Kill the blog

•November 20, 2010 • 1 Comment

Hopefully you get the humorous reference here, but really — I’m killing my blog.  Two masters have encouraged me to stop writing because the act of writing, much like speaking, presents many issues in zen.  How do you explain what can’t be explained?  Who am I to write (especially dealing with the issue of ego)?  The most important reason, however, is that time spent writing could be better spent sitting another round of zazen, chanting, or reading the dharma.  Since I started on this journey to get my practice more disciplined, it certainly makes sense to take this advice seriously.

So, I hope you continue with your practice and I wish you luck as you discover your teacher.  Oh yeah, and when you do think you have found your teacher, get ready for some heavy duty testing.  The door may seem closed, but trust your intuition and keep knocking.

Thank you for your lessons.

Bamboo and Pine Needles

•October 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This past week I had a chance to study with Asher Browne, a visiting Japanese Garden Designer,  at Shofuso again.  One of the biggest projects was a Japanese Red Pine Tree.  Pines require special prep for the colder weather, and one of the important tasks is to remove old growth needles.  So, grasping in clumps, they are pulled out while keeping the brighter green new growth.  I believe this helps to conserve energy for the winter and encourages the new growth in the spring.  The best part is it really helps to show off the tree because the limbs and smaller branches appear more prominent.  While I was only able to spend a few hours on the tree, a team of three other people spent a day and a half plucking needles and trimming branches to return the tree to its graceful shape.  So, for those of you wanting to keep your pines in beautiful health, now you know what is involved ;).

Our task the next day was to trim back the bamboo and prune.  As everyone knows, bamboo loves to spread.  Luckily our Shofuso gardener, Terry Zito, had already gotten a crew of volunteer students to help edge the bamboo along the walls by creating a continuous line of cuts (similar to a skinny trench) to end the bamboo roots.  So, we were tasked with cutting down patches where growth was too thick, and to also prune the tops so they were a similar, yet not perfect in height.  In the photo above, you can see I’ve pulled a stalk all the way down to my height and I’m shortening the branches at the top near the cut to help give it a softer more gradual shape.  Although this was fun, I found myself moving very slowly.  Asher reminded me that in Japan, gardeners are not as lenient on trainees, and normally there would be a shout to move faster.  So, I found myself trying harder and harder to judge height and quickly pull down stalks.    Like all things zen, knowing in your mind is one thing, but understanding with the body is another.  Unfortunately the garden will soon be closed for the winter, so my body may have to wait until spring to learn more.

Zendo Hopping

•October 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment

You might remember that I was going to check out another zendo since I’m in search of a teacher.  Well, things went quite well and it was so interesting to see the similarities and differences that can occur.  In fact, I should have done this process a lot sooner, because it is apparent that I’m already getting too comfortable in my ways.  Anyway, here is what I’ve learned:

Size – Wow, sanghas really do come in different flavors.  One thing to consider is your own personal learning style.  In a smaller sangha, there seems to be more opportunity to connect like a family.  This can be challenging, because any family has instances where your buttons will be pushed, which of course leads to more practical experience dealing with people back at your job and at home.  In a larger sangha, there is more of a tendency to blend in (well, except when you are screwing up oryoki like me).  You might feel close to just a few people and you may not run into them too often.  As for teachers, you are more likely to have more contact in a smaller sangha, while in a larger one, seeing a teacher may only happen when you hear the bell.  Finally, one other consideration is the roles that you learn.  In a smaller sangha you get to wear more hats — you might be the person hitting the gong during a sutra, whereas in a larger sangha, this role may be given to someone with more experience.

Continue reading ‘Zendo Hopping’

The Virtual Monk Story

•September 14, 2010 • 3 Comments

I’m about to arrive at an intersection on my path — a point where I will have to make a decision about my study.  In order to explain things, though, I need to bring up my initial experience in Second Life — the virtual world.  You are all probably laughing at this, but in real life, I tend not to meet many Buddhists.  In fact, I may have only met one before I started sitting with a group and attending sesshins at the monastery.  That is what propelled me to investigate Buddhism in the virtual world.

Second Life has many beautiful and interesting worlds, but I found a favorite place — Bodhi Lotus.  It was filled with beautiful mountains, Tibetan flags, Japanese pagodas, temples, waterfalls, lanterns, statues — everything you could want in a world that could combine all forms of Buddhism in one place.  As in real life, there were builders, gardeners, students — the people that created the experience and even made seasons appear to change.  There were little jewels hidden throughout the land (Diamond Sutra metaphor) that would help explain the path if you clicked on them, and there were even times to sit zazen and hear Dharma talks.  At the time, I was trying to figure out what it meant to sit zazen in a virtual world.    In fact, I grew to have a few friends, and we would talk about this problem of doing something that isn’t entirely real with good intentions of “sitting”.  Well, one of my friends, said that I needed to meet a certain monk.  Continue reading ‘The Virtual Monk Story’

Philly Vegan/Vegetarian Brunch

•September 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

My husband and I were in search of breakfast when we realized we were out of cornmeal this past Sunday.  We usually make a delicious polenta with soymilk and raspberry brown rice syrup.  In any case, a quick scan on google revealed a well kept secret — veggie brunch at Mi Lah Vegetarian.  It was difficult to make a decision, considering the whole menu was fair game, but once we were satisfied with our choices, the server brought out a complimentary plate of fresh fruit (which went very well with my faux Mimosa).  I had the pumpkin pancakes with blueberry “butter” and fakin’ bacon, while my husband had mesa cakes with a mango sauce.  Everything was so delicious and we had fun sharing our food.  It was a good thing that we had done the bike trail loop down by the drive that morning or we would have been worried about the extra calories :).    All I can say is, what a treat for vegetarians, and I can’t wait to go again.  Oh yeah, and for all of you bike fans, Bike Philly is coming up.  My husband and I might be riding if the crowds aren’t too bad!  Exercise is moving meditation…

No more numbers please

•August 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I guess you could say a switch went off, because this week I suddenly decided that I couldn’t stand the sound of numbers in my mind any longer.   Counting breath is such a good place to start (and to return when you wander), but I just couldn’t help but notice that the numbers were making their own noise.  It’s been three years, and it has taken this long to bug me, probably because my practice has finally reached 20 minutes.  During face to face teaching, you are supposed to announce what your practice is, and I always wondered how people determined what that should be — whether the counting, following or being the breath.  Now I see that you don’t decide, the practice decides it for you.  I guess that is merely another reason why zen just defies logic and remains a mysterious process.  I like the unpredictability of it all.  Besides, why get attached to numbers anyway ;).

So, you have probably been wondering how my back is doing.  I would say it has improved a lot because I stopped going to physical therapy.  However, I also just re-injured it trimming the top of a giant azalea bush on a ladder at the Japanese garden.  So, it looks like I have a lot to learn about taking best posture practices onto three legged ladders.  I remain the Grasshopper Gardener.

Zen NYC

•August 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I was lucky enough to visit a girlfriend this past weekend and hang out in Brooklyn.  I decided to make the Zen Center of NYC  Fire Lotus Temple a pitstop on Sunday.  It was comforting to see a student sweeping near the front door as I approached.  Since I wasn’t sure what time visitors were to enter, I decided to wait.  I met two other men who were also visiting for the first time, and it was fun to compare notes on other places they had been and what had brought them there.  For me, it was a chance to see if this was another location that could facilitate more visits for group meditation.

The first thing that I noticed is that people were very welcoming and offering a smile.  They were quick to suggest tea upstairs and there was happy chatter about a recently remodeled kitchen.  In many ways, the temple resembles the monastery in upstate NY, but on a smaller scale.  There is plenty of wood, stone and plain walls, and of course, the artwork of the late Daido Roshi — probably another reason I felt comfortable.  The introduction that was given for newbies by Lisa was refreshing with its detail on zazen.  She used the word buoyancy a lot and I almost pictured a rock solid tripod with the legs and a head that was tethered like a balloon.  As one that often suffers from back pain, I thought this description really worked to keep good posture without holding on to tension.  I was also glad that I attended the intro because the pattern for kinhin is different at this temple, moving horizontally rather than vertically.  I’m sure that could have been a bit of humor to cause a traffic jam after a sitting period! Continue reading ‘Zen NYC’

Macro in NYC

•July 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

While in NY this past weekend, I was wondering how I would keep my macro diet going.  However, turns out things are pretty easy and really yummy.  A special treat was eating at Blossom –what a cute romantic hideaway in the Chelsea area.  I had a delicious layer of pistachio encrusted tofu and veggie crepe.  I also indulged in a chocolate ganache with a soy dream type cold treat.  Okay, well the dessert wouldn’t have passed macro with flying colors, but hey, it’s b-day time and a girl has to indulge.  Another fun place in the east village was Angelica Kitchen.  I had the “half dragon bowl” which consisted of some very macro rice/beans and greens along with a home-made fig newton that was so amazing because it wasn’t loaded with sugar.  You could actually taste figs in their natural form with a touch of lemon — what an awesome combo.  My husband reminded me that Angelica’s has some pretty famous nut brittle, so we took a bag of that to go.  It didn’t last long, but the texture and sweetness were perfect.  I have another visit to NYC coming up to visit a girlfriend, and to visit the Fire and Lotus Temple in Brooklyn.  So, get ready for more stories.  Continue reading ‘Macro in NYC’

Macrobiotic Cleansing

•June 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

So, I have an exciting update.  I’ve been crossing my fingers about my latest blood test, and the results are in.  After one week on my macrobiotic diet, my total cholesterol has dropped 24 points.  Now my LDL is still considered borderline, but I’m hoping that it will lower as I stay with my new lifestyle.  I really believe that with the right intention I can beat the proposal of medication, and it seems my body is already experiencing a cleansing.

So, diet is one form of cleansing, but there is something else my counselor mentioned to me.  I call it the Macro-Chammy.  Either before or after you shower, you wet a cotton washcloth with hot water and wring it out.  Then you fold it into a square about the size of the palm of your hand (or if you are me you use the kid style Ikea puppet pictured). Continue reading ‘Macrobiotic Cleansing’

Grasshopper Gardener

•June 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Today I took a class in shrub trimming at Shofuso, a Japanese tea house and garden located in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia.  This is one of those “off the beaten path” places that many people here in the city don’t know about.  They celebrate the Cherry Tree Festival, have traditional tea ceremonies and other cool educational programs.  So, if you have an interest in Asian Culture, this is a must see.

Okay, now on to the shrubs.  I’ve always liked Japanese gardens, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it was about them that made them so pretty — except that I recognized that they looked curvy and had lots of open space.  Well, today I learned some terminology to help address the beauty.  For instance, you won’t see an abundance of plants as much as you will see well defined composition.  From the vantage point of entering a garden, you will find lower shrubs in the front, then the medium/larger behind.  This graduation of heights is much like you see in Ikebana work.  For those of you who like Photoshop, it is a lot like thinking of layers.  These shrubs are trimmed in specific shapes –the smallest shrubs are trimmed into small domes called Tamamono.  They usually are things like Boxwoods and Azaleas.  Then the larger shrubs are trimmed into a tall dome called Entoh-kei.  There is even a beautiful undulating curve that can be formed by multiple shrubs together called O-karikomi.  I can’t be sure how these arrived at being all rounded, but I can tell you that the trees pop nicely surrounded by these simple shapes. Continue reading ‘Grasshopper Gardener’