Monday, December 24, 2007

bag ladies

it's the day before Christmas. I am used to Christmases of great heat, sweltering in the summer warmth. Or some Christmases of snow, in Germany and here is my new home. This year, the weather seems ambivalent, it is mild and sunny today. So Christmas has no specified weather any more.
it is my birthday today, something also lacking specifics, except of course the simple one of age. 52, i will tell you unashamedly, and with some shock. I don't feel that old, whatever feeling a certain age should mean. Though my face is creased where it used to be smooth, and my hands wear more skin than they know what to do with, and arthritis in my thumbs sometimes jolts me with pain, and the little hair i have is no longer truly brown ( or red or yellow - I used to dye my hair a lot!). I am slower, tireder. But still, a part of me is fixed at some point that is timeless....
my mother always said I was the best Christmas present she ever received. In fact, I was meant to be a sagittarian, not capricorn, but in a habit I carry to this day, i was late. So late, the doctors swore I would have to be induced, but after Christmas, and then i decided to be born. My mother had the ambulance make a detour en route to the inner city hospital where I was born: she wanted to see the magnificent Christmas tree, rising high amongst the city buildings of Sydney, sparkling with tinsel and lights, in Martin Place. Like me, my mother was quite a romantic, and Christmas brings that out.
My first Christmas gift was from Santa, me not yet a day old, a blue teddy bear, whom i loved until an adult, when he was lost somehow whilst i travelled overseas. He was my protector, I even wrote a poem about him as a child. I was filled with great fear at night, and somehow his presence in my arms really comforted me. The great Kuntazangpo, the primordial wisdom Buddha, is blue, and sometimes I think, if a child, an infant were to call forth from her newborn heart that protector, perhaps a blue teddy bear would be the form. My name is an abbreviation of that great wisdom deity, so I am reminded of his presence every day. With gratitude.
When I was a day or so old, my mother heard a baby screaming in the nursery. In those days babies were kept together in a room, and brought to the mothers at feeding time. Perhaps that still happens, i really don't know. There was some great event happening in the hospital, and all the nurses were off the floor - a multiple birth or something. Anyway, no-one responded. my mother could not bear the sound, she said she knew it was her very own child. She slid from bed in her thin nightgown and ran down the hall. I had wedged my head between the rungs of the cot, and was screaming in pain and fear. She rescued and comforted me, as she always had and always will. This is the sharp penetrating immutable love of a parent for a child.
In Buddhism we are encouraged to reflect on that love, and to consider that in the endless shifting waves of time and space, every being has at some time been our parent. And therefore this love is the foundation of every connection between each and every one of us. But we forget, just as in later years, I forgot this burning love of my mother and sometimes spat anger at her from a twisted mouth. But ultimately the love is not affected, it is constant. And that is the most wonderful gift to be reminded of, that we can always offer each other - birthdays, Christmas, any and every time.
As a child I celebrated my birthday on August 16, my great-grandmother's birthday. My mother thought it unfair that my special day was always buried beneath the Christmas gifts. At some point - perhaps 13 - I shed that August date. Now I barely celebrate at all. The sun rises and sets as it does every day.
So here we are, Lucky and me, two old bag ladies who have found each other in the Arizona wilderness, each a little eccentric, each a little grey. And we wish you a wonderful Christmas, vibrant with friendship and love and the certainty that none of us is alone; that wherever we are, however we look, how many nights have passed since we were born, we are linked together in a luminous sphere of immeasurable compassion and loving kindness. That is truly something to celebrate together!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

raw tenderness

The sky is leached from rain – the blue washed to grey, which caresses the mountain tops with a fine mist. The earth has relinquished its firmness, and allows itself to be shaped by the water, the road is a stream, and the anticipated support of the ground to your feet is questionable. All is fluid.
I sit in the office with our hairless rescue Lucky at my feet, curled on her blankets, encased in a sweater. Although we haven’t put the stove pipe into the woodstove yet, is is dry and not chilled like outside. She hears her friends and cries, not understanding that she would be miserable to the bones if she went down to the run. Warm chicken broth appeases her, she loves her food!
So much can happen without journeying anywhere. Weather, emotions, thoughts create and re-create our world. My trip to DC was wonderful; I met committed, caring people who, just like us, want to make this planet a better place, by awakening compassion for animals as far and wide as we can imagine. From all faiths, walks of life, locations – all of this was irrelevant, when it came to this common goal. This is the depth and breadth of what we share, even when we forget.
The last couple of weeks have been full. I have had the chance to glimpse into the past of this sacred valley, and to glimpse inside my very heart, and to begin to know there is no difference. I am surrounded with the history of a people who vanished centuries ago, and I am surrounded by people who know, love and care for each other at this moment. There is a continuum of compassion and kindness that is reflected in the hollow of the hills, and whispered by the wind: today howling, throwing rain at my window, to wake me up. In the valley or on the mountaintop, I know. Even when I don’t.
Jetsunma is here on retreat, a blessing for all. Today I was feeding my beloved finches, and there was a break in the clouds, a moment of sunshine. I searched for a rainbow, but there was none, or none that I saw. And I realized it is not about the searching, or even the seeing. It is about the certainty the rainbow is there, visible or not. Just as for distant friends, whom I cannot see or embrace, but whose love never ceases to penetrate my heart, and bind them with me in indefinable ways. Even their apparent absence is their presence in my life.
I am not a teacher, but I rely on one to look beyond what I see or think I know. Through her I receive blessings that may have names or forms, and which I may know with my heart, or not. The blessings are there, either way. For this, for the earth, for the sky, for the raging storm and the stillness, and for those who are a light in the darkness, I give thanks.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

proclaiming compassion

I leave tomorrow for a trip to DC that seemed to blow in from nowhere, and is a vast door opening up. Best Friends, the exemplary and inspirational animal Sanctuary in Utah, this summer convened a group of faith leaders, representing 21 religions, to create a Religious Proclamation for Animal Compassion. I first read of it in their magazine, and regretted we hadn't known about the process. Well, about 2 weeks ago I received a generic email inviting me to be a guest at the historic signing of this document in Congress. I called to see if we could actually be a signatory, only to discover that the Buddhist representative was Lama Kunzang Dorjee, an extraordinary Lama from Bhutan who visited here in August, while I was on retreat, and blessed all our animals. What a connection. Even more amazing, as Lama Kunzang Dorjee is unable to be there, he has honoured me/Tara's Babies with the opportunity to sign this document as the representative of our faith. This is truly a blessing.
The ceremony is not the end, but the beginning of profound change. The Proclamation will go on-line, and the intention is to have 1 million signatures with in the next 18 months. During this time, the faith representatives will travel and talk about compassion for animals. encouraging people to embrace the relationship between faith, humanity and kindness to beings. The process will culminate in an international convention with world religious leaders. How amazing.
I am not a faith leader, but I have the good fortune to have connected with a Teacher who has shown me from the inside out that compassion, kindness, truth and pure qualities will change the world. So I am glad to be able to be part of this process, and know that if I rely on that inner Truth of my teacher, I can be a vehicle of benefit. I have no sense right now of what the future will bring, but I do know it is a coming of age for Tara's Babies, in the breadth of Jetsunma's vision.
I am looking forward to meeting the founders of Best Friends; I just read the book about the first 25 years, and I have nothing but respect for their commitment and dedication.
On the home level, I am the joyful mother of the little dog now called Madelaine, who was part of our rescue from a kill shelter in Arkansas. Some adjustment happening amongst the troops, but really everyone is being good. She is so much smaller than my other three, but bouncing with happiness; Except if I raise my voice or move my arm in a certain way, then she cowers. i am sure she was abused. I look into her beautiful brown eyes, so brimming with love and think how could it be she was hurt, abandoned and then slated to be killed. This is the why every heart, every mind needs to open to that deep well spring of raw compassion, to which there is no end.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Honouring the heart

This is a story that tore my heart open. When my friend Susan told me, I sat shocked in disbelief.
I cannot tell you the exact where's and when, but if you go to the link above, there is an explanation in Spanish.
What I do know from Susan, is that at an art exhibition in Costa Rica a dog was deliberately and consciously allowed to starve to death. In the name of 'art'. Apparently the artist saw it as a political statement about the country, or something. I was told he had some children find a dog on the streets. He tied it up in a corner of the gallery. It was left there, as an object to be viewed. It slowly died.
This is abhorrent beyond words. I cannot comprehend any part of this; that cruelty to animals could be accepted by one single person, let alone many.
We know cruelty against animals, women, children, lesbians and gays, 'the enemy' - any one we deem to be 'the other' and therefore OK to victimise - can occur. But somehow in such a public arena, condoned as 'art', takes it to a sickening level. That no-one cut the rope, in the name of humanity.
I invite you to sign the petition. I did. I want my voice to be heard, that the ripple of my breath may become a windstorm of change. For kindness. For thoughtfulness. For compassion. For caring. For a world where there is no place for cruelty. At all.
This is not the only chilling image I have witnessed and shared today. Look at them both. Then please, let each and every one of us make our lives vehicles of change. By practicing kindness to all those around us, large and small - every being. As an act of courage and compassion in a world of tragic decay. It is the gift we can offer to honour those who have suffered and died simply because the world forgets that we share one beating heart.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

in silence there is song

Shifting Ground, by Mike Gillam, Central Australia

It seems whatever words i find do not make it to this page. However, if you want to know where my time and heart have been, please read my other blog, fromtarasbabies. I cannot comprehend the endless suffering of this world.

And if you have ever wondered what the voice of enlightenment may sound like in this country, please listen to Cut The Spell by Jetsunma. This is the cadence of compassion, pure ripe and clear. Just what is needed right now.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Reflections of the Valley

Words sift and drift through my mind. Fleeting, they are gone. Here are some images from Dakini Vally. I am not the photographer, i am not sure who is - they were taken while I was away. I stumbled on their beauty today.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

with blessing comes responsibility

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche gives Empowerment

Meeting with Karma Kuchen Rinpoche, a revered Tulku
who will be our next lineage holder.
When I walked in the room, his kindness and gentleness
pervaded every cell of my body.
My heart cracked open just to be in his holy presence.
photo: George Lam

I keep waiting for that lull in time or mind to sit and write. It never is. Minutes, moments, hours days, roll and crest and time just is yet isn't. So now, I am no longer waiting, simply doing.

Retreat was rich, textured. I arrived with a mind and heart weighted with an accumulation of tension, misery - burnt out and in despair. The week before I left, my only thought was to get there. I knew retreat with the blessings of HH Penor Rinpoche is the opportunity to feast on the potential of everything. It is the display of compassion alive in every moment, vivid. Teachings occurred every day - immeasurable blessings of wisdom - by Holiness and other Lamas, whose only thought is to help us awaken loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity from the depths of our heart.

Morning practice starts with a Sang or smoke offering, which
Ani Tenzin did. Rigpai Dorje usually helped - but on this cold wet morning
I was moral support!

I worked hard; retreat is not a holiday, though it is far more enriching and refreshing than a week at the beach. I was up early and went back to the tent usually late, and filled each day as best I could with prayer and meditation, circumambulations of the Temple. It was my lifeline, I knew it, to secure my feet and heart to the place from which they were never really lost, I was just looking from the wrong angle.

Each day was different, though mostly the same format. There are 5 scheduled sessions each day, roughly 7-8am, 8.45 -10, 10.15-12, 2-4, 7-9pm. Times are flexible to some degree - depending on the class you are in, what else may arise. Three delicious cooked meals a day, and the time in between for work rota, relaxing, your own practice. Washing clothes!! I shared a tent in the forest with my friend Ani Tenzin, who was in our small group in Alice Springs, and still lives in Australia. We got to know each other so much better here (sharing a tent in the rain, long days???!!!), and it was wonderful to see her after about 5 years.

The small hut where my class met for 3 practice sessions every day. One monk would point out any turkey or deer in the field when he arrived; excellent sound effects for the turkey!
At the end of each session every day we walked in a line back to and circumambulated the Temple, chanting Om Mani Pedme Hung.
A wonderful, joyful completion.

It is lovely to be with people joyfully committed to a path of compassion. There is laughter and friendship and help. You can be with others as much or as little as you want, and whatever you choose is respected.

After about 10 days I felt myself relax and open, rivulets of peace and joy etched across the rigid surface of my mind. One things Holiness has stressed every year is to have faith, to have no doubt. I immersed myself in that this year, knowing there was nothing else to do. And the result is palpable - if we had before and after shots of my demeanour they would be proof positive that practice works!

My work rota was Temple care, and included making the butter lamps that were available for offering in a small pagoda outside the main Temple. Mid-retreat, the mother of Bhutanese woman called Rinzin died, and Rinzin worked to ensure the lamps were filled and lit all the time. Many people helped her, and it was a delight to sit with her and make wicks, or fill the melted oil into the lamps, and experience her calm, gentle and irrevocable devotion to that which I am still learning to be. She grew up in it, with it - she said an American woman had asked her how she balanced a family, retreat, her practice. She told me she didn't have an answer - there was no question of balance; it is just how it is. I asked her about her father, she said he had left work and gone into solitary retreat in his fifties....such different parameters than those with which we are familiar.

Rinzin and the butter lamps

At the end of retreat I spent a day at our Temple in MD, and while I was there Jetsunma gave a teaching. I cannot explain the joy at seeing her face, feeling the warmth of her love. This was the perfect ending of the month, a teaching rich with wisdom and compassion, from the heart of my teacher. The title of this blog is part of what she offered us. I have the blessings, more than I can count; my prayer is to live them fully, deeply and with responsibility. For the end of suffering, for the opening of hearts, in a way that is not fixed or rigid, but soft, supple, graceful with joy.

All photos bar the first one are thanks to Thubten Rigpai Dorje; we had connected through our blogs, and finally met at retreat, where he took ordination as a monk.

Friday, July 06, 2007

safe harbour

Sydney Harbour - courtesy Sydney Morning Herald

I leave today for one month retreat in upstate New York; only the kindness of my Teacher and my friends has made this even possible. I have no idea what it will be like - this will be my fifth year of attendance, and each time is so very different. What I do know, without a doubt, is that it is an extraordinary blessing, no matter how it 'feels' to me. Right now, I know I need to be nourished deeply, and that this is the only place for me to be. It is my safe harbour, as the sea has been stormy and the boat rocking.

I probably won't do a post until I return mid -August, though who knows- if a computer comes my way, perhaps I will. The month stretches before me an open canvas, and I am not even trying to determine its colours or textures.

So wherever you are - on the road, in a tent, in your home, at the beach, with your family, with your cat or your dog, may each and every one of you also find safe harbour: not just today, or tomorrow or next year, but deeply and fully within your heart.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

gentling of the heart

The last few weeks, moments, days, months - even the measurement of time is so ephemeral - have often been difficult for me. There have been periods in this last year where the very act of breathing has sometimes felt like a challenge. There are many reasons i can offer - ordinary and spiritual - for the ebb and flow of my life, yet ultimately none of them in and of themselves means a lot. When the day is heavy, i try and wade through it, to reach the other end, knowing my heart is still beating, and that beat, no matter how it feels, is the rhythm of compassion and wisdom. Merely muted to my deafened ears.

Two blogs I read this week have scratched my thoughts. One, by Stephen, is tender and reflective, a most intimate offering, of yearning for his children who are lost to him, one through death, one through her choice. His words are steeped in love that defy time or even mortal existence; more subtle than simple memory, they reflect bonds that are so intimate yet invisible they cannot be defined. I have never had children, though not by choice - I longed and tried for many years - yearning for that which never bore fruit; in a sense, perhaps, I tasted a little of the pain and anguish, over and over again. The final decision to cease any attempts was tortuous, for I had to relinquish a longing, the roots of which were deep in my heart. I have moved on from that place long ago, but through that process I briefly glimpsed the foundation of love for a parent to their child.

I know nothing of the circumstances of Stephen's or his daughter's lives, but his post made me think of times I turned from my parents. Bitter, blameful, angry, resentful - an array of negative emotions that swiftly constructed an inflamed wall where once there had been love. As is so often the case, my reasons seemed valid - my life and theirs were aligned to different circumstances, values, point of views and I reacted to this by turning my heart and my life away. I know this was painful for them, but I refused to see that. Most especially in the case of my mother, for whom this was a more frequent occurrence, I know it was a sword in her heart. We danced back and forth at times, then I would withdraw all contact and she would beg for even acknowledgement that I was safe and well. Often I ignored her pleas. I weep for this now - for those times when the hardness of my rebellious heart caused anguish to someone whom I know loved me deeply, always - no matter how things were playing out in our lives.

Even in the months preceding her death from cancer, when I lived with my parents and helped nurse my mother, our roles reversed, a deep anger burst forth, and I felt justified - she laying in bed - to blame her for things in my life for which I held her responsible. Momentarily I felt release, but of course the dynamic between us was deeply entrenched, and although she blanched at my wrath, it passed and I questioned what I had accomplished. Venting my anger brought no relief to me, and only added a layer of pain to her suffering. I am so grateful we still had weeks to share, and that our final moments were bathed in love for each other, not grievous hate.

Juxtaposed in my mind to these reflections is Edamommy's post on compassion for those we may wish to hate, or feel anger towards. This can be tough, because, as with my mother, anger can feel justified. People do things which harm us, sometimes horrendous things, and the self-righteous shutters in which we hide our hearts are stiff with judgment, so its easy to leave them closed, and instead respond with venom or blame or simply turn, forever. But each and every time we turn away, and we keep the shutters closed, we are really turning from ourselves, from the open and gentle kindness that is who we truly are. We gain nothing, and lose so much. If we can teach ourselves to respond instead with even one simple breath, one heartbeat, one fleeting thought of compassion, we will have softened our hearts, as the sweetness of gentle rain softens the parched drought-hardened earth.

Compassion is not out there, it is not something we need to create. It is who we are, what we are. The ease with which we offer it to some - the sorrowful stories which touch our hearts - and not others - the people we think don't deserve it - is a reflection only of the constructs of our world. Compassion itself has neither boundaries nor distinctions - that is its potency and gift to each and every single being. The judgments we use to determine where it should be offered are misplaced and misguided. And tragic. For every time the heart stays closed, we have lost an opportunity to know a kindness that has no limitations.

The habits are deep, and our society tends to reinforce them. They run so deep that we even learn to hate and blame and judge ourselves; I struggled painfully with bulimia for over a decade, my life continuously tortured with self-hatred. For this I blamed my mother as she lay dying.

There is no-one to hate or blame, not ourselves, not others. If we listen and look deeply we will see this truth, for it runs in our veins, it whispers in our hearts. It yearns for us to see and hear, as a parent yearns for the child who is lost. It will never cease to call us, to be present in our lives, not ever. It is my heart and yours, it is every heart. When we know and share this, and no longer turn away in blame or judgement, then the suffering that separates you from me will vanish, the walls of hatred crumble and the well-spring of boundless compassion quench every aching heart.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

melody of compassion

Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

There are moments in our lives when you know that today is not the same as yesterday, and that consequently tomorrow will not look as it might have done. Actually, life is always like this, but so often I stumble through with little or no understanding of the depth and breadth of impermanence.
One thing we all share, with absolute certainty, is that each breath, while being the source of life, also brings us closer to death. There is no turning back, no putting it on hold. Nothing. At some point we will breathe our last breath and be lost from the world that we cling to. All that we have held dear will no longer be ours, and even the tears of those that love us most deeply will not be salve to the final wound of death.
For so many of us, the process of dying and the moment of death may not come easily. Our minds may be filled with fear, with regret, with anger, with grief. It is after all the separation from all that is familiar, including the very bodies that have carried us forward, year after year.
Many of us, especially those of us who have lived for more years than now lay before us, have probably experienced death in some form - colleagues, family, parents, children, pets. I remember the process of my mother dying quite vividly, although I was not with her at that final moment, I had nursed her for some months and lived with and through so much of her pain, denial, regret, anguish. Fortunately, her last moments with me before she fell into a coma were light and joyful, a gift that soothed both my mind and hers.
There seems so little we can do as we watch our those that we love - people and animals alike - slip from our life and theirs; no hand grip is strong enough to pull them back over the precipice. We can bathe them, and read to them, and ease their pain, and care for them in any and every way possible. And we do. But so often we wish we could do more.
We can.
I spoke at the beginning of this post about those moments in life when the fabric is re-woven, the pattern re- shaped. Such a moment has occurred, most directly in my life, but because my life and yours are connected through our hearts, also in yours.
This week my beloved teacher Jetsunma offered us a gift beyond measure; it is a prayer, a lullaby of compassion, the tune of which arose from the depths of her heart, that beats always and only for the benefit of others. The words are a traditional Tibetan prayer for those who are dying, but the tune is extraordinary, lovely, comforting; it is the cadence of compassion itself. If we could put our ears to the seashell of hope and love, of all the goodness we wish for others, if we could record the prayers of every being who has passed from our lives, if we could hear the echo of clarity and wisdom, if we could recognise the sound of our very own hearts, as they cry out for the end of all suffering, this is what we would hear.
Having brought this prayer to the world, amidst the chaos and busy-ness of NYC, Jetsunma's wish is to share it, as far and wide as our thoughts can stretch, and beyond to that place we all seek through our lives. It is not about being Buddhist, or embracing our faith, it is simply about opening our hearts to receive this gift in the way it was intended, founded in unconditional love, like that of a mother for her child.
This prayer is especially for those who are dying, so to play it in a hospice, or as someone passes from this life, or where animals may be killed, is very potent; it will comfort them in ways we may not be able to see or measure, but nonethless are there. It is available free as a CD.
There is so much in life we are unsure of or hesitant about, but please don't let this be one of them. I do not pretend to understand the true wealth inherent in this prayer, but having listened to it again and again as I type on the keyboard, I know it is a melody that flows in my blood, that permeates my pores; I know this tune from before time and space existed, because it is the sound of every beating heart that ever did or could exist. Compassion has no boundaries, yet it will appear in shapes and sounds and forms we recognise, like drifing clouds that appear so robust and solid, yet dissipate into space. This prayer is the echo of the compassion in our hearts.
So whatever your faith or beliefs - if you have ever wished for a better world, for the end of pain, that your loved ones may pass from this life into a place of kindness and joy, please listen and share this gift. So that where there is hardship, there may be comfort. That where there is fear, there may be courage. That where hope is lost, it will again be found. And that at the final moment, when we are so alone, we shall all be bathed by perfect compassion, and know the truth of our hearts.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Lucky is!

Sound and movement in the valley are shifting with the season. The sycamores are laden with green; walking beneath their canopy, along the edge of tumbling water, my ears overflow with incessant buzzing of bees. Activity, life, renewal. The garden is blossoming, and this year, for the first time, butterflies in many shades are feasting on the red and yellow blanket flowers. As I walk by, they arise in a swirling of cream, yellow, white. The finches chatter outside the window near the computer; I love these tiny birds! The wind swells and abates, the chimes following suit.
So - it seems that dear little Lucky had the karma to come here, after all. Following her first escape and rescue, literally, from a coyote attack as it occurred ( the story brings chills to my spine), she escaped again. I received a frantic call from her foster carer, concerned for her well being; she had chewed through several leashes. Options of transport were explored, as the solution needed to be immediate. In the end Sam headed off on a 16 hour round trip journey, to the CA border. Lucky didn't travel in a crate, but lay happily on the seat.
I have spent some time with her; hard to describe, but there is something special about this old dog. She is content here - has made no attempt to escape, stays in the quiet of the dog garden, but surrounded by sounds and activity no doubt familiar to her from her outdoors life in Taiwan. I don't knows what the future will bring - who ever does - but I , too, am content to sit with her and stroke her toughened hairless skin, and say mantra to her. Her presence, her stillness, her gentleness, and gratitude to be safe and alive, are the gift she offers to us. Her story somehow encapsulates so much of what we all strive to do in our lives - to see where there is need, and act from the core of our hearts. Multiply that again and again, and the very planet itself will be renewed with joy and life and hope.

Friday, June 08, 2007

many paths, one journey

A week ago today I crossed a great swathe of treeless land, heading to the ocean. I travelled with Sam, our on-site dog carer, in a massive white van; our mission was to finally meet the dogs of Ms Wu, whose stories and faces have already brought tears to my eyes. I loved the journey; those desolate mountains rising from the earth, barren yet ripe - to my eyes - with potential: a sense of spaciousness, enormity. I told Sam I could live on one of those mountains tops, and look from yesterday to tomorrow and beyond; he laughed, and said he would rather be eaten alive by ants, or something similar - he likes lush humidity. But I am drawn to those landscapes where nothing evokes the promise of everything. I have crossed the Nullabor (tr: no tree) Plain in Australia - which is famous for the longest straight stretch of road in the world - several times, mile after mile of the very same view. There it's pretty much flat - though extraordinarily, at some spots if you deviate but a short distance, you meet the stark edge of the continent, which truly is a sheer drop into the ocean, like a great piece of land bitten off and cast away, the sea roiling hundreds of feet below. So the appearance of drab flatness belies what is really close by, simply hidden.

It was evening time as we courted the edge of civilisation. We stopped once for a real home-made pizza, but there was nowhere to stay, so we drove on, my eyes panning the exits for safe harbour. I spied a very low-key place, the American Inn, in a setting that would not rate reviews. Perched at the edge of the freeway, old and worn, perhaps seedy. But it was cheap, and the clerk was friendly, and, it tuned out, German. I lived in Germany for some years, and love the language and the country - still sometimes feel homesick for that culture. Better still, I had visited his hometown, so there was a shared journey, a connect of our past.

Appearances are so superficial; in fact, the room was lovely: old, but immaculately clean and welcoming, just perfect. However, it was early the next morning we discovered that the narrow dead end street of a few plain, small homes contained some jewels. Kwan Yin, the Chinese Bodhisattva of compassion stood just a few doors way, eternally pouring her compassion forth from a jar in her hand, and next to her, magnificent cactus flowers. The Guru was there, we were sure.

We hit LA proper some hours before the flight, and, when close to LAX, randomly detoured off the freeway to find breakfast. We found ourselves in a nice part of town - cute houses being renovated, lush yards, beautiful windswept trees. And a French cafe! We pulled into a side street, and walked back. There, next door to the cafe, was a white picket fence garlanded with red and white flowers - the colours of Bodhicitta, or awakened compassion. We looked up - prayer flags flying in the breeze. We knew the Guru was there.

After breakfast we headed for the ocean; I have not seen the sea up close for more years than I remember, though I grew up splashing in its brisk salty welcome. We took off our shoes, and my toes remembered warm sand.

Santa Monica beach was greyed by clouds as was the water that stretched to kiss the horizon, frills of foam dotted with surfers in wetsuits. Sam wandered into the water, i stood further back and allowed the space and the air and the sand and the water to hold me; i looked around and recited the Seven Line prayer to the Guru, there was nothing else to say.

Finally, our destination loomed and we were at the airport, circling in the loop, trying to find our bearings. The wait was long, but suddenly there were two luggage trolleys laden with dog crates, and I cried, "There they are!" and smiled, as the airport guys relentlessly moved on and out and up to the curbside, unstopping. I looked at them all, smiling greetings. Mostly they looked saucer-eyed and unsure. I searched out Lucky - although not coming to us, she remains for me the signature dog of this event, epitomising Ms Wu's love and dedication for bringing life where there was nearly death; somehow she has a corner of my heart. She was thinner, older than her picture suggested - all grey whiskers. I gave her biscuits and said "Om mani pedme hung" - the mantra of Compassion, again and again. This may have been the one moment i ever have with her, I wanted it to be the gift of her life.

The extraordinarily kind men that escorted these dogs were executives from an international company - they had flown first class, but had generously spent 2 hours in customs on behalf of these dogs. They passed on documentation and pineapple cakes from Ms Wu!!

So at 4.30 pm, van filled with dogs, we turned westward, from chaos and sea to the silence of the desert.

We drove straight through the night, our passengers silent, sleeping. They awoke, I am sure, for the last bumpy hour and a half on the corrugated washboards of forest service roads. It was 4.30am when we arrived - the hillsides softened by moonlight and the suggestion of dawn. The others here for the event got up to meet us, and we carried the crates into the newly built dog gardens. Then, one by one, we opened their doors. It was not easy for most of them to come out - the fear and strangeness of a journey that had begun in a foreign country,with sounds and smells now torn away. They were timid, scared of the newness. Eyes still large, questioning the loss of the familiar. Gingerly they came out, and looked around and, after a brief time, we tethered them, at Ms Wu's request, to ensure their safety.

Now they are settling in, and play and explore together when we are there. We still keep them tethered when unsupervised, a decision I do not regret at all. This morning I received a phone call from someone who said she had found my lost dog in Ramada Hills. Confused, I questioned her. Lucky!! Ms Wu had been scrupulous in her organisation, and had put my name and number on every dog. Lucky had escaped over a day ago, unbeknowns to me, and had just been caught by a very kind woman. She has been injured by coyotes, but not too badly. i was so distressed to hear this, but grateful she was found. With a few phone calls, I tracked down the lady who had taken her - also extremely distraught, and who had no idea how Lucky could have even got out of the yard; she had been desperately searching for her. She told me what a lovely, dignified old dog she is.

It's a miracle Lucky survived a coyote attack, given her age and frailty. Last night we did a Tsog practice - a ceremony where we offer food and prayers for the nourishment and end of suffering of all. I offered Ms Wu's pineapple cakes on behalf of her and her beloved dogs; it was after this Lucky was found. I am sure the Guru was there.

Our Taiwan Babies are gorgeous - smaller than I imagined, and just delightful. I hope we find them all homes very soon. And then I hope we save all of Ms Wu's dogs; I read on a website that Taiwan is considered one of the worst places in the world for animals.

So their journey began across the ocean, and joined ours, which began across a desert.
On the way I was reminded again and again that the journey is not about the apparent beginning and the end, it is each moment. Each moment contains the seed and fruition of the entire journey, if we stop to look and breathe, and know with our hearts. This was a journey of compassion embraced by many people, including strangers we met on the way, and it began before I was born and will be a path trodden by many, long after my bones have blended with dust. In just 2 days I traversed more than the landscape, my eyes and heart were opened to the possibility that every breath, every view, every second contains that place of refuge we all seek, and we all share.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

qaStaH nuq?

Before the wrath of Katrina washed lost dogs into Dakini Valley, altering its texture forever, I lived here on my own. For the most part, anyhow - although one is never truly alone, if you open your eyes, ears and heart. Certainly my beloved Gypsy Rose was a living tangible presence who helped me through some tough times.
In the second year of my residence, another ordained came to live here for a period of time, as a fix-it guy; an incredibly handy and kind monk. Although we had different roles and tasks to accomplish, we worked together whenever was needed. We both wished to maintain the beauty of Jetsunma's retreat home, and recognise the sacredness of the Valley. At the beginning it was a wonderful time, but one of the potencies of this Valley is that it brings forth aspects of yourself that might otherwise lie hidden. It amplifies the clutter and reactions of the mind, so you can see and taste them more clearly. On top of that, in those days life here was very basic - no electricity, no phone, certainly no Internet access. It was a challenging environment in many ways. And although as ordained, we perhaps try and be more conscious of our behavior and view, having robes also helps to ripen circumstances and reactions, as with a magnifying glass.
So over time our relationship soured, to a place of tension, discomfort and certainly not one of friendship. For my part, in retrospect, I understand the degeneration a little better now, the aspects of myself that contributed to the decay of kindness. But at the time, as is so often the case, we were simply embroiled in a dance that brought no-one benefit.
Jetsunma came on retreat at some point during this, and of course was aware from the moment she arrived - before even seeing either of us - that something at the Valley was terribly wrong. To my heartbreak, she said that it was the first time she had come to the Valley and felt sad; and the cause of that was my lack of devotion. When her attendant passed this on to me, I was stunned. I cannot describe how it felt - shock, horror, anguish. My heart torn out. The realisation that I had no idea what devotion truly is, nor that it can be absent and you be unaware of its disappearance. It has nothing to do with what anything looks like from the outside, and is so subtle that even inside it can fall into a dark crevasse and you never know. I did not doubt for one second that it was true - because the greatest blessing in my life is Jetsunma, and I know and trust her in a way that transcends any relationship of this world. She is my breath, my thought, my awareness, my life. Through her presence in my world, I have begun to learn about the truth of existence in a language without expression, but one of absolute certainty and clarity because it is inscribed on every cell of this, my body.
Jetsunma - in her boundless kindness - on hearing of the tension that had manifested between us put some very practical solutions in place, as well as passing on messages to us both. She moved me down to live in the original homesteaders cabin, so that we had space from each other. When I thanked her, sobbing, for showing me how hard and dry my heart had become, she said "I want you back. It shows you what a difference one heart can make."
The other instruction - told to me 3 times, to make sure i really got it - was that I was to watch videos. Not teaching, Dharma videos, but movies; things to make me relax, to soften my rigid mind. It may seem like an odd request, but that is the magnificence of a teacher as pure as Jetsunma, that you can be sure whatever it is she offers, it is the only thing to do.
I think it can be challenging for us in the west to understand the Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhist path, which pivots on - and only on - the relationship between student and teacher. This is the foundation and the source of accomplishment of everything. And it may not look 'spiritual' as we would like to comfortably define it - practice, prayers, contemplation of teachings. It will simply look like whatever is needed and appropriate, and that can be anything.
So, I diligently watched videos from Jetsunma's collection here - and it was fun! I have never been much of a movie goer, and of course had taken my 'spiritual path' pretty seriously; now I could let my non-existent hair down, and feel OK about it. Not all of the movies were maybe my taste, yet as they were from Jetsunma's personal library, each was food for thought.
What quickly became my favorite was the massive collection of Star Trek, Deep Space Nine; I soon became a resident there, knowing the people and places as if it were my hometown. I savoured each episode, enjoying the script, the visuals and most especially the thought provoking story lines: about time, space, reality, existence, conflict, race - often providing a contemplation that followed the contours of the Buddhist Path, without being an overt, traditional teaching. I loved it, watching them in random order, so that early episodes would arise after later ones, proving how it had developed over time into a rich community where actors seemed to become their characters. My favorites (for any DS9 trekkies) were perhaps the fringe dwellers, who displayed facets and edges of personality that defied simple categorisation: Quark, Ducat, Garrick (apologies for spelling inaccuracies). Something about them - the fact that on the surface they may seem unpleasant or untrustworthy, yet certain situations would prove the complexity of who they were: that there is no simple good or bad in anyone, but layers of habit and potential.
Worf, too - the mighty Klingon warrior, struggling astride the divide of culture and history that was never easy to reconcile. How many times is that played out in real life, as we try to come to terms with how we have been brought up, what we feel, how we now live and who we choose to walk this life with. Day in, day out we have opportunities to see and learn ourselves as complex beings, with trembling, confused hearts, trying to make sense of our lives.
The phrase at the beginning of this post, which I laughingly discovered on edamommy's contemplative blog, where Buddhism is explored in many ways, may have been written by Worf himself, as a method to uncurl the hardened corners of his heart. It is the mantra of Chenrezig, om mani pedme hung, written in Klingon! I loved discovering this, because it opens every door, blurs the lines, makes you think. And invites you to simply laugh. Nothing is fixed, nothing is real. The potency of Chenrezig and the compassion he displays will permeate time and space in possible and impossible ways. Nothing is immune - no race, no language, no country - whether they exist or not, it doesn't matter. The possibility and potential is ever present, everywhere, all the time. Right now, as you breathe: there it is. That's the joy!
Watching the videos was a process of contemplation and devotion on many levels, beyond my understanding. I learned a little more about myself, about the breadth this spiritual path encompasses, of needing to soften and relax so that the rigid chinks of what I believe to be true, or just so, can break apart. The armour of resistance or supposition or unarguable definition or 'i am right' with which we clothe ourselves on a daily basis, often has nothing to do with the essence of compassion and wisdom that is our true nature. But we don't see that, because we live inside it and just accept it to be our reality. It isn't. Somehow seeing that precious mantra in Klingon is a tease, reminding us not be be fixed in our views of what is possible. Because anything is.

Monday, May 14, 2007

the diamond of gratitude

The chain of hearts has blossomed. Not only with the kind comments on this blog, for which I thank you, but Melanie's dedicated search found someone in LA who was wanting to adopt one or two of Ms Wu's dogs, preferably an older dog; she read the last post, and is in love. It hasn't been finalised yet, but what a wonderful unfolding; I will let you know of the progress.
When I emailed Ms Wu to follow up on Tooky's questions, this is what she said. Apparently Lucky is a she!
It seems right when I named her Lucky. I think she would be afraid of cold weather in winter. I never put clothes on her coz it’s not too cold in winter here. She must had suffered a lot before she showed up in my school. She has to be taught to live inside a house. She’s always been friendly and enjoyed the sunshine in corner quietly. She never barks loudly, and only leans towards me at meals with excitement. In general, she’s a tender dog with good behavior who never causes any trouble.
I think I am in love, too!! It did cross my mind what my 3 would think, but LA is much better, not only due to the cold of winter, I would also worry about rattlers, and besides I have to let my heart love them all!!
Tia's comment also reminded me that I haven't thanked everyone for helping us secure the land on which we will build a beautiful, sustainable animal sanctuary. I know some of you were able to make cash donations, and others held us in your thought and prayers. To every one of you, i say thank you. I cannot articulate what this means, it is a gift of life, hope and awakening, for each and every one of us.
When I was young, my mother made me write thank you cards; a task I resisted and whined about, especially for gifts I didn't especially like - why thank them for That! She, however was adamant, and so i chewed my pen and wrote " Dear Aunty.....". I also had to write thank you's to school comrades for birthday party invitations, regardless of it was someone i liked. It seemed an odorous, endless task.
However, now that I have passed the age my mother was when she enforced this rule, i understand the power of thank you. It doesn't matter what the gift or event was, or if I enjoyed it, it is an expression of gratitude for the thoughtfulness of the giver, for the kindness of the heart.
This was brought vividly alive for me through the work of Masuru Emoto on the effects of prayer and positive thought and words on the crystal formation of water; you can see the difference that extraordinary. Here is his response to the question of whether he had discovered a particular word or phrase that best helped the natural waters of the world:
"Yes. There is a special combination that seems to be perfect for this, which is love plus the combination of thanks and appreciation, reflected in the English word gratitude. Just one of these is not enough. Love needs to be based in gratitude, and gratitude needs to be based in love. These two words together create the most important vibration. "
The purity and beauty of the crystal, as seen above, mirror the effect on our hearts, and the world, when we respond with love and gratitude to the thoughtful words and acts of others. It becomes a gift reciprocated - fluid, boundless. It is a gift that takes little effort, and yet its value is immeasurable. We, too, consist so much of water - imagine these diamonds in our cells!
I am grateful to my mother for engraving this idea in my mind, although it has taken decades to recognise its value! But that is the magnificence of even the smallest gift of kindness - it ripples through our lives, shedding jewels at unexpected moments, sometimes in dark, neglected corners of ourselves. To be able to say thank you is a blessing and a promise, it reflects the space in which something of benefit was received, and becomes the space for such a gift to again be welcomed, perhaps by someone else. The lines between the giver and receiver are blurred, there is simply the pure and perfect vibration of gratitude, which describes the hearts of us all.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

the second miracle


I want to share a story that has broken my heart open, a story of one person who has made an immeasurable difference to a corner of the world that many of us may never visit.
A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Melanie - a kind-hearted spirit, whose reason for getting our of bed in the morning is to be of benefit to animals in need. This is not her day job - this is the voice of compassion which exists in us all, yet sometimes we are deaf to it. She has listened, and acted. She contacted Tara's Babies about 30 dogs in Taiwan who will be killed if homes are not found. Her call touched my heart, and I spontaneously said yes, to ten - how could I not, because the vivid story of selflessness that is unfolding around me makes me catch my breath with inspiration.
The dogs in Taiwan are housed in a dog garden in a school yard. Lucky, whose picture no doubt shocked you as it did me, is one of these dogs. Ms Wu, a teacher at the school, cannot bear the suffering of animals, and two years ago set up an animal rescue, operating from the school. She finds dogs in terrible condition - sometimes one heartbeat from death, as Lucky was - and nurtures them with love, tenderness, vet care, and food. She teaches them to trust, to know that people can love as well as harm. When ready, she takes them to adoption parties, where hopefully they find loving forever homes.
It is an amazing display of courage and dedication - some of the stories of catching the animals show her determination to bridge that stream of distrust and terror that separates dogs on the street from a future home. She does this, because her heart allows her no option, but to act when there is terrible need.
But, Ms Wu's dogs are no longer safe - they are tied to the railroad track of impending change, and the locomotive is bearing down fast; Ms Wu is going to retire, and the Principal has said the dogs will be euthanised. Saved once, and having learned to recognise love and trust, their lives will be cut short. This is what Melanie cannot let happen, and neither can I.
Ms Wu writes touching stories from the dogs perspective - here is a little of what Lucky has to say:
I am waiting for the second miracle in my life.
I was lying down at my last gasp in front of Yang Mei Senior High School, simply wanted to bask in the sun for the last time. On the verge of death, I was gently held in a pair of warm arms, which brought me to the dog house. I heard someone talking tenderly, and was given a bowl of meat and some clean water.
Then I went to the hospital and was told that I’ve got a serious folliculitis, which has damaged my cortex. The doctor was not very optimistic about my condition. However, mummy Jia-jen kept her hopes up— after all, I could still eat a little bit. She started to feed me lots of nutriment twice a day.
It’s about half a year before the crust of my wounds began to fall, and the jet-black hair started to grow. Although my hair would never be as thick as normal dogs, it’s a whale of difference comparing to the outfit I’d got when I was homeless. I feel getting better not only physically but also mentally. I relax a bit when I get along with mummy, and hum in a good mood when she takes me out.
I walk about freely in the dog farm and get on with other dogs peacefully. I have gotten used to stay quietly in a corner to avoid unnecessary bully for one year and a half.
I am about nine years old now, my hair won’t be able to grow completely due to the necrosis; therefore, I probably will not even have a slight chance to get a new home. Mummy says to me gently: ‘Sh, don’t you worry about it. I promise to take care of you to make up for what you have suffered.’ However, she could not keep her words anymore, because here comes the new principal and the dog farm is forced to close along with the mummy’s retirement. She could not bring me home since she’s already got ten dogs.
I never hate any person or dog, and just want to stay in the corner belonging to me. I have no other wishes but to bask in the sun, however the wish of simply being alive does not seem to come true easily.
I really long for the second miracle taking place sometime soon— somebody could take care of me while I am old and ailing like a candle guttering in the wind, and bring me the love I once had but will lose soon. Oh my dear lord, please tell me, is it really going to happen?

Ms Wu is worried for all her dogs, so the ten she has chosen to come to Dakini Valley are healthy and adoptable - she sees a good future for them, and says, " You even give a hand generously to me who is far away in foreign country; it’s been so lucky for those ten dogs who can be reborn in Tara ’s Babies. I won’t worry about them anymore in future, since I know that they would rest in a warm harbour. I can’t express how I feel with words right now" . What an unimaginable choice to have make - who will live, who may die - for beings you have nurtured and nourished from death already.

I asked her about Lucky: "He doesn’t like barking or exercising, neither does he cause too much troubles. I wish Lucky could have a happy life in the U.S. Lucky does not have much hair even though Ive been feeding him nutrition food. The doctor says that the his hair follicles have died. He would still need continuous medication and observation once he gets there. I am not sure if it is OK with you or would it cause too much trouble?

I want to save Lucky, but worry that with his hairless old body, he would find our winters too cold; until we build our new shelter, we have nothing appropriate to offer. So this is my plea - some of you live in places that are warm, where the air is softened with moisture, and the sun shines. Or your relatives live in this climate. And you have friends and neighbours who live in your street, your town, 50 miles away. And some of them have a yard where an old dog could rest. And they are willing to tend to the needs of an old greying dog, who was once a bag of hairless bones, and now wants only love and safety.

Our planet is littered with lives of suffering, so why Lucky - why this dog? Why not? Compassion and suffering have neither boundaries, nor limits. They are present in our neighbourhood, our daily lives, and they are familiar to people and animals hidden from our view. The story of Lucky is not unique, but it is a story we can write the ending to. We can be the miracle. And if we make a difference, even only once, we have changed the face of this planet, and the texture of our hearts, forever. I want to find him a home, where he can bask in the sun until he dies a natural death, so that the chain of kindness which links my heart to yours, and your to Ms Wu's, and hers to Melanie's, and Melanie's to her neighbour.... is entwined around the earth, unbroken.

Please help me find a home for Lucky. His transport/paperwork to the US will be arranged, and we will find a way to get him to you, to his home of love, and his resting place in the sun. When Ms Wu heard even ten of her dogs could be saved, she said,"Suddenly I feel the world is full of wonderful and adorable things and there are so many angels helping me and my dogs out. I've cried my eyes out, with tears of joy and appreciation."

Be an angel, be the second miracle. Contact me about Lucky, or any help you can give for any of these dogs, at

The reward will be more than one life saved, it will be the seed of a different future for us all.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

make a difference

Think you can't make a difference to the world?
Think again. We all can.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

that's a LIE!!

Antelope Canyon
photo by Mary
The father of a dear friend of mine was a liar. I don't mean someone who told a fib now and then, his life was built on a foundation of untruth. He courted her mother with a lie - sending photographs of himself in front of a house he claimed to be his, when it was not; in the years of my friend's childhood, there was uncertainty around his work, his salary, whether the mortgage was paid. No-one seemed to be able to size up the substance of his words. One time, after he had separated from his wife, and was living alone, he said he was going to Scotland for the weekend, and on his return regaled tales of the journey. It later transpired he had spent the entire weekend in his apartment, the curtains closed.
I met him once, when I travelled with my friend - actually, my partner, so I suppose he was my father-in-law, if the law ever recognised such relationships - to the land on another continent where he lived. He had divorced my friend's mother by then, had recently re-married, and we travelled across another border to the village of his forbears. The highlight was a visit to a church where his father, purportedly an artist, had painted a magnificent mural - the details of this untruth are a lost to me now - i only know, when we entered the church, the story dissipated into something far less than he had described. There was no mural, simply a statue his father had somehow worked on.
It was at his funeral that the shakiness of his words became most apparent; the pastor, basing his speech on the knowledge of the second wife, described my friend's father's life. She and her mother looked at each other bemused. Although this was undoubtedly what he had told his wife, it was not true. Through his living and past his death, he fabricated who he was.
I am sure there is a term - pathological?- for people who create a world, a life they do not live in, but I had never been knowingly connected with someone who had this habit. It intrigued me that someone would do this, to continuously undermine every relationship or potential by removing the foundation of truth. I would say my friend loved her father, yet always there was this tension of what could be believed, what not, creating a fragility.
We all have lied, probably often. I know I have, some large, some small, sometimes without real intention. We lie to ease tension, to hedge the truth, because its easier. We think if we tell a lie and don't get caught, then somehow no damage was done. We build little nests made with hollow, twisted sticks, and think that we are safe. We never are.
One of the vows of ordination is never to lie; actually, this vow can be taken by lay people as well, but the ordination vow is of greater consequence, because of the commitment to your spiritual path inherent in the decision to take robes.
It is an exposed landscape, stripped of the comforts of simple lies. One stands raw and naked, without the option of shifting a word or two, an idea or two, to make the world softer, more palatable. Having taken that vow (and i am sure I have not always honored it) i could see the itsy, bitsy, not-so-terrible lies that I took for granted. Not really lies, we would probably say, but not entirely the truth, either. Sort of straddling the truth, which means not embracing it fully.
The vow to not lie is not about becoming a goody two shoes, or taking a holier than thou posture. Its about letting fall to the ground the habits we cloak ourselves in, which prevent us from knowing the truth of ourselves. In fact, the source of its potency is not only the lies we tell others, it is the lies we tell ourselves in order to try and stay comfortable in a world which ultimately isn't. Self-honesty is the key and the magnifying glass, it is the method by which we look in our hearts and its reflection, our lives, and squirm. It allows us to decipher our presence in the world, by acknowledging our habits - anger, jealousy, judgement and so on. Yet it's not about then hating or blaming or judging ourselves for these habits, it's just seeing they are there, and knowing we can change them. Exposed by self-honesty, the foundation of an opening heart shores up, because instead of the quicksand of dishonesty, there is the infallibility of truth.
It's not easy to be self-honest, it is probably one of the hardest qualities to sincerely and honestly embrace. People do it of course, especially those who may have lived with addictions and pulled their heads up one final time, to say - no more. That is a painful nakedness, physically, emotionally, but the rawness of the wound, its depth, can create a place for looking within and yearning for the possibility of a better life. Self-honesty is fundamental to this.
But self-honesty can help and heal us all, because we all have habits we hide in, or behind, that may not be of benefit to ourselves or others. Perhaps they do active harm, perhaps not apparently so; yet if there is the seed of untruth or deception, or a habit with a poisonous barb, however subtle, the results will always be flawed.
Stripping away the layers of deception, or not-quite-the-truth or bits of ourselves we would rather not have, strips back the illusion of who we seem to be. We may not project ourselves in the extreme manner of my friend's father, yet still our habits create a persona that we cling to, hide in, dance with over and over again. Take away some of the props, and the refreshing wind of clarity and truth will begin to shape our lives. We will find the truth is much more than we imagined, even with our most impressive lie.
This post was inspired by Leigh, who is courageously dealing with the habit of lies. When I first went to her blog, and saw her photo, it was like looking in a plate glass window, a reflection of the past- not perhaps just of myself, but of women whose lives I have shared, in one guise or another. There was a sense of familiarity, which bridged time and space. I thought of the inherent interconnectedness of us all, that the habits we thinks are so unique - our personalities, our lives - never really are. The patterns, like in a kaleidoscope, may shift and change, but the little coloured beads from which those patterns are derived are the same in us all.
The Buddha teaches that there is no difference between you and I, there is no place I end and you begin. We cannot comprehend this - I cannot. Yet we know, somehow, that we are linked in ways we cannot describe nor explain. The power of thought, of our intention rises like an invisible wave to shape the contours of the future. This potential is what we all share, and its essence is truth. It is our habits that deceive us, which trick us into believing the world and the words which we hide in. By letting the habits of harm and deception slide to the earth like a shredded cloth that cannot protect us, we will begin to know the majesty, grace and brilliant luminous truth of our hearts.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia
photo courtesy Sydney Morning Herald

Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of the Blue Ridge Mountains; my first visit was through a delightful post of Stephen's. I enjoy his blog, because of its inherent simplicity, depth and variety, that captures a moment, an idea, in photo and with words. History, the environment, simply being alive: he is likely to offer a post that brings thoughts - serious and of laughter - alive in your mind.
So I saw the rolling lines of the Virginia Mountains through his lens - their deep sultry beauty, reminding me of the Blue Mountains I know from my childhood. These mountains - filled with craggy sandstone escarpments and dense with bush - crouch at the side of Sydney, my home town. We would visit there when I was a child; it seemed such an outing then, although now it is a city commute for many. It was here I first felt snow, an experience i longed for as a child; my father told me it was really sleet, yet to me, more familiar with the burning heat of seaside sand, it was snow - white droplets falling magically from the sky. I love those mountains - thick with eucalypts, spreading for miles; magnificent - and terrifying - views, where only a railing protects you from plummeting deep into the valleys. A few years ago I spent three weeks of a writer's retreat in a rambling old house planted not far from delightful walks. I spent quite some time walking, alone, on the edge of penetrating blue depths, and the faultlines of my memory.
The Mountains in Virginia now bear a harrowing shadow; there, as snow fell lightly, just like in my youth, so did the lives of too many. One cannot imagine the mixture of grief and anger arising in many hearts, as I imagine it had in the tragic mind of the perpetrator of this anguished event. Indescribable suffering endured by so many, it is horrific to witness what such delusion can create. This is a day that this country will never forget, nor should it. We must learn and taste the pain of tragedy, deeply, for it is a lesson we need to contemplate. Hatred and anger can only bring suffering of immeasurable proportions to us all; it has no other fruit.
Friday is a National Day of Prayer, to allow each of us to open our hearts so that the goodness contained therein may bathe the wounds that have been inflicted on the families, on the community, and ultimately on us all. It is not a time of retribution nor blame, it is a time of sadness from which hope and grace may bloom. My prayers are with the tortured minds of all who feel driven to commit horrendous crimes, and to those of us who know them. And to the victims, lost from this world so unexpectedly and abruptly. And to the families and friends of those who died, whose future, in one fraction of a second, was shattered. And to all of us who know the seeds of hatred and confusion - which is every single one of us. We live on a planet torn asunder by seemingly endless violence. May the kindness of our thoughts, the stilling of our minds, the turning to embrace those in need and pain, change this world into a place where blood is no longer spilled by anger and judgement, and only tears of joy fall to soften the earth.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

the appearance of joy

The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster; no one thing, just a series of moments which somehow feel like my shadow now falls at a different angle than it did before. Not that this is bad, its just acknowledging that change is the feast of life, and who we are one day is never quite the same as the day before.

This evening that occured for this precious land, in an event that brings me great joy; for the first time, a Stupa is now blessing the Valley. A Stupa is a sacred Buddhist monument - the specifications for which were laid out by Buddha himself, and it is a tangible display of the Mind of Enlightenment. They are places of pilgrimage - not only for Buddhists - and there are many miraculous stories regarding the blessings they provide for those that make wishing prayers while circumambulating a Stupa. Their blessings are also spread across the earth by the breeze , and they are a powerful means of securing the land and diminishing suffering. Everything about them is holy, and the potency is increased by a consecration ceremony, invoking the blessings and power of the divine. There is a link to the right if you would like to know more.

This Stupa is of plaster, and three feet high; it used to be in the garden of Jetsunma's home in Sedona, so it is especially precious. It arrived at the Valley last night with one of our monks, Kamil, and Claire, both of whom came to work with the rescue dogs today, while we went to a workshop. When i returned, at about 5.30, the three of us set it up on a table in Jetsunma's yard, facing east, as is the custom. When Jetsunma comes, she will determine its proper home.

It was a simple, yet momentous, moment. I - and others - have wished for a Stupa at Dakini Valley for years, and that prayer has now come to fruition. It is hard to explain, but knowing its sacredness, and what it portends for the land on which it sits, it is as if an exquisite, fragrant bloom has blossomed in our minds. This is especially miraculous right now, as we are in the final stages of raising money to secure this land for perpetuity, which seems an enormous task, and yet one that must inevitably be fulfilled, so there is no hesitation. My prayer is that the Stupa's appearance will ensure the land is secure until time has ceased.

Claire, who works in nursery, had brought a beautiful pink hollyhock as a gift for Jetsunma's yard. I re-potted it and, with some petunias, it became the first offering. I look forward to cleaning the red Sedona dust from the Stupa and finding attractive rocks to garland the table. Although it is a temporary setting, it is a great privilege to be able to make these offerings on behalf of us all.

I sat tonight as dusk drew its cloak, eating my dinner on the stone bench next to the small fountain outside Jetsunma's back door. The Stupa, its whiteness rising out from the greying light, was directly in my line of vision. I feel such peace and joy that it is here, truly like finding a jewel in a tumble of rocks strewn by the rising confusion of life.

It is six years this week since I arrived in the USA and, more importantly, since I began living at Dakini Valley. The time frame is almost meaningless to me - I could say it has gone quickly, and yet days have seemed like time had no measure. So much has happened within and without - always, I pray, for the benefit of the world and all beings. I have known moments of such despair that only my breath connected me with the Truth of this spiritual Path; I have experienced great certainty and joy that all that is possible lies within my own heart. I have tasted terror through which I was not sure I would survive. I have lived alone and with others, anger and laughter. I have weathered the storms of the sky, and internal eruptions. I have tried to serve through happiness and its opposite, knowing that whatever I may feel, each and every step, taken with trust and resolve, is a gift to myself, and all creatures. My intention is not always true - I am fallible, for sure - but the possibility is never, ever lost; it is the guiding light, if I just turn my head, it is always there. The Stupa reminds me of this.

Although I may be physically present here, and you are not, the one things I know without any doubt, from that place which is not of cognition, but of recognition, is that this Valley is for you as much as me. I have been blessed with this opportunity, and am grateful beyond words, but I am just one thread in the fabric which clothes us all. This land is a place within time and space, just as I am, but it also reflects that which is indefinable. I know no-one who has walked this land that has not been moved. Yes, by its magnificence and beauty, the width of the sky, the sound of the stream, the compassionate activity we try our best to accomplish. But, in a way like the Stupa, these are just displays, the refraction of light through the crystal. What we truly respond to is the call of our heart, which is more audible here. This land is precious and potent, because it awakens us to something we may not yet recognise, yet which is more than the sum of anything we could imagine.

A few years ago, at Jetsunma's suggestion and during a solitary winter, I wrote a book about living here and practice. It became a powerful practice of contemplation in itself. I would like to offer a passage as a gift - to the Valley, to the Stupa, to all beings. And to you. In the end our breath - that which allows us to even be - is all we have offer. And if you feel inspired or touched in any way, please consider sharing this gift with me, by making a donation to help secure the land. The amount is not significant, it is the intention of honouring this place of peace, of compassion, of wisdom, dedicated on behalf of all beings, everywhere.

"In the first year I was here Jetsunma asked me to collect river stones to adorn her new deck. I would wheel the barrow down and search for the most interesting, exquisite ones I could find. Some I could pick up with one hand, others were so large and heavy it took all my strength to move them. It was a wonderful practice; each day Gypsy and I would go down to the creek and amble along, attentive to detail. It was summer and warm. I wanted always to find the best one, better than the days before. In a sense it was not difficult, because they all are jewels. I thought of the line in Ngondro reminding us of how precious this human life is; it says to meet with the path of Dharma, yet not practice, is “Like going to a continent full of precious jewels and returning empty handed.”
I have come to recognize Dakini Valley is such a continent, set amidst the sea of our confusion. There is a potency which is reflected in, but not limited to, its magnificence. It allows you to stand raw and exposed to every emotion and habit you carry within you. It will peel back your flesh in which you seek refuge, and open the wounds that have not yet healed. It soothes you and holds you in moments of torment. It bathes you with ointment of pure loving kindness. It offers you everything in your own heart, it is your own heart. It is every heart everywhere in all time, trembling and beating in one union of rhythm. It holds the potential of all you have longed for without ever knowing. It bids you welcome, awaken, its heart never closed."