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.

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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.”

7 links – how to appreciate yourself

I was in full-fledged flinching from writing the Conclusion section of my thesis (are you as sick of me mentioning this as I am?) so I dug into ZenDotStudio’s lovely offering of 7 Links.  The object is to return to various posts in my blog and find those that can be tagged in the categories below.  (I’ve got this horrible urge to go and find a journal reference for what I just wrote!)  Then I am supposed to invite five other bloggers to do the same.  I’ve listed five of my very many favourite and most frequented bloggers below. I am sorry to say I discovered Adam of Fly Like a Crow is not blogging there any more but go anyway!

Initially, I thought of this as a chance to review the popularity of the posts but after a few sessions with friends and my new Spiritual Coach (Yes!  I have one!), I’m taking this as a chance to truly value the things I do.  It’s also a chance to clarify the values I tried to convey in the posts and to do a little check-in on how aligned I feel to them.  Them are mighty words and only the Shadow knows what I actually intend, as Barry of Ox Herding likes to point out!  

No matter.  I invite you to have this conversation with yourself.  What brings you alive?  What are the jewels hidden in that cloak which hides you so well from your own sight?

Here are the little gems I found in the folds of this blog:

Most beautiful post 

One of the first forays into my personal life, losing & letting go remains my favourite.  Writing it drew out all the pain of dealing with my mother, our relationship, and the third thing, her dementia.  The blog was a poultice.  

Most popular post

My first attempt at the Ox Herding pictures, out to pasture, got the most hits (hits being the count of how many people opened that page but it says nothing of whether they read it or liked it); it also snagged a weekly gig on Tricycle’s Editor’s blog.  questions-1 had the most exchanges in the commentaries but they were related to the renovations of the blog!

Most controversial post

It doesn’t show in the post itself but selling out to sex and sin, my review of Brad Warner’s book, got a few feathers ruffled although the publishers still love me.

Most helpful post

You’ll have to tell me which this is!  However, the post that triggered a round of discussions on other blogs was how the light gets in which was itself prompted by mind of poverty.  

Most “surprisingly successful” post

I took a huge risk in writing this one: flinching from eudaimonism.  At least it felt that way.  I don’t have much confidence in my understanding of the intricacies of Buddhist philosophy and I really should stop that nonsense (the lack of confidence part).  The response the post got were a real surprise and the fact that Justin – Oh Great Scholar! – clicked “like” just (pun intended) made my century!  And that Glen Wallis is pilfering my concept of Hope… well… Oh was that my ego writing… damn!

Most neglected post

Oh.  I’d have to pick the ethics and Chaplaincy ones: in the service of war: Chaplaincy I, II, III .  Really thought it would get the fur flying but… 

and finally….the post that makes them most proud

Oh that’s really easy!  All of them.  Well, OK… I am passionate about the Ox Herding series and I totally loved how I jumped off the 100-foot pole with the last series, i am ox.  I’m still not done with that one; it needs more development and I had wanted to make it my Chaplaincy thesis but reason prevailed!  I’m also proud of the 108 series, 108Buddha and 108Enso.

There’s a category missing which is the most important reason to write posts

Community!

I had trouble with the “pick five blogs” rule because there are so many I love to read.  The ones I check in to regularly are listed below but it says nothing about all the ones I love.  Although the intent of this post is to ask them to join in the 7 links, I leave it up to them to follow their heart.  Just reading anything they write is enough for me.  Of course, ZenDotStudio is a perennial favourite but since Carole referred on to me, I don’t know if I can lob it back to her!

Ox Herding

Somewhere in Dhamma/Wake up and Laugh

American Buddhist Perspective

it’s all dhamma

Jizo Chronicles

Snow Branches

book bird writes

Dangerous Harvests

(I lied…) and a bunch more in my blog roll!

I’m off to Rohatsu on Wednesday so sit well, feel the morning star within you already, and love all that you are!

And yes… the thesis is now written.  The rest is in the wind!

blogisattva finalists and those honorably mentioned announced

The finalists and those honorably mentioned have been announced by the judges of the 2010 Blogisattva Awards; the winners for each category will be announced on December 12th.  Congratulations to all the bloggers listed on the Awards Table.  My dear dharma friend, Maia Duerr, author of The Jizo Chronicles, mentioned it at the end of our Rohatsu retreat and I spent the next two days trying hard to read the names of blogs on my tiny cell phone screen.  I have to say it’s inspiring to find myself among an impressive list of bloggers and that we do look even more impressive on my larger computer screen!  The dharma is indeed vast and subtle and you can check it out here.

108 Zen Books received kind mention in the categories of Best Achievement in Wide Range of Topic Interests Blogging, Best Achievement in Design, and Blog of the year, Svaha! And, it is a finalist in Best Achievement in Kind and Compassionate Blogging. A deep bow of gratitude to all of you for these nominations.

Many thanks as well to Tom Armstrong who founded the awards and the panel of judges: Rev. Danny Fisher, Barbara Hoetsu O’Brien, Philip Ryan, and fellow Canadian, Tanya McGinnity for all their diligent work.


Please also take a look at the Blog Directory and, if your blog is not listed, add yourself or any blog you know is missing.  During Rohatsu, Sensei Kaz Tanahashi explained that an alternative translation of the mantra of Perfect Understanding (from the Heart Sutra) is “Arriving, arriving, arriving together, all as one, enlightenment beings, Svaha!”  I love the idea of doing exactly that:

Arriving together in this spaciousness and with boundless support for each other.

Thank you for practising,

Genju

this, that & guest post on Jizo Chronicles

I’ve been trying desperately to get to the part of the computer that deals with blogging.  However, the realities of running a business that is teetering on the edge of change yet again and a cat with a bandage around its neck  – who, by the end of the day, looks like Jacob Marley in the Christmas Carol – have got the better of my time.

Change can be fun.  I enjoy re-inventing myself every five years or so and it’s a year early but what the heck.  Of course, re-inventing myself means letting go and we all know how great I am at that!  Before the re-tooling however I’m taking time to notice that all this started with a surge of connections in my professional and spiritual community.  Good thing.  The drought has been going for a while.

Building sangha is tough, spiritual or professional, and when the two overlap, it’s even tougher.  Sitting one morning, I had the sticky thought, “It’s apples and oranges.  You can’t mix them – even in fruit salad, it’s still bits of apples and oranges.”  So for this week, this has been my practice: honouring the appleness and orangeness of my communities, even as a mix.

Canadian Thanksgiving is coming up this weekend too.  All these threads weaving together.  So let me say I am so grateful for all of you.  By your presence, you have supported this little space.  I’m particularly grateful for my dharma pal, Maia Duerr, author of the awesome Jizo Chronicles and Upaya Zen Center Chaplaincy Director.  Maia has a way of bringing me into just what is needed in this moment.  Last week, she invited me to write a piece for TJC on the Saffron Revolution, the monks’ protest in Burma in September 2007.  You can read the post on today’s Jizo Chronicles.  Writing it really brought home for me that sometimes it’s not about the apples or the oranges.

What can we make of that?

theoblogger challenge: god in 100 words

Patheos is a fascinating site offering a “balanced view of Religion and Spirituality.”  Debra Arca Mooney of Patheos contacted me about 10 days ago and offered a “theoblogger” challenge:

Who/What is God?

In 100 words or less

A previous challenge had been issued to a selection of Christian writers.  As a result of the responses to that challenge, bloggers across a variety of faith traditions were asked to participate.  As a Buddhist, I wondered how to even begin since Buddhism didn’t carry a premise of “God”.  Yet, there is an experience of the sacred – at least as I comprehend it in my own limited mind.  If nothing else, participating has forced me to struggle with the slip-sliding nature of language in trying to articulate the experience, result, and outcome of practice.

My response:

The concept of a singular God is not in found Buddhism.  There is only practice as Buddha, which means “One who is Awakened.”  An adjective, Buddha describes our capacity to cultivate joy, love, compassion, and equanimity.  Being Buddha means full engagement in life without preference for something different to be happening for or to us.  It is practicing authenticity and the courage to live ethically.  It cultivates living fiercely, fearless of the crucible which transforms our greed, rejection, and disconnect to generosity, open heartedness, and wisdom.  Then, we see sacredness in the ordinary: a cup of tea, a falling leaf.

It, along with the other featured bloggers, can be found here.  Please visit Patheos to read the variety of responses.  Also share your response – here and there – to the question (in 100 words or less!).

Thank you for practicing,

Genju

renouncing acceptance – Elephant Journal trumpets news

I was hoping this would fade away but since Maia of Jizo Chronicles Twittered it, I have to abandon all hope!

Apparently some karma worked itself out and 108 Zen Books has been dragged kicking and screaming into the top of the polls over at the Elephant Journal!  The stalwart John Pappas of Zen Dust, Zen Dirt renounced all practice of looking into his sensations of boredom and fired up a Hottest Male Blogger (Congratulations, Waylon Lewis and/or Danny Fisher!) after he got the Femme Fatales of Buddhist Blogging lined up.  One could suggest an attempt to divide and conquer by pitting us against each other (Shame on you, John!) and then distracting us with the beautiful menfolk!

Well, I won’t stand for this!  I’m going to sit down on my zafu and do what any good Bodhi Babe would do.

I open myself to accepting what is. Shameful, isn’t it?

Yes, there ya go.  I will not deny or admit to rumours of a Kobayashi maru strategy or friends stuffing the ballot box thereby causing tribbles for my competitors Dear Sisters.  There is no evidence to be found that I called up all the IOUs in my massive family network nor did I brib… er … reinforce anyone with promises of Sparkling Ginger Chip Cookies.

I will admit to having the hell humbled out of me!  There isn’t a woman on the poll list or my blogroll who doesn’t intimidate me with their writing and that I wouldn’t be proud to have as author in my little patch of the universe.

I will also insist that every Female BuddhoBlogger step forward and demand that we also (as suggested for the men) get to do a calendar for some charity in keeping with the honourable tradition set by the Rylstone and District Women’ s Institute!

A tip of the hat to Elephant Journal, John and Waylon for making sure the love gets circulated among all our blogs.

Thank you for practicing (this too is practice!),

Genju

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