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.