Friday, July 31, 2015

Meannderings on Retreat - What day is it?

After 4 days of meditating, reading, reflecting and writing it is easy to lose track of time. And yet although I lose track of time, or maybe because of it, I find myself. In the opening session of the program “Great Courage and Great Compassion, Living Dying and Freedom” we were asked the question “When have you turned away from life? How did it help you, how did it hurt you?  I thought it a profound question.  I usually talk about the choices we make. So the choice to turn towards something. Yet inherent in that, is a choice we did not make, the road not taken. I thought it was a good question to ask, and I encourage all to explore that question. Even it is painful. Just not while you are driving. I am so happy to be at this Zen Monastery letting it all in, in a supportive, loving and contemplative environment.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Meanderings on Retreat - Day 3 - going deeper

As I walk the labyrinth a second day, the grass and the flowers are my friends not my impediments. They are wonders of beauty to look at and it is their home much more than it is mine. I become aware of each flower and fauna  I watch as the resident butterfly checks me out. It flys away just as I reach it. It transforms itself to look like a stick. I see where it hides and when I reach it, it circles me once and flys away. It is waiting for me as I come out of the labyrinth. Letting me get closer than it ever did before, before unfolding in its dance of flight.  Usually when I walk the labyrinth, the deep questions and answers come. This time, just the peace of experiencing the world around me engulfed me.  No worries about the future, or reconciling the past, just peace in that moment, peace in every moment. That is my vision. Interesting to think about having a vision of the present moment.  

Frank Ostaseski from the Metta Institute gave a Dharma Talk last night and his topic was the spiritual byway.  How we sometimes use spiritual practice to avoid dealing with underlying issues that challenge us.  That we need to explore all the aspects of our feelings even the negative ones.  To become friends with our negative emotions to better understand them and to just be with them.   We should shift our focus away from the object of our negative feeling (I am angry at someone) and focus on the feeling (why does this create anger in me). Sit with the feeling, don’t repress it.   Let it all in. Although not necessarily to let it all out. It is important to understand our boundaries and that they are permeable. There is a time and place for what and how we express our feelings to others. I also loved Joan Halifax’s comment  “Just continue to show up dammit” That is how change happens by continuing to show up even when it is hard, even when it feels hopeless, even when you want to give up. Continue to show up with all of you and full of compassion. That is the only way to affect lasting chan

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Meanderings on Retreat Day 2 - Settling In.

January 28th
So I think it shows that sometimes you just have to ask for what you need. There is wi-fi, I just didn’t look in the right place. So now that I have it, I am not sure that I want to use it!!  Not.  Meditation this morning was deep, as deep as I have experienced in a while.  Part of it is the setting.  A very reverential zendo just for the purpose of meditating. It is why I like to meditate in the sanctuary. It is a place of reverence.  Meditating with people who have a deep commitment to it also I think lends an gravity to the moment.  I will need to ask for a chair as my knees just cannot hold up for the whole week.

I found out they had a labyrinth and walked it this morning. Always a powerful experience for me.  This one they have let the grass grow up throughout it, so in some places it is not so easy to see which direction to turn.  It is interesting to think about having to look down right in front of you and look carefully with each step that you take.  Sometimes on other more cleared labyrinths you can look ahead and see which way the trail turns.  It is interesting to think about that in relationship with our vision for the future.  Sometimes it is easy to look ahead and see which way to go.  Sometimes though you have to put one foot in front of the other and trust that the path is laid out correctly. And when there is a sudden turn you must have your head down looking for it and see it and turn or you will trip. Always a good lesson.

In the afternoon Zazen sitting, we faced the wall. This is one difference in Soto Zen vs. Vipassana or Thich Naht Han Mindfulness Meditation.  On the one hand I feel more of a connection with others if we are all facing each other.  On the other hand, well I am not so sure about the other hand. (Tevya where are you) I think on the other hand, I am less self conscious facing the wall, for I know if someone else looks, they will not see my imperfect form (Soto Zen is much more into form than Vispassana and I want to respectful to the setting I am in).   So being less self conscious (not that I REALLY am, just hypothesizing) it allows me to go deeper. That’s all I got?

 I am doing more meditation in a condensed time than I normally do.  The sitting is about 40 minutes.  I normally sit 30 minutes in the morning myself, and in our Sangha, we have two 20 minute sits. I liked sitting for the longer time period. It gave me some time to settle in.  Plus it was also good not being the leader of the group.  I enjoyed being able to just let that go. Yes, letting go into emptiness,a key message of Zen.

July 29th

Now on my second full day here, I am feeling quite relaxed and peaceful. It took 2 days to shed the weight of my  world off my mind.  I am not worried about what happened yesterday, or what might happen tomorrow or even next week when I return, but I am here very present in the moment, just writing and reading and contemplating life. It is a simple existence here.  Life here is built to be simple. I like it. I don’t even miss tv. (Although I admit, I checked the score of the Mets game on my phone). When things are simple it is easier to see what is real, what is important and what is imagination run amok. The real question is how long can I maintain this feeling when I am back from retreat. It will require the discipline of practice every day.  It is a way of life I strive to live (of course we shouldn’t strive in Buddhist thought). So day by day, one foot in front of the other.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Meanderings on Retreat - "Train Train Running All Night Long"

Riding on the train. It is like watching a nature film from the train window. Different animals, different landscapes. Illinois , Iowa  and Missouri with its flat  lands and rolling hills  of vegetation. Colorado, with it wondrous  mountains,New Mexico with lower mountains but weaving riverbeds sometimes flowing sometimes dried out.  A lot of land throughout the country just unused, and maybe unusable. What I liked best about being on the train was meeting other people.  A family whose son has obsessions with trains (I learned a lot about trains and schedules and how late each train was);  A young girl from a small town in Missouri traveling to Los Angeles, California for the first time  to spend the summer with her father and thinking about what she wants to do with her future; a young adult from Missouri who spent his first week in the big city of Chicago and now on his way home; a Native American family traveling to their ancestral home for their annual gathering and dance; and lots and lots of boy scouts!!  The diversity and openness of people on the train reminds me of how people can be in community.  When we come together all of us different, we find a way to be together in harmony.  It is when we separate ourselves into our enclaves and limit our interactions that we learn to distant ourselves from the humanity of every person. Roll on Train.

At Upaya – as with most Zen Centers, there is no wifi, or even any cell service. There is no air conditioning. There is never enough draw space for all one’s clothing. Sharing a room is never really comfortable either. But I guess that is the point.  To not be comfortable. To find out what we need vs. what we want. To get to the core of what it is underneath that ails us. To find the peace within, that doesn’t need amenities to satisfy us.

I used Uber for the first time tonight. I walked into town – about 3 miles. I took the scenic route – a path along the river. It was nice to walk in the woods again, to be with nature. Even the couple of wrong turns I took, brought me to the rushing river, and I could revel in it flowing nature.  I had to walk over a couple of wooden/log bridges on the trek. Nothing really to worry about, but it was the concept of being suspended over the river. Not really knowing where I was going, (someone said, just follow the path by the river) but trusting that I would find my way.  And I did. But I did use Uber to come back. It was pretty cool. Quick service and there were not any other cabs to be seen. (just in case I was feeling guilty about busting the cabbie union).

I am not sure what it is that I hope to achieve this week. Just to explore, to center myself, to recapture and release the compassion and passion within me.  To remember who I am and why I am doing what I am doing.  I can and do this consistently throughout the year wherever I am, but coming here is an intentional recharging of my  soul.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Movie Reviews - "Inside Out" (8 of 10) and "Terminator Genisys" (6 of 10)

Movie Review – Inside Out – an 8 out of 10 on the JWO scale.
One the challenges of not having young children in my household anymore is that I feel awkward going to animated movies without children.  I usually have to wait until the movie comes out on Cable or Pay per View. So when I was spending some time with my 6 year old granddaughter this week, I asked if she wanted to see “inside out” and I was thrilled when she said yes.  I think much of the beauty in this movie is that it works for both adults and children. In fact I would say it is geared more for older children (over 10?) but really it is geared for adults who struggle with sharing their emotions.  Even through the eyes of my 6 year old granddaughter the movie has a strong message about the importance of sharing your feelings. I think most of the complexities of the movie were over her head and I don’t think she understood towards the end, why her grandpa started  choking up and crying.  I think the movie was extremely clever in showing how our mind and memories work.  Its characters were 5 key emotions of one young girl. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust are the five emotions that are highlighted.  It shows how all of them play a part in our development. It shows the danger when we are led by fear, Anger and/or disgust.  What was so important was the acknowledgment that sadness is an important part of what makes us whole.  If we ignore it, or subjugate it, we do so at our peril.  The movie shows how humans just try to soldier on with joy in the face of sadness and ultimately how fruitless that can be internally. It also shows the ying/yang of sadness and joy.  How we need to acknowledge the sadness in our lives to fully appreciate the joy in our lives.  At the end it shows the mingling of sadness and joy as part of our core memories that shape our lives. I think it raised an interesting question as to whether we need to let go of old memories/ideas in order to create new memories and ideas.  How old memories (Bing Bong) in this example sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the mind. I want to think about that one. If we had the power to eliminate traumatic events from our memory (in the movie the clown) should we?  With neuroscience advancing as far and as quick as it is, it is an ethical question we will have to address (A question the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” I thought addressed interestingly). But for now this is a complex, fun movie with a powerful message of acknowledging the sadness in our lives and sharing our emotions with those we are closest to.  A good message and a good cry.   

Terminator Genisys – a 6 out of 10 on the JWO Scale

Arnold Schwarzenegger in his catch phrase promised he would be back, and he is. I have forgotten how many terminator movies this has been. The movie pays homage to the original Terminator series. This one puts a clever twist on the old story, and I thought for its genre it was cleverly written.  I have stated before (I think in regard to XMen) I think movies that use time travel as part of their plot shows a weakness in the writing. In this movie, time travel was a major plot line of the whole original storyline.  However, I never understood the logic that machines and humans could only send one traveler each through the portal. That to me was a fatal flaw in the original logic.  Clearly they agreed with me as now there are people and machines travelling all through time multiple times. What I thought was clever was how other characters who did not travel in time lived their life either affected by it, or waiting for future events to happen. Because of changes to the world due to time travel we have alternate realties that are created.  This always makes things confusing and requires a lot of explaining.  Potential Armageddon,  Great Special Effects, Time Travel, Lots of things blowing up.  If you like that, this is a good date movie. If you are looking for something with depth, well maybe something else then.