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Invincibly Happy

Sometimes it seems like Buddhism encourages us, overly, to focus on the difficult. It’s all about the dukkha, so to turn our attention to the happy and the joyful moments in life is just not the way. I spent a couple of YEARS with that misconception, thinking that to enjoy dessert just wasn’t Buddhist… (please don’t make the same mistake!)

However, the Buddha talked a LOT about happiness, how to manifest it and how to relate to it. Yes, he talked about nirvana and the heavenly realms, but he spoke often about ordinary, mundane, human happiness too. In fact, the Buddha seemed to imply that happiness is so much a part of human experience, that actually, we can’t avoid it.

So, especially after last Monday’s earthquakes which ripped the South Island of NZ (and shook much of the North Island), I am in the mood to just count my blessings. I was about 275km from the epicentre, and still it was terrifying. But I am not hurt. My power and water weren’t cut off, I didn’t go without food, I drove home from Wangapeka on smooth roads that didn’t have gigantic crevasses in them like the ones in Kaikoura did, making them impassable.

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The Most Important Point….

I’ve been living on a greatly reduced income for a couple of months. Unlike millions of people who actually never know when their next wage is coming, I knew this ‘gap’ was ahead, so I made some calculations and gave myself a meager daily budget to make sure my money would stretch.

The first 2 or 3 days were the most challenging – I felt I was in a self-imposed prison of deprivation and worry about the future. And boredom.

But before long I saw these weeks as an experiment: I have a bit of a stubborn nature, and I wanted to prove to myself that I had the discipline to live simply and renounce some very unnecessary habits (usually involving a trip to a café!) When it was reframed like that, it became more interesting. But what was the point, really? What was I trying to prove, or achieve? I have a credit card and guaranteed work ahead, why didn’t I just put a big food shop on credit?

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Suzuki Roshi taught that, “The most important point,” and here he paused to make sure he had everyone’s full attention, “is to find…out…” another pause, “what…is…. Continue reading “The Most Important Point….”

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Trying To Be A Straighter Cook

There is an instruction in the Metta Sutta (the Buddha’s teaching on Loving Kindness) which says one should be ‘straightforward’. Sometimes the Pali is translated more strongly as ‘straight, very straight’. I understand this to mean not fickle.

Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about being committed to mindful awareness is seeing the myriad erratic and inconsistent ways that I act out, having been a slave to foolish thoughts, baseless opinions and old and outdated fears and conditioning.

At Wangapeka last weekend, when a certain person helped themselves to a handful of pistachios from the cook’s pantry, which is officially off-limits, I experienced a lot of judgement. The next day, when someone else helped themselves to a whole bowl of almonds and put it on the breakfast table for the group to share, I thought “ok, well, good on ya!”

Several people that weekend abbccakesked me for the recipe for the Roasted Banana Cheesecake we had for dessert. It IS pretty epic! Depending on my mood, my relationship to the person, how busy I was, how long since I’d last had a cup of tea, and/or the way the wind was blowing, I either joyfully wrote it down with genuine enthusiasm and delight, or I said “no, sorry” and various options in between. I couldn’t help but get curious – why was my response so variable?

Following the most wonderful 10-day retreat with Sister Viranani at Te Moata last month, I’ve been chanting the Metta Sutta twice a day at the end of my meditation practise. Perhaps it’s my intention to be more ‘straight’ which has meant I’ve started really noticing all the ways that I am not straight. In fact I’ve realised just how jagged I am.

When I am feeling challenged and hurt, it’s an old habit to close my heart and try and control things. I hope that somehow, by noticing my temperamental responses, witnessing and (reluctantly) accepting this is a part of who I currently am, the kinks will start to smooth out.

Anyway, here is the Roast Banana Cheesecake recipe. I offer it with MUCH happiness and an aspiration to always make the time to share what I have. Because I have so much, and because I know that none of it is really mine anyway. And it never feels good to be stingy.

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Limitless Emotion, Not One Word

I haven’t posted for a while, but my heart and mind (and the minutes of the day) have been full.

Jeremy Logan has been leading the Heart Of Understanding Insight Meditation retreat here at Wangapeka. It’s one of my highlights of the year, and I think the secret is out as this year people travelled from as far away as Auckland and Wanaka to attend. We’ve been connecting with the simplicity of present moment awareness. Last night he shared the ‘Bāhiya Sutta’, which includes the well-known pithy teaching of the Buddha: ‘In the seen is only the seen. In the heard, only the heard. In the sensed, only the sensed. In the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself…. This, just this, is the end of suffering‘.

Feeling everything, but not making a story about every experience, brings a sense of grounded-ness in the present. This is when I realise that there is a LOT going on…

The retreat ended today, and the deep silence was replaced by joyful chatter… and singing!

Here are two exquisite poems by the Japanese poet/monk Ryōkan, expressing the richness of experience that goes beyond words. And a montage of photos and links to recipes from the last couple of weeks (scroll down!) There is still snow on the mountains, but also, spring is in the air.

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The Heart of Practice

Last night I was sent a link to a TED talk – the researcher Brene Brown was talking about connection and love. She had spent around 6 years analysing 1000’s of stories and 100’s of in-depth interviews, looking into people’s responses to belonging, heartbreak, love and connection. She found that there was only ONE variable between the people who claimed they felt a strong sense of connection and belonging, and the rest – the ‘connected’ people had the courage to be imperfect and vulnerable. Brown concludes that meaningful connection happens as a result of authenticity.

I’ve heard the Zen teacher Ed Brown greet a room of students on the first evening of retreat, and share that he is feeling, in that moment, anxious. “But you’ve been doing Zen for 40 years and you still feel anxious, what’s your problem?” he mockingly berates himself. “I’m a human being” he reminds us. Don’t you love it when senior Buddhist teachers are comfortable in revealing their human-ness?!

I have started to notice a theme – Brene Brown calls it the Power of Vulnerability.

At Wangapeka we have just finished a 5 day retreat which ran with the title “Choosing Freedom”. There was a lot of deep contemplation of what those words might even mean – what is choice, and what does it mean to be free?

Language is so clunky a lot of the time. I wondered, eventually, if ‘choosing freedom’ was a potential red-herring. As soon as I choose freedom, there is something controlling, ego-driven about it. I think the purest, freest moments have been when freedom has chosen me. Or rather, freedom has chosen itself and I have gotten out of the way.

Suzuki Roshi said that our dharma practise is just to be ourselves. When we do not expect anything we can be ourselves. That is our way, to live fully in each moment.

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But First… Radishes.

Yesterday I felt I pretty numb. The murder of the priest in Normandy, the inconceivable violence in Germany, it all just broke my heart. So much hatred and confusion in the world right now. Classic “comfort food” can sometimes ease the heart-ache, but yesterday anything ‘man-made’ felt inappropriate in light of the man-made mess the world is in.

For lunch, in silence (aside from the crunching) I simply ate my way through a bowl of exceedingly fresh radishes. Yes, radishes. Expressing nowt but their untainted, uncomplicated, unashamed radishness. I am 100% certain that this is the first time I’d eaten solely radishes. I’d never appreciated their lipstick-pink, perfect, firm, roundness before, let alone their crunchy juiciness. Why are radishes often sliced paper thin and hidden in a salad, when devouring them whole is the only way to fully know them?

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I remember the Zen teacher Edward Brown once saying something like when radishes aren’t good enough, pretty soon nothing is good enough. Everything falls short. Nothing measures up. Yet when someone can pick up a radish and be delighted… all beings benefit.

Why has life got so complicated? Continue reading “But First… Radishes.”

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Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better

I don’t like making mistakes. I learnt when I was very young that the way to get approval from my parents was to do well in school exams. So I studied hard, and regurgitated the info that the teachers gave me… and got lots of A+’s. I wasn’t really learning anything fundamentally useful, but that didn’t seem to bother me or my parents. I wasn’t making mistakes, and that seemed to be important.

But this strategy isn’t working for me anymore. I can devise a menu plan and work on my recipes, but with so many variables (mainly of the human-kind) there is always a dish waiting to be ruined. The belief that I’ve failed feels kind of raw. It’s very unpleasant. My first reaction, the reaction to the feeling of raw vulnerable-ness in my heart, is obviously (!) to blame someone else – the kitchen assistant, the person who distracted me at a critical moment – or even something else – the oven, the blunt knives, the humidity (yes really!!).

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And of course there is no one actually to blame but myself, but that’s even more painful. Who wants to feel that incapable? Maybe I should never have been hired as a Chef, I am definitely, totally incompetent.

Pema Chodron chose the topic of failure for her commencement speech at Naropa University in 2014.  Her speech was entitled Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better. I thought it was interesting that she wanted to prepare these young adults for the failures they would experience, and not take the more usual approach of emphasising the desirability of success. Classic buddhist! Continue reading “Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better”

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Life Affirming Actions part 1: Put The Kettle On

This morning I am thinking about something that Suzuki Roshi once told a group of students  – life is impossible. A student asked; then how do we do it?  You do it every day, Suzuki Roshi replied.

On these cold mornings I like to open the bedroom curtains a little then hurry back into bed and feel (imagine) the warmth of the early morning sun-rays whilst appreciating the cold beauty of the thick frosts. It’s a peaceful yet vivifying wake-up. After some time I’m ready to get out of bed, hopefully resist the lure of the internet (and all the tragic news in my inbox), and perform that supremely life-affirming action: I put the kettle on. The day may be full of emotional challenges, but it can still start gently… and with tea. HH Dalai Lama is often quoted as saying, changing the world for the better begins with individuals creating inner peace within themselves, which requires warm heartedness. Start the day as you mean to go on, I say.

Guy, who was the Land-Caretaker at Wangapeka for several years, has just published a fantastic book of humorous, engaging and heart-warming short essays about his experience, which speak to this. Here’s one of my favourites:

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How To Cook In The Dark

Suzuki Roshi said that Zen is like feeling your way along in the dark. I think this means – go slowly, go carefully. Keep all your senses open, feel your way with tenderness. Pay more attention to where you are now rather than focusing on the destination.

I’ve been hibernating of sorts lately and not doing much, or so it would appear. This is not that typical of me really, I am often more of a “get out of my way I have somewhere I need to be!” type of person, and how different it feels to take tiny steps (or no steps) instead of rushing forward. I can’t really say I am able to see any progress at all.

There is an expression in Zen – take off the blinkers and take off the saddle bags; i.e.  you’ve arrived. Unpack. There is no further destination to focus on, your belongings can spill out of the saddle bags. Sit still. Take a look at what you’ve got. What serves you? What might actually be unnecessary baggage?

Cooking wise, I’ve been loving Emma Galloway’s latest book A Year In My Real Food Kitchen and have made many successful meals, led by her hand. It can sometimes feel too much of a stretch to try out brand new recipes when we’re low on energy, doubtful, but I also find that following the guidance of someone you trust feels very supportive, a way of being kind to yourself.

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