Saturday, December 25, 2004
Friday, December 24, 2004
Tonight my husband Steve's girlfriend came over to help us decorate the Christmas tree. I think this is my favorite part of all the holiday stuff, especially since Steve introduced me to his tradition of opening champagne while we do it. While Steve is the connoisseur of wines, I mostly like champagne because it is the ritual drink of celebrations.
Krissy was delighted to see the Worried Santa. Actually, there are two Worried Santas. Steve wasn't completely satisfied with the first, so he went out and found another tube of Reese's Mini Peanut Butter Cups.
Of course the evening began with a hitch. Earlier today Steve finally succumbed and bought a fake tree with lights already attached, rather than a tree that's been killed for the annual sacrificial offering. One whole layer of lights would not light, and Krissy saved the day by bringing a light tester from the store. She was the one who got the lights working. Her prize was putting the star on the top. Then we all three filled the branches with our ornaments, starting with the special ones. The good ones have stories. Such as the santa head with green hat from Pat Wilson, Weezer's drummer. He and his wife also gave us a little sheep. That was the year we held a Christmas party when we could least afford it. Or the fragile glass mini candle ornaments from Steve's grandma. Or the glass pickle that I'd given Steve, because where I grew up, you always had a pickle on the tree. Where Krissy grew up, you always had a bird in nest. And I did have one to put up, origami. The first year I as an adult started having a tree, I made a bunch of origami ornaments.
We drank champagne, and ate imported cheese and little pecan tartletts. Once we were done we turned out all the lights but the tree. It was quite late. It was very nice to have Steve's other love with us, very fun.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Early on in my relationship (if you can call it that) with Mr. Bad Boy, I told a few of my friends I knew I was in danger of living 500 lives as a fox. Hyakujo's Fox is a famous koan that comes up often even in the just-sitting Soto Zen sect. Hyakujo was a Zen master who was asked by a student if the enlightened person is subject to karma. As a reward for his answer of "No," he was doomed to live 500 years as a fox. At least that's how I saw it, doomed. I knew there would be bad karma for getting involved with a pathological liar, yet I chose to be drawn in. I hoped I could change that pattern somehow, and for that I was willing to take on some negative karma. One of my friends did not see the fox story as so gloomy, because even if your actions do create negative karma, you do not have to live with those results forever. Eventually Hyakujo's fox was able to receive an abbot's funeral, and the karmic rebirths were over. The lesson to be learned was that enlightened ones are still subject to karma, but they are not fooled by karma.
I was surprised to see some of my wishes for that love echoed in Zoketsu Norman Fischer's talk that I've linked to. He says, "When we accept what is as what is and make our best effort with all our heart, willing to accept what will come out of it, and to work with that, then we are free- not from karma, but with karma, in karma, embraced by and embracing karma." I had hoped that my whole-hearted embrace of love for him, no matter how bad he was, could show him a freedom, a way to let go of his controlling and manipulating ways.
Zoketsu goes on to say:
No way of living is correct always- it may be correct and true, but just for now. Every moment we are at the crux- the place where life and death meet, the place where time and the timeless meet, the place where Buddha and yourself meet nose to nose and merge. Crux, cross, also, in our culture, evokes the idea of terrible suffering, bottomless suffering, that contains within it the seed of redemption.
This seed of redemption, this is what I pointed towards when I told him that I hoped his heart would break. Right now, he just doesn't allow it. He doesn't allow people in. He wouldn't allow love in. I hope my love for him has an element of timelessness to it, so that if that does happen, he knows it is there, has been there for him.
Zoketsu also says, "Maybe karma isn't a question of right and wrong or good and bad but Buddha doing what Buddha has to do to get the job done- to evolve toward enlightenment. So it might not be bad to have 500 lives as a fox if that is what you need." I think I did need that. I'm still struggling with those 500 lives. Every day, like a drug habit, the urge to think about him is reborn. Even when I think I've figured out and released my more base motives, thoughts arise again. The urge to call him arises again, and I resist that urge each day. Today I realized I am grateful for that a little bit. It reminds me that I can make poor choices and I must continue to be mindful, continue to be vigilant. It also reminds me that 500 lives as a fox might well be worth it if another person can be released from his animal realm, where the needs of others don't matter, only the basic drives to survive.
I couldn't, I wouldn't have gone as far as I did with this person if I had been single. I knew I couldn't count on this person for certain things you look for in a significant other: companionship; dependability; even trust. Many told me, including my husband, "You deserve better." I know, but I do have better: my husband. I know I am grateful I will have a wonderful holiday with Steve. If there's anything falling in love with another has taught me, it's that my love for Steve only grows deeper and more secure.
Friday, December 17, 2004
I'm dealing with the depression that comes when a romance is over. I've been gathering my thoughts, but I'm not doing very well. From the first, this was a problematic love. Early on, a phrase came to me that I wrote on a postit and stuck to my monitor, "It is as it should be."
What is it about love that makes one write poetry? It seems to me the feeling is just too large to try containing it in prose. Poetry has that odd conundrum of containing more form, more containment, to express these uncontainable things. I wrote some good, some bad. I could never get a response from him. After a brief period in the beginning, he stopped responding to anything I wrote, I think because he wasn't as good at writing. I was left with communication in person and by phone, and he excelled at verbal communication, or should I say, manipulation. So I was left with pouring my heart into it and getting no response. At least with the final of the poems to him he volunteered that he didn't understand it.
I did see him one last time because I wanted to express somehow that there was some nobility to my love. My love was obsessive, lusty, hungry, but I also hoped my loving him could do him some good. I thought long and hard about what I would say. I had a vision of using an arrow, and I thought of the Zen saying, "like arrows meeting in midair." I knew I might only have one chance to find that elusive target, and wrote a small bit on a postit that also made its way to my monitor:
For the arrow
to strike at
the heart of the matter,
be very clear.
Depend on only
I told him I hoped his heart would break over the way he hurts people. Of course he received that defensively, but calmed down when I explained that until he could open to such feeling, he couldn't love, couldn't be happy. He understands the harm he's done intellectually, but doesn't feel it. I told him that if or when that happened, I hoped he would remember that a good woman had chosen to fall in love with him knowing that he would break her heart. He couldn't understand that, why someone would choose something that would be so painful. I told him maybe he didn't need to understand it now, but I hoped he would then.
Some good things have come from this. He really wasn't good for me. Once it was over I could look with a critical eye at the ways in which he would deliberately hurt me, chisel little pieces out of my self-esteem, and I realized I really want to do things for me now. I want to be healthier in spirit, emotions, and body, and I made some commitments to that end. I have begun writing and meditating with a feeling of coming home that I haven't felt in years. I have begun some exercises that I find bearable. I told a friend that I felt I had come full circle in this journey of love when I really fell in love for the first time seven years ago, and had my heart broken then.
I'm not out of the woods yet, as I confess in this poem I wrote on December 9, 2004. I don't plan on sharing it with him.
that it was
but I didn't want
like the south pole
of a magnet
repulsed by the south pole
my gaze slid
away from those thoughts
of low self-esteem
had been triggered
that karmic ghosts
who don't believe
I deserve better
had been awakened
if I tried hard enough
I could make him
easier to indulge
towards the north pole
attracted to those
those dangerous mysteries
never mind that
I could become trapped
unable to extricate myself
with that shadowy underside
tainting the goodness.
I wanted to stretch
make it last longer
look too long
at that creepy undercurrent
and I knew the thrill
might just switch
and I would return
to my normal attractions
less wickedly painful.
I don't yet
of north to south
still tugs at me
to lock them
I still fantasize
about chance meetings
Thursday, November 04, 2004
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
A friend suggested I post my more interesting NW Dharma News articles. This will be in the December issue, a little something to chase away the doldrums:
You won’t yet find this restaurant in citysearch, nor even in the yellow pages, but you will want to find this place. Urged by my hostess in limited English to tell my friends to come eat there, I’m not sure she understood I wanted to write about her, and about Nha Hang Van Hanh Vegetarian Restaurant at SE Division and 84th in Portland.
She’s a Buddhist nun serving the best mock chicken, spring rolls, and vegetarian steamed buns I’ve ever eaten. It’s small, brightly lit, and homey. We arrived late, about twenty minutes before closing at 9 pm, and we learned that often they will close early if there are no customers. She gave me the business card of her “American friend” so I could find out more information.
Colin D was able to tell me that Nha Hang Van Hanh Restaurant does indeed exist to raise money for the Thien Quang Buddhist Temple at 6315 SE 82nd. Funds raised beyond temple operations go toward funds for a larger temple. Renowned Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hahn is the senior monk of this lineage, Thien Buddhism. A member of the temple, Colin said, “The basis of the practice is compassion. There are Chanting, meditation and Dharma talks also.”
The resident monk and teacher, Thich Huong Hue, has resided in Portland for 22 years. My friends who alerted me to the restaurant claim he was repairing the roof when they visited it. The hostess I met was the resident nun, Thich Nhat Thu, also known as Ko Thu. Most of the staff are volunteers (including Colin), and Ko Thu works very long days, 6-7 days a week. The restaurant opened in May 2004.
Closed on Mondays, open Tuesdays-Saturdays 10-9, Sundays 11:30-9. 8446 SE Division, 503-788-0825
I haven't published lately because I've been a bit discomfitted. Having got involved with an extremely narcissistic man, awareness of every little egotistical trait in myself has bubbled to the surface. So I'm just, well, embarrassed at my own narcissism. My friend the published writer advised me long ago that every writer needs a fine balance between humility and megalomania. At this rate I'll never get published...gotta get over that discomfort.
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
I have been feeling particularly useless lately because my mind keeps coming back around to one thing. Of course I have done other things besides dwell on this thing and go to work in the past 2 months:
- went to my first Portland Beavers baseball game with the girl I mentor
- went to the 2nd annual Interfaith 24 Hour Chant for Peace at Great Vow Monastery
- wrote my articles for the Dharma News (a friend suggested I put the more interesting ones here, I think I'll do that)
- visited with my husband's parents
- attended and volunteered at another Darklady party
- organized a Peace Crane folding event sponsored by the Portland BPF (brainchild of Rich Mackin)
- discovered a neat website that's all about new words and phrases that are making their way into the English language (how I found it? searching for the word 'earworm')
and too important to be a part of a bulleted list, took care of my husband while he recovered from minor surgery. Being there for my husband, and doing so along with his other significant other, was meaningful to me not only as the first time I experienced such a wifely rite of passage, but because I did so with Krissy. Significantly, this was the first time she and I had ever spent time alone together. We got a balloon for him that said "We love you."
I guess I list these things to remind myself that I haven't been completely useless. Falling in love ain't easy. I happen to be reading two books that are useful at this time of highs and lows, obsession and intensity, yearning and focused attention. I sent for them before I met him, and have been reading only a little at a time. When I do read, they help me confirm my own thoughts about myself, and love, and falling in love.
Why We Love outlines what we think of as 'romantic love', or as polyamorists would say, NRE or New Relationship Energy. I've got all the symptoms. According to Helen Fisher, the chemistry of love is dopamine, and could include a chemical derived from dopamine, norepinephrine. Thus the sweet ecstasy, tremendous energy, lack of appetite, sleepless nights. Also, when there are high levels of these two, the levels of serotonin drop. Thus the depressive lows, especially when the love is not reciprocated. BBC has done a miniseries documentary based on her book, I hope it makes it to the US soon.
I sent for the eBook version of Spiritual Polyamory by Mystic Life. [link removed 02/07 due to author's actions towards me] Who knew it would be so hard to get the Adobe Reader to work on my Palm, and then I had to get a memory card for the thing. Perhaps the delay was meant to be. I decided to get the book because the author, also known as Chris, says such useful and even-handed things on the yahoo group he set up with the same name.
This guy I've fallen in love with, not the sort of guy I'm usually attracted to. Usually the sort of guy I would have advised a friend to steer clear of. Certainly the sort of guy my friends hear about and advise me to "be careful". Certainly the sort of guy that my husband would rather I chalk up as a life experience and move on. But I can't. I've fallen in love. I think there's something to this love. Something for me to learn. Something for him to learn. When I first met him he told me he is vain, egotistical. But how vain am I, thinking my love can do him good? So I am thinking my noble thoughts about love are just my own egotistical self-justifications, when I pick up Spiritual Polyamory again and discover someone else has had similar noble thoughts.
This instinct, this drive to mate that fuels a new love, causes all sorts of need to find security, thus all the obsessiveness. (And jealousy, though I'm not inclined that way.) Yet I also have a strong spiritual background of letting go, of learning to be comfortable without that certainty. When these two collide, all I have is a faith that the deeper love, the unconditional love, will prevail. As Mystic Life says in his chapter on the polyamorous journey, "True love arises out of an absence of control."
My spiritual path is known for renunciation. Often the form it takes is mistaken for the process itself: give up a lay life, shave one's head and become a monk, renounce worldly matters, and sex. The process itself is about letting go of ego, about cultivating egolessness, and that can be done by any person, lay or monastic, even a polyamorous sex-loving person like me. Mystic Life makes the point that it is the monogamous folks who make a big deal about sex, that sex should belong to just one other person. Sex is a bodily function, an instinctual drive that certainly is capable of bringing ecstatic moments into our lives, but it's not necessary to be possessive about it.
The more I have been on this polyamorous path, the more I appreciate it as a spiritual path that complements my Buddhist path. I have the wonderful opportunity to learn how love manifests in its many unpredictable and in its predictable ways. The more opportunity I have to experience this, the more I am convinced the key to selflessness and compassion in this universe is love. Now I have met someone who really puts this to the test. He cut right through my pacifist, compassionate outlook, challenging me with, "You know you really are judgmental." I don't think he believed (or believes) I could love and accept him as he is. Perhaps he has me right where he wants me, but yeah, some part of me takes that as a challenge.
Mystic Life said, "Nonjudgment in a relationship is an important aspect of what makes it work. The ego is tempted to judge constantly and assess whether or not another's behavior is benefiting one's self. Of course the ego is only interested in whether or not it is gaining strength, not about the evolution of one's true self. The ego likes control, power, attachment, guarantees. These are the illusion that keep it around." I found most of my judgments of my new love have been based on self-protection, and protection of my other relationships. Certainly that is healthy in this real, non-abstract world. I think it is also healthy not to be ruled by fear, and to find that all-encompassing love wherever it may be.
If I am to learn something about this love, it is to love without conditions, without expectations. I was inspired to go back to my the spirituality of my upbringing. One of the favorite passages of the Protestants who taught me is I Corinthians 13. In a poem I had written to my new love, I said:
if there is a glue that binds
this universe together
perhaps that would
I would do well to remember these things in Corinthians about love, not only with my new love, but with all my loves: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." Later, "when perfections comes, imperfect disappears...Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." Sounded awfully Zen to me.
I think a more full knowledge of love begins when we are able to fall in love. This biological drive, an animal instinct, is the very thing that can propel a person to an even deeper love beyond the confines of the ego.
Friday, July 09, 2004
Back in May 1996 I had a dream in which I was murdered, or at least that was the sense I woke up with. But it wasn't me, it was someone else I knew was me. The dying itself I couldn't remember.
I joked with my friends about it being a past life. They took the notion seriously. I wrote a short story based on this character from this dream, in a way I gave form to her being. She became Clara.
I've just looked back at the journal I wrote at this time.
May 31, 1996 I keep having this image from a dream from several days ago come into consciousness. I am in a house, bare floor boards, no furniture. Front door opens into a front room and other rooms branch off. Money has been stashed here from a heist or laundered money. Stacks and stacks. I have come here with others to pick up the money. Big, dangerous men, not ones you want to cross.
Now I see me/her. She is a wispy thing, blond hair, thin, dressed in a shifty thing like a night gown. Barely more than a child, she is more like the property of one of the men than a member of the gang. She participates fully yet like a frightened muskrat, fully expecting at any moment to be hit or hurt or killed.
A week later I went on sesshin. During this time in my life I was attending just about every one I could. I wrote in a journal throughout during rest and reflection periods. I was grappling with the feeling of separateness. "How can I ever be anything but self-contained? How can I feel the truth of not-two?" I became irritated by Gyokuko in sanzen, which is a very special container created between teacher, student, and ritual that allows the dharma to surface and flow freely. I felt she was treating me like a beginner. She said I needed to find the place in myself where I was truly OK. I thought I had. She said, "I think you've touched the surface, you haven't reached the depths you can go. You're trying to be small, no, trying is judging...this is not a criticism. You're too hard on yourself. You think you don't deserve it."
I kept pressing on this question. "Do I think I've gone into that place of truly OK?" and my answer was "oh yes." (This, by the way, is an excellent example of the Soto Zen view of the koan arising in daily life.) I returned to sanzen with Gyokuko and told her about Clara. It made sense to her then. She said working on past lives was Bodhisattva work. She gave me a way to work with it, telling me past life karma work was much like this current life karma work, "unraveling the karmic threads." After that encounter, I realized she'd been right, "I haven't felt truly OK to that depth: I have to find that truly OK sense of self in past lives too." This occurred during the evening meditation.
Thursday, June 6, 1996, from quick note before bed: Then, during Vespers I sang along with and to Clara, and I felt she felt more than I ever have the compassion and acceptance of those verses. She rejoices. I cried at her rejoicing. [Om to the One Who leaps beyond all fear! Having adored Thee, may I enter into the heart of the Noble, Adored Kanzeon! Thy life is the completion of meaning; It is pure, it is that which makes all beings victorious and cleanses the path of all existence]
Friday, June 7, 1996, 1:15 pm: As she integrates I feel the presence of Clara practicing right along with me. I feel in her the pleasure of beginner's mind, feeling the soft touch of this compassionate practice. Sometimes I feel I have to say to her, "I'm doing this practice," because she is having a beginner's reaction to it, many of the reactions I've long been through: wanting to do it all; feeling irritated at having to do some things. I feel as though I've had some small very tiny glimpse into the world of a person with multiple personalities.
In the years to come, whenever someone would tell me they just loved my voice when we sang Vespers, I've always felt it was Clara they were hearing.
It is good I have looked back at this. I now have an answer to that nagging question of separateness: love. I hadn't yet experienced that love that swept away all notion of self. I have now.
It was very important to me at this time to work through this as a past life, to experience Clara as a separate self. In the years since, she has informed my understanding of multitudes of selves, no one permanent self, no unchanging self, many heaps of selves arising and falling.
When I met the man who was to become my husband, and he scoffed at the notion of past lives, I had to concede I couldn't really know if it was actually a past physical life, but that it had been useful and important to me at that time to believe it that. The karmic work I had done would not have been as powerful.
Now, with the experience even more distant, I notice I had that dream at the end of May, near the anniversary of my brother's death. He committed suicide on May 25, 1986, on the day after his own birthday. On my birthday. Six years later thanks to my Buddhist practice I began the therapeutic work of untangling that karma. In the life of dreams, Clara could very well have been the me that was still wounded by that past karma, still not OK, even while the main me felt truly OK. If she was a past life, she could very well have been a past self of this life right now.
I just don't know. I am still puzzling over my friend Rinchen's note: "...born before the beginning; has slipped out of his skin again." My good friend H. has bristled over the use of nirvana in advertising, because non-Buddhists think it means heaven, but really it means extinction of rebirth. No more rebirths, and do they really want to use extinction of self to market a sweet fru-fru? No more lives. My eyes start to cross as I try to delve into this notion of the karmic stream, not exactly a soul, but a bundle of conditions leaving the physical body and traveling on some other plane of existence to the next physical body. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is all about negotiating those other planes, the bardos, and is spoken to the dead to remind them not to be afraid of nirvana, of extinction. I don't understand how something whose form lacks substance can continue to exist beyond the body, and really, is exist the right word anyway?
Zen seems to worry itself much less about what happens after death, but more about this life. Yet during a Zen funeral, exhortations are read that are meant to guide the recently departed, just like the Tibetan Book of the Dead. And I wonder, is it that I am a sleepy stupid Buddha and haven't yet awakened to this understanding? or is this a religious construction that helps us who are living feel better about our eventual death?
Thursday, July 08, 2004
I went to the dentist today after about two years. I am a lucky one: I don't develop a lot of plaque, don't get many cavities. Going to the dentist is different than when I was a kid. (I still hear my mom moaning to the drill's whine in the next room....she always had bad teeth.) The dentist did everything, and he drilled without laughing gas. I hear other dentists used it, but not him. His assistant would hand him the things he needed, like a nurse with doctor.
Now, in a different state and a new kind of health care system, the dentist pokes his head in the room for a few moments as the expert consultant. The x-rays, the scraping and rinsing, even the preliminary diagnosis, are done by the assistant, I guess the term is dental hygienist. Actually when I was really little, the dentist didn't use x-rays, just found the cavities by inspection. I remember my brothers inspecting their teeth before going, and showing me how to look for cavities. We all went at the same time, a family appointment you could say. It was a dark place, with dreary wood paneling. It was the seventies. For a reward we would get these little plastic pop-up toys.
Today the hygienist gasped when she looked in my mouth. Scared me, but then she said, "You hardly have any cavities!" (filled ones) Maybe she was camping it up. I chuckled and replied, "and I don't do anything special." She tutted at that. Clearly I don't floss, and it's been two years since my last cleaning. She also remarked that my teeth were so straight with just the right space between. I've never had braces.
It's so odd holding a conversation with someone between rinse and vacuum, looking up at her upside down face. Even more surreal, she was chit-chatting with me, especially after she went to fetch the dentist and I commented that I liked the fish mobiles she had hanging from the ceiling. She'd found them in Newport, Oregon. She asked if I'd been to the aquarium. She'd taken her daughter to see Keiko. I want to visit, but I've only been to the Seaside Aquarium.
Then the dentist came in, and he started the chit-chat. Asked me where I was from. Started naming towns in Wisconsin. Oostburg. He knew Oostburg was north of Milwaukee about 50 miles, same as I had described my hometown of Waldo. Oconomowoc. One of his patients was from Oconomowoc. Maybe he collects patients' place names. I grew up 10 or 15 miles from Oostburg, but can't say I've been there. When I said I'd moved to New Mexico for school, he asked if I'd gone to St. John's. "Are you a johnny?" Now that was shocking, who expects her dentist to know her college jargon? His best friend's son had just graduated last year.
That was his cue to ask me if I was well-read, and for a confused moment, I pondered, how did he know I worked for the library? So the chit-chat segued into books, and the hygienist carried on with a book review of A Short History of Nearly Everything, on CD. 15 CDs! She told me something about a man dissecting a huge animal (was it a rhino?) in the kitchen, and a man who acquired a head (was it the same one, or different?) and how the head fell and rolled down the street.
I left in befuddlement, my bag heavier with a flouride rinse purchase. The hygienist was concerned I might have the beginning of decay between some teeth, but she also muttered something about minerals coming back. So did she mean teeth repair themselves? I wasn't used to this friendly chit-chat from Kaiser staff. At the doctor, everyone's always in a rush. I often have to say "Wait, what about..." as the doctor is almost out the door. I guess dentists are just less likely to be overbooked.
The dentist also told me I have good teeth. That reminds me of an encounter I had a few years back. Some bbw-lovin' swingers found me online, and one of his questions for me was "Do you have good teeth?" He and his adventurous wife had met some people at a party that were pretty fine-lookin', but they had really bad teeth, and that just grossed him out. In his mind there was no reason for bad teeth, they could get them fixed. I joined him and his bevy of friends for a trip to Sauvie Island. Normally I wouldn't just go somewhere with strangers like that, but it turned out Steve had gone to school with him, and I'd always wanted to experience the nude beach there.
Wednesday, July 07, 2004
My friend Hugh, aka Rinchen Dorje, or as we liked to call him when he started using the name Rinchen, RD, died on June 22. I wrote a few words to some friends, but after his funeral on June 26, I couldn't bring myself to write anything down. RD was a quiet one, but his influence could run deep. A sangha member, Rich Mackin, shared his thoughts on June 24 and 27.
Hugh died of lung cancer, so it was no surprise. I regretted not seeing him recently, but since my orbit hadn't spiraled near the Zen Center for a couple of weeks, I wasn't aware that he had begun to decline so quickly. I learned later folks thought he would live through the summer.
California was the place he considered home. He came up here to take care of his dad (still living). He was the quiet one, absorbing all we talked about at our Sunday lunches. Once in a while his eyes would bug out at us. He wouldn't eat much: would often get coffee and eat a couple of fries with his mustard (more mustard than fry...more salsa than chip, too). He pretty much made money through odd jobs, home maintenance, and lived simply by cooking up a big pot of beans and living on burritos. Steve and I hired him a few times. He helped paint our walls. Picture in your head the quintessential hobo, a skinny one...that was him. Grey scraggly hair, craggy face, big eyes.
He told us a story of his hobo days once, how he camped in a field and he was happy there. (Not all that long ago.) It was a ways away from the tracks, too dangerous to live as a homeless man near the tracks, but he would go there to hang out.
He had just gone through the application process of living at the Zen Center when he was diagnosed, and a team of caregivers was put together. The Zen Center isn't a hospice, but sorta became one because he happened to be a resident. He stopped coming to Sunday lunch with us then because the team wanted to have lunch with him at the center. I wish I'd had more time to spend with him during his illness, I missed him. He continued to do his volunteer jobs all through his illness...taping dharma talks, making the coffee, countless other things.
He left this note in his room, which his sisters found:
Hugh Draney, AKA Rinchen Dorje, born before the beginning; has slipped out of his skin again. Cake, ice cream and remembering will be this [Saturday, 10am to noon]. Friends, ZCO, and all others invited. - Being around people who still include me in the living...
So at the funeral and memorial service, we all had cake (more like brownies) and ice cream, and shared our stories of Hugh. We did still include him in the living with our stories. I think I learned to love him more deeply as I heard about his other past selves in relation to these people. Several sangha members find him still living in their homes, through the remodeling work he did for them. Come to think of it, no one mentioned the kitchen remodel he did a lot of at the center's Sangha House. RD started out getting paid, but when the money ran out, he just kept going.
One woman read a letter from her husband currently in England. He'd worked with Hugh 20 years ago, and had considered him a great mentor when they worked together in a little cafe. Hugh's quiet focused presence had taught him a lot. Stories from his sisters, photos from his past, I found pieces of him that simply hadn't existed for me before. I could regret not knowing more of his life. I could think maybe he wasn't as good a friend as I'd thought, with so many pieces unknown. I don't think that matters, I know we loved each other as good friends. I could feel it in our hugs.
Friday, June 18, 2004
I went to sleep thinking about death, and woke up early with a dream about death, leaving me unable to return to sleep. Here in Portland, I am outraged that two people died for being guilty of driving while black. In Upside Down, Galeano makes me aware that in Latin America, thousands of people die in one city, for being poor. Here, the homeless are made illegal for existing through camping ordinances and drug free zones, there, they are hunted and killed. Little differences that make me somewhat grateful. But that wasn't what I was thinking about.
I was thinking about someone close to me dying and the devastating grief I would feel. My husband calls that a negative fantasy. I was slow to get to sleep. I woke up early aware of a dream of my own death, the details quickly chased away, disintegrating into shreds and dissolving. Here is where I was trying to get to regarding gratitude, something that eluded me in the light of day, but raised its Freddy Krueger-esque head during those vulnerable dream states of mind.
We are all going to die. Getting real (or unreal) with that fact is the primary purpose of religions. It is the fundamental question of this life. Rich or poor, oppressor or oppressed, comfortable or not, we all will die. The question becomes then, how do we live, to be ready for our death? This notion hovers around the Buddhist meal verse. For whatever karmic reason, we are placed in the lives we are placed. If we have the luxury of comfortable sustenance, that is an opportunity to experience enlightenment. Do we deserve that offering? Who does? The wisdom of the Bodhisattva is always to turn it over, turn it over, turn it over to the weal of the world. There's nothing that says the Bodhisattva can't or shouldn't play, enjoy, and turn that over too.
Thursday, June 17, 2004
Immobilized by tendinitis in my foot, I've been sitting back a whole lot with my foot up, doing a lot of reading and movie watching. Some would say it's about time I got these things back to the library. Like many library workers, I keep renewing them until the system won't let me, then I rush through them, and return them late. (Yes, I still have to pay fines.)
Book: I'm going to have to return The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness, mostly unread. Karen Armstrong has written histories of religions and biographies such as Buddha (which I hear is rather good for a Penguin book). Her experience as a postulant and novice Catholic nun struck me as so similar to the stories I have heard about our Buddhist monks going through. I have to wonder if our founding mother Jiyu Kennett wasn't influenced by Catholicism in England in all that. All the ways they are treated are designed to extinguish the ego. In Armstrong's case the purpose of those rules and rituals were to make her a vessel for God's purpose. Perhaps someday I can get back to this, but right now the hold list is a mile long.
Documentary: There are certain things that need to be seen, heard, or read by all European Americans occupying North America. Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story is one of them. I grew up where the prevailing (racist) opinion was that those Indians should accept that they live in America, and should live by the laws Americans have to live by, i.e. they shouldn't get special hunting and fishing rights. Naturally any news coverage of AIM back then portrayed them as violent extremists. Not only does this film reveal the racist circumstances of Leonard Peltier's trial (and that he didn't do it), it sheds some light on those dramatic AIM incidents in the mid 70s. Perhaps because it was not central to the theme, the documentary did not explore the federal government's complicity in native on native crime. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was a war zone between traditionalists helped by AIM and contemporary natives that dominated tribal government. Goon squads, quasi deputies, targetted the traditionalists and AIM, yet their murderous activities did not receive the federal attention that AIM's did. Sadly, such an incident as that at Oglala looks inevitable considering the tension and fear that existed on the reservation at that time. It occurs to me that Leonard Peltier symbolically holds the karma of his people, and does so rather gracefully. No matter what transpired that day, he is a political prisoner. This gets an A.
Movie: Did Christian Slater always look old? I thought he appeared a little old to play a teenager in Pump Up the Volume, but it turns out he was only around twenty at the time. This is a movie for every outcast (like me) who lived through some painful teen years. It also tells a compelling story about the way free speech is gnawed away by fear and denial. As teen movies go it gets an A, but otherwise, a B-.
Movie: Hollywood stars try to show how real they are in The Anniversary Party. They do that, but somehow something is missing. Maybe they are too close to it. But mmmm, Phoebe Cates was delicious (and real). I dunno, maybe it doesn't work for me because they're all just too skinny, or maybe because it was more like an acting exercise than a movie with a Hollywood plot. Still, I sorta liked it. C
Movie: Amy's O. I thought it was going to be about sex. Instead it was all about a Jewish girl dispensing love advice who is afraid of intimacy and who falls for a movie version of Howard Stern who (surprise surprise, how Hollywood) is not so sexist after all. Gets a C. Now Secretary, which I saw awhile back, was about sex, and gets an A!
Movie: So it's an evil corporation, but I like the movies! Disney's Summer of the Monkeys has all the requisites of a good kid's movie: cute animals, siblings watching out for each other and growing up, a grandpa that helps the kid get through it all, and parents that recognize the adult emerging in the child. Oh yeah, and an irascible hermit. But did they have to go with Wilford Brimley for the grandpa? B.
Still reading: Published in 1998, Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World by Eduardo Galeano is packed with facts about U.S. and corporate pirating of the world's labor and resources. This takes awhile, but is another required US citizen read. Most of us americanos del norte enjoy a standard of living that can only exist because somewhere else, and even somewhere here, someone suffers. I think we need to face that, and be humble. Still, it's rather depressing, and I am inclined to read it a little at a time and put it down.
The friend who recommended Galeano tells me he has mixed feelings about enjoying something distinctly American, considering the racist and classist history of domination that brought this country its riches. At times like this I have to remember the Buddhist meal verse, and apply it to all the things of this rich life I enjoy:
This meal is the labor of countless beings,
let us remember their toil.
Defilements are many and exertions weak,
do we deserve this off’ring?
Gluttony stems from greed,
let us be moderate.
Our lives are sustained by this offering,
let us be grateful.
We take this food to attain the Buddha Way.
Whether the offering was given freely, or it was forced from the world's poor through violence and exploitation, I have received this offering. Circumstances put me in this position. The least I can do is remember the countless beings that have suffered for my sake, be moderate in my consumption, and do what good I can because I am able. This is only the beginning of a thought...I'm sure I'll return to this theme.
Thursday, June 03, 2004
Life happens, and a month and a half goes by!
I finished this book: Pucker Up: A Hands-on Guide to Ecstatic Sex by Tristan Taormino. Taormino does a regular column for the Village Voice on sexuality. I love this book. I read it on my palm, usually while on the bus, so I've started to get turned on by riding transit! If there was any doubt in my mind, I now know I have strong submissive tendencies. (mmmm, the section on spanking and flogging) Taormino writes from a compassionate view of helping individuals and people in relationships explore their fantasies and inclinations. No judgement, either from the prudish end, or the kinky end (like assuming everyone's a top or bottom.) She writes with a sensitivity for the shyness people can feel about their hidden inclinations. She gives tips on how to broach the subject of fantasies with a possibly reluctant lover.
I went to Fat Girl Speaks, and wrote this poem while still drunk from the many drinks I imbibed with my husband, his girlfriend, and her friends:
i went to 'fat girl speaks' tonight.
steve's girlfriend's girl friends.
(they said i'm 'good people')
so fucking turned on
by all the sexy
struttin their stuff.
so fuckin incredible
to see fat women
tentative fat girl
'may i exist?'
so fuckin sexy
they were on stage
(and there were so many lesbians there,
why didn't i get any phone numbers?)
3 versions of 'fat-bottomed girls'
it did not get old
Other things that happened this month:
The new Central Seattle Public Library opened, and I must go see it. I cannot fathom this building until I experience it in person, it's so different.
My husband's birthday came and went. He, his girlfriend, and I went out to dinner at a fabulous restaurant.
My birthday came and went. I got my birthday spanking early at the Masturbate-athon. I organized the cloakroom volunteers and planned the party games, more volunteering than I've done for a Darklady party before. Several of us were quite happy to play Spin the Bottle, having missed our chance when kids. Truth or dare was a hit. My husband and I went to another pretty damn good restaurant on the day of my birthday.
Writing on my novel has taken a back seat to the work behind Change Your Mind Day in Portland. After all that work, I'm hoping a lot of people show up, and I'm nervous that they won't.
Thursday, April 22, 2004
My first reaction was to laugh when I found out about Victoria Secret's Buddha Bikini Debacle. I received an email this morning, a forward of a petition and call to contact not only Victoria's Secret, but OndadeMar for plastering the Buddha and Bodhisattvas on their bikinis. I've always enjoyed seeing Buddhist images on clothing. Not only do I belong to a fashionable religion, but if people are attracted to the images even for superficial reasons, great! What's gonna happen when someone who thought that booda dude image was cool actually sees a live person sitting serenely in the same position? Might something about that penetrate to a deeper need?
My second thought: can I work this into a respectful article for the Dharma News? (I should be working on those articles right now.) It's really hard for a person to be serious about this who has Mother of all Buddhas tattooed on her arm. This sacred image is exposed to my genitals every day. Some Buddhist sects consider it highly disrespectful to disrobe in front of a Buddha image, and certainly, wear one on those defiled parts of our body. Many innocent American converts I know have had Buddha images in their bedrooms for years. Somehow this little detail didn't get conveyed to us early on.
Both OndadeMar and Victoria's Secret have already removed the offending bikinis from their websites, or at least the links. Currently the OndadeMar can still be seen and ordered, only if you have the link. I have to say, it certainly is odd to see the Buddha hugging genitalia like that. My third thought: certainly this has been done with Jesus?
Looking for "jesus on a bikini", I found somebody else had the idea on April 19. Further searches yielded nothing. But jesus and underwear certainly did. I found boxers, thongs, and many other panties. Of course, all of those were poking fun of Christian Fundamentalism, none were major fashion industry corporations, and the context is completely different.
I can see how it might not flattering to one's religion to be so fashionable. It could be seen that the icons are treated merely as exotic myth and not as images to be respected and representations of aspirations. On the other hand, if one's religion is seen as sexy, isn't that a compliment?
Anyway, I found that the fashion industry and Buddhism aren't completely at odds. There's a fashion school in a Buddhist temple in Bangkok.
Of course I also couldn't get too excited about this because, well, they'll never make a Buddha bathing suit in my size.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
I thought I'd search for a synonym by typing "synonym" and the word I was searching for in Google (it worked) but I also found a site stating if you used ~ along with your search term, Google will search for synonyms of that term as well. That got me excited, because I realized there could be a whole plethora of ways in which I could put Google to better use, so I did a search for "google tips". I found great stuff from Tech TV's Call For Help, Sree Sreenivason from WABC in New York, PC Magazine, and Google itself.
I put together my own list, thinking of my wish to search faster and more accurately, whether working reference on-call, or doing my own thing.
I played around with it, and found these operators won't necessarily make searching easier. Perhaps with use I'll find the appropriate ways to use these new functions. For instance, I looked for mention of the Multnomah County Library. In some cases the number of hits increased when I tried to limit it in various ways from including MCL's own web pages. I figure since MCL's own pages have the highest rankings when ordinary searches are done, when I did these unusual searches leaving those out, the Google rankings started losing their meaning. The hits returned were no longer the familiar front pages of web sites, but many single pages of web sites.
I also found some of the advanced operators don't work, or I couldn't get them to work, even though they're found on the Google help pages. Language: didn't work for Spanish...it returned pages in English.
Those terms with a colon are advanced operators, add them to your search terms. Most of these require no space between the operator colon and the search term. Example: "intitle:multnomah library" will return results with "multnomah" specifically in the web page title and "library" anywhere in the page.
Basic Reference directly from the Toolbar
Maps--Type the street address and the zip code, Google recognizes this as a map search
Phone book--Type name, city (optional), and state
Reverse Directory--Type the phone number in the search engine
bphonebook: specifies business listings for phonebook search
rphonebook: specifies residential listings for phonebook search
define: Provides a definition of the words you enter after it, gathered from various online sources. The definition will be for the entire phrase entered. You can also simply type the word, then click "definition" found on the right side of the results page. This yields the dictionary.com entry.
Refining Searches (we all know "", +, and -)
~ Looks for the term, and any synonyms of the term
.. Two periods between two numbers searches that number range. Specify the unit of measure, dollar sign, etc. ($150..200; 100..200 lbs; 1993..1997)
allintitle: Looks for all search terms only in the web page title.
intitle: Looks for web pages containing that word in the title.
intext: The opposite of intitle:, searches only the body text, ignoring titles, links, etc. (I found the terms could still be in the title. "-intitle:" will give results without the term in the title. Not sure that’s useful anyway.)
stocks: Treats search terms as stock ticker symbols, links directly to stock quote page. You can also just search the stock symbols, then click on the "Show stock quotes" link on the results page.
site: Limits the results to those websites in the given domain. Could be com, edu, etc. or the whole domain name. Useful to use in place of the search engine on a given site. Also useful with the minus sign to get results from anywhere but a given site.
allinurl: Looks for all search terms only in the url.
inurl: Looks for documents containing that word in the url.
related: Lists pages that are similar to the specified web page.
link: Finds pages linking to a particular web page. (Cannot be combined with other searches.)
Here's some samples of various searches I tried:
Approximate number of hits:
61,500.....multnomah library (mcl's homework center top hit)
527.........."multnomah library" (top hits: homework center, kids page, the county site)
19,600....."multnomah county library" (mcl site top hit)
3,680.......intitle:multnomah library (homework center top hit)
1,640.......allintitle: multnomah library (homework center top hit)
15,600....."multnomah county library" -site:www.multcolib.org (top hits: county site, friends of library, county, ipac page)
56,900.....-inurl:multcolib multnomah library
none........-inurl:multcolib allintitle:multnomah library
1,920.......-inurl:multcolib intitle:multnomah library
54,000.....-inurl:multcolib intext:multnomah library
51,300.....-inurl:multcolib intext:multnomah library -intitle:multnomah
499..........-inurl:multcolib "multnomah library" (top hits: dailywireless on mcl’s access trial, Library Journal)
15,500.....-inurl:multcolib "multnomah county library"
14,700.....-inurl:multcolib "multnomah county library" -inurl:multnomah (a lot of very specific pages)
29............related:www.multcolib.org (top hit:www.multcolib.org; results include the Official Site of the Portland Trail Blazers...hmmmm)
Thursday, April 08, 2004
My Zen teacher had a problem with the movie What the #$*! Do We Know? because one of two spiritual scholars associated with it is a 30,000 year old channeled mystic. I asked him, and anyone else in my sangha that's online, "how about spontaneous appearance of relics from Kashapya and Ananda? what does that do for you? anybody?" and shared my already written thoughts on that. No one responded. Oh, except for my buddy The Twerp (he's always messing with me). He said I channelled him with that question.
I really liked the movie and want to see it again. The movie used fiction to demonstrate the science in a nifty way. Nine out of ten viewers agree, Marlee Matlin was awesome. While there are some problematic things in it, when I googled the scientists and "junk science", the only problematic science was that found in the fictional part of the film, the notion that water responds to words and prayer. (Oh my gosh, the author is coming to Portland.) While it can be delightful to see a movie which appears to validate wisdom passed down through the ages, I think it's important not to accept it at face value and investigate the science, since it does rely on science to make its point.
I really liked the stuff about the brain, and the notion that we become addicted to emotions. To me, the science of peptides associating with certain thoughts that trigger certain emotions fits right in with my experience of Buddhist practice. People generally are subject to negative habits of emotion, but it is possible to change these deeply worn grooves through the creation of the habit of meditation and of loving-kindness. The movie appears to make the point that consciousness can effect the physical world, and asks us "how far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?"
The rabbit hole it leads me toward is this notion of matter and consciousness. Suppose we do rule out charlatanism in the case of the Buddhist Relics, and suppose our thoughts do have a measurable effect on our own bodies, even on water? What if it really is the case that enlightened masters reached out to us from beyond this time and space and gave us the gift of relics to revere? How is that so different from a 30,000 year old disembodied mystic channeling himself through a middle-aged woman? By going down the rabbit hole, I keep myself open to the possibilities, but at the same time, I'm a pretty smart girl, just as Alice is. For the most part, I figure there might be an easier explanation, but there also might be things I just don't know about the mind and the universe.
There was a time in my life and my Buddhist practice that I paid close attention to my dreams. I shared with friends a frightening dream where I was killed, and I knew it had something to do with my being a prostitute and with money the killers were searching for. To my surprise, they took seriously my joke about it being a past life, and so did my other Zen teacher. Was it a past life, or rather, death? More on this human body, consciousness, and the notion of self and past selves coming soon.
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
Hey, here I am, in the front right, holding up the sign with the Buddha icon.
An unarmed black man was killed by a police officer. The man was still strapped in his seat belt. The police officer claims he 'resisted arrest' and that he thought he had a weapon. I still can't shake the feeling this was a deliberate hit, but why would they want this young man dead? The coroner's office says he had cocaine in his body that would have killed an ordinary person. (Black man as beast.) I have to wonder, why did the shooting officer's partner taser the victim for THREE MINUTES after he was shot. After he was dead. I wonder, is there any way to know whether this would keep the blood pumping, send drugs into the system? You see where I'm going here: like the victim's family, I have to wonder if the cops planted those drugs.
As you can see from the photo there were quite a mix of people there. This photo might lead you to believe a lot of Caucasions were there. Not really. About ten percent. I didn't think that was enough. While all the media settled on "hundreds", I would say there were at least a 1000 people there. At least.
Both James Perez' aunt, and another woman whose child had a run-in with the Portland police spoke of their comfort zone, how they'd been in their 'comfort zone' and these instances shocked them out of it. This issue should be one of the top issues of the mayoral campaign, yet I'm afraid it won't be, because we are in our comfort zone.
Portland has a larger majority of white people than most other urban centers. Perhaps that is why this issue has not been addressed the way it should have been, before now, before another unarmed black person was killed by the police. Our "liberal" mayor believes racial profiling indeed exists in Portland. Perhaps she felt she addressed the issue. Clearly she didn't.
I have to say this really brings home for me how, even though I have an active imagination, I cannot imagine what it must be like for a person of color to live and work and raise a family in the midst of racism. It has never crossed my mind that I could be beaten if I was approached by a police officer. I have never feared for my life when pulled over for a traffic infraction. I haven't even been afraid they might search my car. I have never been pulled over for failing to signal correctly, nor did it even occur to me I could be. It's become pretty clear all of these things occur to a person of color in Portland.
Sadly, whether black or white, or whatever race, as long as we are in our "comfort zone", we do little to change society for the better. In some ways, we as peace activists are stretched too thin. We try to bring in all the issues, show how they are interconnected, then cannot address each one as deeply as they need to be.
Also, as James Perez' aunt said, this is not just a black issue, this is a white issue too, a human issue. The Portland Police are trained a mere ten weeks. As one speaker pointed out, cosmetologists get more training. I happened to be standing next to one who told me it took a minimum of six months to get her license. The national standard of police training is 22 weeks (still too low). When police are trained to shoot, that's what they do. They don't have training in diffusing conflict. Don't have training in dealing with the mentally ill. Don't have training in communication. Don't have training on dealing with stress. If they do, it's not enough.
Often people will excuse the police. They have a tough job. They put their life on the line. And they do. All the more reason that this should change. For their own sake they should have better training. For our sake, they should be held to the highest standard, because they have our lives in their hands. As my sign said, NO ONE should be afraid of a TRAFFIC STOP. And NO ONE should be targetted as suspicious because of the color of their skin. NO ONE should be guilty for Driving While Black.
One of the speakers had us point to the Justice Center. Engraved on that building is a quote by MLK Jr. She started reciting it, and we all joined in: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." This injustice hurts us all, and we all really need to do something about it, need to make the change happen.
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
I have some thoughts coming together around Buddhist relics, shamanism, the movie "What the #$*! Do We Know?", and the notion of self. I could just spew them out, but then this would be just another self-involved web journal entry with a whole bunch of questions and little forethought. So look forward to a series on this topic, which I've realized roughly revolves around matter, thought, and the spiritual realm.
On Friday evening, I went to see Buddhist relics. Actually, it's a roadshow to raise money for a Buddhist endeavor called the Maitreya Project. OK, I must admit that observation alone makes my skepticism hackles rise. I could get sidetracked onto the sometimes weird vibe around the Buddhist tradition of begging for money. This roadshow came with a huge panel describing the Maitreya Project, larger than my living room wall. Posters, brochures and glossy souvenir booklets describing the Project and the Heart Shrine Relic Tour could be had, suggested donations listed on hand-lettered cards. Before I entered the hall, a sangha friend warned me "it's not the way we do things." (Zen is black, white and wood grain, Tibetan is red, gold and brightly colored.) I appreciated the icicle light strands replacing the traditional Tibetan butter lamps. Handy, so American, and moving the tradition into the modern era.
The relics were inside display cases, resting in their little golden urns, alongside close-up photos of the relics. These aren't merely bone bits and ashes, as you would think relics might be, but they say that spiritual masters leave these bits behind as gifts. They have a life, a presence, explained Pema Chidrin, who is travelling with the relics. She said that if treated with respect, relics will often grow, new pieces will become manifest or visible. Likewise if they are treated disrespectfully, they will shrink in size. The collection included relics from Shakyamuni Buddha, some of his disciples, as well as Chinese, Tibetan, and Indian ancestors. H.H. the Dalai Lama donated some hairs and other special items inside a little pouch. Even though he is still alive, they say since he expresses bodhicitta every hair on his head is a relic. Pema Chidrin explained that this tour has been blessed, that two of their relics had increased: Ananda, one of Shakyamuni's disciples, and Kashapya, the Buddha preceding Shakyamuni. (Even the Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition had a question about this. The answer was basically that space-time works in mysterious ways.) Kashapya's had "grown" a big pearl-like piece (looked like a tapioca pearl) and Ananda's had more little opalescent bits. We could see that the photos did not show these bits, and there they were, in the little urns. Lama Zopa, the man behind the Maitreya Project, verified their authenticity. Cynically, I can't help but put two and two together.
I came here thinking I don't know the truth about the Buddhist relics, but that it doesn't really matter whether they came from these past spiritual masters. It matters that people treat them with respect and imbue them with something as ritual objects. That gives them sacred value. Now I am being told that if I am disrespectful the objects will shrink and I'm wondering if my skeptical thoughts are disrespectful. Does anyone voice these thoughts aloud? (whoops, I’m doing it now, will they shrink because of me?) Maybe I don't know everything there is to know, maybe enlightened beings do manipulate matter through space and time. I shrugged inwardly and reminded myself to 'act like the Buddha to be a buddha'.
Skepticism aside, I delighted in the pageantry. A replica of the giant Maitreya statue to be built in India sat on top of an altar as large as a bed. All around the nearly human-sized statue the relics were displayed, along with the requisite candles and bowls of saffron water of Pema Chidrin's tradition, as well as the icicle lights lining the edge. For the opening ceremony we sang "Litany of the Great Compassionate One" and "Adoration of the Buddha's Relics" as passed down by Roshi Jiyu Kennett. Together in ceremony for the first time in many years, members of the Portland Buddhist Priory and Dharma Rain Zen Center led the singing. (This was a very charged moment.) We sang on key as I had never heard before. At least a dozen women and men ordained in Buddhism, representing nearly that many sects, lined up to circumambulate around the relics. The rest of us lay folks followed.
Apparently the abbot of the host temple gets to do the honors, so my priest and teacher Kyogen Carlson gave us a blessing with the relics. We lined up again, bowing and bending forward while he rested the urn on our head and he chanted three times, "Namu Shakyamuni Buddha". Me too. I felt incredibly taken care of, and met my teacher's eyes as I bowed after. (Kyogen also received a blessing, from his wife and co-abbott, Gyokuko Carlson.) This is the same chant we recited during a ceremony the week I became a Buddhist. Was I receiving a blessing from the relics, or from the attention of my priest? Stepping aside for the next person, I knew I had already received this blessing, received it that moment, and continue to receive it, whether the relics had some life of their own or not. The true remnants of the Buddha and these other spiritual masters come to me through these three gems, Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
Monday, March 22, 2004
I had been planned to write something about the gay and lesbian marriages happening here in Portland, but I’ve been too busy planning for Portland’s peace rally and march, one year after the invasion of Iraq. It was a great day. Organizers I trust estimate 12,000-15,000 people were there. Afterward I got far too involved in the backbiting so common to the web and as found on Portland’s Indymedia.
There were great speakers. Jim Lockhart of philosopherseed.org captured some great audio. For me the highlight of the day was the keynote speaker, Ramon Ramirez, president of PCUN. He sent chills down my spine. The Portland Buddhist Peace Fellowship brought its ever portable meditation vigil. I was holding the meditation vigil space, not so easy when people in a crowd see open space as a way to move from one spot to another. There's just something about being at a rally and meditating that I wouldn't trade for anything. It's like the music and the speakers directly reach my heart. Ramon really got the crowd fired up. When you're meditating and listening, a lot of it goes deeper than memory, you can't remember the specifics, but you come away with a truth. Some things resound like a bell though, and ring through your head the rest of the day, and longer. I remember him talking about some Republican representative who said we shouldn't protest the war because we shouldn't oppose our people, our troops. Ramon objected. His people?! Our troops aren't his people, they're our people. Our people! Not your people! People of color! Our people! Working people! Not your people! I shivered in response. I wanted to be Ramon's people.
It was easier to hold the space after the march came back. (I stayed at the vigil space.) More people sit down to meditate after marching for some reason. The most we had at one time was six. I think because it was such a nice day the crowd was smiley and bouncy and didn't want to sit still. Then, there were just me and my friend Sam again, and along came this kooky guy. He had blue gloves on, and at first I thought he was acting like a mime. Then he sat down, for a little bit. Then he got up, danced around some, and made motions like he was gathering something in the air and placing it into the ground. It reminded me of tai chi, but it wasn't. Then, as Sam described it later, he was doing some strange hopping about like spiderman. Then he started playing with the buddha peace buttons we had for sale as a fundraiser. I almost thought he was going to take off with the donation box. Finally, he mounted a green buddha peace button in front of the Buddha statue on our little altar, and he bounded away, rather Tigger-like.
So Sam, Sara, and Sara’s friend Bob and I went out to dinner, a yummy Thai place Bob suggested. Sam and I were telling them about this guy, and Sara suggested he was a tweeker. Mind you, it was only a week or two ago that I first came across this word. When I wrote about riding the bus, a woman in California told me I probably share my ride with tweakers too. So I found out what that meant, people on meth, but realized I wouldn't even know it if I saw someone on meth. So now I have an idea...maybe. While he acted in ways completely unpredictable (not mime, not tai chi, maybe crazy, not a thief) I didn't feel like he acted disrespectful. I thought in his way he was being quite respectful.
More than one speaker felt it was important to express public support of gay and lesbian marriages, including Ramon Ramirez. I had the opportunity to write about Buddhism and same-sex marriages for my volunteer gig with NW Dharma News. The Buddhist leaders in the Portland area that responded to my query were supportive, ready to conduct legal ceremonies, and had in fact been conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies for some time. I got the news of the ceremony of a member of my sangha, who was able to get married legally after nearly 22 years in his committed relationship. I had the hardest time getting started on the article. I kept getting weepy. Kinda funny for someone who got married for tax purposes. I am so PROUD right now that I live in Portland, Oregon. I only hope the upcoming court ruling upholds these marriage licenses.
Sunday, March 07, 2004
I often get around by bus. Sometimes I have use of my husband's car (something I must state or he'll get mad if I pretend I don't have a car, because he pays for it), but when I go to work or travel about during the day, public transit provides my chauffeur.
I've used public transit ever since I moved here to Portland, but six years ago I really began to depend on it. At first I felt some resistance, feeling like it took time away from my day, especially when I got a promotion that took me further away from home. After around six months though, I realized that I enjoyed my time on the bus. Sometimes I would just sit, not exactly the sort of meditation I was used to, but a meditation more connected with the world. Sometimes I would read. Sometimes I would listen to music. I relaxed, and realized that I literally did not have to worry about watching the road, unless I wanted to look at the interesting signs and buildings along the way. So while it might take me an hour to get somewhere, and with a car it would take fifteen minutes, I don't mind because that time is for me. No chores, no work, no stressful road-watching, no frustration at red lights (although there is frustration at just-missed buses).
Another thing I enjoy about taking the bus is the connection it gives me to other people that I might not otherwise ever rub elbows with. I know many people don't like it for that reason. I share my ride with homeless, drunks, students, skater boys, single moms with their kids, commuters like me, people fresh out of prison, dredlocked new hippies, blind people with their dogs, people in wheelchairs, people with all colors of hair, people with all possible shades of skin, goths, anarchists, liberals, conservatives. (Not many suburbanites, not on my usual routes.) Well yeah, I do rub elbows with all these folks at my job at the library, but there I provide a service. Here I am just one of them, and sometimes we make connections.
Sometimes it's on the way to a peace rally. We're carrying signs. It's a reason to start up a conversation. Sometimes conversations happen at the bus stop. This morning a man attempted to start a conversation with me, I wasn't quite ready or awake enough for that so I brushed him off. I especially wasn't ready to deal with first his request for change, and second, his question if I was on my way to church. When I said kinda...Buddhist temple actually, he wanted to talk some more. D'oh! Actually, I usually might talk some more with a person about going to a Buddhist temple, even if they might proselytize at me. In this case I was about to go meditate, and I wanted to be quiet.
On the other hand, when I was on my way home late this afternoon, I had a lovely conversation with a young man still in high school. Again, he started it, remarking on the warm weather and how he'd missed it, having to work inside all day. He asked if I'd been able to enjoy it. I told him I'd been in and out, that I'm a Big Sister and I had taken my Little Sister to the mall to ice skate. The conversation moved on, he told me about his lame experience with a Big Brother when he was a little kid, how the man had taken the boy to his house and flopped in front of the TV while the kid played pool. I was shocked, since in my experience the whole point of being a Big Sister or Brother is to interact with the kid. He was curious if we got anything for doing this, because he could never figure out why this guy was a Big Brother, since he didn't do anything. I told him at most we sometimes get free tickets such as for Blazers games (which I would avoid like the plague) but I did take free tickets to a Portland Hockey game, which of course led to this ice skating outing. (It was her first time skating and she did great!) I admitted I didn't skate, as I haven't since I was a kid and I was too afraid I'll break my glasses and an ankle. We got on the bus, and as often happens then, our conversation ended. I did thank him for a nice conversation, and opened my book that I'd set aside, choosing to read on my ride home.
Monday, March 01, 2004
I went to Nehan Festival just over a week ago, the Buddhist celebration of the Buddha's death. I feel as though I've been inundated with everyone's preoccupation with Jesus' death ever since, thanks to Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ". I am so not interested in seeing that. Shakyamuni Buddha's death was so different from Jesus Christ's. For one thing, he lived to an old age, and so was able to refine and improve his teachings. The Buddha lived by the begging bowl, and accepted whatever gift of food was offered. Some stories say he knew the food he received was tainted, but for the sake of the giver, he accepted it. Certainly he knew he was dying, and because he lived as a wandering monk, when he could walk no more, he and his followers found a grove of trees where he could lie down. When his students gathered around him, expressing doubt that they could carry on without him, the Buddha gave his final teaching. He said to them, "Be a lamp unto yourself." He told them they already had what it takes, and they could be confident they could express the dharma each in their own way.
During the ceremony, it was as though I felt the presence of Kanzeon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, in her most goddess like aspect. Her name pinged at me in the chants. The sangha dragon-snaked around the hall, and she inhabited each person that caught my eye. She infused us with great wisdom; in her great compassion she gave us all the wisdom of buddhas and indeed I was seeing buddhas. Our ceremonies usually have the same general format: bows, chants (in this case those used in funerals: The Litany of the Great Compassionate One and Adoration of the Buddha’s Relics), circumambulating while chanting the Heart Sutra, all present offering incense as they pass in front of the altar.
I found myself wondering how much of this vibrancy could be attributed to my improved health. I was recently diagnosed with sleep apnea. The cure is simple: I breathe with the help of a machine when I am sleeping. The litany of health problems associated with sleep apnea is astounding, all stemming from two issues. They told me I stopped breathing up to 80 times per hour. My oxygen levels were 80 percent of normal levels. Each time I stopped breathing, I woke up just enough for my throat muscles to tighten and allow air in, but not enough for me to remember, and consequently I didn't get REM sleep. I realized I had been depressed due to my sudden happiness. The world sparkled again. This ceremony was imbued with rediscovered significance. Of course, this recalls another of the Buddha's teachings, the Middle Way: indulge in neither excess nor asceticism, but maintain good health physically and mentally.
Thursday, February 12, 2004
A definitive moment in my life happened when I was with a group of people doing dream work. Over the course of a weekend, we were engaging in zen meditation, and rather than the other usual work of a zen retreat, we were examining our dreams. If handled with talent, dream work is intensely therapeutic. The definitive moment came when I hadn’t yet shared my dream. The counselor seemed asked me how I felt, and I responded “I feel like hiding.” My intense feeling of vulnerability surprised me some.
The counselor said, “That’s ok, you can go hide, where would you like to hide? Over here in the corner?” Astonished, I went over there and crouched, the hidey feeling soon gratified and soothed. I had expected something else. We had made a commitment to share, yet I was given permission to continue hiding. With all those concentrated emotions crackling in the air, this compassionate response soon had me willing to come back out. While I was nearly the last to share my dream, and more openings would occur from that work, the definitive moment had occurred: I had uncovered an inclination to hide, and that inclination’s days were numbered.
From that day forward, I was determined not to hide. Where I had been the last to share an intimate thought, I became the first. If a thought rose to consciousness about my fears, my past karma, I pulled on that thread, brought it all to light. I no longer hid from others, or myself. Of course, sometimes that could be intrusive, or tactless, or just plain drama queen material. There would be more lessons learned.
Along the way my fears dissolved, given my repeated experiences of a compassionate world when I let this self-defensive wall dissolve. I learned I could be bigger than I felt I was. I continue to learn how my notion of my self can stretch.
It can be so easy to fall into notions of a static self, and a tendency to nurture that self rather than challenge it. I am a pacifist. I don’t like sports. With such concrete conceits, it’s possible to miss opportunities when they arise. I’ve had the opportunity to stretch these notions of myself.
Given free tickets, I went to my first hockey game. I thought it might be interesting, but to my surprise I really liked it. The players were graceful yet exciting. A smooth execution of a play leading to a goal tasted sweet. While I didn’t appreciate the audience encouragement of fights, I could feel the contributing excitement and adrenalin rush even from my upper level seat. I was happy the home team won. While I don’t see myself becoming an avid follower, I’d love to attend a game again.
On another front, I’ve met someone online who enjoys talking to me (now why would that be?) and wishes to be my friend. Whether this friendship will work out or not, I don’t know. We happen to have some fundamental differences in outlook. Can there still be a friendship in that? As a Buddhist embracing no separation between self and others, embracing non-duality, I like to think it’s possible. Usually my friends fall well within a certain zone of comfort, and we share similar ideals. Yet here also is an opportunity for me to put my ideals to the test: being peace; withholding judgment; stretching my notion of self. I can’t know if it’ll work out unless I give it a try.
It can be that simple, stretching, growing. It’s a matter of meeting opportunities as they present themselves with an open mind, and stepping forward.
Monday, February 02, 2004
While sitting with my favorite coastal vacation ritual: drinking cream-laden coffee and gazing at the ocean, the phrase ‘love like an ocean’ from the song "Peace Like a River" sprang to my mind. Sometimes in my peace activist activities we sing this song, but more often we sing it in Dharma School.
So gazing at the ocean I muse on 'love like an ocean,' and I wonder, just what does that mean? In Dharma School we barely pause. Like meditation, we let the songs sink in to become a part of us, without intellectualizing.
My first thought: love is boundless. Yet here I am gazing at the boundary. I am reminded of one of my favorite books, "Their Eyes Were Watching God." Towards the end, love is compared to the ocean, and the character Janie says it is through the way it touches the shore that we know it and it is defined between people, if I remember correctly.
Gazing at the ocean, I think even a Tibetan lama with his incredible visualization skills could not encompass the immensity of the ocean. Who could comprehend the incredible volumes of water, the teeming schools of animal life, the strength of the currents? If love is like an ocean, then it is no wonder that in the past my small pitiable ego was unconsciously afraid to experience such a deep love.
Perhaps rather than boundless it is better to say it is immeasurable. A scientist might argue it is measurable, that it is finite and we can attach a number to it. But not only is that number incomprehensible to ordinary consciousness, it must be changing constantly, as water evaporates into the air and comes back down as rain, as ice caps melt and as glaciers form.
If love is like an ocean it surely cannot be under this pitiable ego's control. What can one do but embrace it? Run from it and it still looms, large as the ocean. Love recently defined itself on the shore of a particular person for me. I hesitated to call it that, as he clearly did not want it to exist.
Why love did define itself on this particular shore, I don't know. When faced with such an immeasurable tempest, whether requited or not it is difficult to weather. The ocean is a vast, dangerously wild and uncompromising entity. Usually in the peace song it is comforting to consider a love for humanity vast as the ocean, yet lurking underneath that consciousness is an awareness of the fierceness of that love, the wild untamed nature of that love. Sometimes a truly great person can comprehend that love, and willingly lays their small (by comparison) life on the line for it.
Thursday, January 22, 2004
I’ve been reading “Sizeable Reflections: Big Women Living Full Lives”. It is essays by fat women, often telling their stories and how they came to accept themselves. There are so many ways society tells us we’re “not good enough” and a large one for me has been my size. Like many of the women in this book, I look back at my size 16 teenage body and don’t see that I was all that large, yet I was made to feel enormous by my peers and others around me. Saddled with low self-esteem, a very self-involved condition, I had little awareness that the people around me I thought prettier, more worthy, sexier, most likely were unhappy with themselves as well.
It has been a long journey towards acceptance of my body, and all along the way that acceptance has been tested as I’ve grown larger. I now am happy with the many extra curves, the soft floppy skin, the additional erogenous zones a body wasn’t meant to have. I got to a certain point of acceptance on my own, as I learned to hear my own voice through my spiritual practice. I think there was a certain hump I could not have got over if it hadn’t been for a certain lover who unabashedly savored my flabby flesh. He made my body sexy, tugging and pulling in ways no one else had, igniting sexual feelings through moves only made possible due to larger body parts and extra curves. The ladies in this book don’t talk about this, well maybe a few hint at it, but they quickly draw the curtain.
This lover made me feel sexy. Now I really do feel sexy, and others do approach me. I’ve shared a laugh with my husband…that now that I’m married, I’m dating more than I did when I was single. I’m finding as I know more people in an intimate way, that no matter what size, what shape, or how fit, people are unhappy with some aspect of their body, and that’s so sad. I believe it’s not just in the brain, but this body contains memories of actions done to it, and feelings had about it. The cells in the muscles hold those attitudes. Thanks to the healing sexual energy this lover brought to my life, not only my brain but my body has been able to shed those years of negative feelings, and begun to exude a positive healthy energy.
(feeling ready to write, and sexy again after a miserable month of allergies and colds)
Sunday, January 04, 2004
I have often done volunteer work. When I graduated from college, somehow I had acquired a notion it was important to give to society. It's important to pay my taxes without a quibble, and important to help make the world a better place. At the same time, I fretted over doing volunteer work that I thought ought to be paid work. I volunteered for a women's crisis line, which does have some staff, and as the staff reminded us, if it was ALL paid work, the revolutionary aspect would be lost. Instead of kindness driving the labor, it would be money.
OK, I could see that. Another place I volunteered was a family center, sort of related to Head Start, now expanded. Now here, clearly volunteers were needed because funds were finite, and this bugged me. Why does our society fund the atrocities of war and militarism, but can't make sure all families get the health care, parent training, education, food, and shelter that they need? We could pay for all these things ten times over if we didn't have the war machine guzzling all our labor's fruits. I am pissed off that my tax dollars are paying for bombers that are killing people RIGHT NOW, yet non-profit organizations struggle to provide enough meals for the needy, and must rely on donations and volunteers.
I work at the library and people volunteer there. Often the work of volunteers cuts into the work of paid union labor. We are told they're there for that extra "push", and because people love the library and want to volunteer there. That work should be done by paid labor, there's no reason we shouldn't fund our libraries to the point of gluttony. So that yes, we can hire teen interns who can get that valuable work experience while at the same time no union labor is lost. Yet even in a town that is known across America for loving its libraries, we don't have enough funds to meet with rising demand.
Now more than ever I am doing volunteer work, but I don't count the hours for "recognition" as I did at those previous non-paid jobs. Now there are certain things I see as valuable labor that should be a labor of love, such as helping to organize peace rallies, or teaching people about meditation. (It always makes me squeamish to see fees for workshops on teaching meditation.) I remember reading in an alternative newspaper that one should always get paid for writing, yet I can't imagine being paid for the gig I have for a Buddhist newsletter--reporting on Oregon Buddhist news. I do it out of love for the subject and to meet the people, and sure, it'll help my writer's resume. I also can't imagine being paid to do the networking and clerical things and meeting of people that I do as a contact for the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. I rather selfishly want a chapter here, so I do it.
This volunteering that builds community is essential. At my zen center, it is part of the spiritual practice to take on tasks, to help the community become larger than us individual parts. There is the idea that if you give more than your 'fair share' then there is never a lack. There is tremendous generosity to be found in selflessness, something zen is all about. Funny thing, I find that same sort of selfless generosity in the alternative sexual/ sex-positive community. On New Year's Eve I attended a Darklady party. Name the alternative sex scene, Darklady has contacts. So this is a pansexual party, friendly to all, including the shy. There's a 'play' space, and a 'dungeon', well in this case since it was a prom theme, 'detention'. There's space to socialize and meet people, space to dance, space to be a wallflower. Darklady parties have been a first encounter for many into the sex-positive world, the polyamorous world, the kinky world. Several dozen people helped to make it happen, and didn't expect to receive anything but a good time. Many of those same several dozen people came back to clean up. They put my puny cloakroom shift to shame, in the generosity department.
Here's the thought I'm beginning to form then: volunteerism is essential when it comes to matters of selflessness. Building community. Revolutionizing community. It's not about the money, it's about the greater good, and it;s about friendship. The women's crisis line folks were right: we weren't just there to help people in crisis, we were there to help people in crisis realize a different world is possible. Sometimes people joke about the Church of Darklady (who loves to mess with churchy types), but joke aside they refer to a better sex-positive pan-sexual world. With this type of volunteer work, society is changed, people are changed. Helping out at the soup kitchen is compassionate, but it doesn't change the person or society. It's simply needed, and it should be paid. Revolution on the other hand, when has it not been tainted by money?