Friday, January 18, 2013

Put a Bird On It

Reb Anderson has been talking about this poem quite a bit lately.  He is comparing the mind to the bird.  The cage as zazen (I think). 


First, paint a cage
with an open door.
Then, in the cage, paint something for the bird,
something useful and beautiful, and simple.
Then take the picture to a garden
or a park
or a forest.
Put the picture under a tree.
Hide behind the tree.
Don’t speak.
Don’t move.

Sometimes the bird comes quickly.
But it can just as well take years before deciding.
If the bird doesn’t come right away,
don’t be discouraged. Wait.
Wait years if necessary.
It doesn’t mean that your picture won’t be good.
When the bird comes, if it comes,
remain absolutely silent.
Wait till the bird enters the cage.
Then gently close the door with your brush.
Then, erase the cage, 
one bar at a time,
being very careful of the bird’s feathers.

Now paint the portrait of the tree
with the prettiest branch for the bird.
Paint the green leaves and the summer breeze.
Paint the smell of the sunshine and the flowers,
and the songs of the bees and the butterflies.
Then wait for the bird to sing.
If it doesn’t sing, don’t be sad.
You did your best.
But if the bird sings,
it’s a very good sign.
It’s a sign that you can sign.
So then, very gently, take a feather from the bird
and write your name in a corner of the picture.

(Tomorrow you can paint another one.)

~ Jacques PrĂ©vert (1900-1977), French surrealist poet 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Replacing 'om' with 'glam'

Who knew that all you had to do to achieve total 'unlimited happiness' is dress like the half naked waif above with her flowing locks and hard nipples (or this beautiful Donna Karan model to the right who sadly resembles a famine victim from any number of poverty-stricken nations around the world).  This recent article in the New York Times
The New Mantra: Replacing ‘Om’ With ‘Glam’ is surely stirring up a whirlwind of discussion from fashion enthusiasts to spiritual enthusiasts to moderates like myself.  Please note I am not even allowing myself to read the comment stream on the original article because I know the anger inside me that is stirred by the hate-filled shit storm that ensues online.  I will also note that in the sad day where newspapers are going under left and right it helps to publish shit like this in order to get people order to get people to buy the paper.  With that stated for the record, it is poison like this article that is contributing to the continued estrangement we feel towards ourselves and each other.  
(from the article)

The athletic-wear company Lululemon, known for its yoga togs, introduced a meditation-specific capsule collection in fall 2012, with pieces retailing at relatively affordable prices, including a Devotion Long-Sleeve Tee ($68) and an Intuition Sweater Wrap ($178) that doubles as a meditation blanket. With its extra-deep hood, the Please Me Pullover ($118) is perfect to wear during Zen Buddhist meditation practice, said Amanda Casgar, a spokeswoman for the company, since during the process “you keep your eyes open but focus on a point on the floor in front of you.”“Pulling the hood right down over your eyes automatically creates that line of sight,” she said.
 Believe me, it is way more exciting to think about all the fun fashions you get to wear for meditation than to actually sit down and do it.  We tell ourselves that buying just the right gear will make it easy to do what it takes to take care of our bodies with yoga or take care of our mind with meditation.   If all you needed was the right clothes then wouldn't we all be healthy and happy?  Or maybe not, considering that the above yoga essentials cost over $100 and some other gear mentioned in the article 'for the more affluent' practitioners come from Donna Karan at over $1000.

When is this going to stop?  Advertisers telling us that we have to spend money in order to find happiness.  We will find happiness on the backs of slave labor across the world making us these clothes.  We will find happiness when we can spend more and look better than people who cannot afford such things.  We will find happiness when we deplete nations (other than our own) of their natural resources.  These advertisers are good.  Don Draper good.  They know that we the public are feeling unsatisfied.  They know that sometimes we feel lonely.  That sometimes we feel guilty for being complicit in the suffering around the world.

They choose words that will appeal to our need for hope and contentment.  Our conditioned and desperate mind cannot help (at first) to fall for the suggestion that wearing clothes from the 'Great Patience Zen Stitchery' just might help us cultivate patience with others and ourselves.

The good news is we don't actually need what they're selling!  The authors of the article and the makers of these fancy clothes are right about one thing.  You need to be comfortable to do yoga and meditate.  Let me ask you, are your pajamas comfortable?  Are your hanging-out-at-home clothes comfortable?  Then you already have what you need if you are interested in trying out meditation.  But despite what the author of the new book being reviewed in the article claim, a legit teacher or book will not promise you happiness or a stress-free life.  You will be disappointed at your probable failure in such an endeavor.

Austin in his Zen meditation gear, they are
all hand me downs and the outer robe is
hand-made by a priest.  *Note he is cover-
ing his hard nipples like any self-respecting
Zen Buddhism is a vast practice.  One that has come to mean a lot to me (as my husband pointed out based on my strong reaction to its being co-opted for consumerism and the NYT article).  The reasons I continue to sit have more to do with studying myself, my patterns, my every action, word and thought than trying to be at peace.  Our tradition and teachers over the centuries have shared their experiences of transformation.  The transformation was slow and often painful and most often became realized at the time when they stopped searching for something.  They let go of the "grasping-mind."  If you are wondering how you can have a reason to practice without reaching for something, that's a good question and you should continue to study it.  But don't worry, you don't have to have the "Please-me Pullover" to find the correct line of sight, eyeballs are remarkably capable of finding it on their own.


Monday, January 7, 2013

Great Poem Today

by William Stafford, from The Way It Is.

This dream the world is having about itself
includes a trace on the plains of the Oregon trail,
a groove in the grass my father showed us all
one day while meadowlarks were trying to tell
something better about to happen.

I dreamed the trace to the mountains, over the hills,
and there a girl who belonged wherever she was.
But then my mother called us back to the car:
she was afraid; she always blamed the place,
the time, anything my father planned.

Now both of my parents, the long line through the plain,
the meadowlarks, the sky, the world's whole dream
remain, and I hear him say while I stand between the two,
helpless, both of them part of me:
"Your job is to find what the world is trying to be."
(From today's Writer's Almanac, which was particularly good today) 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Am I a Fanatic?

Hmm, good question.  By my own standards, no I am not.  By the standards of others?  Possibly.  When I am at Green Gulch my life feels very normal.  I am me wherever I go.  But when I head off-campus, especially for more extended time, my way of life feels a bit...unusual.  I even feel a little misunderstood or freakish.

I often think of Zen more as a way of life than a religion.  Growing up Catholic I attended church once a week and it was torture every time.  Even once was too much.  But that more or less formed my idea of what the requirement or accepted form of religious behavior is: once a week.  Anything more than that starts to be a little zealous.  And god forbid (pun intended) you do religious things every day, several times a day?! (gasp)

Currently I am living in a place where my community (in lay terms it's kinda like a neighborhood) and personal principles support and inform each other.  We have intentionally set it up that we live in close quarters with people that we cannot run away from.  Taking care of relationships is not easy (*see the national divorce rate) and when things get tough it is so easy to retreat into one's house or space and just hide until the difficulty goes away.  But it never really goes away (*see resentment).  But those of us who choose to live at Green Gulch have decided that we want to stop running away.  In order to find the courage to face the challenges every day we have to "practice" every day.  Meditating (zazen) helps, working together helps, eating together helps, following the rules (mindfulness practice) helps.  We need lots of help to get along in this world!  (my dad found a great and brief discussion on mindfulness in a book he read, check it out here)

My rakusu!  It's not done yet but it's coming along. 
This spring I will be taking the precepts (you can click here to see a nice little write up from San Francisco Zen Center about precepts) in a formal ceremony called Jukai.  This ceremony is for lay people (ie. not priests) who formally decide to live their life in a way that supports helping others.  Austin and I took these precepts as part of our wedding ceremony too.  Just like getting married formally declares that you will stick it out with this person even when times are tough, jukai is me saying I will try to be a good honest person and love others regardless of what they do or say until the day I die and these precepts are really great guidelines to help me do that.  Like a road map.  And it's nice to have a map when you get lost.

Love Is Empty?

My little brother and his girlfriend came to visit Green Gulch after New Years.  We all went down to Muir Beach and built a roaring fire, complete with the wind blowing little fire balls and smoke every which way.  We're chatting and knowing that Austin is super into calligraphy, Gabby was telling us about this old Chinese master of some sort she met in Sedona.  He was doing personalized calligraphy of your...essence.  As in he would chat with you for a while and do a freehand abstract calligraphy that he felt represented you in some way.  Long story short, one of the special stamps he put on the drawing translated as something like "love is empty."

When she tells us this, Austin and I both glance at each other with a tiny smile.  Empty.  Such a provocative word!  The 'emptiness teachings' are a huge thing for some factions of Zen.  (I don't know enough about it all to say who's into it and who's not).  At first glance "love is empty" can sound totally depressing or cynical or something.  (I'm not sure Brian was very keen on the whole idea).  But as she elaborated on how the Chinese (Zen?) Master explained it, it resonated with the teachings I have heard here at GGF.  One thing I thought of as she was telling us this story is by calling love empty we are saying LOVE is freedom.  The emptiness teachings do not mean everything is empty like 'nothing' or 'lacking' or 'shallow' but empty of our expectations or projections.  As in there is some essence to every thing and everyone that is independent (in a way) of what we think it is.*  In regards to a relationship, we can meet this person totally at face value without expecting them to be what we want them to be.  Of course, in a conventional sense this may be 'impossible' but we also believe maybe in a more absolute or global way that we really could get to a point where we can let go of our delusions or illusions of who we think other people are.  FREEDOM!  Free from the pressure to live up to what other people think we are and freedom from the disappointment when people can never be what we want them to be.

*Caveat, my understanding of the emptiness teachings is the faintest tip of the iceberg.  Also I have explained the above using language that makes sense to me; someone with more knowledge of these teachings may choose language that better explains the heart of the matter but can be hard to grasp

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hello 2013, How do you like me so far?

Practice period ended and the holidays were quickly upon us. And boy did we do it right, it really only just ended yesterday with the opening of the final gifts.  My little brother and his girl were the givers of this delightful 'ikebana-style' vase, knowing my current delight in the anything-but-simple Japanese style of flower arranging.

The Dito children descended upon 12 Ashwood Court in waves this year.  Vince and Moody (his fiance, birth name Lauren) were in Oklahoma for the 25th and Brian, littlest brother, was home early this year.  Austin and I took a break from our Green Gulch house sitting and headed to the Dito mothership the 23rd.  We had brunch with Grandma Jean.  She's doing well despite the very slow dementia that is settling into her 93 year old brain.  Then we just sat around drinking coffee, bullshittin, cleaning the house, cooking, playing cards, etc.  We had a low key Christmas Eve with a dinner of Green Gulch Farm squash soup and bomb tamales from the Mi Pueblo market in San Rafael.  This was also the epic day when 2012 became the year of the remote-controlled helicopter.  Apparently they were all the rage this year.  All I can say is they are FUN FUN FUN!
Christmas day was relaxing and joyous.  Gifts were simple (many homemade knitted gifts by me) and thoughtful.  Austin surprised me with Japanese kimono tops perfect for our various tea events at Sowing The Moon Teahouse at Green Gulch Farm.  I surprised him with an original piece of artwork from our own priest/artist-in residence, Daigan.  All of these unique items were procured with love with the help of many Green Gulch friends.  We felt very lucky.

We had a joyous dinner with special guests Reirin (the priest who performed our wedding ceremony last year) and her friend Jim.  As well as my best friend Lacey, her boyfriend Ronald and his parents who were visiting from France and just so happened to have joined us last year!  It's becoming a great tradition.  They even invited us to France for next year.

I could go on and on about the holiday joys.  We ate lots of meat, drank coffee with Bailey's, played more cards, stayed in our pajamas 'til 2pm, read from the book "Stupid Things Republicans and Democrats Said" laughing until we were crying and more.  But all the while we felt the gap where Vince and Moody should have been and we started to plan how to get on schedule where we could spend every other Christmas together and in the other Christmas we could spend it with partners' families.  We did get to see them a few days later and that was great too.  More helicopters (of course Vince had to get a bigger one :-), a visit to Dharma Trading company, cards, etc.

Finally New Years Eve arrived.  Austin and I decided to stay at Green Gulch and help with the annual event.  More like Austin committed to help with many things and I was...uh...backup.  Very low key.  The next morning, the first morning of 2013 was lovely.  We have a procession (think Zen second line) to all the altars of Green Gulch and end at the Suzuki Roshi memorial to toast the new year with sake.  Then we all have delish breakfast and Green Gulch goes into official vacation mode.  So it is noon on a Thursday and I am still in my pajamas.  But I have brushed my teeth just to be a little responsible in 2013.

Happy New Year!  Who knows what's in store but there will be another practice period, a trip to Mexico, becoming staff at Green Gulch perhaps, a jukai ceremony where I formally set my intention for living my life with the Buddhist precepts as a guide, my dad's 70th birthday, and many other surprises. XOXOXO to all and to all a good year!