Lather, rinse, repeat

“Mind is empty. You can change your thoughts.”  –Lama Norlha Rinpoche

We are taught in the Seven Points of Mind Training, “Be grateful to everyone,” and “Rely all the time on a joyful mind.” How can we put this into practice when all around us things are constantly going wrong and people behave in ways that disregard or harm us?

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Mind the gap: digital edition

As you may know, we had a visit last week at KTC from Dr. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction and teacher of contemplative computing. He talked to us about some ways to tame the hold digital technology exerts on our attention, which can be  an issue for us at the monastery just as it might be for anyone who relies on technology in their work and daily life. Among the many topics he touched upon, one of the most immediately useful was “email apnea.” It seems that we users of digital devices have a tendency to hold our breath as we wait for our email to update. Though it may take just a few seconds each time, if we check frequently or have poor reception these intervals can add up to 15 minutes or more during the course of a day, or four 24-hour days over the span of a year.

What excellent news!

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Location, location, location

I’ve been spending a lot of time in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, for the last couple of years to help care for my mother, who has Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed in the last year of my three-year retreat, and I had to move her to assisted living a few months after retreat graduation in 2011. Since then, I’ve been back and forth periodically, and right now I’m in Richmond again, helping her adjust to a recent move to an all-dementia facility, and overseeing major repairs to her house.

Spending time with my mom and other people in her facility, I feel I’ve gained some insight into how to prepare for my own old age and the possibility of dementia. In a nutshell: practice as much as possible, learn to rest my mind wherever I am, and cultivate contentment with whatever is happening. (Corollary: Eat everything. Including parsnips if needed.)

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Mind the gap

I keep meaning to add new posts but golly it is a busy life, even when it’s a life that is to all intents and purposes dedicated to Dharma practice. It’s hard to bring major projects, Dharma or otherwise, to fruition because they are constantly interrupted by more immediate concerns, and the to-do list is mainly a historical record of things I meant at one time to get done.

Why is it so hard to set aside meaningful periods of time to focus on things that are really important?

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All sound is the sound of mantra: Locust Grove cascade and KTC cicadas

Since the local 17-year cicadas are mostly hidden in the obviously teeming woods around the KTC perimeter, I decided to stop in today at Locust Grove, the Samuel Morse estate on the Hudson River about 15 minutes up Route 9. Not a single cicada to be seen or heard. OK, so maybe it’s named after the trees.

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All sound is the sound of mantra: 17-year cicadas June 2

The 17-year cicadas, last seen here in 1996, are not having an easy time of it.  After waiting 17 years underground to emerge for their brief, glorious moment in the sunlight and air, they were delayed by a long, cool spring. When they finally started to come out during the two-week Saka Dawa nyungne retreat in May, a blast of cold weather halted them in their tracks. But at last, in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave this week, they are emerging in numbers, and their eerie hum grows louder every day. As of today, we can hear them throughout the monastery grounds.

All sound is the sound of mantra: cicadas June 2, 2013

(High sound volume recommended)

cicada and begonia June 2 2013

The constant hum of the cicadas reminds me of this meditation instruction from Chamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche:

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All sound is the sound of mantra: frog chorus and ballet

At Mapleknoll Marsh, the trick to spotting frogs is to eavesdrop a bit at the entry, then make your way in slow motion onto the boardwalk just to where you can survey the water surface. Yesterday morning I spotted nine frogs, though quite a few splashes and shrieks informed me that my presence was detected by many others. I have found that while most frogs dive underwater before I’m even close, others seem impervious to my presence, even if I go out of my way to get their attention. Two tiny videos below: in the first one, a chorus of green frogs (high twang) and bullfrogs (deep rrrrr) from the marsh entrance; in the second, the camera movement is me trying to get some action.

Mapleknoll Marsh frog chorus

Mapleknoll Marsh frog ballet

(High volume setting recommended.)

Frogs on logs in Mapleknoll Marsh, first heat wave, May 30, 2013

 

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Five minutes from the monastery

Unlike the rest of Bowdoin Park, Mapleknoll Marsh, which is tucked into its northeastern corner, seems to be largely–if not entirely–unmaintained. The boardwalk is sound but fraying, and tall reeds encroach upon it and even grow up through the boards. Very few visitors seem to find it, though I did encounter a birdwatcher recently, and on another occasion a young couple shrieking with delight as they teased a frog with a dried reed. (The frog, apparently thinking the movement of the reed indicated food, kept jumping and trying to bite it)

Mapleknoll Marsh 2013

 

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All sound is the sound of mantra: Saka Dawa 2013

These short videos are from Mapleknoll Marsh, a tiny pond in Bowdoin Park a mere five-minute walk from the end of the KTC driveway along Sheafe Road. The videos were made in late spring during Saka Dawa, the most sacred month of our Buddhist calendar, during which Shakyamuni Buddha is said to have been born, attained enlightenment, and passed into nirvana, many centuries ago. As I write this, we have just passed the full moon of Saka Dawa, the culmination of the month’s magnfication of merit, and we still have two weeks to go before the new moon, when it gives way to the next Tibetan month.

In the videos, redwing blackbirds, a variety of frogs, Sheafe Road traffic, and even, faintly, the bells of Mount Alvernia (our Franciscan Monastery neighbor), along with various unidentified participants, join in the chorus of mani’s celebrating this sacred time.

Pond, bullfrog

Reeds, redwing

Redwing, Mount Alvernia (faint)

Exit

(High sound volume is recommended.)

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Tai Situ Rinpoche’s streaming body of light

A few weekends ago, during a broadcast of Chamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche’s live-streamed seminars from India on The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, as I watched Rinpoche teach from the wide screen atop his throne, I was struck by two things: 1) how much it felt like being in the same room with him–in his warm, engaging, awe-inspiring presence–as many of us have been many times; and 2) that in this case, he was teaching in the KTC shrine room in a veritable body of light–directly from his seat in India, yet unmistakably with us in every way except the physical. I wonder if this is what it is like to see the Samboghakaya?

TSR OPL April 2013

 

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