Baby It’s Cold Outside

This year, for the first time since 1962, we had snow fall on Christmas day; a teaser for what was yet to come. A few days later the news forecasted up to 36 inches to blanket the Cascades. Knowing how much I enjoy tromping in the snow, my daughter Amy phoned to invite Alistair and I on a snowshoeing trek. Within twelve hours she and her partner Michelle bundled us into their car, shoved lattes and McMuffins into our hands and drove us to our frozen destination. The excitement was palpable. It took real effort on my part to try and maintain some equipoise.

Once we found the trailhead and strapped on our snowshoes we headed into the forested landscape. The climb was steep. I expected we’d catch our breaths and chatter once we rounded the peak’s corner, yet instead of conversation, everything muted; color softened and sound dampened. Even the songs of the birds seemed clipped of unnecessary gaggle. Enveloped in natures calm I felt cooled to the bone.

Won’t You Guide My Mind Tonight ?

Ajahn Thanissaro visited our center recently. I’m guessing his teachings took on a variety of themes dependent on the individuals of his audience. A theme that emerged for me was to actively take responsibility for the atmosphere of my heart and mind by paying attention to what perceptions I gave my attention to.

As mentioned in my last post, my current practice is focused on loosening my grip around some particular out-of-date perceptions. Sure, these perception were useful in their time but, as with all things that arise, these too are beginning to age. The question now is ‘can I learn how to let them die’? Well maybe not before I learn how to stop giving them so much attention. Applying Ajahn’s advice seemed a good direction to head . . .

I spent the best part of yesterday trying to put together a slide show for the Upasika program’s second anniversary celebration this Saturday. After several failed attempts to burn a disk of the completed project I finally gave up. When I noticed my mood begin to slip I brought Ajahn’s teachings back to mind and took responsibility for dwelling on the perception of failure. Hours of frustration were indulged before I recalled Ajahn’s advice to purposefully place attention on objects that don’t give rise to suffering. I took immediate action . . . I’m afraid Ajahn would not be proud but what I did next was to turn off the computer and turn on the T.V., made a big bowl a popcorn, put my feet up on the coffee table and watched my all-time-favorite Christmas claymation “Rudolf the Red Nose Raindeer” . . . I mean really, who doesn’t love seeing misfits reach their true potential?

It’s a blizzard in this brain of mine: good thing there’s bright lights to lead the way.
Ajahn Chah feeding deer at his monastery in Ubon, Thailand

Letting My Hair Down

I began this blog with a somewhat narrow ambition: create a space to share the joy that arises from my activities with the Portland Friends of the Dhamma. As the Buddhist center grows I’m finding my involvement and responsibilities appropriately shifting and surprise, surprise, the changes do not always lead to the arising of joy, heh, heh, heh. Hmmmmm . . . My focus for this blog is no longer quite so lofty. Rather, it now expands to a broader purpose of sharing my practice via the challenges and rewards that arise while aiming toward noble and skilfull balance. Kind of like letting go of blissful expectations; let the hair down, the wind blow and the tangles be known. So, in the spirit of sharing “This Upasika Life”, let the blogging proceed.

Notice the top knot of the Buddh’as hair in his lap

A bit of history: Portland Friends of the Dhamma sprung out of a desire to establish and nourish a sense of contact with the Abhayagiri community. As this contact grew I began to seek out others who also found the Ajahn Chah lineage inspiring and began to invite a person here and there, to gather together in the style of the Abhayagiri Monastery.

Within a few months I met Barbara Backstrand and Chris Robson, it was clear we shared a deep appreciation for our meditation styles and decided to anchor our connection with Abhayagiri. We wrote a mission statement, signed a lease on a lovely space and founded the Portland Friends of the Dhamma. That was nearly eight years ago. Barbara and Chris have both moved on, the community has grown and my role as founder is now changing.

The morphing of a founder’s responsibilities is not always an easy or pleasant undertaking. Still I believe it is a necessary step for any expanding community that intends to remain healthy and available to all it draws toward its purpose. I hope to write about the process of morphing, how to approach this as a follower of the Buddha’s example and as one living well “This Upasika Life”.


Clear Sign: Foggy Morning

Heavy fog tumbled in through the open windowpane of my bedroom this early dawn and complimented the “Good sign” which hung in formation to my first waking thoughts.

Like many artist I often ‘see’ a thought before recognizing the ‘feelings’ constructing it. Having nowhere to go and nothing pressing to do, I decided to sit with this image and wait for the architect to arrive.

Good Sign

Hmmmmmm . . . white letter on green back ground . . .

waiting . . .waiting . . . waiting . . .

What is today anyway? . . .

waiting . . .waiting . . . waiting . . .

Oh . . . I know . . . its Uposatha Day . . .

waiting . . .waiting . . . waiting . . .

Pleasant feeling . . . hmmmmmmmmm . . .

“Now this IS a ‘Good Sign’; a pleasant feeling is coming up when thinking its Uposatha day . . . hmmmmm . . .

waiting . . .waiting . . . waiting . . .

And sometimes the thoughts that come up make me laugh:
“Since I’ll only be eating one meal today I’m likely to shed a pound or two. Maybe I’ll do a short run just to make sure.”

Searching for something deeper, I encouraged the “Good Sign” to hang in my consciousness while I got out of bed, closed the window and headed downstairs to make coffee.

So here I sit at my computer with this sign hanging just to the the upper left of my consciousness. With a whole lot of effort and persistence I just might keep this “Good Sign” around till it reveals itself. Which of course may be no more than saying “I am good”, and if so then just ‘who’ would the joke be on any way?

Meeting Ruth

Ruth Dennison whirled through the Abhayagiri Monastery in good speed and with good deed. I was lucky to have traveled the 626 southerly miles a few days earlier and hence present for Ruth’s Dhamma. I was touched by her manners, her easy courage and natural strength. There she sat in the top corner of the darkened shrine room. Candlelight emphasized a sparkling mind and wrinkled body.

Growing up I hadn’t recognize a female role model to emulate. Understandably so as few could live up to the lofty standards scripted in the Catholic publications delivered weekly in our mailbox. There were so many amazing women, all of them strong, honest and dead. It was easy to project wisdom in their silence. At six years of age I could figure it out; my family wasn’t silent, so my family wasn’t wise . . .

Ruth didn’t care when she meandered or that she would sometimes fall asleep between pauses. It was all just part of her expression, part of her truth, part of her Dhamma.
At 53 I should be able to figure this out. I met up with a female I wanted to emulate, and she wasn’t silent, and she wasn’t dead.