Monday, July 23, 2012

Living In The Insane Asylum

I recently had the pleasure to spend a few days at Birken Forest  Monastery. The monastery is tucked away in BC's high ranch land, not somewhere you'd necessarily expect to find a Buddhist monastery. But hey, Buddhism is about working with our expectations, right, so might as well start from the get-go?

As we headed up the road toward Birken we gorged on the sight of velvety green hills ( we'd already gorged on lunch to fortify ourselves for the "no food past noon rule" at Theravaden monasteries.  The temperature in the car registered 97 degrees and the wind from the open window tossed my hair about as we turned on to the gravelly, potholed part of the road for the last bit of the drive.

The weekend was steeped in silence and 5:15 wake-up bells , the whistles of marmots and the wind rattling in the poplar leaves. There is something about the way monastics hold a space. Somehow it manages to be filled with a wordless generosity and peace, both grounded and groundless, if that makes any sense.
marmots making themselves at home at Birken

I had the occasion to ask about one of my pet topics (which has been getting a bit of work out lately due to household circumstances): anger. And as all good lay people, I wanted a recipe to dispel my anger, something simple and instant and fool proof (what else would a fool want but something fool proof?) I have heard Ajahn Sona speak before and his answers always surprise me (which I love) and he did not disappoint.

"Just think of the world as an insane asylum," he suggested. "People are always doing crazy things, unskillful things all the time. You never know what they are going to do. Think of yourself as a psychiatric nurse in the insane asylum. You are never surprised because anybody might do anything at anytime."

Now we are going to think of the world as an insane asylum in the nicest of ways, right? We're not going to use this idea to make ourselves more jaundiced or jaded. Goodness knows we don't need that! We're going to use it to make ourselves more agile and skillful. We're going to use this to hone our skills of "anything can happen at anytime." We are always standing on the edge of the unknown, it's just that we're constantly forgetting that we're on the edge of this precipice.

Instead of getting angry when someone doesn't keep their word, when they do something rude or inconsiderate, we simply nod and go "yep that's what it's like in the asylum." We have compassion for the inmates of this world (and we are one of them) and some days we're the craziest one in the asylum. Sometimes the inmates' delusion or greed or hatred (just like us) gets the best of them and they do crazy stuff.

Ajahn Sona suggested doing a "surprise meditation" each morning where we take a few minutes to remind ourselves that we live in a place where anything can happen at any time. This helps us remember when the person that promised to help us, has forgotten or changed his mind, when someone cuts us off in traffic, when any number of crazy making things happens.

I realized later, rather than discussing the afflictive emotion of anger, Ajahn Sona had chosen to focus on "right view". He didn't need to advise me on the specifics of working with anger. He simply reminded me that if "we see things as they are" we won't have unrealistic expectations, we won't be disappointed when our desires are not met. The view of ourselves as the centre of the universe may actually weaken and we will feel freer, less tossed about and buffeted by the circumstances of life.
Buddha in the marsh

As I have started working at my job in the asylum  I can see how much "ego" I need to let go of to hold this view, how strong my craving to be right is. The stories of my righteous indignation seem much thinner and  more wobbly, like a spinning top, slowing down.  In the insane asylum, crazy stuff happens.  That's all I need to know, really. It's that simple.

As a post script, that doesn't mean I never take action. Sometimes the craziness requires some skillful intervention. It just means I don't need to get mad about it. I may live in the insane asylum but I don't need to make it the Cuckoo's nest.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Wise Effort

Zendotstudio Buddhas at Rawsome Cafe & Juice Bar 
I am thinking about "wise effort". It is  in my mind after listening to a great dharma talk last night by Andrea Fella that you can find here. It is true you can make all kinds of effort but not all of it is wise. I know a bit about this myself. My repetoire of "effort sans wisdom" includes effort fueled by force, effort soaked in wanting things to turn out a certain way, and effort that floats on the marshmallow of delusion. Perhaps you have your own special flavour of effort?

Four of us have been hard at work around "the farm" this last several weeks so I have had occasion to see different kinds of effort in action. Lots of work has taken place. Some very dirty cedar siding had been washed, many weeds have been pulled, dirt has been moved, logs have been bucked, meadows have been mowed. I myself have been guilty of over- effort, the kind where you unwisely use up all your energy and are reduced to an aching heap.  I have witnessed grim effort, where not much fun happens on the job. There have been half efforts and unfocused effort. I have also witnessed bright effort that flowed with enthusiasm and effort meant in part to be an example to encourage others. I never knew there were so many nuances to effort.

In her talk Fella reminds us that wise effort is intertwined with mindfulness and concentration. If we are mindful our effort will be bright and considerate of the task at hand. Concentration supports an effort that is strong and focused.  When I think of effort I am often reminded of Jeane's tag line over at ART IT, "you must make an effort to put things into motion".  These words have echoed in my ears from the first time I read them. Simple, direct and true.  Jeane is an inspiring example of wise effort.  She works consistently. Perhaps this is one of the most important and difficult aspects of effort, this ability to unflinchingly sustain effort.   And I have been awed by the integrity of her effort. This woman has painted over or burned work I would gladly have hung on my wall! And her new work is an exciting testimony to effort she nourishes on good humour, faith and confidence.
Chris Gay half of the duo that owns Rawsome Cafe
Some of my art is currently hanging in a place built on wise effort. I have watched Jim Maurice & Chris Gay steer their business and follow their dreams to arrive at the awesome Rawsome Living Foods Cafe & Juice Bar. They create raw food with integrity and mindfulness, works of edible art and deliciousness. If you are in the neighbourhood drop in and try one of their many goodies. I recommend the raw bagels and cream cheese and the Village Greens juice. And never leave without dessert!

Buddhas watch over cafe customer

Summer seems the season of energy, filled with sun and light and warmth. So what better season to consider our use of effort, to re-dedicate ourselves to something that is important in our lives? Where will you shine the light of your wise effort this summer?
Juicy Art?