Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Zen of Home Renos

I could make excuses for being awol from the blogging world but what are excuses anyway? Justification, explanation, the whirring of monkey mind when we feel we should have done other than we did. Wisdom lies simply in acknowledging what is. I have been preoccupied sweeping and phoning and feeding the fabulous carpenter who is staying with us while he does some reno work in our new-to-us house. It felt comfortable to use a dear friend's brother, from another island, to tackle the long list of jobs we had for our new place, jobs that fell beyond our meager skill set.

So with some enthusiasm and a smidge of trepidation we invited someone we hadn't met and his two papillion puppies into our home to stay while he worked, putting in doors, taking out shower stalls and walls. It has worked out swimmingly. He is skilled and quick, good company and easy to get along with. I remember my Zen teacher saying when things went well: "it didn't have to be this way." In other words appreciate and feel grateful for what goes well and smoothly in your life. Too often we tend to ignore these things. We never think, "gee I am glad not to have a toothache!"

And as always there is Dharma in everything. I get to watch my habitual tendencies, the tendency to feel a bit on edge having someone I don't know around the house 24/7. And then when I remember, I remind myself to relax and just be the silly, foolish self that is me and to enjoy our new housemate with all his own fun and quirky details.

Not being a dog person I wondered about having 2 busy little dogs around the house and honestly they are fine, cute, quiet and well behaved. I even found them sleeping in front of the Buddha in the Zendo one afternoon. Before I could snatch a picture I had disturbed them and they got up. So I am learning new things. I remember the words of Patrul Rinpoche in "Words of My Perfect Teacher" when he lists the difficulties that sentient beings born into the animal realm have. I don't worry so much that they hop up on the blanket on the couch for a little snooze.

A small glitch in a wall that got opened up presented a problem and over dinner we came to a compromise solution on how it could be dealt with, not what I had hoped for, "but sure the easy way would be okay, I agreed." But when I awoke in the morning I knew it was not a comprise I wanted to make if at all possible. So over coffee I pursued an alternate solution, asking more questions and I found that I could get closer to the outcome (less wall, more open space) that I was looking for. It reminded me that kind and thoughtful perseverance is a good thing, that if something is important to you it is worth following every thread to the end. A big Dharma lesson for me over the years has been that, just because I decide on one thing in the evening, doesn't mean the issue can't be revisited the next morning. I tend to operate from "well I agreed to this, I need to stick to it." It has been a big lesson for me to learn, that I can change my mind, nothing is written in stone. You can always move from where you are.

And I could feel so much gratitude for our carpenter's cheerful ways and competence in his work. I feel very fortunate to have found such an easy, uncomplicated solution to the work that needed doing. And so while I have been simply leading an ordinary life doing mundane things like preparing 3 meals a day and sourcing material and gathering needed supplies, the day is filled with Dharma, the dharma of working with habitual tendencies and of feeling gratitude for an easy relationship with our skilled help. It is fun to prepare food for him as a sort of offering.

What Dharma are you finding these days in your ordinary life?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Water, impermanent, empty and essential

It's blog action day today and the topic is water. When you live on an island as I do, water is never very far from your thoughts or sight. In many ways we take it for granted, at least its potential for great beauty. On an island water also feels enveloping, protective, sometimes. It creates community by its definitive boundaries. Islanders sometimes lament the difficulty of getting places and acquiring goods and services. In these instances water is experienced as an inconvenience. Islanders like nothing better that to have a good ol' grumble about ferry service.

And on this island, on rural properties we need to pay attention to water, to be mindful. We get our water from a well. We flush it into a septic system. More than in a city, we need to pay attention to water quality when we choose somewhere to live. In some places here, you can run out of water in the summer, your water can have too much sulphur or arsenic.

We learn to be more mindful of how we use water and more careful of what we put down the drain. We can suffer by our own hand if we ignore either of these things. And great joy comes from having delicious, untreated well water. The taste is incomparable and even after a short time here I find myself turning up my nose at city water.

But as I am always apt to think of the spiritual qualities of things, what of water? One of the spiritual attributes of water is its cleansing quality. Symbolically and in the physical realm water is useful in washing things away, for purification. Water is a key to life. It is one of the essential offerings on Buddhist alters. In looking at the many ways we can view water I am reminded of how everything is moving and changing (the Buddhist idea of impermanence). There are many ways to think of water. I am reminded of emptiness, in that we can't define the particular, singular nature of water. It is many things and these things morph with our position and point of view. Water is not as solid (or is that liquid?) as we might at first imagine.

There are many more profound thoughts on water out there today on blog action day, than mine, many more socially engaged thoughts about water and the suffering around the world caused by it's lack, the environmental concerns associated with our the lack of care, greed and self centredness indulged in by humans. But I will leave those topics to those who are more informed on the subject. These are just a few simple thoughts on water. May it wash away your suffering. May it nourish and cleanse you in many ways. May all sentient beings be blessed with the gift of clean, fresh water.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Drama, The Energy Hog Of The Emotional Environment

We learn a lot from our children, from our parents, from anyone for that matter, if we are willing to be their student. When my mother used to tell me what other family members should be doing, I would remind her that we only get one life to live and that's our own. Today I got to remind myself of this. And when I said this to my self, I could feel the irritation and coldness behind those words. I could feel how she might have felt when I said this, slightly reprimanded. And while I could feel the emotion behind the words, I could feel their truth. Without the emotional charge, these words are simply a statement and a true one.

But I digress. Today my daughter offered me this lesson and with it I found an invitation to let go, to drop the story line. I had suggested that something she was considering doing might not be a good idea. And when she did it anyway I felt a deep pang of disappointment, followed by a cascade of other feelings, anger for one. And then a big story started to brew on the mind's horizon, a feature length drama kicked into full production; lights, action camera. I decided to close the movie set down pretty quickly as these things are simply too tiring, too boring and suck up far too much energy. Drama is definitely the energy hog of the emotional environment.

So instead I just breathed in the hot, stinging breath of disappointment and anger until it passed, until I realized it wasn't a big deal, that I didn't want to add a layer of tension to the relationship. In my heart I know that as a parent my intention is to be helpful and to approach any situation filled with the anger of "I know what's best for you" is never helpful. What I imagine to be helpful and what is helpful can be two different things so I need to be vigilant.

So my hope is to just be with her tomorrow when I see her and let my response come from deep inside me. And I realize that the best thing for me to do is simply to have faith; to have faith in her, in her wonderful intelligence and inner knowing and to have faith in life, that it brings us all what we need.

So a simple text message offered me the opportunity to let go, to not be attached to my version of the world and to know that even if it is my fierce, motherly wish, I can never protect anyone from their pain.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Morning in the Zendo

Here's a picture of morning in the new zendo. It was actually the formal living room in the house but after I placed the buddha in the window seat and considering the dark, serene quality of the room it felt like a meditation space. And as our living room furniture quickly made itself comfortable in the sunroom with its soaring windows and view of the pond, well, the inclination to have this as a meditation room (sans furniture) became stronger. It's interesting how if we listen, things are suggested to us by our environment. Even our Tibetan friend who came to do our house blessing and purification recognized it immediately as a place to have a formal sitting group. Who knows what the future holds?

I am still visited by doubt, wondering if we have done the right thing. Is this too big a property? Will we be overwhelmed by the work it takes to look after it. Have I been greedy in choosing this place? In and out float these challenging thoughts. They are interspersed with feelings of great peace while digging in the herb garden, noticing the light decline and hearing a duck land on the pond. I remind the worrying mind to settle and simply be with what is, not run off conjuring stories. How quickly the mind ignites the emotions into little brush fires of fear and worry. I remind myself to take another path, to cultivate courage and fearlessness. And if I watch this activity of my mind I am reminded of its insubstantial nature, how it is a little house of cards. And the sense of emptiness sinks a little deeper into my bones.

And on the note of emptiness here's a lovely little poem that seems to suit my mood and the season. It is by the Chinese Zen nun Yi-k'uei (1625-1679). I found it in a delightful little book I am reading "Enso: Zen Circles of Enlightenment" by Audrey Yoshiko Seo.

I watch unmoved as waves recede and Dharma
gates fall into disrepair,
I draw a circle on the ground within which
I will hide myself away.
Suddenly the summer begins to draw to
a close, and fall comes again:
It is only recently that I have mastered the art
of being a complete fool.