Return From The Quiet

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I’m baaaack…

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I call it quiet ’cause I did bit less talking whilst away, but let’s be real. It’s noisy inside this mind.

Still, the time to take a look around at what all’s jangling about in here, change the wallpaper, dust off a few corners…it’s a gift. Not to mention getting to do so in a pristine corner of the Auvergnat countryside.

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To seep up early winter sunshine, feed the koi fish, and breathe clean air without worries of tomorrow or next week or who might need what when, with simply focus and practice to color the days. It’s more than pretty good. I’m grateful is all.

Grateful too for the life I come back to. Even the meetings and budgets and backload of e-mails. Glad to belong to something meaningful and to share it with others who give a damn about each other and what we can try to do in a lifetime.

Grateful for the time to pause and notice it all.

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Given

IMG_2758 I run the risk of getting into enormous trouble for posting this photo on the Internet. But it’s worth it, because this lady deserves an homage.

This is my momma. I put her on a train today, and cried through my smile as it rolled away from me down the tracks. It’s been a year almost since I saw her last, and I dunno when I will see her next and somehow this uncertainty and distance magnifies every part of what we share.

This person brought me into this world. And kept me here and showed me how things are done around here. And put up with me learning. I can’t get my head around that. The accumulation of so many lived moments, so many instants of deciding to love some one and to act for them and accept for them. So many hours puking while pregnant, so many perfectly packed lunchboxes, so many teenage crises, so many Thanksgiving turkeys, so many hugs goodbye on so many uncertain adventures, so many inconsistent calls from distant places, so many grand plans, so many sudden changes.

These last two weeks with my mom are for us, but the lessons of them are for everyone I love, most especially my parents. I’d have to write a book to explain it, and maybe I will someday, but tomorrow I’m heading off for ten-day retreat and I still have ducks to line up, so forgive me for the shadowy summary:

Everything I have, have ever had, has been given to me. Opportunities, resources, kindness, skills, things. Sometimes I’ve had to put work in to realize them or receive them, but in every case, there was somebody on the other side offering…either creating the conditions for me to achieve or acquire something, or quite simply handing it over. So this post is for astonishment, and for gratitude. And for wanting to be worth all of these offerings, to offer as much back.

Tomorrow I’m taking to the road with seven other adventurers to spend a week and a half looking at our minds and living with each other while doing so. Practicing focus, practicing kindness. It’s part of this road of learning how to care for others (and me too!). It also means a bit radio silence in this little corner of the internet for anyone keeping track. But don’t worry, I’ll be back. Your readership is a gift and I’m grateful to show up for it.

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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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