Cobblestones….

A quiet day yesterday. One year since my wife of 28 years (partner for 30) died in Tekoa, WA at the age of 66. Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and for the last two years acute onset of end stage renal failure. She stopped dialysis and was told she would die in 4-6 days. 15 months later, she died, I think peacefully, right in front of me. Actually, that’s not totally accurate.

The day she died I had gone home from the care facility she was in for the last month of her life, for some dinner and to feed the dog and cat. On my way out the door to go back to care center, I thought, I’ll take the Big Book (AA tome), and read her something.

When I got to her room she was laying flat on her back, which was not correct, but they had just bathed her so I elevated the head of bed; I stood at the end of the bed and intoned one of the prayers from the Big Book to her. She had been quite tense and sort of grimacing from the bathing and being left flat on her back and was physically uncomfortable. Several days before she had been left her on a bed pan all night, which created a huge circular wound on her buttocks, so she was tense/apprehensive from all that activity too. She was being medicated so probably wasn’t in pain, the stress of dying after many years of enduring great pain was the issue at this point.  She hadn’t eaten in about five days and took only small amounts of water to wet her throat.

When I finished reciting the prayer to her, she relaxed visibly. She sort of settled into the mattress. It was a relief, all around.

I then set a chair next to her bed and just sat there watching her. There was a knock and and a call from the door; one of the nurses aides, a nice young guy with whom I’d only had one little conversation, came in and said he wanted to change the catheter bag. As he was doing that he started telling me a story of his experience with the death of two of his relatives. I forget the details but he was speaking form the heart as he worked, so I listened and watched him. At some point I turned to look at Linda and I realized, Oh, she’s dying, right now. and I turned to tell the young aide that we had a situation, but I saw that he was in the middle of opening his heart. I listened for about another minute and he finished his task and story and quietly left. When I turned back; Linda was dead.

I intoned some Buddhist scriptures, two Exhortations to the Mortally Ill and Dying, and the Scripture of Great Wisdom (Heart Sutra), and told the duty nurse that Linda had died and called our friend Reverend Master Zensho, a priest and monk of our Sangha/Order who lived over in Idaho. He had made all the preparation over a year before. He arrived through a snow storm about 2-3 hours later and we did the Buddhist funeral for a lay person. In that ceremony the deceased is ordained as a Buddhist monk and then prepared for the Funeral. The care center had given us permission to use incense and such and when we were done (it took about an hour and a half), we called the funeral home in town just a block from our house and the Funeral director came and we transported Linda to his place.

I want to say that the help Linda received at that care home was terrific and compassionate. A couple of mistakes were made, but those were all in the human realm. Everyone there did their absolute best. The Funeral director couldn’t have been more compassionate. He understood we were sort of “special needs” as Buddhists (they are not exactly thick upon the ground In far Eastern Washington State), and was caring, professional, attentive and flexible. We knew him and his wife because of the small town (pop. 886) in fact I can’t imagine a better place for Linda to have spent her last nine years of life.

God bless you, good folks of Tekoa!

Anyway, at some point I’ll write more about the process and funeral and cremation and ash distribution and the general aftermath of this death within the human condition. For this post, I just want to say that “they” are right. It takes about a year for things to settle down sufficiently in order to begin to grasp what the reality of the loss is.

I will say this. I went off the rails for a while and made some mistakes; but life and the help of good spiritual friends and the compassion of many good people in my life helped me to regain perspective and tread more carefully the path laid so compassionately under my feet.

Linda, I miss you.

We cobbled together a darn good 30 years. For a couple of drunks who met at an AA meeting and had nothing; we did magnificently. We both stayed sober. We helped each other to grow …

Thank you. I love you.

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That’s enough!

This Saturday we are having a memorial service for a long time temple supporter. He was a committed Catholic and a generous and enthusiastic participant in our Sangha. He never made a big deal about having his feet planted in two religions. He saw the deeper truths and that they applied to all religions. A life well lived and based on openness and generosity. He died gracefully. May you be at peace, wherever you are Larry.

I was listening to my internal litany of complaints the other day, that endless subtext scrolling across our minds 24/7. Usually in the back ground, thankfully; nevertheless it informs our relationship to the world and our interaction with it. We can change its tone, pitch, repetition rate, insistence and can, if we work at it, help convert that litany of complaint into one of gratitude.

That’s what happened for me the other day. Once again I had gotten caught up in a mental state of complaint. I then realized that 90 percent of the human population would gladly take on my complaints in exchange for theirs.

But, there is more, as they say on the kitchen gizzmo ads on TV.

The more was that my relationship to my complaints changed instantly into one of immense gratitude. It was based on this simple idea.

Only humans have the ability to discern the world as if there were some sort of lack in their lives, i.e. reason for complaint. That means I’m merely and magnificently human.

I am aware.

I can be more aware.

There is a larger context for my awareness.

I can change.

I will change whether I want to change or not.

I can participate in my change.

I have endless opportunity. Options.

The condition I live in may be hard or impossible to change,

but the condition of my mind can always be improved.

What a gift.

Content.   Sufficient.   Adequate.

That’s me.            That’s Enough.

mixing pounds and sense…

A manager learns how to do things right.

A leader does the right thing.

In the spiritual life the above principles

don’t stand against each other.

They depend on a good teacher.

An encounter with the truth.

First we learn how to do things. Not think things.

Then, after a period of time of trying to do things right we naturally become able to Lead a good life.

Like a simple recipe.

One Pound of Butter.

One Pound of Eggs.

One Pound of Flour.

Those ingredients do

Not a cake Make.

Unless Mixed and put

In the Oven to Bake.

Weed revealed as ordinary flower…

Nessuno e Sagia da maggio, a maggio. No one is wise all the time.

Today walking along the Vallejo waterfront in a cool sunny day I realized once again that the keys to happiness are to allow it to arise naturally.

I must prepare my ground.

Not tilling. Not digging. No furrows. No trellises. No rows to hoe. Just leaving things be until the time and place are ripe for seeds to be scattered.

The seeds I want to scatter are;

Contentment: Being aware that everything in my life is given or presented to me for my own good.

Sufficiency:    I lack nothing. I am bidden to accept my life as it is.

Adequacy:      As I stand on the earth today I am able to see that the above two views are the opportunity (The Field), for me to practice being still, and seeing things as they really are. All is One. All is Different.

Within those seeds are the potentials within me to help or to hinder. The more I help, the more fertile the ground the above seeds are sown on and a beautiful weed (It’s a weed because I didn’t deliberately plant it.)  sprouts and starts to grow with pleasing flowers and fragrance. That weed is Happiness.

I notice that Happiness is not composed of The Most Beautiful Flowers in the World, or the Headiest Fragrance Ever.

Rather, it is just pleasing; all the way around. In every aspect and facet.   It is Contentment, Sufficiency & Adequacy…

A revelation that keeps on giving and if I can view it correctly; enough.

Word power…

The power of words and the ideas they impress on us.

We use all sorts of words and combinations thereof that are unique to each of us. Like a fingerprint. However, unlike a fingerprint, words not only define us individually, but they also describe us and often form us.

(Disclaimer: I have an ongoing challenge with using certain words under the guise of “punctuation” or mimicry (me me cry) of ostensible past self, or others. So, a work very much in progress.)

Words form us because with each use we channel deeper the rut of some thought-life-pattern. We don’t do this consciously. It’s an deeply ingrained aspect of our consciousness.

It’s very hard to think or see clearly when we are bogged down in words, and its very hard to think or see clearly when we are afraid of words. But the words we use, and their context, are really much more windows to our “soul” than the eyes.

We lay ourselves bare while reinforcing the “self”.

We all know people who use their words in terrifically facile ways and can obfuscate and misdirect and hide with them.

Usually not for long though. We see through most things except when we are in a fog ourselves. Angry, happy, despairing, in love, out of love, in yearning, in despising, in grasping after, or pushing away; in any number of mental conditions that cloud clarity.

We rarely know when we are using words in wonderfully facile ways to delude ourselves, because when we are angry, happy, despairing, in love, out of love, in yearning, in despising, in grasping after, in pushing away; the nature of this fog is to build that false sense of the “self” (i.e. ego) and take it for the truth and purpose of life.  At the cost of not being able to see that other people are just as deluded as we are. Mostly because of the words we cling to. They are the expression of habitual patterns of seeing ourselves in relation to the world outside of us.

Quite a muddle.

Seemingly.

The value of being still, deliberately still, for a period(s) of time. Perhaps each day, but certainly on a regular basis really is profound. It is through these moments of agreeable stillness and quiet that we can begin to glimpse past the habit patterns, and sometimes see how we construct them.

And then comes the mystical part. We don’t have to do anything. We can just see them.

And then comes the practical part. We can change in small ways how we repeat (or refer to), these patterns.

Between the above two “and’s” is a transformation in how we do and how we think.

“I can’t breathe!” means a lot of different things to different people at different times. But we know it can’t be good.

 

Asking for guidance…

In the last few days I’ve had several interesting encounters that I would put under the heading of asking for guidance. In one instance someone asked me to be their mentor/sponsor in the spiritual realms of working a 12-step recovery program. Here I encounter the two fold issue of my learning to temper my input and make it suitable to the situation and the person, while at the same time being a little challenging, in the sense of there may be resistance to what I offer or suggest, because the person has some ideas that they cherish and want to hold on to. This usually takes the form of glib, well-worn stock phrases like “I’ve always felt, (thought, said, etc.), that…Or, “I’ve never heard of anything like that (in Buddhism in this case)…” Both of those attitudes are not the best for the ostensible “student”. Oh, how many times have I said or thought those things in my own process of learning. But, what I know today is that if I’ve said or thought things like that 1,247 times, then I have had to drop those opinions and be willing to learn; 1,248 times.

In the other case, an old time trainee and friend in our sangha called to ask for some advice regarding some family dynamics involving issues with which I have a raft of experience and training. Most of what I said was boiler-plate type of insight, but a few things were of direct experiential content. My friend listened to all of it and, I’m sure, was able to use some as new info, take some as reinforcement of his own knowledge and experience and incorporate it into his decision/action process.

In both of the above instances it was my opportunity to grow and learn. Even as I’m formulating what I’m saying I realize I’m formulating it for the purposes of my own clarification and learning, and whether someone else profits from it is strictly up to them. That, in turn, gives me more information in how very cautious I must be when proffering solicited advice/opinion.

I of course have a lot to learn in the unsolicited advice/opinion part of my interactions with people, but that’s the topic for a gigantic book I should be working on. Thank god for “Maybe tomorrow?”…

The day after…

In every conversation I engaged in today people expressed that they were very glad the holiday was over and that they hadn’t enjoyed it.  At all!  How did we end up at that point?

Presumably it has to do with expectations. Casinos and expectations and most hope in general is/are based on a false premise.

Every time I’ve tried this it turned out THAT way. This time it will be different; it will turn out THIS way.

As an old Irish acquaintance used to say, “You can’t have every which way!” Still we try.

Oh, well. Maybe next year will be different.

I was at an AA meeting today and heard a young woman talk about the experience of having her first sober Christmas since her early teens twenty years before. She was so grateful for having socialized with people and family as a sober responsive person. One who didn’t drown all her, mostly self manufactured (she has now realized), sorrows in a bottle or drugs. It was a really wonderful thing to witness. I hope she’s around to say the same thing next year.

As I walked along the Vallejo waterfront this afternoon there were several groups of kids with their parents on new bikes(the kids, not the parents), and scooters that Santa had brought them. In kids their wish for gifts is still natural and their joy (mostly) at getting something is quite intense, although usually short lived. Perhaps there is something we can learn from observing this yearning and wishing for things that make us feel better; and relatively soon the feeling vanishes with familiarity. We’re all that way. We can see it in the children and call them childish when they behave this way. Yet we do the exact same thing. For essentially the same kind of stuff. Anything new. Anything is better than the old. Anything.

Happy New Year! All beginnings are new.

(A)t one ment…

There’s a small Buddha statue in the front garden of the temple. The Buddha is golden and there is a small cup of water and a pot of flowers on the little raised platform the Buddha sits on.

Two crows live in the tree above the Buddha. They like the water bowl and knock it around pretty good when squabbling over the drinking pecking order, but often they just sit there next to the Buddha and look around. Chillin’.

There are two schools on the next block, so lots of kids walking by and an astounding number of them acknowledge or refer to the statue and sometimes the two dragons over the gate to the back parking area and yard. I like to think that at some point in a future those kids will be grown and having dinner with some friends and they are exchanging stories of the wonders of childhood (then just a dim memory), and one will relate how they loved to walk to school and catch a glimpse of the Buddha and/or the dragons; and how it all felt somewhat magical, mysterious and, somehow, right.

The crows I imagine are just happy to have fresh water offered every day  under their tree, yet also sense there is more going on. Just what, though?

These two ways, that seem different, are also ways that we all approach the unknown, the mysterious. That Which Is. We glimpse, we sense, we wonder and we refresh ourselves and grow up and still we know there is more; but what is it?

We had a classic Buddhist ceremony today, the oldest one in Buddhism; and a pot luck lunch in the back yard. I went and picked up an aging and infirm, yet very Bright and Aware elderly Sangha member at his home and had the joy of hearing his spiritual and life reminiscence and we drove to and from his house. An old sick person who was at ease and peace with his deterioration and not too distant death. He was aware and grateful that he had done his best to open his heart and be as honorable as he could manage in his life and that was good enough for him. Sufficiency.

Perhaps as a child he saw some crows playing in a fountain at the feet of St. Francis.

push/pull

I arrived in Bay area Saturday afternoon. I’m settling in slowly to the pace and activity of the temple. This week I’ll get up to speed on day to day doings and remembering various aspects of ceremonies and such, things we didn’t practice at home. But, like bicycle riding its in the memory somewhere. In my last minute rush of course I forgot some things and left a few things undone, luckily my friend who will be living in that house is helping to tie up loose ends, plus she was willing to take on the dog and cat care as well. She’s not  huge fan of cats but I’m sure will learn to love my adorable feline.

Moving from a small town in a rural setting into the Berkeley hub-bub is a bit of culture shock to say the leas,t so I think it will take a few weeks to settle in to the pace of everything; one block over is Solano Ave., and I would guess there are 30-40 restaurants in a ten block stretch. Only one of each Subway and Starbucks and the rest are just small enterprise. Everything from Nepalese/Tibetan, to Chilean, to Afghan/Cuban, and then there are some unusual ones. Same with stores, and the people. Any five people you see are all from different places in the world. A rather heady experience for this re-transplant.

I will be posting more often and get back to my previous blog’s practice of posting daily in a week or so, once I’m settled in physically and mentally (spiritually). I must say that when the time comes to make some choices in a year, that little town sure has lots of good memories going for it. I feel so fortunate to be able to have this type of quandary in my life, and even more so because any choice I make will be informed by the practice and training in Zen that keeps straightening my path, spine and convictions when I wander, feel weak, or am confused.

Propelled or pulled

No difference at all

When in motion trying

To be still, and at rest.

Finally pulled out of Tekoa at 3:30 this afternoon. Some things left undone but mostly everything is finally in motion.

I had terrific experience of being the pleasantly surprised victim of a surprise going away gathering at local coffee shop “Eclairs”. So many kind people that have become friends in my time there. I was really moved. The word community has taken on a much deeper meaning in the last 5 or 6 weeks. More is being revealed. I’m so happy to be 66 years old and still discovering new depth and experience about people and life. True joy.

I did make the first leg of my journey, only four hours and I’m in Boardman on the Oregon side of the Columbia River in very nice, reasonably priced hotel with a good restaurant and great view of the setting sun on river. The first time in my life I just sat and enjoyed a setting without thinking about journey. I’m on one and have no worries, a very good friend is living in my house and taking care of it and my dog and cat. I have opportunity to practice full and complete trust. My life is so rich, good friends and on my way to reconnect with the sangha in Bay area and deepen my Buddhist training while not having any outcome in front of me. Yes, there are some things I would like to happen but I’m really tired of wanting outcomes, so I think I am finally ready to accept what is brought into my life. I’ll accept. I’ll allow, I won’t preclude or exclude. I want to help and to be helped. I bow in gratitude.