This Is A Place Of Practice

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“C’était bien passé?”

People ask this question all the time: it went well? Most of the time I say yes. Sometimes I say definitively no. And periodically, I take the time to truly reflect and express the infinite shades of possibility between the one and the other. Having just returned from a week of retreat and facing this query frequently, I can safely say the experience engenders the latter.

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It went like this.

Bowled over by beauty and the strength of this place of practice. Equally bowled over by the strength of my own mind, both to accept its own nature and to flee in a frenzy from said nature. I’m no expert on the nature of mind, but the Buddha and his disciples said a few things about it, and the ones that stick out to me lately are these:

“The nature of the mind is clarity.”

“The nature of the mind is creativity.”

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At times my mind feels spacious, and I rejoice in the tranquility. At times my mind feels spacious, and I recoil from the openness, unsure what to do with all the empty space. At times my mind is active, and I revel in its dynamism without holding tight to what insights arise. At times my mind is active, and I flutter frantically through my thoughts, trying to gather them all before they pass, as a mouse gathers straw for warmth before the winter. At times I am wonderstruck by where I am in this journey, and at times I am desolate with my own limitations.

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To me, being well means being conscious, neither holding on when what we see is hopeful, nor minding overmuch when it is less than comfortable. I have experienced meditation retreats utterly replete with marvel and exhilaration. This trip was steadier, in some ways harder, but more clear. And not entirely lacking for marvel, either (ahem, the pictures…). It went well.

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And whatever wisdom arises, be it blissful or blindsiding, there’s always beauty to carry the day. The power of this place and the devotion of those who have wrought it, whose dedication permeates every stroke of paint in the nearly-finished temple, every stick of bamboo by the koi pond, which rolls in waves over the gate from the cloisters of long-term retreat—this wells confidence in what we can uncover through practice: our own untarnished wisdom, for the benefit of all beings.

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Off To Retreat With Maple Glazed Parsnip Muffins For The Road

IMG_2544My bags are packed, Buddha and all. I’m heading to the magical, mystical land of Dhagpo Kundreul Ling, i.e. the sister center of my home center, Dhagpo Kagyu Ling. To each their own magic and mystery; for me, Bost, as it is known colloquially, is the stuff of legend. Where people go to do three-year retreat, tucked away in the snowy mountains, with a temple handmade by practitioners over decades of hard work.

Retreat itself is neither magic nor mystery; its activity falls more under the heading of hard work. Long hours of meditation to develop focus and what understanding we can wrangle. Ten of us are riding out in half an hour here, a caravan of aspiring Bodhisattvas. Ha, I kid–a bunch of tired (annual budgets first–meditation retreats after!), devoted normal people with wishes to be of use in this world. But I guess even the wisest of Bodhisattvas was here once.

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Whenever something of note is happening and I need time to process–like going to my first group retreat at a Dharma center I’ve dreamed about visiting for years–I find myself in the kitchen covered in flour. Fortunately, muffins to accompany our winding route into the mountains are a very appropriate result of my time of reflection. These are ace. Parsnips are just the best, sweet and tender, yet subtle enough to pair well with other flavors for a final taste that is familiar yet unexpected. In this case, I went for maple syrup to carry us into even colder climes. These are earthy and gentle and sweet, like a hug from your mom when you’re little.

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Enjoy your muffins and your week, wherever it takes you. I’ll see you on the other side. Maybe I’ll even be just the tiniest bit wiser, hehe. If nothing else, I’ll have gotten to see snow and mountains and a big old Buddha statue in a temple that looks right out of Tibet. And that, my friends, is never a bad thing in my book.

All the love in the world to you. Ciao!

Recipe follows…

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