Zen Garden

At the Japanese Gardens in Portland.

Discipline. I’ve been thinking about that word a lot this past week. We’ve been reading “Zen Mind Beginners Mind” at my meditation group and the first chapter was about posture, specifically the correct posture to use in zazen. This correct use of posture helps make the practice (focusing on the breath) easier. As we talked about this we realized that it takes discipline to practice zazen. So this past week I’ve been really thinking about discipline and what it is and how it can help me in other ways.

The book talks about the correct way to sit, which is lotus position. There are various reasons why this is that I won’t get into. Unfortunately, I can’t pretzel myself into lotus position.  I want to sit in lotus position but I can’t sit in lotus position.  Thus, I’m going to practice sitting that way for a few minutes everyday with the explicit goal of being able to sit that way for the entirety of my zazan practice. I probably will only be able to do it for a few seconds at a time at first but, eventually with practice, I will reach my goal.

For some reason (maybe I’m just dense) this has been a revelation to me this week. It is so simple (at least in theory). Daily practice produces results. And it doesn’t matter how you feel about it. You don’t have to feel like doing whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. You don’t even have to be good at it. But if you practice everyday you will eventually be successful. That is discipline.

Zazen is a daily routine I’ve managed to established. Sometime last year I decided that sitting and breathing everyday would be a priority. If I can’t fit anything else into my day I will fit in meditation for at the very least 10 minutes. This practice  has helped me tremendously in the past year.  I can’t explain how it works but it does. The days that start with meditation are, generally, better days. I find that I am more mindful. Thus, if I want to be better at being more mindful I need to get my ass on the cushion every day for at least 10 minutes. Is it hard to do this? yes it is. The practice itself is not hard. It’s actually the easiest thing I’ve ever done. It’s just sitting and breathing. But getting to the cushion can be very difficult. I can talk myself out of zazen very easily. There is always something else to do.

Logically, it is very simple and it is logic that can be applied to many areas of my life. This is the part that is the big revelation.

For example, I haven’t been practicing the ukulele. My excuse has been that I don’t have time. In all honesty, it’s a good excuse because I really have little time left at the end of the day when all is said and done. However, I want to be able to play the ukulele in my story times next fall and I’m not going to be good enough to do this if I don’t practice. Thus, I have to fit some time into my day to practice. If I don’t practice I don’t get better. So this morning I tucked in a quick 10 minute practice session in between my shower and breakfast. yay!

Raf and I were talking about Karma the other day and he mentioned the metaphor of the apple tree used by Jack Kornfield in “Buddhism for Beginners.” Karma is not a mystical idea. It is really very simple. It is like planting an apple seed. If you plant an apple seed you will get an apple tree. And not only will you get an apple tree you will also get lots of apples AND more apple seeds. I suppose action is like the seed. And the effect of that action is the tree (and the effect of an action can go on and on, like the apple tree – but that’s a blog post for another time).  This idea of discipline is similar and just as specific. Daily practice is the seed. Daily practice produces skill (the apple tree). Simple.

The letter


I originally posted the finished version of the poem I was working out in the photo above on Flickr. Then I lost my nerve and deleted it. And then I felt weak and stupid for losing my nerve. So I’m posting it here, for your entertainment and enjoyment (or judgment. whatever.).

A letter to my grandmother, found in her desk.

A Pantoum.

I’m getting along as well as can be expected.
It was such an awful shock to me.
Charlie went so sudden.
He had been feeling fine.

It was such an awful shock to me.
He went out that morning at 5:30 to sweep snow.
He had been feeling fine.
It was two above zero.

He went out that morning at 5:30 to sweep snow.
I didn’t even know he was out there.
It was two above zero.
When he came in the house I woke up and got dressed.

I didn’t know he was out there.
He said he was awful hungry. “I’ll fry myself 2 eggs.”
When he came in the house I woke up and got dressed.
Those are the last words he said.

He said he was awful hungry. “I’ll fry myself 2 eggs.”
He fell backwards in front of the kitchen stove.
Those are the last words he said.
Sweeping is harder on the heart than shoveling.

He fell backwards in front of the kitchen stove.
Bob from the mortuary said Charlie was gone before he hit the floor.
Sweeping is harder on the heart than shoveling.
His blood vessels in his eyes were ruptured.

Charlie was gone before he hit the floor.
He went so sudden.
Eye Vessels ruptured.
Just a few lines to let you know I’m getting along as well as can be expected.

The window seat

Life, Thoughts and Opinions

I was boarding the plane from Spokane to Portland on Monday morning and in a bad mood. The news about Osama Bin-Laden broke the night before and the partying-in-the-streets reaction to it had me feeling bummed out. Not to mention, I was tired from not getting any sleep at my mom’s house and sore from running Bloomsday. However, these are no excuses for what I did.

I was flying Southwest Airlines and was in the C boarding group which means I had crap choices for seats. As I was walking down the aisle I noticed that there was a window seat open toward the end. When I finally made my way to the back I asked the woman sitting in the row if I could sit there. She replied, “I’m actually saving the seat, but you can sit in the aisle seat, that’s open.” So I plopped myself down in the aisle seat. I was annoyed. And as I thought about it I kind of got mad. I thought, “well. that’s not fair, saving seats for people. I could’ve had someone in an earlier boarding group save ME a window seat!”

That’s the thought I stewed on for the next few seconds until a gentleman politely asked if the window seat was taken. The woman said, “Yes it is.” and I added “she’s saving it for someone.”

Of course the woman got angry at me for my surly response. Of course. I would get angry with me. But did I care? no I did not. The whole thing wasn’t fair. And I told her. I said, “I didn’t think you could save seats for people on this airline.” (now, to my credit, I don’t think you can. But, honestly, that’s beside the point and really doesn’t matter.)

Now this back and forth was done in a very passive aggressive, polite way. If that makes sense. Neither of us were yelling at each other or anything like that. We were just being kind of bitchy with each other. In a polite way.

After a few moments of quiet she offered, “you know what? Do you want the window seat? I would be glad to offer it to  you.”

“wow,” I thought. “What a nice gesture.” So I took her up on her offer and changed seats with her.

That was a very. bad. idea.

Her husband returned (the one she was saving the seat for) and sat down. As soon as he sat down she started talking to him about me, about how horrible I was. Really loudly and not discreetly at all. I kind of couldn’t believe it. I looked at her and thanked her for offering me the seat and I told her that I appreciated it, very much.

But she kept at it. Just kept right on talking about what an awful person I was. I finally had to tell her to stop.  I really didn’t want to hear about how awful I was all the way back to Portland.

Honestly, I’m not sure if she did because as soon as the plane took off and we were in the air the engine drowned out all other noise and I coudn’t hear their conversation.

But as I sat there I really thought about the situation and what  happened. Frankly, I was miserable. I had gotten what I desired and I was fucking miserable. I was stuck in the window seat. Unable to  move at all. And I had these very hostile people sitting right next to me.

I was tempted to just be pissed off at this woman. I mean she offered me the fucking seat! And then she decides she is going to complain and bitch about it the whole way? But, instead, I decided to step back and see what kind of lesson I could learn from the situation.

In the end, I think this is a good lesson in the whole idea of desire and how it can lead to problems. I wanted that window seat (dammit) and because of it I got angry when I couldn’t have it. And when I got angry I acted on it and look what happened. cause and effect. Karma. I totally deserved what I got.

The photo for today’s Photography Friday was taken this past weekend at Arbor Crest Winery. I hung out with some of my photographer friends and we took pictures for about an hour, and then we got rained out. It was fun, though! 


Health and Fitness

Taken when I walked Bloomsday in 2007

So. Bloomsday. Honestly? I kind of dreaded it. I was going to be by myself. I hadn’t been able to run more than a mile in a month. My heel had still been hurting me. I was really not sure I should even try it. But I hate wasting money and I had already paid for the registration. Yes, that was my motivation.

The morning of the race I got up and turned on the news to check the weather conditions. It was 34 degrees outside. Ugh. I would have to wait for an hour for the race to start in freezing cold weather. Not good. But I was prepared. I wore my cold weather running gear and headed out.

The wait ended up not being too bad. I stood around and people watched. I avoided the stupid ball throwing thing that they do at the start of the race every year. Then, just before my starting group (lilac) started walking to the starting line a woman next to me struck up a conversation. Apparently I “looked good (as opposed to evil) and she could sense that I would be a nice person to talk to.” And we had kind of an interesting conversation. She pretty much told me her life story (she had an ear defect when she was born and that’s why she wears hats all the time. She was married for 35  years to an abusive man). Then she started talking to me about Jesus and that’s when I decided that I would just break out in a run at the starting line  (I had originally planned on walking the first mile). So I politely said goodbye and good luck to the nice lady and started jogging, weaving in and out of the hundreds and hundreds of walkers around me (I started in the second to last group with all of the walkers).

It was sometimes difficult to get through the throng and I had to be very creative at times. I ran on the sidewalk a lot of the race, annoying the neighbors who were perched there to watch the show.

I let the momentum of the crowd keep me going. I felt pretty good. My foot didn’t hurt at all (I bought really good arch supports the day before) so I kept jogging. I ran slowly. Much slower than I’m used to. But I kept going. At first my goal was to just get past all of the walkers. Then I narrowed my goal down to running until I made it into the next color group. I kept looking around me for people with blue numbers. When I made it to Doomsday Hill I walked up the hill. Then, when I reached the top, I decided to continue jogging. I felt good, so why not? If nothing else I would get done faster by jogging.

At this point I was getting hot (the sun came out and the temperature climbed to at least the 70s). We were now in a neighborhood, my favorite part of the race. This was the part when the neighbors cheered the racers on and it is a huge motivation boost. There were some partiers spraying water at the crowd and I ran to the water, eager to be cooled off. The drunk sprayer happily complied, aiming for the front of my shirt. nice guy!

Not long after that I looked up and I saw that I was on mile 6! I thought “Holy shit! I just ran 6 miles!” and since I only had about a mile and a half left I pushed through. That last mile was rough. My feet and legs started hurting but I kept going and, finally I made it to the end.

I made pretty good time, too. 1:42. Not too bad for someone who didn’t have very high hopes to begin with. I supposed I have that lady from the starting line to thank, since she was what spurred me to start running in the first place. And once I started the momentum kept me going.

Here is my results page. I’m a little embarrassed about the picture of myself crossing the finish line but oh well, 🙂