August 30, 2007

Practicing Peace - Shenpa

Over the course of our lives, we have spend many years learning how to defend ourselves. Sometimes, we do so in self-defense classes, with instructors and students. We learn Karate, defensive driving, even “the gentle art of verbal self defense.” We place passwords on our computers, use firewalls and anti-virus software. We lock our doors and windows and, for women at least, we don’t walk alone at night. But the depth to which defend ourselves is much greater than this and much more subtle.

When we see something or someone we don’t like, understand, or want to deal with, we withdraw from our direct experience. We pull into ourselves, our own little version of reality, where we feel safe. We are no longer fully present. In the present moment there is groundlessness, which is frightful, and we pull away from that and build strong walls around “our world.”

It is easy to pull away, to pull back into ourselves, we have done it a million times before. It is a well work path. But what causes us to do so? What become hooked by this thing or that thing, and then we start reeling in, building up, or constructing our reality. That initial quality, that feeling of being hooked by something, that is shenpa.

Shenpa is not the situation. It is not the person or thing which triggers our building of walls. Shenpa is the quality of being hooked. I become immediately angry when I hear the word ‘cunt.’ I become immediately interested when I hear the word ‘dualistic.’ Shenpa is the charge behind the words, not the words themselves. It is behind the emotions which are spurred by the words, be they anger, annoyance, interest, or curiosity.

When shenpa is behind certain words it dehumanizes the object of those words. Over the centuries many, many words have been used to dehumanize various groups of people. “Oh, she’s only a woman,” as though ‘woman’ were somehow something less than the speaker, a human person, therefore less than human. This dehumanization is what allows violence to be done. If we see the other person to be the same as ourselves, harming them becomes as unthinkable as harming ourselves.

Shenpa is the propensity to be bothered. It is a seed already sown. It has the quality of being difficult to let go of. Shenpa can be both aversion and desire. It clouds our wisdom. Not learning a lesson – that is shenpa.

Shenpa is the spark which lights the candle. We cannot stop the spark. The candle, which can become a raging bonfire, is fed by the storyline we have in our minds. All the history and “baggage” we carry with us about a certain topic, object, person, or place. When someone says ‘dentist’ we may feel fear which comes from our association with have between the dentist and pain. We have a narrative in our head about ‘dentist;’ what happened the last time we went there, what happened to our friends and relatives, the reputation dentists have in popular culture, etc. No imagine, you didn’t have any of that, or, if you did, you did listen to it. That is not feeding the ember of shenpa.

Our natural intelligence sees the storyline for what it is. It has an undertow which can pull you away in an effort to feel better, but our intelligence has been down that road before. We know exactly where it leads. When we recognize that there will be consequences of following that path, we begin to lessen the pull. We can rouse lungta, or Windhorse, and use this energy to stay fully open and present. It is hard to detox from our habits, and painful, but it is possible.

Pema prescribes the practice of transmuting suffering into wisdom. First, Acknowledge that you are hooked. This sows the seeds of nonaggression because you see that nothing worthwhile will follow if you act on your shenpa. Second, Pause for one to three conscious breaths. Third, Lean In to the feeling. Don’t feed the story line, just notice what it is be hooked. Feel it within your body, taste your emotions, accept that feeling with loving kindness, maitri, feel the energy and question it, and know that it is workable. Finally, Go On with your day. Disown that feeling. You don’t have to reject that energy, but you can acknowledge you don’t have to feel it or follow it.

Start small. “Putting up with little cares, I’ll train myself to work with great adversity.” – Shantideva Try it in your life and practice it. Understand it won’t completely work right away. Don’t reject your own energy. We are all basically good and so is the energy of our emotions and feelings.

”Nothing has to be rejected except ignorance.” – Pema Chodron.

August 27, 2007

Being Where I Am

Either my equanimity has improved or I am in shock. The transition, which often seems so surreal and disjointed has gone smoother than I could have hoped. Excepting my car breaking down, again, just as soon as it delivered us safely on my parents’ doorstep, I have felt few troubles. It is like slipping into a pair of seasonal shoes.

Of course, there are several distinct differences. I have not moved straight back into the hustle and bustle, the twenty-four hour quiet frenzy that is Architecture Hall. Instead my studio is on the forth floor of Old City Hall, a few blocks south of campus, in a leased space. I have not come back to pick up the reins of a familiar job, nor to reassume projects I left undone in the interim. Tomorrow, I will begin the simple, laid back life of an art gallery monitor. If the opportunity presents itself, I may pick up a few shifts in the Arch Hall library. Not things which generally stir my blood, but will help pay the bills.

And finally, I have little pieces of Shambhala following me around. Well, lots of little pieces, and one big piece, five foot eight inches to be exact. For the first time I have kept in touch, via the internet, with many of the friends I made there. More specifically, Chlirissa accompanied me home. She is spending a week on my couch before heading on to her own college in Vermont. It is very different to come back to Nebraska and yet still have someone who laughs at jokes about emptiness and basic goodness.

It is possible that soaking in the Dharma for a summer has better prepared me for this semester, loosened my attachments, changed my perspective, enhanced my compassion, and improved my equanimity. Yesterday, I noticed my shenpa when it came up while speaking with an acquaintance (more about shenpa in my next post for Practicing Peace). I reminded myself I had a choice in how I handled our interaction. Granted, it was still a bit strained, but at least I noticed.

So now I’m back to grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and playing with my cat. (The greatest shock thus far was being stepped on by soft little paws in the middle of the night.) I appreciate the loving, lived in, ornery, querulous nature of my family. I dislike the stifling humidity which comes with our summer heat, especially since I can’t turn on my air conditioner until the baby pigeons who are nesting against it grow up and fly away (I fear the noise would drive the mother away, since they’ve never nested there before). Otherwise, I enjoy being in my own home, with my own bathroom, my own kitchen, and my own feather bed.

I suppose it matters less where I am, so long as I feel what I am doing is worthwhile.

August 21, 2007

Enlightened Society


The tent is empty. The bedding has been packed up and shipped off to Mom & Dad. The plastic tubs of clothes have been, more or less, neatly repacked and restacked in the back of my weary and dirt encrusted little car. The cheerful prayer flags and chiming Japanese bell have been careful stored away.

The office is an empty shell once more, home to only paper files and a chipmunk named Lola. The 'Facilities Guys' will once again be just the Facilities 'Guys.'

To see me off Sylvain and I took Magic and Midnight up over the Kami Shrine ridge and onto the trails of the National Forest Land. We ate wild rasberries and galloped up twisting hill trails. We looked out onto vistas of crisscrossing hills, shadowing in the late afternoon sun, each a little more ephemeral than the one before it. We started two fawns and their mother, who startled us in turn as the popped up from the sage brush just a few feet away.

I exchanged hugs, goodbyes, emails, and quips and promised to return. Chlirissa, who is riding back to Nebraska with me to visit for a week, did the same. Now I spend me last night in Shambhala, my car already packed close to exploding, and ready to head east.

It is an end, but it is not the end. I am excited and disappointed. It is a poignant moment to watch the last pink sunset and know it will be weeks before I see it again. But it will only be weeks. And I will always have Shambhala with me, as I pour over maps, photographs, and Dharma talks looking for that spark of inspiration for the new Kitchen & Dining Hall design I will shortly be working on. More than that, I don't think this place ever really lets a person leave. You carry it around with you and try to recreate it everywhere you go, with every breath, even if you don't know it.

Chogyam Trungpa's "enlightened society" is the one you just can't seem to leave behind.

August 15, 2007

Intentional Living Update - Going Out

So far the experiment in intentional living goes well, but in one week I will be on the road back to Nebraska. Then things will be tough, especially since I am not traveling alone.

Chlirissa, a friend I have become very close with over the summer, is coming with me. We have a lot of fun together, both being academics who like to talk and have absurd ideas of ironic humor. We have some very different academic interests and different ideas on “saving the world,” but we are both open and honest and don’t take much of anything too seriously. We have also both been living in the middle of nowhere, the middle of nothing for over three months, where intentional living is almost forced under the circumstances. Nothing is taken for granted. We are also both suddenly going back to the city, with all that entails.

I think the most difficulty will occur regarding food. To Resolution 1) I have added farmers’ markets to grocery stores and should clarify that already included in that category is my local co-operative market. However, the “prepackaged” clause still applies and much as I love the wonderful baked lemon bars, cookies, and apple crisps they have at my local farmers’ market, I shall just have to learn how to make them myself. I think the hardest to pass up at the market this year will be the beautiful cut flowers, the bright red zinnias and giant white peonies.

The other difficulty will be eating out and eating on the go. I would enjoy showing Chlirissa some of the lovely restaurants we have in Lincoln. (Luckily, my own birthday is coming up.) I packed a lunch when I traveled to Denver to pick Chlirissa up at the airport on her way back from an anti-war conference in Wisconsin. That worked out wonderfully well. We stopped at the flower test beds at Colorado State University in Fort Collins on the way home and picnicked beneath the largest juniper tree I have ever seen. Which, of course, I had to climb.

Last week on the way to the soccer game, I forgot to pack a dinner. Being with friends, I let them cover me when we stopped at a deli, but I have some trouble with that. Not spending money in restaurants also includes not buying for others. I’ve no problem letting someone else pay for my sandwich, but only if I know I can reciprocate. This will be tricky.

After the game (we won, by the way, but ended up playing ourselves when the other team didn’t show, so in a way, we also lost) we went out for drinks. That was no trouble, as I was driving and stuck to water anyway. Then Juliet invited me to play pool. I do so love pool, even though, or perhaps because, I am terrible at it. In the end we crashed Byron and Aaron’s table and played doubles, so that worked out. But again, what of the future? This will need some thought.

Bear in mind that I am not placing all these restrictions on myself as a punishment. Though I’m sure it will feel like it from time to time.

“Live your life like an expiriment,” Pema told us. “You know what will happen if you give in to that. It may make you feel better just then, but in the long run, we all know better. So do it, and see what happens, but be aware while you act.”

She was referring to anger, aggression, and hatred, but I think the same advice applies to impulse buying and indulgent shopping.

Practicing Peace - Natural Openness

May all sentient beings enjoy happiness, and the cause of happiness. May we be free of suffering, and the cause of suffering.

With these lines, repeated three times, we opened every talk and every guided meditation session. During these times together Pema spoke about three innate qualities every human being possesses and four practices to uncover these qualities from where they have been buried.

We all possess a natural openness which can be found when we pause for just a moment, when we drop the story line and existing fully in the present moment. This natural openness is what allows us to feel the groundless nature of our existence. Even though we are frightened of groundlessness, it is the inescapable nature of reality and we can learn to be open to that.

The first of the four practices introduced during that first bright, hot afternoon, was, of course, shamatha. Richard Reoch led us through the posture, of connecting with both the earth and the heavens, finding our seat, and watching the breath in the body. He led us through the vagaries of mind with precious humor. I have received shamatha instruction many times before and I believe this to be the best presentation I have yet heard. By being fully present, we cultivate stability, familiarity with our mind, and our natural openness.

The second of the four practices was the pause. To pause for two or three conscious breaths, it is as simple as that.

“It’s not a project,” Pema told us. “Don’t try to keep it going. Don’t sit around and talk about your pauses. You can’t not do it right. You’re not trying to make a gap, you’re just allowing one to occur.”

It is hard to remember to do this. Pema suggested many small reminders which could help us - every time you open your computer, the phone rings, you walk into a room, etc. Once you start it nurtures you. It is also a way to work and communicate with people. Just pause, allow your natural openness to be, and then go on. Silence can help settle things and bring us closer to our citta, our mind/heart. (Pronounced chee-ta.)

In Tibetan, and many other eastern cultures, the mind and heart are one. They are not separate. When we practice prostrations, bowing with hands in anjali, we first touch them to our forehead, throat, and heart, to represent our body, speech, and mind respectively. Our mind is our heart.

This citta, mind/heart, is the same as that which we cultivate when we speak of bodhicitta, or awakened mind/heart. Bodhicitta is the principle quality of the bodhisattva, of the buddha.

“We are not buddha tomorrow,” Pema reminded us, “we are buddha today.”

August 14, 2007

Practicing Peace - Two Wolves

There is an old Cherokee story. After September 11, 2001, it was retold in email and on the internet. Though it was told in reference to the events of those days, I believe it is much, much older.

“Grandfather,” a young man asked, “after such a tragedy, what do we do?”

“Inside me,” said the Grandfather, “I feel two wolves fighting. One wolf is angry, full of vengeance, and aggression. The other wolf is gentle, full of love, compassion, and forgiveness.”

“Which wolf will win, Grandfather?”

“The one which I feed, will be the one who wins.”

With this story, Richard Reoch began Practicing Peace in Times of War. What it means is that we have a choice. Even though we feel the embers of anger, hatred, and vengeance, we choose whether to add wood to the fire. It is hard, because anger and aggression are habitual responses. They are based on fear and the feeling of groundlessness, of unease, and not knowing what to do next. They are based in our desire to find something solid and tangible to hold on to in a world constantly in flux. We can choose to remain with the groundlessness, to dwell in that uneasy space people have been avoiding for thousands of years.

“Groundlessness never killed anyone,” Pema told us.

During Shambhala Training Level III: Warrior in the World, we learned that one aspect of The Great Eastern Sun is that of opportunity. We can choose how we interact with people. We can stop for a moment, just before we strike out or shut down in our habitual way, and actually make a decision to remain engaged and fully present. We might decide to let go of an old grudge or listen in a way that suddenly shows us something new about that person.

We are good at feeding the angry wolf, because it leaps right out at us every time, but the other wolf, who stands there quietly with the sad eyes, is actually stronger. It has endured starvation and deprivation and it is still there. That wolf is basic goodness.

Trusting basic goodness can become the point of your entire life.

August 12, 2007

Practicing Peace - Introduction

There is so little I can say to convey the experience of these last few days. A group of three hundred diverse people from all over the country and the world stood on a patio in the hot Colorado sun and softly sang Hallelujah. It was beautiful.

Three days ago I began the program Practicing Peace in Times of War with Pema Chödron and Richard Reoch. I cannot explain what has changed in three days, except to say I have. In the coming days, I will be filling this blog with summaries of their talks, observations, thoughts, and memories. By way of introduction, I have a few things to say first.

Pema is a wonderfully warm and humorous lady who cares deeply. She speaks from wisdom and experiences, truly listens, and engages with her audience and her surroundings in a complete way. Richard Reoch is a hidden jewel of a man with a soft voice and a wry wit set to keep us laughing through our tears. Together, these two drew out the shared stories of heartache, war, pain, death, love, joy, and wisdom from their audience in a way which deepened both my compassion and my estimation of the limits of human suffering. I do not cry and in the memory of this weekend, I feel the pressure behind my eyes.

Noble Silence is a practice in which I had never engaged. I found it at its highest a great practice in letting go and at its ‘lowest’ a fabulous source of unending humor.

For now, let me share only an anecdote, fresh from but an hour ago. At the ending of the final talk, our Program Coordinator, Paul, stood and thanked both Pema and Richard for their wonderful teaching. He referred to Richard’s talk from the evening before by describing him as a “Magnum Force” of peace. Richard responded by throwing the contents of his water glass at Paul.

Lucky enough for Paul, he was quite a ways away, being on the opposite side of the rather large shrine from where Richard sat. Unlucky for Richard is that between Paul and himself sat Acharya Pema, who promptly retaliated with her water glass dowsed on Richard, and she did not miss. She followed that up with threatening to throw the entire pitcher on him, under which pressure he gracefully surrendered. These are our great peacemakers.

Shortly I head to dinner and then to The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya for a peace vigil. I understand we also have the good grace to be witnessing a meteor shower these past several nights, which is supposed to be at its highest glory this evening. Until tomorrow, I shall end as we ended all our sessions, with the word of Shantideva.

And as long as space remains, and there are beings to be found, may I too, likewise remain to wash away the sorrows of the world.

August 10, 2007

Noble Silence

Practicing Peace in Times of War with Pema Chodron.

August 08, 2007

Dharma & Rain

With August came both rain and Dharma. One month of summer is all we get, it seems. The weather has cooled, the clouds become more abundant, and a chill rain falls most days.

The Sakyong gave three talks as part of the program Enlightened World, only one of which I have written about, in addition to speaking at a Refuge Ceremony. A large number of Shambhala Staff took Refuge, including several of my close friends, in addition to a large number of the participants. It was as different as could be from my own Refuge ceremony. I am happy for them. Afterward, I overheard one young woman on the phone to her parents “So, I’m Buddhist now.”

Two minutes before the ceremony as silent ripple ran through the crowd. Pema Chödron had arrived. We had no warning. There was no fanfare, no lining the roads to wave, no cavalry honor guard. She simply walked in and sat down on a cushion in the front row. The next day, at the final talk of the program, she attempted to do the same and almost made it to her cushion before everyone managed to stand for her. We had a good laugh. When the Sakyong led us through a standing guided meditation, I glimpsed her sneaking out, straight over the lowered walls of the tent, bypassing the shoe room in the back, and sprinting in stocking feet up the hill toward the toilet house. A young woman sprinted after her, for what purpose I can’t imagine. Shortly she snuck back in, gently picking her way across the rocky ground in shoeless feet, and finding her cushion.

Later, as the Sakyong blessed everyone by bonking them on the head with a statue of Miphan the Great, she handed out small red protection cords which he had blessed. I now wear the red yarn cord which she handed me wrapped twice around my neck and secured safely with a double knot.

Before the Sakyong’s words have even digested properly, I went straight into Shambhala Training Level 3: Warrior in the World. This is a mixed format staff only level. We spent all day yesterday in Sacred Studies Hall and today we meet three times for meditation in between our normal work schedule and again after dinner. The program will conclude tomorrow.

Then on Thursday evening, after dinner, Practicing Peace in Times of War with Pema Chödron begins. This is the first program in which I will be a full participant, other than the staff Levels. I am looking forward to it with an interesting trepidation. Months ago, when I received my refuge name, I wrote about possibly seeing Pema. I don’t know if I will actually be able to meet her, but I will be close, receiving teachings from her along with hundreds of others.

Nights are cold and once again I am learning to tuck my head under the covers to keep my nose from freezing. I have two chipmunks who seem to have the same opinion of the wet weather, Edgar, my tent chipmunk and Lola, my office chipmunk. They don’t seem to chew things up like mice do, so I don’t mind. People say we could see snow before the end of the month.

Maybe it is a Dharma Snow, which gradually blankets the land and soaks in.

August 04, 2007

The Sakyong King

As we sit together in silence in the Main Shrine Tent, breathing in an out, watching the barn swallows swoop among the poles when we are supposed to be watching that spot on the floor in front of us, or not watching it, watching nothing, watching our breath, then I wonder.

"When is he going to arrive?"

"How long have we been sitting here?"

"What time is it?"

"How long is this going to take?"

"Does he realize he's late?"

"I didn't arrive that early, did I?"

"All the teachers are here already, so he should be here soon, right?"

"If he doesn't arrive soon, will they gong for walking meditation?"

"When is he going to arrive?"

Then the gong rings, we stand and bow, hands in anjali. He enters, resplendent in red and gold, climbs the steps and sits. Then he speaks and I forget I was ever waiting. No impatience, no annoyance, no frustration.

The moment is only this.

The Knife Which Cuts

“Okay,” was how it started. President Reoch, administrative head of Shambhala International, introduced the man in the gold tunic and burgundy robes sitting high on the thrown on the left hand side of the shrine: Dharma heir to the Nyingma and Kagyu lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as Shambhala, best selling author, marathon runner, living incarnation of Mipham the Great, and renowned meditation master. It brought to mind the practice of victorious Roman generals to place a slave in their chariot whose only job was to remind them they were merely mortal. I supposed had I suggested it, the response from some of those in the crowd might have been to point out that he is in a fact a reincarnated tulka, therefore, not mortal. I wonder what he would have said to that.

“Okay,” was how Sakyong Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche opened his first talk of Enlightened World, with that quintessentially American word.

The Sakyong spoke to us about engaging in enlightenment. Enlightenment is not something that happens to you, or even something you can cause to just come about, it is something which we all have the capability to do on a daily basis. The material world and the heart/mind world are the same. Even as we live in the material world we are, each of us, already enlightened, if we can just discover that and overcome all fear.

In doing this there are three steps, View, Familiarity, and Activity. View is intention and an understanding of purpose. Familiarity is the practice of meditation, both shamatha and vipassana. Activity is our conduct. Without View, he told us, without knowing what it is your are becoming familiar with, you can meditate forever and not get anywhere.

“You can’t just sit and hope for the best,” but out of the right motivation everything will come.

Each of the Nine Paths, two belonging to the Hinayana or Theravada, one belonging to the Mahayana, and six to the Vajrayana, has a larger and larger motivation, each built up on the other. The Hinayana begins with a small motivation, which is further divided into three (Tibetans do love their lists), small of small, medium of small, large of small…you get the idea. The smallest of these is seeking happiness for ourselves through worldly means, then through both worldly and spiritual means, then through spiritual means we start to look at the root of the problem and begin to see the workings of karma and our next lives.

The Mahayana is the path of medium motivation (which is also subdivided) in which we begin to see that all beings are in exactly the same predicament. We then develop loving-kindness and compassion.

“Compassion is the best motivation,” and it‘s free. Big motivation leads to big realization.

But samsara only gets worse, not better, the Buddha warned us. The world is speeding up. The Sakyong spoke of teachings he gives in Tibet, where there is literally nothing, but this year there were monks on cell phones. They bow with half anjali (prayer hands) because they are holding a cell phone to their ear. The world is speeding up, but this speed does not affect our enlightened qualities, it only means we have to be more proactive in bringing them out.

Meditation is proactive, he said. Not a word I would have used to describe it, but we all know of my problems with meditation. (There is a Zen temple in Omaha, so my friend Wendy asked me why I didn’t end up in the Zen tradition. “Are you kidding? Too much meditation!” I answered and she laughed.) The Sakyong spoke of how in meditation we are surrounding our mind with qualities we want to cultivate, thus Familiarity. The mind is like a sponge, he said.

Meditation is how you cultivate your motivation, using both shamatha and vipassana. Shamatha is calm abiding, the meditation on the breath which provides the mind with stability. It allows us to own our minds and build within them both strength and spaciousness. This must come first, but it can’t be the only part of our meditation practice. We must also use contemplative meditation. We should read or hear the teachings actively, contemplate on them, and finish with shamatha meditation, as part of our practice.

The mind is the root of all action. We must have a thought to have an action. When we are mindful, totally present, we have Lungta, or wind horse, a great energy that effects both the body and the mind. We need shamatha to learn to be present enough to raise Windhorse. We need the spaciousness in order to contemplate compassion during vipassana, so that thought doesn’t just get lost among all the others.

Compassion is a noble heart. To have true compassion we must have a mind which fully perceives. Then we will see that others act badly out of suffering. We understand and see others need our love.

After the talk was over and the crowd had broken up, I happened upon a conversation in the Dining Tent. “He never talked about contemplative meditation before.” I mentioned this later to some staff-mates. I had always thought it odd that the Dalai Lama and other traditions emphasize one third scholarly study, one third shamatha, and one third contemplative meditation, while in Shambhala it seemed all to be shamatha, shamatha, shamatha.

“Chogyam Trungpa never taught contemplative meditation,” Susan told me.

When the Dalai Lama visited in September, he told the Sakyong “teach them contemplative meditation.” It sounds like this has been something the Sakyong has been trying to introduce for some time, to varied forms of resistance. He spoke of practitioners who had been meditating for thirty years with no attainment. I think waves have been made here, but to me, they bring relief to a still pool which was in danger of becoming stagnant.

I understood when previous teachers told me shamatha was to stabilize the mind, but I always wondered “for what purpose.” It seems silly to me to sharpen a knife if all you are going to do is carry it around with you and never chop any vegetables.

I can’t say I’m not looking forward to seeing what “cuts” the Sakyong is going to make with his knife, even if some people don‘t like them.

August 03, 2007

Rant & Resolution

Sometimes I get so frustrated. I don’t know why things have to be so hard. I know I screw up and make mistakes and have to pay for them, but sometimes I just don’t understand. Very few things can upset me, twist me up into knots the way I have been lately. Those thing are threats - to my finances, to my academic future and career, and to my competency.

When I feel stupid, like I am out of my depth or don’t know what I’m doing, I can become depressed and upset but I always know I can remedy that situation. I may be incompetent, but not for long. I can learn, study, try harder, and eventually gain the knowledge and skills I need to do any job right.

When I suddenly run afoul of some bizarre rule or regulation the University or the government throws at me with no warning, I can become angry. I curse the inflexibility and unreason ability of the system as I frantically search for a loophole. I usually find it sooner or later, but not before I piss someone else off.

But when it comes to money, I start to feel truly helpless, which is the worst emotion of all. I feel I have only two choices. I can live a financially sound life, secure, with little or no debt, a nice home, good food, and a reliable car, but only if I choose a job which is equally bland. Or I can pursue my education, both academic and dharmic, bounce from job to job as my academic schedule changes, try to scrape together enough savings to come here, to SMC, when I can, and go into huge amounts of debt, and hope someday I’ll have the job which can both pay it all off and help me fulfill my own goals.

I feel lowest when all my scrambling comes to naught and I go crawling back to Mom and Dad. I was independent for four years after high school. I had a good job at the bank. I was making the mortgage payments. Then I decided to go back to school. The house took on a second mortgage, my credit cards ran up to their limits. Things got worse and worse until I realized I couldn’t keep the house. When we sold it, there was no way to repay my parents for the “Gift” of equity they had fronted us to cover the down payment, $20,000 we had been making payments on for the past four years. That equity was wiped out by the second mortgage which paid my first year’s tuition when I didn’t qualify for any financial aid.

I moved into my parents’ town home, a place I had never lived. Gas prices were rising and it was a 100 mile drive to the University and back every day. When I stumbled upon the little foreclosed condo in Lincoln, they helped me buy it, taking out an equity line on their town home. I make the mortgage payments on that - mostly.

Then things like the past several summers come up. I want something. I want something so bad I can taste it. One summer it was to take the summer structures class, so I wouldn’t have to take it in the fall and have a horrible class load. Last summer, it was to work here, with no pay, for seventeen days in May. I mistimed my paychecks (from my three summer jobs at UNL) and needed some help. Then this summer, I finally make it out here and I have two backup plans, both of which fail. I ask for help again, but only just a little, and when my accounts go in the red and they shut off my cell phone, I say nothing. I just wait for my financial aid to disburse, start looking for a fall job I was hoping I wouldn’t need, call the student law clinic about declaring bankruptcy and soak up the late fees.

Of course, it couldn’t just be one thing. Those bizarre University rules come up to bite me in the ass and they threaten to cancel my enrollment if I don’t pay my overdue health center bill seven days before my aid will run through and pay my tuition and everything else. No enrollment = no tuition = no aid. So, back to Mom and Dad, to be chastised for not giving them much warning. After a while even the promises to pay them back when my aid comes through, thus far dutifully kept, wear thin.

“Then we have to have a talk about hard working parents funding their daughter’s vacations.”

I just sit here and want to cry and get angry at myself because I know that is not going to help. I never feel better when I cry. So I just sniffle a little, blow my nose and wipe my eyes, and go back out to face the rest of the world. “C’est la vie,” I say with a shrug, when I really want to hit something and beg everyone I see to have pity and help me. I know very well they have their own problems, just like my parents do.

This is all of my own making - a result of my ambition and desire. And I admit I spent money I might have saved on things I wanted but didn’t need, back when I foolishly thought everything was going to be okay. So it is time to buckle down, get a little tougher, actually pay attention to that Dharma which warns of the suffering born from attachment.

I have gotten better over the years, better at fingering that lovely kimono and leaving it on the hanger, smelling that pretty candle and leaving it on the shelf, gazing up at that lovely painting and leaving it on the wall, flipping through that awesome book on Romanesque architecture and putting it back. Now, I have to get even better.

For a long time, I having been considering an article I read (in either Tricycle or the Shambhala Sun, I don’t recall) of a woman who stopped shopping for a whole year. She bought food and essential tools only. I have thought it a worthy idea and wished I could do that. I’m not that strong, I thought. But now I think, I better be! I have three more years of this crazy thing they call an “education” left to go!

Therefore, I resolve:

1) To purchase food only at grocery stores, in bulk and not pre-cooked or packaged wherever possible. 2) To not spend money in restaurants, excepting celebrations to which I have been invited such as birthdays, showers, going-away parties, etc. (No, Thirsty Thursday does not count.) 3) To ride my bicycle, take public transportation, or carpool/rideshare whenever possible and reduce money spent on gasoline and car care. 4) To purchase only those items required for my classes, such as test books and project materials. To return any unused materials for a refund and not saving them. 5) To purchase only such household items as necessary for normal maintenance, such as light bulbs, cleaning products, etc., and to make no further household improvements except those that can be done for free, such as from found materials and my own labor. 6) To purchase only gifts for others or the materials to make gifts by hand for those friends and family who might enjoy them. 7) To pay only for essential medical and legal services which might be necessary for myself (and my cat), and to find reduced cost, free, or pro bono services wherever available. 8) To go through my belongings and sell or give away at least 25% of my stuff.

I am putting these resolutions into affect from August 1st, 2007, until August 1st, 2008. I will update this blog with the progress I have made, the strategies I am using, amendments necessary to the Resolutions, and where I stumble.

For the next year I am going to experiment with living intentionally. I want to see if living this way in the modern city can reduce my cravings, desires, attachments, and, ultimately, my suffering.

As I always tell myself “Don’t just bitch, do something about it!”