11 Jun 2009, 3:35pm
4 comments

village building

the rest of tuesday was amazing, too. so emotional and so straightforward.

so there is this organization in portland called city repair and every summer they organize the village building convergence. i have been aware of city repair for a couple years, ever since i stumbled across share-it square in sellwood and googled it. (they’re responsible for sunnyside piazza in the intersection behind the pied cow, too, but i think i sorta figured that was a sunnyside neighborhood thing rather than a piece of a larger project. i am learning… the project is so much bigger than that. changing hearts and minds, feeding souls.) maybe last year i was vaguely aware of the vbc, too, but not interested enough to do much (or any) investigation. the other day i wrote: “HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS STUFF FOR SO LONG? i know the answer to that question; the answer is, i didn’t care. that’s okay. now my job is to help other people care. and to keep learning and caring.”

so on sunday i went to a permaculture for renters workshop with a.’s mom and got really excited about making a container garden and losing the “i move all the time so i can’t garden” excuse. on sunday evening a. and i went to the evening events and listened to speakers talk about how to change our culture. on monday after work i met a. for another workshop, with nala walla, who had spoken the night before, about “ecosomatics” and embodied arts (arts that we can do with just our bodies and each other) and body awareness on three levels: the individual body, the community/social body, and the “gaiac body”/the earth. according to nala, only 1/10th of the cells in our body contain human dna–we are everything else, too; the universal is within us. at the workshop we played theatre-y movement games and made faces and touched strangers.

on tuesday i sat at home exhausted from my emotional bike ride, and 5:30 rolled around and i thought about lying down to sleep and then i thought, “yes. i should go.” and i went to the vbc evening events by myself.

i took some notes; they look like this–

the second speaker was starhawk. she ended her talk by inviting us all outside to participate in a spiral dance. i am really bad at estimating numbers but we filled the street, hundreds(?) of us holding hands in a big long line and singing and pulling one another along and being pulled. “take this dream and make it real.” she talked about how we are here because we can help each other and the earth through this.

then these great bands played and i found it in me to dance and dance and i felt a certain way i hadn’t really felt since sunday morning ecstatic dance at kalani in hawaii (google sez medicine for the people is a big island band–hah! aha!!). medicine for the people played a song about “how did i get here?” and i cried until they sang “look around–this is how you got here” and i cried a little more, differently, happily, put my palms out to the energy around me and felt blessed. a. appeared right before their last song and danced with me and then we walked home together.

it’s like all the apocalyptic horrible we’re-doomed stuff i’ve been learning and reading about and thinking about and talking about (and more than that–my “accident,” finishing school, all the big things and changes in my life these past few years) cut a hole through me to my soul so that this beautiful community we-can-heal-ourselves stuff could get to it and FEED it. it’s soul food.

.

says derrick jensen (from endgame)–

People sometimes ask me, “If things are so bad, why don’t you just kill yourself?”

The answer is that life is really, really good. I am a complex enough being that I can hold in my heart the understanding that we are really, really fucked, and at the same time the understanding that life is really, really good. Not because we’re fucked, obviously, nor because of the things that are causing us to be fucked, but despite all that. We are fucked. Life is still good. We are really fucked. Life is still really good. We are so fucked. Life is so good.

.

here is one way permaculture was presented to me this week: imagine a continuum. the way mainstream culture lives is somewhere off to one end. sustainability is in exactly the middle. permaculture is to the other side of the middle line. it’s not about sustaining things–it is about regenerating things. believing in and creating the future.

i wrote this in response to a comment on “apocalypse soon” a few entries down–this is what i am believing–

i think that in your example, the person’s love for the earth is not a real love but an abstraction. i think that our cultural norms OFTEN (or even always) make it impossible or very difficult for love to be more than an abstraction or even pastiche of love… maybe. my point is not that people do not feel intense, positive, enormous emotion towards one another (and the earth, etc), because they indisputably do, but that we are so wrapped up in professions of and symbols of love that we are not actually loving. one can say “i love the earth” but to actually love the earth would be to improve it, to regenerate it, to protect it, etc… love as an action. it’s sort of like standing at the opposite end of a room from someone and saying, “i touch you,” instead of walking across the room and hugging the person. only in the latter scenario does the person really receive the warmth, strength, etc in the touch. with regard to love it’s almost impossible for us to understand the difference, especially since we’re so inundated with pop culture and other stuff that tells us that sentences like “i love you, that’s why i had to hurt you” are not semantically impossible. i also think that because people think of love as that intense emotion, instead of that hard work of support etc, that they are really sensitive to and defensive of implications that one can love better, etc, which makes this sort of a hard topic to talk about.

i think it’s a really difficult thing to do, and yes i think that learning to appropriately love one another is really important. i think that as we practice loving with each other, it will get easier to love the earth and all the life around us, too.

.

mom gave me some gorgeous flowerpots she doesn’t need. i want to grow:
lavender
basil
mint
rosemary
blueberries
a small fruit tree
the columbine i got at the workshop i went to
sage
thyme
sugar snap peas
and lots more…

9 Jun 2009, 4:16pm
1 comment

riding home

on june 12th 2008, while i was riding my bike home from work, a woman absentmindedly wielding a deadly weapon (in the form of a toyota tacoma pick-up truck) failed to yield and turned left into me. i got an ambulance ride, a broken collarbone, a busted knee, a hazy month on percocet, and several months of physical therapy. a lot of the past year has been shaped by my “accident,” which has been both good and bad. lots of fear. lots of healing.

today on my way home from work i took that old route, instead of the route i have taken every time since, and i rode through that intersection for the first time since it happened. it was very emotional, and also somewhat anticlimactic. my heart beat as i waited at the red light, watching the man across the intersection waiting to turn left: i am, i am, i am, i am i am iam iamiamiamiam…

the light turned green and i biked across and i felt everything all the way through.

and then i rode home, which is all i ever wanted to do.

i will do it again on friday, june 12th, with as many friends as i can muster. today was the battle. friday will be the victory parade.

.

feeling good. i will never allow myself to be seduced by dysfunction. not anymore.

16 Apr 2009, 1:12am
4 comments

bhavatu sabba mangalam

this is a really sort of ridiculously long entry about the 10-day vipassana meditation course at the northwest vipassana center (aka dhamma kunja) from which a. and i returned home a few days ago. the first part of it is mostly context and my simplified explanation of vipassana and the content of the course. i’m probably getting some of it wrong. further down i talk more about my own reactions to all of it, so if that’s all you’re interested in, you can probably skim the first couple big chunks.

.

so this is where i was for eleven days or so: a piece of farmland about an hour and a half north of here, in onalaska, washington. a few buildings with dimly-lit gravel paths between them. some woods, some bent and tangled grass with worn walkways here and there. deer wandering here and there sometimes, and rabbits, and birds, and i heard frogs but never saw them. on the third morning at 4:30am i walked to the meditation hall, following the path, listening to the gravel crunch under my boots, and i Looked Up, and There Were the Stars, the big dipper as bright as i’ve ever seen it. two hours later, the sun had risen, the whole land was covered in a layer of white frost, and the sky was clear. there in the distance, the two snow-capped peaks of mount rainier.

once, i saw a whole horde of black and red ants slowly picking apart and consuming a dead earthworm. i crouched next to it and watched. once, it was dusk and i was walking on the path towards the main building and my dorm, feeling very quiet and internal, when a woman ten or fifteen feet behind me said “oh!” and i turned, and there next to me, maybe ten feet away, was a young deer, staring at me, and i burst into happy laughter and the deer stared at me, stepped away, stepped back again, and bounded off.

.

so this is what i was doing: meditating, sleeping, and eating. way more meditating than sleeping and way more sleeping than eating. at 4am every morning we were woken by a gong being rung. the gong rang periodically throughout the day to announce meals and the beginning of group meditation sittings (three a day). our schedule went something like this: two hours of meditation in the hall or in our rooms. breakfast, then an hour or so break during which i usually fell back asleep. our first group sitting of the day, followed by a brief break. then we received teaching (while sitting for meditation) and could usually either stay in the hall or meditate in our rooms for another two hours. then lunch and a longer break (an hour and a half or so). then an hour and a half of meditating in the hall or our rooms, another hour-long group sitting, more teaching, and another hour and a half either in the hall or in our rooms. then a break for tea and fruit, and then the last hour-long group sitting of the day. then, after a brief break, we all returned to the meditation hall, leaned against our pillows and wrapped ourselves in blankets, and our teacher, s.n. goenka, talked to us for an hour or an hour and a half about our practice and the theory behind it. then we meditated for a last half hour or so, returned to our rooms, and went to sleep by 9:30 or 10.

goenka taught us via recorded audio and video. there were also two “assistant teachers” who were present to administer the recorded teachings, speak with us personally, and answer questions. both of our assistant teachers were chinese women. this particular ten-day course was actually bilingual and taught in both english and mandarin chinese. the mandarin for anicca (impermanence) is something like “WOO-chahng.” i heard it a lot. i can also say “start again.”

we were asked to observe five precepts for the duration of the course: 1)to abstain from killing, 2)to abstain from stealing, 3)to abstain from sexual activity, 4)to abstain from telling lies, and 5)to abstain from intoxicants.

the five precepts make up sita, morality, the first of three parts of dhamma, the path to liberation that we were learning to follow (in his discourses about this, goenka referred to “sexual misconduct” instead of sexual activity… phew! haha). the second part is samadhi, which is something like wholesome actions that purify the mind, i.e. meditation, as follows (and i think some other stuff too, but the course focused on meditation, of course, and wasn’t really intended as a crash course in buddhist philosophy). the third part is panna, wisdom, which itself is divided into 3 parts or types: the wisdom you learn from books and wise people, the wisdom you get from your own intellectual processing and understanding, and the wisdom of personal experience, i.e. the wisdom you get from vipassana meditation.

we were also asked to maintain “noble silence,” which is silence of body, speech and mind. rather, silence of body and speech are supposed to help us begin to achieve mental silence… we were allowed to speak with the teachers and with the manager of our gender (an old student volunteer), but absolutely no communication was permitted with other students (though a certain amount of minutely gestural “you go, no you go” in the hallways and bathrooms was inevitable). there was total segregation of sexes from the evening of the day we arrived (”day zero”) to mid-morning of day 10 (we left early on day 11).

oh, and we were also not allowed to have any contact with the outside world via telephone or internet or anything else, or any cameras or reading material or (OMG) writing material. for a documentation addict like me this last was a big fuckin’ deal. i went into it feelin’ all good and confident, like, ok, i am not going to attempt to document this at all. i am just going to see what happens. it’ll be cool. in reality, i was writing this entry in my head all the time. mostly i was pretty un-obsessive about it, though. i had a couple points that i wanted to be sure to get down that i sorta checked on mentally every day or so, but of course the way i felt about those points changed as the course progressed.

for the first three and a half days, we learned and practiced anapana meditation, which my monkey mind immediately dubbed “nostril awareness” (from which small cleverness it derived a great deal of amusement). first, we were asked simply to breathe through our nostrils and observe our natural respiration, making no effort to control our breathing. since my only previous sorta meditation experience was pranayama (which is about regulating the breath) in yoga classes and such, this was actually a challenge for me. and, you know, my wandering mind. after a day (10+ hours of meditation, remember) of that, we were told to concentrate on feeling and observing the touch of our breath itself in and around our nostrils. then, after another day, we were told to observe any sensations we felt in the triangular area formed by our nose and the area about our upper lip, without reacting to them, ignoring any other sensations elsewhere in or on our bodies. on the fourth day that area was reduced to just the outer rims of our nostrils and the area between the nose and upper lip. all of this was to help us sharpen our minds, which we would use as a scalpel of sorts to cut to the deepest parts of our subconscious minds and remove deep-rooted complexes etc etc etc… more on this medical analogy later.

about halfway through day 4, after the second group sitting of the day, we were taught vipassana meditation. we were told to shift our attention from the spot above our upper lip to a similarly-sized spot on the top of the head. then we moved our awareness slowly from small area to small area, from head to foot, observing the sensations we encountered upon the way, all with equanimity and the awareness of impermanence, anicca (in pali/”the language of the buddha”; sounds like “ah-NEE-chah”)… over the next several days, as our minds (theoretically) grew sharper, we were supposed to start observing bigger parts of the body at once, simultaneously and symmetrically (so for example, rather than moving our attention down one arm from shoulder to fingertips, and then down the other arm, we should observe both arms at once). as goenka told us, there are always sensations on every part of our body, biochemical reactions, etc etc. it’s just a matter of our minds being sharp enough to observe these sensations. at first we are only aware of “gross, solidified” sensations (i.e. how much our back hurt, that itchy spot on our nose, our feet falling asleep, whatever), or certain areas are “blind spots,” but eventually we can observe “subtle” sensations, perhaps vibrating or pulsing sensations. the idea (not “goal” ’cause that wouldn’t be equanimous) is that eventually we would feel these subtle sensations over the entire surface of our body, head to toes and toes to head, in a “free flow.” then we observe internally as well, in the same way, and finally observe our spinal column, etc etc, until all we feel inside and out is this free flow of vibration, and mind and matter dissolve. there’s a word for this state which i can’t remember which starts with a b.

whether we were feeling painful “gross” sensations or lovely pleasant subtle vibrations, we were to observe them equanimously rather than reacting to them in any way. the idea is to stop generating reactions at all. the way our minds are used to dealing with things is to react to any sensation with either craving/clinging or aversion. according to goenka (and buddhists in general i gather; though goenka went on at length about how non-sectarian vipassana is, it’s definitely a buddhist technique rooted in buddhist philosophy and worldview), all of our misery (and we are all miserable) is caused by these reactions. we blame it on external things, but really the root of it is in our reactions. like, if something or someone makes you angry, that anger causes you a whole lot of immediate and lasting grief/pain/misery regardless of whether (and certainly faster than) you and your anger cause any grief for the person or thing that made you so angry. (i can definitely vouch for this with regard to assholes in cars who have caused me so much misery with a few stupid words–”bitch,” “get a car,” etc. after my not-an-accident i obsessed about these small incidents for days.)

the idea is not to suppress anger and other emotions, but instead to observe them objectively and equanimously. but since that’s very difficult, we instead observe the physical sensations that these emotions bring about in our body (in the anger example, maybe quicker breathing, heat, tension, etc). in meditation, observing our sensations equanimously rather than reacting to them is supposed to allow us to cease generating reactions of aversion and craving altogether. the pali/buddhist word for these reactions is “sankhara.” when we stop generating sankharas, the old sankharas that we have stockpiled in our subconscious minds, and which may be causing us all kinds of misery and psychosomatic illness and who knows what else, may one by one rise to the surface and manifest themselves in some sensation on the body. if we observe the sensation with equanimity, the sankhara will be eliminated. when, after a lifetime or maybe many lifetimes of practicing vipassana, all the sankharas are eliminated… that’s enlightenment, the final goal. something like that, anyway.

so we’re not supposed to react to uncomfortable sensations with aversion, even if a moment before we’d been feeling lovely subtle vibrations and all that, but rather see them as opportunities to rid ourselves of old sankharas of aversion. and we’re not supposed to react to pleasant sensations with craving or clinging, or we’re creating new sankharas of craving rather than eliminating them. similarly, we’re supposed to observe the reality of the present moment, even if it’s gross sensations and blind spots where yesterday it was a free flow of vibration, because equanimity is the yardstick of how far on the path one has progressed, not sensation.

.

so this is how it went for me.

i actually spent most of the course pretty sure that when i was allowed to speak to a. again, i would say to him, “so, will you be disappointed if after all that i kinda shrug my shoulders and go, eh, not for me?” this did not really change until day 10. regardless of that, i was pretty sure the whole time that i was having a valuable experience. even if all i got out of the whole thing was the chance to watch where my mind went when deprived of much external stimulation, i figured it would be worth it. my mind went a lot of places. i got a playwriting idea that i am pretty excited about working on soon. i also thought a lot about puppets and painting. for the most part, my mind was fantastically optimistic about things. which was great. while i was doing nothing, my mind was listing all the things i would or could or should do later in the fabulous sunny summer and the Great Beyond of my adulthood. (the fact of) life is awesome.

i also spent a lot of time earnestly trying to meditate, ’cause after all that’s what i was there for, and i’d agreed to give ten days of my life to give a fair trial to the technique of vipassana, etc etc. i think that my mental experience with the meditation itself was probably fairly typical. my mind wandered, it wandered less, my back ached, i felt lovely vibrations in some parts of my body, and then i didn’t, and i tried to practice equanimity, and so on.

i spent the first couple days, like everyone else, experimenting with cushion combinations in an attempt to find a comfortable position on the floor. the center provided us each with a square slightly-padded mat in a designated spot on the floor of the meditation hall. in the foyer there were a bunch of shelves full of pillows and blankets and cushions and benches. my favorite arrangement was a little bench like this with a thin pillow on top of it and two more pillows under my knees. however! on the second or third day my right knee–the one that was injured last summer when i was hit by a car–began to ache. i tried sitting cross-legged. it ached more. i went back to the bench; i tried some strange positions in which one leg was tucked underneath me and the other extended in front of me; i tried more cushioning and less… my knee ached more. then it started aching when i wasn’t meditating, and then i started limping when i walked. i started worrying that i was aggravating the apparently-not-quite-healed-after-all injury. on the fourth day, by the end of the long sitting during which we were taught vipassana, i was actually crying from the pain. so at the end of the day, i stayed in the hall to wait my turn to ask the teachers a question. when it was my turn to sit in front of one of them, i told her my name, and then i said, “i have an old knee injury, and for the past few days i have been unable to find a position that doesn’t cause it to hurt a lot. may i try sitting in a chair tomorrow?”

the teacher smiled down at me and said, “ah, you had an accident, yes?” (at the beginning of the course we’d filled out a little form with what we thought was relevant information regarding past traumas and big events in our lives.) i nodded and she said, “yes, often things… come up. i will talk to the management and you may have a chair.”

after that i sat in a chair and my knee hurt less, though it still twinged sometimes. past sankharas rising to the surface? or just an old injury not quite healed? i found that my collarbone ached from time to time, too, more than it had in months. maybe it was because i was sitting in a position such that my elbow was unsupported for long periods of time, and my collarbone is still not quite as strong as it once was. or maybe it was “things coming up.”

that’s kind of how my thoughts went a lot of the time. maybe this… or maybe that.

every other day or so, we were called up a few at a time to sit in front of one of the teachers so she could ask us a few questions about what we were experiencing and give us guidance or help with any difficulties we might have been having in our meditation. every time i sat in front of the teachers, no matter how much my body had been aching a few moments before, or how much my mind had been wandering or whatever, i smiled, smiled, smiled. maybe it’s true what people say about enlightened and very spiritual people, that their inner peace and happiness radiate from them, that their harmony is contagious… maybe they were giving us metta (loving kindness)… or maybe what i was feeling was just the pure and simple joy of contact with another person (after days of noble silence), of receiving words and returning them, of being understood, of eye contact and communication, which i think is maybe the purest, most fundamental thing about being human.

goenka says that was separates humans from animals (he does not say “other” animals) is that we humans are capable of mastery over our minds, of practicing vipassana, of walking the path of dhamma. that to walk this path and to release ourselves from the cycle of craving and aversion is to be fully human. i had a lot of trouble with this. i thought a lot about what i think make humans human, and for me it came down to communication and creativity. and both of those things seem to have so much to do with reaction!

while goenka in his evening discourses told stories about siddhartha gautama buddha, i thought about hesse’s siddhartha, and remembered this quote that i copied down when i reread the book about a year ago:
“That may well be,” Siddhartha said tiredly. “I am like you. You too do not love; otherwise how could you practice love as an art? People of our type are incapable of love. The child people are capable of it; that is their secret.”

of course post-enlightenment buddha was so full of love… compassionate love, infinite love, loving-kindness, all of that. i want to feel all of that, yes, but i don’t want to give up passionate, messy, dramatic love, you know? goenka says that kind of love is really just self-love, an addiction to craving. but i feel like craving and aversion are the ways we really interact with and relate to our fellow humans. buddha’s selfless love is very well and good, but… i don’t know. to me, nothing seems more naturally human than drama. emotions are exquisite. graffiti i found five years ago in a bathroom in the reed library, words i have held and taken to heart many times since then:
i can’t pinpoint when i fell in love with the world. some days its intensity feels like a burden – but anything is better than the nothing i once had inside me. when i am overwhelmed with beauty, emotion, the sheer size of it all, so much that i am incapacitated, i must remind myself to give thanks – i am blessed to feel so much.

luckily, enlightenment is the end of a path that takes many lifetimes to walk, and chances are i’m never gonna have to worry about being entirely free of the craving and aversion i love so very much. hah. and loving-kindness and all that good stuff are not nothing. all i mean to say is, i like my small human life, child person though i may be.

the other thing with which i sorta have a bone to pick is goenka’s use of medical analogies. there’s the one i mentioned further up in this entry somewhere, about how we were at the course to sharpen our minds and perform deep mind surgery on ourselves to remove deep-rooted complexes. and another one i remember–he was mocking organized religions with rites and rituals, and he said, if you had an illness, and you went to the doctor, and he wrote you a prescription for this or that medicine to be taken once in the morning and once in the evening, etc etc, you don’t take that prescription home, put it on your altar, light incense to it, pray to it, memorize the words, chant them, and all that. the prescription is useless if you don’t do the work of actually following it. (in other words, it doesn’t make sense to express devotion to jesus, or rama, or buddha, or whoever, if you make no effort to emulate them or take their words to heart. in other words, do the work of meditation or you cannot expect to achieve the final goal of enlightenment.)

that’s all well and good, but i am not diseased. humans are not diseased. i don’t feel that there is anything fundamental about being human that requires purification and i object to the assumption that there is. we have no fundamental illness that needs curing. you know? we have some fucked up cultural and societal shit, and i think that dhamma and meditation are, or have the potential to be, great coping mechanisms. but, like, goenka talked a lot about how gifts of food are good, gifts of shelter are good, but gifts of dhamma are better. feed someone, and they will be hungry again later. teach someone dhamma, and they will have the power to take themselves out of their misery. yeah, they will peacefully and harmoniously starve to death. it’s all well and good when you are speaking to a room full of people well off enough to take almost two weeks off from work and life to learn a meditation technique…

so, i spent a long time having these arguments in my head, and my mind spent more than an entire day in the middle of the course singing “wild thing! you make my heart sing!” to itself over and over again, ’cause i am a wild thing and you are a wild thing and we are animals and i love my monkey mind and the crazy creative things it comes up with.

and on day 10 when noble silence was broken, and we all introduced ourselves to the people with whom we’d been eating and sitting and smiling at deer and bunnies for a week and a half, all the old students (people who’d taken at least one 10-day course previously; maybe half of the students were old students) asked all of us new students, “how was your course?” and at first i said, a little reluctantly, “well, it was… interesting…” and they would laugh and say, “well, yes, of course it was.”

but the day wore on… and maybe it was group psychology, and when i tell you this you will think i have joined a cult and the ten days were some sort of difficult initiation ritual designed to make our minds vulnerable to suggestion or something, but i was asked that question over and over that day, and slowly my answer became “it was good,” and then “it was really good” with a big smile. goenka had been dropping little references to day 10 all week, mentioning that students are always smiling on day 10, maybe even glowing. (slow glowing over 10 days–omg my blog name!) and yeah, he was right. (frustratingly right! in his last discourse to us, early in the morning of day 11, he said, “you don’t like this or that part of the theory? find, don’t accept. but practice!! someday, you will realize, ah, this part of the theory is also correct, and then you will accept.” aw damn, goenka; well, we’ll see.)

day 10 was the best day. on day 10, i was a human being surrounded by human beings. where for most of the course we had always walked separately, spread out, solitary–a strikingly unnatural sight, really–now we walked and ate and stood around and sat in groups of two or three or several, talking, talking, talking. on day 10 we were expected to meditate only during the three group sittings–other than that, we were left to our chatty devices. and ooohhhh we chatted. gender segregation ceased for part of the day, and a. and i spent a long time talking. i also talked with many of the other women. and that communication, and being forced to articulate my experience of the course… well, i am still no good at articulating it, i guess. i mean, i’m not sure i could say for sure what exactly was so good. which probably is not helping your she-joined-a-cult suspicions. does it help that i have those suspicions too?

but really it mostly felt like the positive reinforcement of community. the physical aches and the silence of ten days were overwhelmed by the good energy of day 10. also on day 10–maybe this is related, too, if you want to get a little woo-woo about it–right before noble silence was broken, we were taught the practice of metta, in which we infused the vibrations of our bodies with loving-kindness and compassionate love and sent those vibrations into the world around us. yup. goenka called it a balm for the wound we had created in our minds during the course by beginning that big mental operation, etc.

though i was never tempted to try to talk to anyone or anything like that–

–well there was this one day–i was walking up the path back to the main building at the same time as the woman i sat next to in the meditation hall. she was ten or fifteen feet ahead of me and had already gotten almost to the door when she turned around and saw me. she looked at me and leaped back over a little bench to come closer to me, make brief eye contact with me, and then turn her face up to where the sun had just begun to break through the clouds. i followed her glance, smiled a little, and she gave me the biggest grin i’d seen all week. later, i decided to give her one of the tiny paper cranes i’d made out of the copy of the code of discipline they’d given to me at the beginning of the course (the only paper i had). i left it on her boot at first, but then felt sort of bad about such an overt breech of noble silence, so before she saw it i moved it to the bench just above her boot. i don’t know if she ever spotted it–

–but anyway, noble silence was tough for me. by days 8 and 9, when goenka was saying, “you must work seriously, these are the last days you have to work seriously. meditate all the time, even when your eyes are open or you’re eating or falling asleep,” my mind had resorted to makin’ it’s own damn conversation if that’s what it had to do. my mind was wandering more than ever, and i found myself nearly incapable of the concentration required to meditate successfully. i needed day 10 and communication. i think it helped me to feel like that communication was being encouraged–like that hugely important aspect of my humanity was not in fact being squashed by the technique or anything like that.

.

“bhavatu sabba mangalam” means “may all beings be happy.” goenka ended all the group sittings by chanting it three times, and then if we chose we could respond by chanting “saddhu, saddhu, saddhu” (i agree, well said). it’s sort of hard to disagree with, isn’t it? may all beings wish for all beings to be happy. i understand how one might believe that the way to make that happen is the spread of dhamma.

i am thinking about freedom in some different ways. enlightenment is liberation from craving and aversion, from attachment. “may all beings achieve liberation, liberation, liberation,” goenka said during metta meditation. a. and i got a ride home from a guy who talked with us about commitment (to people, places, livings, etc). always “where is freedom?” at the bottom of a well or the end of a path i must dig or walk? in a place i do not want to be? questions questions questions. they are good to have.

i’m still not a buddhist, ’cause i don’t really wanna achieve enlightenment. but i think that the awareness i am cultivating in the practice of vipassana meditation can really only do good things for me. i want to be able to feel deeply and passionately… when it is good for me and those around me. when it helps me to create useful change in my world. when it helps me to develop strong and supportive relationships with others. about my community. about my life and decisions. not when it immobilizes and blinds me, as it indubitably has at times in the past.

time will tell how this all manifests itself in my life, i guess. the past few days since we got back have been great. on monday when i rode home from northeast portland, it started hailing, hard. i kind of giggled and half-jokingly practiced my awareness of anicca. and the sun came out, and for awhile it was hailing and sunny at the same time, and the whole world took on this sort of golden vibrating wet glow. it was incredibly beautiful. and then the hail stopped and the sun stayed and by the time i got home i was almost all the way dry.

.

oh, and here’s a sorta funny thing that happened. i was talking about the course to my mom, who is not a particularly woo-woo person, and i mentioned the way my wandering mind would focus with great determination on very silly things. “like, one day i spent a half hour when i should have been meditating pondering what color i would choose if i were looking for the perfect color to paint my bedroom walls.”

“oh, i’m sorry, that was totally my fault,” she said. “you were gone and i was thinking about colors for our new house, and i was wishing you were here so i could ask your opinion!”

i laughed and continued: “anyway, i decided that purple really is the best bedroom wall color; i love my purple walls in my current house and i loved my purple walls in the house in sammamish.”

“oh my gosh! so it was you!” said my mom. “they have this website where you can virtually paint walls to see what they’d look like painted various colors, and i sent jay [my dad] an email with one i did, it was shades of purple! i swear, i’ll forward it to you, you’ll see. he emailed me back and said ‘diana, that’s… purple.’” (so i guess no purple walls for them, then. oh well!)

yup. so there you go.

.

if you’re interested (and these 5000+ words weren’t more than enough!), you can read a.’s account of his experience here.

21 Mar 2009, 12:04am
2 comments

baggage

it’s late and past my bedtime and i’m falling asleep sitting up, but i want to write a little bit. anyway, today was my last 6:30am wake-up for awhile. i mean, for a week and a half. then i’m going to meditate silently for ten days and wake up at some completely ridiculous hour every morning, like 4:30am. it should be interesting. before i go (with a.) my mom thinks i should read my stroke of insight and a. thinks i should read the doors of perception. hah. i will try to read both.

anyway, fuck, what a day. the very first thing i did this morning was stumble across the room towards my alarm clock and step on the neck of my ukulele. snapping it in two. it is an ex-ukulele. ooooh, i was soooo mad at myself. all my shit strewn across my floor, even the shit i care about, because i have too much shit that i don’t care about. a., who bought it for me for my birthday last summer, says, well, it didn’t have great intonation anyway. i think i am going to sell my guitar-i-never-play (it was an 11th birthday present and i still only know a couple chords–it has steel strings and high action and is freakin’ hard to play ok?) and maybe some other stuff for a replace-my-uke fund. and, goddamnit, i am going to get rid of some stuff. seriously.

took some deep breaths, ate some breakfast, thought about getting rid of stuff, and left on my bike for the theatre. lovely and warm these days. hardly mind the drizzle. an hour after sunrise and i’ve got my lights on just in case, riding down clinton street around 36th or so, taking the lane ’cause there’s no traffic. clinton street is a bike boulevard, so there’s mini traffic circles to (theoretically) keep speeding traffic off of it, but few stop signs. just ahead of me, a huge semi-truck on a perpendicular street pulls up a stop sign at an intersection with clinton, on the right. it slows, almost to a stop… i have the right of way so i continue… the truck speeds up again and pulls into the intersection. i brake, swerve, scream bloody murder. he sees me and brakes, too. i pedal past him, really shaken up, halfway to sobbing, pull up at the sidewalk and dismount. he’s yelling out the window, “i didn’t see you!”

and i’m sobbing and swearing left and right at him: “you’re driving a fucking huge ass fucking truck! you have to fucking watch where the fuck you’re going! there was a fucking stop sign!”

“i’m sorry,” he says, “i didn’t see you!”

“you asshole!” i yell, and he drives on.

yeah, way to engage drivers in productive conversation, stacia. i dunno. i wonder when i will stop feeling this way after every close call. i rode the bus the rest of the way downtown. i sat on the bus and stared out the window and i thought, i know how i am going to die. (in that moment i was pretty sure.) and then i thought, i guess there are two ways to react to that knowledge. one, i can stop biking or leave the city. two, i can work to make biking safer and drivers more aware. one of these is obviously the healthy, productive answer. but it’s easier said than done, and sometimes i just feel so overwhelmed by anger, frustration, and FEAR FEAR FEAR.

then there was some minor chaos at work, but it was kind of welcome–nice to have some problems to solve. better than dwelling. yeah, the day got better. this evening i went to a jason webley show in reed’s chapel. i have been to other jason webley shows in the chapel. i have been to other people’s shows in the chapel, i have meditated in the chapel, i have performed in the chapel, i have stayed up all night writing inane plays in the chapel, i have cried in the chapel, i have given cookies to crushes in the chapel, i have wildly applauded my friends in the chapel, i have probably fallen asleep in the chapel. tonight it was nice to be in that space and feel all of those memories around me. (i do not need sentimental knicknacks or physical emotional baggage to prove these things. these memories are powerful all on their own.)

here is a video of jason webley singing one of my favorite songs of his, “dance while the sky crashes down” (which he sang tonight)–

and here are some lyrics from another song of his that i love, “last song”–

and we say that the world isn’t dying.
and we pray that the world isn’t dying.
and just maybe the world isn’t dying…
maybe she’s heavy with child.

19 Mar 2009, 5:30pm
1 comment

oh my

(life)

okay, so i spoke too soon about the nice weather and the Spring Glorious Spring and all that. well, spring in the pnw is like a box of chocolates… but, hey, generally sweet. today was sorta nice, weather-wise, anyway.

yesterday was Not My Day but it ended up all right. ended well, in fact, with delicious home-cooked food and good people and plum wine. it took a lot of stupid little things all piled up on top of each other before the day really got to me and i was swearing and stamping my feet, etc. it was all shit i couldn’t do anything about just then, except accept it, work around it, move on… and i KNEW that, but it still took awhile for that frustration to slip away. it fuckin’ sticks to ya.

i’ve been meaning to write for days and days. feeling busy all the time. not really busy all the time. just stuff. and more stuff. yeah, i think it’s the clutter.

(theatre)

it’s the time of year when (i gather) i should be looking for gigs for next (theatre) season, or even a full-season job, but… i’m not feelin’ it. i wonder what it’s like to know at any given moment what the future really holds? i mean, to be sure about it? i guess i’ve signed a year lease two years in a row. i guess that’s a kind of self-sabotage. good or bad. right now i have no surety at all. feels good and bad.

finishing up with this gig in just a few more days. i’ve been stage managing a show for a children’s theatre, which i’m not gonna link to here ’cause i swear on this blog. the actors in the show are mostly adults (and one sixteen-year-old), but most of the performances (of which there are twelve each week… maybe i am kind of busy) are on weekday mornings, for school groups, usually elementary school kids. way more of them in the audience than there are adults. and oh my gosh, i love them. they are the greatest audiences ever. so engaged, so eager to make noise and respond, gasp, cheer, sing, whatever. they react so genuinely and seem to realize so quickly and naturally that they are in the same space as the stage, sharing it with real people–that it’s not a movie or whatever (though sometimes i here them referring to it as such in the preshow chatter).

you can tell when the kids have gotten some kind of lecture from their teachers about theatre etiquette before the show, ’cause they’re so much more quiet and boring, and i nod off over my prompt book as a result (not really. i am a responsible, alert sm. no, really). i felt a little funny about it when i realized that, because i have definitely gone off about the importance of theatre etiquette in the past… but the people i was talking about then were people who were so horribly disengaged from the show that they would get up and walk in front of the audience, turn around and take cell phone photos of me in the booth, whatever, etc etc. the problem is not too much engagement. the problem is disengagement. we want engaged audiences! would that all audiences were like these children!

(love)

i have been wanting to write (in appropriately vague terms) about the past month since the end of that particular Waiting Time. the not-cryptic story, by the way, is (in a couple long run-on sentences) that my boyfriend and i both got hit by cars last summer (four weeks apart), it sucked, we were both kind of traumatized and anxious and not exactly communicating well, we fought a lot, we broke up, he went to india and nepal for five months, i was supposed to join him for two months but i cancelled my ticket and went to hawaii instead. the day & night before he left, we met for lunch and had one of those bittersweet movie ending kind of times. so we kept talking while he was gone, which meant we kept fighting, which meant we kept talking, and talking and talking and talking, and eventually we started forgiving. and then, five months later, he came home. and everything is easier said than done.

want to write: about raising my voice in a coffeeshop to declare “but i’m not a buddhist!”, about lots of other things that aren’t as easily succinctly and amusingly described, about identifying the good versus bad kinds of self-sabotage, about fantasy versus reality, about craving solitude…

from a journal entry written a week or so ago:
“it is fear… if i can keep real human companionship and communication in the realm of fantasy, it’s something that doesn’t require any work or commitment or messy mundanity.”

there’s a lot of good stuff, too. and the more we do it, the more the working through stuff is the good stuff, too.

i keep saying “we’ll see.” about this, about everything. not sure if it’s a healthy way of accepting an uncertain future, or an unhealthy indication of passivity and inaction. well… we’ll see?

23 Feb 2009, 1:07am
1 comment

construction (centering, leveling)

today after rehearsal i made my way to my friends’ apartment in sellwood, ate food and hung out for awhile, rambled my imaginary drama to willing ears. a few hours after dark, i walked the three or four miles home by myself, listening to ani difranco’s little plastic castle until my ipod’s battery charge ran out. nothing like a nice cliché to make a girl feel like she’s a part of something. i saw a heron in westmoreland park, and woke up all the ducks and geese.

i am feeling wildly uncentered these days. it’s bad timing.

in the past week or so, i have broken four things, including:
the lcd screen on my little camera;
a mason jar i used for carrying smoothies around;
my french press, by dropping a mug on it,
which also broke.

this week is tech week for the show i’m stage managing right now. in theory, that’s when all the disparate elements of the show–set, costumes, lighting, direction, etc–come together to create the finished (but not static, of course–viva live theatre!) work of art. in practice, it’s organized chaos. it’s my job to keep the emphasis on “organized” and off of “chaos.”

we’ll see how i do. (i mean, i’m not bad at it or anything. tech week is often my favorite part of the whole process. but i’m intimidated by the number of props and costumes in this show, or something.)

and then there’s the other thing that’s happening this week. i’ve been waiting for it more or less since i started writing this blog, and the waiting itself has taken on such strange significance that the imminent approach of the actual event is messing me up somethin’ bad. i am even resisting (!) it even though i have been counting down the months and weeks, even though i know the waiting is hurting me, even though i know that regardless of what happens next–well, at least i won’t be waiting. and hell, i’m hopeful. que sera, sera.

awhile ago i was talking to a friend of mine about feeling young and lost (i think. i only remember what she said, not the specific context of her advice or even, to be honest, which friend it was. i swear i wrote about the conversation in my journal, but can find no reference to it. wherever these things come from, there they are.) and she said that someone had once told her to imagine who she wanted to be when she was old, what kind of old woman she wanted to be–and then make the decisions that would help her to become that woman. oooh, i want to be here. i want to have been here. a brightly-painted house, an overgrown garden with fruit trees and blueberries and a vegetable plot. a community, houseguests, housecats, a porch. maybe a family. but i want to have done everything else, too…? yes…?

i am full of escapist fantasies, but as soon as i tell people about them and start to take them seriously, i change my mind, or anyway it doesn’t have the same urgency it did the day before. the peace corps, the pacific crest trail, farm internships, voluntary homelessness, whatever whatever, i don’t know, i know i don’t have to know.

i don’t think i like stage managing, really. the more i do it the more impatient and unhappy i feel doing it. great, great. i will abandon my very-low-paying inconsistent “career” for–what? copy editing for my parents’ business? okay. (i mean, i dunno, maybe it’s this week or this winter or the morning ache in my collarbone or the phases of the moon or or or…) maybe it’s as good a time as any… oh i am so fucking blessed. you wanna know how so? i got hit by a car this summer. and on friday, a woman i hadn’t previously met in person but to whom i’d spoken plenty by phone and email came to my house, and i signed a piece of paper, and she handed me a check, and my economic worries are over for a nice long while, probably. isn’t that weird? isn’t that SO FUCKING WEIRD?

now onto the existential worries!

please don’t ever get the false impression that i have any bleepin’ clue what i’m talking about.

come friday, i will have something else to say. unless i don’t. spring is coming; i know i’ve mentioned that. it rained today, but i can tell it’s spring rain because it smells like autumn rain. a little dusty. seasons they are a-changin’.

can’t tell you what my life feels like, but here’s some pieces of what it looks like, anyway–

20 Jan 2009, 2:45pm
3 comments

be the change

hello!

how are you? happy inauguration day, i guess. i admit that i am, well, too much of an idealist to be super excited about another dude delivering pretty words and compromises, especially when i remember, for example, how disgusted i was at the way even liberals and the media treated hillary clinton during her primary campaign. yes, there is that little hopeful(!) part of me that thinks maybe i just feel this way ’cause for eight years, more than a third of my life, all of my adult life, we’ve had this awful guy hangin’ out up there on the presidency. and now i will get to see what it’s like to live in a real democratic republic with a leader who is not power-hungry, who represents the people, who works with them (us) rather than in defiance of them. but i’m skeptical. that said, as other have pointed out, it’s really fucking cool to see everyone getting all excited and worked-up and groupthink-y about something so positive and optimistic, instead of something violent or vengeful or hateful.

i’ve been thinking about “change,” actually. mostly in my own small personal life, really, but everything stands in for everything else, in some way, doesn’t it? i just mean, trying to figure out what kind of life i want to live. super to cheesy to repeat the quotation everyone’s heard a million times, but, you know, “be the change you wish to see” blah blah blah. that’s a tangential part of what i mean, though. mostly, i have been thinking about traveling, and i have been thinking about buying a house. “what?” you say. “i thought you were a broke theatre bum!” yes, yes i am. but i am counting my chickens before they’re all the way hatched (there’s little cracks beginning to form, though, and maybe some tiny beaks sticking out) and thinking about my insurance settlement.

i got hit by a car and it sucked a whole lot, but because i was lucky enough to be hit by a decent person who didn’t drive off, acknowledged that she was at fault, and had current auto insurance, it’ll end up being the most lucrative thing i’ve done since graduation. ever, really. (even so, ask me sometime to tell you exactly how fucked up the system is, and one of the many many reasons we badly need universal health care now. it is only because of even more luck that the events of june 12th have not totally destroyed my credit rating for life!) no, of course the money doesn’t make it “worth it.” my point is–getting hit by a car changed my life in ways i still haven’t figured out. and i feel this weird pressure within myself to use the money i’m gonna get out of it to, well, change my life. to do something big. like go everywhere i have ever wanted to go (hopefully with some kind of positive intention–i don’t want to travel aimlessly). or buy a home (with my parents’ help) and plant a garden and paint murals on the walls.

obviously neither of those choices are really permanent. if there’s anything i have learned, it’s that You Can Always Change Your Life. at least, i can, because i am extremely lucky and was born with a certain amount of privilege. but i think a lot of people can who would rather not admit it, because it’s hard to change your life, and it’s easy and even fun to complain about your life instead. (i am very much talking to myself here.)

in any case, i have been having a fine time entertaining these possibilities. daydreaming about walking across england, or trekking in the himalayas, or biking through the southwest, etc etc. imagining my lush garden full of lavender and rosemary, and my walls painted with beautiful designs. while i sit in my room and look out my window at my neglected backyard, look at my boring unfinished wood dresser (for example); while i bike along the same routes between the same familiar places i know and love in portland instead of seeking out the new and different blah blah blah. i mean, i am wanting to Change My Life but i am trying to do it the easy way, by making some big decision and letting everything come from that, instead of being the change. if i were to travel right now, i would probably be lonely and aimless. if i were to buy a home right now, it would probably be as cluttered and neglected as the one i live in already. unless i’ve got the change in me, behind my actions, already.

whoa, guys. i didn’t really know that when i started writing this entry.

what i actually meant to wind up with, in some way i hadn’t quite figured out yet, had more to do with that first paragraph up there. what i wanted to say was, i think that in my ideal world, the world’s population is much, much smaller and arranged into little happy mutualist anarchic communities. but, what we’ve got is what we’ve got. but, i think there is something to be said for living as though the ideal world is possible. i want to take what i need and give what i need to give. i want to contribute to a loving and supportive community by nourishing my friendships and relationships as best i know how. i want to know how. i want to learn how. i want to be the change. and i want to acknowledge what i already am and what i already have, too.

so there you go. writing about politics and ideals makes me feel really nervous and ignorant, which is part of why i am trying to do it anyway (albeit hiding in the midst of entries like this about my personal life). conversation fights ignorance, right? even if it’s mostly just conversation with myself.