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."