The Rhythm of Reflection

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Today we went for a walk in the woods. Something I used to do all the time when I lived near the mountains in the US, and something I’ve done only rarely since moving to France. I mean, I live in the woods, so I guess I technically walk in the woods just going from place to place, but going for an actual hike is a rare occurrence. It’s a Sunday thing, to fill up mind and body with green freshness before the week starts.

Tomorrow regular Dhagpo life starts again. The last two weeks have been a different kind of rhythm, two different kinds of rhythm, actually. The first week, we spent in retreat, studying a teaching Karmapa gave here this summer and practicing together throughout the day. The center was closed and we were focused on the meaning of what we do; it felt like a proper vacation in that for a whole week, I just got to relax: enjoy my friends, enjoy meditation, enjoy the teachings…chill out. We closed it out with big group dinner (including this pear cake with butterscotch frosting), and then, the second week came.

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Hours of meetings a day to define what our department is about, how it contributes to communicating Dhagpo’s values and cultivating resources for the center’s activity, and what other department it would be good to work with in order to further these missions. It’s rich business, this reflection, but holy smokes it’s exhausting.

Of course the whole idea was to start with a basis in the meaning of our efforts here and then bring that into the practical sphere. And it worked; our discussions came back much more often to how our activity demands and teachings patience and to the importance of connecting the hard parts with what it can develop for the community, rather than resting simply in the sphere of goals and difficulties. That said, in terms of my own responsibilities, I couldn’t help but see all the things I feel I’m supposed to accomplish face-to-face with all the potential and actual obstacles. The desire to devise a system and lock down a perfect solution is visceral. Finding a balance between different activities in different departments, the different needs of different volunteers as well as other departments, the grey areas in Dhagpo’s structure…I just want to find a way to make it all work smoothly and reliably right now, or better yet, yesterday.

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But as life frequently reminds us, a theoretical solution often does not solve an actual problem. Karmapa told us that something “only becomes a problem when we try to solve it fast or over and over again.” And that, I think, is the real lesson. When we wish for our challenges and stresses to be other than they are, they magnify to take up all the space in our minds and we become trapped by them, in them. And if we just let go of the idea that we need to fix it now and stay cool with the work at hand instead, while of course maintaining a clear view of our objectives, harmony between all the different elements comes on its own.

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This is what I keep telling myself. And yet, those moments when my Google cal has so many overlaps that it defies the time-space continuum–I have trouble remembering. And when this or that person comes to say that this or that thing really should be done differently when I’ve worn myself out trying just simply to get it done, I have trouble remembering. And when I look at life reeling out before and feel like it might always be this fight between my own expectations and the way people and things work, I wonder just what is possible.

But hey, it’s not for nothing we have guides. Karmapa says we “shouldn’t over-the-top worry,” but “just follow our daily responsibilites.” Okey dokey, here goes. So, back to the salt mines, doing my best to remember that “if you keep practicing […] automatically there’s harmony.”

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Rainy Day Reflections And The Three Pillars

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I don’t think I can come close to describing this week. In French, there is a term for when life is so dense that you just are just filled up to the tip-top and no more experiences fit in. Being saturated, like when a sponge is soak-sopped full with water or when you ram the colors up to an extreme in Photoshop. Whatever the analogy, it’s all just a bit too much.

I think I hit that point around Wednesday, and I’ve spent the last three days slowly squeezing out the excess, all the while trying to stay productive. This is life right now, a new exercise in productivity. Every time I think I have a full and busy life, new important things appear: a training program connected to the Bodhi Path centers that could one day help me fulfill Shamar Rinpoche’s instructions, the conception of a Dhagpo blog to celebrate our forty year anniversary (how happy I am to be included in this “we”), a renewed vigor to actually try and run the Lama House in an organized, efficient way rather than just running around trying not to let it all get the better of me, burgeoning usefulness as a native English speaker and translator, and deepening relationships that are nurturing and thus need to be nurtured.

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And all this falls into the the category of “action,” not even yet speaking of meditation or study. These are the three pillars of the Buddhist path, or one way of laying out the path anyway. The volunteers got called together for a special chat with Rinpoche on Wednesday, which is maybe not a small part of why my head reached near-exploding point that day. For three hours we exchanged with him about what the program of life at Dhagpo is about and what that means to us and for us. He said, “I think everybody here wants to be useful. Wants to be a good person. For this, we need these three together.”

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So now I am looking at my days, color-coding them in my Google calendar, and figuring out how I can tetris my life and schedule into making me useful, making me a good person. Into making all of my time count. And also into understanding that time is an extendable concept; in a way there is always more, just as there is never enough. What matters is being both present and relaxed such that the activity of this moment is part of the path, whatever form it may take.

Also, well…happy Valentine’s Day. I go back and forth between hating this holiday because it perpetuates an idea of love and romance that I don’t understand or ascribe to–one that is commercial, exclusive, and imagined to last forever–and kind of secretly getting into it because it’s a great excuse to make everything pink and red and heart-shaped and tell everyone I know that I love them. Making heart-shaped cookies and red cake didn’t fit into this year’s V-Day Google cal, but that doesn’t change how much love you all and wish you hugs and sweets and whatever it is you need on this day of celebration. Buy yourself a damn rose and a box of chocolate. I’m thinking of you.

Pictures Of Time Passing

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I had this big plan. I was going to write you all an awesome story about busy-ness and balance and not really finding it but finding it a little. Now, instead, because the internet is lame, because duty calls, because people arrive, because life happens, it’s eleven o’clock at night and you get a summary.

What I want is to find a way to do each thing well if not often. And maybe even that I can’t manage. I miss writing when I don’t write. I haven’t written recently. I miss the space that opens when I take time to put words to the chains of thoughts reeling out in my mind. I miss the crystalline edges of ideas that appear that I can shine a light to and look at from all angles. But I guess sometimes all you can manage is a few pretty sentences and some ideas with raggedy edges snatched hastily out of the air.

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This last week was…BIG. We welcomed a very illustrious Dane by the name of Lama Ole Nydahl at Dhagpo. He’s a student of the 16th Karmapa and the founder of over 600 centers worldwide that share the same lineage as ours. He also sometimes refers to himself as a Viking and is infamous for inserting polemics into his teachings–polyamory and the Israel/Palestine conflict among them. He kissed me on both cheeks when he arrived, kissed the hand of Julie, the event coordinator, and then said, in French no less, “One beauty after another.” I think I chuckled. I hope it wasn’t too audible.

It was eleven at night and he is not a young man, but he set off direct at good clip straight toward the stupa, and when he reached it, he stopped and touched his head to the white massif. The energy zooming around him stilled for a moment and I thought, “Okay, fine. I get it. We are from the same family.” I might sometimes find Lama Ole more cheesy and peppy than the approach to Buddhism that speaks most clearly to me, but the man’s on a mission and he’s carrying it out well. That I can respect.

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Not that I had much time to think about it. I spent the week navigating between guest-welcoming, meal-cooking (including this cake), and team-managing. Somewhere in the busy-ness, I learned something about discomfort. I was tired and little bit sick for most of the week. But things needed to be accomplished and most of things involved other people, so being a droopy, grumpy mess was not really an option. So I just did the things. I think I did them more slowly and at times with less vigor or enthusiasm than I would like or than maybe would be inspiring to others nearby, but I didn’t give into the usual habit of resisting or wishing to be elsewhere or wanting confirmation that the situation was hard and sympathy for such. I just did the things.

And being tired and sick was maybe less tiring and painful than it is when I don’t have lots of things to do and I let myself gripe and be woeful. The discomforts of this life don’t stop, neither for the summer rush, nor for summer vacation. It’s disappointing that there’s no such thing as a break from conditioned existence. It’s also a good reminder of why it’s so important to learn how to live with and eventually move beyond the distractions and occupations of this world, and thus the suffering that accompanies them.

IMG_2231When the rush slowed down, though it’s not done yet, (T-2 days to freedom, i.e. the end of Dhagpo summer, i.e. the end of uber busy season), I started drawing again. Just trying to check in and see what’s happening under all the layers of busy-ness. Drawing is like breathing in after not realizing you’ve been holding your breath. Connecting through images brings an energy that I didn’t realize I was missing, but when it comes back, I suddenly understand why everything seemed so dim before.

It’s 11:36 p.m. Grumble. I set out to write this post at 9 o’clock. It was early. And peaceful. And I had time. And then all of the aforementioned interventions. At times I feel like I am fighting to hold on to all of the things I care about. But if I stop fighting, I am afraid of what I will lose. But where do lost things go? And where is the person who loses them?

Am I in my bones? My blood, my skin, my sort of exaggerated late-night sighs? Am I in my words, my pictures, all the cakes that have been made and eaten? Am I in my thoughts, my memories, my future, or my mind? If I took a wrench and unscrewed all the pieces, would I also be unscrewed or would I be a little bit in every little piece?

I know the answer. But no matter how much I go looking and find that I am nowhere to be found, I can’t help feeling like I’m here.

Running out of Words (and Time to Make Gluten-Free Almond Cake)

IMG_1241This is a grainy, rain-dappled photo of the Institute. This is the focus of all of my thoughts and energy lately. There are fewer and fewer words left to me. They are falling off the edges to make space for actions, of which I need to commit ever more.

IMG_1222This is the cake I made before things got dire. Almond and orange flower, and actually healthy if you make it without sugar.

IMG_1240This is the first of ten paintings for the installation that opens in three weeks. This is the sense that madness is part of understanding, and maybe it will all work out if I can hold that grace in mind. This is my heart beating in my head, calling out urgency and singing low strength. Wish me luck.

Recipe after the jump…

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