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Upaya Day 6: I want to run away

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

I’m not doing this well. Most of my new friends have disappeared. Dawa and Hiumaya were gone for a second day today, Soham left last night for a week, Saro simply vanished, and if it weren’t for Rebecca and Rose (both of whom are generous in putting up with my neurosis) I’d have had no company but my own sour judgments of myself, although there are plenty of new people here. The big shots arrived today. Roshi Joan, the two nuns, and other people I don’t know. I feel overwhelmed by a thousand ways to be wrong. Today Rebecca (one of my four roommates, a woman in her fifties with good sense, my best confidante, who has been here three weeks and has committed to be here three months) and I had our instruction in “Temple Etiquette.” It lasted an hour. Our teacher was a lovely young nun with a beatific smile, who said something really lovely that I can’t now remember, as a way of introducing us to the “form.” I came back in a state of panic and wanted to make a funny poem out of it. I was going to just repeat what I’d heard, and my sense was that any sane person would find it hilarious. But I found myself really trying to repeat it, and the poem ended up being eight pages long, and not funny at all. [read on]

Upaya 5th day: cooling off

Monday, July 30th, 2007

OK, it’s my fifth day, and the toilet thing and the vacuuming thing and the dishwashing thing are getting a little tiresome. So far, it’s like Rebecca said: sit, eat, work, rest. The emphasis is on the work. One retreat finished today, and the next begins the day I leave. So maybe, for the next two days, I will get a different sense of what it is to be here. Roshi is here. I haven’t seen her, but they say she’s here. Wednesday, the day before I leave, she’s set to give a dharma talk. At the moment I can’t see how being here is any different from being a laborer at a fancy summer camp for rich adults. There are moments when my neurosis links with someone else’s neurosis and we have interesting developments. [read on]

The purpose of all this

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

It’s my fourth day at Upaya. My time here is a little more than half gone. Spent the morning dusting the art and then polishing windows at Upaya House, a rust-colored two-story adobe building that provides rooms for a dozen retreat guests and has a meeting room, a large dining room, and two rooms upstairs marked “Private,” Roshi Joan’s personal space. She’s rumored to be arriving tonight or tomorrow. I loved dusting the art. There is shaman art all hairy and wild, Hindu art (Mother Durga, my personal favorite among the Hindu dieties), Hopi pots, Buddhist art (of course: statues, paintings, weavings, calligraphy), and a three-foot by two-foot rendering of the Virgen de Guadalupe surrounded by artificial roses. After the dusting and window cleaning I went back to my dorm and (are you ready for this?) cleaned three toilets, the small kitchen, and the laundry room, and I swept the walkways. By then it was almost noon. It started raining, so I lay on the comforter and listened to the rain. At what I thought was about 12:15 I headed out, checked the clock, and it was 12:25. Oops. Meditation starts at 12:20, and you can’t go in late. So here I am. [read on]

Upaya: Day 3 of the time of my life

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

It ought to be illegal to have this much fun. I’m deliriously happy, and delirious might be exactly the right word, but I don’t care. Happy works for me. Today I’ve cleaned five bathrooms with toilets, assisted at two meals and washed dishes, nursed a very sick Humaya (vomiting, headache, fever–but she’s better now after rosemary tea, peppermint tea, and a long time breathing with Kendall’s cold hands on her head: “Your hands so cool, they feel like water, Ma.”), and what else. Meditated twice so far; second time it was just Dawa and me. Oh yeah, best of all, cleaned up after lunch and then swept and mopped the kitchen and serving room floor with Soham, the coolest guy I’ve met yet. My altitude issues have passed, and I feel terrific. Want to hear more about all of this? [read on]

Travel Magic

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

I’m still at home, rocking back and forth and biting my thumbs in anticipation, leaving tomorrow if tomorrow will ever come. Basho has decided to nest in my open carryon bag, perhaps imagining that by anchoring the bag with his body, he can keep me from going anywhere. Cats hate change. And he doesn’t even know what it means to spend nearly three weeks in a cattery–but he’ll start finding out tomorrow. Manko spent the day with me today, and I delivered her to several places where she applied for a job. And there was a last-minute change in one piece of my travel plan as a result of a stunning bit of timing. Travel magic has already started. [read on]

Packing up, moving out

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

I’m humming “leavin’ on a jet plane.” Some of you may recognize the allusion. (The remaining lyrics to that song have never held any meaning for me, but I’ve hummed that refrain to myself for so many years it’s almost a theme song; that, Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire,” and Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” I love these leaving-town, heading-into-the-sunset songs.) So here’s the deal: I’m packing my sleeping bag and my carry-on, putting my toiletries in a clear plastic baggie for Michael Chertoff’s benefit, and heading west on Southwest Airlines. [read on]

Freedom to walk through some doors

Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

Alan Johnston is free, and his words move me. In his press conference he says, “Maybe you have to have been a prisoner of some kind for some time to know how good it is to be able to do the most basic, basic things that freedom allows–like to get a haircut, to drink what you want, to walk through some doors, to speak to people that you love…” I think of the prisoners I love, the men who edit The Midnight Special (next edition coming out as soon as we get it copied and mailed). “To walk through some doors…” after years of sliding steel, banging steel, metal bars, steel grids, handcuffs, chains, and triple-thick plexiglass windows, just the wonder of being able to walk through some doors. Freedom. I think about the doors in free people’s lives, doors both literal and metaphorical. [read on]

Blog breaks and movies

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Ansie phoned this morning to be sure I hadn’t fallen off the edge of the universe. I was blogging my brains out for a while, and then suddenly I had nothing at all to say. I’ve had several delicious hour-long conversations with good friends far away. Every day is full–of what? Time seems to expand or contract to fit what’s available. When I was teaching five courses and trying to get my last chick safely out of the nest, the hours were filled. Now I’m doing nothing. And the hours are filled. A friend who was just in Portland, Oregon got me excited about the possibility of moving there, so I’ve been on the internet, reading everything about Portland. In a desultory way I’ve been packing, sorting, getting rid of more books, watching movies on DVD, reading, gazing at old photographs, doing yoga, walking, having migraines, and even coming to the computer to read other people’s blogs. [read on]

Zen Poem

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Tai just sent me this poem by Ryokan, a Japanese Zen poet of the eighteenth century (it, and more like it here). It’s not yet where I am, but it’s where I’m aiming to be, and it helps me understand that odd detachment or distance I experienced at the workshop: [read on]

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Pilgrimage

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

Today His Holiness the Dalai Lama was in Houston. I didn’t go and couldn’t listen to the streaming audio of his talks at 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. I had classes to teach (this is the last week of classes before exams), and I have already had the astonishing privilege of sitting just ten rows away from him when he talked in Durban, South Africa in–oh, I guess 1997 or so. But by remarkable coincidence, my rental of Werner Herzog’s film called Wheel of Time (about a pilgrimage and ceremonies led by the Dalai Lama in 2002), arrived in today’s mail, as did a letter from a prisoner who had just had an argument with a fellow inmate about whether it is right to call any living being “His Holiness.” So the day has been a weave of thoughts, memories, and impressions centered on the man who calls himself “a simple monk who keeps his vows.” [read on]