Wednesday, September 29, 2004
I wish someone had filmed the episode. It must have been hilarious to see me trying to reason with Shaitan. "Look, you, the more you struggle the longer this is going to take, so settle down!...No, I am absolutely not going to let you go try to catch those birds, so don't even think about wriggling free....I know you're excited to be outside, but please, just be reasonable for once, okay?"
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it again: Life would be a whole lot easier if I were just a bit smarter.
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
Yes, that's right. I've become one of those people who takes pictures of their cats.
But really, he's got some truly impressive hunting skills. I think my favourite move is when he gets so excited by chasing something that's moving in a circular pattern that he himself starts spinning in a circle, chasing his own tail. The one where he assumes a lying-slumped-on-his-side posture, so that he can either bat at his quarry with one paw, or take a nap, as the situation demands, is pretty good too.
I can't understand why cats don't run the planet.
Monday, September 20, 2004
It's wonderful that enough water protects one from the bad effects of overindulging in alcohol. Now if only there were a similar remedy for cheesecake....
Sunday, September 19, 2004
... all of which, of course, can be summed up as, WTF?
Friday, September 17, 2004
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
--C. Fred Alford, professor of political psychology at U Maryland, quoted in the Sept/Oct Yale Alumni Magazine
But really, this is all exceedingly vexing. Why should I get so freaked out by dream-spiders when I'm not arachnophobic in waking life? And it's so repetetive. I'm screaming to my brain, "I get it! I know I'm stressed out! Now can't you mix things up a bit? Make me dream of plane crashes, or accidents at chemical plants, or Republicans." But no. Spiders it is.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Is this a sign of the impending apocalypse?
Monday, September 13, 2004
Sunday, September 12, 2004
E: You can't other me. I'm going to other you! (pointing at K) Other!
K: Don't mess with my hermeneutics.
That snippet--part of a dinner conversation five years ago, in the graduate-student dorm here--just popped into my head for some reason. It encapsulates my experience of living there. Happy days....
So last week I finally talked to the music director at my church about what he wants me to do there for the remainder of my time in town. We agreed that I'd do the same thing as last year: two song each week as part of the early mass. The moment I hung up the phone I started rooting through my music...uh...well, actually, my database....see, I have this spreadsheet set up for all my church repertoire, with columns for texts and translations and biographical information and a couple of words about the theological point being made.....yeah. Life has been much easier since I've just accepted that I'm a geek. Anyway, I picked out a bunch of my favourite pieces from the past five years of doing this kind of thing at that church, and ended up with the following:
- a lied by Wolf
- four arias by Handel ("O thou that tellest", "Let the bright seraphim", "But who may abide", and "Comfort Ye/Every Valley", if anyone's keeping score; and yes, they are each written for an entirely different voice type)
- two arias and a trio by Mendelssohn (and no I'm not going to sing all three parts of the trio, smartass)
- the first movement of Mozart's "Exsultate, Jubilate"
- only one Bach aria (!)
- three pieces of mediaeval Armenian liturgical music
- three spirituals
- two of Copland's "Old American Songs"
- half a dozen other random things
I'm totally psyched to have a reason to get back into practice singing. The choir director laughed at me, though, when, the day after we talked, I showed up at church with a binder for him, containing copies of all of the pieces for the rest of the semester, complete with little post-it flags labelling each piece. geeeeeeek.....
Saturday, September 11, 2004
May all beings be healthy and well
May all beings live in safety
May all beings live with ease...
Get out of the way, ya fat cow! Stop cluttering up the sidewalk with your stroller and your two big dogs! This isn't your living room, for heaven's sake! Some of us have places to go!
Where was I?
May all beings be free from suffering
May all beings be free from the causes of suffering...
whole wheat/sun-dried tomato bread (homemade)
basil/walnut pesto (homemade)
roasted red peppers (homemade)
fresh orange grape (?) tomatoes (from the farmers' market)
Dinner is going to include a salad made from roasted beets of various kinds (from the farmers' market again).
Are grad students even allowed to eat this well? Isn't there some line in our contracts that specifies that we must subsist primarily on ramen?
Friday, September 10, 2004
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
The retreat was fabulous! Very intense. I didn't want to leave. I'm going to have to go back as soon as I can.
Somewhat more in-depth:
The setting is idyllic. The retreat centre is in rural Massachussetts, a few miles outside of Barre. The centre itself is a big old house that was first built as someone's weekend home, then taken over by a monastery (if I remember correctly) and eventually bought by IMS in the seventies. Around the centre are farms--there's one place that seems to train horses and give horse riding lessons, there's another place that has a roadside stand where you can buy tomatoes, and there's another place that sells maple syrup. The only thing all the farm houses have in common is that they without exception have animal statues in their front yards. Seems a bit redundant, given that there are real live deer and rabbits and turkeys that are very likely to be in someone's yard on any given day.
The schedule was intense. Up at 5:15 (the bell actually started ringing at 5:05; the first morning I heard the bell, saw that it was dark outside, looked at my bedside clock, and said out loud "You have GOT to be kidding me"), sit for half an hour, breakfast, chores (or "washing-dishes meditation", as I came to think of it), then alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation for the rest of the day, with breaks for lunch and tea, and some instruction by the teachers, and the occasional chance to speak directly to the teachers.
The teachers were brilliant. As compassionate and insightful as you'd expect of meditation teachers, with all kinds of personal anecdotes that were useful and insightful (sitting with fear and aversion when her meditation hut in Thailand was invaded by a large lizard; a teacher's experience sending metta to a tiger that wanted to share his walking-meditation path with him). The only funny thing about them was their Boston accents. They weren't noticible at first, besides a slightly mush-mouthed approach to consonants, but eventually I realized that they were telling us to pay attention to our "tho-wats." I had a hard time not grinning every time that word came up.
The walking meditation often made me grin too. To stay mindful of what our bodies were doing, it was often helpful to walk very slowly. The result was that there were a hundred people walking baaaaack....aaaand.....foorrrthhhh....looking like nothing so much as the Ministry of Silly Walks, Slow Division. (I nominated myself the Undersecretary in Charge of Falling Over for No Reason.)
The other retreatants gave me a lot of stuff to think about...or rather, led to a lot of thoughts arising. There were a lot more young people there than the last time I went--even one kid who'd just begun college, but over a dozen in their (our) late twenties. There wasn't all that much variety in backgrounds (Rick the pipe-fitter seemed to be the only one with a blue-collar job) and the few people of colour were very few (but present!) and the bumper stickers on the cars were reasonably uniform (three occurrences of "Let's not elect Bush in 2004 either", three "Free Tibet", several meditation in-jokes). But it was interesting to notice my reactions to all these people. How do I react to people I find attractive? how is it different from my reaction to unattractive people? Who do I tend to be impatient with? whom do I smile indulgently towards? My favourite was probably the kooky old guy with the haystack of white hair, multiple piercings (including an alarming septum ring), a tattoo that said "VEGAN", and a "Veterans for Peace" hat festooned with buttons advocating various progressive causes. He must have some interesting stories to tell.
My roommate was neat. I was hoping to get to talk to her at the end of the retreat, but unfortunately she left partway through. We hadn't been doing a good job of keeping silence: we always seemed to be having conversations at 3 am, whether on account of one of us waking the other with a nightmare or by tripping over her (!) or on account of the truly impressive thunderstorm. Pity that we didn't get to talk in an officially-sanctioned way. I felt like we had a lot in common: she's a massage therapist, and I introduce myself as a massage therapist at parties.
I didn't want to leave at the end of the retreat, and I'm thinking of making a week or two-week retreat a yearly thing. I felt like it was too long between my first retreat and this one, and I think I can make a lot of progress with more time for concentrated effort. I'm even fantasizing about doing a three-month retreat. I was talking to some people about their experiences with it, and it makes me want to put all my other plans on hold so I can do this.
More detail than you need to know:
I was terrified going into the retreat. I was carrying a heavy load of remorse and fear, after having carelessly hurt (possibly quite badly) three or four people who are very dear to me. (Sordid story which I have no intention of going into here.) I was expecting to have storms of emotion break over my head as soon as I sat down to meditate. I was bracing myself for tears, rage, despair--all these big cathartic emotions. What I got instead was endless repetitions of the Sesame Street theme song: I spent the first six days of the retreat coping with the wandering of my mind. It wasn't what I was expecting, but it was probably exactly what I needed. I got to see exactly how undisciplined my mind is usually, and how much time I spend lost in fantasies or memories or planning. It was also a chance to encourage my mind to settle down, in a gentle compassionate manner. My natural tendency is, when I see my mind wandering during (say) metta meditation, to start chewing it out: "Look, motherfucker, do you want to be free of suffering or don't you? Settle down already!" The teachers emphasized over and over that the thing to do is just to notice the wandering and gently bring your attention back to whatever it is that you're attending to, rather than getting upset about the wandering itself. Hmm. Tricky, that.
One of the most healing interactions I had was with one of the resident chipmunks. Since everyone at the IMS moves slowly and deliberately and has taken it upon themselves to not harm any living being, the wild critters around there are not shy. The chipmunks in particular will climb on you at any opportunity--no doubt in hopes of your having brought them food. I did get in the habit of sharing my teatime sunflower seeds with them. (Someone pointed out later that we'd been instructed to not feed the animals. oops.) Quite apart from how adorkable they looked as they stuffed their little cheeks, it was good to realize that they were willing to trust me. If a chipmunk climbs up onto you, all you have to do to prove yourself worthy of that trust is to stay still. Since I was feeling spectacularly, deeply untrustworthy, it was reassuring to be reminded that being trustworthy, like all "character traits", is simply a set of actions, and that I can earn people's or critters' trust if I give my attention to it. The Earth is crammed with meditation teachers.
One thing that got mentioned in the Dharma talks was the preliminaries to meditation: Before you even start to meditate, the Buddha's instruction is to practice generosity (by supporting the communities of meditators) and to live a moral life so that your mind won't be preoccupied with remorse. Huh. Clever lad, that Buddha fellow.
The catharsis came, eventually. Once the tears started it seemed like they would never stop. At the end of the retreat I was still in full-blown Repentence mode, and in no way ready to go back to quotidian responsibilities.