chöd

 Buddhism, Reflection, Travel  Comments Off on chöd
Jul 112017
 
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A short section of the trail to Machik Labdrön’s cave

The very first teaching of Buddhism is that misery is caused by attachment. No wonder that so much of the dharma and practices look at attachment, and no attachment is stronger than the one to our body.

To really feel this, let me explain the somewhat-confusing picture you are seeing. This is a rock about a foot wide, several feet in front of me. The trees and houses to the left of the rock are about a half-kilometer away, 800 feet below. For scale, you can see the tip of my boot at the bottom of the photo. I am on a trail in the Haa Valley of Bhutan, on the side of a cliff. My right shoulder is against the cliff, my hand in a crevice. The trail goes over the rock, and continues past tiny herbs and a small bush in the upper right about six feet away.

If you can sink in to the sensation of standing against this sheer rock face on a trail about a foot wide, then you are probably experiencing attachment to your body. I was, quite frankly, terrified as I carefully placed my feet and hands, yet not paralyzed. I was able feel both the fear and my body, yet move calmly on the wet, muddy trail. This is Meditation Boot Camp, no hemming-and-hawing, no choice; one must bring body and mind smoothly together to traverse nearly a kilometer of cliff.

Hold that feeling. Death inches away, calm, trusting.

Chöd is a profound Tibetan Buddhist practice, where one offers up one’s own body (and all other demons and ‘neuroses’) joyously. A Google search will turn up plenty of information, starting with this Wikipedia article. A few days ago, I had the pleasure of sitting in a Chöd ceremony here in Bhutan. If you have a Facebook account, you can see a video of part of it here, and get a sense of the beautiful ritual that brings the experience to life.

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The practice of Chöd was transmitted to an enlightened and revered 11th-century woman named Machik Labdrön, and so my story comes home. The trail I’m on leads from Juney Druk, a cave she stayed in, to Katsho Goemba, a nearby monastery. Having experienced Chöd practice before, imagining I know something about attachment to my body, I am shocked into new awareness on this trail Machik must have traversed many times.

Our 11-year-old guide, a monk from the monastery, apparently runs this trail frequently, nimble and carefree as a mountain goat. He laughs and smiles, points out sections that are especially dangerous and delicious little orange berries we can pluck as we go, and patiently sits and waits as we carefully make our way. I believe he is the most advanced Chöd practitioner I have ever met, knowing something in his young body that I can scarcely remember. What would it feel like to be as unattached as he? Was I really once like that? I have so much to unlearn, to unattach from.

bhutan present

 Buddhism, Reflection, Travel  Comments Off on bhutan present
Jun 292017
 

Punaka Dzong, and the Punaka Valley

Yesterday in Bhutan was quite a shock. After 13 years, I was expecting change, but was completely unprepared for what I’ve found. The heart is the same, the people are the same, the beauty and spiritual depth are all still here, but everything else is different.

By that, I mean that the modern world has arrived in some big ways. Cars. Electricity. Paved and widened roads. Cell phones. Glass windows. Road signs. Modern hotels. Spices and fruit and organic produce. Cows. Can you believe it, even the animals are more modern? There were few cattle in the country when I was last here, mostly yak, now I see cows everywhere, wandering the parks and hillsides of Punaka, the roads between Paro and Thimphu. The traffic on the roads was nearly all buses and construction trucks, now there are more than a dozen cars for each bus, and even some taxis. Where once many houses had no glass in the windows (only shutters against the fierce winters), most are now glassed in, and there is plenty of new construction.

Because there are more people. The towns all seem to have grown 40 or 50 percent, at least the larger towns of Paro and Thimphu. This does not seem to be due to immigration, although there must be some, it seems to be a side effect of better health care and a general improvement of living conditions. There are more kids and schools, and indeed people seem to be better-educated overall than when I was last here.

Last night, I realized I was apparently more resistant to change than they are. One of my fellow travelers told an illuminating story at breakfast that helped me see even deeper into my expectations: how dare they change from what I remembered? My ego wants to reconnect with something remembered and treasured, rather than simply receive what is. (Sounds painfully similar to what many Americans seem to want, in electing Donald Trump. Ech, that hurts. Sometimes I wish I was less good at noticing connections).

So I am pretty much slammed by how non-present I was arriving here, but fortunately, with awareness comes a rapid shift (along with much internal laughter!) and today unfolded into an incredible day. I am here, now, gratefully absorbing every moment.

For the truth is, this country and everything about it are even more beautiful than before. The summer green and the lush rice fields far exceed the springtime of my first visit, I see less abject poverty (though it still exists) and more restaurants and shops, new houses with clean white walls and extravagant traditional trim paint, good roads everywhere and humorous road signs warning about drinking and driving. Plus we’ve had nothing but great meals, with interesting seasoning and fresh vegetables. I have not tasted a single yak product yet, while my memory is that a day didn’t go by on my last visit without yak butter, cheese or milk in something.

In fact, everything tastes better when I’m fully present. That is the great gift of Bhutan to me so far, a deep Buddhist reflection of my better self.

Jun 242017
 

My Bhutan journey begins and ends in Bangkok. The last time I was here, I totally enjoyed the bustle, the street food, temples and water tours. This time, I feel like I’m plunged into a distopian Chicago on a sweltering day. The noise, humidity, crowds, overhead expressways, beggars missing limbs, food vendors with stacks of raw fish and chicken, and clots of roaring motorbikes feel oppressive. When I had to take a bath in lukewarm water, I hit my limit. It took less than eight hours.

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Motorcycles, crowds and expressways in Bangkok

Seldom have I appreciated money and internet as much as Friday morning, when I nailed a round-trip flight to Chiang Mai and a beautiful small hotel for $150 and $50/night, respectively. I must also thank my body, which gave me very clear direction to get the fuck out of there. Decision creates opportunity and change, and I can only laugh at myself remembering how I used to over-think everything. Now I am seldom stuck in my head; years of meditation make it easy to notice when I am thinking, and life is far too short for thought, which I once believed was faster than intuition. My body made a decision in milliseconds, and I knew in my heart it was the right one. Within a few hours, I was landing in the Chiang Mai valley, surrounded by lush green mountains. The relaxed taxi driver was full of information and amusing political commentary, and although 5 million people live here, the pace is easy and everyone seems even more polite and friendly. I hardly thought that possible.

Thai people are very kind and sweet. This really encourages me to slow down and relax, to meet people’s eyes, and see who each individual is, to soften and open my face so they can see me too. This meeting, however momentary, is so essentially human – it’s immediate feedback and acknowledgement, I see you, namasté, we share a world together and this is good. In the place of such a meeting, I immediately feel how any judgment or opinion that comes up is just about me, not about the other person. So delicious. There is a lot of space here to just be ourselves, and I can see why several people I know have moved here permanently.

Walking through the streets for hours, I encounter many characteristic aspects of this place and time. The buildings are a radical blend of old and new, clean design and tropical decay, chaos and order. I wonder what this was built for, and what its purpose is now?

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Spirit houses are everywhere, and one of the special pleasures of early morning is encountering one with fresh incense burning. The house next to my hotel has chickens, and a rooster is proudly displayed in their’s. I found this beautiful garden and spirit house on an elegant property with an open gate, surrounded by flowering trees. The contrast with the apartment building is striking.

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Spirit house in Chiang Mai

And walking into the old center of the city, I encounter temple after temple after temple. The well-known ones are filled with Chinese tourists; others are being restored, largely quiet. I find one under reconstruction, completely open and empty, allowing me to enter alone barefoot, contemplate the murals on the walls, connect with the enormous central Buddha, do prostrations, and leave a donation. Just as it should be.

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Central Buddha in a Wat (temple) under repair

Aug 092015
 

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I am fascinated by our impact on each other, partially because it is the only form of permanence that we have, and partially because it is so close to the heart of incarnation and karma. So I was moved to tears when I read (yet another amazing) obituary in The Economist…for a cat. Go to this web page, and check it out. Tama, the vice-president of a Japanese railroad, died on June 22nd at the age of 16.

Moved to tears, wow. Yes, the Economist has great writers, yet this cat touches something deep in us. I’ve found blogs about personal journeys to meet Tama, countless photos, news articles and videos.

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Everything in the obit might be written about one of us, and in fact when you boil our lives down to their essence, it’s a lot like this single page of prose. We move through life doing what we do – sleeping, wearing some funny stuff, and in this case rubbing up against the legs of people – yet know not anything of our impact. Tama became a symbol: generated livelihoods for people near and far, resurrected a train line, and created some level of delight and fulfillment for thousands (or millions, who knows?) of people traveling distances to see her. She broke gender and species barriers in Japanese management. Inspired an entire world of train decor. Now there appear to be non-human stationmasters all over Japan, including cats, dogs, and even a goat.

It is easy to dismiss this story as a reflection of Japanese culture, and yes, there is that quirkiness about the Japanese that perhaps all of us, not Japanese, find fascinating. But why would a simple obituary about a cat touch me so deeply?

Maybe it is my secret fantasy that one day after I’m gone, I will be seen and remembered in this way, having a rippling impact on the people around me that shifts the economy, cultural attitudes, train decor, and gets reported on the evening news. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be the obituary on the back page of The Economist, like Nelson Mandela or Allen Ginsberg? Some form of permanence, having a lasting impact on the world? Perhaps I could have a planet or comet or nebula named after me forever, lasting longer than ancient Arabic star names. Humans or non-humans, in ten thousand years will still be referring to me by name, even if their pronunciation is wrong.

This is illusory of course, as all of these things, the train, The Economist, my house, my body and everyone who knows me will be dust. In ten thousand years, or perhaps a hundred or a dozen, the alphabet, and surely Childers, will be erased by an asteroid striking the earth, or techno-linguistic shifts beyond our wildest imagination, or a gamma-ray burst that sends the planet back to the cockroaches.

I wonder why ‘permanence’ and ‘legacy’ stir such feeling. When I sit still and reach into what I feel, it is vast and divine and good. My life falls into refreshing perspective when I remember my tiny, transient place in the universe. Sitting outside on the deck at midnight, watching for the occasional Perseid meteor and contemplating the stars and planets, I find that same vast, divine, good sense. It’s so much the opposite of what my ego wants. My tiny self wants to be remembered, and my greater self is enormously content to relax into vastness.

This is Refuge. Palden-la and my other teachers ask, “what is it that truly gives us refuge?” We seek refuge and comfort, deeper meaning in all the toys of our ego, the people and things we love, the causes we support, the legacy we create. Yet all are transient, and true refuge only exists in that which is transcendent. I realize now, when I gaze into the night sky or the eyes of a contented cat, I see the Buddha.

 Posted by at 4:24 pm
Jul 142015
 

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Today has been one of those beautiful, synchronistic days where I seem to have gotten all the pieces in place to feel precious human existence. We turn so easily away from death, thinking and worrying about all the mundane details, our mortgage, what our relatives or neighbors think of us…the honest truth is that death and loss keep us more present, more in a state of gratitude and kindness.

In the Tibetan buddhist realm, each day of my practice begins with the ‘four thoughts that turn the mind towards bodhicitta’, and my day is sharper and more delightful and kind because of them. The first thought is that human existence is rare and wonderful, and the second thought is that it will end soon. Wups, you’d think that such a thought would be depressing, but actually it’s quite the opposite – if today is my last day, what will I do with my time? How will I treat others and myself, how will I feel about each moment of sunlight, each vision of moving clouds or trees or burst of color?

Struggling with my daily practice for months, I had a dream last night that brought them into a new focus for me. I can feel how my practice is a way of nurturing myself on a very deep level, and so this morning I easily found the hour to do ngöndro. The four thoughts were clear and penetrating, my heart felt open as I practiced, and the rest of the day flowed so naturally that I got much accomplished, supported co-workers, found stuff by accident that Jen and I need for Burning Man. At dinner this evening, I received a comment from a friend that gave me new insight into my heart and my love for both my partner and myself. My life is mostly free of tension and anxiety these days, as I view my experiences through the lens of precious human existence.

I am totally blown away to come home this evening and find out that one of my longest lifetime friends – not a close friend, but a presence for 40 years, since high school – just passed away last week. I had not talked to Randy Jonsson, pictured above, since before Nancy passed, even though he lived only a few miles away. I don’t know any details, I know he has left a grieving widow, and that they had a deep and caring relationship. I feel so sad that he is gone, and also sad that I have not been in touch.

Randy was an eternally cheerful and upbeat man, passionate about his partner, filmmaking, boats and scuba, wilderness, raw milk, and god knows what else. Now he is gone, and I can only remember him, his voice and his juicy zest for all that he loved, and allow his memory to remind me each morning of precious human existence. Perhaps that is the most important things we can learn, again and again, when we lose the people we love.

From Tara’s heart rainbow light shines forth throughout the six realms and the bardo,
Enveloping the deceased one, Randy Jonsson, wherever he is,
Purifying his karma, and infusing him with Tara’s radiant blessing.
His form becomes brilliant spheres of light and dissolve into Tara’s heart-mind,
A realm beyond the cycles of suffering, a realm of absolute purity and bliss.

 Posted by at 8:53 pm
Jun 072015
 
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Samantabhadra close-up, with his consort Samantabhadri

I’m learning some remarkable subtle lessons about how we all engage with each other, about our desire, and about karma. This is a happy coincidence of changes on the outside, a teaching I received yesterday, and my buddhist practice. I say coincidence, but really, is there any such thing in an existence where every thought and action has karmic consequences?

This little story begins with conversations that I’ve had with Jen over the last few months about our future together, and what kind of life we want to create for ourselves. We both desire more flexibility, and the first step has been to look for ways to work from home more. We’ve talked about consulting, individually and together, and we’ve talked about where we want to live, both short-term and long-term. So I’ve been setting an intention for more flexibility in my work.

A month ago, I learned that the company I work for is being acquired. The public company Lyris will be dissolved, and a new email marketing/software organization is being created…as a virtual company. Everyone works from home. I have the opportunity to become an architect in the new organization, working with others on a global basis. This is delightful, and exciting for me, as I worked from home for years at Sun Microsystems. So lesson #1 is to remember, yet again, that intention is a powerful force. I’m not responsible for the Lyris acquisition of course, but I am accountable for my desire, and it’s my choice to be receptive as this opportunity shows up.

So I will be working from home soon, within a month perhaps. I remember when I started, back in 2003, that I would spend days seeing no other people except my wife, and I had to force myself to go out, meet friends for lunch, take hikes, do whatever I could to engage with life away from my computer. A challenge when working from home is creating contact with others, and avoiding isolation. The tools are better now, Skype video chat and Google hangouts make it much easier to see and interact with co-workers. However, there is a curious issue with virtual tools.

Have you ever noticed how eye contact is almost impossible over video? The camera and the image of the other person may be near each other on the screen, but you cannot look into the camera at the same time as you look at the image of the other person. So video conferencing feels a little surreal, like we are 90% in contact, but never fully connected.

I’ve been practicing eye contact for many years, and like most of us, direct eye contact can feel a little frightening to me. There are workshop exercises around this, and gazing directly into another’s eyes for minutes at a time is a very intimate experience. There is research demonstrating how intimate connection (and even long-term relationships) can be created by a combination of increasingly personal conversation topics, and periods of prolonged eye contact.

Yesterday at a buddhist teaching, a group of my friends combined some very specific meditations with direct eye contact. The result for me was startling; I could track feelings of fear and excitement as they arose in the moments I am gazing into the eyes of another. This is a direct experience of attachment and aversion, the Third Noble Truth. And a profound learning became available as I released my feelings and placed my attention directly on the experience of meeting another persons’ eyes. In that moment, I had no awareness of phenomena, of my other senses, I became completely present for the connection between the two of us, if only for a moment.

I don’t know what this is, and I cannot describe it. I encourage you to take a few minutes with a friend or a loved one, and try it for yourself. If you are like me, you may feel intensely uncomfortable at first. Remind yourself that there is no harm possible, try to notice the thoughts and feelings that arise, and put them aside for a moment. You will find something deeper, and perhaps divine, beyond.

We experience this all the time, as we look at each other throughout the day. We only meet eyes briefly, yet those brief moments enable us to connect in ways that are important, even with our co-workers. As I move into a job where I work from home full time, I will miss this contact, and feel sad about the loss. At the same time, I’ve learned something new as a result. And I deeply appreciate this insight.

 Posted by at 10:33 am
Oct 162014
 

Ishikawa homer

Fireworks are detonating in San Francisco tonight, as the SF Giants win the National League Championship, and go to the World Series. WOOOO-HOOOOO! Let me make my feelings clear! It’s especially sweet that Travis Ishikawa’s homer ended the game. He has been a workhorse all year, and there is something perfect about him finding such a memorable and delightful place in the history books of the game.

But like all things, there is learning here. How ecstatic I feel, how delighted, going to sleep with a smile and anticipation of baseball next week with the Giants in the Series, the Ultimate Baseball Experience. First let me paint the depth of my attachment.

When I was 11 years old, in Tucson, Arizona, my soon-to-be-stepfather Leon saw my interest in crystal radios and offered to help me set up a 1932 Philco shortwave radio in my bedroom, stringing an antenna on the roof and connecting it to a good ground. One Sunday we accomplished the setup, and oh my god, I could play with this thing for hours listening to radio stations from Canada, Argentina, Russia, and the BBC in London. Meanwhile, I lived a thousand miles from the nearest professional baseball team, and the playground was pretty evenly divided between Dodgers and Giants fans. Sandy Koufax, Willy McCovey, Drysdale, Mays…the arguments were lively and fun.

And then I discovered that regular AM radio stations would “skip” off the ionosphere after sunset, and I could receive KNBR broadcasts of Giants games. The games would start at 7:05 (Arizona didn’t do daylight savings, so the time was the same in SF), but that was before summer sunsets. Around 7:30 in September, I and some friends would be in my bedroom, where I would turn on the bare radio chassis, watch the tubes warm up, and listen to the hiss at 680 kilohertz. Tuning around back and forth, we could tell there was a carrier signal, but could not hear anything else. And then about ten minutes after sunset, the magic would happen. “zzzzhhhshshhshshhhhh….and Mota is on first with one away. The pitcher winds up…and it’s a ball, high and outside…” The announcer would emerge from the white noise like an audio apparition, unheard one moment, crystal clear the next. We were enchanted more by the game of course, but in retrospect, I loved the way the Heaviside Layer (now I’m dating myself!) would enable long-distance communication on the medium wave bands. The oil-filled capacitors on this (35-year old radio, now 75 years old!) leaked a bit, so after an hour the chassis would start to smoke, and we would have to open the window to clear the smell. No matter, it was Giants Baseball.

(Little side note – a couple of years ago, a neighbor up in Lassen, who bought the summer cabin from my parents in 1994, told me that this radio was still in the rafters of the tool shed, pulled it out, and gave it to me. So I have it again, all 40 pounds of tubes and transformers, along with acorns and a half pound of dust in the chassis!)

Fast forward 45 years, and I’m still enchanted by the radio. Jon Miller and the crew at KNBR are fabulous announcers, and I prefer listening to their broadcast over going somewhere with a TV to watch. Tonight was awesome, a bottom-of-the-ninth walk-off 3-run homer to win the pennant. I am so happy on many levels, how they won, how classy the Cardinals were as an opposing team, who hit the homer. It’s a great game, baseball, and the Giants thread runs deep in my soul.

Which brings me to attachment, looking and what this is and why I let myself attach and ride the roller coaster of victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, at something so ephemeral. It is after all, just a game.

If we are here, to do great fulfilling things, to go on hero’s journeys, to take on practices or caregiving or success or failure or build families or create companies or travel and see everything we can find…well how wonderful is that? It’s all ephemeral, we cannot take any of it with us when we die. The wonderful game tonight, the winner and loser, will fade into memory just as everything else does.

But that does not invalidate the joy, which arises from desire. Incarnation is a gift, not a prison, and we get to experience the delight of embodiment as well as the pain of loss or change. I love the Giants, and that love and joy and sorrow when they lose and energy hanging with other fans, cheering and booing…well, it’s all wonderful as long as I don’t take it (or myself) too seriously. For me, one difference between attachment and desire is keeping a sense of humor about it.

WOOOOOO-HOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

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 Posted by at 10:13 pm

returning home

 Buddhism, Nancy, Reflection, Travel  Comments Off on returning home
Aug 232014
 

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Ah, home. The word means something different when we are days or weeks away. A driving trip to a distant place makes home far away, and I had lots of time to contemplate as I journeyed back with my Canadian flotilla. Here are some numbers: 6138 miles total on this trip, and the return took four and a half days. I drove 600 to 800 miles each day, except for the final leg from Reno on Saturday, when I got home about 1:30 in the afternoon.

Preparing for the trip, I had too many boats. It was possible to carry two kayaks and a canoe on top of the boat trailer and the Jeep, but not desirable. And I really had no place to use a fast, slender, tippy wood canoe in California; that’s a vehicle for Algonquin territory. Fortunately, my friends Urs and Verena wanted one, love canoeing, and so it’s now tucked away at the Mirror Lodge. And I have a great reason to return.

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It’s been something like 18 years since I’ve driven this far away, and there were a few surprises about the trip itself. One is learning all over again how wide the corn belt is. Half of Illinois, all of Iowa and most of Nebraska, something like 800 miles of pure cornfields. The other surprise was encountering 33 construction zones along the way. Michigan alone had 11 of them, and my friend Brian’s daughter Katie told me “Michigan has two seasons, winter and construction”. Boy, was that the truth. I had to deal with three severe detours and several 30-mile stretches of single-lane traffic because of all the roadwork. At least the work suggests that our economy is improving, and that we are investing in our infrastructure as a nation.

I was surprised to see wind farms in every single province and state. Ontario, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Nevada, and of course California. Energy was a theme for this trip, there were signs of the energy economy everywhere.

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There were trains too, both heading east and returning home. I must have seen a thousand oil tank cars in Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, and more coming home through Wyoming. Fracking is a huge industry. This is eastern Wyoming, climbing into the Rockies at 6000 feet, just one of the 50-odd trains I saw on the trip.

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Overall, the trip was flawless, the Jeep was rock-solid, the weather was fair, there were no problems bringing the boats across the Canadian border, and…I didn’t get any speeding tickets. The Jeep never even needed a quart of oil. Amazing. What a great vehicle (Jungians, you can smile here. Jen and I bought the Cherokee together; it bodes well for us 🙂 Here we are on the Bonneville Salt Flats on a rainy day.

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For much of the trip home, I was musing about solitude and overview. The journey out with Jen was connected and fun; a shared adventure that was never boring, spiced with both silence and great conversation, ease and spontaneity. Travel home was completely solitary, except for my first night with friends in Michigan, and the people I met in gas stations and motels and restaurants. The huge vistas invite reflection. I spent a lot of time considering and meditating on various parts of my life, relationship patterns, how we bond in partnership and marriage with another, and the qualities of that bonding. I’ve gained an almost visceral understanding of how we connect with the people we love. Tibetan meditation teaches how to notice a thought or feeling, and rather than dismiss it (Therevada) or bring compassion to it (Mahayana), just become still with it and let it flower and deepen and inform us of it’s truer nature. I had 50 hours for such contemplation, and took advantage of it.

I loved Nancy deeply, and I don’t doubt that she loved me as well. But I never really felt loved, our relationship was more competitive and fraternal than well-joined and respectful. We bickered, it was not good, I’m accountable for that as much as she. It’s a pattern we finally broke only a few months before she passed away. There is a fine book, A General Theory of Love, that discusses bonding theory, and I read it after Nancy was gone. Quite illuminating. I don’t think she learned how to bond well at an early age. Not her fault, it just is. But I’m happy to be engaging in relationship with someone who can connect like I do.

More generally, I’ve been feeling deeper into samsara, the way that we create our own pain and misery through attachment. Attachment is joyous for those of us who do it well, but it’s ultimately painful, as we always eventually lose whatever we are attached to. I built a lovely house and home with Nancy, and now she is gone, and one day the house will be gone too. I love Jen quite profoundly, and one day that will also end. So the blessing and curse of incarnation is attachment.

Enjoy it while you can. I love my house, I love Jen, I love the journey. It all ends. Love now.

 Posted by at 6:15 pm
May 082014
 

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I had a whole epiphany the other day, sitting with a glass of wine, and I can finally put it to words. Fear is not present.

Funny expression, you can read it a couple of ways, especially from inside the buddhist practice of learning to be present. I actually heard the phrase a year ago, in a teaching by Lama Drupgyu Tenzin. I mean in it all those ways, and perhaps if I share a little inner journey, the realization may land in you as well.

I’ve mentioned fear a couple of times here since Nancy’s passing. During the first year after her death, I became very aware that my own fear of dying is almost gone, that I’m more willing to take risks and take action than I ever have before in my life. That’s a huge change, and if you truly believe in reincarnation or heaven, then you may know that place in your heart where there is nothing to be afraid of. About a year ago, I wrote about it again, when Roger Ebert passed away. Now I realize that coming to grips with death is but the first layer of my fear.

I deeply love the sensory pleasure of my life, the food and cooking, wine and conversation, affection and attachment to my partner. I cannot imagine giving them up. I think about coming to the end of my life, and having to release Pinot Noir, kisses, great meals, hot tubs…all those pleasures I adore. I greedily fill my life with as much of that as I can, as though running from the realization that all this pleasure will end one day.

Ah, but peeling back a layer, I notice fear there. It’s a more subtle version of the same thing. The quality of this fear is different, it is all caused by my imagination of something that has not yet happened, based on my memory of loss that has happened in the past. When I sit here, with my glass of wine, and just open to the moment I have with this beautiful thing, there is no loss and no fear, there just is the wonder of the wine. In fact, the more I release my thoughts and imaginations, the more I experience the wonder, the incredible sensory explosion as I sip. As I move slightly off the moment, and notice a thought and follow it, a soft anxiety arises. And that feeling is fear.

This experience is inside-out for me. I’m so used to identifying myself, my awareness, as my thoughts and feelings. My teachers have repeatedly told me how thoughts and feelings are like ripples on a pond, with no substance or permanence, and they are right. It’s easy to understand the concept. But becoming the pond, and finding that stillness inside where thoughts are not I, is quite different. I realize this is the fruit of my practice, what I practice, and that stillness is fearless. There is no future to worry about, no past memory to cling to. There is only the wine, and the moment of exquisite delight as my sense consciousnesses lights up like a Christmas tree. I do not need to hold on to it, or fear it’s loss. The wine is now. And so am I, at least until the next thought carries me away to places where fear exists.

 Posted by at 6:35 am

loss and loss again

 Buddhism, Reflection  Comments Off on loss and loss again
Mar 262014
 

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I have a friend who passed away last night. He’s been fading for weeks under hospice care, after two years of cancer and treatment, gradually losing mobility and some awareness, but never his sense of humor. I never went to visit him in the hospital, but he’s never been far from my awareness over the last few months. Here are a couple of photos to give you an idea of who this man was.

Dan led a full-contact life, a linebacker-poet if I ever met one. A conundrum, perhaps the most literate meth-addict/felon/recovery case I’ve ever met, with a lengthy police record and equally-long service record. He was widely known to the law enforcement agencies of several counties when I met him, ruling his rough block in Antioch with a baseball bat from his mother’s garage. He was always up for a fight, and his scarred mug and crooked teeth were frightening even before he glared or barked at you. Coaching him was like a gym workout with too much weight, I and others would come away from our interactions shaking. Yet he strove for self-awareness and self-mastery with great intention, and became more receptive with each month and year of consciousness work. After some months, helping him assemble a working computer in his garage one day, I became aware of how literate he was, how much he loved reading, which was a closely-guarded vulnerability. Over the years, I and others started to see his poetry, his heart, and his thoughtfulness more and more. Now I can honestly say, I love his writing, his body art, his crude directness, and his tenderness. We’ve created ritual together, coached consciousness workshops together, and supported each other in odd ways. I helped him with his computer problems, and he taught me how little there was to fear his big crude energy. He would poke at me in some way, then laugh. He was a guest in my home and a drinking buddy on more than one occasion. I miss him, even as I’m relieved that his suffering has ended.

Our common community rallied around Dan lovingly, creating ritual, sitting with him for weeks around the clock as he lost awareness, writing many emails a day with updates, commentary, feelings and requests for assistance. Oddly, there was little email as Nancy was in critical condition for 56 days, relatively few visited, and almost no discussion after she passed, while people traveled hundreds and even thousands of miles to see Dan. I wonder about what was different, even as I marvel at and delight in the outpouring of support he’s received. One big difference is that I wrote updates ever day for the 160 folks who wanted to know what was happening. Another is that we had to limit visitation towards the end, as she was exhausted by too much contact. I held Nancy’s hospitalization with some optimism, even though she was quadriplegic for the whole time. Dan, well, we’ve known this was serious for months, and I think the acceptance of the end of this incarnation for him is more evident. Nancy was also in an ICU, harder to visit, and I imagine it was harder to come see someone who could not talk, kept alive by a half-dozen machines.

Perhaps it’s the nature of the connection our community has had with them. Perhaps it’s the timing. Perhaps Nancy was the first one to go, and no one knew what to do, or how to be. Whatever, it’s a puzzle.

But I am having a reaction that has nothing to do with any of this. I’m weary of loss. It’s not just Dan, or Nancy.

I’ve been the guardian and trustee for my mother for more than six years, as she has faded away thanks to Alzheimer’s disease. She hasn’t recognized me in years, and I accept that. But others go away too. The cascade started in mid-February, when a man in the prime of his life died of the flu, shockingly right after his wedding. I have two good friends who knew him. February 24th, Mark Ketchum, a world-renown bridge architect and fellow BMW motorcyclist in Berkeley passed away after a year of cancer. Then within a few weeks, another close friend lost both his parents, and his partner lost her father. Jenifer lost a coworker suddenly last week. A member of the sangha is critically ill, and so is my next-door neighbor. Several people in my larger circle have been widowed, which strikes close to my heart indeed.

I don’t know where to go with this. I’m not depressed, I just feel weary and open, and perhaps a little numb.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’m halfway through my preliminary buddhist practices, and studying some deeper Tibetan writings on “buddha nature” (Tathagatagharba Sutra) and the nature of emptiness, enlightenment and enlightened activity (Nagarjuna’s teachings). Every day begins with a reminder of how fragile our lives are, and this outer experience of loss, over and over, is perhaps cracking some layers of protection away. In the stillness something is forming, I don’t know what.

 Posted by at 8:18 pm