Friday, October 19, 2012

Let the Games Begin

"The 60th practice period at Green Gulch Temple has now begun."  That's what we heard this morning!  My first practice period.  It always starts with Tangaryo, a ancient tradition of entering the temple, which also means sit all day long, otherwise known as 14 hours with 3 half hour breaks.  I didn't think I could do it but here I am.  This morning we had a wonderful ceremony bowing with all of the staff that will support us and guide us through our study.  In the early light of dawn, stars still out, and a delicious warm breeze we all walked to the temples of Green Gulch to say hello.  Kitchen, maintenance, office, farm, garden, temple.  So beautiful.

What is a practice period?  The short answer is that this is a time, 55 days, dedicated to practicing and studying zen Buddhism.  During the growing season the farm is our center, during practice period, the zendo (meditation hall) is our center of life.  We will not "leave the valley" as they say for these 55 days.  We can hike, go to the beach but essentially we are minimizing outside distraction to "study the self."  All 33 of us, young and older, will live in the main residence hall, Cloud Hall.  We will sit 5-6 periods of zazen every day except on our one personal day, we will work about four hours each day, attend study hall, have a half day sit once a week and finish out this retreat time with a 6 day silent retreat in which we sit pretty much all day.

I know that this type of thing may not make sense to many people but I feel so lucky to have space in my life to take a two month retreat.  A time to get know my innermost self or at least get a little closer.  In the mean time I will not use the internet too often (just the occasional email check for important things) or phone (other than to check in with the parents of course) and do what I can to minimize the distractions and escapes that we all use to avoid being bored in order to realize that every moment is full and unique.  We'll see.  Wish me luck!

End of Season Highlights

Ok so before I take a semi-hiatus from internet I want to give you some of the highlights from the end of the farm/garden season.

  1.  Greens Dinner - So San Francisco Zen Center opened a restaurant back in the day when "California" cooking was just taking off.  A vegetarian restaurant called Greens out at Fort Mason in the Marina district of San Francisco.  When running several businesses as well as a Zen training center became too much to manage SFZC "sold" Greens.  The nature of the relationship is a little unclear.  They still give us some money, we give them produce and every year the farm and garden apprentices go there for a big end of season dinner.  Open everything and so much fun!  One other tradition is that all the apprentices picked a name out of a hat and wrote a haiku about the person they got.  Then we read them all and guessed who they were about.  They we so sweet, some funny, so much love.
  2. Amanda Keith and Anthony Verrastro's Wedding: (you can see a pic of me and Austin and his cousins Chris and Krista and her husband)  The wedding was in Pennsylvania, in the mountains. It was October 6 and the fall colors were seriously amazing.  The landscape of rolling hills and, his parents live on a little lake called Moosic Lakes, was absolutely peaceful and breathtaking.  So intoxicating I thought maybe I could live there some day.  Oh wait, they have winter.  But I met so much family, got to hang out with all Amanda's girl friends, got to see Jimmy and Sarah and baby brother Charlie.  It was wonderful.  There was even a photo booth at the wedding but I won't be posting any of those photos.  I'll just quote someone who said "what is it about photo booths that makes you want to take your clothes off?!"

  1. Cazadero, CA: Austin and I took a little vacation before practice period began.  In some ways it can be hard to relax here because there's always fun people around and things happening.  So we snuck off to my great grandma's cabin.  It was AMAZING!  Once you get off N-101 onto River Rd. you drive through beautiful wine country and you see California actually has fall colors too.  You drive through Guerneville (home of the Rainbow Cattle Co. a must stop for all visitors) and Monte Rio, where they were having MermaidFest (?).  We spent three days doing nothing and whatever we wanted.  It was cool enough in the mornings that we could build a fire in the stove.  We would sleep in, drink strong coffee, and lay around reading.  Then we'd make lunch and sit out on the porch in the sun drinking a beer or two (three?) while asking each other Trivial Pursuit questions (and use salami bits to lure a local cat for a snuggle).  Then it was nap time and there is a bed on the deck under the covered area so we could just lounge.  Then we'd listen to music, read more, walk down to the creek (hella cold!).  Then we'd prepare dinner, drink wine and lounge more!  One morning we went to Raymond's Bakery for delish pastries and coffee.  Total local spot for the community of 350 people.
So all in all life as a Green Gulch Garden Apprentice was pretty amazing.  (Life as a Green Gulch practice period participant ain't too shabby either :-)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Things I Have Seen

We had our closing ceremony this morning.  Ten apprentices started (one left a few days early to go back to his other life, his wife and new job), three managers, and one elder.  Six months together.  Living, working, eating meals, tackling the great existential questions of being human.  Sometimes you're afraid to ask the questions and sometimes you're afraid of the lack of answers. Other times you're overwhelmed by the only answer, that all you have is here right now and whether or not you know it it is full of love.  If you look at the picture above you may see what I see, a family.  Our leaders said words of love, like parents, they watched their children grow like the sprouts we tended all season.  Tears came to my eyes.   Tears of appreciation that people cared enough about 10 perfect strangers to create a space for us to come and study Buddhism and farming.

I learned and saw so much!

  • How to harvest apples and pears (apples are ripe if you twist them 180 degrees and they come off easily, pears are ready if you lift them 45 degrees and they pop off, pears have to ripen off the tree); 
  • I watched a momma duck with ten fluffy babies end up with only two; 
  • I learned how to sharpen garden clippers and that they will be sharp enough to clip off the tip of your finger; 
  • I learned to tell the difference between five types of lavender, and which are harvested for their brilliant purple color (munstead and hidcote) and which are harvested for their amazing fragrance (english, grosso, provence) and that their fragrance is strongest right before they flower;  
  • I learned that bees each make a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime; 
  • I learned that raccoons like to poop on articles of clothing left in the garden; 
  • I helped a group of sincere and loving people honor the death of a beloved black cat name Jack as we all faced loss and how it made us feel
I learned that as much as I crave excitement and change, when I ask myself where I'd rather be the answer is here.  If there is something else I think I need and I cannot get it then I don't really need it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Not So Sexy

Sexism, patriarchy, misogyny, call it what you want but they are all related though not quite the same.  Austin and I spent the weekend in Pennsylvania to celebrate his sister's wedding.  We had a wonderful time and were not ready to leave.  At one point we're driving to one of the many parties and playing DJ in someone's technologically savvy car looking for some good hip-hop to dance to.  We found a variety of stuff: some pop, some more hardcore rap, some reminiscent of our dirty south favorites and every single one ripe with men shit-talking about bitches and hos and all the nasty things they do to them.  Side note* I don't think it is a coincidence that these songs also include manic rantings about money, cars, drugs and violence.  Somehow they are all correlated with patriarchy.  I know this topic is not new.  Really, it's as old as patriarchy, which as most know, is just about as old as time.  Or since men were able to whip it out from under their loin cloth and pee anywhere.  So we ask ourselves two questions.  First, where is the feminist hip hop?  Some suggest such female musicians as Lil Kim, MIA, Eve, Queen Latitfah, etc.  Now I am not any sort of expert on hip hop at all so please excuse my ignorance or at least share any of your insight about these mainstream artists.   But most of the time it seems that female music artists are joining the damn club and talking about the same shit men talk about, sounding just as violent, shallow, and hateful. That is NOT feminism.  Feminists don't want to be like men, especially the men who abuse them.  People have said that there is feminist hip hop, so the question is why doesn't it get promoted or played on the radio?  The next question we ask ourselves then is what do you do about the music available to you?  No doubt some of these artists are talented!  They can mix amazing beats and they can sometimes spit the most creative lyrics and rhymes off the top of their heads.  And they might even have an amazing voice behind all that synth.  Sure there are some great artists that rap about political and social issues but very often it seems these fall more into the spoken word category rather than club tunes.  So what do you do when you want to shake your ass (or pop it) at a club or with friends?  Do you decide that filling your head with garbage is not a price you're willing to pay for this particular activity?  Do you turn it off when you're at parties and stand up to expound on its evil?  Do you only listen to it with people you think are aware of its problematic nature?  Is it even possible to know the far reaching impact of hearing words like this (even for those of us who fancy ourselves aware of the potential)?

On a related note.  We are all sitting around after the day after the wedding, mildly exhausted, full of love for family and friends, and there's a lot of chit chatting going on.  Many of these folks have known each other since the early days of elementary, middle or high school so there's a level of comfort and acceptance that is nice to see.  But it also allows for moments that are somewhat regrettable.  One kid is recounting a story about a past party and a very drunk girl.  I'll spare you the details, but say that the worst part of the story is not the outcome but actually the way the guy is telling it. Everyone is clearly getting uncomfortable and one person even tries to gently say maybe the story should come to an end.  But as usual the type of person who says these things isn't one to pick up on subtlety.  The problem was two-fold, good guy but he's just plain being mean.  (Preamble* I have this memory problem that when moments are emotionally intense my brain is so busy analyzing the situation that I can't remember many details, like exactly what the guy said about this girl)  But I had this distinct feeling of disgust in response to what I perceived as misogynistic, like he had brought this element of sexuality to the story.  What do you do in this situation?!?!?  You're at someone's parents house.  You're around all these people you barely know.  This guy is not speaking for the group.  Someone just got married, it's their special weekend.  Say nothing?

Just to bring it into perspective and get off what may look like a high horse.  Today back at the farm, I'm eating lunch with some of my female friends, asking for an update from the weekend including the event at Full Belly Farms called "Hoes Down."  I ask one of them if they laid any hoes down or something like that.  Funny?  To some.  PC? Nope.  Right speech?  Doubt it.  It's embarrassing that my super feminist friend had to remind me that women are not ho(e)s.

Three different layers.  Many feelings.  You can only imagine the fear I have to be part of a study group about discrimination when at any moment I can say something highly embarrassing.  Goes to show I still have a long way to go.