January 26, 2007

Precious Human Birth

It has been an interesting week. If the word ‘interesting’ means the same as in the Chinese curse ‘May you live in interesting times.’ On Sunday I twisted my neck. Many years ago I hurt my neck badly while fencing. I took a hit in the mask which snapped my head around. Now my neck is a little more prone to injury than the rest of me.

On Monday my neighbor, Paul, was very nice and took me to the University Health Center. The doctor blamed it on my laptop. Certainly it may have aggravated my neck, but I know it’s not the root cause. He proscribed some muscle relaxants, Relafen and Flexeril and told me to take a hot shower. Not such an easy thing to do in an bathroom with only a working toilet. (The shower will be installed February 9th.) The drugs eased the pain a bit, though they didn’t relieve it by any means. Mostly they allowed me to sleep, which I did for the next two days. I missed another day of work on Tuesday as a result.

On Wednesday I reentered the land of the living. The day went fairly well, but the media center was backed up, so I had to have my project for adjunct printed at Kinko’s, which cost $30 instead of $6. I walked home after 9:00 pm. I was half way down my block when I stopped and turned around. And turned around again, looking in all directions. My car was gone.

I didn’t panic. My car is too worthless to steel, but I was getting more annoyed by the minute. I called the police who confirmed it had been towed for violating the 24 hour parking limit. I know about the limit, but in the three years I’ve lived there (and left my car parked there for a week at a time), I’ve only ever received a single warning. They only enforce the law by complaint. Usually I look at my car as I go to school every morning to check for a warning on the windshield. As I hadn’t been out for two days, and that morning I had headed in the other direction to catch the bus since I didn’t feel up to walking or biking, I didn’t see my car.

Again, my neighbors, Ellen and Paul, came to my rescue. We tracked it down at the city impound lot, which is not easy to find, I tell you! We had to backtrack and I’m not used to being lost. I cost me $53 to get my car back and I have another $20 in tickets. I finally got home after ten o’clock at night.

I was frustrated and a little angry. I don’t like situations I can’t change. I don’t want to have to move my car every day to prevent it from being towed. I know none of the residents complained because there is more than enough parking for us. The people who work at the capitol fight for parking during the day. I felt like painting on my car “I live here so I DON’T have to drive every day! If you’re not smart enough to do the same, don’t complain!” That probably wouldn’t be the best solution.

I was cursing karma and feeling rather put upon. Then it was Thursday. I met Brad and Ray for dinner and then we all went to sangha. We are just starting a new class studying The Three Principles of the Path b Je Tsongkapa, the founder of the Gelugpa Lineage. It is really interesting. I always have a good time and the discussions are really fun.

Steve asked me about taking Refuge and if that has changed my life at all. I would say that it has, but not in very concrete describable ways. Mostly I’m just happy that I made the right decision. Meeting Khen Rimpoche was a positive experience and I came away with a good impression of him, which encourages me.

Suddenly, driving home, I was having a good week. I am glad I have the opportunity to be alive in this place at this time and in such a way that I am able to learn the dharma.

I am thankful for my precious human birth.

January 18, 2007

Bad Poetry

In the Valley

The earth cradles us in her hands
there in the valley.
The wind whispers to us secrets of old
there in the valley.
The setting sun traces fiery bands
there in the valley.
The streams sing, the aspens talk, the magpies scold
there in the valley.

The home is built of hill and glade
there in the valley.
The creatures forget the touch of man
there in the valley.
The songs and tales of love are made
there is the valley.
And I dwell gladly while I can
here in the valley.


Behind my eyes
I see the sunrise.
At dawn’s first ray
so far away,
and await the black
to bring you back
in my mind,
though left behind.

I think my brain is turning to mush.

January 09, 2007

Buddhist on Being Bummed

Buddhism has a lot to say about suffering. That’s sort of the whole enchilada. First Noble Truth: All things which live, suffer. It’s an inescapable and recognizable truth, but I’ve always felt it was just a little too dramatic for me. It sounds like someone writhing in unbearable mental or physical torment. I don’t suffer, do I? Sure I get sad sometimes and angry sometimes and frustrated confusion is my perpetual state of existence, but do I suffer?

I am a middle class, young, free, white woman in America. Me, suffer? I don’t think so. That’s starving children in Africa. They suffer. That sounds like someone who puts far to much importance on their emotional state. That sounds like ego. That sounds like attachment. I don’t get that worked up about things. I don’t invest that much energy in my own emotions.

I do invest in delusion though. Isn’t taking pride in my own equanimity a manifestation of ego? And ego causes suffering? So in the long run, when my valued equanimity breaks down, I suffer from the suffering and I suffer from the loss of my equanimity. Not to say that I suffer more than a starving child in Africa, but I am deluding myself to think I am untouchable by suffering.

Interestingly, when you look up the verb ‘suffer’ in the thesaurus, pain is not mentioned. (Though it is for the noun ‘suffering.’) Instead you find the words experience, bear, endure, undergo, allow, and grieve. I find ‘allow’ the most fascinating. The Buddhist idea is that all suffering is at its root unnecessary. The Third Noble Truth: All suffering can cease.

All of this is a fine intellectual understanding, but what help is it when you’re actually suffering? I’m certainly not undergoing any several physical or emotional anguish. I’m just bummed out by the fact that my long distance boyfriend can’t come see me this weekend. So what does a Buddhist do about being bummed? Probably the same thing most everyone else does: sigh forlornly, wish the whole world would change just for me, and go on with the work day.

An author named Elizabeth Haydon has written a fantasy series called The Symphony of Ages. One of her races, the Lirin, have a saying: “Ryle Hira.” Life Is. I like that. What we think of it as “life is what it is.”

I find the lessons I fall back on are those from meditation. Although, I don’t often make it to the cushion, I find myself using what I’ve learned there in everyday moments. In meditation we watch the breath, but also the mind, allowing thoughts and emotions to rise and fall away, becoming aware of the nature of our mind. When I’m bummed, I sit (in my desk chair rather than a cushion), I breath in and out, and I watch the emotion. I let it be. I don’t push it away, telling myself to get over it or ignoring it. I don’t cherish it, wallowing in pity or letting it turn into anger. I just let it be. I’m bummed. That’s okay. Breath in. Breath out. I’m still bummed, but that’s okay, too. Breath a little more. Keep on working at whatever task is at hand, whether I’m at work or school or home. Let it be.

Life Is.

January 05, 2007


I like taking the bus. Sometimes when I’m in a hurry, or it doesn’t run at exactly the time I want it to, I resent it. Mostly, I like it though. It is easy. There are many bus stops near my house and many near the places I spend the most time at, the University and downtown. It is free to students, so it saves me money on gas and mileage on my car. I don’t have to worry about weather or traffic or parking. But mostly I like it because it gives me time.

Even though my commute each day is longer on the bus than in my car I don’t consider it wasted time. If I drove, I would just sleep in each morning, get up quickly, leave quickly, drive quickly on the main streets, and be to work not a minute too soon. When I take the bus I get up earlier, walk to the bus stop, wait for the bus, sit quietly as it slowly makes its way through the neighborhoods of its route, and arrive to work early. It gives me time.

I enjoy being outdoors, even when it is cold or rainy, on my little walk to the bus stop. The fresh air helps wake me up and so does the sunshine most days. While I sit and wait I have time to think. On cold days, I bring coffee in a thermos to keep me warm. While I’m on the bus, I can watch the cute little houses that go by and the people out on their bicycles. I read my book a lot. I usually carry a magazine or dharma book with me, not a novel or a textbook, but something that is good to read in short intervals. When I get to work early I have time to drink my coffee and have a little breakfast. I can chat with my coworkers or send email to friends. I don’t feel rushed or like I have to jump right into the days tasks.

Things which we might think take too much time can in fact give it back to us.

January 04, 2007

Architects Anonymous

In all the past weeks of turmoil, I’ve been wondering to myself “Why didn’t it ever occur to me that opening my big mouth and spewing big ideas might cause someone to actually take me up on them?” I just spit them out there with hardly a second though, not even a modicum of caution. Why was that? I finally realized what happened – culture change.

I’ve spent the last four years of my life in a culture which encourages, demands really, big ideas. It’s the nature of the game. Architects do more than just build big buildings, they work with big theories, big concepts, big paradigms, and they have big expectations. Not to mention, big ideas. I’ve spent those years around professors who demand to know what’s my big idea and, once heard, proceed to rip it into little itty bitty pieces before moving on to the next big idea. You get used to it after a while.

A big idea is just an idea, one of many, and always subject to criticism, revision, mutation, hybridization, abridging, or discarding on the slightest whim, but certainly, certainly NOT embracing. Certainly NOT backing or supporting or sponsoring. It takes licensed and experienced architects years to advance a concept or theory even worth criticizing, let alone endorsing. That takes a miracle. It seems, the rest of world does not live quite so abstractly.

“Hello, my name is Monica, and I’ve been in touch with reality for two weeks and two days.”

Patience & The Middle Way

In his book Good Life, Good Death, Gehlek Rimpoche talks about patience as the antidote to anger. While what I have been experiencing lately was not exactly anger, it could certainly be characterized as turmoil. I have found that applying patience to my feelings and my life has let me back to where I belong, my own Middle Way.

I thought I had a choice to make between two big dreams. It turns out that I only had to look behind me to realize where I really needed to go. I am an architecture student. I am about to graduate with a degree in design. I am about to enter graduate school in which two thirds of my education will be in architecture. That is what I need to focus on.

I have been a kid in a candy store, seeing everything I have wanted all in one place at one time. I had an opportunity to create and lead my own project in community development and I had (and still have) an opportunity to work with my favorite client, Shambhala Mountain Center. But this is not why I am here at the University. I am here because I want to be an architect, and, yes, a planner too. But I know that I must be an architect first because that is the long road, from which all other roads spring.

It is too soon for me to be following such big dreams, which will soak up my time and energy and lead me away from my original purpose. My grades last semester make that clear. I need to focus on my education before giving too much effort to personal projects. I need to keep my job just that – a job, something fun to bring in the money but not something I feel compelled to pour my soul into.

I struggled over winter break to come to this decision. I wrestled with it in the back of my mind. I talked it over with my close friends and myself many, many times. I didn't push, knowing the answer would come. Finally, I know I found the right decision when the turmoil eased. The voice in the back of my head asking “What am I gonna do?” finally said “Oh, okay, that sounds nice,” and went away. My bosses both felt the decision was a sound one and encouraged me to use my own wisdom to do what I feel right.

So this summer, I will find an architectural internship, set up through the college, like a newly minted graduate student is supposed to. Hopefully, it will be out in Colorado and allow time here and there for other interests. (Now the little voice is asking “Where am I gonna be?” but it doesn’t need an answer just yet.)

In this I need to continue to exercise patience and follow the Middle Way knowing big dreams will come later.