the practice of stuckness

Tomorrow is the Harvest Moon.  It’s also known as the Fruit Moon which prompts the question: what have been the fruits of our practice?  What will we gather together with the intention that it nourish us through the cold, dark nights ahead?  If the state of my life at this point is any indication of my stewardship of my spiritual ground, I’d say winter holds promise of a meager diet.  Where did the time go?  What happened to the plantings of six months ago?

Not only has the wild heat of the Summer been unforgiving of the vegetable and flower gardens, this inner heat of dissatisfaction has left me parched in my practice.  It could be a good thing, I suppose: an opportunity to see the places where my character fractures and edges where my ego curls up and withers.  The fact that I don’t like it is irrelevant because once the whole ball of self-reflection and intense scrutiny gets rolling, there’s not much that will stop it.  And the universe helps it along too.

You remember Sprout who pounced his way into our home, leaving a trail of mashed houseplants and mangled Beanie Babies.  He’s now a year old and thriving.

Meet his doppelgänger, Mystery formerly known as No Name.

I came home one Friday evening to find Sprout unusually needy of attention.  His security blanket, Frank, had been away for a few a days and I reframed his utilitarian affections for me as an opportunity to bond.  Apparently, the practice of equanimity was bearing fruit, transforming the typical bitterness I feel about feline fickleness.  And then I wondered if I was having a spiritual emergency when I saw two Sprouts at my feet, asking to be picked up.  It took a moment, a fascinating moment during which I physically felt my brain trying to make the two one, forcing my eyes to reset to a previous configuration.  One not two.

Sadly, though not for No Name, truth always vanquishes delusion.  And now we are left with a mystery, not just about the cat but the manner in which she got into the house and took up residence.  But reside she will, and preside over the reconfiguration of four cats, two litter boxes, and a deferment of my long-desired rescue dog.  The practice of letting go is getting a workout too.

On the bookish front, I’m blessed with two amazing books.  The Existential Buddhist, Seth Segall’s Encountering Buddhism: Western Psychology and Buddhist Teachings is a tour de force of 9 essays bringing together the Dharma and Western perspectives of mental health.  I had it set for review in October but Frank has absconded with it which reminds me to deepen my practice of generosity and also lock away my new purchases.  The second is by Practice of Zen blogger, Ben Howard: Entering Zen, a collection of Ben’s writings that are always a delight and a deep teaching.  The few chapters I’ve read remind me that there is power in a practice that is softly open and that some things crumble and collapse despite being well-placed and useful at the time of planting.  The third book is a bit of a curiosity called The Heart Attack Sutra by Karl Brunnhölzl.  I have no memory of purchasing this; like Mystery, it seemed to just show up – about the time I was considering cancelling my echo cardiogram and stress echo test because my practice of remembering my mortality doesn’t include fuzzy pictures of a pulsing heart.  (Actually, seeing my heart beat in real-time has to be one of the most profound moments of deep meditation I have ever experienced!)

So.  Yes.  Practice has been a struggle over the last months.  And yet, and yet I know this is precisely the form and purpose of practice: to sit with this discomfort of things out of rhythm and without rhyme.  Dukkha at its most seductive tells us to move away from this stuckness, insists there are more important things to do, critical time that cannot be wasted.  And that is the precise moment to turn into the vast emptiness of practice.

paying it forward, backward, above & below

I’m leaving this week for Upaya and the final stage of the Chaplaincy Program.  We will present our projects to the faculty and cohorts and then gather with family and friends for the ordination ceremony.  This has been a challenging two years made significantly easier by the presence of all of you, Dear Readers, who have quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) borne witness to this journey. This blog also has been a means to clarify my thinking, dive into the teachings, and stretch my eternally fledgling wings in the dharma.  And in this particular way, it’s been a joy having my feet held to the fire by little nudges from my blogging buddies.

On February 21st, Maia at her Liberated Life Project site sent out a lovely nudge in the form of The Versatile Blogger Award.    The thread leading to the originator of the award is not quickly traceable, being somewhat twisted into the fabric that’s been woven of amazing writers, wondrous aspirations, and dedication to the welfare of all beings.  It’s a huge honour and I’m somewhat boggled (a boggled blogger – say that fast a few times!) by the idea that I’m seen to fit into this tapestry.  All I can do is bow.

This comes at a good time as it gives you a chance to explore the blogs I’m nominating below; part of the deal is to carry it forward, hand it backward, and shower it into the sky and earth.  At the end of the blog nominees are 7 things I had to write about myself.

So here are my choices of blogs to dive into and I encourage the listees to pick up the thread and weave another yard of tapestry!  These have been chosen for their capacity to meet the world with fearlessness, engage in a minimum of whingeing, and being an inspiration to me.

Nothing to Attain – my dear dharma sister, Jomon, who explores the ins and outs of practice.  I have come to treasure her insights and frequently pilfer her courage to dig into my own work.

Precious Metal – I have a soft spot for this blog.  Nate’s writing is piercingly honest and devoted to not looking away from the truth of his life and the teachings.  He’s also been a community builder in the blogging world with the blogger exchanges we used to have and which were instrumental in getting 108ZB off the ground.

Full Contact Enlightenment – A blog by the delightful Tanya and her brilliant edgy voice, it speaks to work that is passionate, compassionate, and complete.  Tanya covers all the happenings around Montreal QC, my Canadian hometown, and makes me yearn to go back there to practice.  There are also book reviews and social commentaries that challenge the status quo

This Truth Never Fails – Written by Zen teacher, David Rynick, this blog is gentle and kind in sharing the deeper truth about the Path.  His words are like the little spots of sunshine on my pine floor.  They radiate into and out of a boundless space.

Bookbird –  is witty, edgy, insightful, transparent, honest, and just plain a delight to visit.  I love the equanimity, the openness, the dance among all the topics she tackles in her writings.

Existential Buddhist – Ah.  I am very jealous of Seth.  It’s completely unfair that someone gets to be brilliant, scholarly, a good writer, a committed practitioner, and know whereof he speaks.  And, he makes it look so easy.  Read and learn!

Mystic Meandering – This blog speaks from and to the heart.  Christine brings a lyrical style and poetic images together to truly touch the truth of living and loving completely.  The writing is fearless, uncompromising, and sometimes sweetly whimsical.

One Time, One MeetingBen Howard.  Author.  Musician. Poet.  Buddhist.  I love sitting at the feet of this blog and soaking up the teachings.  Go do it.

Snow Branches – Food ethicist, poet, lawyer – David is quite the combination and that makes for a blog with wide-ranging posts on compassion, responsibility, and engaging in life without losing sight of the important things.

twentyone liters – This is nepotism I know.  My daughter’s blog.  Alex writes on disasters and emergencies.  This is proof positive that raising your child on bedtime stories from Guns, Germs and Steel and tales of serial killers along with making her clean up her room can have a positive outcome.  Seriously, she’s brilliant, passionate, beautiful, and gets my vote for Most Likely to Save All Beings.

These next three are where I go home for a visual feast:

Dharma Snapshots – Not a blog (and yes, I still miss Fly Like a Crow) yet worthy of mention for the terrific photography talent.  Adam has an incisive eye and a delicate feel for balance of colour and form.  

Crimson Bamboo – A fellow-student of Tomoko Kodama, Peter was (too) briefly my teacher.  I take full responsibility for my inability to be a good student and give him all the credit for imparting some profound fundamentals without which my art would be a lot worse.  And yes, it could get a lot worse.  Peter’s haiga and photography have won awards internationally and his blog is stuffed full of teachings on art, dharma, and cultivating that generous eye for beauty.

Somewhere in DhammaJoseph’s adventures in pictures and music are always a welcome piece of my morning.  His life as spouse and father are delicious teachings of the dhamma.  

And my heart-held brother and sister in the dharma:

Ox HerdingBarry has inspired many posts on 108ZB and most especially has fueled my own Ox Herding quests.  He’s away at the moment which means we can peruse the hundreds of posts and leisurely sip the dharma.  I still don’t know how he does it in 200 words or less!

Zen Dot Studio – Perhaps the single most influential artist and writer in my life at the moment, Carole gives us her art and teachings with a huge heart and open stance.  I still scroll back to posts from years gone by and every reading brings a new insight.  Dharma teachings, life lessons, book snippets (reviews really but not in the conventional way), and melodic humour.  Her art is stunning and occupies some of my wall space – yes, available on the Esty page.


Now I’m supposed to tell you 7 things about me:

(1) I love to write and have been doing just so since I was 4 years old.

(2) Around the age of 8 years, I knew I would follow a spiritual path in deep and devout way.

(3) Despite my tendency to motion sickness and a low threshold gag reflex, I absolutely knew I would become a physician and an astronaut; it didn’t happen.  That taught me to hold dreams lightly and let them go on to inspire others.

(4) My path of living my waking dreams began as an archaeological chemist, a free-lance writer, a partner, and mother.  It continues as a partner, mother, psychologist, and very-soon-to-be Chaplain. I deeply love my daughter and husband and know that life would be supremely difficult without their compassion and equanimity.  I work with police services, the Canadian military, and along with Frank, train professionals in Mindfulness-Based Interventions.  

(5) I love to cook, bake, practice brush art, and photograph the dust motes in the sunbeams.  I love to enter Hell Realms where I find the most courageous and resilient companions.  And it’s even more amazing when we all walk out together.

(6) My spiritual path is Zen in the lineage of Maezumi Roshi and my teacher is Roshi Joan Halifax.  Thich Nhat Hanh is my root teacher.

(7) I want to do more with my life because there is so much more to be done.  And I have yet to do enough.  The most important lesson I have learned in the last year:

Failure means you’re still in the game!

And if you want to stay in the game – find a “work around.”