Cameras And Death

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Do I start by saying…I bought a camera? Ahem, with a lot of help from my mother, I bought a camera. A real one—an awesome but not too scary my-first-DSLR kind of camera—a Nikon D3300. If all goes well you will be more consistently overwhelmed with pictorial support for these ramblings. I’m just starting out, thinking about things like aperture and shutter speed in practice for the first time, instead of just wondering how much more precisely I might be able to capture the world around me if I had some power over such things.

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I guess I’ve effectively started with the camera, so now I just have to figure out how to segue into the rest. It’s strange, looking at these pictures. I like them. I’m still working out the whole lighting and composition thing and will be for a while I imagine, but on the whole they’re okay. Pretty snapshots that remind me of my childhood, details from the house I grew up in, flora and scenery that strike me as particularly Californian, plus a couple pensive travel shots from the road home (back to France, I don’t know where the hell home is anymore. I suppose I have more than one and that’s a blessing more than anything).

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The pictures are a little nostalgic, maybe even a tad brooding, but largely comforting. I hope there’s a hint of unease sifting through it all…the sneaky whiff of impermanence permeating all the pretty things. But it’s a far cry from the distinctly unsubtle reminder of impermanence that’s in the foreground today.

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A 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal yesterday morning. The Bodhanath Stupa cracked right through its eyes, from top to toe. The minaret next to Swayambhu Stupa exists only in the form of a pile of rocks. Nearly two thousand deaths have been counted in Kathmandu and surrounding villages have not yet been accounted for. Most of the monasteries are okay, but not all, and the master teachers are calling for prayers and joining in their support for the deceased, wounded, and disenfranchised.

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How strange that this place where I walked less than a year ago should now be so dramatically redesigned by a shudder of the earth. How strange that catastrophes like this happen so frequently and we can do so little beyond join our hands and send a few bucks or even fly halfway around the world to collect the rubble and try to find and feed those that remain. How strange that death is present like a drop of rain hovering over us ready to fall at any moment and we so rarely feel its impending arrival. How strange that devastation washes over this earth regularly and suffering permeates the planet in both visible and invisible ways at every moment and we are so adept at sidestepping its implications.

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How easy it is to be lost in the urgency of what needs to be done without remembering why. How easy it is to adopt a rhetoric of care for others while nurturing frustration and malcontent. How easy it is to speak of focus and deliberation while engaging in distraction and agitation. How busy I manage to keep myself to avoid facing death. Death.

Death.

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It’s coming for me. Every moment is an ending. One that I ignore, clinging to the next moment’s beginning. Every moment could be the ending of the life and self I know. And I’m not ready. I’m trying to be ready, to get ready, to learn to face impermanence and give up the illusion that all I see and know has truth and existence to its nature. To appreciate that what I perceive is as weightless as a dream and as ever changing. And that this is neither good nor bad, but simply freeing.

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But um, I don’t. Not yet. And if I had to bet, I’d bet a lot of the people that lost their lives or their homes in Kathmandu hadn’t quite got that one down yet either. So pray them for them.

And pray for us all, that we learn how to live with our dying, with the ending in every moment. And if you don’t pray, write a poem; sing a song; hug a friend; climb a mountain; do a thing that reminds you how fleeting we are and that the business of learning how to live with impermanence is a shared one.

Love and good luck.

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The Conditions For Blessing, Like Sweet And Savory Pumpkin Seed Brittle

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We’re learning a new practice. Compassion practice, but of a particular nature. Designed to be done together, done extensively and done in repetition over several days. We flipped from hours of organization to hours of spiritual apprenticeship. It’s a rich transition.

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During tonight’s study session of the text, Lama Puntso nut-shelled our objective like this,

“What allows us to receive blessing? It is the opening of the heart .”

For us, as Tibetan Buddhists, there are prayers, there are offerings, there are drums and candles and mantras recited many times and times again. There is the sense, the history, and the community of this practice. It is the story in its integrity that works. To take the enlightenment of the Buddha as example and train ourselves in the same nature, that of wisdom and understanding.

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It’s a complex story, but one that works. I have seen it in myself and in those around me. There is kindness here, and understanding that grows and grows. And at its base is this: to learn to see clearly and to open. Which is what blessing is after all, a connection with our own nature, which is fundamentally clear and open, just currently a bit confused.

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One of the fundamental tenets of Tibetan Buddhist practice is generosity. In that spirit, all ceremonies include offerings and one of the general propositions for life is to train ourselves to dedicate every experience of well-being for the benefit of all.

This pumpkin seed brittle is made for that. The spices are subtle; they add a richness, a mysterious depth that beguiles without inspiring thoughts about curry or the like. The salt balances perfectly the caramel and the totality of crunchy complex flavor engenders the wish to share with others and spread the goodness around, as far and wide as we can imagine. It will be on the offering plates in the temple tomorrow and is well worth putting on your plate too. Continue reading