Tea and Vegan Chocolate

I haven’t felt like writing for weeks. I felt like I have lost my voice somewhat, probably because I have not felt solid ground under my feet for what feels like the longest time (but in reality has been about 7 weeks!)

In that time, I have borne an abrupt split with my previous employer, travelled 1000km south to a new region of NZ (away from dear friends and the dog I used to co-parent), moved in with a new house-mate, started a new job, and joined a different community. Then, having not given any of these new seeds a chance to sprout, I flew ‘home’ to London for a overdue visit. Living predominantly in my parents house (with the unique challenges that brings) I feel more of an unsettled itinerant than ever.

Last week though, I had the opportunity to get out of the smoke for a while. I stayed amida2for 4 days with wonderful friends, Satya and Kaspa, who created and manage the Amida Mandala Buddhist Temple in Great Malvern. On Saturday, a small group of us did a day-long retreat; 3 hours of continual chanting in the morning, then an afternoon discussing and contemplating giving & receiving. (In the evening there was a ‘sharing circle’ which I didn’t attend because I still hadn’t found anything to say!) It was really wonderful to be in the easy, genuine and comfortable company of good friends, and to re-connect with the dharma. Listening to the dawn chorus was another highlight of the trip – in my years away from the UK I had forgotten how beautiful English bird-song is. Watching British TV comedy in the evening together with mugs of tea and Satya’s vegan chocolate was also fabulous!

In many ways, Satya and Kaspa offered me what Anne Lamott prescribes in the opening chapter of her latest book, Hallelujah Anyway:

Hallelujah Anyway jacket (Anne Lamott)When other people look hunched or pummelled, I know what to do and say, to help them recolonise their bodies and lives. I say: stop the train. Be where your butt is. I would say: Life can be painful, but I am right here, and you have a good heart… I would tell a person, “you have the right to remain silent. Would you like a nice cup of tea? Some M&M’s? Let’s sprawl, unfold those creaky wings.”

Sometimes we need to talk things through, (endlessly), or perhaps wail and scream, but also know that the ‘right to remain silent’ is an option. Continue reading “Tea and Vegan Chocolate”

Inspiration From All Directions

Our 30-day retreat with Lama Mark Webber finished last Thursday – it’s been an amazing month; I have learnt so much and feel very inspired. Of course I am inspired by the teachings, and the very presence and energy of Lama Mark, that goes without saying. But I have also been inspired by so much that has arisen in conjunction with that retreat; the people who were part of it, and the experiences that unfolded during the month as a result of my time at the Wangapeka. The vast amount & range of cooking that I wanted to offer in support stretched my imagination and repertoire in the kitchen… and as always, there were times that my patience and energy were also tested! Waking up to sunrises like the ones above and below were definitely part of the reward though!

On the evening that the retreat ended, by extraordinarily happy coincidence (whatever) there was a public talk at the Nelson Buddhist Centre given by Tara Choying Lhamo. She is a young Austrian-born dharma practitioner who has lived in retreat for over twenty years. For twelve of those, she lived and meditated in solitude, high in the mountains of Nepal in Lapchi, one of the retreat caves used by Tibet’s great yogi and saint, Milarepa.

I found her story and her presence equally astonishing. She was so clear and present, so open, grounded, poised and warm.  Continue reading “Inspiration From All Directions”

Emptiness and the Female Form

Feminist groups around the world are gearing up – protesting, campaigning, marching, lobbying politicians, donating time and money, and saying NO very loudly to sexist attitudes; it’s happening globally. Even if we are not yet seeing the results we want, women, and allies of equality in all of its forms, are being heard. I hope change is coming.

Buddhism too, is not without need of reform when it comes to equality.

I’ve read several articles recently chastising Buddhist institutions and some traditions for their prevailing sexist attitudes. It’s true – sexism and misogyny has been rife within Buddhist lineages for centuries.

There are stories that go back to the time of the Buddha and suggest he himself taught that women were ‘lesser’, although I take that with a pinch of salt. The Buddha was also recorded as saying that women and men were equally intelligent, and equally capable of realising enlightenment, so which is it? And we know he ordained 1000’s, or who knows maybe 10,000’s of women to his order. Personally I think it’s likely that the ‘women will be the cause of the dissolution of Buddhism’ stories are just made up by a bunch of bigots many years after the Buddha’s death to maintain a boys club. Because how can you vow to save ‘all sentient beings’ yet scorn half of them? But that’s just my view.

Anyway, it’s undeniable that some Buddhist traditions, particularly the monastic traditions, are still frightfully sexist. Ordained women rarely have the same status or respect as ordained males, and women are considered such a danger/distraction to the monk’s devoted practise that they are actually not allowed to be alone in the company of a woman.

Against this backdrop of deep-rooted sexism, I was happy come across some teachings from Zen Master Dōgen which revealed his deeply feminist views. By the 1200’s, sexism in some Buddhist institutions must have been already rampant, else why would Dōgen feel the need for such a long and impassioned lecture?! In a teaching* he wrote in 1240 he more or less rants for several pages about the ‘bunch of idiots’ who ‘insult the dharma’ with their misogynistic views. Here are some of his choice words; Continue reading “Emptiness and the Female Form”

Note To Self…

I write myself notes and lists all the time, but especially during a long retreat. There’s an ongoing shopping list in the kitchen, a master shopping list for the week in my bedroom/office, a to-do list for when I’m next in town, records of food spends vs budget, lists piled upon lists of recipes and meal plans, an ever changing list of garden produce ready to be harvested, and notes on meals that have been served – to remind me how they could be tweaked for the better were I to serve them again.

Writing myself notes does stop an overload of chatter in my head, though of course, voices are still there. “How about some cinnamon in that soup? You should have gone to meditation tonight. Tomorrow is preserving day – need to pick tomatoes. Must get up earlier tomorrow to bake bread. One bottle of milk out the freezer will be plenty”. Not all messages to self are helpful or even true!

Note to self – must find out who’s writing these notes!

 

I enjoy listening to other cooks’ voices when it comes to recipe ideas, and am getting better there, too, at discerning which ideas are worth following. Here are three recipes I’ve ‘pinned’ this week. Continue reading “Note To Self…”

The Warmth of Autumn

Although the days are hot and sunny, I’m already conscious of the onset of autumn.

We are one week in to a 30-day retreat, and the atmosphere is calm and settled. I’m really appreciating seeing the ways that the retreatants are supporting each other; checking-in to see how everyone’s doing, having quiet conversations, sharing the chores, talking about the teachings. Everyone has slowed down (even the bumble bees) and the sun is getting up much later now too.

I was reminded of the time I was practising in one of the monasteries in Burma. Although we spent the day in total silence, around sunset we gathered in small groups of two or three and did our walking meditation outside in the cool air… and had warm conversation. In Burma I found this routine especially supportive, and I can see how the participants here are forming friendly, supportive bonds too.

Before this retreat, someone asked me what Lama Mark was like. Is he an angry person, was their first question! Continue reading “The Warmth of Autumn”

Time To Get Some Shit Done!

Last weekend I went to a fantastic ‘Un-Conference’ in Christchurch, NZ. Women Who Get Shit Done events are collaborative gatherings for those of us who identify as women. There is no upfront agenda, and the topics and sessions are co-created on the first evening and led by the participants themselves. It’s a giant event of networking and idea sharing, where you can learn, support, inspire and be inspired. It was really fantastic – if you are in NZ I definitely recommend you to apply for a space on the next event.

wwgsd-banner

I was astounded by the vast range of topics, issues and causes that the group were in to. From gender equality to local politics, environmental issues to health & wellbeing, creative writing, poetry, bee-keeping and cheese-making, there was very little that wasn’t covered!

The evening I arrived home, I felt rather humbled by the work the other 119 women were doing. They are really making the world a better place, often challenging the status quo in difficult and sometimes even hostile environments. They are truly remarkable beings! Continue reading “Time To Get Some Shit Done!”

Beginnings, Middle and Ends

So much has happened in these last 2 months… epic travels, Queenstown adventures, cooking marathons and silent retreats. Emotionally I’ve had the highest highs, and a couple of tearful lows.

Where do any of these experiences start and end?

When I cook, that day’s meals become my entire focus… but tomorrow is another day! Where did those vegan strawberry muffins go, was it a dream?!

I woke up in the early hours this morning and lay peacefully in the warm silence of the night, recalling a fragment of this Rumi poem: Continue reading “Beginnings, Middle and Ends”

‘Zazen Is The Best Thing Ever’*

So this is part two of my end of year reflections! In complete contrast to my enthusiasm for making some measurable outward changes as blogged about a few days ago, I also am thinking about how invaluable it has been for me this year to spend so much time in silent, sitting, formal meditation.

Most of my teachers are from the Theravadan / Insight Meditation lineages, although I’ve been also very influenced by Dōgen and Suzuki Roshi’s teachings from the Sōtō Zen sects. In all these traditions, it’s a given that meditation (Buddhist meditation that is, not ‘McMindfulness’) is the central practise of any person practising Buddhism. In my limited experience as a meditator, I’ve never really been able to explain how sitting still and watching my breath has brought about any benefit, insight or wisdom, yet I’m convinced it has.
dont-bea-jerk

Last week I came across a new translation of one of Dogen’s most famous texts, the 95-chapter long Shōbōgenzo [treasury of the True Dharma Eye]. The author is Brad Warner, and the title is Don’t Be A Jerk (And Other Practical Advice From Dōgen, Japan’s Greatest Zen Master). Brad Warner is an American Zen monk, who has studied Dōgen and practised Zen for more than 30 years, mostly in Japan. His book is EXACTLY what I wanted – he translates the classic text paragraph by paragraph, and puts it into modern chat, giving it a whole new burst of energy. Suddenly, this undecipherable medieval, Japanese text has come to life. That’s not to say there aren’t still riddles and spiritual paradoxes – this is Zen Buddhism after all.

Dōgen was VERY big into zazen. Here are some of Dōgen’s words, as ‘translated’ by Brad:

Continue reading “‘Zazen Is The Best Thing Ever’*”

The True Spirit Of Our Food

I’ve felt a bit of an internal shift happening in the last month, and I’ve noticed some new and spirited thoughts & questions appearing in my mind. Actually there are two trains of thoughts chugging through, seemingly diametrically opposed, but somehow offering balance.

Today I’m sharing some thoughts on the first subject – it’s to do with learning, and to with sustainability and the environment. Because, hello people!, we are running out of time.

It seems uncanny now that I look back, that 2 years ago NZ’s Hospitality Business Magazine ran a 3-page article on me, the Riverside Cafe where I was head chef, and the S.O.L.E principles that I / we werehb_nov_2014_p26-29-copy practising. When they first telephoned me to inform me that they wanted to do the article, embarrassingly I had to ask the editor what SOLE stood for (sustainable, organic, local and ethical I soon found out!) I had never heard of that acronym before, even though apparently it was the year’s zeitgeist. I, and the community that owned Riverside Cafe and worked with me, were just managing the cafe according to what we felt were common sense ideas mixed in with our own personal sets of values. We weren’t trying to be trendy. It’s seems that article came from the future, to point me towards something that I hadn’t at the time fully grasped.

Continue reading “The True Spirit Of Our Food”

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.

roads

Continue reading “Invincibly Happy”