Thursday, December 25, 2008

birthday greetings

at two weeks old

Birthdays are a strange phenomenon. They imply great significance, for it is the time when each of us hurtled into this human life, on a journey whose real beginnings none of us understand, and for which we often feel ill- equipped to undertake.

My sister Kate's 4th birthday

The first few years of our lives, birthdays are more for the family surrounding us than for ourselves, we really don't know what its about. A home video of me on my first birthday shows me tearing paper off a gift, without any understanding that this was a process leading to a surprise; the paper tearing was clearly exciting enough!

With my mother getting ready for my party

But somewhere in those early years, the magic and pleasure of birthdays seeps in. The specialness, the celebration and excitement. Birthdays are anticipated with excitement and joy, perhaps parties are planned, gifts secreted away from inquisitive eyes. Cake and candles mark the transition of time.

with my father, same day

Further on in our lives, particular birthdays are seen as culturally significant. 18, 21, 30, 40 - these are years where, even if in between there has been little acknowledgement of the date of birth, people will often celebrate the passage of life.
Personally, i have mostly been ambivalent if not cautious about birthdays. Born on Christmas Eve, my special day was buried in the furore and excitement of Santa Claus' visit, and summer holidays. For this reason, my mother chose my great-grandmother's birthday (August 16) as my day of celebration and parties. But even that was more for her gregarious nature than my painfully shy one. I remember so clearly one particular party where I played in the yard on my own for most of the time, feeling overwhelmed by the group. And cutting the cake was a nightmare of spotlight exposure.

picking flowers in our garden on my birthday

My mother wanted me to have a big "Twenty First" as my siblings had had (a significant rite of passage in Australia). I refused, mainly because I was quite rebellious at that time, and refusing any request of my parents was the order of the day. As I have mellowed with age, I am sorry I was not gracious enough to allow her this joy.

Now, having freshly 'turned' 53, birthdays have no great impact. Yet still they mark the passage of time in this life, and of that I am conscious. There is less time ahead than behind. Just as at the moment of birth, I am still uncertain of what this journey will bring or entail.

2 weeks of age. My mother has written on the back "looks very like her". Funny, really, to think there was an idea of me even having an identity or look at that age. Looks like who?

Not me, not any more!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Family Snaps

These are some snapshots of the family kind, taken when I borrowed a camera for 10 minutes today, so all posed. The only one who truly co-operated was zeusie-katz; everyone else acted like i was going to do something hideous to them.
Until the treats came out!!!!
Wildfire, the gorgeous shiny black girl with golden trim, was adopted by me from AR last year (as was Maddie, the other "sweater girl"). Wildfire was completely unsocialised and feral; I did not get to touch her for 2 months, she always ran in the yard and hid truly like a terrified wild thing; she slept outside, couldn't get her near the door.
It amazes and heartens me now to see her so integrated in the pack, and happy to let me pat her. This is the power of the dog whispering method.
Anyway, this is the full membership of Lucky's pack (see the post below for more). She seems content to be here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Good Fortune and Lucky

It was hovering around 40 degrees outside, when I came in - soaked to the skin - from walking the rescue dogs. It was not a whole lot better inside; 48 in the kitchen, 52 in the main room. Drizzle has threaded the earth with the sky in a soft damp gauze since yesterday. The ground is soft, in places flowing with a rich brown stream. Surprisingly - or not, they are very resilient in nature - the dogs were sprightly. Only one, the thin shy Mimi, just arrived from Taiwan, stayed in her house, refusing a walk. I feel badly for them in the cold and wet. But mostly they played and barked and generally carried on much the same. Until after their meal, when silence descended, everyone curled in an igloo.
My hands were icy, feeding the dogs was a challenge, the spoon hard to grip in unresponsive fingers. Jeans, shoes and socks were degrees darker than when the day began, the colour re-defined by rain. Two waterproof jackets had kept the top half pretty dry, and i was not aware of the damp cold so much until I got home. Then I could not get changed, or carry in wood to light a fire, quickly enough.
But I was joyful. It had not rained heavily as we walked, Kamil and I and dogs together. Sliding a little in the mud, laughing.
I realised yesterday how fortunate I am. This remembrance eludes me most days. I want to stay in bed, or watch videos or fiddle on the computer. Its not like compassion for others runs through my veins; would I do this every single day if it was not laid out before me as a gift? I do not know. There is nowhere else in this word I want to be other than in this sacred Valley, but there is resistance to the tasks that living here involve.
Jetsunma has reminded us that compassionate activity is an expression of our spiritual path. There is no division between the aspiration and expression of our prayers, and the choice and commitment to lead a life of compassionate service to others. In fact, it would seem to me, that it is through the action of compassion that the intention of our prayers and practice will be realised. Wisdom and Compassion are the essence of awakened mind, we cannot know one in our hearts without recognising the other.
As I look out from the hill where we walk, the valley and mountains like a banquet before me, I realise that here is the source of accomplishment, the entire path. There is the magic and mystery, the potent sacredness of the land itself which has whispered to me, moment by moment, year by year since I first had the privilege to be here. I know this land is more than I can comprehend, it is a realm of pure potential. And now, through the kindness of the dogs we have saved from death, there is the opportunity to open my heart and embrace compassion, daily.
This is it, both sides of the coin, and only through the grace of my teacher, can I be here. Like it or not (and some days definitely not), it is a supreme blessing to have the path offered in this way.
But of course it is not just here, that is the delicious nature of the Vajrayana path. It is everywhere, where each and everyone of us finds ourselves. The entire path will always be available, in whatever setting or circumstance we live. It's about turning our hearts and minds to see it, know it, engage in it - prayer, devotion, compassion. There is never a moment, nor a place, when this possibility is not present.
I forget this mostly, my thoughts and emotions wear me down, distract me. I don't see clearly, even here, right in the midst of it. I'm not pretending to have any deep insights or recognition. Yet it is there, always, and sometimes if we glimpse inside our very own hearts we will know it.
As I write this, 6 dogs and one cat are curled on various beds and furniture in this humble cabin. Six dogs - one of whom is snoring. And that would be Lucky! Yes, for those of you who read this and who are her fans, Lucky moved in with us a week or so ago!! I had been worried for her hairless body as the days grew colder. She lived in our bunkhouse, but had become the only resident, so a fire would not be tended. I decided to bring her to the cabin where I stay.
It went brilliantly from day one, I could hardly believe how she slipped right in to the family with barely a murmur. I am proud of my 5 who accepted her so readily. The first night she stayed in the kitchen, but her reticence was over pretty quickly. Day 2 she claimed the small couch as her own, and now freely moves from dog bed to dog bed, and sometimes my own! She loves being in a pack. Mostly we walk together, but one day I left her behind. She howled loudly and mournfully the entire time we were away - it ricocheted through the whole valley; when we got back she was at the gate, wagging her tail wildly that we had returned.
Ostensibly it is a foster placement, but already i feel my reluctance at the thought of her leaving. A good friend of mine, on hearing this, said "Well, Lucky was always one of yours, don't you think?", and I think of the karma shared between her rescuer Ms Wu, who scraped this dying dog off the streets of Taiwan, Lucky herself, and me, that she should now lay curled up in a blanket on the couch by my side.
I promise photos. I don't have a camera, but will borrow one. I want you to share in the joy of Lucky's life. Proof that the chain of loving-kindness and compassion is free of geography, and ceaseless. We are the chain, both a link and its entirety. We just have to be willing to live it.

Monday, December 01, 2008

wrinkles of life

I suspect no-one is reading this blog anymore; there is nothing to read. Like waiting for a much anticipated phone call that never occurs. At some point you give up and move on, and perhaps even forget that you ever waited.
I am sorry I have stopped writing, i enjoy it very much. It is pointless to offer explanations, that is like trying to define life and its perpetual movement - there is so much that could be said, and mostly it has no significance.
But for anyone glancing in, here is what I think is one of the worst photos of me, ever. Mary and Tom came by, Mary always camera-ready, and she took some shots when I was with the rescue dogs. The pictures of the dogs are much nicer! And it has nothing to do with Mary's skill, as she just won first prize for photography at a show. No, I really do look like this.
It is an interesting contemplation, actually, to see one's face and recognise that the bloom of youth and beauty really has changed. Evaporated, dissolved. It is inevitable and it surely is one of the foundational Buddhist teachings that remains so hard to embrace, deeply and with clear understanding. Nothing is permanent, and youth most definitely not. However we may see ourselves looking from the inside out, our outsides will wither and decay.
I recently connected with the school in Australia which I attended from age 6 to age 16, ie my entire school life. That is a lot of years to spend with the same group of people - actually longer than I have been in the USA with this Sangha. So names and faces are branded in my memory. As an "old girl" (ie graduate of that school), I am now able to access a website where photos of my school life flash before my eyes. Me, at 13 years old, fresh faced, head full of dreams. I recognise the girls around me so acutely. Realising that whatever we thought or planned, none of us had any idea of what would befall us, what we would do or experience in our lives. I look at the pictures of the current students - they all look like we did, however unique we may feel, there is also a sameness, a rhythm of life that repeats itself again and again. Then I look at the reunion snapshots, some from my graduating year, some from women now in their 70's. All of us went to the same school, grew in a sense from the same foundation. Had dreams and inspirations. And all of us will look in the mirror and see change etched in our skin.
Death is inevitable, for all of us. I do not say this to be maudlin, it is just that seeing my youth on the screen, doing a virtual tour of my school - much of it the same as nearly 40 years ago - reminded me that this is the ebb and flow of existence. Whatever I imagined my life would be like as I sat with my friends in the schoolyard (and becoming a Buddhist nun was not on the chart!), does not matter. It is the life I have lived that I have to come to terms with, it is the choices I make now that will determine the future. And it is true that the invincibility of youth will at last and finally dissolve into the passing from this existence.
In the meantime, there is much to be done. Always. I imagine most everyone knows that feeling. And there are moments of joy, to be cherished. And those that we love to support us. Here are two beautiful photos taken by Mary on the very same day.

my beloved Nyima

a kiss from Madelaine, the AR rescue I adopted last year