Monday, April 20, 2009

Update April 20

Yesterday (Sunday, April 19) was a very full day, and I enjoyed it all thoroughly.

Actually, Saturday was quite full as well. We had a Community Practice Day (formerly known as Work Practice, but powers-that-be decided that sounded too much like, well, work, so we changed it). I spent an hour and a half in the morning turning over lawn to become a raised garden bed. The weather was a bit chilly, but I had gloves and waterproof boots, and it didn't take long for my internal heater to kick in, and I was quite comfortable. The soil was perfect to work, not too soggy, but also not dried out to be hard. It was satisfying, and the body held up, though at the end of it, I was happy to be done with that kind of work. The back was definitely tired, there was a threat of a blister forming (though it didn't get that far). During lunch MrK raised the question of whether someone besides him could lead the introductory workshop scheduled for the afternoon, and I volunteered. My "little sister" Jyoshin was assisting, and that was cool.

So for the afternoon I talked with about 10 people about Starting a Buddhist Practice. That went well, and I enjoyed it, though I noticed that my throat was getting a bit hoarse at the end. Jyoshin did the bells and gongs when that was called for, and offered wisdom from her perspective, which was terrific.

After the workshop, I helped Gyokuko in the kitchen with dinner prep (Saturdays being my day to help). A little free time in there allowed me to go up to the office to prep for a Sunday presentation.

After dinner we were blessedly free. I came home and went to bed.

Sunday morning up at 5am (which was actually a little later than I've been getting up) to make breakfast for 14 people. Started breakfast at 6am for a 7am meal bell. Sunday mornings are easy, with a whole hour, and an assistant to boot. There's usually time to take it easy, read the funnies, etc., while other things are cooking. With 14 people to feed, it takes a little more effort because we do two pots of oats, two plates of fruit, two setups of condiments, etc., but it's still not all that bad.

Then service, and I was jisha for that, which meant that I was setting up things for the Teacher in the zendo and in the sanzen room and overseeing sanzen, holding incense for the teacher for incense offerings (and sometimes offering the incense myself when the Teacher wasn't there), and generally making sure things went smoothly.

[Note on photo -- this was actually taken the Friday evening prior, when I was jisha for a Lay Disciple ordination ceremony, that I somehow forgot to mention in this post.]

Then, instead of a dharma talk, we had a Sangha Forum, like an all-member business meeting. What we did was to report on what we've been doing as a Dharma Council. This is a relatively new body, and we're charged with overseeing teaching functions in the temple. That was what my prep was for. I had three flip chart sheets full of things: an agenda, a list of our regular program offerings, and a diagram of our newish mandala organizational structure. That was relevant because the Dharma Council didn't exist before the structure reoganization, and we've been feeling our way into defining what we do more closely. It's been an interesting group to participate in.

The forum went well, with lots of questions and discussion that we had to cut off in the interests of time. Unfortunately, Kyogen (the teacher representative on the council) had to leave because he's suffering from a migraine. Other than that, though, it was very successful, I thought.

Then I worked to get ready for Gay Tea. This is a group that meets monthly that I facilitate. It started as a way for gay people at Dharma Rain to see each other, but has grown to be a community outreach to people who are interested in Buddhism and who may or may not be connected with another Buddhist group. It provides a safe space in which to explore Buddhist teachings with others who have also experienced the particular kind of oppression that comes with being queer in this society. As such, it is developing into a ministry that feels important. The group is usually fairly small, but typically 10-12 people, a nice size for discussion. We sometimes start with a topic and sometimes not, but either way, the discussion ranges over quite a variety of areas having to do with practice.

After the Gay Tea was over, I then worked to get the zendo set up for the Interfaith Service that we hosted yesterday. Setup involves stacking the zabutons and zafus that we usually sit on (on the floor) and getting out chairs for people to sit in. This is a quite different group of people who put on monthly services in various churches/temples in the area. There is usually a theme -- last month I went and spoke briefly at the one about Peace. This month's theme was Nature. They typically invite several speakers from various traditions to come present something from their own tradition in an Interfaith setting. It's interesting to see what people come up with, and how some are more effective than others. Then refreshments, schmoozing, and then a more structured Dialogue time to explore the topic a little further. I stayed for all of that, leaving at one point to help figure out a space conflict with the other group that usually has the building at that point, and then put the zendo back together.

For both the setup and cleanup I had help. I didn't organize that ahead of time. A new fellow who showed up at Gay Tea helped me with the setup, and he and another Dharma Rain member helped me put it back together at the end. Their help was much appreciated, as I've done this stuff by myself before, but it takes a lot of time and effort, and time was a little short.

Still, it all got done. Oh, I sort of forgot to mention that at the service itself I was considered the host, so I gave opening remarks and invocation and a closing benediction, and then also led a guided meditation in the middle. As I mentioned, it's interesting to find the line between presenting something that is a reflection of (in my case) Buddhist teachings and yet still not hitting people over the head with teachings they may not be up for. I think I hit the right balance, and in any case, people did thank me afterwards, so I guess I wasn't too far off.

By the time everything was done and I could go back to the Dharma House, it was 7pm. That looks to me like a 13-hour day. I got some dinner and finally sat down with the Sunday paper, which is my traditional Sunday transition from work to day off. That usually happens much earlier on Sundays, but it had its usual effect, and I became aware that I was tired, and that it was actually a legal time to go to bed (I figure 8pm is legal for going to bed, and 4am is legal to get up -- though my usual times are more like 9-10pm and 5am). With it staying light so much later, it surprises me sometimes.

This morning I was up for 6am meditation as usual, and breakfast with a group of Buddhists with Zen Community of Oregon. Now my laundry is in, and it's going to be a sunny, maybe even hot day, so I'll hang it all outside for the afternoon. Quite lovely. Nothing much planned for today, and I'm contemplating a bike ride in a bit to run some errands, and then back to finish laundry, community brunch, and maybe some sewing this afternoon. Some of that can be outdoors, as it involves a fair bit of hand work, I think. In any case, if it gets hot this afternoon, working in the Zendo basement is really pleasant. Stays nice and cool down there.

So we'll see how the day goes. What a treat to have an unstructured day for a change. Mind you, I enjoy and appreciate the structure, and really love opportunities to work with groups -- I think that's my favorite thing -- but also realize that I need a little down time for more solitary pursuits.

That's enough for now.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Had an interesting couple of days, and am basically recovering. This time it isn't so much the press of work (though there's plenty to do all the time), but a flash of anger that I was able to work through.

I tend not to be aware of anger much. I either supress it or rationalize it away, or am overwhelmed by it and shut down. This time, an observation by a fellow monk made sense when I heard it, and I just smiled and acknowledged the truth of it. Later on, when I was no longer involved in any interaction, suddenly I was aware of a lot of rage around that observation. I imagined myself defending myself angrily, and even wanted to hit something (or maybe someone). All the time I knew it wasn't about the person making the observation, but realized that this was triggering something in me.

I was able to stay curious about it without attacking or rationalizing it. I allowed the feelings just to be there without either cultivating them or trying to get rid of them. I became aware of tears, of grief, of loss, along with the rage. Just kept noticing. Found myself inarticulate, not able to really say much (even to myself) about what these feelings might be. Kept going, kept sitting still with the feelings.

That evening (Saturday) I was able to go to bed early (8-8:30pm), and woke up early enough on Sunday morning that I was able to explore this further. I did an imaginary Sanzen with my teacher, and began to figure out what it was about.

The observation that triggered the whole thing had to do with a little practice dharma talk that I shared with other students who also shared dharma talks. Mine was titled "Getting it Right," and had to do with the Noble Eightfold Path. The questions I got from others afterwards had to do with my talking about my fear of getting it wrong, fear of failure. I talked about how when I make a mistake sometimes I feel intensely unworthy, like I'm not worthy to breathe, eat, or take up space on the planet. The observation that got to me was that this seemed like a very young response. There was something about my eventually taking my place as an adult.

Then a question about What sustains me? This place and the people here. That led to more questions about what if this place burns down tomorrow? I don't know. What happens when I go off to Tassajara this fall. I don't know, we'll see.

That was the interaction as it happened, more or less. The later emotional reaction of rage was, as I mentioned, not in the moment, but later when all attention was off of me. I was supposed to be listening to others at that point, but found this wave of anger washing over me, and paid attention to it.

As I reflected on it the next morning, it occurred to me that I had projected "shoulds" into my fellow monk's observation: that I shouldn't be in such a young place, that I should be an adult, that I shouldn't be dependent. That was totally my own projection, of course, and I realized that. Didn't really change the anger, which I wasn't attaching to anyone, just noticing that it was there. I realized that I was reacting to a sense of expectation that I should be doing things differently from how I'm doing them, and the anger was a way of saying, no, this is what I'm doing, I'm being young and dependent right now, and it's what I have to do, and it's the right thing for me to do. In that sense, it was healthy (and uncharacteristic). It actually seems like a hopeful sign to me that I can begin to defend myself and my life. And that I was able simply to watch and wait and find what is the truth here.

When I took this to my other teacher later in the morning in real-life f2f Sanzen, she told me that the real work happens in that inarticulate space, where we simply sit and observe. Yes, finding words to explain what happened and to understand it is also part of the work, but it isn't the most important part of it. I told her that feeling inarticulate is not very comfortable, and she just smiled. I have to say, it's getting easier to stay there, not to struggle or panic so much.

I guess that's why they call it practice.