wall. Woohoo!

Thanks CAF and thanks to everybody who participated and made this a really fun event.

A Thing to Draw and a Journey

An Old Hotel, ink on paper, 5 3/8″ x 8 1/2″

Hi there. Sorry for the radio silence. It’s been a week, and by that, I mean a helluva week. It’s also been over a week since I last posted, which is technically a breach of contract, since I committed to posting at least once a week when I started writing this blog. I am apologetic for that, but I am also working on not minding, or at least, not holding it against myself. Beating myself up for mistakes I have made is an unconscious habit of mine, and while I consider it a fairly human habit, I am really, seriously working on it right now. Forgiveness is the theme of the moment.

Forgiveness for hurting others in the struggle to support myself. Forgiveness for hurting myself in the struggle to navigate life.

Unlike in California, spring exists in the mountains of Arizona. It looks like this, among other things.

I took a trip to Arizona to visit two of my closest friends for their graduation and to give myself space to start healing from a recent choice to leave some one that I love to pursue my own path. Spending time with old friends is both a balm and a new ache. I am blessed to know so many wonderful, strange souls. Being in their presence reminds me that there are indeed others who find science poetic and nature hilarious, art impossible to live with and impossible to live without, and the whole tumult of being a human just absurd in general and therefore fantastic. It is hard though, figuring out where to look for such people away from the moth light of academia.

A home once mine in a town once mine.

This is one cornerstone of the forgiveness puzzle. Understanding that the struggle to find community, purpose, and affirmation post-college is not a failing on my part, but an almost unavoidable aspect of life for those of us who have the privilege to pursue and benefit from higher education. In college, you self-select to meet people with similar interests, values, and goals, and then come together underneath the banner purpose of your school and major. At Prescott College, we were “for the liberal arts, the environment, and social justice.” It’s a damn good crowd of passionate, opinionated, proactive, and magnificently humorous people. And I miss them. And I miss the shared momentum and joy. And that’s okay. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be stressed. It’s okay to wonder how I will ever get by in life when I some times feel so alone on the path. I’m not truly alone, and it becomes easier to move through moments of loneliness when I’m not caught up in resenting myself for them. This is what I am learning.

Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana) is recognizable by its unique checkered bark and ability to incite wonder and acceptance in the hearts of observers.

And then there is forgiveness for love lost and love given away. For hurting some one I care for. For being so angry at myself for choosing to leave that I did it utterly unskillfully. For missing him even though I made the choice to be on my own. For berating myself for all of the above. And even for this: being chaotic and confessional, rather than steady and unswayed. I wrote an essay once relating myself to a forest and its fire cycle: we go up in flames so that new seeds may germinate. It’s an apt and a comforting metaphor, but at times I can’t help aching to be calm and resolved instead of wild and reckoning. To be even instead of tumultuous. To be some way other than the way I am. Forgiveness for that. I can feel it growing among the embers.

Thanks to pinyon-juniper woodlands and the butterscotch smell of Ponderosa pine trees for cradling me in my sadness. Thanks to you all for love and patience.