Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Does Alice Live In Southern California?

I am in what seems like a diva realm to me; Southern California. The air is warm, everything seems clean and beautiful. There are palm trees everywhere and being March, everything is green. In some places the air is filled with the scent of orange blossoms and miscellaneous flower scents unknown to me. The gardens are magnificent. Even the small homes seem uncannily perfect in my eyes. Perception, imagination, the mind forms its opinions and assessments of what it takes in, in an instant. I saw a card in a spiritual book store the other day that reminded me, "with our minds we create our world". The quote was attributed to the Buddha and reminded me of the great power of our minds, how we need to use them with care and attention.

I find my senses filled with so many things in this perfect land. I greedily drink in the beautiful people and their antics. I could people watch for hours here. I am amused and entertained and slightly removed as if I am watching a movie. There is an unreality to it all.

And if the smelling and seeing isn't enough, there is the tasting. Twenty-five pounds of organic oranges for $10 fresh from the orchard. Avocados and fresh pecans, walnuts and dates, I've even bought a cherimoya to try. There are more amazing raw and vegan products in the stores than I can believe. I want to try them all but my wallet offers a cautionary note!

And so goes the festival of the senses. When does it tip over into greed, instead of mere appreciation and enjoyment? Where does one cross the line into craving and desire? How can we tell? How quickly does it happen and what are the signs? I wonder about these things as I eat the most amazing raw chocolate mousse made from Irish moss and brazil nut milk and cocao powder at Planet Raw in Santa Monica.

And do you see the Buddha here in the picture? He sits at the entry way to Venice Beach. Is he offering refuge to lost souls or perhaps simply emitting his energy to offer balance and calm. Or maybe he is simply bearing witness to the crazy things us humans get up to. Actually the sign near by tells you to stop or you will incur tire damage.

Now while this neck of the woods is beautiful, it seems a hot bed of excess if you look a b it. You can watch people pull up in front of the raw food restaurant in their black mercedes, call up on their cell phone for a juice and thrust a credit card out the window as one of the slightly harried young servers goes by. Ten minutes later you might find yourself nose to nose with a street person showing you a stuffed rabbit playing music. A young man passed me on the street and asked me if I could hear God.

There is so much of everything here sometimes it makes my head spin: the beach houses in Malibu, the houses on the hill that look like they might be museums, the upmarket hotels and swanky restaurants, the high end clothing stores, the spas and home decor shops. It is easy to feel their tug as you see them over and over. I remember the Dalai Lama saying that after driving by the fancy shops day after day, even he felt the lure of some of these things, even though he didn't know what half of them were. And so perhaps we humans are a bit like racoons, attracted to the shiny things we see, the tug of desire raised easily with little provocation? The inward gaze easily distracted by outward glitz.

And it is fun here in the land of perpetual sense excitement, the novelty of it all. But as I stroll the botanical gardens or the take in the produce in the farmers market I look forward to my return to a quieter life, with active tasks to do, to paint and garden and prepare meals. But I remind myself to enjoy the present, the beaches, the flora, the friendly folks who offer free goji berries as I wander their shop, or the free recorded Quan Yin prayer when I buy a small Quan Yin statue. I am easily drawn to feel slightly guilty in the presence of all this. But that I remind myself is wrong view. It requires awareness and some vigilance to enjoy, to remember to be present for the beauty, to drink it in, to not grumble when this orange isn't as juicy as the last and not to fall down Alice's rabbit hole of sensual desire.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Art Gallery As Zendo

"I try to capture the un explainable thing in nature that makes me feel the world is so big, far beyond my under standing - to understand maybe by trying to put it into form. To find the feeling of infinity on the horizon line or just over the next hill"
-Georgia O'Keeffe

As I was scribbling down this quote in my little note book of haphazard things (like addresses of vegetarian restaurants, passwords, interesting book titles and hotel confirmation numbers) the security guard in Santa Fe's Okeeffe Gallery kindly brought me a printed page of quotes. I couldn't help but notice his passion for his job and his kindness to all us gallery goers. He was there whole heartedly, not just passing the time or enforcing rules to make sure we didn't get our grubby paws on the goods. He shared little details about Okeeffe and her work. He was living an ordinary life in a non-ordinary way. A bodhisattva in a security uniform.

I felt the urge to scribble down this particular quote of Okeeffe's because it speaks to the mystery of this world, something I forget too easily. It is so easy to put on our grey glasses of ho-hum and hum-drum and forget about the mystery of the world, to think we know it all, or can figure it out, or look it up on google, . What about the sky or rock or strangely twisted branch? When we look deeply, we can see beyond the commonness, the mundane, beyond the labels. And that is what we're trying to do when we practice, isn't it? Wake up, see with fresh eyes, have beginners mind?

Great art, I think, can help us see the mystery. Artists like Okeeffe explore the world deeply in a way that inspires and touches us and can wake us up. There is an enlivening energy when you are in the presence of great art. A good gallery has the quality of a zendo, spare and quiet and inviting contemplation. I most often find when I read the commentary by artists there is a spiritual quality in their words, whether they would call it that or not.

Also in the gallery was the work of Susan Rothenberg, huge semi-abstracts, some filled with a calm presence, some filled with chaotic motion. Check them out! They might just inspire you to see your dog or your arm in a whole new way.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Standing Still is an Optical Illusion

It's always about the journey but most of the time we don't get that. Maybe because when we live in the same place and do the same thing we don't notice the landscape rolling by the window. We feel like we're standing still but it's an optical illusion, really.

We forget if we're in the driver's seat or a passenger and we don't notice if we're spending too much time looking in the rear view mirror. Maybe we think we're parked in the corner of the lot or squeezed too tightly between a couple of oversized SUV's. Okay enough with the driving metaphors already. I hear the New Mexico sheriff's car pulling in behind me with an over-metaphor ticket in hand.

Driving has been a big part of life lately. Some days when I get out of the car at the end of the day I still have the strange sensation that I'm moving and the sound of the road is still buzzing in my ears.

With the days and the miles falling behind me I have forgotten the shaky, displaced feeling of giving up my home. Time and space have offered their healing grace. I have other things to think about, the novelty and beauty of new places to fill the senses, the task of searching for places to stay, food to eat.

When I was packing and cleaning and exhausted I longed for the holiday at the end of the tunnel. And now that it is here it comes with it's own Sukkha and Dukkha. Sometimes it is too cold, or the drive is too long or the food is not to my liking, or the windshield got cracked. And of course sometimes everything is quite delightful; the expanses of Wyoming's hills are awe inspiring, Boulder Colorado seems like the realm of the gods. And it is hard not to be pulled into the liking and disliking, the comparing and evaluating. This is the Dharma work of travel, I think.

It is easy to feel out of place, unfamiliar and slightly foreign. It is easy to notice the differences in places and people. And again I remember the dharma work is to remain open and curious and remind myself of all the ways in which we are the same, how we are all connected by the long thread of our humanity.

And if I sound a little like my old self, that's because time and space have not worn the edges off my habitual tendencies. This is the work of mindfulness. I will end with a quote from "Taking The Leap" by Pema Chodron, a little book I breezed through courtesy of my daughter's traveling Dharma library, that speaks to a tendency I am all to familiar with. "We (western people) have an unfortunate tendency to emphasize our failures. But when Dzigar Kongtrul teaches about this, he says that for him when he sees the he has connected with his aspiration even once briefly during the whole day, he feels a sense of rejoicing. He also says that when he recognizes that he lost it completely, he rejoices that he has the capacity to see that.... Can we have the aspiration to identify more and more with our ability to recognize what we're doing instead of always identifying with our mistakes? This is the spirit of delighting in what we see rather than despairing in what we see."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Groundlessness Hog Day

You've heard of ground hog's day? Well it's ground lessness hog day out here on the prairie. That's me out there in the wide expanses of dry brown grass, quivering nervously. Today I awoke to a deep sense of discomfort. Eek I am burrowless. No where to pop my head back into when I do or don't see my shadow.

My first inclination was to look for a cause. Sort of like looking for the shadow? How much longer is wintery discomfort going to last? And then instead of going shadow hunting I decided I would just be the furry little creature without the burrow. I stood up on my hind legs and sniffed the air, in a prairie dog sort of way. What's up out here?

And what was on the wind was a sense of vulnerability, of openness to the energy of anything that might come my way. No burrow to dive into for respite, no home to retreat to, no living room, no bedroom of safety and sanctuary. Terror, fear struck my quivering little nose.

I remembered my homeless friend and sniffed the sense of what it must be like to always be available to others in this way. I could see that we weren't that different, me hugging the walls of my home, her clinging to her camper van.

And so that was the experience of the day, of wanting to hide and not being able to, of simply staying with the discomfort and not trying to rationalize, explain it, or make it better. Today is groundlessness hog day for me I will just burrow a little deeper into my practice. And there is always tomorrow.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Walking On Ice With the Dalai Lama & A Pee Wee Hockey Team

I don't live here anymore. In fact I don't live anywhere right now. I have read about "ground-lessness" but I had the first hand, slightly uncomfortable experience of it on moving day. As I drove to deliver my belongings to the garage where they will be stored for the month of March I realized, I don't live where I used to. I don't live where I will in the future. I have no idea whether I will like my future home and my previous home is no longer an option. There is no turning back. Openness stretches in front of me.

I have spent a lot of time getting ready for this move, thinking about it, planning it, working for it but now it is right here, right now. But there is a different quality to it when you are in the middle of it. You are no longer playing at it, imagining, hoping for it, or grumbling about why it isn't happening as you'd planned. You are it. It came as a tangy taste of having no ground beneath me, the bitter sweetness of true unknowing. An interesting sensation that required just breathing and not backing away from it. It is our state all the time, anyway, we just don't realize it. Mostly we trick ourselves into our feelings of control and security. We prefer them to the quivering state of groundlessness.

And it was all fine. I sensed the slight feeling of chaos and being unsettled as I went about the following weeks activities. I don't usually live in people's basements. I don't usually have no address, no phone. I don't usually have an abbreviated set of belongings stored in wicker baskets and a small travel bag. Who am I, anyway?

As I completed each errand and loose ends got tightened up I felt a little lighter, a sense of closure was moving toward me. I was ready to leave the lovely home we'd lived in for the last 12 years. I was ready to declutter and move on to a new part of my life. And each task, each appointment moved me further away from the past and launched me into my future. I am ready to be the agent of my own impermanence, to move into the shifting landscape of change.

Our daughter has been getting alot of mileage out of telling her friends that her parents are gypsies, and sending me text messages asking me when the caravan pulls out of town? And so today, all the campfires extinguished, the laundry lines taken down, the wine bottles drained, the garbage bagged and disposed of, the caravan folded its awning and wound its way across the Strait of Georgia and over a snowy mountain summit or two. Dinner this evening, came out of a crock pot in a little motel room in Clearwater, BC. The late night is producing a cool rain that may turn to snow overnight but the room is warm and cozy. We are thinking about an ice walk in Maligne Canyon tommorrow and Larry King is talking to a re-run of the Dalai Lama on the TV. The Pee Wee Hockey team sharing the motel with us is strangely quiet right now. Hopefully they will wake up early, make a lot of noise so we can curse them and get on the road early. Who knows what will happen, really.