Monday, February 27, 2012

What am I looking for?

Fu Schroeder encouraged us all to consider how we got here and what is the ox we are looking for. The end of 2004 and early 2005 was filled with strife and discovery that what I was doing was not for me and only when Katrina came did I have the courage to move on. Next I was trying to find my place in corporate America. A life that allowed me to live in a place like San Francisco but the forty hours a week of work in a job that did not fit was not worth fun weekends. Finally, the big step. The decision to leave said job and live at an ashram for 30 days while studying and practicing yoga (*note, more than just hatha yoga). I don't think my world ever looked quite the same. An opening occurred. A path became visible. A path in and towards a life that cultivated truth and openness to everything. I saw that there was a place where people with this common journey come together to live and learn. All I needed to know was that this place existed even if I wasn't ready to stay there.

I taught yoga and it was wonderful. Challenging, uplifting, disappointing, beautiful. Nothing matches the joy and honor of having people thank you for loving them and supporting their practice, whatever that looks like. But alas I was not satisfied. I got a master's degree and by most standards a wonderful job. I don't think I was ready for it. Really ready to do the work because I loved everyone. I came to Green Gulch to learn about love. To learn about true compassion; to cultivate the ability to love everything and see the good in everything. I came to Green Gulch to practice steadiness. Of course the road to steadiness is paved with rocks, holes, stumbles, and generally feeling off kilter. The first noble truth. Sometimes explained as "life is suffering" but I find better understanding in "life is like an off kilter wheel." The general feeling that something is off is what pushes me to practice. I have faith that practice will change me for the good. It pushes me to persevere even when my new life is hard. Even when somehow my bath towel got used to dry the bathroom floor. Even when I feel like zen is too hard.

I'm like the rose bushes I prune. It is hard to remove the parts that are alive and familiar. But gently cutting away allows the strongest parts to thrive.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Catch up

So busy this week! I've had no time for updates until today, my day off. Days off around here are luxurious. For now in particular because I am on lock down I have nothing I have to do except relax. One of the rules here is that in beginning a work practice apprenticeship (WPA) you have to stay on site for one month. I definitely understand it a little better now. The first month of coming to a place like this from your previous situation can be a bit of a culture shock. I think it would be really easy to take off every time you got a little uncomfortable, go get a cheeseburger or go shopping or something and that would just make it harder to settle in.
So here's the news from Green Gulch Farm (GGF). The weather is uncharacteristically gorgeous. For those of you familiar with the northern California coast you know the general rule is cool/cold, foggy, windy, misty, etc. It has been sunny EVERY day since I have been here. I was working in the garden in a t-shirt and I got a sunburn! Now mind you, everyone is struggling to enjoy this magical weather (have you ever seen the sun filter through a canopy of majestic redwood trees?) while also knowing that the farm and garden are needing to be watered at rates unknown for February and people are feeling almost a little apocalyptic about this crazy weather. What can we do really?

Down in the garden, my learning continues. I'll tell you, it's really been a challenge. It is not something coming to me intuitively. I have always had jobs with a base in social exchange and that comes very naturally to me. This type of relationship with nature is new. I will share some tidbits I have learned. 1) Symphylan! They are little tiny critters in the centipede family and they are one of the pestiest pests for organic farms. They love things like compost and they eat the roots of seedlings. Being organic farms, pesticides cannot be used, so it is simply a matter of damage control. 2) The other day I was "pricking out." Sound weird? Don't be scared, all I was doing was thinning out seedlings that had sprouted and transplanting them into bigger spaces so they could grow stronger before going into the ground. But the coolest thing I learned, and wished I had known when growing sunflowers, is that as they are growing and their stems are getting tall, but are still skinny, you can replant them with a lot of the stem in the ground so they don't fall over while they get taller. They're sort of like awkward preadolescents.

I started my classes this week. On Mondays, the class is on the History of Buddha Nature (when I have any idea what that means, I'll share :-). Aj over at Ariel Pork said, to him it meant radical acceptance of everything. I love that answer. On Tuesdays, the class is based on the famous series of pictures called the Oxherding Series. It is famous in Zen as a sort of a representation of the spiritual journey from looking for something in your life you think is missing and then finding it, often there all along. The teacher leading that class is Fu Schroeder. She is the teacher of our dear friend Reirin (who married us) and my goodness, she is just one of those people you meet and she strikes you...sort of like my boss at they can just see the world exactly as it is and still be full of love.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What's Meant To Be

Call it what you want...karma or destiny but things have a funny way of working out. For those of you who know me and Austin, you know we've always had particular kinds of jobs. I have jobs that can look kind of easy or at least have nice perks. Austin on the other hand always has the hardest jobs, where the learning curve is slow and almost painful. Certainly not for the weak of heart.

So here we are at Green Gulch and Austin is working in the guest house. The beautiful, calm,
lovely guest house. He finally has time to slow down and enjoy. I on the other hand, jumped right into the garden with pretty much NO experience! I don't know a thing and I am busting my ass. I spent my morning with a very old and structurally particular rose bush. My task was
to prune it. I had help of course but holy moly, I am supposed to be eyeing each bud for it's direction of growth, the strength of it's stem, whether it will be growing interfering with another stem and whether it will be pleasing to the eye when it blooms in...4 months! Thank god I could spend the rest of the afternoon with something easy like weeding.

Just to keep things interesting I started out the day with no ordinary breakfast but ORYOKI breakfast. It is a Japanese ceremonial way of eating, it means 'just enough'.
I was sort of averse to trying it because you know I hate to be wrong and to not know how to do something :-) I acquired the correct bowls,
attended a lesson, practiced with Austin and then just let go of trying to be right. I had the best time! It felt like an extension of meditation. A particular form, everyone doing it together, food

servers bowing with the students, like learning a beautiful
dance. It was seriously joyous, so much so, that I wanted to laugh out loud. It is also a nice practice in accepting what is given without allowing room for 'I like this' or 'I don't like this.' Hence I ate more cottage cheese than I ever wanted, which is none, but I forgot to give the sign for 'only a little bit.'

Oh yeah, and here's our little home.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

First Day Complete

Good morning everyone! So it is the start of my second day at my new home. We arrived Wednesday night with the help of my parents and their truck. As we walked into our new room, my first thought was how are we going to fit in here?! So kindly, I think they assumed being a married couple meant we wanted to sleep right next to each other. Au contraire, sleeping near each other is just fine. I am known for the occasional middle of the night, arm throw or leg kick. So with a quick bim, bam, boom, yeah, we moved the beds around and voila we have the cutest little room you could imagine. Complete with photos, altar, bell, and cute sheets.

The food is amazing. Hearty vegetarian fare. Everyone is super nice. We arrived just in time for the practice period. About 25 people signed up for two months of extended study and meditation. They started the period with a whole day of zazen! Tangaryo. Brave, brave buddhists. This morning was the official start of the practice period and to honor the opening we walked together to every altar at green gulch in the beautiful crisp morning, crescent moon and all, to bow. It was really amazing.

I continue to work in the garden today! Yesterday I cut flowers and arranged them for various altars. Then I weeded in the warm sun for three hours or so. Things I learned: when arranging flowers, groups of 3 and 5 are more aesthetically pleasing than 2 and 4; edible flowers are not so hip as they once were; and apple trees tend to strongly produce for about 30 years then are ready to rest.

Final thought, I miss everyone. Starting in a new place is always strange for me. Exhilarating, lonely, and magical.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Full Range of Reactions

I have a lot of thoughts about what is about to go down. After having a lovely evening with some old family friends the other night, I think it is a good time to better explain what this move to Green Gulch entails.

The range of reactions I get when people ask me what I am doing out here in California is amusing. Everything from jealousy, curiosity, mild fear, or confusion. In a country where, to many people being religious is only a Sunday affair, attending some sort of service 5-7 days a week sounds a bit...zealous? All I can say is that Buddhism (and spirituality in general) fits into people's lives in many different ways and that's great! It has to.

I can only speak for myself that in order to learn how to love unconditionally and be my best self I have to study and practice Zen more than once a week. It is not easy to walk through life. We see suffering every day. We may even feel some sense of suffering every day. It is the human condition. In order to face that; in order to really know ourselves; and in order to acknowledge that we are perfect as we are, constant and consistent practice can be really helpful. The heart of that practice for Zen Buddhists is meditation. Getting acquainted with yourself by putting aside the distractions of the non-stop world around you. It is not to say that you ignore the world or check out but you take some time out every day to peel away the layers over your truest self so that you can be more present in the life you live and make honest choices about how you want to spend your time.

Below is a little quote describing Green Gulch. You can also check out the website AND you can come visit anytime. It is not a cult and I am allowed to leave and have visitors ;-)

"Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, also known as Green Dragon Temple (Soryu-ji), is a Buddhist practice center in the Japanese Soto Zen tradition offering training in Zen meditation and ordinary work.

Our effort at Green Gulch is to awaken in ourselves and the many people who come here the bodhisattva spirit, the spirit of kindness and realistic helpfulness. This is how we offer our understanding of Buddha's Way."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Eagle Has Landed

Funny how you don't feel like a whole new person when you move far away from where you've been. I always somehow think I will feel different. Not so far. But here's where I am at (in no particular order),

Things I Miss:
Brass music and marching bands
People always in the street
Not walking on sidewalks
Mid City Zen
Koji, Michaela, & Sara (hometeam)
The accent
Bikram yoga
That small-town feel
Mid City and everyone in it

Things I am excited about:
The way California smells like ocean and trees
Having access to wonderful teachers to consult for all of my burning Zen questions
Proximity to said ocean and trees for hikes and camping
Working outside
No commute at all (I thought it couldn't get better than my 5 min bike ride commute in NOLA)
Getting to eat 3 meals with my husband every day
A place where spiritual life and work life are not so different
Seeing my family much more often
Jukai someday!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

So it's really happening and I didn't feel it until this morning's departing monk/student ceremony. After almost breaking into giggles during my turn as a new kokyo and a flub of bowing bells I held back tears while prostrating next to my husband in the Mid City Zendo. The four of us residents and one of the core members stood in a circle with tears in our eyes sharing our memories of how we got where we are; forever grateful to the special place Mid City Zen has been for each of us. For me it was a gateway from being a curious bystander to still curious Zen buddhist with only a mild fear that I am not hard core enough.

We leave New Orleans in three days. I am fully aware that it has not fully hit me that in three days I will be gone from the place I called home for most of the last eleven years. I am also aware that from my experience, it will hit me in maybe a month as I cry and wonder if I made a mistake or that I'll feel like an angsty teenager and no one understands how I feel. When people ask what I am moving to California for, I tell them I am moving to a Buddhist monastery and farm. You can imagine the range of reactions I get. I have several stock answers that generally sound socially acceptable and even elicit jealousy. But sometimes I am not so sure myself. What does a layperson do at a monastery? Am I a layperson?