A few days ago, on Thursday, we set to work preparing for the long-awaited remodeling of our kitchen. This past weekend was slated as demolition time – and that’s just what we did! We spent the last two days making a HUGE mess and then cleaning it up and hauling it to the landfill for a fond farewell.
As a bit of background, my husband and I have gone small room by small room, of our humble 550-square-foot house, completely tearing down each one to its fir studs since purchasing it in 2004. The kitchen has been the hardest to figure out, given the complexities involved (including an old brick chimney embedded in the cabinets and the fact that our kitchen is also our utility room, which houses our water heater and electrical box), which resulted in our having been stalled on just how to approach it for the last few years. But, alas, the time has come and we finally have a plan!
I’m entering a topic where when I searched online for images to accompany a post pertaining to it, I was accosted with pictures of the earth engulfed in violent flames, sad looking arctic animals stranded on frozen chunks of ice bobbing in the sea, and giant smoke stacks belching out plumes of exhaust. But amid all of the alarming and heart-wrenching images, I found this one, shown above, which I greatly prefer. I also think this image has the capacity to possibly motivate and support people, rather than just scare the crap out of them, which is a bonus.
I’ve purposefully avoided this topic, much like one would avoid the plague. Anything having to do with the word “activism” scares me. Right or wrong, and probably a bit of both, when I think of activism, centered around any topic, I immediately think of angry-ridden crowds, shouting and shaking their rock-fists in the air at some invisible collective entity that they’ve obsessively devoted their lives to hating passionately, and short-shortsightedly. This does not appeal to me in the slightest. Now, of course, there are those who would consider themselves an activist who are not filled with a boiling surge of rancor and enmity. I just happen to leave out this demographic of folks when conjuring up my idea of what an activist would look like. It’s similar to when I clean the house without wearing my glasses (I have very poor vision without them) – I do a half-ass job in addressing the art of cleanliness because I’m only taking the time to look at a fraction of the task at hand. In my defense, the house looks super clean after I’m finished, glasses-less of course.
When I think of the topic of global warming part of me shuts down. I start tuning out right away because I’m not interested in engaging in someone’s endless tirade about the accredited science, either for or against it, or how we should all be throwing ourselves in front of the freight trains hauling long trails of coal-filled containers through our mountain town of Missoula, Montana. And in all honesty, I’m not convinced there’s a whole lot that we can really do to stop the process of global warming. This is because that is, as a common Buddhist teaching puts it. Perhaps we’re simply not meant to continue on the way we’ve been and perhaps that means we can make a global shift in thinking and acting and perhaps it means the end of our particular way of life. Who knows?
So, I’m trying out something new: capturing things I’ve written on paper via audio (in poor recording quality for now, I might add). Some things I write just translate far better when listened to, as opposed to reading.
Ode to Our Kitchen
You were there for us from the start, with calm assurance that we could do it, when we first gazed upon you as wide-eyed first time home buyers, 13 years ago, almost to the day. You held loyal through all those tender years as we tirelessly trained our son to eat his vegetables and eggs and oatmeal and anything not fried or covered in cheese as he threw fits and was forced to sit at the table until he finished his meal. P.S In recognition for your service it stands worth mentioning that all the effort was well applied, as he now eats anything with the grace and ease that makes a parent proud.
Yesterday I spent 4-hours emptying your cupboards and stained, sticky shelves – I rolled the soft bristles of my long-handled broom over your forever un-cleanable, pock-marked linoleum floor, for what likely will be the very last time. And last night, in an excited it’s-about-time fashion, even though the sky was darkening and the grass was falling into shadow calling us to slumber, we tore off some of your cabinetry and doors and tossed them heave ho and hurrah out the back door with a fevering pitch of satisfaction, as though the decades you spent clinging to those un-insulated, cracked plaster walls meant nothing.
Tomorrow work begins and we’ll set to rip every scrap of you apart: from your scared fiberboard ceiling to whatever lies in wait underneath layers of wood, wire, and the glazey build-up of meals and memories waxed along the surface.
While captured in pictures I imagine I’ll soon forget your face, so richly providing but unfavorably gross and dilapidated you were. I bid you farewell, old friend, with thanks for your shelter and bounty over all these splendid years as you stood watch over our family and friends, inviting us all in with equal repose, teaching us how to gather deliciously together.
(from Buddha Doodles by Molly Hahn)
This morning, on my writer’s facebook page I posted this:
Sometimes, I have to remind myself
about the extent of my human nature.
My vast tendency to tire,
to grow weary,
to sink into foggy states of clarity.
Sometimes, I have to remind myself
about the extent of my human potential.
My ability to begin anew,
to grow steady and strong,
to thrive into brilliant states of awakening.
To rest and revive once again.
I wanted to share about my practice of pausing before I eat, in order to connect with the spirit of connection and gratitude for the meal in front of me. I have two different verses that I use, depending on what meal it is. Each morning, before I eat my standard breakfast of two hard-boiled eggs and a banana, I say this verse inwardly to myself:
This food is the gift of the whole universe,
the earth, the sky, and much hard work.
May I keep my compassion alive
by remembering that there are many people
who will not have enough food to eat today,
who will suffer and die from starvation and malnutrition.
May I accept this food with gratitude
and reverence for the life I am afforded.
This verse is a compilation of my own words mixed with those from the Meal Contemplations, generated from my root practice tradition with Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s a verse that arose for me while on retreat one year at Deer Park Monastery, which I’ve carried with me ever since. As you can see, there is a certain weighted gravity associated with this verse that I recite each morning. It contains an uncomfortable energy, and rightfully so.
An OI member is someone who’s been ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh, or other monastic Brother or Sister in our community, into the Order of Interbeing. To borrow directly from the orderofinterbeing.org website:
The Order of Interbeing, Tiep Hien in Vietnamese, is a community of monastics and lay people who have committed to living their lives in accord with the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, a distillation of the Bodhisattva (Enlightened Being) teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. Established by Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh in Saigon in 1966, the Order of Interbeing was founded in the Linji tradition of Buddhist meditative practice and emphasizes the Four Spirits: non-attachment from views, direct experimentation on the nature of interdependent origination through meditation, appropriateness, and skilful means.
The first six members of the order, ordained together on February 5, 1966, were colleague and students of Thich Nhat Hanh who worked with him relieving the suffering of war through projects organized by the School of Youth for Social Service. In joining the Order of Interbeing, they dedicated themselves to the continuous practice of mindfulness, ethical behavior, and compassionate action in society.
Yesterday, I put together my first OI mentorship meeting with three of our sangha members (plus my husband) who are considering whether or not they either want to become an official aspirant (which we often refer to as pre-aspirants) or want to proceed to fully ordaining and becoming an OI member. An official OI aspirant is someone who has formally received the Five Mindfulness Trainings in our tradition, and has practiced with them for at least one year thereafter, and acquired the necessary components for OI aspirancy to begin, namely: specific paperwork, writing a letter to Thay, getting approval from a Dharma teacher, and finding a mentor (usually another OI member).
In looking up images online to accompany this post, I realized that the saying “It’s not my job,” can easily take on a hands-off, highly snarky attitude. As in, “Hey, not my problem!” But that’s not my intention here.
Lately I’ve been working on the practice of not over care-taking. What I mean by “Not my job,” is that it’s not my job to over care-take for people, thinking I know what’s best for them. What I’m working on is taking people at their word, regardless of whether or not I think they know or mean what they’re saying. So, for instance, if someone says they can help me with something, it’s not my job to second guess them, based on what I think their abilities are. Let me try to explain, using a recent experience I had.
Last weekend I was in charge of our fifth annual community yard sale fundraiser at our local meditation center, where we sold off the donations we had collected over the last two months, from dozens of folks. After hearing about how someone, who was a bit older, had wrenched their back helping on the prep day before the yard sale, a sangha member approached me and suggested that perhaps for next year’s sale we find younger people to help out more. With there being so much lifting and heavy items to move around, he prompted, it might be a better fit for more able-bodied volunteers. He then went on to say how he knew someone from a couple of years ago that had helped with the yard sale, who had also gotten injured by over-working themselves, someone who was also a little bit older in age. I hesitated a bit in my response, wanting to craft my words in both a respectful and honest way. I wound up saying something like, “Well, I guess I would hope that in the future people wouldn’t sign up to volunteer for roles that they aren’t well suited for.” It was difficult for me to respond in this fashion, as I was concerned that it would be taken the wrong way, and I would appear uncaring and callous. But, as I am working on this whole over care-taking business, I felt it was an important step for me to take. If someone, regardless of age, offers to help during the yard sale, it’s not my job to question their abilities. It’s not like I was forcing people into it, “Help with the yard sale, or else!” While of course I don’t like hearing that someone over-worked themselves, it’s also not up to me to determine someone’s physical capacity by turning down their self-propelled offer to help.
There are too many labels that we can get tripped up on, tongue tied over, and lost in the thickets about. While sometimes helpful, labels often become a pitfall holding us back when we affix ourselves to their binding, lashing them together like a raft to float upon.
I’m a woman,
someone who has chronic pain & illness,
a community organizer,
a hospice volunteer,
a faith leader,
a spoken word artist,
a motorcycle entusiast,
a concerned citizen,
a proud Missoulian –
While these are all parts if who I am
they are not me –
I do not over-identify
with any particular label that might apply,
because there is no such thing as a separate self,
and as soon as I step proudly into any one distinction
I’ve already lost sight of the bigger picture
We are not mere waves on the surface of the ocean,
we are made of water,
ever present in the churning tides and fragrant sunsets
that breathe meaning into life
We just had our annual Montana Open Way Sanghas spring family retreat up on the Flathead Lake in Lakeside, Montana. It was our biggest retreat yet, with 56 adults and 26 kids (aged 2-14). For my retreat summary post this time around I’ll just share some of my favorite photos and also something I wrote in my journal early one morning.