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
Jun 132013
 

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My daily practices are really a set of “skillful means”. They are so effective, it’s startling, and addictive in the best of ways. Have you ever meditated or done yoga or gone running for several days in a row, developed a deep sense of well-being, then stopped and felt a kind of crash within a couple of days? I’m experiencing that when I miss a day, and that’s what I mean by “addictive”. I’m chanting the Vajrasattva Mantra each morning right now, and I swear, traffic lights are green more often, other drivers are courteous, and positive and helpful things just seem to happen spontaneously. When I miss it, I feel vaguely grumpy, and everything in my life just seems more difficult. There is magic here. I’m an MIT-trained guy, I believe in physics, and I don’t understand it. But I’m happy to say, publicly, this is a Really Good Thing for me.

So…I’m a part of a remarkable project, a documentary film on Vajrayana buddhism. The film will be called “Turning Inward”, and it will take six years to make. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the guy in the foreground, in the striped shirt. This is a photo taken during one of our classes, and you can see part of the main altar on the right, some of the thangkas of deities and enlightened beings hanging on the walls…and the range of folks I study with. There are people here in their twenties, in their nineties, new members, folks who have been practicing for decades. I’m relatively new to this, only studying for a few years.

If you click on the photo, you will be taken to a 15-minute video, the first part of the project. The main website is TurningInwardMovie, where you can see a three-minute trailer, a video of Lama Palden, and other commentary. This project needs funding, and the team is looking for donors who can contribute $1000 or more towards the total cost. If you can afford it, please consider supporting this. I truly believe that this film will help others find their own path, and will spread concepts and teachings that can help the world. Did you ever wonder why His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, is so revered? This film will help you understand the profound gift that Tibetans are offering, the spiritual technology that they have refined over many centuries. I don’t see this as a religion so much; it’s more of a viewpoint, a way of looking at ourselves and each other and our world that really serves us all.

This short film was shot last December, when we were only three months into our studies. I just saw it for the first time a month ago, and it’s rather startling to see myself as others see me, to hear my voice as others hear me. I live a rather ascetic existence, alone in my wonderful house with my needy and affectionate cat. The film offers me a window into the lives of the other folks I’m practicing with…we meet for our teachings and our retreats, and see each other in the sangha, but really don’t know what each other’s lives are like. I practice with people that collect fresh eggs each morning, garden and play with their kids each day, sing frequently, live in very different and wonderful places. I feel a lot of pleasure as I contemplate the marvelous and mysterious collective that we are.

There is a deeper part that the film brings through.  The interviews were powerful, and I said some things, talked about the practice, in ways that inspire me.  I had forgotten what I’d said, and it is a rare thing for any of us to see ourselves in a profound place, and feel impacted.  It is quite stunning for me to just watch, hear what I had to say, and take it in as though coming from an actor on the screen.  It’s great for me to know that I can be inspiring.  I would like to do more of that.

Coleen, Michelle, Don…I am so impressed by your story-telling skill. You force me to see what I’m doing in a different, bigger way. Thank you for doing this.

 Posted by at 8:20 pm
Apr 042013
 

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Roger Ebert passed away this morning, a man who has illuminated my life for decades. I grew up with “Siskel and Ebert At The Movies”, and now they are both gone. Fine men, at least, what I know of them. Perhaps the most lovely part of this loss is how gracefully Roger did it. On Tuesday, he wrote a final post on his blog, where he spoke of “taking a leave of presence”. How prophetic, he must have known. Read it, the final line is such an adorable exit, if you ever saw his TV program.

But even more interesting, Ebert wrote about life and death quite eloquently in one of his books,

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

How beautiful, to be in this place. I strive for it, and yet Roger was here well before his passing. Of course, I’m healthy and he was not – there’s nothing like impending death to bring our days into sharp focus – he must have felt his life ending, and he certainly had a pile of projects going! I’m learning how to acknowledge my impermanence, and also my permanence, many times every single day.

It just so happens that I’m learning “The Root Text of the Seven Points of Training of the Mind”, thanks to Lama Palden. This training is pretty much a life-long road map for becoming more conscious, compassionate and enlightened. I love this study, and am slowly adapting the many parts of it into my awareness. There are two little parts that I want to share, part of Point Four, “The Utilization of Practice In One’s Whole Life”.

In life, practice the five strengths.

The Mahayana instructions for the ejection of consciousness at Death is the five strengths: how you conduct yourself is important.

Of course, this is why we have lamas, so that we can understand what these brief instructions mean. One of the strengths is ‘repudiation’. My notes say this about repudiation in life:

Let go of ego-clinging. We are not the most important thing in the universe. Samsara (suffering) is a state of mind. Feel how tired we are of suffering, and our desire for awakening.

And in death:

Repudiation of our body and body sensations, release the relative ground of the body to find the ultimate ground. We let go of identifying with the body, and the body sensations. We step back a bit from the ground that our body has provided, so that we can find the ultimate ground, the awareness and peace and love our practices have prepared us for. Recognize that no one has died, no one was born. Let go that anyone is dying.

It sounds so simple, but of course, none of this is easy, or familiar. That’s why we call it ‘practice’. In vajrayana, reincarnation isn’t just an idea or concept, it is the basis for all of our actions and thought, what we say, what we do, how we think. To fully believe in reincarnation, I have to start to look at my life the way that Roger did. This life is ultimately like a trip to France, a set of memories and experiences that I will carry forward after my body is gone.

So I’m contemplating the ejection of consciousness at death, in order to inject more consciousness into my life. Thank you, Roger, for the gift of all you shared with us. You inspire me.

 Posted by at 6:53 pm
Nov 152012
 

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Welcome to my world, the practice room where I am (mostly) spending an hour each morning. Here is the view from my zafu (meditation cushion), as I begin. From foreground to the back, you are looking at: knee pads, a small rolled towel for my forehead as I prostrate, a small glass of almonds for keeping count (I move one when I complete each prayer, which is four prostrations for me), a Chenrezig thangka on the right (waiting for hanging) then the altar itself, with the prayer taped to the front. i have the prayer memorized, but I sometimes forget where I am, and need a reminder.

Ma nam kha dang nyam pei sem chen tam chae kyap kün dü kyi ngo wo la ma rin po che la kyap su chio
Yi dam khil khor gyi lha tsok nam la kyap su chio
Sang gyae chom den dae nam la kyap su chio
Dam pei chö nam la kyap su chio
Pak pei gen dün nam la kyap su chio
Pa wo khan dro chö kyong sung mai tsok ye she kyi chen dang den pa nam la kyap su chio

As I’ve entered into this first preliminary practice, I find that I have to learn it in stages. This first stage is learning how to fully prostrate, going from standing to outstretched on the floor, and back to standing without hurting myself. There are lots of little tips to make it easier…using a padded surface, knee pads, gloves to let your hands slide out, creating a smooth surface for your hands while padding supports your knees, hips, chest and forehead. Then there is memorizing the prayer, six stanzas of Tibetan. I’ve been listening to it and repeating it for weeks as I drive to work each morning, and now I have it well ingrained. A flow is happening as I chant and prostrate, it’s like a mild cardio workout. I break a sweat after five minutes. The third stage is to hold a complex visualization, involving buddhas, a host of enlightened beings, and my family and enemies. I’m working on that, and it’s happening in bursts.

The mechanics of chanting, prostrating and holding a visualization are getting easier, but I’ve hit the limit of what my body can do right now. In Bhutan or Tibet, these preliminary practices are taken on by young monks and nuns in their late teens, with strong, flexible bodies, and they complete hundreds or even a thousand each day. I’m in my fifties, and have found that my knees ache all day after eighty prostrations…so much so, that I’ve had to regroup, and do a different practice while my muscles and tendons recover. It’s fine, I’m patient, but I do feel a bit wistful that I’m not as young as I once was.

So I’m refining the first stage, getting coaching from friends with experience and yoga backgrounds, how to take the stress off my knees even more, how to rise gracefully using my core muscles. I have the second part mastered, the chant. The third part is coming together.

Now the hardest part is making this a daily practice. It’s hard to show up every morning, and I’ve never been good at integrating something physical into my daily schedule. I’m having to push myself to do this each day, and I still miss some. I’m up against the wall of my own desire and self-discipline, as well as my knees.

 Posted by at 2:02 pm