After

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Welcome to after-Karmapa.

I hope you followed during on the 40th anniversary blog or on Facebook! I can’t supply you with much, at least not in the way of pictures. Though I can try to paint you some with words. It’s funny how quickly it all turns over; the tents go from humming and buzzing and being filled with two thousand people to just standing empty to being slowly taken apart one metal support at a time.

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Here are the images that rest the brightest in my mind and the reflections that flesh them out:

I see the Lama House team in all its forms and subdivisions. The kitchen crew at seven in the morning and five pm, the service team at 11:45, the girls showing up to clean the bathrooms surreptitiously mid-morning and afternoon, the lady for the laundry, my friend who filled the altar bowls on the terrace, all the willing, friendly people who came to do the dishes, the security guys who were always extra grateful for their lunch or dinner plate, not having to eat the cold salads of the dining hall all five days straight. More people than that with more roles than I can list…planning it all was a major event in and of itself. But the magic of it all is the way that working together carries us.

I was petrified of how tired and strung out I might be at the end, and yeah, I was tired and strung out, but I was also still fairly relaxed. And this is because I had a team I could count on who knew what they were doing, who did it with joy, and who communicated with me so I could do my best to make things work for all of us. It seems I did all right, as the response was positive and overall people said the atmosphere was fluid and pleasant, that the behind-the-scenes didn’t show too much. I learned that being responsible means being present and that it is not physically possible to be in more than one place at one time; I have not yet figured out a solution for this conundrum, but maybe sharing the overall responsibility with a second person could be an option next time.

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I see the garden filled with set tables and smiling faces, the parasols, the koi pond, the buffet with our shiny new chafing dishes (Thank you budget commitee! I promise it was worth it!). I got to see old friends, make new ones, and connect with people face-to-face whom I have thus far only corresponded with via internet.

I don’t know what it’s like to run the welcome center, cook in the dining hall, organize the teaching space, coordinate the translation, or do any of the other various things that make up an event at the center–and there are numerous: fundraising, communication, hospitality, security, first aid, sound and video, parking lots, trash pick-up, the snackbar, the rituals. It blows my mind how much energy, how much dedication, and how many details go into welcoming Karmapa and all those who come to receive the teachings. I get the sense we are all adapted to the activity that we do…we find our way to the tasks and domains that challenge us and move us forward, the places where we can give and be pulled along the path by our wish to help and offer. I still get overwhelmed from time to time by the good conditions in which I have found myself and gratitude for my place here.

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I see Karmapa’s broad back, faintly purplish in his robes under the moonlight, at midnight, in the garden. He came just to see what was new in the kitchen, late one evening after a meeting. He had told us earlier that day not to worry so much about the future, that most of the time it’s enough to come back to daily life and practice, and this resolves the vast majority of problems. Watching him take in the moon, the peach tree, the catalpa, the little A-frame herb garden made of pallets, I remembered meeting him for the first time in India two-and-a-half years ago. I told him hello from the teachers in Santa Barbara and he seemed surprised to meet me there, in that place and time, so far from home. The other night, I wanted to ask him, did you think we would find ourselves here, now? With the vision he has, I bet he could easily see it if ever he looked.

Me, I didn’t, I couldn’t…but somehow I made my way here, and that is what counts.

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.