In a Former Life

Thoughts and Opinions
Mt. Everest

Mt. Everest by Sistak on Flickr.

I’m a bit reluctant to post about this sort of thing because I don’t want people to think I’m weird. But I think about this subject from time to time. I’m not super sure I believe in past-lives but it’s fun to speculate.

I have these random interests that don’t make much sense logically that make me wonder. For example, I have this fascination with Mt. Everest. I love reading anything I can get my hands on about it. I love books about people who have climbed Mt. Everest. Do I ever want to do it? Hell. No. I am super afraid of heights and really have no interest at all in mountain climbing. So climbing Mt. Everest would be the last thing I would ever want to do. So why am I drawn to stories about it? Was I there before?

Another thing I’m super interested in is the French Revolution. Again, anything I can get my hands on about it I will read.

Plinky asks the question, “what other person” could you have been. It is kind of difficult to answer that question. It’s hard to pinpoint that exactly. It’s more like places or time periods that feel familiar.

Portland feels very familiar to me. Granted, I did visit a few times growing up so that might be why but it’s more than that. If I trust my gut, I can drive around Portland and know exactly where I’m going without looking at a map or relying on GPS. It’s very strange. And when I’m driving through I get this little lift in my heart, like I’m happy to be there. I don’t know how else to describe it except to say that it feels familiar. Like an old friend.

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My first visit to a zen center

Thoughts and Opinions

Yesterday I visited a zen center for the first time and it was amazing. I visited Dharma Rain Zen Center in Portland with my friend from my meditation group. She has gone there for years and invited anyone interested to come along with her yesterday morning. I’ve been really wanting to check it out but being shy I knew I would never make it down there by myself. So needless to say, I was really happy to go with her.

I was  briefed on what to expect so I had an idea of what it might be like but, still, it was such a new and different experience. And also not new. It felt kind of comfortable in many ways. I’ll explain.

The “service” (I’m not sure what Buddhists call it) involved lots of ritual. Ritual that I didn’t know anything about, having never attended any kind of Buddhist ceremony in my life. So in many ways I feel like a complete dork for not knowing what to do. Everyone was cool and, frankly, didn’t even notice my unsure feelings, but still.

What I noticed right away, and what I really liked about it was that it reminded me of Catholic mass. having been raised a Catholic this felt very comforting to me. The ritual, that is. This is something that I never realized before yesterday either. I spent a great deal of my adulthood outwardly despising the Catholic church, and there are many things about it that I do despise. However,  I have really fond memories from my childhood of church. I can’t believe I am actually saying this, but I do. We would go every weekend and I think it was a source of comfort to me, somehow. All of the ritual was  embedded into my conciousness and has become comforting to me as an adult. I remember working at Santa Clara University and secretly loving that I worked there. I loved going to mass when they occasionally held it during work hours. I loved walking around campus and being around all the Catholic ephemera. It comforted me. I would have never admitted that  out loud, but it did.

So as I was sitting there yesterday meditating on my cushion, I was realizing this. I think I was drawn to Dharma Rain because of the ritual. Because it would  make me feel like I was at home. Again, I felt like a dork for not knowing what to do (much like a Baptist would feel going into a Catholic mass for the first time) but that’s o.k. feeling like a dork isn’t going to kill me.

There was lots of zazen. Way more than I do daily. We meditated for an hour total. There was 20 minutes of walking meditation (also interesting). Then there was the 20 minutes of chanting. It was absolutely incredible. The best part of the service. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful and mind-blowing it was to experience that for the first time. The group chanted some sutras, translated in english. I was reading along in the book (I wasn’t going to try chanting my first time) and, my god, it was the most incredible, beautiful thing I have ever read.  I was reading along  being blown away by the beauty of what I was reading and then hearing it chanted around me by these beautiful voices. It was interesting because the words were chanted on the same note. It is the same note that you hear when monks chant “OM” (If you’ve ever heard that before). What is it about that note? Is it some direct frequency to God or something? What ever it is, it is a mystery so incredibly powerful and beautiful.

The dharma talk at the end was really cool too. In fact, I felt like I went yesterday specifically to hear it. It was about doubt. The thing that I took from it was that we are going to feel doubt sometimes, and it’s ok. That doubt is a part of the process and it will help you become a stronger person later. So don’t push the doubt away or make yourself feel bad for doubting (which is what I tend to do). Instead, let it in and take a look at it.

So anyway, that was my experience. This is a long post and I’m sure you have stopped reading a few paragraphs ago :). I mostly wanted to just get my thoughts and  feelings down before it all flew out of my head.

A Song For You

Books, Music, Art, Movies, Life

I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been hesitant to post it because it is so personal. But it’s such a beautiful story and  I want to share it. so here it is.

In April my mom called and told me she needed to tell me something. She thought she was going a  little crazy and she needed to talk to someone about it. She felt like she could trust me to listen without judgement, and she’s right. If I’m not anything else i’m open minded.

So she began to tell me this amazing story that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. I’ve told it to several people (I hope I haven’t already shared it on my blog).

This happened about 25 years ago when Doug and she were newly married. Patrick (my little brother, Doug’s son) was a baby and had been put to bed. Matt and I were teenagers and were out with our friends, so they had one of those rare evenings when they were alone together.

They listened to music. Doug had a fantastic album collection. At one point  he played my mom a Leon Russell song. He put it on and began singing the song to her. It was “A Song For You.” It was a beautiful, romantic moment and my mom said that she never forgot it. It was also kind of  a strange moment because it wasn’t a song that he would normally listen to. They lyrics were a little bit odd, as well (which I will get to in a moment).

She hadn’t heard that song again and that moment between them was never mentioned again, ever. that song wasn’t really a very popular song and it’s not like one would hear it on the radio. Not even on the “oldie’s station.”

So last Thanksgiving Doug died. And the bottom fell out of her life for awhile but she’s been getting things back to “normal” little by little. She went back to work delivering magazines to grocery stores part time. At one point she noticed “A Song For You” playing at the store. She thought it was kind of odd (since it wasn’t a very popular song) but she went about her business and delivered her magazines. Then she kept hearing it. Over and over. She said she heard it everyday for 6 months. Each time she pushed it to the back of her head, not wanting to deal with that memory from 25 years ago.

Then one day she stopped in the store in the middle of what she was doing and just listened to the lyrics. This is the part of the song that really got her:

I love you in a place where there’s no space or time
I love you for in my life you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you

that sends chills down my spine even now as I write this post.
“I love you in a place where there’s no space or time.”

So anyway. My mom finishes this story and I’m completely, well, I don’t know what I was. I had no words.

This story just made me think about how vast and awesome the universe it.

And that’s all I need to say about that.

Zazenkai

Thoughts and Opinions

I mentioned that I would blog about my first zazenkai experience.

Since most of us in our little group are new to the practice of meditation it was decided that we would do a shorter version. So we planned for 6 hours. There was a very organized schedule. We, essentially, did zazen for 30 minutes followed by walking meditation for 30 minutes. We also had a lunch break scheduled as well. the idea is to spend the day without speaking or engaging anyone in any conversation. The point is to just be very mindful in everything that is done, from sitting and breathing, to walking around, even down to eating the meal. During the zazen we each took turns reading something out loud. I read that poem “The Guest House” that I shared earlier this month.

I was really nervous about going. I have never done anything like this. I was really leery about not being able to talk to anyone all day. I spend all day every day talking. I like talking and being sociable. So I wasn’t sure about how I would like being around my friends all day and not being sociable with them. But, I was willing to try it out. It kind of felt like the right thing to do.

It turned out to be an incredible experience.

The readings that were chosen by everyone were amazing. One of our group plays the native american flute and instead of reading something she thought she would play for us instead. I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome it was. Seriously. There are no words to describe it. One of the guys pretty much nailed it when he said, “That was a Dharma teaching.” And he is so right. I love how music can just transcend our intellect and speak directly to our soul. that’s exactly what happened.

Since I sat there all day and had nothing else to do, my mind wandered a lot.  I sort of went through all kinds of emotions.  Everything that has been bothering me I had to deal with because there it was, bubbling up to the surface of my mind.  At one point I remember thinking, “wow. is this that still point everyone is talking about?” But no. I was just starting to doze off.  It was actually a very peaceful, lovely feeling. Do you ever notice how it feels when you drift off to sleep? That feeling right before you are asleep? I had never noticed it before. It’s a really lovely feeling.

My profound realization at the end of the day? this is it:

It was just me sitting on a cushion.

There was nothing weird or overly spiritual about at all.  It was a day spent looking outside at the water droplets on the leaves. Or tasting my chicken stew and picking out the flavors of the vegetables. Or feeling the way my foot moves across the carpet when I walk. It was just me sitting on a cushion. Breathing.

It’s easy to find Nirvana at the top of a mountain

Thoughts and Opinions

lupineI looked up from the viewfinder on my camera for a moment. The sun was low in the sky and the light was hitting the lupines with a violet glow. I wanted to capture this magnificent color during the Magic Hour. When I looked up I took a moment to just stand there and take it all in. The lupines seemed to glow and the colors were beautiful.

I took a deep breath and I instantly relaxed when I took in the clean air at the top of the mountain. The cool evening air enveloped my body. I looked up and saw the peak of the mountain hovering directly above me, somehow its ancient presence making me feel safe. It was quiet and I was alone.

I noticed a sound. It was the sound of bees buzzing. Hundreds of bees. I looked closely at the flowers and saw bumble bees buzzing around the lupines. The buzzing sound became very clear as I became aware of them. I just stood there, at the top of the mountain, by myself and watched them work hard doing what they do, collecting nectar.

As I stood there in that moment, taking in the scene, I felt complete happiness. It was the happiest I had been in a very long time.