Time for Livin’

Yes. It is time for livin’.

So much going on these days. I’ve been hustling to find work for many months and my gosh that can take a lot out of a person. I had one company mistakenly think that my portfolio was this very blog so that was a good laugh. 

Other than the typical hijinks I get into (caring for a shorty pug, studying, dawdling, daydreaming, procrastinating, internetting) – I was fortunate enough to see my teacher Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche a few weeks ago. I remember way back worrying about what it would be like to meet him and how freaked out I was. When I did have him face to face with me, it was so…. so very ordinary. Like someone you meet at a kitchen party and share a short chat with. The second time around it was similar except I was much lighter in mood (see previous posts about my depression lifting). I was finding myself introducing people to Rinpoche this time around and coaxing them to go and see him. It was great to be encouraging to people and help them see that he was extraordinary – yet ordinary. 

The local centre I’m affiliated with moved to a bright and sunny new spot so I’m hoping I’ll reconnect with my sangha. It’s another good reason for me to practice my french. I’m pretty much over my fears and shyness in speaking a language that I mangle and now really just try to be understood and nod often when I’m not so clear on what’s being said to me. 

All this Trump stuff. How are you feeling about it? Do you find it hard to stay engaged and informed, yet maintain your sanity? How are you holding up? 

All I know is it’s Spring/Summer and it feels like it’s time for livin’. 

DHARMAGE PODCAST – EPISODE 3: Yudron Wangmo

yudron wangmo

In the most recent episode of the Dharmage podcast, I had the absolute pleasure to speak with Yudron Wangmo. Yudron is a long-time Buddhist practitioner and teacher who is a writer of Buddhist teen fiction. Yes. You read that right. Buddhist teen fiction! Seeing the absence of voices in this space, Yudron is writing for an unserved audience. She says it best when she relates on her blog

“Practicing and studying the meditation techniques and philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism has given me the life tools to be a happy person. I’m not aiming to convert anyone from their own religion, but I see many young people suffering—for example from anger, fear, jealousy, and trauma—who don’t believe in anything. With that nihilistic perspective comes hopelessness. It’s my belief that a good yarn can change a person.”

We cover a lot of ground in this podcast – Yudron’s experiences on the path, how she came to become a Buddhist, why she writes for the teen market, the guru-student relationship, feminism, – all that and so much more. It’s the start of me getting to know more about this wonderful woman. Her books which are now on my digital shelf, ready for me to dig into and time travel back to when I was a teen! 

A few links to check out:

Here’s the link to Yudron’s Twitter account.

And her vlog on YouTube

And here’s the podcast for your listening pleasure

Readage: The Zen of You & Me – A Guide for Getting Along with Just About Anyone

Diane Musho Hamilton always delivers the goods when it comes to applying the Dharma to the real world. Her first book Everything is Workable: A Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution broke the stereotype of the perpetual peaceful Buddhist and helped demonstrate that we all are subject to getting a little hot under the collar. Her latest book, The Zen of You & Me – A Guide for Getting Along with Just About Anyone is similar in focus in that it relays “how we are the same and how we are different.” We engage in judgments that cloud our thinking. This makes us feel less than – like we’re beyond hope for enlightenment. How can we consider ourselves spiritual beings when we’re consumed with petty complaints about our co-worker being nosy, or our frustration with the neighbor’s loud parties?

This book asks us to begin to examine differences. So often we want to be polite and not rock the boat when we’re upset. We also may not want to look at why we feel threatened by those we perceive as ‘others.’ Getting comfortable with this discomfort is what Diane calls for in order to help us better understand both ourselves, and the world around us. We like to think that our world is stable, that our partners are solid and that nothing changes. As Buddhists we know our friend impermanence is always at play.

Using many examples from her life as well as stories from her readers, Diane provides relatable material that shows we’re not so weird after all. She is deeply philosophical and her writing has a lyrical and evocative quality about it. She includes several practices for readers to try in order to work towards shortening the distance between self and other.

Conflict can be healthy – but only if we have the courage to face it directly and not flee from the struggle we find ourselves in. The Zen of You & Me uncovers how our brains and bodies react to conflict, judgment, and differences. It provides real world advice in a step-by-step format that helps us work with conflict and learn to negotiate with others. She posits that some conflicts can help us learn and grow. They may force us into making necessary changes in our lives.

We can become confident in knowing that we can work out any situations because we’re flexible and have some basic wisdom we can draw upon. We can also let go and drop clinging to our perspective and allow others to express themselves. We may not agree with them, but we hear them and we’re curious to learn more. We’re at one with the person we’re listening to. People want to be heard. We want to be heard. We all have unique perspectives and backgrounds. We come from different Vajra families.

Diane offers direct insight into what is involved in becoming an effective communicator. How well we listen and how skilled we are able to speak both go hand in hand with how well we are able to connect with others and express ourselves. She deep-dives into exploring feelings and how important it is to be aware of all of our feels – but not be trapped by them. They are temporary states – impermanent.

Our old friend ego is at work when we’re engaged in conflict. We are hardwired to habitually react based on what we’ve learned aka we’re mindless. Learning to be mindful and aware is discussed at some length within this book as a means to transform how we relate to others. The ability to listen deeply is also examined and the author describes techniques to help deepen one’s ability to stay tuned in.

Diane mentions the concept of natural compassion – something that can be missing when we are engaged in heated debate. She encourages us to reconnect with our compassion when we get consumed by conflict. Check in with your inner bodhisattva.

This book is less self-help and more self-awareness. It provides a reality check for how we think things are – and demonstrates that things are much deeper than they seem on the surface. We can exist between two extremes and make ourselves comfortable living in the grey. And we can engage in conflict – mindfully without negating the “you” and sticking too firmly with the “me.”

This is a bit of a no-brainer to say but given the current global situation and political climate, this book is a must read. Seriously. What are you waiting for?

Dying2Learn

I’m taking 2 online classes currently – one about the human lifespan, birth to death- and the other which is aptly titled ‘Dying2Learn.’ You can pretty much guess the subject material even through the cryptic Prince-like lyrical title. 

It’s funny because in the human lifespan class, death gets a mere 20 pages of coverage. The most mysterious subject. The one many of us avert our eyes to. So for a curious-minded sort like myself, I’m off to accent my learning with this MOOC that goes full-throttle on the death pedal. 

“The Great Matter is birth and death. Life slips past and time is gone. Right now, wake up! Wake up! Do not waste time.” 

Death and dying have become huge topics in my life.  I’ve become aware of their presence and what that means to live. It’s all quite ordinary.  Whether we’re able to dedicate more than 20 pages to our textbook about it or not. It’s part of our human lifespan and we need to learn how to prepare for it – both for ourselves and others around us. Acceptance is key. 

As Spring is now here all bright and filled with promise, I’m hunkered down with over 1800+ people worldwide – contemplating our mortality.  

The Dharma of Ryan Adams

I have been fangirling over the new Ryan Adams album for about a month now and I’m driving everyone crazy.

I just finished watching an interview with him because I’m avoiding homework and wanted to highlight this little segment where he drops some Buddhist thinking. I don’t really have any intel on his Dharmic tendencies beyond a few mentions here and there, but here’s another celeb that I don’t mind including in the fold. 

This is how I feel sometimes. 

 

Readage – Psychotherapy East and West by Alan Watts

Psychotherapy East and West

With its initial release way back in 1961, Psychotherapy East and West by noted philosopher Alan Watts sought to examine the parallels between Western psychotherapy and Eastern philosophy. I must say it has aged well despite both areas of his interest transforming greatly in the 50+ years since the book first hit the presses.

Psychotherapy East and West focuses on the methods and objectives of both segments and how they converge and contrast with one other. Watts’ overall goal with this book was to bring both together in a new way and have both parties examine each another – or as he suggests – take a look at how they can “fertilize each other.”

He begins with a nod towards the contributions that Eastern philosophy has made to advance the domain of Western psychology. As one would expect, there is plenty of mention of the ego in here – either Freudian-flavoured, or as it is viewed in Eastern philosophy. The transformation of one’s consciousness is advanced as what both areas have in common. Be it a guru, minister – or a therapist, it’s all about liberation.The therapist is concerned with helping the individual resolve their personal feelings with the social norms that surround them. It’s the wire-walk between being oneself and not offending those around them. For the guru or master, it’s helping the adept see how samsara may come from trying to contort oneself to fit into society’s rules and identifying greatly with the ‘I’ at the centre of it all.

Freud and Jung are the core individuals who Watt’s explores in this book (makes sense). As far as Buddhism, the concepts of suffering, samsara, reincarnation, liberation, karma, bodhisattvas, the ego, sense perceptions and name dropping of several key figures occurs. Much is said about the process of both psychotherapy and interactions with one’s guru. I personally found it quite interesting to see the links that Watts finds between the two.

But… 

The book jumps around a bit in my opinion. I found myself thinking I had understood the first few chapters – to then getting lost in the woods in several areas towards the middle and end of it. I approached Psychotherapy East and West with the view that I would take what I could from it and not sweat what seemed to be over my head or rambling. I still feel satisfied having read this book and figure that maybe someday I’ll go back for a second read if Watt’s koan calls out to me!

Overall, this was a very interesting read. I have an affinity for reading psych books – and well, give me a great Buddhist book any day and I’m in! With both of these subjects examined by such a revered scholar as Watts, Psychotherapy East and West deftly covers each with the respect they deserve. Neophytes may find the subject matter a bit heady (confession- there were several areas where I was in deep waters) – but readers are certain to find something that will speak to them within its pages.

If you are interested in a deeper exploration of Psychotherapy East and West by Alan Watts, I would encourage you to visit the blog Going for Refuge as it is currently exploring the book chapter by chapter.

Linkage – More links I love – February Edition

Buddha

To help fight the February blahs, here are a few more links to some goings on that have helped me feel a little less morose. March is fast on our heels. 

  • Check out The Extraordinary Breath.
  • Check out some extraordinary smells while you’re at it. 
  • Ill Will – I feel this. Oh I so feel this
  • Speaking of TrumpBuddhist Activism and Quietism is a great recap of the two approaches to dealing – or not dealing with him. 
  • I Can’t Tell That Story –  I’m feeling this quite a bit as I wish to share so much with you dear reader, but also must practice self-editing while I process difficult emotions and situations that I’ve encountered. Maybe I’ll share – someday. Maybe not. 
  • SUMERU Books have recently released their 2017 catalogue  where you can find mention of the book I had edited – Lotus Petals in the Snow: Voices of Canadian Buddhist Women. Since Canadians are so popular these days, with our hunky Prime Minister and compassion – well maybe you might want to pick up a copy to warm your heart. 
  • Speaking of SUMERU, they are offering up a free e-book titled Understanding the Chinese Buddhist Temple by Karma Yönten Gyatso. Check it out here.
  • Speaking of Canada’s hunky Prime Minister… 

Hunky Canadian prime minister busting out a yoga pose

Readage – The Guru Drinks Bourbon? – Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse  doesn’t mess around.

There was Not for Happiness  – a book that gives readers the skinny on the preliminary practices (aka Ngöndro). Before that one was the seminal What Makes You Not a Buddhist  which has still left a mark on me. This isn’t a teacher who sugarcoats the Dharma. Rinpoche really lets you have it. This is why I have the ultimate love and respect for him.

His latest book The Guru Drinks Bourbon? is no different than its predecessors. It will push your buttons and make you think. It will enlighten, entertain and educate. This book features captivating and creative photography that may evoke acid flashbacks!

With its somewhat provocative title, this book is focused on the relationship between a student and their guru in the Vajrayana path. It offers up personal stories of his experience, those of his students and many examples from history to help illustrate the various perks and pitfalls of this unique path.

Guru devotion – the path of Vajrayana (aka tantra) means wholeheartedly handing yourself over to this being. It’s all about embarking on a journey to having yourself cracked open completely. You don’t want to hand over the keys to the first cool looking, sweet talker that comes your way. You’re looking for a lean, mean spiritual coach who is going to make you work! The ultimate goal is to tame our mind – leading to enlightenment. This isn’t an easy or traditional relationship and we’re working with someone who will be able to customize this path according to our specific quirks and personality.

Rinpoche asks us to consider our motivation for wanting a guru in the first place and then, upon full examination, notes we need to place our trust in this person to help you move towards enlightenment. He mentions that the search for a guru is one of the most important part of the path.

This book sets out a framework for what one should look for in selecting a guru. It highlights the importance of scrutiny and wisdom when choosing a teacher to work towards ultimate realization of the nature of our minds. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse covers a lot of ground within these pages– everything from why we need a guru in the first place, Western Buddhism, mindfulness, devotion, corruption, the Tulku system, the guru-student relationship, abuse, and our expectations of how a guru should behave. There is mention of a lack of female gurus in our society as well as an abundance of ‘charlatans’ who are busy staging elaborate stage shows and Instagram photos of them wearing Rolexes. Yes. Celebrity culture is very much a part of the Vajrayana and you could be star struck, but left spiritually empty if you aren’t careful.

There are instructions on how to evaluate a guru and what one should look for. Rinpoche also has recommendations for what responsibilities gurus have towards both their existing, and potential students. Yes. Sizing up the guru is mentioned, but conversely, gurus are also sizing up their potential students. How’s that for non-duality? Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse mentions that the standard for this sizing up is about 12 years although one size does not fill all for this kind of evaluation. Its recommended to develop a shortlist for contenders and then he suggests that one tests the potential guru in some way or another.’ He also showcases the four ‘guru-types’ to avoid and the characteristics of each – a kind of ‘bad guru checklist.’

There’s some deep and murky territory covered within The Guru Drinks Bourbon? It’s not a read that will have you putting down the book and feeling like you’re any more certain than when you initially picked it up. It may piss you off. It may shake you up. It may answer a few questions – or it may cause even more questions to emerge.

This book is truly a must read if you are interested in the Vajrayana path. It’s a no-bullshit; no holds barred look at what you’re getting into when you decide to follow this approach. I’ve come to really appreciate Khyentse’s writing style and his direct honesty so to be truthful; any book that he releases is going on my bookshelf. 

 

Death Positive

When you say that you’re ‘death positive’ – it may sound kind of weird to the uninitiated.  Like you’re running around dressed like a goth cheerleader, chanting ‘Rah Rah. It’s OK. Everybody Dies Anyway.” Like anything, there are levels to the positivity, just as there are levels to the woo in New Age circles and the guitar noodling in the Heavy Metal realm. 

The concept of ‘death acceptance’ might be bit less strange as it’s commonly spoken of, and well – regardless of whether we want death in our lives, we accept that it happens (eventually we accept it, because we have no choice). As Buddhists, our dear friend the First Noble Truth teaches that the suffering of birth, old age, sickness and uh hem, death is unavoidable. Whether we become comfortable or tolerant of this truth is our own personal journey.  

Given 2015 was the year that I was initiated into the Hardcore Grievers Club, I’ve since become quite death positive. This isn’t without a basis in being interested, frightened or ‘death curious.’ As a child, most of my interest in death revolved around a love of horror films and all things that went bump in the night. One of the deeper death experiences I had was when my close friend, Tina was killed by a drunk driver. I was roughly 10 years old and from what I remember, it was surreal to me. I was left trying to comprehend how someone I spent so much time with and was bonded to, was now no longer. I didn’t have a lot of resources to help me through this and was left to process things pretty independently. We lived on the same street and I remember walking by her house feeling something I couldn’t quite nail down. Fear. Sadness. Confusion. Worry about my own death. Anger. Righteousness. Wanting to find the drunk driver and smash his head in. Worrying about seeing her parents and not knowing what to say. Wanting to see her parents. 

I come from an Irish Catholic family, so death was accompanied by a wake. With this wake was a full on expression of emotions. More emotions than many in my family could handle. There were fistfights on occasion, but always yelling, crying, wailing and the presence of a priest. Our priest was a lovely man. Ruddy-skinned, big ears and a stick think frame. He used to play on an all-priest hockey team called ‘the Flying Fathers’ and this delighted me to no end – imagining a bunch of priests in collars with no pads, checking each other around and zooming across the ice. It would have spoiled my childhood image of this to know that they were well-padded, helmet-headed and looked like no other hockey team shimmying it up. 

Deaths continued around me. Family. Friends. Schoolmates. There isn’t a day where the obituary section isn’t filled with one name. Some of these deaths came with a sense of relief – Ah, they will now be at peace. Some were met with shock. Some didn’t have the old age, or sickness category affixed to their cause. 

I trod through life for 19 years, and then discovered Buddhism. One of the first books I read was ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.’ I didn’t understand a word of it then, and likely now it may be as mystical and kaleidoscopic as it was when I first cracked the spine. I pawed over countless other deathy books – likely hoping to gain an understanding, but also out of sheer interest.

You can’t learn through books along – only by experience. 

Reverting on old ways, when my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer – I tore through books hoping to get some insight. When my dog’s health began to decline, I did the same. Maybe it was a way to buffer myself from the inevitable. To better manage what was coming. To batten down the hatches. To know how the story is likely to end.

The books may have helped a bit.  I can’t say for sure. What did help was going through the experiences. The messiness. The confusion. The wild hurricane of emotions. I wasn’t studying or practicing Buddhism in the way I used to – reading, studying, practicing – but was now living what I had learned to that point. Pema Chodron’s words on uncertainty, letting go, not biting the hook – they all had an application at various stages as things evolved with my mom and my dog. Teachings from Chogyam Trungpa rang in my head. Momentary flashes back to weekends spent at Shambhala centres where I was being primed for this. Like a young gymnast doing reps on the beam – over and over and over. I was coming back to my breath when I was feeling like I was drowning. 

It was unconscious. I wasn’t seeking this comfort or running to my bookshelf for the perfect passage for the moment. It was in there. I didn’t have to call upon it. It just arose. 

I’m now even more curious about death. I’m heartened to see that more and more people are expressing that they are death positive. Maybe you are too and you don’t know it yet. Don’t wait until it’s too late! 

A list of death positive people you should know:

Please add anyone I’ve missed in the comments. I’d love to find more death positive mentors and friends. 

Is it like a Buddhist Diary?

I used to get personal over on my old blog and I’m hoping I’ll pick that up again over here. There’s always the fear of revealing too much – or being a big blabbermouth. Maybe worse yet – of being boring. Add to that nobody reading in the first place.

Then there was that mild troll infestation I had a few years back that made me question why me as a Buddhist woman on the web would even write anything at all. 

Now I’m jazzed about writing again and hoping that this space will keep me inspired to write a bit daily. I’m not at the Morning Pages level of writing that I strive to be at someday, but it’s something. 

Before, my blog felt like a Buddhist diary that I was writing in at times. I would hope that some pimpily-faced kid in the Midwest would stumble across my blog which searching for “Buddhist punk” or a similar optimized term to bring all the pimpily-faced Buddha-curious kids to the yard. Y’see. I didn’t have any of this when I started folks. I had an old bookstore in my small hometown (cue up a Springsteen-sounding guitar riff to accompany this story). I would buy up any book I could that even smelled like it had a Buddhist scent on it. That led me to some crazy places. Maybe the pimpily-faced Buddha-curious kids are being lead to similar crazy places online. It’s the age-old battle of ‘back in my day’ was better than your ‘kids nowdays.’ I’m somewhere in the middle on this. Frankly a lot of my perceptions and beliefs on the best way or the only way has gone out the window. Maybe I’ve hit the ‘question everything’ phase of my journey on this winding road?

February 16, 2017

Dear Diary,

I’ve been reading ‘The Guru Drinks Bourbon’ and am devouring it like a parched office worker at a Christmas party punchbowl. There is so much in this book that is challenging – and I love that. Much as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche would challenge my thoughts and perceptions about a teacher and how a teacher should behave, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse is doing the same – and I love it!