December 22, 2006

Dazed & Confused

I’m so confused. Things have been falling apart at work all week and I’m been racking my brain for some way to figure things out. I ask myself “What would the Buddha do?” but that doesn’t really help me because the Buddha wouldn’t have ended up in this situation in the first place and I don’t know what he’d do anyway. I try to apply the teachings I’ve learned about ego and attachment and deep listening. When I’m starting to get too upset I remind myself nirvana is now and it really can’t be all that bad. I’m just too attached. I sit and I breath and I simmer. I haven’t been this stirred up in a long, long time and I need to find my calm. Before being Buddhist I would have retreated, escaped, ignored the problem until it went away. First of all, I’m pretty sure that won’t work, and second, that doesn’t seem in keeping with the dharma.

My boss got a new job, a great job, and we were all simultaneously happy for her and panicking for ourselves. She wanted to stay on in some capacity on our project, but her last day came without an answer from her own boss and there was a time of limbo. We didn’t know if she’d ever be back, but we all hoped.

In the meantime, her boss starts chatting me up. My boss had spoken very highly of me to her and now she wants to know “Where do I want to take the project?” No amount of caveats about my own lack of knowledge or experience and no references to my boss, who designed the project, could put her off. Truth be told, I always have my own opinions and rarely see any harm in voicing them. I’m prepared to be wrong. Unfortunately, I didn’t count on others being prepared to know I am frequently wrong.

So, I tell her where I want to take the project. Off the cuff and with no real forethought or preparation or research. There really was only one answer given my limited and single-sided experience and education, but she loved it. We were right in sync, which was a little disconcerting, but it is always nice to be appreciated.

Time passes. My boss is still out there in limbo, in touch, but out of the day to day operations and maybe never coming back. The semester comes to an ear-shattering, unsatisfactory close. I go on vacation for a week. The last day of work before I leave, my boss’s boss wanted to have another discussion. “How do I see the project being run?” I am assuming this is in the absence or only minimal involvement of my former boss. I know no one could replace her depth of knowledge and experience. So I propose two graduate assistants to co-lead the project, each with a certain area of expertise and each with overlapping responsibilities to make up for the fact that neither would be available full time. Good, wonderful, she nods and nods.

The first day back at work, I’m late. I mistimed the bus schedules. I’m flustered and still suffering from a little surreal culture-shock between my vacation spot and my ‘real world.’ Immediately I have a meeting with my boss, who’s somehow back on board, though the details are still fuzzy, and my team. She “puts her foot down.”

I’m trying to change her project, take it in a direction it should NOT go, morph it into something totally different – which I honestly never had in mind. I just wanted to expand the follow up on the back end. Though I started in May, through circumstances beyond anyone’s control and with no blame anywhere, I never got a thorough briefing on all the theories, models, and goals behind the design and intent of the project. I finally get that lecture. I am grateful for it, and the knowledge was interesting and important, just what I was trying to learn on my own all this time. But the longer and longer it went on, the more and more I realized I didn’t really know what I was doing. The more incompetent I became. All the stresses and anxieties and competency issues which had run rampant all semester came crashing down and here I was crying all over the middle of our strategy meeting. Which is silly because I was still glad to have it all explained to me and could have listened to my boss talk for another three hours and still been interested.

But now I’m stuck. I’ve laid down this direction in which my boss’s boss wants me to go, and truthfully, I would like to go there myself. But I don’t know how and I know I’m not qualified. In the meantime, if I want to go there, my boss wants to be totally divorced from the project. I don’t see it as a whole separate project, but she does, and I can understand her logic. Which means, if I go with it, I’m off her team and out on my own totally unsupported trying to run a mythical project which will go exactly nowhere without the cooperation of her project feeding into it.

So, I keep working, under her supervision and scared to death that I’ll open my big mouth and chop off the limb I’ve found myself on. But at the same time, I’m hoping she’ll come around. I truly don’t understand why she seem to think this project, my project as it has become, is so dangerous. Why is she so threatened? I could just chalk it up to ego and attachment and all those other pesky human vices, but I really don’t think that is it. Of course, as often happens in any disagreement, I just think if she understood what I was trying to do, she’d see it’s not that big of a deal. It seems to me like a logical extension, one which just hasn’t gotten the attention it needed in the past two years when they were trying to get the initial, more important parts of the project working. So I keep sawing away at the limb, hoping she’ll ‘get it.’ All the time knowing that if one of us doesn’t ‘get it,’ it’s a hundred times more likely to be me. Maybe even if she doesn’t get it she’ll at least come up with a better way to explain it so I get it.

No, I’m not to mention it any more. I just makes her angry and the one thing I can’t stand is for people to be angry with me. She’s the only sounding board I’ve got, so now I’m really stuck. Her boss is no real help, even though she’s the one who got me into this mess, in cahoots with my big mouth. What the hell am I supposed to do? I’m so afraid I’ve destroyed all the good opinions she ever had about me and created all kinds of problems with just two simple little brainstorming conversations I never really thought could do much harm. I honestly, never even thought there’d be another ‘project’ since I’m more used to things not working out more than I am to finding a receptive audience. I dream big and I know it and I’m okay when those dreams stay dreams. Now someone has actually asked me to make one real and I have no idea how to do that and the one person I was counting on to help is mad at me.

Deep breath.

I’m taking council of my fears. Never a wise move. What I have is an opportunity. I can learn and grow. My boss is still there for me, still my friend, but there are limits to every friendship. No one has infinite time and energy to give, including me. We’ve all been stretching ourselves thin lately. I know deep down I’ll be okay. I’ll manage somehow; I always do. I’ve gained greater insights into myself, my relationships with other people, my connections to the world around me. If anything, this is a lesson in emptiness and non-self, those two most difficult of Buddhist concepts. I do not exist independently and cannot act in a vacuum.

I just have to be brave enough to grab these opportunities with both hands and I can’t do that when I am clinging to someone else with one of them.

December 21, 2006

Refuge - As It Happened

The week after Thanksgiving a Tibetan teacher, Khen Rimpoche, was in Lincoln and I was able to take official vows of refuge. Carla called to give me the address at which he was staying, a furnished apartment normally let to business travelers just across from the clubhouse where the sangha meets. I was to come on Wednesday evening after dinner to take refuge. I was early, as usual, and waited in my car ten minutes because I did not want to be rude and interrupt. I found the apartment and went in through the patio door, as Carla had instructed.

Sure enough, sitting in an overstuffed chair in the living room was a Tibetan monk, complete with dark red robes, yellow sash, and mala. I had never met a Rimpoche before, or any monk or nun in any religious tradition for that mater. He smiled and bid me with a gesture to take my shoes and coat to the entrance. Two other members of my sangha were already waiting on the couch.

When I returned, he held out his hand and I gave him mine, which he clasped between the two of his. I was not sure what the etiquette was for greeting him, so I smiled and said hello and sat in the other chair. He asked my name and what it meant. Monica, I told him, meaning ‘patience’, derived from a French name. Soon Carla arrived and we took seats on the four cushions on the floor in front of his chair. He stood and rearranged his robe, and then hunted for another pillow for his chair before folding himself into it cross-legged. He seemed as unused to a chair as we were to the floor. There was a little box set up like a tiny alter on the end table next to his chair with a little doll-like Buddha made of cloth and an offering of fruit and water.

Then began the talk, and I strained to understand through his accent, though his English was good. After a few minutes, I was listening better. At first his talk seemed to ramble, covering topics I had not heard about before in relation to refuge. He spoke of the Buddha and his four qualities, the Dharma, our two opportunities (internal and external and their various types), the Sangha, the four benefits of taking refuge, and many other things which I have already forgotten. I should see if I can look it up on the internet so I can commit it to memory because it is important.

Then he led us through our vows, first explaining them in English, then showing us how to bow three times to the Buddha and three times to him as the teacher, hands held together at head, mouth, and heart before kneeling. He gave me and Donna Tibetan names. Me he called Tsetan Dolkar and spelled it so I would not forget. Then he slowly spoke, with us faltering in our repetition, through the Tibetan words syllable by syllable of our vows of refuge, repeated three times.

When this was done, he returned again to the topics he had covered earlier and I shifted nervously. There was a pregnant pause when he waited for us to fill in the four qualities of the Buddha. I wished he had told us there would be a test! I was concentrating to make out the words through his accent, and I hadn’t tried to commit the content to memory. Between the four of us, we managed to do alright.

By the time the ‘official’ stuff was finished, I was very cold from sitting right next to the patio door, and very stiff and pained from trying to sit up straight on a cushion on the floor. But I was happy. Rimpoche gave each of us a white ‘kata’ scarf and a little red string blessed by the Dalai Lama, which he tied around our necks. He also gave us a picture of himself with the Dalai Lama. I understand having photos of one’s teacher for one’s shrine is important in Tibetan Buddhism, even though it seems odd to me as a Westerner. Dean, from the sangha had brought his camera and set it up to take a photograph. We rearranged some furniture and the girls squeezed onto the couch with Rimpoche. Dean pushed the delay button and sat on the floor before us. I hope the picture turned out okay, though I’ve not seen it yet.

We fetched out coats and hats and prepared to leave. I stopped to ask Rimpoche what Tsetan Dolkar meant. Tsetan means ‘long lived’ and it sounds like a fairly standard name. I had heard it mentioned as part of Rimpoche’s full name. He gave it to Donna as well and Carla already had Tsetan included in her Tibetan name. Dolkar meant ‘white Tara,’ Tara being the chief (and only, I think) female bodhisattva, or deity/saint, in the Tibetan cannon. He said she stood for liberation. We made our farewells and stopped briefly outside to confirm that we would see each other at the public lecture on Friday.

I was, and am, happy and grateful to have received such teaching and I only wish I could remember it all.

December 12, 2006


What happens when there are no answers? When there are no precedents, no scripts, no etiquette? It is like hitting a wall. A big white wall, with no doors, windows, or signs. My mind draws a total blank. The monkey is finally quiet, struck dumb and sitting in a corner.

This is what happens when one introverted intellectual encounters another introverted intellectual. I always felt I should end up with an extrovert, because I need to be drawn out. I can’t carry the bulk of a conversation, or take the initiative in matters of romance. Trying to do so is unnatural and tiring. So what happens instead? If possible I find myself drawn to the male mirror image of me.

Okay, not exactly, that would be creepy, but close enough. Somehow we manage to talk, cautiously skirting the issues we really want to talk about, and finally managing to get around to what we really want to say one way or another. Plenty of heavy sighs and nervous giggles to go around. And we both seem to be thinking the same things. We are both staring at the same white wall. And we both know it.

When we finally reach frustration, at almost exactly the same time, and take the initiative – great, wonderful, fun, what a relief. And then I run away, because that’s what I’m good at. It didn’t feel like running away. It felt right and good. I know danger when I see it and I also know when to stop.

But now I’m left staring at this same white wall and wondering if I’ll be able to keep the stupid grin off my face at dinner tonight in the very public dining hall.

December 10, 2006

The Moment

It has been a good day, a day just for today, not yesterday and not tomorrow, a rare day. I read. I painted. I hiked. I enjoyed every moment. And yes, the sky seemed brighter and the air fresher. I returned to the dining hall after my hike and fetched my latest issue of Tricycle and opened it to page 33, “What’s So Great About Now?” by Cynthia Thatcher.

“It’s true that strong concentration can seem to intensify colors, sounds, and so forth. But concentration alone doesn’t lead to insight or awakening. To say that mindfulness makes the winter sky more sublime, or the act of doing the dished an exercise in wonder, chafes at the First Noble Truth.

“This myth points to a misunderstanding of the role of mindfulness. Mindfulness, accompanied by clear comprehension, differs from ordinary awareness. Rather than seeing the conventional features of object more clearly, mindfulness goes beyond them to perceive something quite specific – the ultimate characteristic common to all formations, good or bad. There are only three of these: impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and non-selfness. (Note that beauty isn’t among them.) Mindfully noting mental and physical phenomena, we learn that they arise only to pass away. In the deepest sense, we cannot manipulate or actually own them. These traits are unwelcome – unsatisfactory. So the more mindfulness one has, the clearer dukkha becomes.” –Cynthia writes.

So you mean the more I pay attention the more suffering I see? The more I witness the First Noble Truth which states life is suffering? Well, thanks for bursting my bubble, lady. And here I was quite happy being mindful of my sublime winter sky.

But wait, just a sec! So the first hallmark of existence is impermanence, and because things are impermanent we find them unsatisfactory, forgetting all about the third hallmark, non-self, for a moment. What if we see the impermanence but we don’t mind? What if the impermanence doesn’t equate with dissatisfaction? Perhaps a thing could even be satisfactory because of its transience? I have questions and concerns about the author’s interpretation, but as I read further I understand the point and I feel less and less petulant.

“So, rather than frantically looking for loopholes in the teachings, isn’t it wiser to accept that mindfulness won’t make the plum any sweeter or the kettle any brighter? But here’s the hopeful part – the more we practice mindfulness, the less we’ll care about sweetness or brightness…This is not numb indifference but true liberation. We’ll have learned the great secret that nonattachment is a lightness and freedom complete in itself, separate from the impressions pouring in through the sense-doors.

“…Then let us be mindful, not to imbue the pan of suds with a fabricated beauty, but for the reason the Buddha intended: to see the distress of clinging until we behold the plum – nibbana. [nirvana]” –She concludes.

I see the wisdom of this as a path to nirvana, but it makes me wonder what her understanding of the nature of nirvana is. I have always taken a delight in understanding that nirvana is now. All that separates us from it is an ability to see it clearly, without grasping, aversion, or delusion – all of which mindfulness is to help eradicate. Nirvana does not suffer from the three hallmarks of existence, it is permanent, satisfactory, and, well, whatever the antonym of non-self is (the most difficult concept to understand) though I know it’s not self. Very strange, that.

To be able to find nirvana in every moment if through mindfulness we see only dukkha, suffering, in every moment seems counter-intuitive.

December 09, 2006

Going Home by Leaving Home

I have arrived. Things are different and things are very much the same. Like returning to your parent’s home after your Mom has rearranged the furniture. It is still home. There is snow on the ground here, though the sun is shining brightly and melting it. The feeling of belonging is uncanny. Every step of the way, the little Amtrak station in Lincoln, big Union Station in Denver, the little coffee shop with the Buddha in the window where I like to have breakfast, the bus to DIA, the shuttle to Fort Collins, and down the twisting dirt road to the front gate, the feeling of coming home grew stronger. Shambhala, I’m back.

The trip was probably as good as it has ever been. I took Marilyn’s advice and swallowed half a Dramamine before boarding the train and slept better than ever before. I still woke several times as I got stiff crunched down across two seats and body parts fell asleep, but I was able to role over and drop right back off. I am not so tired today, though I can feel the lack of oxygen dragging on me a bit.

It is the middle of the afternoon, and quiet here as everyone goes about their tasks. Already I have seen a few familiar faces and exchanged a few hugs and hellos. The lodge feels mostly empty. Next week winter dathün, a month long meditation retreat, will be starting and this place will fill up. I have not participated in a dathün, and though I have been advised it is a wonderful thing, I still regard the entire concept with a wary skepticism. At least as far as the possibility of my participation in one exists, though I can see how others may enjoy it, I think it will be a long time before I join in the doing of nothing on such a large scale.

Even the smell of this place is familiar. The smell of the outdoors, of the lodge, the dining hall, the registration building. It is said that smell is the sense most strongly linked to memory. Which I find odd considering humans have such comparatively poor noses.

I wonder that it shouldn’t tell me something that this place seems so comforting while the places I am every day, school and work, can seem so awkward at times.

December 07, 2006

Coming Out Buddhist

The day before Thanksgiving, I “came out” to my parents as a Buddhist and a vegetarian. I had been dropping plenty of hints – the books I carry around with me and casually leave sitting on the end table, the two Buddhist magazines I still have sent to my parents house left over from the summer I lived with them two years ago, the mala I wear every day, my choice of vacation destination, not to mention numerous Buddhist references in our conversations over the past three years. I think they had their heads in the sand.

I told them I was Buddhist and that a senior Buddhist teacher was coming into town and I was going to take official vows. I told them I abide by the five precepts and that includes not killing or harming of humans and animals, therefore, I’m vegetarian. I also told them I don’t expect anyone to go out of their way because I’m vegetarian and we don’t have to tell Grandma Del. After listening with that blank look on her face, my mother promptly changed the subject. The only response was an agreement not to tell Grandma an brief “You better not expect me to cook vegetarian because I don’t know how.” Which is really just silly, because she hardly cooks anyway and it’s not that different from any other cooking.

My Dad is coming around. He asked a few questions the next day and teased me a bit. He wanted to know if that meant I was celibate. I told him no such luck since I’m not a nun, just a lay Buddhist. I have a feeling this is going to be another one of those topics of non-discussion with my mother. I can live with that. I suppose they see it as just one more odd thing to add to the list of their odd daughter. They didn't try to talk me out of it, but then I think Dad never felt inclined to talk me out of anything and Mom gave up a long time ago.

Inside, I'm still the dissapointed little girl who wants her Mom to take an interest, but mostly I'm happy that they are accepting of me for who I am.

November 28, 2006

Wrong Bus

The other day, I got on the wrong bus. I know very well every bus in Lincoln does a loop around the downtown and past the state capitol, except for two, Number 1 and Number 24. All other busses make this loop, so I felt comfortable hopping on the Number 11 as I passed the bus stop, to let it take me the few blocks to home. Instead, it immediately turned onto the interstate and started heading in the exact opposite direction. “Oh well,” I shrugged, they all make a circle eventually.

I often wonder if I am riding the wrong bus. What Buddhism teaches often seems at odds with my goals. I spend my time working towards the future, always the future, always planning and scheming and hoping things will be better. I am certainly not in the present moment. Buddhism teaches that nirvana is now and that right now we truly have everything we need to be happy. I believe that, but sometimes it seems that if I were truly happy I would not be seeking change so ardently.

I think perhaps I am overcomplicating things. (A talent of mine.) Being happy with the present moment doesn’t mean I should do nothing. Pursuing my goals is part of my present moment. Surely I can do both, but the balance is precarious. It is not always easy to check my daydreams in favor of my real moments and sometimes I am so lost in now, usually when now is unpleasant and dispiriting, that I loose sight of the larger picture.

I have two choices in front of me and both seem to lead to the same future. I can stay with my job at the University and become a graduate assistant next summer, working on the same program all summer, transitioning into a leadership role, and taking the project in the direction I think it should go. The financial benefits are considerable and there is a high degree of certainty. Alternatively, I can leave this job in order to work on a project with Shambhala Mountain Center which will become my thesis (terminal project) and allow me to do exactly the in-depth research I really want to. The financial benefits are practically non-existent and the level of uncertainty is high.

Before the Shambhala design project, I would have felt that option number one was exactly what I wanted. Now, opportunities have presented themselves to bring together all the aspects of my education I felt were irreconcilable. I can fold Buddhism into my architecture and practice planning with social theory. I can explore everything I’ve wanted to. At least, I think I can.

The other day, I sat on the bus as it went its merry way wondering to myself if it really was going to end up where I thought it was. It was late, and there was a chance this was the last bus and it was heading back to the barn. Then I would have to call a cab to take me home, and that would cost money. No matter what choice I make, there is a chance it will take me places I didn’t plan on going and that it will cost more than I ever reckoned it would.

The other day, I sat on the bus and surely enough it took me exactly where I needed to be, even if the ride was long and traveled through unfamiliar territory.

November 20, 2006

Surreal Life

For a brief moment, everything around you which was previously familiar and comfortable seems new and unknown. It’s like flipping into the middle of a television show which you’ve never seen before. Or walking into someone else’s home for the first time. Except this is your home. It is a rare moment of clarity and curiosity when you see things without the baggage behind them. You see the furniture and the art without knowing where it came from, the colors without knowing why they were chosen, and the books on the shelves without knowing the reviews. And then the feeling is gone.

Yesterday, I went to see a movie sponsored by Nebraska Emerging Green Builders and the Flatwater Chapter U.S. Green Building Council. It was called “The End of Suburbia,” a documentary commentary on the error of American suburban lifestyle in the face of dwindling energy supplies. Without a doubt, it is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. Even if overly pessimistic, which I am not too sure it is, it paints a bleak picture. It makes me realize how artificial our lifestyle, my lifestyle, really is.

artificial – false – fake – mock – reproduction – non-natural – synthetic – simulated – imitation – man-made – pretend – insincere – contrived – feigned – hollow – surreal

The buildings in which we live are built in layers. The solid brick wall isn’t solid at all. It’s brick veneer with an air space behind it, flashing, concrete block, studs, insulation, drywall, and paint. That wall doesn’t even support the structure, which is depending on an invisible steel frame to hold up the floors and the roof. We never see the things which really make our buildings work, the structure, the ducts, the pipes. We cover them up and hide them.

In our homes we surround ourselves with things to keep us busy, so we can sit on our couches. I have a television, but just in case nothing good is showing, I have a VCR and a DVD player. I have a stereo so I can listen to the radio and a CD player when the music I want to listen to isn’t on the air. I have a computer with more music, dozens of different programs, and internet access. One of the most used functions of this powerful machine is solitaire. I have shelves full of books, novels, architecture, philosophy, mythology, history, city planning, interior design, cookbooks, and home reference. Some of them I haven’t even read, but I’m always looking for more when I’m at the book store. I have a telephone so I can call someone to chat if I’m bored.

There are so many options, so many choices, so many things. Human beings have built all of them. Beyond the objects are the games we play in our minds. Everything is so simple, but we insist on making it complex, only to help us realize it really is just that simple. Even the most complicated philosophy or religion can be summed up in a few sentences. Ironically, those sentences all tend to say the same things. Yet, thousands of years of discussion and writings have been done over and over again to help us ‘get it.’

Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily life is but a dream.

Life is but a dream.

November 14, 2006


Very early into my study of Buddhism, my friend found a book for me written by a woman named Geri Larkin who was a Zen priest. I enjoyed it. It was funny and thoughtful, but it didn’t really teach me much about the fundamentals of Buddhism. She spoke of mindfulness more than anything else. One of the mindfulness practices she engaged in was driving without the radio, keeping her mind fully engaged with the act of driving. I tried this and for about a year the radio in my car stayed off.

I’m not entirely sure if I was any more mindful in my driving, but when I finally turned the radio back on, I was much more mindful of the music. Since I don’t have the money to purchase CD’s or download music, my car radio is about my only source or new music. I realized how much I had missed this simple source of beauty in my life. I rarely drive my car, but when I do it is often to go to Omaha, about 50 miles away. I don’t mind the long drive hardly at all because I get to look forward to the beauty of the music.

The presence beauty is a strong motivation to be mindful; the trick is to see the beauty in everything.

November 09, 2006

Truth in Advertising

However inadvertently, American Express has just tickled me with one of their latest adds. They’ve been using Ellen Degeneress as their spokesperson and her adds are awfully funny, but the one that really gets me is the meditation one.

Picture Ellen sitting quietly by herself in some exotic location (which is actually a famous house in Hollywood) on a simple black meditation cushion. “Ahhh. Clear the mind. Mind clear………..I still can’t figure out how I got charges twice for those socks. That didn’t make sense. They would have to be pretty good socks to be individually priced. Although, they were argyle.”

And that’s about how it really works. You sit down with the best of intentions and clear your mind, silencing the constant mental monologue (usually by talking yourself into being quiet) and then two seconds later it’s back with nary a struggle. We hardly even notice it’s become so normal.

Someone at the American Express ad agency has obvious had conversations with the cushion.

November 07, 2006

Young Buddhists Unite

I am reading an anthology called “Buddha’s Apprentices.” Apparently, it is the second of its kind, following “Blue Jean Buddha.” It is really good. It is a collection of essays by young Buddhists, teenagers, twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, and masters reflecting on their own youth. It includes writings from first and second generation Asian immigrants to America, children of western Buddhist parents, children of traditional Christian parents, minority American Buddhists, etc. It is really diverse but the one thing that seems universal in almost all the articles is the emphasis on human relationships – whether it is by the kid who started an online teenage Sangha or the woman who wanted to ordain as a Zen priest and have a baby at the same time or the immigrant Vietnamese monk who works with inner city youth. I highly recommend it to all Buddhists, old and young alike.
The similarities I find between myself and the authors are almost as important as the differences.

October 31, 2006

My Antarctica

On Saturday evening I went to The Hinsdale, one of two annual parties held at Architecture Hall, this one in honor of the “largest urinals west of the Mississippi” – the Hinsdale in the men’s restroom. Thought I’ve spent the better part of two and a half years in Arch Hall now, I’ve never attended one of the parties. Saturday was part of my ongoing campaign to be more social, to fit in. However, it now leaves me questioning the wisdom of that campaign.
I did not enjoy myself at the Hinsdale, though I tried. I arrived early, the traditional curse of the socially awkward. I was in costume, a generic ‘warrior woman,’ though not recognizable as any particular character. I smiled, I made eye contact, I said hello, and I spent the entire evening mentally begging someone to notice and talk to me. The one person who did was one of the girls from a year below me who at the time I did not recognize. She is one of those boisterous persons who tend to make me uncomfortable by their very act of never seeming uncomfortable themselves. Despite that, I was and still am grateful to her attention, fleeting though it was in the chaotic jumble of the party.
The capstone of the evening, when I finally decided this was not where I belonged, even after the fun of the toilet paper forest and the costume contest, was the young man passed out in the back hall on a vomit covered floor. I knew him, though he was not in my year. The professor with the duty of baby sitter had just come around the corner with a very concerned look, heading the opposite way, so I knew he was aware of the young man. The girls he had come with showed up very quickly with the returning professor, paper towels, and water and they took good care of him. I hurried on by, up to my studio to get my coat, feeling scared for him and upset for myself. I stopped on the way back to make sure they could get him home, but only lingered a few moments. I was glad to be gone from there, out in the fresh cold air where I could breath again (despite my tightly laced bustier) where it was blessedly quiet.
I think part of understanding my ongoing quest to be social must also be not only understand, but to accept myself. I need to be social on my own terms and in situations I find comfortable. When I am uncomfortable, nothing good will come of it no matter how many people I surround myself with. I must have compassion for myself in this and understand that I am not like other people and that is okay.
I have spent many years of my life ‘pretending’ to be something I was not: outgoing, caring, and positive. I have pretended so well that I have become outgoing, caring, and positive despite starting out reclusive, apathetic, and cynical. A person raised in Florida can eventually become used to Alaska, to such a degree that they don’t even notice the change.
I have found my own personal Antarctica, and no amount of acclimatization is going to help be comfortable there.

October 26, 2006


Is the bardo weird? Someone made a comment to me yesterday about chapter 2 of Gehlek Rinpoche’s book in which he discusses the processes of death and the bardo state between life and death. “Isn’t that weird?”

Is it? I had never particularly thought so. I guess I’m so divorced from my own cultural heritage of religious traditions (Christian, United Methodist) that I don’t have anything “normal” for comparison. After all, when you think about it, isn’t the idea of Saint Peter meeting you at the pearly gates a little weird? I understand this is a misrepresentation of actual Christian dogma, but I think the metaphor works. I just consider them as differing mythological systems associated with different religions. I realize I’ve fallen into the habit of separating the mythology of a religion from the message. But if I do that, does the message still apply?

In my Intro to Philosophy class we studied the various philosophical basis for morality. A traditional view (Thomas Aquinas) is that morality stems from God. Morality is whatever God says it is. The rebuttal of this is what I call the “God as a bully” argument. I’m not going to go into the entire debate here, but it is similar to the debate of an objective morality which I’ve talked about in prior posts. Does God (like us) discover morality or create it? If he (or she) simply discovers morality, that means morality independently preexists God.

So is there a contradiction if I accept the message of Buddhism as practiced by Tibetans but not the mythology? I don’t reject the mythology outright, mind you. I’m just giving it the benefit of the doubt and withholding judgment at this point.

I met a man at the mountain center summer before last who seemed to think so, Mark. I had expressed my reservations at the concept of reincarnation, but said that I felt the system of Buddhism worked regardless of the existence of any higher power or spiritual existence. Mark felt very adamantly that they entire authority and legitimacy of Tibetan Buddhism was drawn from it’s dogma. The entire system of teachings would break down if that dogma proved untrue. As the time I wondered why someone would follow a tradition they felt would fall apart if one aspect, reincarnation, was disproved.

But how can love and kindness cease to be relevant just because we can somehow prove the Dalai Lama really is just a normal everyday Joe and not in fact the 14th manifestation of the aspect of Avolokitesvara, the Bohdisatva of Compassion?

October 23, 2006


Sometime I see things so clearly. At least, I think I do. They seem simple and straightforward and easy to me. When other people see obscurity where I have clarity it makes me wonder if my understanding of that thing is somehow naïve; that it is possible I have simply skimmed the surface of what is in fact profound and complicated.

Kindness seems an obvious wisdom to me. I am kind to others in order that they might be kind to each other and to me in turn. Even if I cannot see the path that kindness will take to return to me, I see a clear and easy relation between my actions and those of others. And the more kindness I show others, the more altruism I build. Kindness becomes more and more an integral part of my nature and the selfish desire to receive kind treatment in turn becomes less and less important. That, ironically, makes me feel better about myself, even when people are unkind to me. I see great benefit to maintaining kindness and compassion even for the most difficult people, those greater society might think I had good reason to hate.

Then someone questioned compassion. “Where does it come from?”

This simple question made me in turn question my understanding of compassion, of loving kindness, and empathy. Do I cling to an over simplistic goody-goody conviction out of a need to feel good about myself?

No. We must first have compassion for ourselves. We must be kind to ourselves. That is the root of our kindness and compassion for others. Those who do not have this kindness towards themselves cannot be kind to others. Those who believe they have no reason to be kind to others truly have no reason to be kind to themselves either. Those who can be kind to themselves create the ability to be kind to those similar to themselves and from that grows a kindness to all beings as they come to realize all being are essentially like themselves. All beings want happiness. All beings want to be free from suffering. That includes me.

Perhaps I am naïve in other things, but kindness I think I understand well.

October 19, 2006

Inherent Existence

INHERENT: involved in the constitution or essential character of something : belonging by nature or habit : Synonyms: intrinsic, innate, inbuilt, natural, inborn

EXISTENCE: 1a obsolete: reality as opposed to appearance, 1b: reality as presented in experience, 1c: the totality of existent things, 2: a particular being 2d : sentient or living being : LIFE, 2a : the state or fact of having being especially independently of human consciousness and as contrasted with nonexistence, 2b: the manner of being that is common to every mode of being, 2c: being with respect to a limiting condition or under a particular aspect, 3: actual or present occurrence Synonyms: survival, continuation, life, subsistence, being, reality, way of life

Buddhists have this concept of emptiness. The way I understand it is through a simple phrase: all things are empty of inherent existence. Or, nothing exists in and of itself. Nothing comes from nothing. Everything comes from somewhere and is dependent on causes and conditions for both its existence and our perception of its existence. Because nothing exists in and of itself, one could say that nothing really exists at all, therefore it is empty. Everything is empty. Sounds rather nihilistic, but I think that is an overly simplistic understanding.

It’s a very obscure concept (and yet very simple as most Buddhist concepts are) and I must admit I have only the lightest intellectual understanding of it. What got me thinking of it today was Professor Potter in my Philosophy of Law class. Apparently there are two different schools of thought in legal philosophy: positivists who believe law is grounded in moral principles, and realists who believe there is no such abstract thing as law, it is simply the opinions of judges (and other ‘lawmakers’).

This goes back to a conception of moral theory. Does an objective and independent morality exist? Or is morality simply a fabrication of human culture and subject to the whims of society? Do we discover morality or do we create it? Does morality have inherent existence?

Until today, I probably would have said yes, morality exists as an absolute whether we understand it or not. Then Professor Potter used the words ‘inherent existence’ which brought me back into my Buddhist teachings where those words are used commonly when discussing emptiness. Previously, when saying that things are empty, I was thinking of things, objects, physical structures, both living and inanimate. What about concepts? What about things which are not things?

If nothing inherently exists, does objective morality exist? Or justice? Or love?

Buddhists certainly think love exists. Loving compassion is a central teaching and the foundation upon which we as human beings have the ability to build a good world. So love exists, but does it inherently exist? Is it still empty? Is love merely a human construct? It doesn’t particularly bother me if it is. But what about morality? The idea that morality is a completely human construct is a little more worrying.

Thankfully, Buddhism also teaches about ultimate and relative reality. Most people do not have a conceptualization of ultimate reality because most of us aren’t Buddhas. So far we’ve had one enlightened Buddha in the past two and a half thousand years, so I’d say having an understanding of ultimate reality is fairly rare. Thus, I don’t feel to bad for my lack of understanding. Most Buddhist teachings are, by necessity, couched in relative reality. (Doesn’t that sound funny: “relative reality?”)

From the standpoint of relative reality, I think I can safely conclude (for now, and not without reservations) an objective morality exists, even if it is ‘empty.’

October 15, 2006


I am coming to understand Refuge. When we take refuge as Buddhists, we take refuge in the Buddha as the teacher, the Dharma as the teachings, and the Sangha as the community of practitioners. I had only the Dharma in the form of books, magazines, and the what is available on the internet, which is really quite a lot.

In these books, the importance of finding a teacher is emphasized. At first I felt I was perfectly capable of learning on my own, as has been my way for a very long time. However, the more I learned the more adrift I felt. It was not so much that I did not understand the teachings, for intellectually I think I understand them rather well, but that I had no one to share them with, no sounding board, and no one to point me in the right direction. Part of that need I tried to meet by placing my thoughts on the internet, for others to see, hoping that if I blundered too deeply someone would notice and pull me back.

I found I needed a teacher in many more ways than one. I needed not only a Buddhist teacher, but teachers in the other subjects I studied. I wanted someone to encourage and value me and be a true mentor, not just a professor I had for this class or that.

I found this is abundance. I found a friend at Shambhala Mountain Center who I can ask questions of and who I can see as a living example of the practice, but we also share other critical interests and values which make our interaction much more multi-dimensional - Dickie. Here at school I have finally found a faculty member I can respect as an individual and who pushes me to grow - Brito. I have a boss now who is more of a mentor in my academic career than I have ever had and who can guide me as a young woman as well - Sandi. In these three remarkable people, I have found good teachers all.

In Shambhala Mountain Center I have found a sangha, of a type, but they are very far from here. Last week I went to my very first meeting of the Jewel Heart Lincoln Group, Buddhist practitioners following the Tibetan teacher Gehlek Rinpoche. I was anxious about going. I had known of the group since before moving to Lincoln, but had consistently procrastinated attending. Now, I am so glad that I went. Even more interesting is who I found there, another professor from my college, Duncan. I have not had any classes with him, but I walk by his office every time I am in Arch Hall. He seemed interested to see me there as well and told me to stop in to chat any time. Over the next several weeks we will be studying Gehlek Rinpoche’s book “Good Life, Good Death.”

A year ago I cemented my aspiration to take Refuge, without really having anything to take Refuge in. Since them, those things which are central to the vow of Refuge have come into my life. Now I am making arrangements to make that vow official and hopefully by this time next year, I will look back on my Refuge ceremony with satisfaction.

Before I was only taking Refuge in myself – that I had the inherent wit and wisdom to find my own path and that even if I stumbled I would eventually figure it out. That was not truly Refuge. Now I take Refuge as it was meant – in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

I didn’t know what I was missing until I found it.

October 10, 2006

Trip One, Day One

I had never gone to a Buddhist center before. I had never spent time in the Colorado mountains. I had never ridden on a train before. In early August, 2004, I did all of that and found myself at Shambhala Mountain Center as a participant in the Shambhala Training Level 1: The Art of Being Human workshop.

The bus which took me from Denver to Fort Collins traveled on the flat plain of eastern Colorado, with the mountains just visible in the western distance. The interstate we traveled looked much like Nebraska and the development bordering it was much the same. The bus driver who dropped me at the Hilton hotel in Fort Collins took one look at my backpack and rolled sleeping bag.

“Going to Shambhala, huh? I can always tell.”

I waited at the hotel with another lady bound in the same direction. She had come all the way from New Mexico. After a bit, a girl about my age wearing a yellow name badge around her neck found us chatting in the lobby. She was our transportation, with her beat up little hatchback, to the mountain center. She said she had lucked out by agreeing to come in and pick us up, she was able to make a town trip and get reimbursed for the gas. She was working up at the center for the summer. After that she didn’t know where she’d go.

We traveled on roads which became more and more twisting and climbed almost 3,000 feet into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. There where grey cliffs and places where red earth had been thrust up at an angle, all covered with scrub grass and short pine trees. Farther into the mountains the trees got larger, the hills rounded and hugged closer together, and the air dried out. The dirt county road in to the mountain center was even more crooked, but well maintained. It became pitted with pot holes past the front gate, but I half think that is intentional to prevent fast driving.

There was a little guard shed, unmanned, and an old log cabin with an open sided white tent next to it. We registered in the tent and got our white name badges. They had fruit and tea waiting for us. Our guide took us to our tents, or as close as she could get. First we went to Red Feather, where the other lady was staying and where we would eat dinner and participate in the workshop. Then we followed the pitted dirt road along the high ground ringing the valley to the Ratna bathhouse, a large brown wood structure set on stilts on the mountain slope with a porch rapping around three sides.

She couldn’t get there in her car, but if I walked the path leading east from the bathhouse, past all the Ratna tents, I should find my own tent: Vajra number 4. Sure enough, it was there, set a little apart from the other tents, a hundred feet off the path, and down the hill from a large lonely ponderosa pine, which would become my landmark and nighttime friend.

It was a tall green tent, about fourteen feet on a side, set on a green wooden platform with a little awning and a porch painted with V04 in tall white letters. Inside I could stand without hitting my head unless I was right next to a wall. It had windows on three sides and a door on the fourth, facing south back up the hill. There were two beds, two hanging racks, and two shelves all made of raw lumber. The beds each had a six inch foam mattresses on them and nothing else. I chose the one on the east side. Unzipping the back window, I could see across the valley, down to the meadow and the shrubs growing along the creek, up the other side the a cluster of buildings our guide had called ‘Downtown.’

I unpacked most of my things, slung my pack with my copy of Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa in it over my shoulder and headed back the way we had come. The clouds were so big and close overhead, as though I could reach my hand and run my fingers through their soft undersides. I could hear the wind roaring and rushing, but rarely felt it in the protected valley. Otherwise it was quiet and I counted only two birds on the mile or so hike back to Red Feather.

The road to Red Feather gradually sloped up and my footsteps became slower and slower as my heart beat unexpectedly loud. I stopped for a bit, to look back down the valley at a cream colored building with a green metal roof and a two story tower on the southeast corner. I thought it was a nice looking building. When I reached Red Feather, I let myself into the dining hall, a long one story building set along the road with a full length porch facing east. There was a group of young people hanging out on a couple of soft couches. They were staff members and were friendly and happy to let me join them.

In moments a man a few years older than they can and rousted them out and put them back to work. At first, I think he wasn’t sure if I was one of them or not, but then he spotted my white name tag clearly marking me as a guest. I was early. Most of the participants would be arriving in the next few hours, but I was welcome to make myself at home.

I read a little of the book by the person whose name I still could not pronounce and napped on the couch. The train trip to Denver had been overnight and I hadn’t slept very much, being unused to the swaying motion of the tall train cars. People started to wander in. They were young and older, some well dressed, some casual like me, men and womean alike. Some joined me on the couches. The atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly.

Dinner was served at 6:30 p.m. I was hungry and the food was good. They served roasted chicken breast as well as marinated tofu, which much to my surprise I enjoyed. I ate at a table with a group of retired middle school teachers from Denver. After dinner, we made our way down a short path to a very large, very white tent. Following the lead of those in front of us, we removed our shoes and stowed them in the cubbies which walled off the entry. The remainder of the tent was a large open room filled with orderly rows of blue cushions which were quickly filling up.

In the center of the long north wall was an alter of sorts which I had never seen before. There was a large reddish orange box with gold trim of about counter height. It had many things set on it, golden bowls holding objects, oil filled candles, and a large calligraphy painting which seemed to depict nothing so much as the number one. Later I would learn this symbol was called ashre (ah-sh-ray) and did not stand for any specific number or letter, but rather a concept. Beside the alter, or shrine I learned later, was a beautiful, but simple, black chair, a small table with flowers on it, and a clear glass of water.

I hunkered down on my cushion close to the front on the right side of the teacher’s chair. The sun had gone down by then and I was glad I had not left my coat in my tent. When the tent was full, and the audience of over seventy sat quietly even though no one had told us not to speak, a lady entered the room followed by a younger man and woman. The young woman was dressed in a fashion I tend to think of as bohemian, not mainstream fashion, but much too nice to be hippie. She was my age and pretty with beautiful chestnut hair, immaculate makeup, and trendy librarian style glasses perched on her nose. Her name was Farradee.

She introduced the man with her. He had short dark hair and reminded me of a track runner. He wore an improbable looking khaki military uniform with odd looking badges and a green beret tucked over one shoulder. He was Ian, head of the Dorje Kasung, whatever that was, and proceeded to give us a lecture about bears, mice, birds, water, flashlights, hats, and the color of our urine. He was personable enough, but obviously had given this lecture many times before and also obviously took it just as seriously this time.

Then the lovely Farradee introduced the woman in the teacher’s chair as Cynthia Kneen. She was about my mother’s age and smartly dressed in a business suite with her brown hair artfully styled and makeup done. She was someone I expected in a board room, not a tent in the middle of the mountains, but she had something about her that seemed to make her perfectly at home and perfectly suited to this time and this place. She had a softness I had never seen before in another human being.

That evening she explained with a soft voice and a gentle laugh about basic goodness and how wonderful it is to be a human being. I confess I didn’t understand it all, but most of it made sense, and something in her manner told me I would come to understand it in short order, even if I didn’t tonight. She told of her own journey through the winter snow of Vermont when she was just a bit younger than I to meet the man whose name she pronounced as Choge-yahm Trung-pa Rin-poe-shay, the last word meaning teacher. He became her mentor. She told the story of the mythical kingdom of Shambhala, said to have existed in Tibet many thousand years ago. It did not really matter if it ever existed or not because it stood for a principle or ideal or how human beings can live when they recognize their own basic goodness.

After a couple of hours and a very sore back from sitting on the meditation cushions, called a gomden and a zabuton, my head felt full and soft. I was still slightly skeptical, but happy. We adjourned for the night and the large group left almost as quietly as we had come. Some stopped at the entrance to bow to the shrine. I did not.

People set off with their bobbing flashlights, free to chatter beyond the confines of the shrine tent, and I did likewise. Or tried to at least. Their were no stars or moon and a hundred paces from the dining hall I couldn’t see anything, not my hands, not my feet, not the trees or mountains, and certainly not the path I was trying to follow by the feel of the ground alone. I have been to'Middle-of-Nowhere' Nebraska and I never could have believed anywhere under the open sky could have been darker. I was wrong. I was also starting to get just a little bit panicky. All of the other guests seemed to be staying in Red Feather and I had no idea how I was going to get all the way across the valley to Vajra.

After a few moments of indecision, swinging my head back and forth from the dark path to the lit dining hall behind me, my rescue crunched up the path to me. Two staff members, a couple, were heading back to their own tent in Padma, wherever that was. If I followed them to Downtown, they would give me a flashlight and set me on the right path for the Ratna bathhouse. I was shaky and scared and very, very relieved. They set off confidently down the hill in the pitch black and I followed. Every so often a little solar garden light would pop up on the side of the path, be visible for about ten feet, then disappear in the darkness.

We made it to Downtown and a mud room attached to a larger building. The young man rummaged around in a backpack hanging in the row of pegs and came up with a small penlight. They led me through downtown to the edge of the meadow, where I could see the Ratna bathhouse glowing halfway up the hill. We said goodnight and I made my way, with my little penlight to keep me from stumbling on the boardwalk which crosses the wet meadow. After a quick, and cold, stop in the bathhouse (prompting a quick decision to shower during the day instead), I was on the path to my tent.

The little penlight didn’t shed enough light to see my tent from the path, but after a bit of uncertainty, I found my friendly tree. Turning from the tree at a right angle and heading down the hill brought me to my tent in short order. My roommate had moved in sometime during the day and was now curled securely in her own bunk. I shed my boots, coat, and pants, kept my sweatshirt on, shivered, and crawled into my own sleeping bag. I slept fairly well, though I did keep one ear open for bears.

October 05, 2006

Lessons from the Universe

I think I'm supposed to learn something today. As I got home, a woman was unloading some things from the back of her car on my block. I really wasn't paying much attention. I was opening my mailbox when a very rough and VERY masculine voice asked me if this was a secured building. It was the 'woman' coming up the walk with a trolley behind her. I told her it was and that the only way to get in was to ring someone inside. She said she had phone books to deliver and didn't know anyone inside. I told her she could leave them in the lobby, where the other companies leave phone books, but she said the training video told them to deliver them to the door, not in the lobby. I told her I guess she couldn't deliver them then. She turned around and walked away. If there is some irony in a drag queen delivering phone books, it escapes me at the moment.

I think I'm supposed to learn how to deal with people who make me uncomfortable.


Today a man accused me a being a witch. On the face, that’s a rather funny thing, and I tried to be amused by it. The fact that the man doing the accusing was a drunk bum at the bus stop at nine o’clock in the morning made it less amusing. There are a number of bums in downtown Lincoln, all generally harmless, as this man doubtless was, but some more verbal than others. I made the ‘mistake’ of saying hello to this man before I got a good look at (and smell of) him.

I say ‘mistake’ because I wonder if my aversion to this man is symptomatic of my own problems rather than his. Buddhism teaches us to let go of attachments, of which aversions are the flip side of the coin and must be dealt with similarly. It teaches us to be open to the present moment, maintain equanimity, and generate compassion. The fact that this man made me so uncomfortable I felt it necessary to get up and walk down to the bus stop on the next block shows me I have progress yet to make.

I tried to be polite, but I really didn’t want to encourage him and nothing I said or didn’t say seemed to disinterest him. First it was the way I pulled my ponytail through the back of my hat and when I had explained that to his satisfaction he caught on the fact I must be a witch, but he wasn’t afraid of me. He even showed me the pentagram he had drawn on his hand to prove it. He was a warlock and I didn’t have the kind of magic he had. I couldn’t make a pentagram out of blood or turn a stick into a snake or make the oak tree bear fruit. At that point, I decided avoidance was the wiser policy.

But I wonder, how bad would it have been to wait the few more minutes for my bus at that stop? The man probably hadn’t had anyone to actually talk with for a long time, though he said hello to everyone who passed, all of whom ignored him more successfully than I did. Would it really have been that bad to talk to him? I don’t know. It was a rather strange encounter.

Can aversion of someone unpleasant cause them more suffering or is it just a moot point?

September 28, 2006


We have all returned safe a sound from Shambhala Mountain Center. This trip was successful by all definitions of the word in all aspects. Yet I find myself curiously disappointed. At first, I did not understand this. I just knew that all the enthusiasm I thought I would feel (and did feel the day we arrived) was somehow absent. I blamed it on my cold and the altitude and not feeling well. Now that I am back in my comfortable breathing zone I think I understand it better. Something is lacking, something which I expected but do not feel – triumph.

I think somewhere inside, I felt that this trip would in many ways be the culmination of so much hard work. It should be the climax, the finale, the zenith. I think I expected something to change somehow, yet life goes on as it has. Here I am, back at school, back to work, back to studying, and everything is much the same as it was before I left. I guess that proves life really isn’t a movie. There aren’t intricate plots with introductions, actions, challenges, and finally endings. There are no endings; it just continues, one infinite denouement.

I was attached to this vision I had create for myself and of myself. I had this lovely (fictional) story all laid out in my head of how my triumph would be achieved. The funny thing is – it was achieved, as beautifully as I ever could have hoped for. It just lacked theme music. And the credits never rolled.

Buddhism teaches us that all things change. Clinging and attachment to things which we believe to be concrete and lasting causes suffering. Turns out that clinging to ideas of how change will occur causes suffering too. Attachment to our own ideas of how the plot should run is an obstacle in our perception of reality.

Sometimes things change and sometimes they don’t – and sometimes they just change in ways you didn’t expect.

PS – The object of my earlier ‘Fixation’ wasn’t even there. I did not ask after him.

September 24, 2006

Buddhist Not In Nebraska

This Buddhist is in Colorado, at Shambhala Mountain Center. It feels like coming home. It feels like family, even with all the unfamiliar faces of the summer staff. There are more than enough familiar faces, smiles, and hugs.

I am doing my best to have a good time and keep my energy up despite lingering on the verge of altitude sickness, complete with fatigue, headache, fuzziness, dizzyness, and worst of all, nausea. I'm never had altitude sickness before, but then I've never tried coming here when I have a cold.

I drove ten hours on Friday with a van full of students from the College of Architecture, leading a second full van to someplace only I had ever been. It shows that the college has put a great amount of faith in a student and I appreciate that. Not that they didn't do their research, of course. We have kept them running around, investigating, and talking to people and overall I think they are having a good time. They are already having good ideas.

Dickie can't stop telling me how thrilled he is that we are here. I was thrilled on Friday. Now I'm just kinda tired, but a strong sense of satisfaction remains. I did it! We did it! We're here!

The place has matured and changed over the summer. Flowers are blooming and people are bustling about. The Rigden Lodge is finished and being used. The Dalai Lama came and went last week. All the cats and the magpies are safe and fat. A few of the aspen groves are just starting to change to gold.

It is very good.

September 17, 2006


I have had an exercise in equanimity this week, one quality which I cultivate as part of Buddhist practice. More than anything it leaves me even now with the irrepressible urge to giggle.

On Wednesday, our professor arranged for an evening field trip to Reimers Kaufman, a brick and block contractor. Masons were on hand demonstrating how to lay brick and block walls and to give us the opportunity to try our luck with a trowel. It was very interesting. Two slices of pizza and two cans of pop later, I politely asked out host if they had a restroom I could use. He pointed in the direction of their office building but sheepishly informed me there was only one bathroom available as it was after hours and the other was beyond the second door of the vestibule which was locked. He would keep and eye out and make sure no one else headed in that direction. Unworried, I headed that way myself.

His sheepish expression was soon explained by the fact that the one available restroom was clearly labeled “Men’s” Still undaunted, I shrugged and pushed open the door. It was clean and contained one sink, one urinal, and one stall. I had just sat myself down in the stall, when the door opened. Even with a very limited view, it was unmistakably a male who entered - a rather large burly male who no doubt had no idea anyone was in there and let alone female. I surmised he was not one of classmates since none of them have as of yet attained that scale. I was more concerned with not embarrassing the poor guy to death than being embarrassed myself.

Never would I have believed it would take any man that long to pee, but of course, it did. I quietly waited for him to finish, wash his hands, and leave, before slowly doing the same myself. I don’t think anyone noticed when I exited the building a few moments later, all but bursting with the need to tell someone, anyone, of the funniest thing which had happened to me in years. All I did was grin a little foolishly and manage to suppress all my giggles and my nagging urge to share my secret.

Who knew equanimity could be found in the men’s restroom?

September 12, 2006


My Dad bought a book for me over the weekend, Apartment Therapy, which is also one of the only two blogs I read (along with Vegan Lunchbox). At this point, I think my mother has actually read more of it than I have, but I have gotten far enough to look forward to the rest. In the introduction, the author mentioned something which got me thinking. He taught for a while and found the children who excelled in school had not only a good home environment (speaking from an interior designer’s point of view) but also had good home rhythms, such as regular meals, set study times, and bedtimes.

My life has been feeling willy nilly and out of control since school started again and I think much of this has to do with a lack of rhythm. By rhythm, I don’t just mean daily routine or habit, but something deeper and more physical. I lost ten pounds in the first two weeks of school. I skipped meals, but ate too much junk food at other times to make up for it, my sleep schedule was disrupted, and I wasn’t getting my regular exercise. The dishes piled up and so did the piles of paper, laundry, and unopened mail.

My days have a rhythm now of working and resting. I ride to school in the morning and have my coffee to wake me up. I work well all morning until lunch, which I stop to eat, even if it’s only twenty minutes. I ride back and forth to east campus twice a week (six miles) and the exercise helps me sleep at night. I get home after five o’clock and rest (sleep with the news on TV) for an hour before making dinner (and doing dishes). I watch some television and relax and then do homework for two hours before bed. I’m slowly cleaning the accumulated mess, five and ten minutes at a time. This is a simple rhythm and it’s helping. Physically I feel much better.

I’m finding my natural rhythm.

September 07, 2006

Nirvana is Now

My favorite basic Buddhism primer is “The Heart of Buddha’s Meaning” by Thich Nhat Hanh. I remember reading this part of the book. I was in the student union on the campus of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Up on the second floor, in the back is a hallway that leads to and from offices and some of the large assembly spaces, which are mostly unused in the middle of a weekday. This hall is lined with sofas and chairs and is generally used for napping. I used to go there between classes to read and sleep. One afternoon, I lay there and read Thich Nhat Hanh’s book quietly chuckling to myself. I couldn’t help giggling in shear delight.

About two-thirds of the way through the book, he reveals that Nirvana is not some mystical place like heaven, or even some other realm of existence, or alternative state into which one can transcend upon death. Nirvana is now, this very moment, this very life, this very place. We simply don’t see it. We don’t let the perfection of the present moment penetrate our daily lives. We create mental shields against it.

It was the greatest joke I had ever heard. I laughed, not in a cynical or jaded way. In that moment, realizing that one thing, I was happy. Every time I think of it, I am happy. I smile. My mood lifts, I breath easier in that moment, and my shoulders finally loosen. Of course, the trick is to always keep that thought in the forefront of my mind no matter what else is occurring in my life, which is not always easy.

Nirvana is now - go figure. :-)

September 06, 2006


I'm tired and probably just need to ramble a little. I'm waiting for the glue to set on a model base, then it will be finished, but I don't think it is the amount of work I've put in which is making me so tired. I think I am more weary than tired. I've put a lot of time, thought, and effort into this model. I like it and it is the best model I've ever built, both from a design and a craftsmanship (craftswomanship?) standpoint. I am not good at building models. I don't enjoy it and I don't have the patience for it and worst of all, my hands shake. Give me a two by four and a circular saw and I'm happy. Give me a basswood and an exacto knife and I will consider using them to stab my eyes out.

I'm tired because I know, I fear, my best effort will be looked down upon and ridiculed as a weak attempt to mimic my betters.

When I was young, I didn't care what anyone thought of me. I was a tomboy and a rebel. I would do anything, dress as I pleased, speak as I pleased. Then somewhere along the way, I decided that wasn't going to get me very far in life. I saw the popular kids, how they were outgoing, positive, and took care of their appearance. They cared about both their image and their actions and how they impacted other people. They seemed to do better in life, they had more friends, got good grades, were going far in the world. They were happy. So I decided to become an extrovert. Now that I've succeeded, I'm wondering if it was such a good idea.

Then there's compassion, that empathy the Dharma teaches us is so important. When does empathy become anxiety? When does caring about others become caring about others' opinions? Is this the vulnerability, the soft spot in your heart, that Chogyam Trungpa and Thich Naht Hahn were speaking about? Or is this just misplaced ego? I want my teachers to be as happy with my work as I am. I don't want them to be annoyed or angry or frustrated that I am so far behind my peers. But do I want this for them, or for myself?

Where is that damned Middle Path when you need it?

August 31, 2006

Am I Uppity?

I am wondering if I am suffering from a bit of snobbery. I think my mother believes I am. I commented that the people at the university seem to come in two types: students and college kids. Students are those who are their to learn and want to get the most benefit they can from their time there. Not only that, they fully intend to go on learning for their entire lives, outside and within the classroom. Then there are college kids, who are mostly there because it was expected of them and because they have the financial ability to go, usually because of their family. They go, they put in their four years, and then they leave for the ‘real world’ where their life can really begin. It’s just something they have to do on the way to something else.

It seems to me, most of these college kids can be found in the easier colleges, like the College of Business Administration, Arts & Sciences, or the Teachers College. I said that unless they were going for a professional degree, their classes probably weren’t too hard. Well, I guess I should have known better. After all, Mom did major in accounting (recently) and Dad in business administration (back when that actually meant something).

What I know is that I see these other kids in my electives who are majoring in business, or history, or teaching, and they just don’t seem to be working very hard. They go out a lot, spend time talking with friends and drinking, and complain over ‘cake’ assignments. Other students I know in architecture, law, engineering, etc. are studying endless days and nights. More than that, they actually discuss what they are working on, not just to complain about it, but because they love it and because it is interesting to them. They treat their education as a profession.

Am I looking down on these ‘college kids?’ Do I just misunderstand because I do not know enough about their majors? I have changed jobs and work with some other students now. I can’t help thinking of them as ‘kids.’ I have to stop myself from calling them ‘kids’ when I refer to them. They are only a few years younger than myself, yet their attitudes seem so vastly different. I don’t want to look down on them, but sometimes I disapprove. Am I judging too harshly? Am I so attached to my own way of behaving, of doing things, of treating things, that I look down on their way?

Am I being uppity?

August 26, 2006

Changing Habits

The weekend has finally come. The first week of classes is over and I already feel frazzled. It is amazing how quickly habits and patterns can be fallen into. I would have thought nothing of this in March. Summer has softened me. Now I must readjust. Thing have changed once again. The discomfort I feel now, the suffering however small, is not due to those changes themselves, but simply to the fact that they are changes.

In a few weeks all this will seem like nothing. I’ll be back in the rhythm. I am trying to establish new habits as this semester starts - being proactive, having more attention to detail, staying open minded and positive. Changes will come in the future. I have a hard time trying to stay open to the present moment and maintain my equanimity when I constantly have to be aware of what I need to have in the future – these chapters read, this model built, that email sent, this homework done. Contradictions are everywhere.

I saw a book today called The Law of Simplicity. It was a thin little book, which bodes well for its ability to stay on topic. It sounded good and I read some of it, but left it in the bookstore. That is one habit I’ve broken. I don’t have to possess something in order to appreciate it.

It odd that I’m lamenting the loss of old habits while at the same time trying to create new ones.

August 16, 2006


My mind was so fixated last night, I didn't get to sleep until after midnight and an extra glass of milk (which my cat appreciated). I get caught up in fantasy so easily. When I was a child, I would tell myself stories in my head until I fell asleep at night. It worked well, and I drifted off easily, kick starting my dream cycle. It was usually a continuation of some television show or book I had been reading, except now I was the hero. As I've grown older, these little stories have grown more and more vivid, and they don't always revolve around fictional characters.

Things I want to change, to succeed, and problems I need to solve fill my head. Sometimes this is a boon. I do much of my architectural design work while laying in bed at night. If I don't get to sleep right away, that's okay, because I know I'm sorting out a problem now that will be useful in the morning. When my mind fixates on some mythical future, some daydream which I can't control, I feel the noose of attachment drawing tight. My long standing habits have turned against me and my mind is definitely not my ally in that moment.

School is starting next week, which means the Shambhala Project will kick off. In another five weeks, I'll return to the mountain center, and all the people I left behind there. One person in particular has preoccupied my mind all summer. Or maybe I should say, my body.

Men who dislike girl talk – read no further.

In my Introduction post, I said I would explain why I used the analogy of meditation and sex. I had really bad periods when I was a teenager, so I started on Depo-Provera when I was 17, which is a birth control injection. It lasts for three months. It totally suppressed my cycle and all associated hormones, including my sex drive. I've had practically no hormones to speak of for seven years now. I've also had precious few dates and only one 'boyfriend.' I'm just not motivated. In April, my last shot ran up and I decided to give nature one more try. Nature was just waiting to be called on, it seemed.

Everything came back, for good and bad. The bad is very, very bad, and the good...well, it's very, very frustrating. I'm going to talk to my doctor about getting back on birth control, but I think I'll try something different, something which still allows for some natural rhythms. I need that swift kick in the pants my hormones provide, unless I plan to spend every Saturday night at home from now until eternity (an option I've seriously considered).

So, is it my head, my heart, or my body which has me fixated on feelings I haven't had in a very long time (if ever)? What does it mean that the thing I remember most is a smile? This fixation, this attachment, is setting my up for suffering, for disappointment. At the very least I'm certainly not being mindful of the present moment. Even if good things happen in the future, worrying about it now is doing no good.

I wrote a letter last night. I hoped that would lay it to rest. Now, it's just another thing to worry about, but at least I feel better for having done something. I took a chance, one I might not have taken otherwise. I worry about how it will be received. I worry what might happen in September.

Mostly, I worry that I answered the question wrong.

August 14, 2006


I was thinking, while I drove my newly fixed car back from the dealer, soon it will break down again. The warranty will run out and I won't be able to fix it, so I'll have to give up owning a car. That's okay. A few years ago it probably would have been unthinkable. I've given up a lot since I went back to college: my house, fancy morning coffee, the good frozen lunches, all the cable channels I love, and new books every week. I left my good paying job at the bank. I don't spend as much time with my friends or my family. I don't belong to any clubs or really have any regular hobbies. I left my dog with my parents in Omaha when I moved to Lincoln.

The largest thing I think I've given up is pride. First, I asked my parents if I could move back in with them. I broke down and cried. I did, then sold the house. When I found the condo in Lincoln, I asked them for help again in buying it. The house wasn't sold yet and my income wouldn't qualify me. So they bought it, and I pay for it. Last summer, when I couldn't afford to pay for classes, they came through again and helped me. Before going back to school I took great pride in my independence. I've had to ask for help much more in the last couple of years.

Pride is just another form of attachment.

August 11, 2006

Changing Standards

Little girls are so lucky. When you're three, hiking up your dress and stuffing it in your panties so you can wade in the fountain on a hot day is perfectly acceptable. When you're twenty-three, this results in a security officer addressing you as "Miss." (Much to the disappointment of the twenty-three year old boys.) When we're thirty-three, we're addressed as "Ma'am" while we're calmly taken by the elbow by a person in a blue uniform. When we're eight-three, the uniform is more likely to be white and come with sensible shoes, but even then the outcome is the same.

"A person's gotta have standards," as the saying goes. Why should things be 'standard,' when we are all individuals? Whose standards are they? Why couldn't it be "a person's gotta have joy," instead? That three year old in the fountain certainly had enough joy to spread around to everyone who was watching her.

When is it exactly that we decide what others think of us is more important than fully enjoying the present moment?

August 09, 2006

Dying Friends

Marilyn sent me an email today. I had asked her to keep me updated on her test results. It read simply:


The tumors have progreesed in my right lung and are pressing against my heart. Sorry for the bad news.

Marilyn "

That's the Marilyn I love so much.

August 07, 2006

Life Without Television

I often think I should give a serious try to live without television. Yesterday, my DVD player stopped working. I was in the middle of a movie, too. So what did I do instead of finding something productive? I watched bad television most of the day, then popped in some VHS tapes I've watched a half-dozen times before. (Although, I don't really consider Paint Your Wagon and True Grit to be bad television, but I've seen them both before as well.)

When I go up to the mountain center, I don't miss television. I do really look forward to movie nights. Part of that enjoyment is in the community aspect, but the other part is that I honestly enjoy movies. I enjoy stories. I also really love documentaries. I drove my roommates crazy (when I had roommates) with all the documentaries I would watch. I like to learn by seeing and hearing and I think I would seriously miss PBS. Many PBS shows are available on the internet, but I don't have internet at home.

Despite those positive aspects, television seems to suck out my soul. I'll spend hours watching things which I really don't care about and avoiding things I should be doing. Things I even tell myself I want to do. Yesterday afternoon I successfully avoided finishing the plans for Tony's house addition, going for a walk in the rain, reading my book, reading my new Architectural Record magazine, framing the new landscape photographs I just got, along with a number of household chores.

Despite all those things I procrastinated into oblivion in order to watch television, it was still a productive day. I got out in the morning, had coffee and read my book, called Marilyn to chat, went grocery shopping, folded and hung up all my clean laundry, sorted and moved my scarf collection, unbound the book of landscape photographs, and sketched out plans to remodel my apartment. For a Sunday, that is more than I usually get accomplished, and yet it is so little. This is what is so discouraging. More than average is so much less than what is possible.

Television is my greatest addiction.

August 02, 2006

Looking Forward

For perhaps the first time ever I am looking forward to the beginning of school. Mostly it is because of the Shambhala Mountain Project. (See my blog 'Architects Anonymous' for more details.) But it is also because the success of that project thus far has given me a greater amount of hope in my own educational prospects than I have ever had before. I am truly involved in something I care about and I have hope that it can evolve into a greater caring for all my work.

Even if all of my classes are abysmal, I have high points to look forward to. I will join in a site visit to Shambhala Mountain Center in September. Dickie, who I always look forward to seeing, will visit three times after that, once each in October, November, and December. Hopefully, he will be able to bring some other stakeholders with him so the students have someone else to pester.

This project has been a great lesson in letting go. All of my preconceived notions of how this idea would be received have been soundly refuted. My cynicism has been tossed out the window. My long held lack of faith in my educational institution in general and in my professors in particular is fading. In order to make this successful, I have had to exist in the present moment, because in the present moment, all futures are possible. If I dwell in past pessimism, nothing could move forward.

I can pay more than lip service to the cliché "Be Here Now" because for the first time I want to be here now.

July 27, 2006

Screwing for Peace

Have you heard that phrase "Making war for peace is like screwing for virginity." An ironic comparison I always thought, but unlike virginity, I am of the opinion that peace can be restored.

I used to have a fairly decent opinion of Condoleezza Rice. Truthfully, I didn't know much about her personal politics. She supports President Bush, so that is one strike against her, but I was prepared to reserve judgment. Sometimes one can do more good by working from within than protesting from without. I have changed my mind.

The very idea that we should try to not stop the blossoming war between Israel and Lebanon until we are certain it will remain stopped seems ridiculous to me! Isn't the FIRST thing to be done when making peace is to STOP THE WAR? Then people can try to keep it stopped permanently. People are DYING. As long as the Israelis and Lebanese keep killing each other, animosity will continue to build and the fighting will become more and more difficult to stop.

Israel, and the Bush administration, seems inclined to continue bombarding southern Lebanon until Hezbollah is subdued, but I'm not even sure that is possible. They can retreat, go to Syria or Iran, lay low, and wait to pop up and start this entire thing over again a year from now. Negotiation doesn't seem like an option either given Hezbollah's goals and ideology. The only solution which seems possible is a strengthening of Lebanon's legitimate government to the point where they are able to exclude Hezbollah from Lebanon entirely. Israel seems to be doing more harm than good.

I don't pretend to know all the answers, but the very idea that we shouldn't call for an immediate cease fire is beyond my comprehension. The rest of the world is doing just that. I don't really even blame Israel for trying to fight back, but surely there must be a way to do it that doesn't kill more civilians than militants? They don't seem to be making a dent in the number of attacks Israel is suffering right now anyway, so how can ending their own bombardment hurt at this point?

In order to make peace, you must first MAKE PEACE.