Still Here In The Best Way

No photos…no background…not even much to say.

I apologize for the silence, for the absence. It’s been a bit selfish, honestly, all of the hum and buzz I haven’t been able to share because I’ve been so busy living it.

Karmapa arrives tomorrow. The kitchen is probably eighty-five percent of the way to its final state, but good enough for now. Some tiles to redo on the walls, a little bit of electrical work that we’ve temporarily sorted out with extension cords…we do what we can after all! Somehow, all of life feels more alive in these moments where we act together. Where the meaning is apparent because we act directly out of gratitude–for our teachers, for the teachings, for the path itself.

The garden is set up with tables for ninety. The fridges are full; the dishes are clean; the beds are made. The dining room could use a bit of dusting; the kitchen schedule needs to be printed, but all told…we’re ready.

Internally, as much as externally, I think. Karmapa coming is like a door opening wide…you just accept everything. Otherwise you lose yourself in the details–the organization, the expectation, the easy trap of busy-ness, stress and importance. And this is not point. After all, what’s the good of a bodhisattva if we don’t let his presence take us beyond the ordinary?

What that will turn out to be, this next week long, I can only imagine. But honestly, I’m trying not to, but rather just to let the moments come one by one and see what they become.

Apologies again for the silence, but guess what…other people are keeping up the good work! If you want to know more about the happenings, check out Dhagpo’s fortieth anniversary blog. There’ll be new articles every day. Not sure yet if English translation will be immediate or come a bit later, but at the very least there will be pictures and you can always Google translate if you’re curious for more. 😉

Promise to be back like usual when the blessing calms down just a little. Miss you guys. See you on the other side…

Looking For The Low Light

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Week, The Weekend, And Honey Ginger Cake With Sour Cherry Jam

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Today I am just happy.

When I look back at this week, it has been so full. Weekdays can barely be distinguished from weekends but somehow there is a balance amidst all the activity. Meetings beyond count. 20 hours and 800 lines of event budgeting. Driving lessons. Dinner out with friends. Time spent working with the construction team on the new kitchen; time spent constructing the plan for Karmapa’s visit with the kitchen team. The community mini-retreat that is our monthly morning of group practice. A talk with my sister; e-mails with my parents. The first of a series of community discussions about our Future, capital F and what we’d like to share about it with Karmapa when he comes.

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No moment has lacked richness. I did so incredibly many productive things and somehow still had time to make this cake and have a cup of tea with friends this afternoon. I know my two a.m. budget finish line from last night will make me tired tomorrow, but mostly I’m stunned that I’m not already flat on my ass.

This same amount of busy-ness and activity in the past would have knocked me over. I’d have been sick and tired and grumpy as hell. I think partly I have learned how to do more, but also I have learned how to fret less. When I see a whole crap ton of things to do coming, I’m not immediately petrified that it is totally impossible for me to do them and thus not immediately incapacitated and totaly stressed throughout it all. From all of the doing that I’ve been doing at Dhagpo these last two years, I’ve developed some confidence that…I can accomplish things.
And that if I can’t, I can say so and find a way to work with that.

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There’s also another aspect. Which is this place and its people. There’s something in the water, or the trees, or the history, or maybe something much less abstract than that. I think it’s what we call blessing. That often sounds so mystical, but Jigme Rinpoche is quick to remind us that blessing is anything but mystical. It’s practical.

As I grasp it, blessing works like this: understanding leads to change, and both understanding and change develop exponentially more with a group, and multi-exponentially more with a qualified guide who can point you in the right direction to help you refine your understanding.

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At Dhagpo, we have all the pieces. We are blessed. Hard work becomes less hard because it is meaningful and shared, and what we normally think of as not-directly productive (ahem, lieeesure) becomes productive because it supports the bonds that help us work well together. Even cake is a practice when it is an offering.

And so, I’m both grateful to be able to and quite happy to offer you this springtime version of French spice cake. Like typical French pain d’épices, this cake is honey-rich and has a good dose of ginger. But unlike typical French pain d’épices this cake does not have the I-suppose-nostalgic-but-always-disappointing texture of cardboard. And it does have a touch of allspice for additional depth and a generous spread of sour cherry jam for that springtime boost. Moist, surprisingly light, and delightfully simple to make (No creaming butter! Yay for French baking techniques!), it’s perfect for a Sunday afternoon on the deck, or however you like.

Recipe…

Continue reading

Under Construction

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So I mentioned that we’re redoing the Lama House kitchen…

Rinpoche told us the time was right, showed up with some gigantic windows to turn the terrace into an enclosed working space, the labor to install them, and a boatload of ideas for how to improve both interior and exterior. We went on a fieldtrip to the kitchen store and picked out cabinets and countertops. Rinpoche drove, vetoed my choice of kitchen sink, but validated the cupboard color. With the project manager, we sat down to figure out dates. When the sales lady told us delivery and installation occurs eight weeks after the order is placed, the project manager and I looked at each other and mouthed the words, “forget it.” After all, that puts us roughly ten days before Karmapa arrives. Ten days that will be very useful for cleaning up everything after installation, setting up all the event material, and you know, not having any margin for late delivery.

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Rinpoche looked up from his own calculation and said, “I think it’s okay, then,” without the tiniest hint of irony. And so, here we go. While the inside kitchen is being fabricated over at the factory, the outside kitchen is being built right in place. We’ve got a skill saw in the garden, caution tape closing off the kitchen door, and sawdust everywhere.

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The guys spend their days laying tile, fitting windows, and preparing for the installation of the counters. I come by occasionally to make aesthetic comments or organizational decisions, or, you know, to find out that nobody will be able to access the basement for two days and then to scramble to inform all the people who use the basement and to help them move whatever they might need in the next two days. No big though.

In return, I insisted that the countertops be eighty-eight centimeters high and definitely not ninety-one. We’re short around here! And I don’t want to have sore shoulders every summer for the next ten plus years from cutting vegetables above my means… As a result, they um, had to shave three centimeters off every single piece of wood for the counter supports, which they would not have had to do if I had accepted ninety-one centimeters. All’s fair in love and war and home renovation, right?

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It’s a lesson in teamwork, in developing relationships through the process of creating something together, all the while figuring out how to communicate to get things done and be kind and joyful at the same time. These are pretty rad people to begin with, but the meaning makes a difference. Whatever we might be stressed about, annoyed about, or take personally, we let go, because we’re invested in a goal—get this kitchen in place, and properly, for Karmapa and before Karmapa arrives—and that goal trumps whatever a priori or emotions we might have at one moment or another.

Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be able to walk on the tile again, and we’ll just see what comes next after that!