Going Home

Here in NZ, in one more week we will move beyond the strictest level of lockdown. I’ve already noticed a shift in my energy, and a flurry of thoughts and emotions about re-entering normal life. It’s very similar to the feelings that I’ve experienced when I’ve neared the end of a retreat and contemplated returning home.

For me, there is comfort in self-isolation, like there is on silent retreat. No-one can disturb me, bother me, challenge me or make demands of me, and I have the freedom to turn inwards and try and untangle (or at least make sense of) some of the knots in my personality.

On the spiritual path there are many paradoxes, and one that has long troubled me is the need for acceptance of one’s current body & mind predicament, alongside the desire to cultivate more wholesome mind-states and habits that would benefit ourselves and others. This came up for me over and over on the 4-day mindfulness retreat I’ve just finished with Stephen Archer, as I noticed thoughts arising in connection with potential changes that I’d like to make post-lockdown. One of these changes is stepping outside my comfort zone, figuratively and literally. I’ve written before about failure, and it’s definitely something I try and avoid at all costs. Should I even try? Why not accept that sometimes I prefer being in the background where it’s nice and safe?!

I’m currently involved in another fantastic online course; “The Courage In Poetry” offered by the wonderful Irish poet David Whyte. The ‘courage’ aspect of this course (thank you universe) is very well-timed. David says that all good poems are born from a part of us that doesn’t know how to fully articulate itself yet. We start exploring our ideas and emotions without knowing where we will end up. Continue reading “Going Home”

Day 4: Hope

Today I offered to make some cinnamon brioche for the 8 bubble-buddies I’m self isolating with (sorry, on retreat with) for our breakfast tomorrow morning. I mixed the milk, butter, yeast, eggs, sugar and flour, and then spent the next 20 minutes watching the dough thinking, “I hope it rises”. Their breakfast, and more crucially my reputation was at stake!

I reflected on how often hope is beside me in the kitchen. Hope that the food delivery arrives, hope that I don’t drop a pan of soup or burn the quinoa, hope that the dishes taste yum and are ready on time. The more significant the situation, the more tightly my fingers are crossed.

I know that a lot of us have our fingers crossed very tightly right now, which got me thinking about hope. Hope doesn’t make it on to the list of the Buddha’s 10 Perfections, or the 7 Factors of Awakening, and it’s not a stage on the 8-Fold Path. From a Buddhist point of view, hope seems more akin to desire. Like a unsubstantiated wish, we can hope and pray for a good outcome all we like, but wishing doth butter no parsnips! Ordinary hope, like a fear that the brioche dough won’t rise, is also a subtle form of suffering.

 

Dostoyevsky said, “To live without hope is to cease to live.” Is there a wise way to harness hope? Continue reading “Day 4: Hope”

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”

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.

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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!”