Antsy & Unmotivated

Feeling antsy and unmotivated is just a terrible mix, who’s with me on this?  My bio-rhythms are off – that’s how it feels anyway. Oddly, I feel exhausted and energized at the same time. Certain activities sound appealing and then when I go to do them I lose steam.

I got together with a friend yesterday and it was almost as though I’d forgotten how to interact. The effects of covid are real is what I’m saying.

This is me simply giving voice to what is alive for me today.

I’m crunchy; snarky; rough around the edges. I’m wearing thin by the daily grayness and ongoing, ever-present potential likelihood of rain. I miss my tribe. I miss the days before covid came to town. I miss who I was a few months ago.

Oh, right. Grief. Grieving. Loss. These things are also real.

Nothing is need of fixing or figuring out.

Some things (most things) take time.

_______________

In the wake of my recent
steppings down from roles
I’ve held joyously for years,
who am I now?

In the wake of covid cancellations
of activities and usages of time
I purposefully fill my days with,
who am I?

An unpublished, unprized, unscholarly poet
A woman writer with something to say
A woman invested in learning and building skill
and doing better – a little more each day –
to be a kind and useful human.

Funny how that sounds like both
a whole heck of a lot
and also not enough.

 

 

Lessons from a Lookout Tower

Sign posted in Swan Lake, Montana

Last week, in the first noted occasion of something in my world that hasn’t been cancelled in over 2-months in the wake of covid, I stayed for a spell in the Mission Lookout Tower in Swan Lake, which is a little thing you can do here in the great state of Montana: stay in old decommissioned fire towers. I reserved the tower 6-months ago, and based on my findings online assumed my stay was cancelled. Then, four days before my reservation was set to start, I got a call from the ranger station telling me I was good to go. So I went.

I started venturing – solo saunter style – to this particular tower in May of 2018, making this recent trip my third annual pilgrimage there. I think I stayed 3 or 4 nights my first time. Last year I stayed a week and this year, too, I booked it for a week long stay. (Merch plug: I compiled my writings from my tower stay last year into a homespun book called Sky Perch: One-week worth of writing from a lookout tower. If you’re interested, let me know and I will send you a copy for $10.)

As a writer, staying solo in a tower rocketed 40-feet up off the ground is simply a stellar venue for putting pen to paper. And my last two trips there were periods of great reflection, refreshing solitude, stillness, nourishment, and energetic refueling. My trip there this last go-around, however, was not any of those things.

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On Patriarchy & Princesses

A few days ago, I let a 2-year-old little girl pick out a pepto-pink princess-themed book from a Little Free Library and instantly regretted it.

I tried steering her towards a different selection but she wasn’t having it. With her love of all things pink, the color of the book alone had her at hello.

It’s a hefty short story collection of the classics following all of the Disney princesses, all of which feature scantly dressed way thin females with tiny waistlines and long flowing hair. And while there is a whisper attempt at weaving in decent messaging, each princesses main goal in life is landing a man. And not just any man but a prince; a handsome prince; a savior-esque clean shaven dude of a prince who will provide the great honor of making her a royal bride.

 
In short, if there could only be one truly terrible book in all the land, this is it. If we want to indoctrinate our young girls right from the get go and make sure they know and stay in the subservient pretty girl box designed for them, this book is one-stop shopping.

 

While the 2-year-old was napping, I tucked the book inside my bag (with her parents grateful stamp of approval) and left the house with it, so it will never be seen again.

 
This is me at age 40 just starting to see how patriarchy has shaped and molded my life and the life of each and every one of us: females, males, gender variant, intersex, and transgender alike. This is me having my worldview-lens in the process of changing, as I invest time and energy into learning about systemic issues by way of classes I’ve been taking, books I’ve been reading, and talks I’ve been listening to online. And it has been and is not easy or comfortable or pleasant. I don’t mind telling you that there’s a small voice inside of me that regrets this new pathway opening up – what is it they say: ignorance is bliss? Yeah. It’s something akin to that.

A poem I penned this morning:

To all of the people
that have shown or handed me
my power,
I am sorry to report
that I’ve not been using it.
Good news is,
I’m starting now.
Better late than never, as they say.
 
And to those who are eye-rolling
at my use of the word power
or buckling under the weight
of your own discomfort,
take your business elsewhere.
I’m done trying to live my life
to make you feel as though
there is nothing in need of fixing.
 
My voice
like air
like repression
has been silent.
 
The time for my uprising
is here.
 
And I don’t care
if you like it.

____________

A few days ago, I watched the documentary Margaret Atwood: A Word After a Word After a Word is Power. I wasn’t familiar with her or her work prior to the film – it was the title that drew me in, and thankfully so. Spurred by the film, I was inspired to purchase one of her books that was mentioned: Power Politics, which was originally published in 1971. It arrived in the mail just yesterday and I set to reading it this morning. After reading a few poems from it, I penned the poem above.

Something that has become clear to me: poetry spurs more poetry, at least for me. For my poetry to take flight, I need the poetry of others to inspire, teach, and help show me the way. Back in February, I was away on a 2.5 week long retreat and I didn’t bring any poetry books along with me to read. I also wrote very little poetry of my own. It was then that I discovered: I need the poetry of others to help me find my own poet voice. It was an important realization.

Now, I’m on a roll. Over the last month or two, I’ve purchased around 4 or 5 different poetry books. I told my husband just the other day that he might have to put me in Poetry Books Anonymous!

“A word after a word after a word is power” really resonates with me right now. As I often write about: words matter. They really do. And this is me in the beginning stages of developing a whole new language.

Deer Park, Departure Day

Tuesday February 25th, 2020
Departure Day

My departure day
Back to my winter mountains
With joy in my heart

5:10am (DH)

I slept fitfully last night and decided to sleep in a little past my alarm. Today is a big travel day for me and I want to go into it as well rested as I can. I’m looking forward to my travels and winged journeys today. I’m looking forward to landing in Missoula when the day ends, where my people and my sweet little house reside. I’m turning in ocean for mountains; warmth for cold; blooming flowers for snow – and I’ll tell you: it’s a good trade.

___________

One moment, here.
One moment, elsewhere.
An imprint of energy,
a momentary lingering,
a reminding fragrance
of something long ago.

I am a guest in this place.
I will be a guest in the next.
Just passing through.

____________

6:40am (DH)

My mental landscape was very much angled in the direction of home this morning during my sit. Few and far between were the moments when I was fully with my breathing in the present moment. Sometimes that happens.

The rising sun is slowly alighting the hillside situated out the west facing bank of windows here in the DH. It’s a blue sky day here in southern California. When I lay my head to pillow tonight, I’ll be in my own bed, in my own dwelling place, in my own town. And I’ll need to adjust on a few levels: of being back in the world of stimulus; of being solo without Mike; of having many things to do and places to go and people to check in with.

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Deer Park, Day 17

Before

After

Monday February 24th, 2020
Day 17

Solitude broken
Two brothers in the kitchen
Quietude no more

5:10am (DH)

Since it’s Lazy Day, I opted to venture down here to the DH instead of the TR, figuring some of the Earth Holder retreat staff might use it for a morning hangout spot. I’m particularly covetous about quietude and solitude in the early morning. When my mornings are compromised – absent of Q & S – I feel a mild strain on the whole of my day that follows.

I was planning to get a little more sleep this morning and didn’t set my alarm. But I woke naturally at 4:45am and then was unable to get back to sleep on account of our snoring neighbor on the other side of the wall.

As I write, I’m feeling a bit sleep-spacey.

Last night after dinner, Mike and I fetched a deck of cards and a magnetic hangman game from the TR and brought them back to our room to play them. We had such a good time playing games and drinking tea.

Before dinner last night, I decided to take on a small project in the Big Hall. While retrieving my headphones for the Dharma talk yesterday, I noticed what a tangled mess all of the extender cords for the headphones were. So I set to the task of discombulating them. I spent an hour emptying out one of the bins and wrapping all of the individual cords back up in an orderly fashion (see pics above). I’ll go back for part two sometime this morning. I probably have another hour’s worth of work left. I’m sure it won’t stay neat and organized for long but it was satisfying work all the same.

___________

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Deer Park, Day 15

Freshly mulched Circle Garden :)

Saturday February 22nd, 2020
Day 15

I finished a book
Free to pursue other things
A small weight lifted

4am (tearoom)

Mark the day, mark the time. It’s 4am and I’ve done it. I just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I made it all the way through. It’s a miracle. Okay, well, not a miracle but it is astounding. If someone were to ask me what the book is about, the honest truth (my truth) would be: I really have no idea. If pressed (which: who does that about a book?), I guess I’d say something seemingly meaningful but actually avoidant like: it’s a coming of age story; a finding who we are story; a story about running until there’s no where left to run.

So I read the book and this morning I finished the book. So, that’s a thing that happened. In two-weeks time spent at a monastery, I read the 530-page book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

__________

Percolation: The other day, as our work crew was readying to fill the 1988 Toyota with mulch down at the gate, someone mentioned having a preference of shovel. He said he’d been working with it the last few mulching times and gotten to know how it handles, and thus, preferred to use a particular one. Someone else joked: Ah, so you’re attached to it, to which I lightly (and surprisingly) chimed in: I think there’s a difference between attachment and making efficient use of a tool, or something to that effect. As Buddhist practitioners, I think this is a topic that is in need of unpacking. Tossing around the word ‘attachment’ doesn’t do us any favors if we don’t know what it means for our own self and what our motivation or end-game is with it.

Too often, this word gets used with a jilted tone or in a snide manner in a skewed context. It’s not at all helpful to tell someone else when you feel they’re attached to something. It’s also not helpful to patronize someone about it. “Now, now, be a good Buddhist and don’t be attached.” Blech. Who wants to be treated like that? (And I’m coming from experience here. I’ve heard long-term practitioners chide people, myself included, like this.) Spiritual whitewashing is something I have very little tolerance for. As soon as I get even the slightest hint that someone isn’t being sincere or isn’t well-grounded or is caught in the form of the practice, I high-tail it the other way.

In my way of thinking, connecting with others and gravitating towards certain people and certain things is not necessarily attachment. I also don’t think all preferences equate to being attached. For me, attachment is a rigid structure for denying the truth and reality of impermanence. It involves relying on someone or something or some experience to be a certain way in order to make us feel a certain way. When we’re attached, there’s something we want to have stay the same and not change. So, in my view, I think there’s potentially a way to be in close relationship with others and to have likes and interests without being “attached.”

And, as with most things, there’s a spectrum when it comes to attachment, so in a sense, preferences are an attachment, they’re just on the low end of the spectrum. Where any particular attachment falls on the spectrum I think depends on how quickly we are able to shift gears when something unexpected happens. If we prefer a certain shovel, for example, but our shovel is unavailable, we might say: Oh darn. Well, that’s okay, this other one will do. Sure we would’ve liked to have had access to the other shovel but it’s not a big deal to use a different one. It’s on the very low end of the attachment spectrum.

It’s this low end of the spectrum area that has me thinking that perhaps to label it all as attachment, does the actual strong-natured, unhealthy style attachment a disservice. It’s kind of like if we use the word love and say I love you to our BFF and then also say I love this hamburger. When the same word is used to describe two very different situations, doesn’t the meaning of the word suffer? I think it does.

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Deer Park, Day 14

Full moon deck @ DP

Friday February 21st, 2020
Day 14

Coastal and black sage
The hills alive with purple
People arriving

5:20am (tearoom)

When I waked into the TR this morning at 4am, the smell of popcorn greeted me upon entering. I reckon the microwave in here is used almost solely for that purpose. Popcorn plus the two family sized packages of Mega Stuf Oreos that turned up in here yesterday, coupled with the fact that it was Lazy evening last night and Lazy Morning today, I deduce, made for a lively gathering of the lay friends in here last night.

We’re getting low on green tea bags here in the TR, perhaps I’ll try to remedy that today. I’ve been carting up green tea from the DH to resupply the stock here but there’s a pre-aspirant whose job it is to tend to the TR so I think I’ll chat with him about it, to acquire a more stable supply. What we do have in here like gangbusters is hot chocolate. 7 boxes to be exact (I just checked).

___________

Peace of mind (my own definition): the feeling one receives as a result of being in close communion and at ease with one’s environment.

___________

2:54pm (roomside)

A warm and sunny morning has turned into a nice cool and cloudy afternoon. I sat on my own in the Small Hall and did stick exercises before breakfast with the bamboo pole Mike cut to size for me. For work meditation, our mulch team was reassembled with its original cast plus two more. It was our biggest crew yet. The Circle Garden with its fresh coating of mulch is looking really nice. It’s satisfying work. One of our crew mates even spotted a super neat skink today while we were spreading mulch. It had a bright blue tail, which is what drew his attention to it.

It’s Friday, which means it’s an arrival day. Three lay-friends departed from here in Solidity and I overheard a Brother at our work meeting circle say we were getting 9 new lay friends arriving today. An organized retreat starts next week on Wednesday. The Earth Holder retreat. So the folks arriving today are staff for the retreat. And by “staff” I mean that they’re here to help assist with the programming. I believe how it works is that folks can register to staff a retreat and then if they’re accepted they get to attend for free. But they don’t get paid and they also have to pay their way to get here.

Arrival day is always a little sticky for me. I’m sure it is for all of us here, especially the monastics, as of course they live here and routinely go through these energetic mix ups of people coming and going. Given that the folks arriving are staff, though, means they’re experienced practitioners and not brand new folks to the practice and I’m sure that will make a noticeable difference. And our most challenging layperson –  who I’ve often referred to as the talker – has left today. He was challenging for many reasons, talking was simply the biggest one. I don’t mind telling you that I am relieved. I’m sure most/all of us are. I sincerely wish him well. I hope he finds what he is looking for.

We have sitting meditation and sutra service at 5pm, followed by dinner at 6pm.

Perhaps I’ll go wander up to the stupa.

___________

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Deer Park, Day 13

A bit of impromptu found-item Nicole art at DP

Thursday February 20th, 2020
Day 13

Warm sunbeam sitting
Belly full body rested
Birds singing in praise

Nearing 5am (tearoom)

If we’re not interested in life and in people, there’s little hope and chance for developing the sort of happiness that isn’t dependent on external graspings. If we’re not interested in life; captivated; intrigued, it’ll be a rough go. If we’ve already got it all figured out that life sucks, people are stupid, and the world is doomed, no new information can come in to change our experience. Without interest, we are stuck with our current mental landscape, and the chances are good that it’s pretty brutal in there. Interest, curiosity, openness, and inquiry are all needed in order to grow and transform. Rigidity is a death sentence for making spiritual progress. Rigidity shows itself in the form of standing in our own way.

____________

8:34am (Big Hall)

Lone sitting in the BH. Basking in a sun ray. Savoring, savoring.

This hall creaks and cracks and stirs, if you take notice. Perpetually shifting and settling into itself, just like the rest of us.

My body is doing surprisingly well for having slept part of the night on the hard tile floor of our room with only a sleeping bag for padding and cover. Mike got in late from the kitchen tile repair, around 11 or midnight, as I recall. I had left the bathroom light/fan combo on so as to muffle the sounds of my humming neighbor on the other side of the wall so I could fall asleep. When Mike came in, I woke up just enough to be unable to fall back asleep, on account of someone snoring on the other side of the wall. To remedy the situation and get back to sleep, I figured I had two options: pop into the vacant room next door or lie on our floor with my head as far away from the snorer as possible. Directing my head away from the shared wall wasn’t enough though. I had to situate myself so that my head was practically nested inside the bathroom door with the fan on (which meant the light was also on). It wasn’t ideal but it worked. I’m rather like the princess and the pea when it comes to my sleep environment. I’m a light sleeper and wake easy. Usually, if there’s a hint of light or a small sound, I’m up. Fortunately though, I’m not so princess and the pea that I couldn’t sleep on the tile floor with my head inside a bathroom with the fan running, so there’s that.

___________

12:38pm (roomside)

Before I lay down for my nap, I want to capture this while it’s fresh. My walk from Clarity Hamlet just now, was educational. I experienced in action how effort-filled walking is more taxing and laborious when I focused on how much further I still had to go. I am so incredibly tired and ready to nap and the walk up the steep incline back to my room felt a hundred miles away. Every time I looked ahead at how much further I had to go, I was exerting more mental energy and each step felt heavier and heavier. But when I stopped focusing on the distance left ahead or the steepness of the set of stairs I was traversing; when I simply focused my attention down on the ground, on each step one at a time, the heaviness and fatigue were greatly reduced. It became effortless walking instead of effort-filled walking. I vacillated back and forth between these two for most of the way. Tiredness and weariness weakens my resolve and ability to concentrate my practice energy, so I kept sweeping back into effort-filled walking. But then I would take notice and swing myself back into effortless walking for a spell. By the time I was in the homestretch – the last steep hill to traverse from the Dining Hall to the next tier up where our room is – I was walking as a free person.

____________

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Solo Road Saunter

I’ve written before about the merits of not disobeying the call of the road when it summons thee. So this past weekend when it called, I went.

I’ve found that to satiate my “urge for going,” as Joni Mitchell once crafted into a song, I needn’t venture far. I live in Montana for pete’s sake, a truly uncompromisingly beautiful, wild state. And we’ve got a lotta land here, too. A person could spend lifetimes exploring here and never be able to see it all.

And not only do I not need to go far, I don’t need to spend a large swath of time either. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes venturing far and spending extended periods of time off and away from home is a lovely thing to do, but I’ve been finding that even weekend-long trips simply 2-4 hours from my doorstep are not only sufficient but immensely satisfying.

I wrote this on my writer’s Facebook page the night before setting out this past weekend:

For reasons I don’t entirely understand, I want to sleep under the stars in unfamiliar terrain. I want to wake up in a fresh locale and navigate my early morning rituals in a locale where no one knows me. I want to sit in a coffee shop in a small town and write unobstructed by the comfortable air of home.

And perhaps some of this allure has a little something to do with the fact that I know full well – as clear as the sound of a bell – that I grow little, if at all, unless I edge outside of my comfort zone.

So, this past weekend, I went here:

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Sunday Morning Reflections

Self-created meme with a verse I wrote this morning

Sunday morning reflections, penned this morning:

So much unfolds on its own accord, without cause for input or advice. We could pitch a fit and throw it in the direction of so many a thing, but it would be akin to trying to flood the world with a garden hose. Absurd.

How much time is wasted on matters we have no sway over? How much hardship is generated by shirking responsibility over that which is entirely in our own hands and of our own making? On both counts, the answer is: a lot.

The combined daily total of world births and deaths a lot; the amount of times I’ve apologized in my 39 years a lot; the number of stars in the sky a lot.

Remember, a bird has cause to sing and a flower to unfurl each on their own time. If we were to attempt to take over the sun’s job as conductor, the world would be flung to the wolves for rapid devouring.
______

My morning writings bear the brush strokes of my current influences. And since right now I am reading Mary Oliver, the grace of birds and flowers are finding their way onto the page.

And this simple exchange gives me ripe pause.

We often think of children as sponges and adults as stubborn, who become more set in their ways as they age. Yet, are we not just as susceptible to input?

Yes.

The answer emphatically is yes.

______

 

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