Sweet 16

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My stepson Jaden, picture above, turns 16 years old today!  In celebration of him I wrote this little verse:

16 Things I love About Jaden

I love how caring & considerate Jaden is – like the time we were collecting money to sponsor a Buddha statue at the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas and he decided, on his own accord, to donate some of the money he had saved up

I love how many random bits of knowledge he knows – like the time when he was quite young and picked up the talking stick at meditation one night during our sharing circle to offer these 7 sound words, “Bananas are a great source of potassium.”

I love how our senses of humor make sense to one another and that our sarcastic natures are well tuned together, but know when to settle down too

I love his creativity and how for years the only thing he’d ever ask that we buy for him were certain colors of pipecleaners

I love his imagination and his ability to put his colorful thoughts into words

I love his ability to look at things deeply and gain insight

I love how in the morning when both cats come to sit with him while he eats breakfast instead of shooing them away he shares his chair with one, to the point of having only a sliver of it to himself, and lets the other one wrap around the table beside him, which sometimes means he has a fuzzy tail in his cereal bowl

I love how when a good song comes on when we’re driving he and I can crank it up and dance

I love that he has a good sense for who he is without being easily swayed

I love that he has genuine concern for and interest in others and asks how people are doing and how their day was

I love that he knows how to be present and looks people in the eye

I love that he has developed the ability to go with the flow with a gladdened state of mind

I love that he wouldn’t think to text someone at the dinner table because he knows it’s not the appropriate time

I love his open mindedness and how he’s not quick to be too sure of something

I love his impression of Napoleon Dynamite

But most of all I love that on November 8th he was born into my life, and a better stepson I could not find – so to end with a lyric by Prince about the year Jaden was born, let’s party like it’s 1999 :)

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Naked Bike Ride

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Even before participating in our town’s first annual Bare as You Dare naked bike ride through town yesterday I questioned whether to write about it here on my blog.  I often ponder what to write about through the week but this was a little bit different.  Ultimately it came down to a fear of stigma – fear of what people would think about me knowing I partook in this bike ride, fear of disapproval, fear of misperceptions and judgements – and since that’s not a skillful reason whatsoever to avoid doing something here we go!

The first naked bike ride, I read today in our local news, took place in Spain in 2004.  Since then they have spread to cities all over the world.  One of the biggest is the World Naked Bike Ride every year in Portland, OR, which drew around 9,000 people this year.  Many of them started as a protest to big oil and promote bike riding.  And of course different people participate for different reasons.  Some people go to support and embrace differing body images, some go as a symbol to vehicular drivers that bike riding makes one vulnerable and to draw attention to sharing the road.  Some people go to promote that nude isn’t lewd and some go to be free and exercise their right to free speech.  And some, like me, go because it sounds fun!

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Community

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Yesterday, Sunday May 11th, I helped to organize what was entitled a Community Celebration at Ten Spoons winery and vineyard here in Missoula.  The event was to celebrate the community volunteers, organizers, and city officials for the efforts, care, and time involved with the avalanche that took place here in March.  It was also a time to honor and remember the woman who died as a result of her injuries sustained in the avalanche.

Despite the morning snow, chilly temperatures, and gray skies dozens of folks came out for the gathering.  We had live music, a free raffle with lots of great donated items, speakers, and a wonderful spread of food.  The event also allowed for the display of the many many prayer flags that have been made since the avalanche, in memory of the woman who passed away.  The goal is to fly them temporarily on Mount Jumbo over the avalanche slide area, which is pending city approval.

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Rainbow Gathering, Day 4

 

My bamboo hat woven with wildflowers at the peace circle

My bamboo hat woven with wildflowers at the peace circle

 

This is part 4 of 4 – to start from the beginning please go to Rainbow Gathering, Day 1.

My husband, step-son, and I just returned home from the rainbow gathering in the Big Hole Valley area of south western Montana.  I wrote most everyday while we were gone and thought I’d share our adventure.

 

Peace Circle, July 4th

Peace Circle, July 4th

 

Written on July 5th:

Yesterday was the big peace circle in the main meadow (the apex of the gathering).  After a morning of silence (which most people engaged in) we gathered holding hands, a huge circle up into the hills and trees with a few concentric circles in the middle where the om circle was.  The silence was broken by the kids parade around noon with cheering, shouting, and celebrating which then gave way to drumming, dancing, merriment, and laughter.

Peace Circle, July 4th

Peace Circle, July 4th

 

It was quite powerful to see thousands of brothers and sisters holding hands, smiling, holding silence, gathering for peace and unity.

The gathering, like life, is what you make of it and we all had a great time exploring, camping, making friends, spending time in the woods, being with our greater family, and enjoying the rich diversity and warm community atmosphere that is woven into every thread of the gathering.

Welcome home!

Celebration!

Celebration!

We are many hands strong

coming together for brotherhood and sisterhood

We are all ages, all faiths, all backgrounds

standing lightly upon the earth where many others before us have stood

From the greening sage field through the lodgepole pine forest

spreading out from the western shores of the pacific

to the eastern shores of the atlantic

From above and from below

We are a community of diverse threads and many talents

We are made of earth, sun, water, and air

We are a family – the gathering of a rainbow

Aho!

Parade

Parade

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The Zen Master and the Toy Bird

2013TUS_WebsiteEarlier tonight I participated in a local story telling event called Tell Us Something that is put together every few months here in town.  Anyone is welcome to tell a story and basically all you have to do is email the folks who put these gatherings together beforehand and ask to be signed up.  There’s no auditioning and the only requirements are that it has to be a true personal story and when you perform your piece you can’t have any notes with you.  Each event also has a theme for which your story must be based on and tonight’s was Perception – a great buddhist topic eh?

By sheer happenstance I wound up being the only female signed up to go on stage tonight to tell a story.  The venue was at a local bar that had been recently renovated called the Top Hat and the place was packed when I arrived.  I was pretty nervous and while I had questioned whether having friends there would be supportive or cause me to be more nervous I did let some folks know about it and announced it at my sangha last night.  A nice showing of sangha friends came out for which I was very grateful for.  There were 12 of us story tellers that went on tonight and we were each given 10 minutes to fill.  The host sets up a count down timer and then sounds a small gong at the 9-minute mark to indicate that you need to wrap your story up and he had to go on stage once to get a story teller off the mic who just kept rambling long after the gong was sounded.  But other than that everyone pretty much kept at or around 10 minutes, although for some it was harder to do than others.

I’m not a natural story teller.  But over the last couple of years or so I’ve been actively and intentionally working on creatively sharing with others.  I play music and sing and I do some spoken word as well.  And of course I love to write.  I’ve been skillfully pushing myself towards sharing more and more and working on letting go of my shyness and fear around doing so.  It’s been a wonderful process.  So this story telling adventure tonight was another big beautiful step in the direction of getting out of my comfort zone and sharing creatively with others.

Lotus flower in New Hamlet

Lotus flower in New Hamlet, Plum Village

The story I worked up was an experience I had from the 21-day retreat at Plum Village that my husband and I attended last summer (which is what originally kicked off my starting this blog).  After some microphone adjustments were made, due to my small 5’2″ height in comparison to all of the tall dudes that went before me, here’s the story that I shared about perception:

So, I am what you might call a buddhist practitioner and in our tradition we have a saying that goes: Where there is perception, there is deception, and along those lines I have this little story to offer.

Last year my husband and I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a 21-day meditation retreat at our root monastery in the south of France called Plum Village which is also where our root teacher resides, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who’s often referred to as Thay by his students.  And Thay means teacher in Vietnamese. Thay is a Vietnamese buddhist monk who has written many, many books and hundreds of poems and has led, and continues to lead, retreats all over the world.  So my husband and I went to this retreat and stayed in Plum Village and it was our first trip overseas.  And Plum Village is also home to many monks and nuns in our tradition and serves as a practice center for lay people as well, meaning folks who aren’t monks and nuns, with retreats and events led throughout the year in many different languages.  Now, Plum Village is set up into three main hamlets, upper, lower and new hamlet and they are all on different tracts of land that aren’t connected.  So upper and lower hamlet are a 45 minute walk apart and new hamlet was a 20 minute bus ride away.  This particular retreat attracted around 800 people from all over the world and we were divided up among these hamlets for our lodging.

On one particular day towards the end of the retreat we had a celebration day and we were celebrating the 30 year anniversary of Plum Village.  So all of us in lower and upper hamlets were bused to new hamlet where Thay gave a teaching, called a dharma talk, and then afterwards we had the opportunity to do some outdoor walking meditation, which is very slow and held in silence.  And we went around the pond at new hamlet where the first lotus flowers of the season were in bloom, which were quite spectacular.  After the walk we had lunch and then the celebratory event was held in which there was a gallery exhibit set up and some wonderful artisan cupcakes, which I assumed came from a local parisian bakery because of how fine crafted and intricate they were.  And then there were these performances that were put together by some of the monastics.

So as the performances were getting ready I grabbed a seat on the grass, as it was an outdoor venue, by these cool, old stone buddha statues.  And as everyone started sitting down my new friend and one of my roommates Clara, from the Netherlands, came to sit with me.  And she and I wound up with not only a great vantage point of the performance area but also of Thay who was seated not far from us in the grass (facing to our right side) and most of the retreatants were sitting or standing behind him.  And to see Thay so closely was a treat because to me one of the marks of a truly wonderful and wise teacher is one who is always teaching with their presence and doesn’t need to be saying anything.  To simply watch him interact with his environment and the way he sits and moves is so beautiful to see so it was a gift to have such a clear, unobstructed sight of him, which wasn’t often easy to have during the course of the retreat with so many others around.

The first performance offered was given by some of the nuns who were acting out one of Thay’s poems that he had written.  And over their monastic robes they had adorned them with other fabrics and feathers and some were dressed as trees and others as birds.  As they acted out this poem so sweetly and gracefully over the speakers that had been set up came this nice, melodic, soft sounding oriental type of music.  And once in a while over the music came this shrill bird call that drifted in at very odd seemingly displaced times.  At first I thought to myself, “Hmmm, that’s a strange noise,” and then I let it go.  But as it kept happening I started getting irritated with it and formed this inner dialogue with myself saying things like, “Didn’t they do a run through of this before the performance to know that that noise doesn’t sound good,” and , “Why don’t they stop doing that, it’s just awful!”

After a few minutes of mild irritation and distraction by this bird call my friend Clara nudges me and says, “Thay’s making that noise.”  And I turned to her with a puzzled expression wondering what the heck she was talking about and she continued, “That bird noise, that’s Thay!”  And I thought to myself, “How in the world could he be making that noise?  It doesn’t make any sense.”  Then she whispered, “Watch him.”  So I turn my attention to him wondering what in the world I was looking for and after a couple of minutes I see him reach down to this little toy bird sitting in the grass beside him that was set up next to a microphone.  Then Thay patted the bird and out came the bird call over the speakers.  And on his face alighted this beautiful, sweet smile and from it I got such a sense of joy and ease and lightness and also a hint of mischief, that a Zen Master can sometimes have, as if to say, “Ha ha, no one knows I’m making this bird noise.”  And in that moment my relationship to this bird call changed right away, like the flip of a switch and I went from being irritated and distracted to encountering this deep teaching.  Right then I became aware of how distracted I had allowed myself to get, because I wasn’t aware of that at the time.  Here I was on a bright sunny blue June day in the freakin’ south of France at this monastery with a Zen Master sitting just 30 feet away and I was allowing a bird call, of all things, to carry me away from the present moment.

This was a deep teaching and one that I hope to continue to carry with me moment by moment into the future as I continue on my path of practice.  Because when I stop and take the time to look deeply I see how often I think I have everything figured out – I know why this person is doing that and why this situation is going like that and I think I have it all figured out when I really have no idea.  Thay is fond of saying that 99% of our perceptions are incorrect and that figure is so astronomical to me that I can’t quite wrap my brain around it but I’m working on it.  Because again, when I take the time to look deeply I can start to understand how often I create my own suffering based on my perceptions and how intertwined perception and deception really are – they go together and much like the in-breath and the out-breath cannot be separated.

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A picture of Thay I found online