Sunday, December 31, 2006

a wonderful new year for all

Never Give up
No matter what is going on
Never give up
Too much energy in your country
is spent developing the mind
instead of the heart
Be compassionate
Not just to your friends
but to everyone
Be compassionate
Work for peace
in your heart and in the world
Work for peace
and I say again
Never give up
No matter what is happening
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up.
HH The XIVth Dalai Lama

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

a whiskery face

Nyima and Milo - especially the Liddaboy - are eager to earn their cowboy hats. Some weeks ago, while on our morning walk in the back meadow, we came across 2 large cows (one with impressive horns), a calf and a small bull, who had transgressed the fence. Joyfully, my pair raced up barking and chasing and manouvered the cows across that field, and then the next one, to a small gate bedecked with prayer flags, in the far corner. All of us were somewhat astonished by this turn of events, but, not wanting to miss an opportunity, I crawled under the fence and opened the gate from the other side. Naturally the cows backed away, towards Milo. He held his ground (despite those big horns on a large, reluctant cow), so there they were, nowhere to go except forward. He helped me move them through, as Nyima barked and ran up and down as back-up; i was very proud.
Well, the other day we encountered horses. On our morning run, beyond the gate, Gypsy and I both still in the truck, I spied a pick-up ahead, coming our way, so I pulled over next to the small dam. Then I heard Nyima, out of sight, barking with her "there is a big animal here", voice (different from her javalina or rabbit bark). I started calling, as Letha Cline - our friend from Young who owns the cows and horses we encounter - crawled along in her pick-up, bales of alfalfa in the back. Quite unexpectedly, she had found the horses way past our gate and, fortunately, she had their feed , so they were plodding happily behind.
Milo saw his chance to prove to Letha what a hero he is (Letha has taken a shine to the Liddaboy), and decided to help, herding them along, snapping at their heels, but keeping a safe distance. I called in my most authoritative voice, to which Nyima responded and jumped in the truck, but Milo had a more important job to accomplish. So the procession continued the 1/2 mile to the gate - 4 horses trotting, Milo in the middle of the road, barking, Letha in her pick-up, and the girls and I (Nyima beside herself with excitement that she couldn't be part of the fun) at the rear. Milo and the horses passed through our opened gate, at which point Letha and I stopped; enough was enough! I called even more ferociously, and this time, a proud Liddaboy turned back to our truck.
He is a joyful, not-so-little, dog. He paddles rather than walks, but always with an electric charge of happiness in his step; it makes me laugh to watch him paddle on his long legs towards me. His full formal name is actually Miles (Edward) O'Brien, a moniker rarely used (in honour not of the cable TV reporter, but Chief of Operations, Deep Space Nine). He has a couple of odd quirky habits, however. He is peculiar about breakfast - often stepping back as if I were offering him a repugnant dish, and sitting at a distance, only eating 5 minutes later.
And he hates to get in the car.
I have never known a dog to be so consistently reluctant - fearful - of getting in a vehicle. Nyima was like that at first, I am sure due to some bitter experience, but she quickly learned that cars are fun - open windows, travel, new sights and smells - and now is as eager as Gypsy for the gate to open so they can leap inside.
Not our Milo. He dances with them at the outset, but when the gate is opened he runs away. Every day the same. I call, plead, offer treats, we side-step back and forth around the broad oak trunk next to the gate. I point out to him the girls are in the car, we are going for a walk, but even, after 10 months of rides that only have pleasant outcomes, he somehow associates getting in the car with something bad.
It's no easier when the walk is finished. There we go round and round the car, or sometimes he sits underneath and won't come out, even gently snapping at me. Of course, eventually, somehow I win and cuddle him, lift him in, and tell him what a good boy he is. But nothing has yet changed his mind about that moment of choice to get inside of his own free will.
He has decided to shift his place in the pack - a move not supported by me; Nyima, however, is such a precious, gracious being she doesn't really care, as long as no-one is hurt or upset. Milo has been working at winning Gypsy over - not to challenge her, I think (that would be most unacceptable, all around), but because he knows she is the top dog. This morning I was so happy to watch Gypsy and he have a rough and tumble chasing game, she most vocal. Of course Nyima, always ready for play - joined in, but I have never seen Gypsy so directly interact with Miles.
My family - what can I say! They are an important part of my life, teach me, liven me up, ground me, make me laugh. Without Gypsy I would never have survived those early months here on my own, so to her i owe an immeasurable amount. Perhaps I wish I had trained them better, so they would always listen to me, not just at their own discretion. Then, without a doubt, Milo would earn his cowboy hat. As it is, well, I am not so sure. Not that it really matters to him or me, chasing cows and horses is fun, but better still is sitting on the couch leaning close, his whiskery face being stroked, his eyes growing heavy, until final collapse into a not-so-big ball of contentment.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

breaking through

when i was in my early twenties I had a nervous breakdown. It was a cataclysmic experience, unlike anything I had ever endured, and even, some thirty years later, it still stands out in my lifespan quite unlike any other event.
it was so absolute and all-encompassing; if I had known to recognise the signs it may not have been so starkly suprising to wake up one day and have no idea who I was. I remember that day so vividly, it followed a night of such extreme inner restlessness that I walked in the mid-night darkness through streets in a city i did not know, to find the home of someone I did. I entered her home and paced the kitchen, not understanding what was going on, only realising something was terribly wrong. The household stirred, and we talked for a while, before I slept on the couch. The next day when I awoke there was an invisible glass wall between me and the world. i could not think, barely speak. I remember someone telling me i was scaring them, i was not myself. My response "How can you know who I am, I do not know who that is."
The following days were excrutiating. I had lost my identity, and was living in a shell no longer familiar. People I knew, in this city where I did not live, were kind. They had to lead me around like a small child; even the simplest question, "coffee or tea?", was unanswerable, I had no idea about anything. No frame of reference, so sense of past, just this fearful disconnect with the world i found myself in.
I travelled the several hundred miles back to my home city, hoping to find respite. There was none. I remember walking into my bedroom - my bedroom, where I had lived for maybe a year, where everything was mine - the books, the clothes, the posters, the bed. I stood in the doorway, a stranger, thinking - whose room is this. Intellectually, I knew it was mine, but there was no sense of belonging, of familiarity. It was a room, a life, I was its inhabitant, but I had lost the map to guide me through each day, each thought.
The friends I lived with were generous in their kindness, without their support I don't know where I would have gone. I saw a counsellor - only once- took no medication; i just lived with it, through it, being someone i wasn't, or didn't know. I remember walking into bookshops and drowning in the information and words sheathed in the covers on the shelves. I felt so empty and inadequate, incapable of thought or clarity. I yearned to know it all, be it all, instead I was swamped with confusion. I became incredibly open and honest with others regarding myself at this time; there was no-one to hide within. I was naked, exposed, vulnerable. I had to lay my heart and mind on the table with each and every encounter.
I suppose it was some inner resilience that go me through, after many many months. Somehow the inner and outer began to re-align, the dischord diminished. It was not so much that I became the person I had been, I learned to live as the person I had become. It was a fearful, painful, agonising period of my life.
I have lived through other events since then, where my world has fallen apart and i have not known how to survive - yet did - but this was the only time that my very sense of self completely shattered, where there seemed to be nothing to build on, to cling to, to work with.
Today I reflected on this period of my life, as I live through a time where my confidence is low. I am not anywhere near the place I was then - and I now have the tools of my faith to nurture me through anything - but I realised that in a way, this experience of my youth was both a turning point then, and a lesson for now. It was about letting go at a deep and fundamental level to any and every claim of familiar self. Habits, ideas, responses were stripped, or lost, or forgotten. There was nowhere to turn and no place to hide. Raw discomfort was my daily experience.
Who am i? Still, even now, I don't really know. I have replaced those habits, or re-kindled them, in the intervening years. Yet now I aspire to shed them, to break through and find that rawness, to expose that nakedness. To realise that which I have always held to be true - my very sense of self - is ultimately that which separates me from the deep, precious truth of who i truly am.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

not much to say

Thoughts for posts drift in and out of my mind; a couple are waiting for me to sit down and allow them to unfurl. But I am not in that place, right now. I am not in much of a place at all.
Hard to describe, and it doesn't really matter, because like every moment or feeling or thought it is so transitory that ultimately it defies description. It is not an inspired or inspiring place, however, so as much as writing is like a second skin to me, i cannot engage.
It is so much easier to do so many things when one is feeling really good, or perhaps even really bad. That furnace of extreme emotion can fuel activity, ideas, action. A place that feels devoid or flat may obscure the myriad dimensions of possibility.
It feels like a time of transition, i am neither here nor there. S0metimes fragile, wobbly, uncertain. Of what? That is the question i can never answer. Not of my path or faith, just everything else.
I went to Payson yesterday, took the whole family, I think to add substance to my frailty. We ended up spending close to 5 hours at the mechanics - me sitting in the lobby watching CNN, my babies sitting in the truck while the tires were changed and the brakes replaced. What an unsual day for them! Up on the hoist, all the activity. The mechanics didn't seem to mind, told me how sweet they were. And not one of the three said a word when a stranger took the vehicle - and them - for a test drive. Seems it didn't matter who was behind the wheel, as long as the window was open and something was happening! We went to the leash free park afterwards, as a reward for their patience; the truck interior is not so big! I think all in all, they had a good day. But is was late and dark by the time we got home.
The weather seems uncertain, as I am. Tonight the sky is covered again, the air biting. There was an expectation of snow a few days ago, which then passed by. Who knows what will happen now. Not me, I am sure of that.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

our billy

I wanted to share this news I just got from Sonja:
"Billy is doing much better now. No more blood in his poo. We are visiting them almost every 2 days and stay for about 3 hours. They are all much happier now. They all get put in the same enclosure every day to spend time together. When we come we take them out to a large play area with trees and grass where they all can run around, play ball or just sit with us snuggling. All the prayers are helping. Please keep them up until they come out of quarantine on the 15th of December. We are half way there now!!"
Many thanks to everyone who is helping Billy pull through!!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Me, too?

Last night around 7.30 I received a phone call from Megan, who wanted me to deliver a message to Cian up at the ranchhouse before he left at first light today to take Khen to the vet to be snipped. I grumbled; I had just lit the fire and put chicken soup on the stove to warm. It had been a cold drizzly day, and now was a dark, cold night. The thought of walking the 1/2 mile or so was unwelcoming, to say the least. I pulled on my boots and jacket. I discarded the first torch I picked up, the batteries were weak. I idly contemplated taking Nyima- the cold weather increases her energy factor by a zillion - but decided alone would be more efficient. Thank goodness!
The drizzle had ceased, but the sky was impenetrable with cloud, and vision limited. I walked briskly up the small rise past Jetsunma's driveway, and started on the long, straight treeless stretch to the ranchhouse, where in the distance a single speck of yellow illuminated my destination.
Suddenly to the right I heard a grunt. Javalina. I turned and saw a darkened mass amidst the pale, long grass. I kept walking, knowing that to panic or move quickly entices them to charge. I hoped it would keep on its way. A few steps later, however, I understood what was actually happening. I had waded into a sea of javalina crossing the road, and was completely surrounded. I stopped. The odour penetrated my senses (they smell somewhat like skunks), there was grunting from several directions. I could see forms, barely discernible, arising and dissolving in the grass. More closely, in the light from my flashlight, were large males, maybe 4 feet distant from me.
I uttered "Du sum Sangye", the first three words of a potent protective prayer we say, but then a more primitive response set in. I began, in my large, loud voice the javalina war-cry, well practiced from attacks on my dogs. A constant gutteral scream of "aaaaarghh", modulating slightly, but never ceasing. I swung the flashlight back and forth in an arc, hoping the strobe effect would bewilder their nearly blind eyes. The males did not back off in fear, but moved around, clearly visible in the beam - one a few feet to my right, its large snout twitching in the air - took steps towards me. I was fearful, but not panicked. Clear, sharp thoughts flashed in my mind. The yellow light of the ranchhouse, the idea of calling for help, but who would hear, the imagined sensation of those serrated tusks tearing my flesh, the need for rabies shots, the sense of total vulnerability, aloneness. I stood and screamed and waved, focussed only on that moment, that place, that event. I looked around for a tree to move to - the single one was 10 feet back towards Jetsunma's . The javalina were unsure of me, and no attack had begun. I moved towards the tree, only to realise that they were at its base as well. The banshee scream continued to rise from my throat, the arc of light to slice through the darkness, as I walked in a measured, steady pace back towards Jetsunmas. After the crest I was silent. No-one followed.
I was shaking by the time I retreated inside. I called Megan and told her of the event, and that the message would never be delivered. We chatted and laughed. Afterwards, I sat with the feeling, it had been an extreme and direct experience. Javalina are vicious, and ours are no longer fearful of humans. Even a local cowboy - a real-life, horse-riding, cattle-hustling man of the land -told me he climbed a tree when caught in their path, so it is not some imagined danger I had tasted first hand.
I contemplated a teaching Jetsunma recently gave about the bardo experience - that after death event where the chaos of karma arises, and you experience light, sounds, images in a bombardment of confusion. So much of what we do on the Path is to prepare us for that, to subdue the reactiveness of our minds, so that there is a deeper awareness and understanding, a calm to endure the storm, and see it for what it is, just the echo and reflection of our habits. Did I pass the 'bardo-test' on my walk last night?! I cetainly did not generate myself as a deity, or remember the ultimate emptiness, I was very much in the relative reality of the event. But I am glad that I did not react with panic, as I once may have done. There was a clarity in dealing with the drama, of responding with fear in a way that got me out, not deeper in.
I was most aware, as I stood on the seemingly endless stretch of road - the ranchhouse so far away, the javalina so close and encircling, cloaked in the vast darkness of night - of how alone I was. Not a 'wish someone was here to help me' feeling, just an acute, stark awareness. We are taught again and again, that in our lives, on this Path, we are ultimately alone. We have friends and family and beloved pets who comfort and support us, but in that moment of death - or perhaps in many moments in our lives - we will be faced with the realisation that there is nobody who can help us. We cling to the familiar because we fear this - it is too big, too hard, too sorrowful to accept. But last night I glimpsed it just for a moment. I cannot say this one event will shift the way I live or practice, but I hope it serves as a contemplative reminder of how vulnerable we all are. There is no true place of refuge to be found, except in the kindness, wisdom and compassion of our deep, abiding nature, always present in our hearts.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Billy Elliott

Billy Elliott (centre) and friends
Not all of you know Billy Elliott, the dog (so named because he loves to dance!), so let me share with you a snapshot of his life over the past year or so.
Rescued by Best Friends from the poisonous wreckage of New Orleans, he was christened Mr Scruffy, and it was in that guise he boarded the emergency jet which brought him, and nearly 130 other animals, to Dakini Valley. He did not stay here long, though, in the seething barking rows of emergency shelters we had constructed. He caught the eye of Sonja, one of the Tara's Babies team who had been on-site in NO, and she noticed he had badly infected paws. She, and her partner Christine, brought the very subdued young boy inside, and bathed and bandaged his paws. He couldn't go back to to the outside run and we, still overwhelmed by the influx of many dogs in need, had nowhere to care for him, so they took him back home to Sedona.
A corner of their living room was partitioned off as a play centre, and to separate him from their 2 fluffballs, Mim and Hari. Slowly he improved, and his inner energy re-ignited. But they were adamant they did not want a third dog. Partly because they were still grieving for another NO rescue who had won their (and Hari's) hearts, the diminuative Peanut, who had gone straight to their home after the long drive back across country. She had contracted Parvo from her innoculation - perhaps too young and weak after the trauma she had experienced? - and died a horrible death, in Sonja's arms. The family (Hari especially) was distraught.
However, I did want a third dog, for my playful Nyima, so it was agreed that when he got well, Billy would come to live with us.
Not unexpectedly, in caring for Billy, the attachment grew, yet they insisted they did not want to keep him. So Billy was delivered to us at Dakini Valley where, with much joy, he joined the pack. Nyima and he loved each other, playing from early morning. Even Gypsy joined in, and the 2 girls would get Billy on his back on the couch , with play growls and wagging, cavorting and chewing. We all delighted in their antics, everyone was happy.
Except Sonja and Christine. The separation opened some wounds, and they were very distressed. It was as if Billy represented the horror and suffering they had witnessed first hand - the indescribable destruction, death, animals injured and coated with stinking, poisonous sludge. Billy somehow seemed to be a method, an antidote, a way to pour love and caring back into a shattered world.
It was a very difficult and confused time for us all, and the foundation of our friendship shifted for a while, as they called to ask for him back, and then, out of love for me, would say I could keep him. The others at Dakini Valley supported me through the tears and shifting sands, but eventually it was inevitable; I sent Billy back. I remember standing outside the ranchhouse, sobbing into Alyce-Louise's arms, Billy, confused, pawing desperately at the window as he was driven away. Nyima was bereft, I had never seen her so depressed. I vowed then to find her another friend, which is how the rascally Liddaboy joined us some months later.
It tooks some adjusting for Mim and Hari, Billy is non-stop effervescent, and bigger than both of them. But eventually Hari learned to play with Billy, and Billy learned to respect the miniature Mim as the alpha queen (despite appearances, our Mim is a force to be reckoned with). Billy blossomed (and, I might add, enlarged significantly at the waistline!), although beset with continous health problems. Nothing too serious, but probably all still the results of his post-Katrina experience, in the fetid environment. Sonja and Christine tended him lovingly all the way through.
I did not visit their home for some months, it seemed too hard. But when I stayed there recently, just before they left, it was lovely to see Billy jumping and running and bouncing from room to room.
Two weeks before their departure, tickets already booked, Billy's blood test failed the rigorous Australian laws. Sonja and Christine were devastated; I offered to look after him, he would always find love with us. But of course, separation was unthinkable. Many prayers and circumambulations of the Stupa later, it was found that although the levels were high, on that particular test, he could still travel. The family drove to LA, the doglets were crated for the long flight across the ocean, and sent on their way. Sonja and Christine took a later flight.
Australia is rabies-free, so one-month quarantine is compulsory, with twice weekly visiting rights for owners. Hari and Mim, housed together, are doing fine. But Billy, I have just heard, is not coping. He is very stressed, which is affecting him mentally and causing bowel problems. No doubt the long journey, and separation from his 'new' family, re-kindled the horrors of last year. So much for a small young dog, who only wants love, to have endured.
I am sure Sonja and Christine are devastated, and feeling helpless that they cannot be with him, and perhaps guilty to have put him in this situation. I imagine the quarantine staff are doing all they can, but the environment can be nothing like the nurturing comforts of home. They have let Jetsunma know, and are asking everyone to offer prayers.
So I ask that of you, too - to pray for Billy's swift recovery, and for Sonja and Christine. And to pray for all beings who are ill, alone, fearful, lost, who have suffered beyond that which seems possible. Because Billy is only one, who has touched our hearts, but there are countless more. May our lives make a difference for them all.

Monday, November 13, 2006

dog blog

This is a quick in-betweener to let you know of another blog coming via this very same computer. Written by Raven, Tara's Babies on-site manager with a heart of gold, it will provide touching snapshots of the dogs at Dakini Valley. Check it out here.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


I have spent a few days in Sedona, doing business things and saying good-bye to my friends Sonja and Christine who are re-tracing their steps to Alice Springs, from where our connection to Jetsunma blossomed. It is a journey of going back to move forward - the regulations of where you were born and where you have lived and where you wish now to be, sometimes dictate our placement in time and space. They hope to return sometime, but meanwhile there is the unravelling and letting go. I stayed in their home, a scene of regulated chaos of objects and piles and boxes, some empty, some full, and stacking and sorting and stacking again. And sorrow. It is so enormous and almost unbelievable that they won't be here, they have been such an integral part of our KPC family.
They have, in 5 years, accumulated quite a lot. One does. So there is the constant decision making of what to keep and what to discard, whom to pass what on to. Things to ship and things to store. We all went through this when we left Australia; indeed they are returning to 200 hundred or something boxes stored neatly back there. None of us realised when we left that we would be away for years, possibly forever. I, too, have things stored - they will sort through my collection, whatever it may be. Stuff I felt was so important 51/2 years ago and which, for the most part, I cannot remember at all!
How we like to collect - objects, habits, ideas, without which we think we cannot function and yet......for the most part, as Jetsunma recently said, nonsense. Even out here, with limited space, my possessions have expanded beyond the 2 suitcases I arrived with. My clutter balloons to fill the available room, in place and mind, often spilling over in to every nook and cranny. It can frustrate me, even define me, and still I hoard it all! It is when you watch the dissolution, as now in Sedona, you can see how meaningless so much of it can be.
At least the mice have a purpose when they stash! I have been coming across unexpected suprises of peanuts and acorns. Recently I reached into my empty book bag, hanging on a hook on the wall, and there discovered a large supply of acorns. I later watched a mouse hurriedly transverse the wooden wall to deposit more, or perhaps to check the balance. In the small bathroom upstairs, I pulled a folded towel off the shelf and out poured more acorns. The cupboard below the sink was hiding peanuts. And last night - after only 3 days away - I opened my bedside drawer to discover another large stash of peanuts, buried beneath my journal. How busy and ingenious they have been!
But despite our tendency to want to stash and hoard, to try and fix the status quo, the world changes. Even in this brief period of absence the landscape has drastically altered here. The sycamores are all but naked, many plants wilted and yellowed by frost. There is a sense of barrenness, of sparsity, of shedding. The sky was grey, the air cool today. I changed the prayer flags, and the brilliance of the colours glowed in the otherwise flattened atmosphere.
Tomorrow is Lha Bab Duchen, a holy day for Buddhists, a day where the effects of thoughts and activities - positive or negative - are magnified 10 million times. A wonderful day for prayer, for kindness, for being mindful, for beginning a new life of compassion, or re-kindling the heart again. Thinking of others, of the world, of how we can make a change, by letting go of those habits and hoards which pin us down, and becoming soft and flexible with the energy of movement, mercy and love. And in your prayers I would ask you to include my beloved Gypsy Rose, who had a run-in with a big, fat javalina today, and has a slash on her side. The wound itself, while quite ugly, is not deep and should heal, but she is an older, sensitive girl, and very traumatised by the event. She is wrapped in a blanket on my bed, and looks at me with round, worried eyes when I come in the room. It is distressing, because she has been my comfort and support since I first lived here alone, and I owe her so much.
Letting go of those we love is almost the hardest thing to do, yet even that, one day, is inevitable. This is why we - now - should contemplate what truly is of value, what to keep and what to let go. How to begin to live our lives so that they make a difference. I really don't want to live with a cupboard of stuff, a drawer filled with peanuts and a mind cluttered with nonsense. It's time to haul it all out and review. I may not be travelling back to move forward, yet still i have to let go.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

of this and that

As the days shrink to the size of a postage stamp, it is harder to squeeze it all in. I don't even know where the minutes disappear to, but suddenly - again - it is night. My afternoon walks with the dogs are now laden with dusk, we rarely make it outside the yard before the sun has been swallowed by wilderness. Tonight, as we turned the bend near the back gate of the property, I was stunned by the sight of the moon - round, resplendant, gleaming: surely a throne for the Guru. The protector mountain was still and clear in the last of the light, a film of pink clouds framing its majesty. I stopped still in my tracks, just for a moment.
I have wanted to describe the startling yellow of leaves against penetrating blueness of sky, the view from the meadows high on the property, where I scrambled across rocks and gullies to reach the far fence and hang no trespassing signs; from there you peek right over the mountains to the Mogollan rim,and beyond. The world peels back from its fixed point of reference into the place where the unknown resides. The biting cold mornings where we search for a scrap of sun on our walks, and i ferret around looking for firewood. It has become part of our daily ritual - a small back pack every morning and evening, filled to bursting with what I can break and carry. Unloading it at home is the real game; Nyima and Milo think they are ALL for them, and often have to choose at least one stick to carry away, and quickly discard.
I spent a few days last week working with the dogs of Tara's Babies. Still some familiar faces, for those that know - Wolfie, Tibet (Scruffy found a home!), the smattering of pitbulls - the gentleman Cuddles everyone's favourite to walk! Then there are the ferals, who have come such a long way since their February arrival. Most of them eat from the hand, and one - Wangchung, a teddy bear chow reminiscent of Sandy - was brough inside to learn home habits, and quickly became part of Raven's (our on-site carer) pack; he has now adopted TWO!, but promises no more. He has, however, from the kindness of his heart, taken our newest recruit in to stay with his family. Khen is a big, strong, white dog (think Archie), not very old, who has borne the brunt of fights and has large infected wounds on his neck. He was delivered to us by a teenage boy from Young and his dad, when he was dumped on the road near their home, and the humane society said it would euthanise him. Why? he is almost 100% blind and deaf. He is an Australian Shepherd mix(he has Nyima's beeyootiful nose), known as a 'Lethal' Aussie (terrible name), and 1 in 4 of these are born with severe disabilities like his. He is so loving and gorgeous, his opaque eyes flickering. But when left in a pen, it transpired he is also an escape artist extraordinare. After 6 escapes (he didn't run, just wanted to be with people) Raven - who has the biggest, softest heart - took him in. So he now stays in the yurt. Yesterday I gave him a comforter which once was Jetsunma's, and which Gypsy likes to sleep on; Raven told me he is very happy with it!
I have been listening to Jetsunma's recent musical offering to us - i have it on repeat as i do chores - and it is seeping in to cracks deep within. The first few times, of course, I listened with very ordinary ears - did i like this bit better, or that; i noted the harmonies and the guitar. I heard the words. But now it is more than that - i am beginning to know the words, to feel the words, to sense the meaning. The whole Path seems to float on that voice, pristine, penetrating, it is a serenade of both promise and accomplishment. Perhaps - finally - there is a glimpse that the new beginning of which she sings is now, in our hearts. It is the overt activity in which we all are engaged, but it is also something else....that may be the dance we see, but the rhythm is timeless. The days seem to become the size of a stamp - can we fit one more thing in - and yet the texture they offer, the opportunity in every tiny moment is, in fact, the potential of all things. In your day, and in mine.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

the treadmill of habit

Some weeks ago, during her Sunday morning teaching, Jetsunma suggested we begin to keep a diary. Not those angst-ridden journals some of us may have kept, especially during painful teenage years, a repetitive cycle of see-sawing emotions(at least mine were). Jetsunma recommended we reflect on how mindful we had been, what virtue we had generated and where we had displayed wise compassion.
Three columns, which I have found extremely hard to actually fill. It is interesting to see at the end of the day how littletime I spend engaged in thoughts or acts that are mindful and bring benefit to others. It is an extremely useful tool, because when I sit with the notebook in hand (often asking Milo what I should enter, but his journal would only be filled with play and being a naughty rascal), I am forced to contemplate my day with a deeper view, and to see that the few brief moments of mindfulness clearly highlight the vast expanse of just getting by.
Of course, the real point of the tool is to begin to change. Because, just like in my tear-stained journals of decades ago, I can see the repetitions of habit that sidetrack me off course. Again. And again.
Change is the tricky bit, because after 50 years (plus whatever before!), i am fairly comfortable with my habits, even the ones that I know will cause me distress. The diary keeps reminding me that I am ultimately sick of the treadmill, yet no-one can get me off except myself.
A current habit is time-wasting on the computer. To remedy this, I offered to do something useful while in front of the screen; to check out potential sources of grants for Tara's Babies. In the process I stumbled across the life of a woman who did not procrastianate, nor waste her days or nights, instead she devoted them to saving wild birds. She is an inspiration to me, because up until her death she spontaneously lived the life of a Bodhisattva (someone dedicated to compassionate acts for others). While I, who have taken that vow, struggle every day.
Here is a little glimpse of Sheena Rees, which i found at
For more than a decade, Sheena Rees, a retired social worker, ran her Bird Sanctuary from a terraced cottage in Glastonbury, Somerset. It was the ultimate expression of her unbounded love and compassion for our furred and feathered friends that went back to when, aged four, she found a seagull with a broken wing on a lonely beach in Arran, Scotland. Taking it home she nursed it back to health, and never forgot her uttermost joy when, returning to the beach, she opened her trembling, cupped hands and set the seagull free - "It's wings took flight and something inside me also soared. From that time on I knew I could never turn away from an injured bird." And Sheena never did! As her Bird Sanctuary clearly bore daily witness.
Finches, Warblers, Sparrows, Blackbirds, Starlings, Blue Tits, Parrots, Owls - all came to Sheena's Bird Sanctuary and into her loving care and keeping. Using a mixture of love, patience, homeopathic remedies and her own special kind of healing she nursed them until they were well enough to be liberated back into the wild.
"What else can I do but take in every little injured scrap of bird-life brought to the door. Bird rescue is my work for God and I give the same 100% to the people who bring the birds as I do to the birds themselves,".
For Sheena, living with and not apart from Nature carried its exacting responsibilities. "I go to bed at 10pm, set the alarm for midnight, then for 2am and 4am and finally at 6am. In this way I work through the night, feeding, watering and cleaning until 9am!" Inevitable exhaustion depleted Sheena's resources and illness increasingly clouded her days.
Tired beyond imagining, she looked straight into my eyes and said: 'As much as I love my birds, they in turn, love me. And in that shared love I am fulfilled.'" -

It is that last phrase 'in that shared love I am fulfilled' that so simply and poignantly describes the foundation of a truly compassionate life. There is nothing more to seek nor hunger for, as the fullness of love given selflessly will equally nourish one's own heart. It is people like Sheena, 'ordinary' people, everywhere on this planet who will change the world. As Jetsunma recently said, one person can change a small group, a small group can change a large group, a large group can change the world.
Changing myself is the challenge i face, but it is not a hopeless one! Every moment of mindfulness is a turning point, the compass is re-calibrated and movement occurs. The habits are there, for sure, no-one knows them better than I, but even as I open the diary and ponder what to write I am beginning to shift. I see the greyness of my day, and the piercing moments of brilliant colour and joy. And am reminded of who, how and where i want to be. Just as the leaves on the vine that wraps around the log cabin wall are changing in hue and beginning to fall, so, with mindful perseverance, will my habits, revealing the strength of compassion, and the source of shared love.

Friday, October 13, 2006

a treasure secured

I suspect everyone reading this blog is 'family', and so is aware of the push to secure this land once and for all, free of debt and the ever-present thundercloud of potential loss. Ever since I have lived here it has been on the razor edge of mortgage payments, seemingly endless; when one gap is filled, the next appears. As each of us has surely experienced on some scale in our lives, the land of credit and loans has as its foundation a timebomb. If you haven't heard, and want to know/help, go to; click on Dakini Valley in the left column for a few pictures.
Well, this will be it for us. This sacred land will be secured for perpetuity, something I can barely grasp. I have not been involved in the hard work of raising the money, and appreciate the time and effort put in by everyone who has, and for the kind generosity of every single donor who shares this vision.
For my part, I have been trying to imbue at least part of my day with prayer and recognition of how important this land is. Of course, I fall into mindlessness most of the time, seeing only the cluttered work bench I need to clear, or the floor which needs to be swept, and seeing these things with very ordinary eyes. And when my alarm goes off - not so very early, I assure you - more often than not i turn it off and continue to doze; i do not leap out of bed to begin a new day in prayer. So even living here, amidst this unfolding beauty and holy awareness - for I am sure it is there - it is easy to forget.
I was contemplating the idea of sacred land, and realised that I have no personal frame of reference for it in my growing-up or culture. Of course, I known of sacred lands - in Australia, they are the cultural heritage of the traditional owners, such as Uluru - the indescribably magnificent red monolith near that continent's very heart. Or here, perhaps of the Native Americans. Or in England perhaps they belong to history, such as Stonehenge. But I cannot think off-hand of sacred land, newly identified, which is 'ours', not associated with another culture or time. Of course, we revere and protect the natural sacredness of pristine landscapes ( some of us wish we did more of this), and these may provide a place for spiritual contemplation. But Dakini Valley, while beautiful, is sacred because of something indefinable, unidentifiable by ordinary mind. It is inherently sacred in ways I do not understand, yet know without doubt to be true.
I read a book some time ago called the "Siege of Shangri-la", about the quest by westerners to discover that hidden valley. One passage struck me at that time, because to me it describes this Valley, our Valley, far, far from the Himalayas, yet not distant at all from Guru Rinpoche's very heart:
" Centuries-old Buddhist texts refer to the hidden valleys, or beyuls, that were scattered throughout the Himalayas by Padmasambava (Guru Rinpoche)...Beyuls are sacred places of mystical retreat, pilgrimage and refuge during times of strife.....Every beyul would have to be found and "opened" by a yogin known as a terton, a "treasure finder", and s/he would be led to the task only when the time was propitious. Certain hidden lands remain unopened to this day. Their discovery awaits the time they are needed."
I find this awe-inspiring to consider, like the blossoming of a rare bloom, long hidden in the wilds, its delicate petals unfolding before our eyes, within our hearts. How fortunate we are to be part of this quest, to be the pioneers who do not conquer, but embrace. Who recognise, perhaps without understanding, that here is something so precious we dare not lose it, for it is not ours. It is everyone's, for always. The documents may describe it simply as 148 acres, but it is boundless, vast. It is a valley no longer hidden, yet secure; and it is aware, awake and welcoming us all.

Friday, October 06, 2006

after the thunder and rain

The day after my last post I listened to Jetsunma teach. Since returning to MD she has often been teaching on Sunday mornings, which is a wonderful blessing; it is what she yearns to do, and it is the nectar we need in order to change.
Because of the time difference it is 8am in AZ. I sit in the small log cabin kitchen, prayer book on the table by the window, and listen, the phone pinned to my ear. It is an extraordinarily intimate experience, I can almost feel her breath on my skin, and it truly seems that her voice arises within my mind, not from outside. I take detailed notes of her very words (i always excelled at dictation!), something I never do when I am present in the Temple, there it feels like a distraction. And because I am alone, the dogs perhaps tumbling in play in the next room, I experience the freedom to respond deeply, spontaneously from my heart. I have sobbed as her words cut to the bone, exposing the confusion of my habits, which lead to separation from the truth, and therefore suffering.
Last Sunday Jetsunma said something that sat me up straight. Probably of less significance to many others, in the context of the entire teaching, but a sharp reminder for me. She was teaching on how important it is to continually engage in activities which create merit or virtue, including prayer and meditation. She pointed out that especially when you don't feel like it, that is exactly the time to do it, because it involves some wisdom and understanding. Then she said (not a direct quote, my pen was stationery at this point) - anyone can do it when they feel good, "anyone can have an experience up on a hill!"
This startled me, because of its simple truth and because even as I wrote my last post I had a slightly queasy feeling that something was not right. The something being, that although I understand the words I write, I do not understand the sense. I mean, I have no accomplishment and no experience. i am definitely the anyone on a hill!
One essence (to me) of the teaching came home in that one phrase. It reminded me I need to be mindful of my actions and speech, to lead a conscious life and never, ever, accidentally or otherwise, appear to be other than where and who I am. Because if not, i am all asquew, no alignment at all. It is the moments of non-choice, as well as the times we are mindful, that all add up!
I guess this is a sort of disclaimer, reminiscent of those things they have to say on American TV ads ( a most peculiar cultural habit)....that truly I am just like you and don't ever mean to suggest otherwise, and that what I hope to do is share with you my journey, because wherever we are, somehow we are in this together.
I went to town this week, something I very rarely do. "Hitched" a ride with Mark; after he dropped me off I walked to the Basha's carpark, where I was ambushed by grief. It's not that I miss shopping at Bashas per se, it was more that it catapulted me into a different time, some years ago, when I lived here alone and used to go with my then 1 dog Gypsy every week or two for our big excursion, or on the way to Sedona to visit friends for a few days, which I did every 6-8 weeks. Those times have long, long since gone - truly water swept over the cliff and into the sea of the past - but somehow that familiar place put me in that out-dated time frame, and I was struck with a sense of loss. It's not that I wish them back, but there they were in my mind. Sometimes the impermanence of our lives is more obvious; although they change all the time, every second, at some particular moment we may recognise this, by hearing a song, or looking at a photo, and we get to taste the sorrow of letting go. Or the joy of forward movement; they are both cut from the same cloth, it just depends on the light as to which colour we think we see.
The weather has been turbulent for the last 24 hours - thunder and torrential rain. In the middle of the night one clap was so low it seemed to arise from the creekbed, not the sky. I love when the sky is cast iron and the air cool. After the rain the land is alive, rejoicing. And ultimately, so am I. Despite the tears or hard times, there is nowhere else I want to be other than in my teacher's heart, her voice awake in my mind.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

the family snapshot

in case you've forgotten how we all look..................

Saturday, September 30, 2006

inside the view

Is it early summer again? The weather delights in that game. After a frosty dip, complete with nighttime fire last week, the days are again robust and full, brimming with sunshine and joyful birds and skies streched with blue, way past the hilltops. Yesterday late afternoon I walked with my tribe part-way up the steep hill at the back of the property, known quite simply as 'the jeep trail' (even on maps!). Though I am sceptical a jeep could actually traverse the rugged, washed out incline right now. Hard to find even a footing, particularly going down and being pulled by two determined dogs who have not learnt the meaning of 'slow'.
We reached a sort of halfway point, Gypsy and I. The others of course were since long gone, way up the hill (why stop?). I turned, and felt my breath and heart expand. There was the valley, laid out in its splendour, the edges and hills glowing with gold. Everything was clear - the ranchhouse and the blue-tarped dog kennels, the rusted roof of the log cabin, the wolf homes and prayer flags high on the meadows. The trees all shades of green, the sky ruffled by one or two clouds. I laughed, and said out aloud " Guru Rinpoche, I need to get out of the valley more often, to open my heart. I get so closed in and tight!" Because its true; in that moment 'it' all fell away, any stress or tension or ' i know i'm right'. There was no room for that in all this space and beauty. There was no room for anything other than big, open, joy. If I could have fallen into the view, I would have have, right then. Which of course is quite silly, because in truth I live in the heart of what I was seeing.
We are always reminded of view on this path, it is such a fundamental and vital starting point, the very foundation of recognising who we are and the nature of truth. So simple, yet sooo much easier said than done!! We fuddle around with trying to 'get it', or I do. I twist and turn, take my glasses on and off, put drops in my eyes, squint. Not literally, perhaps, but with my mind, as I try to reconcile that what appears before me is the trappings of my heart.
Now, my heart is no different than yours. It is not my valley, it is ours. That is one aspect of view. That the edge of this valley, as I perceive it, all dripping with late autumn sunshine, is only how I perceive the world, today, just then. But that is so fluid, like my moods, and no different in essence than what you can see. As Jetsunma tells us, there is no place where she ends and we begin. There is a continuity, a vastness, a pristine sameness, that we like to carve up into neat (or ragged) parcels of time and place, and then label them for safe-keeping.
This is the silly mistake we continue to make, day after day, life after. Creating distinction where there is none, and then reacting to our own creation. We have forgotten to listen to the goodness of our hearts, to recognise the message they never cease to beat. And because we forget, we are blessed that kind teachers - in so many guises - appear in our world to remind us. It does not matter what your faith is, because the view is all-encompassing compassion, with no distinction. Not one.
It seems to me (and believe me, I am still working on this, just like you), that because the view and compassion are different colours of the same luminous essence, we need to always embrace them both equally in our lives. We ultimately don't 'get the view' only by squinting harder and trying to think what it means, but by leading a life of compassionate service to others. And as we become our compassionate nature more deeply, the separation will diminish, and the view become evident. One supports the other, is the other. It is only we who set ourselves apart, halfway up the hill, and yearn to be in the valley where we actually live.
I need to climb the hillside sometimes to remind myself of this. To experience the stillness, the beauty, the enormity. The sameness. And to wish that every being may have the oportunity to stand on a hill, or in a church, or by the sea, or simply in their minds, and glimpse that view which is their own heart, and to know its fullness, its goodness. However it may look in that moment, it is vast, beautiful, luminous. And yearning for you to remember, and recognise its nature as your own.

Monday, September 25, 2006

waiting for the first heartbeat message

it has been a long wait between posts, for many reasons which I cannot fully explain. I went to summer Retreat, which was an experience I cannot describe in any simple way other than to say I feel extremely blessed and grateful for this opportunity.
Then began the waiting for the first heartbeat message, which is what my computer told me it was doing when i could not go on-line; a comment which i contemplated again and again, rolling it around in my mind like hard candy on the tongue. In a way, we are always waiting for that message, the sound of our heartbeat, trying to interpret the confusion of our feelings. I have experienced that a lot in recent weeks. While on retreat my external world shifted, creating ripples of change both so huge and so infinitesimal I cannot even recognise them. Jetsunma moved from Sedona to Maryland, which for all of her students is a wake-up call, a time to re-align oursleves with her activity, intention. To re-commit to living with and for loving-kindness and compassion.
At first i did not think it would have such an immediate impact on me; having lived here the whole time I have been in the US, there were long stretches of time when I would not see Jetsunma. But as it became clear that the move will not be brief, and for other, internal, reasons, I fell into a deep hole with dark slippery sides, and so narrow and steep that I could no longer recognise the sliver of light at the top. Within the hole was a solitary pool of grief, in which I swam in seemingly endless circles.
I knew it would not last forever - nothing does - but it was a hard, painful time. I just sat with it, as with a sorrowful child whose world has been torn apart. Waiting to know that first heartbeat message, which is ever present but whose rhythm is sometimes hidden from our ears.
The internet access was finally fixed - naughty squirrels had chewed through the line - re-linking me with the world. But then blogger refused me access, no matter how hard i tried; hence now a new blog, a new beginning. It feels like a new beginning in so many ways. There is a lot of activity here, as we plan to accomplish Jetsunma's vast vision at the Valley. Embracing the potential, moving forward inside and out.
I have also been to MD for a sacred weekend of empowerments. While there another nun told me something Jetsunma said to her many years ago, " There is nothing you can do to make me love you more, there is nothing you can do to make me love you any less". I have held these words closely in the last weeks. It reminds me that no matter where Jetsunma may appear to be, the quality and essence of which she is display is present everywhere, always. I cannot be closer nor farther away. That nature of love is constant through time and space, like the sky which embraces the earth.
If only we all felt that way, towards each other, or neighbours, our 'foes'. Imagine if every one in the world started from a foundation of unconditional love, not the topsy-turvy, erratic way we relate, creating conflict and torment and division. Perhaps this is the first heartbeat message we all need to hear, not with our ears, but our lives.