Wednesday, March 5, 2014
All The Hemispheres
Leave the familiar for a while.
Let your senses and bodies stretch out
Like a welcome season
Onto the meadow and shores and hills.
Open up to the Roof.
Make a new watermark on your excitement
Like a blooming night flower,
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
Upon our intimate assembly.
Change rooms in your mind for a day.
All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beneath an equator
In your heart.
In your thousand other forms
As you mount the hidden tide and travel
All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire
While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Something that has been on my mind lately.
My dharma brother D was in the zendo last week and delivered a beautiful talk to the sangha on Not Knowing. It was a timely dharma talk, since we had, only days before, lost a dear friend and colleague, a sangha member who supported whatever efforts I made toward sharing the Buddhadharma, and effortlessly brightened every place she found herself.
K brought me books to share in our library, supplied endless cups of tea to go along with bread and jam whenever we got together, and shared too, her concerns about impermanence as her body turned toward a deeper frailty and vulnerability.
Her death reminds me that when the rug is pulled out from beneath our feet, to practice Not Knowing is the Buddha way, and yet, how we cling to the illusion of a permanent foundation that will never crumble or shift. A house of cards. A balsa wood, jerry built tower put together with spit and glue.
D talked about the Buddha's awakening in terms of a release of knowing, of un-knowing, and realizing that all of existence is marked by un-knowing.
In the days after our friend's death (and the death of my cat as it just so happened), I found myself yearning for those comforting touch stones of ordinary, mindless habit--a meal prepared and shared with my husband, a good book, a conversation with a friend--but none of these activities were able to ease the underlying sadness of death, and this place of disquiet is a geography where Not Knowing is a primal forest for practice.
It is not a place of repose, unless one can abide here, and though I am conscious of making choices to simply let these places be spacious and unfettered, I also know I have a long way to go. Nothing feels quite "right".
But then I have to ask myself, what is "right"? The answer that comes back loud and clear is this: "right" is just another band aid applied to the jerry built ego tower. "Right" is illusion. "Right" is knowing all the time.
So even as I add another stick of balsa wood to the tower, another portion is dismantled.
Maybe the new stick is shorter, lighter, smaller, as insubstantial as a feather. Yet I am still trying to build the ego tower as I deconstruct something that no longer serves.
Is this is the pinnacle of ignorance?
And yet, I offer incense to K and watch as the stick burns down to ash, leaving nothing more than a scent that we all walk away with on our clothes.
Her memorial service is chock full of funny stories, of poignant messages, tears and raucous laughter, silence, and finally, a recitation of the Metta Sutra by all.
I think there was comfort to be found here, but what seemed more clear was that we live within a mystery that is endlessly fascinating, terrifying, beguiling, and that even as we perform the known rituals of community, unfathomable mystery permeates all, as the scent of incense permeates the air.
Jijuyu Zammai: "Everything you encounter is the self; receiving our joyous self and fulfilling our function."
Sunday, February 23, 2014
The new zendo, a former Christian chapel that still retains the lingering vibration of God's name and those spoken or silent petitions for salvation, petitions for mercy, is somehow beginning to undergo a
transformation. It is a process I would sometimes like to rush in my typical manner. Not to erase what has gone before our incense offerings at the Butsudan, Shakyamuni looking on with that lovely smile, or to slight in any way the pure intention and longing behind those prayers that existed before ours did. No, not to slight what is purely considered, at the heart of the action of speaking, the open hope of subtle answers.
Is all prayer equal? Is all prayer heard? Is prayer non denominational?
I light lanterns in the large windows, a beacon for anyone who would like to enter.
I robe up in a quiet, private room, waiting for the sense of a general settling in the zendo and in my heart. I enter from the back of the space, the Butsudan greeting me like an old friend. Last week, the sight of all the shoes, jackets, backpacks, and boots scattered outside the zendo brought me up short. What rush of emotions is this, the unexpectedly intense flow of gratitude and love. I could only pause to honor the moment, to offer Metta. Does anyone know I was moved to take a photograph?
Would anyone even understand?
The wonderful mess prompted a swell of emotion--a bittersweet reminder that my own children have grown up and left home, and no longer dump their possessions as soon as they walk in the front door, the knowledge that these 18-22 year olds now in my life are beautifully curious and thrill to experiences that perhaps they never imagined, a certain trust that the row of shows lined up beneath the coat rack belonged to adults who have been coming to sit for some time now, who perhaps gauge their own prayers through the weightless stick of incense in their hand.
How much does an offerings weigh?
Chaos and order, two side of action.
And the emptiness of the zendo, before anyone arrives for Thursday Night Meditation--an illusion of emptiness, and an illusion of fullness. On some plane of existence the evening has begun and ended, and begun again, if only my iphone could record it.
And what, finally, are we to make of Shakyamuni's punk-spiked hair, so modern and so timeless. What are we to make of the impression left in the incense plate sand? The design somehow resembles a prehistoric winged insect from the Jurassic period, but no...it was left by plastic wrap....
People come to sit and some do not raise their eyes to look at me. Others close their eyes as soon as they sit, and I watch as the dharma, mysterious and indestructible, washes over their own Shakyamuni heads. Some folks leave everything thrown on the floor outside the zendo, and then they throw more on the floor at our feet.
All is a form of Metta, and then when Metta is gone, there isn't much there, or anywhere.
Can we abide here?
I extinguish the Butsudan's flame, someone else extinguishes the lantern flames.
What remains lit?
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Will It Ever Stop Snowing Dark Chocolate Bark
Melt 8 ounces of the best bittersweet chocolate you can find, plus a pinch or two of cayenne, in a microwave safe bowl, at 30 second intervals, stirring after each zap.
Careful not to burn the chocolate.
Pour the chocolate onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Sprinkle with whatever is in the cupboard--I found dried papaya, dried cranberries, roasted cashews, some sort of granola and chia seeds. Just chop it all up, mix and drop onto the warm chocolate. I used about 1 Cup of whatever.
Sprinkle with course sea salt as well. Next time I'll also try pepper.
Let stand at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours, then freeze for ten minutes. If it's cold enough outdoors, and we all know it is, just leave it out on the potting bench for awhile.
Bring it back into the kitchen and break into pieces.
Adapted from Real Simple Magazine, 1-2014
The beauty of this recipe is that once you've eaten enough of the bark, there is great motivation to get outdoors to chop icy sidewalks, re-fill the bird feeders, marvel at the Snow Drops beginning to emerge in the faux-summer beneath the garden lights, visit a friend or simply walk beneath a grey and heavy sky, so dense, so lovely, so fleeting.
While the temperature indicates otherwise, and many layers of snow have stacked up, the call of the grey, grey Morning Dove searching for a mate reminds us that nature has Spring in mind.
It will stop snowing, eventually.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Clear mind is like the full moon in the sky. Sometimes clouds come and cover it, but the moon is always behind them. clouds go away, then the moon shines brightly. So don't worry about clear mind: it is always there. When thinking comes, bedding it is clear mind. When thinking goes, there is only clear mind. Thinking comes and goes, come and goes. You must not be attached to the coming and going.