Nov 152012

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.

Nov 032012

I’ve been living for many years in a multi-cat household, and it’s been a delightful part of my life. My first wife and I had several cats through our many years together, then Nancy and I got a pair of black kittens early in our relationship. Edwin P. Hubble and Subramanian Chandrasekhar, named for two famous astronomers (you can tell who chose the names!) When Chandra passed away last year, we got two more black kittens, creating a complex, three-cat dynamic. Kittens rolling and purring and clawing furniture, playful romping at 2am, sitting on the pillow staring us awake at 6am. It was fun and easy…as long as Nancy was home.

Then she wasn’t, and neither was I, visiting the hospital each day. The feline dynamic got messy, really it became a love triangle gone bad, with Hubble attacking the younger male daily. The short story is, the young one started marking territory, I had to clean up cat urine in odd places every day, and endure cat-fights in the middle of every night. Pheromone therapy didn’t fix it, three cat boxes didn’t fix it, enforced separation didn’t fix it, and I’ve had my bedroom door closed for months to keep the young one from peeing on the bed while I’ve tried to resolve this feline psychology mess. I’ve hit my limits.

So I surrendered the two young cats (now 17 months old) to the Marin Humane Society yesterday. They are bonded together, they are affectionate and entertaining, and if the evaluation of them is positive, they can find a new home together. I will be tracking their fate, they are dear to me, even as I had to let them go. The above photo shows them when they were four months old, a little over a year ago, just as Nancy and I were starting to make our relationship work really well, just before she went back into the hospital. It was a golden hopeful time, with everything going well for her and for us, just before it all fell apart.

Now the house is quiet, it’s just Hubble and me, as I’m cleaning up the last remnants of months of warfare and upset. There are some stained corners, claw damage on the couch, a little blood on the stair landing from the last grand cat fight. Enzyme cleaner is removing the last of the smell. Now there is only one cat box, now I can leave all the doors open, now the daily clean-up tasks are ended. Hubble seems happy to hang out in the closet like he used to, while coming out and interfering with me as I fold the laundry. Our bond is reaffirmed, and the peace is a huge relief.

How odd, that my life has whittled down to this. Eighteen months ago, there were five beings in this house, Nancy and I, two cats and my mom’s German Shepherd, Sheba. Now all are gone, except Hubble. The house now has an innate stillness that did not exist before. Except when Hubble plaintively whines for attention. He’s spending a lot of time alone now, as am I.