Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Screw Fairies & Alpacas

Here I am earlier today at physical therapy.  Look closely.  See the sweet alpaca finger puppet?  I'm trying to instigate finger puppet day on Wednesdays in the clinic.  So far it hasn't really taken off, I'm the only patient using a small woven toy to get through the sessions.  But that's okay, it isn't easy to start a fad.  And my cute little friend makes everyone smile.

Look closely again.  See my foot on the wooden blocks?  Someone will slowly slide them back and make my knee bend.  At first it's fine, then it gets painful, then it gets excruciating.  Then I am not smiling at the puppet but squeezing him and chanting my favorite PT mantra "Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow".  Aaaaah.  Life in the rehab retreat is not easy.

What you don't see in the photo are the three large screws that the surgeon removed on September 7th.  Here they are - the lip balm shows you the size.
I kept them and put them under my pillow hoping the Screw Fairies would come and leave me a present.  No such luck.  All I got were some painkillers, an ice pack, and five holes in my knee.  Alas.  Life in the rehab retreat is not easy.  I spent a few weeks in a narcotic haze; my good spirits and emotional outlook got a little bleak.  It seemed like I would be housebound forever and never learn to walk again.

But I just kept practicing. And somehow these past few days, there was a sudden lightening of my mood, more space, more humor, more compassion for others. I might feel depressed and stagnant and stuck but I never lose faith in the teachings.  When I suffer, when destructive emotions get the best of me, I know it is not a failing of the dharma, but of my ability to apply it.  Dig deeper I tell myself.  Rise above.  Refocus.  Breathe.  Let go.  Pray.

I am so tired of being sick and tired.  I want to leave the house by myself.  I want to be out in the world on my own.  Not yet says my karma.  What to do?  Dig deep.  Rise above.  Refocus.  It is temporary.  It is a wonderful opportunity to practice.  It is a way to be more empathic.  Turn your mind towards what is working, what is positive, and how you can help others.  Sometimes I need to re-orient every day, every hour, or sometimes moment by moment.

All in all my life isn't so bad when I focus on what Buddhists call the freedoms and riches.  I remind myself how lucky I am to be alive.  To have a mind that works.  The only thing I need to accomplish my aim in life is a mind that works.  Even if I never walk, if I limp, if I have chronic pain it doesn't matter.  If my mind works then enlightenment is possible.  Wow! How amazing is that?  I think all of us can see that our problems aren't as bad as we think.

This week my mind turns toward the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head.  My heartmind is with her. I send my prayers over the ocean.  I tell her "Come on, you can make it".  I thank her for being brave and outspoken, for inspiring us to do better.  And then I pray for the perpetrators, may they find compassion in their hearts.  May they stop the violence.

Her story has helped me gain perspective.  It has opened my heart.  For that I say thank you.

And on a final note - get a finger puppet!  I promise it will make you smile.  Use it to refocus on what is good and right and positive in your life.  Remember: what we focus on becomes our reality.  Every moment we have the choice.

Thank you for all your kindness and support.  May you be healthy, happy, and at ease. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Easy Chocolate Custard


Sometimes temporary can seem like a really long time.  It has only been four months since being hit by the aforementioned GMC truck.  In the scope of a life, four months is not much.  Yet it somehow feels like forever these days.  Four months of pain, displaced housing, lack of mobility, decreased freedom, and bureaucratic piles can turn into an eternity if I don't keep watch on my mind.  Time does not add up, right?  Time doesn't even exist.  I may have written that before, it bears repeating because we humans have such a habit of making time solid and eternal.  Four calendar months don't actually exist in this present moment. 

And yet I heard myself say the other day inside my head "I wish something really good would happen to me".  RED FLAG ALERT!  My next thought was "Oh no, I have slipped far from the path.  Best to tend to this now before it grows". 

Let us examine that particular sentence.  I wish something really good would happen to me.  Who is this "I"?  Just like time, you cannot find the "I".  Yep, doesn't exist except on the relative level where things are continually falling apart.  "I" is a construct of the deluded mind which does not see things as they truly are.  Oops.  There are different levels of "I" as taught by Tsoknyi Rinpoche and the only one we need to survive is called the Mere I.  Sadly, the "I" in this statement is not the Mere I, it is more like the Self-Cherishing I or the Reified I.  Part of the I, me, mine triune.  No bueno.

So this non-existent, self-absorbed I makes a wish.  Wishes are big trouble except when in the form of "I wish all beings could be free of suffering".  Otherwise wishes are the naughty cousins of hopes and fears; they are the playground of the egoic, habitual mind.  This kind of wish means "I cannot accept what is happening to me."  It creates an obstruction instead of an opening. 

Something really good would happen...When the egoic I wishes something good would happen, it means something materially comfortable. Anam Thubten reminds us again and again, don't take refuge in comfort. Take refuge in the dharma.  And, according to Buddhism, which clearly is the team I'm on, the best thing that could happen to me already did.  I have a human rebirth with a mind that functions and it is what we call precious because I have met with the dharma and the path to liberation.  Does it get any better than that? 

And finally back to "me".  I wish something really good would happen to ME.  Oh no, there it is again.  I is making wishes for me.  I absolutely loves me.  The problem is I only loves me.  I has completely forgotten everything else. 

When I took the time to look closer at what I was actually saying, I was a little embarrassed.  Which is why I'm posting it here.  Let it have lots of fresh air and sunlight.  Am I going to keep perpetuating the samsara in my mind, or am I going to break through and transform?  The choice happens every instant doesn't it?  Let's remind each other when we hear ourselves wishing only for comfort and temporary happiness.  The best thing that could happen is to be joyful no matter what.  No matter what.  And the choice is ours.

Thank you for your continued love and support.  Here is what's happening on the physical level...I am walking with a cane for the most part, and learning to walk on my own two feet some of the time!  I no longer wear a neck brace except in the car.  I am practicing turning my head and strengthening my neck muscles.  Physical therapy takes up a lot of my day.  Tomorrow I move to a different friend's house - thank you Carolyn! And I go in for another leg surgery on September 7th.  My knee is having a hard time bending so two screws will be removed to see if it helps. 

When we find ourselves feeling impatient, instead of wishing things were different we can make this delicious and quick Chocolate Custard.  It is so easy you won't believe it.  Share it with some friends and enjoy the moment!

EASY CHOCOLATE CUSTARD
6 oz dark chocolate, 70 percent organic fair-trade
1 1/4 cups half-n-half, organic (you can sub coconut milk if you like)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 organic farm fresh egg, room temp

In the bowl of a food processor, chop the chocolate to very fine pieces.  In a small pot, heat the half-n-half to just below the boil - you will see little bubbles on the edge.  Off the heat add the vanilla and cinnamon, whisk to combine.  Pour the hot liquid over the chocolate and let it stand for 45 seconds.  Process for 30 seconds.  With the machine running, pour the egg down the spout and continue to process for almost one minute.

Pour into little ramekins, juice jars, or cute cups.  Let chill in fridge at least 6 hours.  Can be made a day in advance.  Let stand at room temp 15 minutes before serving. 

Optional garnishes: whipped cream, chopped pistachios, toasted almonds, whatever you like

ENJOY!!


 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Brave & Bendy


Bravery has become a central concept in my world.  Before this accident, I don't remember waking up and needing to focus on cultivating bravery.  I don't remember developing self-talk mantras aimed at helping me fearlessly face the day and tolerate pain.  "I am brave."  "I can do it."  "It's only pain."  "Whatever happens I can deal with it."  Or when the physical therapy leaves me biting a towel, whimpering, and crying, my favorite is "I am brave and bendy."  I say it over and over hoping the tight tendons in my knee will hear me.  I am brave and bendy.  I am brave and bendy.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche (above) has remarked many times that to be a good Buddhist practitioner we must have yak hearts.  And it proves true for this rehab retreat.  I must have a yak heart, no chicken hearts allowed.

The thing is...bravery works.  Bravery becomes a special force, a magical power, a source of strength.  In the morning, I start by saying "how does bravery feel in my body?".  Then I let the feeling permeate my cells. I want to marinate in bravery before going to the PT clinic.  Bravery is unique, it's a combination of openness, confidence, and willingness.  Sometimes bravery cries.  Sometimes bravery feels afraid.  But it keeps on going.  And not like a martyr.  But like a warrior.

My rehab requires that I engage in painful activities, it requires that the physical therapist push me beyond my limits.  I have to overcome feeling terrified to return to that clinic day after day.  I have to learn to walk again.  So bravery is essential.  And I think I'll be a better person for it.  I think intimacy with bravery opens my heart somehow.  It makes me want to encourage everyone...Be brave! You can do it!

Where in our lives are we shying away from our greatness, from our strengths?  Where do we need a little push?  Where is fear getting the best of us?  Can we be more brave?  Can we be more bendy?  How can we be more fearless, more flexible?

I encourage all of us to invite bravery into the day.  Whatever we think we cannot face, we cannot change, we cannot surmount, I think with a yak heart...we can.

Thank you to everyone who has inquired about my healing journey...here are some brief updates:

I am still in Santa Barbara.  I no longer wear a neck or leg brace!  I use only one crutch.  And I am slowly learning how to take baby steps on my own.  My main focus is on gaining flexion in my knee.  I am slowly learning to turn my head again.  I appreciate your continued love and support.  Thank you!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Forgiveness

Here are some updates from the Rehab Retreat...thank you to everyone for your well-wishes and support.  Here I am with Tami Sherman at the exquisite SB Farmer's Market.  She and her family have been kind enough to welcome me into their home.  I get to laugh and play and be around a family of five, a dog, a bird, three chickens, and a snake!

The farmer's market is brimming this time of year with earthly delights...it is one of my simple pleasures to get some farm fresh food and cook at home.  I love seeing my farmer friends and eating their bounty.  Thank you farmers!

This week also marked the sentencing hearing for Mr. Gomez, the driver of the truck that hit me.  As the victim of a crime, I was invited to read an impact statement in front of the court.  How powerful to express myself in front of Mr. Gomez and everyone there.  The court allowed me to make a recommendation for sentencing and I asked that in lieu of jail time that Mr. Gomez be given more community service.  To my surprise they accepted.  I just didn't see how going to jail would be useful to anyone. 

After the sentencing, Mr. Gomez came up to me.  He apologized sincerely for what he had done and asked for my forgiveness.  I took his hand in mine and said, "I forgive you.  I do.  I forgive you."  We both had tears in our eyes, and later it struck me, that is how peace happens.  The best part is that the forgiveness came spontaneously and effortlessly from my heart.  Many times in life, I have had to struggle to get to forgiveness, but for whatever reason, this experience has been different.  I am different.

When I reflect on what has changed, the only thing I can imagine is that Buddhism has deeply transformed me.  Sitting on the cushion day after day, it isn't as clear that change is happening.  Yet somehow, when I awoke in the emergency room, I felt as if a powerful positive force had entered me.  I said to myself, "No matter what happens, I can deal with it". 

To stand in front of Mr. Gomez, look into his eyes, hold his hand, and offer fogiveness is one of the most potent moments of my life.  It freed both of us.  It was the powerful force inside me, that universal force, that got me to that place. 

So I guess my point is...if we really want to transform, to be more kind, more patient, more loving, and more connected, we can't get there with our brains.  We must dig deep into our hearts and root out what keeps us angry, selfish, and lonely.  We cannot think our way to forgiveness.  The only way is to open our hearts, and I think meditation is the best tool for that.  Sitting quietly, breathing, and opening the heart is the antidote to suffering.

Everyone left the courtroom feeling lighter and joyful.  Thanks to the power of forgiveness what could have been an awful experience turned out to be freeing.  And I can't take credit for it really, it came through me, but it is bigger than all of us.  What a blessing.  I wish you the same and may you be well.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Party for One


Party for one, that's a pity party!  I had my first post-accident full-blown pity party a couple weeks ago.  Oh aren't they so sad?  I know you've been there too.  And I write this not so we can commiserate, but so we can stop the madness.  No more pity parties.

You might be thinking that it's justified in this case.  I was after all bombarded by a full-size pick-up, thrown fifteen feet, left for dead, and multiply broken.  But it's not a reason to cultivate suffering on top of suffering or indulge in ego-clinging.  I mean why?  Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why would we want to make things worse?  What value is there in emotional pain?  Can we find a way out and be happy?  Yes, we can.

Here are some signs you are hosting a party for one:

1. NOBODY STATEMENTS: as in "Nobody understands what I'm going through" or "Nobody remembers to call and check on me"

2. EVERYBODY STATEMENTS: such as "Everybody has an easier life than I do" or "Everybody else is having a good time but me"

Don't you feel depressed already?  But wait, there's more...

3. SUFFERING LISTS: anything you can add up like "I haven't slept in exactly 65 days" or "I've been in constant pain for 6000 hours"

4. NEGATIVE REMINISCING: thinking about what could have been...what might have been...how things used to be better.

I cried really hard.  I called a friend.  I complained.  I did everything on the list.  It felt crappy and pitiful.  Then I remembered a little post-it note a friend had by her computer "If there is suffering, there is ego".  Then I remembered my commitment to the Buddhist path.  I gently grabbed my attitude from the gutter and told myself that all this suffering was due to my own ego-clinging.  I was making things worse for myself. 

Here are some ways to make a graceful exit from the Oh So Pitful Pity Party...

1. HEARTMIND PAUSE: take a moment to just stop everything.  bring your breath and awareness into your heart space.  breathe.  pause.  rest.

2. INNER SMILE: put on your inner smile.  neuroscience shows that this helps turn on the feel-good part of the brain.  just a little smile in every cell.

3. PRESENT MOMENT: focus on the present moment.  what is actually happening right now?  not the past and future happening in the thoughts, but the what is of now, now, and now.

4. GRATITUDE ADJUSTMENT: open your mind to appreciating all the big and small things in life; all the people who help you; all the ways in which your body and mind do work; all the freedoms and good fortune

Phew, it worked.  The party was over but the fun had just begun.  I felt lighter and happier and more connected.  Ego-grasping only produces isolation, self-obsession, and suffering.  So let's remind each other to just stop, pause, and regroup instead of cultivating suffering in our lives. 

This is not to say there aren't times for a good cry and compassion for ourselves.  But you can feel the difference inside when it gets messy, overblown, and clingy.  Let's not go there.  We can allow our pain to tenderize us so we feel more compassion and lovingkindness for others.  Instead of pity for ourselves.

The next party I'm hosting will be all about joy, connection, and sharing.  I hope you can come.

PS the above photo is of my two main teachers, good examples of healthy minds!



Monday, May 21, 2012

Legs & Lentils



What is that strange looking thing?  That's my right leg with the new accessories installed by the orthopedic surgeon!  With all that metal you'd think I'd be bionic woman, but no, I am more like snail woman.  And I like it.  I like being slow and mindful and methodical.  


One of the blessings of this accident is moving at a slower pace.  The world now seems so frenetic to me; everyone looks rushed and busy and speedy.  Are they?  Are you?  


I write from my bed, both knees on ice, I see the garden outside, I hear the water fountain, and a sweet bird is chirping away.  I can smell soup on the stove.  Soon I'll get up and hobble to the kitchen, eat, clean-up, and hobble to the bathroom.  No quick movements or multi-tasking for this gal.  After flossing and brushing, I'll slowly get ready for bed.  I might read or watch a food show.  


The days go by like that.  Get up, drink coffee, put knee in bending machine for 2 hours, get dressed, go to physical therapy.  Come back, eat lunch, rest.  Put knee in bending machine for 2 hours.  Maybe visit with people.  Eat dinner.  Wash dishes.  Rest, go to sleep.


Because of my leg and neck limitations, I must remain aware of my body and how I'm moving through space.  Lack of mindfulness can mean an accident, pain, or just exhaustion.  


I don't have energy for anything extra, I have no desire to busy myself.  I do the bare minimum and get a lot of help.


Perhaps that is the key.  Let's slow down, live at a reasonable pace, and help each other more.  After all, in the rush we might miss the most important treasure we have - our life!


On that note, I give you a recipe for a delicious and simple soup - but it takes a delightfully long two hour simmer to bring out the flavor.  Slow down, rest, and enjoy a lentil and lamb shank soup - use local and organic ingredients.  Invite over some friends and celebrate life and health and all the small things.  Enjoy!


French Lentil and Lamb Soup
Serves 6


1 lamb shank
1 red onion, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
3 fat carrots, chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 bunch chopped parsley
2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
1 tsp curry powder
3/4 cup french lentils, rinsed
1/2 cup brown rice of choice
Spinach, chard, or arugula


Optional toppings: grated parmesan or pecorino; minced parsley


1. Heat about 1 tablespoon oil in a large soup pot over med-hi; generously salt and pepper the shank; brown in the pot on all sides until dark golden; remove from pot


2. Add the onion and turn heat down to medium, let it get soft about 4 minutes, add celery and carrot, stir well; season with salt pepper; add thyme parsley, oregano, chili, and curry; stir well to coat, add more oil if needed; let get soft about 5 minutes


3. Add lentils and rice, stir to coat with oil; return shank to pot; add 8-9 cups water to cover shank


4. Cover pot and bring to a full boil, stir, turn down heat to a rolling simmer and cook for 2 hours; add more water if necessary; after one hour taste and reseason if needed


5. Remove shank from soup, let cool enough to touch; remove meat from bone and chop into small pieces; remove thyme sprigs from soup; add lamb back to soup; just before serving add desired green to soup, let wilt but not get mushy and gray


6. Serve in bowls with desired toppings and a yummy rustic bread, a big green salad and chocolate gelato for dessert.  YUM!


NOTE: if you are vegetarian then simply skip the lamb part; add 1 tablespoon tamari for seasoning

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rubber Meets the Road


The story of where the rubber meets the road actually begins more along the lines of where flesh, blood, and bones meet the road.  A road in Santa Barbara, CA to be exact.  After enjoying a glorious morning walk/run, I was struck by a full size pick-up while crossing the street.  I awoke in the ER, such a surreal experience, people and noises and voices buzzing around me.  The pain in my body is mind-numbing.  I start to piece it together, oh yeah, I was in an accident.  I keep crying out "There's something wrong with my legs, there's something wrong with my legs," then I ask, "Am I dying?  Please tell me if I'm dying" which leads to "Are my brains coming out of my head? My head hurts".  


I wasn't dying and my brains were not escaping from their cozy home.  Yes, my neck was broken in two places and my leg in four, I had a terrible gash in my head, a sprained ankle and perhaps a sprained knee.  BUT...I am alive and all my limbs work.  I can speak and think and eat.  LUCKY.


Karma is like that.  Lucky and unlucky all at once!


I spent three days in the hospital and and two weeks in a rehab hospital.  Today, I write from a cute little studio I'm renting at a friend's house.  My rehabilitation and recovery will be in Santa Barbara, partly because I can't travel and partly because the care here is good.  AND...I want to thank all my friends and family in SB and beyond who continue to take care of me and share their lovingkindness.  I am rich with friends and caregivers.  THANK YOU FROM THE DEPTHS OF MY HEART.


Now what?


Before the accident, I planned to be in a solitary silent retreat, blissed out on meditation and study in a lovely secluded house in Crestone.  Instead, my retreat is about using this experience to strengthen and practice the Buddha's teachings on suffering, freedom from suffering, and the dissolution of ego-clinging.  This is where the rubber meets the road.


Can I refrain from cultivating ego habit thoughts of self-pity, anger, resentment, jealousy?  Can I remember impermanence and emptiness and compassion and lovingkindness?  Can I stay on the path with a vast mind aimed at liberation?


My life is not comfortable.  I am hindered by a neck brace which keeps my head in neutral and a leg brace which goes from thigh to ankle.  Sleep comes in fits and starts and always on my back.  I have pain and swelling and bumps and bruises.  Getting in a car hurts, taking a shower is exhausting, and cooking a meal requires several rest periods.


And this is what Buddha was saying...life is not comfortable.  As long as we seek happiness outside our own minds, we will be disappointed because the outside world does not exist as we see it and it is always falling apart.  It is unreliable, uncomfortable, and unstable.  


Happiness can only come from training the mind to rest in its natural state which is luminous, clear, and empty.  A vast mind that sees that all phenomena, including car accidents, are simply the display of emptiness.  Nothing exists, yet everything manifests.


I challenge myself to keep the view, to remember this is temporary, to reflect on selflessness and to cultivate an open heart.  I do not want to be bitter, depressed, and self-centered.  I want to dig deep and be a better nun, a better buddhist, and a true practitioner.


Please join me in this quest for enlightenment.  We all have suffering and yet we can all be content.  We can all train our minds.  Let's do it together.  This is where the rubber meets the road.


Thank you for your prayers and support.  May you be well!


Finally, I invite you to look at this article written by a local journalist.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ode to Coffee

From India to Idaho! Just when you thought it couldn't get any colder than Dharamsala in December, try the Sawtooth mountains in March. As many of you know, I am almost deathly allergic to snow and have to carry a picture of Hawaii with me in case I go into shock. What in the world would possess me to go deep into the woods and stay in a rustic cabin bundled up in twenty layers of clothing? This is the power of the dharma. I went to see Anam Thubten teach - he is the author of "No Self, No Problem" and "The Magic of Awareness". Please check out the website and watch the video teaching at www.dharmata.org.

Anam Thubten's style is progressive and timeless. His presence radiates buddhanature. He is not on the path, he is the path. His conceptual teachings come through pithy instructions and his non-conceptual teachings come through his smile, gaze, and silence. Guiding us through several meditation sessions a day for one week, Rinpoche led a group of us on a journey of consciousness discovering itself. This is the magic of awareness.

During a particular teaching, he encouraged us to fall in love with the ordinary, to make loving life our daily practice. He spoke of hymns written by the ancient Tibetan masters while meditating in their dark and solitary caves. Well, the idea must have ignited something in my subconscious because a spontaneous poem came to my mind instantly and completely intact. See the picture above? See what I'm holding in my hand? Yep, coffee with cream. Yum.

On that note, I give you my Ode to Coffee. Dedicated to Anam Thubten and all the coffee lovers in the world. May your enjoy your ordinary life, may the tasks of daily living bring you joy.

ODE TO COFFEE
My beloved,
Every morning you greet me.
In union with water and cream,
your sublime scent soothes my mind.
The first taste is always new and
I treasure your very existence.
Selflessly you pour forth your rich, dark nectar.
With a smile, you are my last thought before sleep.
Emaho!
In eight hours we shall meet again.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

India Reflections



I returned from India a month ago - it is always bittersweet to leave. There are so many things I love about Mcleod Ganj (Upper Dharamsala) and so many things that I don't love. These lovely photos taken by Andrea show the magical side - lunch with a stellar view and the illuminated khora around His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple grounds.

As the calendar year changed, I made an internal vow to be more aware of complaining mind. Having been around my Tibetan friends for nearly 3 months, I was struck by how little they complain or focus on negativity. In contrast, myself and other Westerners who come to the cafe seem to easily complain and almost enjoy it. But it leads the mind astray and creates mental ruts of self-involvement. No bueno!

I dubbed this the Year of Mindful Speech. And there are two guideposts to help us stay on the path. WAIT = WHY AM I TALKING. and HAIL = HOW AM I LISTENING. This is not easy. Yet in the end it cultivates what we all seek - a happy, centered mind and connection with others. Will you join me in this aspiration to watch our speech, complain only when accompanied by insight and solutions, and listen to others from the heart? It is not about being sappy or sweet, but honest, aware, and thoughtful - both for ourselves and others. Complaining especially is a habit we can break; less complaining, more contentment!

On that note...some things I love about India:
  • my laundry place also takes my kitchen compost for their cows
  • running into the tailor on the street and ordering new robes without appointment or measurement - she knows my size
  • mornings with Lhamo in the cafe
  • streets full of monks and nuns
  • pink-hued sunsets lighting up the white Himalaya
  • watching a full lunar eclipse from my balcony
  • lots of laughing with the cafe waiters
  • snuggling in with everyone to His Holiness's teachings
I wish you much peace, patience, kindness, and compassion this year. May our minds and mouths reflect our innate buddha nature.