Writing My Obituary

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On Wednesday I found out that a sangha friend, three years younger than I am, passed away. I was emailed his obituary from our local Dharma Teacher. His name was Scott, and while he hadn’t recently been sitting with our Monday night meditation group, Be Here Now, he had been part of our sangha for the past couple of years or so and sat with us on and off during that period. I saw him just a couple of weeks ago walking by McCormick Park as I was driving by on Orange Street. He was walking alongside someone, talking and smiling. I remember thinking at the time, “I’m so glad to see him! He looks good…happy.”

Scott was bipolar, and often fluctuated back and forth between having a reliable place to stay and being homeless. His obituary listed no cause of death. Our assumption is he committed suicide. My heart swelled with sadness when I read of his passing.

While Scott was part of our mindfulness community, and has been to my house for sangha potlucks and gatherings, I didn’t know much about the conventional aspects of his life: where he was born, where he went to school, where he grew up, how many brothers and sisters he had, and the like. This isn’t unusual, for me, in relation to other casual sangha friends. Part of what I love about my sangha community is how connected I feel to people based on simply sharing our meditation practice together, sharing silence, and sharing mindful intention. While I may not know people’s last names or where they were born and raised, I feel an inherent closeness to them as a fellow sangha member.

Reading Scott’s obituary gave me a lot of the conventional information I hadn’t known, or really even thought about before. And it put me in touch with wanting to write my own obituary, which is nothing new in the world of writing-prompt ideas, for those who enjoy the art of the written word. So, here goes:

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Ode to Our Kitchen

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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.

Family Circle

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During my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery I had a thought about how I’d like to start a family circle time at home with my husband Mike and teenage stepson Jaden. This wasn’t a new idea, but in the past I never followed through with anything. This time, however, I spoke with Mike about it and wrote the idea down in my day planner, which is what needs to happen if ever I am to remember and take action about something.

Since we have shared custody and Jaden is with us for what works out to be 1/3 of the time (one week on and two weeks off), our family circle will wind up taking place once every three weeks. Our very first family circle was last night and went splendidly!

Mike and I decided we’d dedicate an hour to this circle on Sunday nights and our format would include: 5 minutes of sitting meditation, a check-in round, flower watering, open sharing, and a closing circle. Mike was our facilitator and during the check-in round prompted us to share about how we were feeling, both in general and specifically about the creation of our new family circle time. I was really glad to hear when Jaden shared that he was really looking forward to our newly created family circle time and said he thought it was a really good idea.

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Rainbow Gathering, Day 3

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Rainbow Gathering, July 2013

This is part 3 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.

Written on July 2nd:

Today an afternoon thunder and quick passing rain swept through camp sending many folks to take cover in their dwellings.  In trade circle I exchanged some new organic socks for three AAA batteries and then a pack of Montana artisan greeting cards for three more to outfit both my own and Mike’s headlamps which were growing dim.  I lent a hand for a couple of hours in the kitchen at Kid Village scrubbing pots and pans and refilling water at the dish stations, hand washing, and drinking water containers.  As a hard worker I won the attention of an old rainbow there who thanked me for my service and said that more folks should be like me and then jokingly told me he would follow me home :)  I enjoyed the work and was dirty, wet, and well gratified when all the heavy pots and serving platters were clean and awaiting the next meal.

Rainbow the Musical at the Granola Funk Stage

Rainbow the Musical at the Granola Funk Stage

 

We went to see Rainbow the Musical at the Granola Funk stage which very comically depicted a teenage boy’s first gathering with his mom.  There was a whole cast of characters including a guy in a bear suit and two guys dressed as 6 Up (the rainbow term for police) with short shorts and big sunglasses.  It was a funny play and well attended.

Searching for dinner we found a kitchen serving a hot pot of rice and curry and then met two guys along the trail handing out large, rough chunks of milk chocolate out of huge ziplock bags.  Food is given freely here and it’s really quite an amazing experience to simply be able to walk around and be fed well with love.  It is a great gift to have full bellies.

Drum circle at the boogie pit

Drum circle at the boogie pit

Written on July 3rd:

Last night we stayed out late at Granola Funk and got back to camp around 1:30 in the morning.  On our way to G. Funk we stopped by the boogie pit where a huge drum circle takes place every night through dawn.  Then we headed over to the stage at G. Funk to watch the Rainbow Dating Game which was followed by singer/songwriter performances that Mike signed up to be a part of.  Dark 30 was the slated start time of the Dating Game and as very few folks know what time it really is things in rainbow land simply start when they start.  The Dating Game consisted of rounds (more rounds than the audience had patience or want for) where one person was blindfolded and then had three mates to ask questions to and then choose from to go out on a rainbow date with.  Most of the rounds had a gal choosing from three guys but there was one round with a guy choosing from three gals and one round with a girl choosing from three girls – they tried for an all male version but didn’t have enough participants to pull it off.  The stage was lit by a couple of nice solar powered spotlights along with a strand of lights on either side of the stage.  As the night wore on the lights faded more and more until finally just headlamps and flashlights were used.  We laughed a lot during the game as bachelors sang love songs and answered the re-occurring question about what they would do if their lady love was abducted by aliens in their attempts at wooing the hearts of the blindfolded bachelorettes.

Me on my birthday wearing my sign :)

Me on my birthday wearing my sign :)

Today was my birthday (the big 34!) and inspired by a guy 2 days ago who wore a sign announcing that it was his birthday I too fashioned a sign saying, “Today is my birthday,” and strung it around my neck.  I was hesitant at first to wear it thinking others would see it as an egotistical act of attention seeking but something in me was called to wear it with a deep sense of authenticity and joy and so I did.  It turned out to be the best thing I could’ve done to celebrate my birthday!  I received hundreds of Happy Birthday wishes, dozens of hugs, candy from 5 or 6 different people, a tangerine, a beaded necklace, and even beautiful stones.  And because of the sign I wound up meeting two great new friends: Gray, a lovely woman in her 50’s and unfortunately a fellow foot pain sister and Meredith, a woman I would guess was in her late 30’s, from Louisiana here for her first gathering on her first day with her 14-year old son.

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My husband, our friend, my step-son
(from left to right)

Some more highlights from today: I held a sweet little kitten exploring the woods on a leash, wove wildflowers through my bamboo hat, met two other sisters who shared my birthday, handed out mini bagels with peanut butter on the trail, and attended the Gong Show at the G Funk stage who’s MC apparently once ran for presidency.  We ate dinner at main circle with a couple of our new friends and then headed off to G Funk at dark 30 for the show which consisted of songs, beat boxing, comedy, twirling light up dance movement set to a Sublime song played on guitar, and a myriad of other talents great and small.

There was another sprinkle of rain this afternoon with big fat drops dripping from the clouds for a minute or two and loud thunder which passed quickly just as it had done yesterday.  And now the dark midnight sky is alive and bright with stars and the haze of the Milky Way of which I have not seen for far too long.

I also did some meditation (which I’ve been doing once or twice a day on my community meditation mat set up outside the tent off the main trail – and sometimes other folks join me and sometimes it’s just me), drank some chai, greeted folks on the road just pulling in, and pet the soft snout of a 6 Up’s (policeman’s) horse.  And while walking the trail past 7 or 8 of the 6 Up Giddy-up (policeman on horses) they all wished me a happy birthday thanks to my informative sign.  It seems I am in a very small, if not solo, minority of folks that don’t mind the presence of the 6 Up here at the gathering.  Many are bothered by them and some folks are quite juvenile and rude to them when they pass by.  The way I figure it, the 6 Up only become a nuisance when you’re doing something illegal, which many folks here are (aka smoking weed).

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The pervasive presence of drugs here (mainly weed but I’m sure there are other things as well) is unfortunate and I often wonder what this gathering would be like if they were not allowed or simply discouraged.  In my view there is only so much we can accomplish, only so much change we can affect, when our mind is enshrouded in a fog.  If we cannot cultivate peace within ourselves when we’re clean and sober, when our mind is awake and clear, we cannot generate lasting peace anywhere else in the world.  While we are a beautiful family coming together in community and caring I see too that many of those among us are quite lost, still searching for that inner peace, that true place inside to call home.

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Rainbow Gathering, Day 1

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Rainbow Gathering, Big Hole Valley, MT July, 2013

My husband, step-son, and I just returned home from the rainbow gathering in the Big Hole Valley area of south western Montana.  It was my 4th gathering, my husband’s 5th, and my son’s 2nd, although our last one was 6-7 years ago.  I wrote most everyday while we were gone and thought I’d share our adventure (this will be a 4 part series).

If you aren’t familiar with what the rainbow gathering is I will attempt an explanation – so, the gathering, as it is often referred to, is a national assembly of folks that happens on national forest land in a different state every year during the first week of July with the pinnacle being a circle of peace on the 4th of July.  This year attracted around 9,700 people, which was dramatically lower compared to the last Montana gathering in 2000 which had 18,000 people estimated in attendance.

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The gathering is a time to come together in community in a non-judgemental atmosphere of peace and unity.  In the rainbow world everyone is family and we often address one another as brother and sister.  The phrase, “Welcome home,” is used a lot as people roll into the gathering.  While the gathering is officially July 1-7th every year folks start arriving 2-3 weeks ahead of time to set up kitchens and camps in the woods and stick around 2-3 weeks afterwards to clean up the site.  Since we are living off the land it is very important and highly stressed that we leave the site cleaner then we left it and pack everything out with us.  Taking care of the earth and our surroundings is a top priority at the gatherings.

Kid village tapestry

Kid village tapestry

Rainbow Logistics:

Money – There is no exchange of money at the gatherings.  It’s free to attend, free to eat, free to park, and free to reside there.  Donations are appreciated to help keep the kitchens going but they are not required.

Lodging – Folks bring tents, tipis, tarps, campers, buses, and use a host of other creative materials to set up camp.  You can park in bus village and stay there or hike your gear in and set up shop at one of many set up camps or go off and make your own spot.  Anything goes in the rainbow world and there is everything from hammocks to camp cots to plush elaborate tipis to tree houses to canopies to a sleeping bag on the ground.  It’s pretty amazing what is created in the woods and what gets packed in.

Food – It’s good to bring some with you but there is plenty on hand and it’s all offered for free.  Kitchens get set up that feed the masses and are equipped with a variety of services, depending on the kitchen, such as, water supply, dish washing and hand washing stations, filtered water for drinking, hand made earth ovens, stove set ups, compost and gray water pits, and pit trenches for latrines.  Different kitchens serve at different times and some specialize in serving just pancakes or just coffee or chai or tea or just wild game meat and some serve big meals 2-3 times a day like Kid Village.  Once a day in the evening around 6:00pm you can go to main circle in the meadow (all of the sites chosen have a main meadow) for dinner.  Hundreds of folks attend main circle where announcements are made, gratitudes are given, and kitchens cart in and serve food.

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Water – It’s also good to bring some drinking water with you and store some in the car just in case.  Filtered water can sometimes be hard to come by depending on the location.  Each site is chosen with access to natural water in mind so hoses are set up to run from creeks and rivers to certain kitchens and public use access spots.  If drinking water is not readily available the creek or river water can either be boiled for a few minutes or ran through a filter.

Latrines – The rainbow word for latrines in the woods is shitter so when you’re wondering around looking for a place to relieve yourself you’ll look for signs with the word shitter on them to know you’re heading the right way.  Pit trenches are dug and usually each spot will also have a bucket of ash or lyme to cover over the waste and toilet paper.  Sometimes there’s toilet paper provided but it’s better to have some on hand just in case.  This is usually one of the “scariest” elements to the gatherings especially for new folks attending.  Some latrines are covered with tarps for privacy but a great number of them are simply out in the open, which can make you feel like you’re on display.

Trade Circle – Everyday there is a trade circle as part of the gathering where folks can set up whatever they have for trade.  No money is exchanged here – it’s goods for goods.  There is a wide variety of things offered here from candy (called zu zu’s in rainbow language) to rocks to batteries to jewelry to toiletry items to clothing to toys and trinkets.  You can go and peruse the trade circle or go and set up your wares.  As with any and all things some people really dig the trade circle while others feel it is not in the spirit of rainbow at all.

Our camp spot

Home sweet home at the gathering 

Written on June 30th, 2013:

At 8:00am my alarm sounded and I took to making breakfast, watering the vegetable garden, and collecting eggs from the chicken coop before setting out to become a rainbow amongst many in the woods.  After some directional confusion and the important discovery that the road we were looking for was no longer marked with a sign we wove our way around green cattle fields on dry, dusty dirt roads until we came at last to Welcome Home!

With packs laden with food, clothes, sleeping bags, tents, tarps, rope, books, duct tape, head lamps, bowls, toilet paper, sunscreen, a frisbee, meditation bell, and barter goods for the trade circle like Montana agate and brand new Maggie’s organic cotton socks (left over stock from the eco store I had up and running downtown for a year) we took to the main trail to find a spot to set up camp and call home for the next four nights.

Main circle for dinner

Main circle for dinner

The day could not have tasted sweeter – shining blue skies, warm golden sun, and fresh greens were thick and fragrant.  After handicamp (handicap camp), Mudder Earth and Chai Bahai (which our friends Harold and Wind run) we passed through the main meadow, trade circle, and then into the trees past Nic at Nite, and Mudd & Butts and found a place offering shade and some respite from the malay.  It’s now 11:02pm and the woods are clothed in darkness.  Drums, voices, barking dogs, and the occasional traveling minstrel can be heard bending through the onset of night as some, like us, attempt to sleep while still others have only just awoken to celebrate the joyous coming together of family.

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