Friday, February 12, 2016

RECOVERING

I've been attacked by a bug of some kind--cold or flu--and have spent the past three days trying to fight it off. Towards the afternoon yesterday, I began to feel almost human again; but then it hit me in the evening. This morning, I'm hoping for a better day. It's humbling to be laid up like this, deprived of the body's usual energy and forced to surrender helplessly to the symptoms. A good teaching, though, if I can bring myself to watch it rather than suffer from it... This, along with the lingering cluster headaches and the diagnosis of two cancerous skin blemishes that will require surgery, is yet another reminder of the body's vulnerability. Oh, and I still await the result of a chest CT scan--as a former smoker, I have reason to be concerned.

Monday, February 8, 2016

FLORA

Today would have been my sister's eighty-first birthday. Readers may recall that she died last May, quite suddenly, just a couple of weeks after she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. I celebrate her life today, and the love for each other that it took so long to find... I have a few thoughts and memories of her today.


GINGER

She stands
at the kitchen counter,
calm, slightly stooped
by her eighty years of life,
intent on the task
at hand, chopping ginger
into tiny fragments
for the porridge.

"Oh, good morning,"
she says, brightly,
with that sweet, sharp
edge of politeness
that we learned as children
in the rectory. "I think,"
she says, "it's going
to be a lovely day."


HER POTS

Delicate
at the rim, and sturdy
at the base, they
run with color. White
is the foundation;
then come
the glazes, sparkling,
in lava flows,
pooling in places,
finding their path.


WHITE LIONS

I have the feeling
that her spirit fled
on her death, to join
the white lions
in Africa, that she
loved--a dying
species, graceful,
pure, their own
wild spirit tamed
by a kind of inner
discipline, a confidence
that power is there
when needed.
I see her roaming
the plains with them,
joyfully, at peace.


GOGGY

She kept a room
for her grandson
in her house.
He called her Goggy
from his youngest
days. I know
that she adored
the child in him;
later, the growing
man he'd come
to be, not quite,
before she died.
She gave him
more generously
of herself than
any other living
being, opening
her heart in ways
she could find
hard with others,
holding, always,
some part back;
call it "reserve,"
a place she kept
with determination
for herself.



Friday, February 5, 2016

PIQUE

So here's the situation. We reserve a table online at one of those too-expensive restaurants for a "nice dinner" with friends. Our reservation is for 6:15. We arrive on time and surrender the car keys to the valet. At the reception desk, we announce our arrival to an overly svelte young woman--see, I'm already making judgments!--who tells us that we can't be seated until our friends arrive. "You're at table 6," she tells us. I ask, calmly enough, I think, if we might take our seats, given that our table is already assigned. Also, at this early hour, the restaurant is far from crowded. She tells me, no, no one is seated until the "party" is complete.

Which sends me into a fit of minor pique at the absurdity of making us stand around , cluttering up he reception area as we await the arrival of our friends, when the table is sitting there empty, along with rows of other empty tables. There comes a point where "policy" is pointless. And it seems to me that people who are about to pony up an absurd amount of money for their dinner deserve a certain amount of simple consideration and respect.

So I fume. Ellie chides me for my un-Buddhist behavior. Which has the opposite of her intended effect. More anger. Some part of me is Buddhist enough to watch the anger happening--but seemingly not enough to prevent either its arrival or its persistence. And Buddhist enough to recognize the ego stepping up with its demand for recognition.

It's a petty thing, of course, but it's precisely the pettiest of things that get to me.  Our friends arrive, we do get seated--and at a pleasant table, somewhat removed from the familiar racket of a big city restaurant. We're even able to enjoy a conversation! The anger passes rapidly and we enjoy our meal.

What's to learn from this? Than Geoff has told us often that a Buddhist does not have to submit to being a doormat, and there was something of the doormat in this experience. Still, the anger hurt no one but myself--though only momentarily. No matter that I think it "justified" by the circumstance, it got me nowhere. Lesson one: I can expect this kind of thing if I go to "trendy" restaurants, where patrons are expected to conform to the norm and fit in with the herd. Lesson two: equanimity serves me better than surrender to the instinctive reaction.  Lesson three: go back, in meditation, to give serious thought to my old reactive pattern of impatience. And lesson four: when eating out, avoid the extravagant and the pretentious at all costs!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

AMAZING...

... I take a quick look at The Buddha Diaries, and realize I have entered nothing for two weeks. My last entry followed the second session of the meditation group that I've started in our Franklin Hills area of Los Angeles; and the third of the bi-weekly sessions was last night. We had a smaller crowd this time, but enjoyed an excellent sit--extending our time to about 40 minutes. Even beginners were surprised at how fast the time went. Next session, in two weeks' time.

It has been a quiet two weeks. Ten days of that time was spent in Laguna Beach. Rather than spending long weekends at the cottage, as we did for many years, we now tend to stay there for two weekends and the week in beween. This gives us a longer time span in each place, more time to settle in and adjust to the different pace of life in the city, life at the beach.  Last week, in Laguna, I managed to finish the first draft of the big writing project I've been working on for the past several months; this week, I'm doing what I hope will be the final edits.

Then time opens up ahead of me for a while, without any specific project to be working on. I have the children's book--have I mentioned this along the way?--now ready, with wonderful, whimsical illustrations by my friend Stuart Rapeport. And a book of "Skinny Poems" with which regular readers of The Buddha Diaries will be familiar--published piecemeal on this blog, most of them within the past year. I need to pay attention to both these books--either find a publisher (we know how hard that is!), or publish them myself (and we know how easy that is.) The problem with the latter solution, always, is distribution.

And then there's The Buddha Diaries. Do I take my neglect as a sign that this blog has run its course? Even this morning, the level of motivation was remarkably low. I must perhaps begin to look inside with more attention than I have been doing, and spend some time finding out what's going on there. The busy mind is always ready with excuses. Now, with less busy-ness ahead, the excuses look thin...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

MEDITATION

Our neighborhood sitting group met yesterday evening for the second time. Including Ellie and myself, there were sixteen of us gathered in our living-dining room and, to me at least, it felt like we had the whole hill breathing in meditation. A great, palpable energy...

By consensus we agreed that guidance would be useful. A number of our group have some experience, a few dating back several years. A few are daily--or near-daily--meditators. And a few more are beginners. A good mix, then.

I had put out word in advance of my intention to ring the gong promptly at 6:30, and was happy that most managed to arrive a few minutes before and get settled for the 6:30 start. Inevitably, given that this is Los Angeles where traffic is unpredictable at best (and where many have work schedules), there were a few late-comers; and they came in quietly, as forewarned, and managed to find the seats and sitting spaces we had left out for them without any great disturbance. 

I was glad to be able to have a prompt start, then, and we all agreed that this was a good precedent for future sits. Guiding the meditation, I started out with a reminder about the disturbances--the external sounds, the physical discomfort, the puppy-dog mind--and how to deal with them by simply bringing the attention back to the breath. Then I led the group into a half-hour breath meditation/body scan, allowing increasing gaps of silence and leaving them, after a twenty-minute introduction, to complete the process on their own.

Our first session, two weeks ago, had been a brief, 20-minute introduction to the process, so now the half-hour proved to be a good step forward, and we agreed that were ready, in our next session two weeks from now, to extend the time to 40 minutes.

For me, as I think it was for everyone, this was a profoundly pleasurable sit.  The space in our home is warm and welcoming. With all the art on the wall and our long-time collection of ceramic vessels, the space has a serenity all its own. We are surrounded by the creative passion of so many people, and you can somehow feel that energy when you sit quietly and absorb it.  

And then... the fourth wall of our living area consists entirely of sliding glass doors, which open out onto the vista of the city and the Pacific Ocean beyond. It's my belief that our meditation both absorbs that vast extension, and breathes whatever inner peace we generate out into the wide world.

That's my fancy, anyway. I'm so pleased to have been able to get this started, and look forward immensely to consolidating the potential of this wonderful group of like-minded neighbors. Much, much more to come...