Friday, August 18, 2006

Getting busier

Actually wrote this yesterday, August 17.

Well, time just keeps flying by. I returned last Friday from my time visiting Mom and Aunt Phyllis on the farm, and it's almost a week gone. I've been pretty constantly busy, even on my day off. But let me go back a little bit.

The 4 days or so I spent with Mom and Aunt Phyllis were also busy days. I spent much of it making a sizable dent in Mom's packing up of stuff, sorting out things to take to sell at Powell's bookstore and at our yard sale, things to recycle, and things to go to the dump. Also a little bit of help (but not all that much) to Aunt Phyllis as she made sure we were all fed and taken care of. I spent some enjoyable time with Rain and Annemarie (sister-in-law and niece) who were also there working, doing things like weeding and other farm work primarily. Mike and Donna and Brian (Phyllis's son and family) came down Wednesday afternoon to help with various chores, and then my son and family (Nico, Alice, Christopher and Matthew) came down Thursday evening for dinner and general romping on the farm. The boys love the animals, and had a good time. They and I played follow-the-leader for a good while until grandma (that's me) got tired and declared an end to the game.

Rain decided we needed a picture of the four generations, and I'll post it here. I'm the one with my arms around the two boys. My son Nico is the big bald fellow next to and behind me, with his wife Alice on the other side. My mother is the white-haired lady to the side. The bigger boy is Christopher and the smaller one is Matthew.

The boys have improved a great deal -- both are special needs and clearly their parents have continued to work well with them. It's always great to see how any children grow and develop, but somehow we can see the improvement with these kids even more. They are both delightful.

Nico and Alice (and I, for a while) got involved in what looked like a simple puzzle that Christopher found somewhere and brought to us. After a short time, it became clear that this was no simple kid's puzzle, even though the pieces were big and few. It was fiendishly tricky, and the adults labored over it long after the kids (and I) gave up. Alice finally took it home with her, reporting that she was able to solve it there, and that she has written numbers on each piece and where it goes so she never has to go through this again!

I left Friday so I could be back to the Center for a very important event -- the annual Lay Disciple dinner at Oaks Park (amusement park). Not all that many of us showed up, there being 9 at the dinner, and then some left and one arrived later during the rides. We did bumper cars, as is traditional, then go-karts (which I find pretty boring, so I went on the ferris wheel with some others). My favorite is the Screamin' Eagle, which I was only able to persuade one other person to go on with me (once -- and then I rode it three more times on my own). I seem to have a cast iron stomach for that sort of thing, and just enjoy the pure sensation of it all. I rode my bike both there and back, and just generally had a great time.

Saturday morning was Women's Group, and again it was a small group, but we had a great discussion centered on Right Concentration.

Sunday of course was busy, as always, and most everyone in the Center took off to Dharma Camp, which is where they all are this week. It's held every year out at the monastery near Clatskanie. There were 45 campers signed up, and fewer counselors than last year, so I expect they are all having a lively time of it.

On Monday, I took 5 boxes of books to Powell's, and got the munificent sum of $46, bringing back 4 boxes of books they didn't want. I went through all of those again and took some to Goodwill and put some in our yard sale (which will be next weekend, starting a week from tomorrow). Tuesday I went to my storage unit and filled my car with boxes of things to go through, many for the yard sale as well, some that I want to figure out how to keep in my room. I'm still trying to downsize. I managed to find two more boxes of clothes I don't really need, but also kept one box in the storage unit. I probably don't need those either, but can't quite get rid of them yet -- many of them have special sentimental value. Most of those boxes are still in my room waiting for me to go through.

On Monday, my teacher's step-mother died in California. We knew she was dying, and that's why he was in California with his father. The funeral will be tomorrow. Gyokuko has come back from Dharma Camp and I took her to the airport yesterday to fly down to be with them as well. She was back here at the house for 24 hours, and during that time decided we needed to get the newsletter to the printer if at all possible. I started in on it, though it's not precisely my job at that stage and I didn't know how to do everything, and just kept doing the next thing to make it all happen. We did get it to the printer, and it should be ready today or tomorrow. Next step: mailing, and I'm not sure how that's going to happen either. But hopefully we can get it all mailed out by the beginning of next week.

In the mean time, I'm involved with doing publicity for the yard sale, working on financial records for another organization, temple laundry, getting out rental notices, getting updated calendars onto the web site, etc. I'm here alone today, which suits me fine -- allows me to get a lot done at my own pace and in my own way. Zoki will be back before too long, and we will have dinner together -- at this point, we are the only two signed up for dinner. Last night there were 4 of us.

So, anyway, you can see my list for today, and I'd better stop this and make some lunch for myself and get on with it. Hope you are all doing well.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Catching Up

It's Sunday afternoon, and I'm finally catching up with all of this. My visit to Seido's place was delightful. She didn't make me go out and do field work, so I did a little kitchen cleanup and helped chop vegetables for lunch as my minimal contribution to the cause. We did a lot of talking. They took me out to dinner. It was a nice, relaxing time.

Yesterday I had a friend from the Cohort (master's program) come by. She and her husband were in town to do the annual Obon Festival (at the Oregon Buddhist Temple), and figured there would only be one Buddhist temple in Portland, so of course they would see me there. They found out that there are a lot of Buddhist temples, and she wasn't sure where I'd be. But someone evidently told her how to get here, and she found me okay. They had a bit of a challenge in that they had brought their dog, and discovered that they couldn't leave the dog in the car with the air conditioning on, nor could they leave the dog in the car with the air conditioning off. They had been able to participate in the festival for a little while before discovering this (by almost getting a ticket). I gave them each a tour of our buildings in turn while the other stayed with the dog.

It was nice to see them, and I hope they were able to do at least some of what they came to Portland for. It was fun to show them the various instruments I get to play.

This morning I participated in Sunday services as usual, though Blair was out so I chanted the service while Lisa did mokugyo. I was worried because of my experience at the Chant for Peace that my voice would give out, but at 10am it seems to be in much better shape than at midnight -- go figure!

Tomorrow I'll head out to my mother's place on Aunt Phyllis's farm. I gather this will be a very different sort of visit -- they are getting ready to sell the farm, so there will be a lot of work to do in terms of sorting and packing, cleaning, etc.

At Seido's Farm

Written August 4.

At Seido's farm for a few days. We got up at 5am to sit in her zendo, known as the Empty Field Hermitage. It was shockingly cold, there being no heat, and two large doors open to the world. Fortunately, Seido had suggested I bring a blanket, which I wrapped around myself, but my head was cold. My ears and scalp just kept protesting, and I just kept telling them to relax. It was dark when we went out there -- I needed the flashlight graciously supplied by my host. My feet got wet and cold (I was just wearing sandals, which of course I took off before entering the Zendo), but I quickly tucked my feet under me as I sat, so they warmed up again.

I could hear trucks on the highway and gradually birds starting to sing. After a while, Seido did the kesa verse, and we turned around to chant. As part of the service she's put together, she read a page from the Mountains and Waters Sutra [by Master Eihei Dogen], and it had a very different feeling from when I've studied it before. We were looking out the door at mist on the hills, feeling the coast range beneath us, breathing cold air, listening to birds -- it was obvious that the mountains were alive and walking -- breathing and flying, giving birth to mountain children. It wasn't just words on a page to study -- it was right in front of us.

After service, we walked back to the house for breakfast, a pretty quick matter as they needed to get out to work. Bill looked at the temperature, and said it was 43 degrees outside. No wonder we were cold. I took my camera into the dawn light and took a bunch of pictures. I put my tennis shoes and socks on, and for a while my feet were warm and dry. But soon the heavy dew soaked through shoes and socks, and by the time I got back to the house, my feet were icy cold, as were my hands because I had them out with the camera. After I came back to the house, I put on a clean dry pair of socks, washed up, dressed, and settled myself on the bed in the sunlight.

I like the farm. The neat ordered rows of produce. Beautiful patterns -- order and chaos. I hope some of my pix come out.

24-Hour Chant for Peace

I actually wrote this post on July 29, and am only now getting it posted. I have another one from a couple of days ago that I'll get to next.

I ended up participating in the 24-Hr-Chant for Peace put on every year by Great Vow Zen Monastary out near Clatskanie. Ryushin, who was organizing it, sent a post to several of us at Dharma Rain inviting us to participate, and I immediately jumped in and said, oh, yeah, I'd love to do this. The time slot ended up being midnight to 1am, and I hoped I'd stay awake for it, since I'm not a night person. But I remember from last year that chanting was so energizing that I couldn't sleep anyway. The 24 hours runs from 7pm Friday to 7pm Saturday. I had no intention of trying to stay the 24 hours, but figured I'd be able to do 7pm to 1am.

Then I had to think about what to chant. I didn't want something too long and complicated, because people chant while walking for 15 minutes. That is, the format is that we chant seated in the zendo for 45 minutes, and then get up and walk around the monastary for the last 15 minutes of the hour. When you re-enter the zendo, the new group is in place and the new chant is starting. So you need something that people can chant easily while walking. I also didn't want it to be too short, since we were going to be chanting for an hour, and someone could get very tired of a one-liner chanted over and over for a whole hour. I picked out a couple of possibilities, and decided on the Fudo Myo-o Dharani, which we chant (in English) as part of the Fudo Ceremony a couple of times each month. We typically chant it 7 times, but in this case, of course, we chanted it many more times than that. We started slow, and gradually got faster and faster, ending up so fast we could barely keep it going, and then stopped to breathe and let the sound slowly die away before starting up very slowly again.

Here's part of an e-mail I sent to Kyogen (my teacher, who is in California on family business right now) about how it went:

Well, it went okay. I think the Fudo Myo-o Dharani chant worked well, though I had a lot of misgivings while I was chanting that people were bored because it had no melody -- every other chant before that had involved a lot of singing. But afterwards I had a couple of people thank me, and as I looked around the hall it did seem that at least some people were very involved in the chant.

I learned some things. There are reasons why you seldom see someone leading a chant alone -- there are usually from 2 to 6 or even more people sitting up front. Even when there is one clear leader, there are often people supporting that person. About 15 minutes into chanting I stopped and called Blair up to help me. She blew her voice out right along with me, bless her heart. It's difficult to sustain that level of chanting for that long, and of course I haven't been chanting Full Morning Service every morning for a while. If I do something like this next year, I will work up to it by practicing ahead of time. And definitely have a group of people -- there's something about having other voices to lean on so you don't feel bad about dropping out for a little bit to recover. The others in the hall did a fine job of carrying the chant along when I faltered, but it's nice to have someone up front beside you.

The pattern I did -- gradually speeding up and stopping when it gets too fast to say, then starting slow again -- worked pretty well. I was probably accelerating too fast, and I would relax that another time. But Ryushin mentioned in his notes ahead of time that it was fine to stop for a bit and let the chant settle, and I did that between times. The silence was quite nice. Letting the sound of the last gong float away slowly was cool.

I haven't tried talking yet this morning, but I am aware that my throat is a bit stressed. I can't blame it all on our chant, because I blew it out ahead of time on a couple of the others. It was fun, though.

It would have been nice to stay longer, but I remember how I felt last year staying up all night chanting and then driving back, and I just didn't want to do that again.

All in all, I found it a lot of fun. I e-mailed Blair a thank-you for joining me without any notice, and here's what she said:

"You're welcome! It was a lot of fun for me too. And an exhilerating excercise in persistance. I was actually starting to wonder at that point why I hadn't volunteered to lead a chant myself, seeing as Rich and I go to nearly the whole event every year- so it was a much wanted opportunity for me to participate.

"I think the Fudo Myo-o Dharani in that format was really bad-ass. The energy of it seemed very appropriate, though not common, to the event. And especially good for a late night chant.
"At one point I fell asleep a little and forgot where the gong was : )"

When I saw her comment about the Dharani being "bad-ass" I had to stop and think for a moment -- I think she means it was good!