Category Archives: dharma thoughts

Feeeeelings, nothing more

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A week or so back in the discussion of my post Severed Ties, some of the usual suspects and I were having a discussion about what is the role, if any, for feelings in our Buddhist practice.  It’s an interesting topic because I think there is a lot of misunderstanding that happens when it comes to how deal with our feelings when our ultimate goal is to go, go, completely go, completely and perfectly go beyond them.

One of the things I’ve noticed since I’ve left the New Kadampa Tradition is that I’m once again being OK with simply experiencing what I’m experiencing in terms of feelings, and not trying to transform them into something virtuous, or ignore them by telling myself they are just merely delusions arising from my self-grasping, self-cherishing mind. 

They’re tricky little buggers, those feelings.  On one hand, like the other four aggregates (aka  skandhas), feeling is empty of inherent existence.  Its nature is impermanent, insubstantial, temporary.  I mean, honestly, where are these feelings that feel so damn real?  Can you point to them?  What ever happened to that intense feelings you had for that cute boy or girl from junior high?  How is it that this person you loved so completely this morning, is now the object of your fury tonight?

OK, great, they’re empty.  So, I can just ignore them, right?  Sure, you can try that and see how far you get.  Pour yourself a drink, or pop yourself another Valium.  Enjoy your stress-related heart attack.  Or say hello to Mr. Depression.  So, from a Buddhist perspective, what in the hell do we do? Read the rest of this entry

Severed ties

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Even though I have not attended any classes or been affiliated with any New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) center for almost a year now, I find that the NKT is still something I end up talking about quite a bit whether on this blog or with my friends. There were many reasons that I left, none of which had to do with the quality of people I met there. Many, if not most of my good friends are people I met in the NKT. Some are, like myself, completely out of the organization, and others are still in but most definitely questioning their involvement, particularly in light of the recent protests against the Dalai Lama.

Read the rest of this entry

Insight

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It’s been almost a year now that I have been without any kind of regular spiritual community or classes. And while I feel like my spiritual aspirations are stronger than ever, I have come to miss not meditating with a group of people on a regular basis. There is something about the energy (for lack of a better term and trust me if there were a better term than “energy” I would use it. Frankly, I hate using “energy” in an airy fairy way, but sometimes, well . . .) of a group of people meditating that really helps your own individual meditation. You would think it would be the opposite – all that rustling and sniffling and heavy breathing of others would be a distraction. And trust me, it can be. But, I’ve had some of my best meditation sessions in the company of others.

That’s not the point of this post though. But, it could be . . . Nah, let’s go with the original idea.

As some of you may recall a few weeks back I decided to take a six-week Introduction to Vipassana course out at Spirit Rock. Part of the rationale was that I was that I was coming up blank when called to go beyond focusing on the breath and to open to greater awareness in the meditations I was doing at the Dakini Temple. Greater what? Awareness? Awareness? I don’t do no stinkin’ awareness. Anyway, I sensed that this class seemed was just what I needed.

I came to the class with a relatively open mind, but eager to once again get some meditation instruction. At first I feared this tradition was going to be too touchy-feely, or feel too diluted. Our first meditation exercise in body awareness, which was done laying on the floor made me uneasy. What does this have to do with enlightenment? Where are the glorious concepts of emptiness and bodhicitta? Where are my pink joy swirls? Where is my head in all of this?

Yet, over the course of the six weeks, including a one day retreat, I really came to appreciate my teacher, Will Kabat-Zinn, my classmates, and most of all this style of meditation. Unlike the previous style of meditation I was practicing, where you contemplated an idea and then focused on it single pointedly, this style, also known as Insight Meditation, is deceptively simple. The goal was to simply stay aware of this very moment, adding nothing or taking anything away. Just this moment and whatever this moment brings. It may bring body sensations, emotions, or our constant nattering companion, thoughts. But rather hold to them, create our stories around them, we simply look at them for what they are. What does this pain really feel like? Is it really that bad, or is it the story I tell myself that makes it worse. This feeling in my gut, this slight electrical charge going through my body, what is that? Oh, that’s anxiety. And look there’s a thought . . . and another thought . . . and yet another. Damn, they really are fleeting, aren’t they. And always, keeping you grounded is the breath. Just this one breath in this one moment. For the first time in ages, I felt like the whole of me was invited to my own meditation sessions. My body was actually connected to my head and my own mundane experience was worth looking at. What a concept. I mean, it’s nice and all, but is it really Buddhist?

I think the differences between Vipassana and the type of meditation, in particular Lamrim, that I learned in the in the NKT (though this approach may just be part of the larger Gelugpa branch of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism) boils down to this:

In Vipassana meditation by being very present to our experience moment by moment, breath by breath and increasing this awareness into our daily lives, Buddha’s teachings will unfold before us, revealing themselves through our own experience.

In Lamrim, Budda’s teachings are revealed to you through the Guru, through study, and with consistent meditation we bring these teachings from mere concept to our heart, where eventually, we may experience them for ourselves.

For right now, I’ve got a good practice going with the Vipassana and I’m combining that with recitation of the Heart Sutra. And in a couple of weeks I’m going to do a couple of days of retreat focusing on the Heart Sutra with Anam Thubten Rimpoche (lucky lucky me to have him in my own backyard!). I’m also considering doing a five day Vipassana retreat out at Spirit Rock at the end of the summer. And in the meantime, I’m going to try and catch one of the on-going Vipassana sitting groups in Berkeley as often as I can. At some point, I’d like to incorporate some Lamrim again, but for now this feels right.

Accepting our fate

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Traffic this morning on 580 West is at a dead stop. Not merely the kind of stop where you turn off your engine, but the kind of stop where you can get out and take a little walk if so choose. There’s a big accident on the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge – apparently involving a big rig and several cars – and both lanes are blocked. Happened about an hour or so ago.

Traffic was still moving very slowly a while, but I reckon those were the folks who were trying to make a break for the last exit before the bridge. Perhaps they were going to take one of the really long (20 mile or so) detours, or stop and have breakfast at any of our fine dining establishments here in Point Richmond, or just plain give up. But, now that that they have moved on, all that are left are those who have decided to accept their fate and wait it out.

People are getting out of their cars. Some just standing. Some getting something out of the trunk. And others have formed a group. Is this an angry mob? They seem pretty animated. Oh wait, they’re laughing. What’s this? Two guys are headed towards each other? Are fisticuffs about to break out? Oh, he’s just handing the other guy his cell phone. More clusters of two or more people are forming, all looking very friendly. For what is probably a very frustrating situation, people seem pretty calm.

Sure, they have ever right to curse the heavens, Cal-Trans and the Highway Patrol. I mean, all their well laid plans have gone awry. They have places to go, people to see, for cryin’ out loud. But, instead, they are at a dead stop on the freeway. The smart ones, the ones who have opted not to add to their suffering, seemed to have just accepted the situation and are taking the opportunity to share a laugh with some strangers or to help out the guy in the next car.

I’ve been feeling a little downhearted about the state of the world lately. But, between the CA Supreme Court ruling yesterday striking down the ban on gay marriage, and the calm, patient drama outside my window, maybe things aren’t so bad after all.

Virtuous confusion

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Back when I was in the NKT (New Kadampa Tradition) it was highly discouraged to read other Buddhist authors other than Geshe-la, or to take teachings from other traditions. If you did you were deemed a “mixer” and therefore not serious about your spiritual path. And while there was no written rule to this effect, once you got past the introductory programs, it was became pretty evident. The reason for this, we were told, was that it would divert us from the path that Geshe-la very clearly delineated in his books and study programs, and in general would just confuse us.

And you know what? They were absolutely right. Ever since I have started reading other Buddhist authors and exploring other traditions, I am confused. Which is refreshing. And disquieting. Refreshingly disquieting. Definitely not comfortable.

There was great comfort in my good fortune to happen upon Kadampa Buddhism and the very clearly laid out teachings. I will be forever grateful for their study programs which gave me such a good grounding in basic Buddhist principles. The fact that it was a fairly rigorous study program appealed to me and played to my strengths. I’ve always been a bit of a smarty pants. I catch on to intellectual concepts very easily, and can piece them together with other concepts to get a sense of the bigger picture. I’m good that way. With physical endeavors, not so much. But sitting on my ass thinking about shit? Oh bring it on, baby.

The method of meditation that I learned combined analytical contemplation with placement meditation. In other words, we would be meditating on an idea we had learned in our studies. In the analytical part of the contemplation we would deeply consider the topic, compare it with our own experience, use our imagination, etc. Once we had gotten to the object of the meditation – a determination or conclusion – we would focus on our mind on that single-pointedly, trying to deepen that feeling or thought and taking it from a merely intellectual construct to something we know in our heart. Our basic practice was Lam Rim – aka, the stages of the path – and by doing our round of the 21 meditations we would become deeply familiar with all the stages of the path to enlightenment. And while by doing this practice for a decade I definitely have a good grounding in the Buddhist path, but I think like many of my friends and others I have known in the NKT, I got a bit too fascinated by the map, and lost sight of the ultimate destination – enlightenment.

My new teacher, Anam Thubten, is not big on categorizing himself in terms of tradition. He’s slippery, that one. But, he keeps hitting home the point that we have to go beyond mere concepts because on the other side, there lies enlightenment. Great. Awesome. Count me in. I loves me some Heart Sutra. Yet, when I sit down to meditate and try to let go on my concepts, well . . . I just end up focusing on my breathing, which isn’t the point either.

So, since I seem to be lacking in any kind of practice of awareness or mindfulness, I decided to take an six week Introduction to Vipassana course at out Spirit Rock. Spirit Rock and Vipassana feels worlds away from the my experience in Tibetan traditions. So, there was a part of me that was desperately trying to fit what the young, very soft-spoken teacher was saying with what I already knew. I even mentally rolled our eyes when he asked us to lay on the floor and do an exercise I consider more a part of yoga than I do Buddhism. Oh lordy, aware of my body? I don’t do body awareness, thank you very much. May I get back in my head, please?

But, I’m staying open and giving it a try. It’s just another facet of the jewel that I haven’t explored yet. I need to suspend my judgment, and just let the questions arise and not stress out when the answers don’t come.

Dirty Laundry

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As far as the major religions go, Buddhism has a pretty good reputation. In general, we don’t go around embarrassing ourselves in public on a major scale. You’ve never seen stories about pedophile Buddhist monks, nor are we associated with terrorism in people’s minds. We don’t have any problems with evolution and seem to be pretty chill with the whole gay marriage thing. Our panties don’t tend to get into a twist about other people’s very personal choices. Overall, we don’t tend to make a big fuss or even statements about political matters. And hell, and the most famous Buddhist in the world is a beloved public figure with a great laugh, twinkly eyes and a Nobel Peace Prize under his robes, to boot.

So, when the whole issue of Tibet comes up, the Dalai Lama and the Tibet supporters tend to get a very sympathetic hearing. Even people who don’t understand the whole history of the issue tend to come down on the side of Tibet simply because the picture in their minds of the Dalai Lama and Buddhist monks and nuns is that of peace and compassion. This positive image is a huge weapon in the arsenal of the pro-Tibet camp.

Oh? What’s this? Why are these Buddhist monks and nuns protesting the Dalai Lama? Oh lordy, lordy, it’s Tibetan Buddhism’s dirty laundry getting strung up for all the world to see. It’s the Dorje Shudgden controversy rearing its ugly head again.

The controversy is quite complex and there are plenty of resources on the web on both sides if you really want to dig deep. (Also for further information about the NKT that is free from the NKT PR machine, please see go here) However, here’s a thumbnail sketch from my perspective: Years ago, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (aka Geshe-la) who is the founder of the New Kadampa Tradition got into a rift with the Dalai Lama over a dharma protector/demon (depending on your view) named Dorje Shugden. My feeble understanding is that the Dalai Lama views Dorje Shugden as a demon who is out to harm the Dalai Lama as well as the future of Tibet. In 1996 he asked his followers to no longer engage in any practices worshipping/propitiating to Dorje Shugden. To do so would be to go against His Holiness’ well being as well as the Tibetan cause. Geshe-la, on the other hand, views Dorje Shugden to be an integral part of the lineage that both he and the Dalai Lama share. In fact, to NOT do Dorje Shugden practice would be going against their teacher Trijang Rimpoche. In Tibet, after the ban, reports say that Dorje Shugden practitioners were being oppressed and harassed. The conflict gets ugly and people on both sides are harmed, and even murdered. Geshe-la joins the fight on the side of the Shugden practitioners and calls for his students in the NKT to protest the Dalai Lama outside his speaking engagements in the States and Europe. The reputation of the NKT got pretty tarnished. Geshe-la eventually gave up the cause publicly. The NKT continued to practice Shugden. Outside certain Tibetan Buddhist circles no one really cared.

Apparently, because there has been recent activity against Shugden practitioners in Tibet, the NKT is once again taking up the picket line against the Dalai Lama. When I first heard this, I shook my head in dismay. While my NKT days are now behind me, I still have good friends who study and practice within the NKT. These may be very confusing times for them. I remember when I was asked to participate in the protests of a decade ago. Here I was this relatively new practitioner, and being offered a free trip to New York City. New York City!? I love New York! Oh, if I accept the free trip, I have to participate in the protest against the Dalai Lama . . . uh . . . um . . . no, no thank you. The issue made me uncomfortable then, and it makes me uncomfortable now.

I don’t know who is wrong or who is right, or if there is even a wrong or a right in the matter. If the Dalai Lama is truly oppressing the people who wish to practice Shugden, that is wrong. Right? I mean, most people would agree that religious intolerance is wrong, and when we see it happening, good hearted people should stand up for the oppressed. Yet, doesn’t the Dalai Lama, as the spiritual leader of most of Tibetan Buddhism, have a right to change doctrine? But, what about his role as the political leader of Tibet? Can you truly have both a political and spiritual leader without advocating a theocracy? Tibet is really the only country I know where people long for the old days of the theocracy.

I guess my real problem is the timing of these protests. With the Beijing Olympics putting the Tibet issue on the front page, how messed up is it that a splinter group comes and tries to move the spotlight into this little known corner of Tibetan infighting. I mean, come on . . . Also, the NKT, as an organization seems to be going through some turbulent times and people’s faith is really being put to the test. Who knows, maybe that is the point. Maybe the point is shake people out of their comfort zone, to strip them of their attachment to good reputation and to test if they truly have reliance upon their spiritual guide. I don’t understand it. I’m really hoping that the reasons behind the protests do have to do with religious freedom and justice, and not anger or power or wanting to suck up to the Chinese government.

I’m glad this is not my battle. I don’t want to fight. All I can do is pray: may everyone be happy, and may everyone be free from misery.

Feeling da funk

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I don’t have to look far to see people who are a lot worse off than I am.  My best friend just broke up with his partner of three years and his heart is broken.  He is the midst of the kind of sadness that literally takes your  breath away and robs you of your sleep.  A colleague at work struggles with her young daughter receiving a possibly life threatening diagnosis.  My brother is living with a currently untreatable cancer.  Turning on the news, a whole  other level of suffering is exposed.  My problems are very, very small.

Having this perspective is certainly helpful . . . most of the time.  Yet, at times my minor problems can cause me some major suffering.  Right now, I’m pretty miserable at work.  Depending on the day, I feel unappreciated, bored, paranoid and/or isolated.   It’s not a pretty way to spend eight hours a day.  After my mistake of last week, I’m still feeling pretty wobbly in regards to my reputation at work.   Which combined with generally scary news about the economy, sends me into a minor panic about my job security.  I’m not having fun.

It’s truly amazing how much suffering we create for ourselves because of this attachment to a picture we have of ourselves in our mind.  In my mind, I am smart, I am capable, I am likable.  Yet, right now for the bulk of my day, five days a week,  all that is in question.  Others question it, and now I question it.  Of course, I have friends I can call that will assure me I am all that and a bag of chips.   Lately, it feels like more and more I’m needing that reassurance and I’m reaching for my cell phone on my long drive home to hear the voice of someone, anyone who cares about me. 

At work, when I can, I like to listen to dharma podcasts.  My favorite is Ajahn Brahm out of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia.  He’s a Brit who has become a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition.  He’s got a wicked sense of humor, and doesn’t seem to be big on the whole piety thing.  In the talk I listened to yesterday he was saying “suffering is asking from life what it can never give you.”  That’s it, isn’t it.  I’m asking for the rest of the world to buy into how I view myself.  I’m asking of myself to never make mistakes.  I’m asking everyone to like me and “get” me.   If someone told me that that were their expectations of themselves and the world, I would tell them that’s impossible, and it’s their silly expectations that are making them suffer.  Look in the mirror, you silly LazyBuddhist, look in the mirror.

This next week I’m taking a week off of work.  Do some work around the house, read a book, sleep in, take the cats to the vet, and then finish up the week with a lovely weekend in Carmel with my best friend.  Life really isn’t so bad, is it?

Not quite a dharma adventure

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When a colleague of mine from work, Beth, told me with great enthusiasm that she wanted to attend the Empowering the Awakening Divine day course at Spirit Rock, I was a bit taken aback. “Really?” I asked. “Really.” she confirmed. “Huh . . . OK . . . sure.” So, we signed up, plunking down a fair chunk of change (though the cost was comparable to other similar events I have attended.)

The reason for my surprise was that Beth is perhaps one of the most anti-religious people I know, and this particular event, an empowerment, is one of the most seemingly religious of ceremonies in Buddhism. Beth has a passing interest in Buddhism, though I’ve always assumed that was just so we would have something to talk about other than work. But, when it comes to any form of religion, Beth is still carrying lots of bitterness, bordering on trauma, from being raised Mormon. She describes her upbringing and the first part of adulthood as if she had been a prisoner. Beth is a bright, well-educated woman with both an RN degree and an MBA, and rather than being congratulated and encouraged for her accomplishments and drive, she felt as if she was always being herded back into the kitchen. I think the only good she feels she got out of those years is her two adult kids, who have turned out really well. So, I was very surprised at her interest in a class described as: Read the rest of this entry

Yet another dharma adventure

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I called my good friend John at 5:30 yesterday to see if he wanted to join me on an impromptu dharma adventure.  There was a teaching at 6:30 that evening in San Rafael, just a few minutes away from our respective homes.  John, demonstrating that he is an even lazier Buddhist than myself, said he hadn’t left the house all day, hadn’t shaved or showered and had no plans to do so despite my entreaties.  We ended up chatting for another half an hour or so, until it was almost too late for me to get to the teaching on time. 

The rain was blowing sideways on the San Rafael bridge and increasing in strength by the minute.  I knew vaguely where I was going, which entailed going right through the stop light laden downtown San Rafael.  I missed every light.  Every single one.  By the time I got in the general vicinity of the dharma center, it was raining so hard I couldn’t see the addresses. I pulled into three different driveways before I finally found the correct one. 

I dashed through the rain to the storefront that housed the Sukhasiddha Foundation.  The class had already begun but despite the drama in getting there I was only a few minutes late.  The walls of the gompa were covered with many beautiful tangkas, and the shrine was covered with the familiar offering bowls and tormas.  There were many pictures of Tibetan monks on the wall.  The room looked a bit empty with only 10 students there.

The teacher, Lama Dondrop Drolma, a young ordained woman was at the front of the room.  She had a gentle manner, and unlike some teachers I have seen, she seemed very humble, and perhaps even a bit shy.  I wouldn’t say she was charismatic, but she seemed trust worthy. 

The guided meditation was really lovely, and went beyond mere breathing or mindfulness, to a contemplation of the nature of the mind.  The teaching was an introduction to bodhicitta, material I am very familiar with.   Unlike the NKT where the Tibetan aspect of the lineage is played down, this teacher  included Tibetan and Saskrit origins of common terms.  Her teaching was very clear and let the material itself inspire us rather than a lot of stories and analogies.

For me, the material was a little elementary.  I want to feel challenged, to be shown a different facet of the dharma jewel.  I’ll check out another class or two, and maybe attend a puja.   There may be a connection there.  We’ll see.  The quest continues.

The comfort of the familiar

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One of my old (or shall I say former, he’d hate to be called old) meditation students asked me if I wouldn’t mind accompanying him to the main regional NKT temple to hear a teaching. He was growing weary of the relentless cheerfulness of the teacher who had replaced me and was considering coming into the City for the weekly class if he liked the teacher better. So, I agreed to meet him for dinner and to take in a teaching at the temple.

It has been at least two months since I have attended anything sponsored by the NKT, which is the longest I’ve been away in the ten years I was involved. I’ve been off doing my own thing and enjoying it thoroughly. And during this time, I’ve been following the very busy NKT Survivors email discussion list, which validated that I was doing the right thing by leaving. Many people on that forum feel as if the NKT has done them great harm and feel quite angry, and/or are fully convinced that the NKT is an evil cult. I have been trying to maintain a mind of equanimity about the organization, and even gratitude for the dharma I have learned there.

It was odd to be in the temple again. So many beautiful statues and thangkas. It felt like the giant Buddha statue greeted me as an old friend. The room was filled with unfamiliar faces, but as I began to settle in I started seeing old, good “Buddha buds” scattered in the audience. The teacher was warm, unassuming and self-deprecating. Her teaching style gives you a lot of space to come to your own conclusions. Yet, because of everything I knew, everything I had been through I couldn’t completely relax into it.

It felt like seeing an ex-boyfriend with whom you had an amicable break. He wasn’t a bad guy, in fact he had a lot of good qualities. But, there were reasons why you broke up. Good reasons. Yet, when you see him again you are drawn in by the familiarity, the acceptance and all the good memories. You start to trivialize all the bad stuff – he wasn’t really all that bad. Sure, maybe he could be a little creepy and controlling at times, but isn’t that what intimacy is all about? I mean, once you get close enough, everyone can seem at least a little creepy, right? Right?

That draw of familiarity and acceptance is powerful. It’s probably the same dynamic that keeps people in bad, even destructive, relationships. It would be so easy to just stay. No questing, no questioning. Take the bad with the good. If I could just focus on my practice and not pay attention to all the annoying merit grabbers or some of the more cult-like aspects of the organization, it would be fine, just fine. Here have a homemade cookie. Have a cup of kool-aid . . .

No. No thank you.

The quest continues. My friends and I have a meeting in a couple of weeks with the teacher from the Dakini Temple, Anan Thubten Rinpoche. We opted to meet with him together as we are all NKT refugees and have similar questions and concerns. I’ve been to three of his teachings so far and I’ve been impressed (for lack of a better word). There is also another trip or two scheduled out to Spirit Rock, and another teacher I would like to check just across the Bay. And the writings of Pema Chodron continue to touch my heart and blow my mind.

And I just keep a-stumblin’ . . .

Another dharma adventure

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Tonight, my band of merry NKT outcasts and I drove out to Spirit Rock Meditation Center in west Marin County for a teaching by Sylvia Boorstein, a Buddhist teacher and author, and co-founder of Spirit Rock.  It’s funny, most everyone who has even a passing interest in Buddhism in the Bay Area has been to Spirit Rock at some point in their spiritual quest.  But, this was my first time.  In my mind Spirit Rock was for those who wanted Buddhism to make them feel all warm and fuzzy.  In other words, not for serious practitioners like myself (yes, I’ve made such progress in reducing the ego, eh?) 

There were probably about 300-350 or so people comfortably crowded into an unremarkable, low-ceilinged room.  While everyone was getting seated, Sylvia sat in front and smiled like the beneficent grandmother we all wish we had had.  Such a soft and lovely presence, with eyes filled with mirth and kindness.  Even though it felt like it took for ever for people to get settled,  she showed no sign of impatience or annoyance.   The crowd, like most I’ve encountered at Buddhist events, was overwhelmingly white and mostly middle-aged, though this group did have its share of younger people. 

Her dharma talk was filled with personal stories which illustrate how the dharma shows up in our lives daily and in every moment.  It felt like she threw a lot out there in terms of analogies and anecdotes, so almost everyone could grab a piece and take it home with them.  For my friends Steve and Rae, they loved the analogy of the big screen TV with the picture within a picture.  For most of us, we are always looking at our own lives projected in the big picture, and the rest of the world is tiny and in the corner.  If we wish to be happy we need to reverse that view.  Me, I liked the saying “Life is difficult.  How can we not be kind?”  It was the kind of dharma talk that didn’t necessarily challenge you, but rather left you feeling inspired and yes, warm and fuzzy – and wanting to adopt Sylvia as your mom or grandma or neighbor.

As my friend Deborah and I drove home we noted that lack of a real structure or detail in her talk. I felt inspired – yes!  I want develop this mind of loving-kindness, it sounds awesome!  I want to put others in the big picture!  But how we are to accomplish that wasn’t really addressed. 

So, for myself and my friends, the quest continues.  Geshe-la’s presentation of the dharma is very clear as to method, but what it lacked in the teachings was often the humanity and inspiration.  Teachings such as tonight were all about the humanity and inspiration.  I’m still looking for the middle way in presenting the Middle Way.

My year in review

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Today is the first day off I’ve had in months (except, of course, weekends and holidays). I’m looking forward to just lounging around in my jammies, doing some reading and just puttering around the house.

With the project at work installed and working properly, I’ve had some time to reflect on my crazy year and to start thinking about what I want for the year ahead.

January: At this time last year, I was doing my Vajrayogini counting retreat in the comfort of my own home. It was a month of solitude, eight to ten hours a day of meditation, chanting and mantra recitation, and ultimately, a sore butt. I was amazed I was capable of such discipline and focus, being as I am a very lazy Buddhist. It’s hard to say what I got out of it spiritually, but in retrospect I believe it gave me the self-assurance and self-confidence to get through the bumpy months ahead. Something definitely deepened, but it’s hard to put a label on it.

February & March: I was appointed Education Program Coordinator at my dharma center, which meant much more responsibility and hours. During this time, I also had to tell my teacher that, in short, she was a bitch. Drama ensued.

April: I moved a mere 50 yards away from an apartment where I had lived for nine years to a cute little cottage. In nine years it’s pretty easy to accumulate lot of shit. Listened to the boyfriend’s nonstop griping about how many books I owned. Every time I packed up a box of books he would inquire “OK, these are for donation, right?” And almost every time I would say “no, those are keepers”. Moving, no matter how far away is a painful process. But, my little cottage is so much nicer, and I have managed to keep it much neater.

May & June: The workload at the dharma center doubled with many events and projects that had to be accomplished by mid-June. Between the dharma center, a full time job and the boyfriend, I had very little time to myself. And when I don’t get enough quiet time to myself, it’s hard to function. Depression starts to set in.

July & August: My beloved cat, Nomie got very sick and died. Damn, I loved that cat, and still really miss her. I canceled my planned trip to the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) Summer Festival in England in order to help her either recover or die. My dharma teacher, who as in England at the time offered zero support. My faith was shaken. My depression deepened.

September: A small woodland creature hops into my life. I name him Mr. Binkles. At first he is sweet and cuddly, and then after a week or two he becomes the feistiest, most ornery little bugger I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. My relationship with my teacher continues to deteriorate. I announced I’m taking a break from my duties at the dharma center. My depression starts to lift as I start to plan on my post-NKT life.

October: My teacher is deported. And while there was some drama as to who was going to take over her classes, I feel freed from whatever binds I still had with the NKT. The depression is a thing of the past. Mr. Binkles gets neutered and becomes a much nicer pet. Sasquatch, my sweet, gentle, very large and very strong Maine Coon cat, loses his mind, bites me hard and sends me to the ER.

November & December: Work takes over my life. Weekends and 60 – 70 hour weeks. Lots of pressure, many, many hours. However, I remain pretty happy. New dharma teachers are entering my life through books, friends, and I even find a Buddhist temple a mere few blocks away. Despite the holidays and the unrelenting work, my mood was pretty good.

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While there were certainly losses last year, on the whole I think I came out of it in the plus column. As my built-in sangha started to collapse, if I wanted to maintain these relationships, I had bring these friends into the whole of life. Maintaining friendships has always been challenging for me. Picking up the phone simply to chat and touch base was unheard of. Now, I actually have to consider getting more minutes on my cell phone plan. I feel so fortunate to have the friends I do.

I bare no anger or grudge against my former NKT teachers and associates. We’re all just trying our best. The NKT provided the structure and support I needed to start a practice and to understand Buddha’s teachings. But, I no longer need those training wheels. I can ride this bike on my own now, and it feels very exciting and liberating.

For this next year, I want to find some way to help people directly. But, I’m still figuring that out. It would be nice if I found a spiritual home, but if I don’t, I sure plan on enjoying the journey.

Thank you all for reading. And I wish you all health & happiness in the new year and for always.