Sunday, February 27, 2011

What ties me down?

The Chief Feline Officer is not pleased about suitcases. She generally prefers that I stay home with her all of the time. I prefer to stay with her most of the time too. If I were ever to take some kind of extended TDY work, a non-negotiable condition would be that CFO goes with me. This particular kitty is kitty #4 in my life. She is 17 years old, doing well, but still is an elderly kitty. Soon after her time has passed, there will be kitty #5 in my life, perhaps even 5 & 6. When I decided to let cats into my life, nearly 35 years ago, I accepted the responsibility of being tied down. I don't feel burdened because that term has a connotation to me of doing something against my will. I joyously welcomed animals into my life and haven't looked back.

Perhaps I am tied down by my age. I am not planning on quitting my "corporate" work in favor of a sabbatical, a trip around the world, extended backpacking, reinventing myself. I am planning on traditional retirement. I will be able to do that in just a few years. So I am tied down right now by my need to continue to capitalize my retirement fund which I am doing. It's the same as saving up for that sabbatical, I think.

Perhaps I am tied down by my health. I really do want the assurance of having a good health insurance policy. Right now I don't make much use of it .... 1-2 doctor visits a year, some routine screening tests that so far are all negative, one simple, cheap medication. But sooner or later something will come up so that I need the insurance. I prefer not to be bankrupt by health care costs. So I'm tied down to my corporate job in order that I can keep my affordable health insurance. That's just the way it works in the US.

Perhaps I am tied down by my attachments. I am attached, I know, to the concepts of safety and comfort. I really prefer to have both in my life, and do not care to put myself into situations where they are absent or could easily be absent. This translates into behaviors such as ... paying enough rent so that I feel very safe in my apartment as opposed to paying a lot less, but having a lot of worries about safety ... not wanting to do camping when I travel .... not wanting to stay in hostels when I travel .... not wanting to stay in really cheap hotels when I travel ... not wanting to travel via backpacking or hitchhiking or buses in less developed countries .... wanting to have comfortable furnishings where I live, especially my bed. I also don't particularly want to travel to many places in the world. I know every place is fascinating and that I could learn so much by putting myself way outside my comfort zone, especially in less developed places or potentially dangerous places (Pakistan, anybody? How about Burma? I hear there are great Buddhist sites there.)  The truth is, I don't want to do that. And I don't need to do that. It's not a requirement that I do that. So I don't.

Perhaps I'm tied down by my sense of responsibility. I like my work, my work place and my co-workers.  Everybody treats me well at work, and all the indications I have from them is that they prefer I stick around for the indefinite future.  I feel a lot of gratitude for this right livelihood that I have and want to do well by my clients and my co-workers. I don't want to just pack up and leave them any time soon. When I do decide to leave this workplace, I intend to give them plenty of notice. I want to fulfill my responsibilities towards that place and those people and do it happily. I'm not just working for the paycheck and the insurance.

Perhaps I am tied down by this concept called "home." I like the idea that I have a home someplace in the world. It's where the cat is, it's where they have to take me in, it's where I feel safe, it's where I prefer to spend a lot of my time, it's someplace that I love. I'm fine about having that attachment too.

Perhaps I am tied down by my community. I have grown a community around me over the years. The people come for a variety of places and sources. I like living amongst them. I don't want to be packing up and leaving them anytime soon. Instead I want to continue to make the community larger.

Perhaps I am tied down by my stuff. Well, perhaps. I have decided that because I am staying put and making a home in a place, I prefer that my home be characterized by being safe, convenient, comfortable and beautiful. That means I have acquired and maintain a fair amount of stuff ... not a huge amount, but more than minimal for sure.

Do I feel burdened or tied down by this stuff that I have? No, I don't. I would just as soon have it right now, but if that overdue earthquake happens, and if the CFO and I both survive, I will be all right about losing all my stuff. Of course I will regret losing a few things, mostly art and family associated things. But I would get over the loss quickly and then figure out what to do next. Maybe take the insurance money and set off on that trip around the world with a backpack. Maybe create that minimal Swedish style place I so admire. Who knows? I'm sure I would regard the event as an opportunity to start fresh rather than a loss to regret.

So, for now, I am staying put where I am, doing what I have been doing for awhile longer. I'm keeping the stuff that I have because it suits me to continue to do that. I don't feel tied down at all. I feel like this is what I have chosen freely. Nothing and everything ties me down.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

At Home

"All was white and clean, as though the room had been designed for surgery, or for Swedish people." I laughed out loud at this sentence from Claire Dederer's recent memoir Poser: My Life in Twenty Three Yoga Poses.

I LOVE those clean, simple interiors that are called by various names like "Zen" "Swedish" "Minimal" "Modern". You know the kind. Walls all white or almost white. Bare floors with maybe one white fluffy rug. Big windows with no window treatments or just some kind of shade that you hardly notice. Natural wood furniture without much upholstery, except possibly for the big white sofa. Sometimes there's a fireplace. If there is art on the wall it's usually large and single. No misc. stuff sitting around. No books to speak of ... maybe an art one on the coffee table. Monochrome palate overall in pale colors.  Check out the blog on my list at the right My Scandinavian Retreat. Interior design eye candy for me (or maybe porn.)

I have never once created an interior like these for the various places I have actually lived in. I probably never will. Minimalists people would probably blanche at seeing my places.

First of all, my walls are all filled up with art. Some of it actually is art. I have several signed, numbered prints done by real live artists bought from art galleries. There are quite a few posters in frames. Also photos and even postcards. Many framed greeting cards and also odd "things"... woven wall hangings, little stuffed dolls, a dream catcher made by an artist.  Sitting around are some small "statues" , many ceramic pieces made by artists (mostly bowls and vases).

Second, my walls are mostly painted various colors.  Right now my bedroom and living area are those light Scandinavian colors, grey, pale blue, cream. But my kitchen is inspired by rainbow sherbet .... it's orange, yellow and green. In a past apartment I painted an area navy blue, and in another the bathroom was bright pink. I grew up in a home painted by my dad who has fearless about color. My brother's old bedroom, for example, was purple and orange and looked good. I'll put any color on my walls that I want, and will change the colors from time to time when the old ones make me tired. Oh, yes, a lot of my furniture is painted too.

Third, I have lots of stuff around to look at and use. Books, throw pillows, light fixtures, clocks, baskets, candles, nice looking office supplies, jewelry boxes, nice looking lotion and potion containers, nice looking kitchen things. Everything is curated. All the horizontal surfaces that have things on them are tablescapes, not random objects that happen to be there. Most things are there for practical purposes. A few are just there to look interesting, like my little collection of nurse dolls or the shelf in the bookcase that contains my mom's old doll furniture.

I also have little "areas" in my place. There's a spinning area with a chair, my spinning wheel and a basket with supplies. There's a mediation area with a low altar table and a zafu and zabutan. There's a stylized Japanese alcove with  a hanging obi as the scroll, my old wooden step stool from childhood as the raised platform and a glass vase filled with hand spindles as the flower arrangement. There's an area with a chair near the door, useful for putting things onto upon arrival home or sitting down to put on shoes just before leaving. And the chair is easily moveable if there happen to be guests in the sitting area.

Here's the deal though. My place pleases me. Guests like it too.  My place is carefully put together. My place is small but looks surprisingly spacious. My place will tell you all kins of things about me. My place is cozy. My place belongs to me.

Friday, February 11, 2011

More Than One Truth

So here are the facts that I know. Genpo has resigned as a Zen priest and from his position as head of the White Plum Sangha. He intends to continue teaching the Big Mind process but as a lay person. At the moment he is in his home in Maui. There is a long scheduled Big Mind intensive workshop over the weekend, which I assume is going on.

Kanzeon Zen Center and Big Mind, Inc are separating from each other. Taido Sensei has been made vice abbott and is returning to Salt Lake from Seattle to be in charge of Kanzeon. He is supposed to be here on Sunday.

But beyond these bare facts, things are muddied for me now. I have very little clarity at the moment. I have been talking to and hearing from all kinds of different people who have all kinds of different things to say about the situation.

I've heard a lot of stuff that I have to call gossip, although that doesn't mean there is no truth to what is said. I think there is a lot of truth in these stories from the past. I believe people who say "I was there when and I saw / knew ........" A lot of these stories I wish I had not heard. I have more evidence than I really need to show me the extent of our problems. I do not seek this gossip out, but I can't stop people from speaking up in public meetings.

I continue to hear high amounts of anger and sadness. I hear a lot of calls for forgiveness and several for tough love. I've heard a lot of call for introspection and looking inward to see our own parts in all this. I've heard a lot of calls for clean breaks, fresh starts, sweeping changes.

I do not know, fundamentally, what I think is the right thing to do except to keep showing up, keep listening, keep pondering. But there is one thing I agree with. Last night at a big sangha meeting a friend said something wise, "There is more than one truth." And really that is very Zen. Zen teaches me that what I need to do is to change my perspective, to look at things from different vantage points.... like hearing all the different voices at the sangha meeting. The same person is both beloved and has acted wickedly. Both change and forgiveness are probably needed. People are sad and angry at the same time.

And the other thing that Zen teaches me is the idea of impermanence. All of life is always impermanent. DUH. Everything changes. The only question is exactly how and to exactly what.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Things Change

Last week I talked about my friend who has moved into our Zen Center, intending, probably, that she would live there for the rest of her life. She is still there, but she may not be able to live there much longer.

Our Zen center has exploded. Our Zen Center may cease to exist.

I am told that "it's all over the internet" and also that I "don't want to read what is being said." I probably don't want to read what I might could read if I sought it out. I was there at the meeting on Thursday. That was enough. I doubt that there is anything new and different on the internet.

Our Roshi is a very flawed human being, and in January his ethical lapses became public. I won't go into any details ("it's all over the internet"). The details don't really matter anyway, and what has happened to us has happened to many, many other communities, all kinds of communities. It has happened a lot within the North American Buddhist (not just Zen) communities. Some of the stories are legend.

The question is, what now?

We have a Board of Directors who will make the decision for the organization. Roshi will make a decision about himself and his life. We, the members of the sangha, will have to live with what they all decide. That's the easy answer. What will be, will be.

About a year ago, Roshi had a sangha meeting where he asked people to really figure out why each of us, as individuals, was there in that room and a member of the sangha. He asked us to get clear about what we wanted to "get." He offered two possible answers: 1) to improve your life and 2) to work towards eventually receiving transmission (becoming a teacher in your own right, aspiring to be a sensei and eventually a roshi).

He said is you were here to improve your life, fine. We'll help you with that as much as you do or don't want. But then he really laid into the second group of people for quite some time, and his message there was that those people needed to "get serious" really fast and to stay serious.

I had to think about why I was there. I was clear, very clear, that I was NOT there for reason #2. I have NO aspirations towards ever being a teacher. (Frankly, it looks like a horrible job to me .... 100% not for me). But I also knew I was not just there for reason #1. My life was, and still is, pretty decent, actually. Improvement is always needed, of course, but on the whole, things have been going along quite well for me in the past many years.

I was there because I wanted to be part of the community, the sangha. I came looking for a community to join, and I found one there. I love that GROUP of people very much and want to stay a part of them. That's why I'm even considering the idea of becoming a monk ... so that I will be a permanent and public member of that community. This is what is disturbing me the most here, the mere possibility that the sangha might be dissolved.

I intend to show up a lot in the near future. I intend to show my fellow shanga members that I want to be a part of the keeping us together, with or without Roshi. We have something here that is very valuable, worth struggling to keep and make better.

The Zen way would to let go of attachment to the outcome, wouldn't it? I'm not there right now.