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.

Sometimes Life Is A Lot

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When you go back to the country that made you, and you walk on a beach but not the one that you meant to see. And the sand feels the same and the salt smells sweet, but the place feels like a memory more than a piece of who you are.

But who are you anyway? You consider the wisdom of your thirteen-year-old self who had written that you “[are, were] and will be only one ongoing entity.” You conclude that she had either more wisdom or more naïveté or maybe both than you currently do because all you can wonder is what on earth constitutes an entity.

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You speak to your first love and he asks you, “Are you your body? Your mind? Your emotions?” And you say nonono. “I am a composite. Not individual, autonomous, or permanent.” He says, “you cheated,” and yes, indeed, you did. It was a long dead Indian sage who said that first and you yourself, composite though you may be, are grasping at flickering sparks to even begin to see what that may mean and, further yet, how it may be lived.

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So you take pictures of the past with your father, bake pies for the future with your mother, talk about the present with your sister, and read about a long-dead Japanese sage who said that a single finger snap comprises 65 individual moments, each an opportunity to practice free will. And you don’t know whose exactly, but you snap your fingers and wish to live well as each of the moments slides by.

(P.S. Shout out to the Pops for the bird pic. Are we little more than our reflections, glistening in the water strewn over the sand and shifting in the tides and time of day?)

Turning Back The Clock

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Last night most of the Western world gained an hour’s sleep. I woke to chatter of birds rather than the subtle sound of early morning darkness. I woke rested, which I needed, and spent most of the morning working on a new drawing. I haven’t made time for art in the last couple weeks and the simple fact of curling into my corner chair and spreading colored pencils across the teeny expanse of my desk (a scrap of chip board nailed to the wall of my caravan) felt nourishing in ways I can’t explain.

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This is a strange phenomenon I often undergo. An inability to devote time to things that support clarity of mind when I don’t understand what their purpose is other than that and when I don’t understand what it is about them that centers me. Like meandering walks in the woods and through the micro-villages speckled across our nearby hillsides. Until last Wednesday, I hadn’t taken a walk just to walk in months. Rambling amongst the old stone houses and mossy rocks, I let go of tensions and expectations I hadn’t even realized I was holding onto.

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Often in the Buddhist world, we talk about how the goal of meditation practice is not “peace.” It is the ability to rest with the nature of mind–be it calm, be it tempestuous, or be it otherwise. Because I’m not totally sure whether certain things fall into the “peace” category or the “nature of mind” category, I often hesitate to devote time to them, fearing I could be using my hours more wisely.

In one of my classes this week, we talked about the simple (but generally ignored in the daily unfolding of life) fact that death can arrive at any moment. It was a bit like the Buddhist version of the first time I heard the statistic about how many people die in car crashes every day, and all of a sudden I realized, “That could be me. Now.” It is easy to forget, it almost seems necessary to forget, in the moment-to-moment activity of being a person.

IMG_2385 And yet, when I forget this fact, I wind up trying to hold on to everything. All the information I might need in a day. All the tasks I could accomplish. All the wisdom I could develop. To forget that I can die, that I will die, that I might die today, is to believe that, instead of dying, I might be able to hang on to all of my interests, all of my dreams, and all of my desires with no end in sight. Which is heavy, that.

Which leads me to a place where–even when I am engaged in an activity that clearly counts as “productive,” like studying or working on planning for the kitchen–in my head I’m all over the place, trying to keep track of a million things at once, and often devoting half of my energy to agonizing over the fact that I might be failing to do so accurately.

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Sometimes, rationalizing what is good and why is not helpful. Sometimes, it’s just a trap, a way to keep running in circles, feeling like we are getting somewhere because we can’t see that the course only loops back on itself. Sometimes, our belief in the future becomes a reliance on the future, which then becomes a habit of putting aside activities that ground us in the present because we don’t know what value they purport for said imagined future.

It bothers me that I don’t know what art is for. It bother me that I can die, that I will die, that I might die today. And it also bothers me that I don’t really know how to integrate that information into the business of living. But since I can’t turn back the clock more than one hour a year, it seems the best approach is just to keep working on it for the time that I’ve got.

Cashew Butter Cookies and Questions About Time

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Times is busy lately. Last week I finally managed to bum rides to the grocery store and the coop, and I was so thrilled to be able to buy ingredients that I maybe overdid it. I stocked up things for at least four different very specific recipes (I did make some allusions to ice cream, and I feel obliged to follow through…duty, you know) and enough staples to whip up sudden inspirations. The trouble at present is that I’m just eking by with the things I actually need to do.

I think I’ve foreseen all the tasks I’ll have to accomplish–fold 1,500 origami boxes, produce ten exhibition worthy abstract drawings, prepare food for 50-100 people for four days–but I forget that every task involves a million subtasks, and each subtask takes an hour or two or eight, and I’ve still only started the fourth drawing and thank god I’ve found help with the boxes and we’ve managed to fold 200 in three days.

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Here’s what I wonder: Is my sense of how time will pass in the future inaccurate or do I just have an ingrained sense of poverty that there’s never enough time in the day? And if I could mellow out, would I find that, sure I’ll have to sacrifice some things (it may be a while before we see that white chocolate mousse tart), but at the end of every day, I had twenty four hours, and I got to live every second of them, and that’s hardly poverty.

For now I am still trying to do everything, even the fun things that I should probably pass up for the responsible things (ahem, ahem, cookies versus PR statements).

Recipe after the jump…

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