Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Escapist

"All these walls were never really there,
Nor the ceiling, nor the chair.
I'm eking weeks of peace at the beach
I see the breezes weave the trees,
These walls, you'll find, are yours and mine
Defined not by them, I"
-The Streets, "The Escapist"

Day... one? Day nine?
I left the monastery on October 5, riding with Trime to Halifax, on the same flight as Trime to Boston. My cousin & her husband allowed me to stay in their house, with a quiet hideaway, a luxury apartment of a basement. All the noise--the talking, the music, the cars, the hammering, the music, the televisions--was a lot to take in, and I was easily exhausted. I learned some balance between kindness to myself, and discipline.
So moving forward really began last Thursday, the 13th.

Robin and I walked through Boston. I had loved the city when I visited for her wedding, 21 years earlier, and always wanted to return.
This time, walking about, my brain kept checking it against the landscape in Assassin's Creed 3. Was reverting to video-game memory escapism? Or was I appreciating the quality and educational value of the game? No reason to think it wasn't both.

After a good day & a few drinks, Robin dropped me off with my couchsurfing host.
I found his situation via couchsurfing.org, which has been such a valuable resource as I've traveled. This fellow had good references, lived around where I needed to be the next day, and responded promptly. Trifecta.
When I rang the doorbell, he came around the corner of the house & indicated I should follow him. The door on the side of the house was small, and I had to duck to enter, down the stairs, into the basement. (Cinderblock walls, a table, two chairs, and a refrigerator.)
Through a door, into a furnished area (white tile floors, finished walls painted taupe) and into a room with three twin mattresses, spread wall to wall with only a few inches between them. I ask if there are other guests, and he points out that the middle is his bed. Mine is the farthest from the door. Another guest will occupy the third, yes.
We sit and talk. He's friendly and funny. Brazilian, living in Boston now 14 years. He offers me a drink, but I'm not yet sure how I feel about where I am so I decline.
His English is good, but he's had no context to learn about Buddhism or monasticism, so when he asks about what I've been doing & about the weird clothes he saw in the photos on my profile, we hit a language barrier.
I ask about him. He watches Brazilian football, Brazilian teledramas. He hosts a lot--he's actually moved down to the basement because his roommates upstairs complained about having so many guests. I wonder why there are only six references on the website, if he hosts so often.
I use the bathroom. There's no door. I don't wonder about the references any more. What can be said? Where does one begin?
I admit to myself that I'm not going anywhere, and accept his drink. Brazilian Caphirinha. Made strong, with lots of sugar. It is enjoyable, but I haven't had much sugar this year. I wake up at 1am and can't get back to sleep for three hours.

The next morning, I'm waiting for Deidra with my luggage. No harm, no foul, but I am out of here.

Here we go. Back on the road.
In 2013-2015, I had (gasp!) settled down.
It wasn't intentional, but a good job (a great job, even) plus a cushy living situation (read: free house) lured me into complacency. As Ani Pema taught during Yarne, when one spends one's time inside their comfort zone, that comfort zone gets smaller and smaller. I had seen it happen to people, but had somehow overlooked it happening to me.
Time with friends was entertainment, time alone was music & drinking--filling space and time. Life was good, no? People wish they had it so good.
But within the first few months at Gampo Abbey I realized that this life hadn't just been uneventful. It had been harmful. Willpower & self-discipline diminished, relationships atrophied, bravery & confidence almost completely absent. I still recognized my ideals on an intellectual level, but was no longer walking the talk. Heck, I wasn't even talking the talk after a while.

As we studied and discussed "The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva," I realized that giving up my home & belongings had been a form of generosity; constantly moving & interacting had kept me in my practice. There's no one right way to live, but living on the road is my way.

And so here I am.
Halifax to Boston, Boston to Karmê Chöling, to Burlington, to NYC, and tomorrow to Chicago. Then Denver, then San Francisco, then Portland, Seattle, and back to Boston.
At least, that's what the plan looks like today.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Fast Unfolding

While visiting Wisconsin last summer, Sam Dodge told me I seemed haunted. And I was. John and Oshinn had moved on, the farm was out of my hands, and I was haunted by the ghost of the purpose that had fueled me for the two previous years. I was just coming to realize that the farm had gone the way of the boat, and that it was time for a new Rosewater vision.

In September I attended a six-day retreat which featured daily teachings from Thich Nhat Hanh. The idea of accepting his Five Mindfulness Trainings (a contemporary form of the Buddha's five precepts to become a monk) was presented early, and it took me days of consideration before I decided to accept them.
This retreat had upon me the same effect that I'd experienced after my time in the hospital in 2005--I had rediscovered my volition.

These days, not an hour goes by that I don't consider the teachings I encountered at Magnolia Grove in September. Even though my practice is built upon my own experiences rather than others' teachings (and this is something I sometimes struggle to remember), Thây provided a framework that I find infinitely useful for organizing how I think about my experiences.
I feel more excellent every day--even the bad days.

Also in Magnolia Grove, I had my first experience of Sangha. Through my studies of Buddhism I had a book-learnt appreciation for sangha, but no practical experience.
Sangha is the Sanskrit word for a community of practitioners. At the retreat, we would split into smaller groups of 15 or so people (determined by "family names" on our name tags--my family was "Timeless). We would sit in a circle with a nun. She would talk about a few things, introducing a topic, and we would each in turn share our thoughts on it.
This might not sound like much, but it was amazing.

I intended to join the sangha in Nashville after returning, but never quite got around to it.

Then Leslie visited in February, and asked me to join her at the meditation center where we used to go all those years ago. On Sundays, the Nashville Shambhala group meets there and, since Leslie is so richly involved in the Northern California Shambhala community, they were happy to turn part of the session over to her.
She led the group in social meditation--a form of meditation that is growing out of Boston Shambhala, and that is not very unlike what I experienced with Timeless in Magnolia Grove.

While socializing after the session, one of the coordinators said she would love to have a young meditators' group like Leslie has in San Francisco.
Leslie told her they should have me lead it. And from that moment on, that's been the plan.

Three weeks ago, I went to San Francisco for a summit of young meditator group leaders from around the world, and was introduced to the Ziji Collective. This is a collection of meditators (mostly involved in these young meditator groups) with an eye on social engagement. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche came to speak to us, discussing the significance of the Ziji's work to the Shambhala vision of enlightened society, and then we spent several days in each others' company--socially, as well as in meditation and in workshops.
In such a community, I found it so easy to be open, both inwardly and outwardly. To share that with so many people for such a long period of time was incredible. Each connection was like those that I've reserved for the few people I've been "in love" with; the entire experience felt like falling in love again and again.
Leaving that could have been difficult, if it hadn't also fostered the intention to let go of attachments.

I was very excited to bring that back to Nashville, to my first group session the next week.
But then there was some discussion over the dates of our meeting. And then there was more discussion.

By this past Sunday, two long weeks (seriously? it felt like months) since returning from San Francisco, I felt the last of that energy slipping away as I walked up the stays to the Dharma Center. "Longing" was the word that kept coming up in conversations at the summit; this day the word I felt was "lament."
This stayed correcting itself right away, thigh, as I walked in the door. I walked right into a meeting determining the definite days for my group to meet (twice a month, rather than once!). And during the announcements at the end of the session, there was an exciting exchange.
One of our practitioners mentioned that she was going to Karme Choling in Vermont for level 2&3 training. Another mentioned that she had a friend in Boston Shambhala who would be assisting there. This friend from Boston had also been at the summit in San Francisco. BOOM. All the energy was reignited.

In the entrance room, there were six of us who stayed behind for conversation, already excited for the potential that the Ziji energy has in Nashville.

This is also the Rosewater energy.
I am very excited.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Jubilee Rolls On

Historically, Jubilee is a time of absolution and the lifting of burdens. In the Holy Bible, the Book of Leviticus (perhaps best known today for telling people how to live), we are encouraged to celebrate Jubilee every fifty years, by freeing slaves and absolving debts.

That's the spirit behind Strike Debt's Rolling Jubilee project, and the letters mailed to the 44 people so far who have benefited from it: "You no longer owe the balance of this debt. It is gone, a gift with no strings attached. You are no longer any obligation to settle this account with the original creditor, the bill collector, or anyone else."

Today's economy is weird and complicated, working in ways more mysterious than God. Part of it involves the speculation market--companies buying, insuring, and ultimately gambling with our debt. Basically, for pennies on the dollar, the part of you that Company XYZ used to own now belongs to Company ZYX. They don't expect you to fully pay it off--in fact, if you do, then they have one less chip in the game. Debt is big money, and with the Rolling Jubilee, Strike Debt is buying in.

Originally, the goal was to raise $50,000, use that to buy $1,000,0000 worth of distressed medical debt on secondary debt markets, and then... let it go. The project launched on November 15, 2012, and by the end of that day the site had raised nearly 10x its goal. In mid-December, the first purchase was made: $5,000 was enough to absolve 44 lucky people of their medical debts.

Please, check out the Rolling Jubilee website. Read it all over (more important than money is knowledge, and the site provides several kinds of it) and, if possible, make a donation. Even if you con't make a donation, consider spreading the word. Share it on Facebook. Share it on Twitter. Tell your mom about it. Tell your pastor, your neighbor, your bartender, the person beside you on the bus.

In the first two days of the campaign, enjoying a good amount of media attention, the site raised nearly $500,000... and yet, in the sixty-four days since then, the site has raised less than $50,000 more. I don't have the money to spare for a donation, but clearly, this idea takes off when it gets attention.
And I believe it deserves attention.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

yesterday's choices through today's eyes

Stephanie recently asked me these questions about some of the decisions I've made in life. It gave me a good excuse to look back and see what got me where I am today. ***What encouraged you to pursue the path of a Buddhist monk? I spent a lot of time alone in the woods growing up, and noticed there was a certain aspect of life that was present in solitude that disappeared when I was around others. Whatever it was, I loved it and lived for it. Even though I like being around people and love my friends, the solitary life, for pursuit of whatever this thing is, is what I most want. I was a monk before I knew a monk was something to be. I had looked into a few religions, and for a while considered myself more Hindu than anything else. But I was raise Christian, and am a fan of the Catholic monk John Michael Talbot, so when I decided to make my monkhood official, I intended to join his monastery, The Brothers and Sisters of Charity. I focused my studies from general to Catholic, but eventually had to admit that I could not reconcile what I was learning with my personal experience of the world. The cognitive dissonance was maddening. So I went back to a general study of philosophies, and stopped trying to force myself to see things in a certain way. When I learned of the Nyingma Institute, I asked a Buddhist friend if he knew about it. He had, and suggested over 100 books (many of which they used to teach at that school), and that I take the Bodhisattva vow. I bought many of the books and studied from them. After reading about the vows, I thought and felt that was the experience I had been looking for. ***What finally deterred you from it? Nothing is final, and perhaps "detoured" is better word for what happened. It was a string of coincidences I followed toward Nyingma, so when those coincidences pulled me in a new direction, why would I refuse? As I said, I was a monk before I knew it. Not reaching the destination is, so far, the world I have learned to accept.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Secret Meaning of Life

John asked yesterday, what do I think about, instead of a walking trip, a biking trip? My answer, immediately, was "a walking trip." I suppose in my say-yes-to-life efforts, I ought to jump at the idea of something like a biking trip, something far enough outside of my thinking that I never, ever would have considered. But the thing is, I have for so long wanted to go on an incredibly long walk. If we walked to Nashville, I would never say, now let us do this on bicycles, whereas if we rode bicycles to Juno, Alaska, I would (after a year of recovery at least) say, Now I would like to walk as far. (Because, apparently, I speak like A.A. Milne.) John pointed out that a biking trip would be much faster than a walking trip. I countered that a flying trip would be faster still (John thinks that flying is the worst form of travel, since you pass the journey by.) And that got me thinking of the book of traveling stories I want to compile. I always think about the journeys I would like to take, and about how I will one day have enough stories to compile. But really, I do. I just always feel like there should be something more. As if I will finally find do the thing that makes everything and myself feel completely different. But even though I am already a completely different person from the Court who hit the road in 2007, I have never felt like anything other than myself. Life just feels like living. I can put myself in the weirdest situations, can chase high adventure on the seas, or in the city, or on a farm, or even (if I get around to making my hot-air balloon) in the air. But once I have, and I come home, waking up in a bed will still feel like waking up in a bed. And though that may be magical after living on a bicycle for a year, eventually the magic will wear off. Because it does not matter what you do with you life. If you are a musician, a veterinarian, a hobo, a housewife, a film director, a banker, or something else entirely, the only thing that matters is how you feel about being that thing. I once had a job that required me to vacuum a department store from 7-9am. I enjoyed it quite a lot. Jeremy hated it, and quit after two weeks. There is no miracle path to happiness. (There is just the regular path to happiness. And you walk it every day.) It does not matter what it is you want to do with your life. It only matters that you do what you want to do with your life. If you do not want to do something, do not do it. Now of course there is such things as concessions and sacrifice. If you have children, you must provide for them. If you want a house, there are things to be done in order to obtain one. So it is true what we have heard: sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do. But you don't always or forever have to do things you don't want to do. If you make your bed once, you do not have to sleep in it a thousand times.

The Return of Court Anonymous, pt 1

Last night, John, Oshin and I went into Nashville to watch the Music City Roller Girls defeat the Boardwalk Bombshells of Santa Cruz. We met up with Scott there, and he returned to the house on Fleet Town with us. Today, rather than staying here and working with them, I am going into Nashville with Jason and Violet to see The Avengers. Lately, I have been feeling down about not getting more done at Rosewater. But I do not feel bad about going into town today, nor about leaving my friends behind to work without me. I am not shirking responsibility, and I am not seeking entertainment. My reason for why I am going can be explained by an examination of the Fifth and Sixth Secondary Downfalls of the Bodhisattva Vow (which I will do in the near future; after this blog, I am going to begin anew my exploration of these "downfalls," which is something I first began in 2006). But this post is actually about something else. Why I, Court Anonymous, Am Not A Leader: Because I do not care to be. I do not have the answers and reasons to tell people what they ought to do. Nor do I aspire to. The thinking described up to this point has led me to return to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's book, The Bodhisattva Vow. Reading less than a page made me realize how undisciplined my mind has become. It was my mental- and self-discipline that revealed to me what I believe is "my path." It is the greatest talent I have. If I have anything to offer The World, it is this. If I feel comfortable to lead in any way, it is by example rather than edict. Rosewater is not a thing we are all working toward (that, I feel, would be a commune). Rather, what we are all working toward is what will make Rosewater. We each want something more in life, and this property is a place where we can work towards these things we want. I personally feel like I have more to offer than what our current system allows for. I feel that within this system I have to make compromises and allowances that leave me feeling like my offerings become weak and distilled. I believe that the world we live in is what we make of it, rather than we being what we can make of ourselves within this world. I believe we each have something to offer, in that we each have some thing (or things) about which we are passionate, and that we can find a way to follow and develop this spirit (as opposed to limit or extinguish it in the name of the status quo). I am not excited about building cabins. That is not what I have to offer, though I can help in their building--and I will be glad to. The idea of accomplishing this interests me, but it is not where my spirit leads me. I do not care if no cabin is ever built (which I am afraid is why no cabin is being built). Where, then, does my spirit lead me? Well at the present moment, I want to rediscipline my mind. This may require a cessation of drinking, and reinstituting my quasi-vegan diet (both of which I might discuss in my discourse on the Second Secondary Downfall). But certainly it will require re-reading The Bodhisattva Vow, and Shantideva. It will also surely involve non-Buddhist actions (since, you know, I'm not actually a Buddhist), such as applying myself to the tasks at hand with Rosewater. Doing things I don't want to do, when all I want to do is sit at home reading or playing video games. This being-myself is what I care to do, and the only example worth setting. A subtle leadership: do not do as I do, studying Buddhism; do as I do, making every effort to be yourself as well. Find (as Sir Ken Robinson calls it) your Element. Self-discipline is mine.