Severus Snape //hvane

"We place our faith in the Great Heart of Perfect Wisdom."

There's so much I could put into an LJ entry, yet too many other ways to fill my time. But there's one theme that I find myself earnestly wanting to attempt articulating, wanting to leave myself a reminder that I've been seeing and pondering…

The title of this entry is from the 'Return of Merit' that we chant at the end of every chanting service, returning the merit of our chanting to Shakyamuni Buddha and the 3 famous boddhisattvas in service of the enlightenment of all sentient beings. Of all the lines in that Return of Merit, this one has been leaping out to grab me… I keep realizing that these days, I'm growing to see a little and trust a little in the wisdom of the universe, both the universe as a whole and my self as a wise & powerful being.

For instance, why am I here at the Zen Center? I thought I wanted a retreat, an interlude to find balance in my life, spend time lightly considering my future job or my past childhood. That rationed, relaxing vision bears absolutely no resemblance at all to the all-consuming intensity, hardship, and pain in all parts of my mind-body -- in my limbs first as I got used to sitting cross-legged, now in deeper parts of my heart and psyche -- that Zen has brought me, with a few times of joy. (Lest you all think I'm a masochist, I'm not; so far, I usually feel sure that this is healing, growing pain. Khalil Gibran says, in the chapter of The Prophet titled On Pain, "Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.") Would I have volunteered for this time at the Zen Center, if I'd known in my analyzing planning brain that it would be like this? FUCK NO. (I don't think so.) Yet, here I am. Something deep in my soul knew that I needed this, or something, and brought me here by whatever reasons my rational brain needed to think I was making a smart choice, but it turns out I'm not here to find a new job, I'm here to discover that I'm in search of mystical experience.

In the last month since the extra-intensive Rohatsu sesshin at the beginning of January, the emotional and psychological pain has been profound, as I grow out of old maladaptive emotional patterns and less-than-whole interactions. Yet Elizabeth M, an older woman here in the sangha who volunteers at the Zen Center for a couple days each week and spends her other time working with at-risk children, pointed out to me how brave and wise I was, to face all this now when I knew at some instinctive level that I have resources and tools and support that I've never had before in my life. The groundwork was laid over the last 3-4 years in Philadelphia, when I started developing adult deep friendships and started uncovering my emotions in peer counseling. Here, I have a spiritual teacher and senior students and older friends and peers and acquaintances and inspirations and examples, who all guide me, nudge me, hold me, help me laugh, help me work harder, push me, warm me, share with me. Everywhere I look in my outward life now, I have people who I know care for me; everywhere I look in my inward life now, I can glimpse emotional nuance and power. I'm not sure if that all sounds melodramatic or vague, but the point is that profound work is happening that was not part of my conscious plan. Yet here I find myself, and I think it's a good time. It's not what I planned, but it's all good, and who knew?!
Severus Snape //hvane

heat & food

I didn't realize how much colder one gets, when one isn't eating!

During my first 7-day sesshin in October (an intensive, silent retreat with over 10 hours of sitting meditation each day), I grew increasingly cold throughout the week, but I assumed it was because a) I started to get a cold on Day 5 and b) I didn't have many warm clothes with me. Before this November 7-day sesshin, I did travel back to Philadelphia to retrieve all my winter clothes, so I thought I'd be ready... And I was warmer in general, but there were still parts of the day (especially before dinner), when I just felt I couldn't stay warm!

Today was a fast day at the Zen Center, observing Oxfam's day of fasting on the Thursday before Thanksgiving -- and although today was cold (30-degree weather, after a few unseasonably mild days over the weekend), I felt even colder than I'd expect. Then, I realized why I've been feeling so cold in sesshin! Since one is sitting so much in sesshin, the advice given is to eat less than usual; I follow that advice from the first day, but I've also discovered that in the last couple days, I can even more drastically reduce my food intake without feeling hungry.

The good news is that there are soaking baths at the retreat center, so at least for the few hours after I take a bath, my core temperature is warm.
Babylon 5 quote//camelwithbrush

Breaks for more discomfort...

Being in the NY/NJ area during this staff break at the Zen Center was a good idea for many reasons: it's easy to travel ROC->NYP by train, I'm seeing many dear friends, and it was unexpectedly good timing for my family. But in retrospect, as so often, I also doubt the wisdom of my decision! I've gone from structured days in a small city away from my social networks, to navigating completely unscheduled days amid the largest metro area in the country while balancing family obligations, friends' schedules, and my own desires.

While I'm deeply thankful that both my mom's house in north Jersey and my friends' apartments in NYC were relatively unscathed, the hurricane preparations that closed down all transit systems made decisions about where/when to travel much more urgent yet constrained. Apparently, there's a Zen saying, 'Not knowing is most intimate', because there are no thoughts between you and direct experience, but it's also true that I need to coordinate with people with some advance notice!

My brother has been in the hospital this weekend. He'll recover, but the procedures he underwent related to his implanted defibrillator were more lengthy and painful than expected. I'm not used to seeing him this uncomfortable.

Completely unexpectedly, my parents saw each other for the first time since their divorce was finalized 2-3 years ago. Even more unexpectedly, they spent several days together camped out at the hospital, partly because of the hurricane precautions and partly because of my brother's needs. I don't think the dust has settled from this, for anyone! I haven't even had the opportunity for more-than-passing conversations with either of my parents to ask how they're feeling.

I spent a couple days at my mom's house and a couple days visiting friends in the city, in between several trips all the way up to the Bronx, the northern end of the D train, to visit my brother. I realize long subway trips are the least of everyone's worries in this situation, but they are wearing. Plus, while this is only my own problem, it's real: I have an irrationally-visceral phobia about hospitals, so I don't feel calm about these visits.

At the Zen Center, I live with slightly more than a dozen people, in the middle of a small city where there's NO traffic. I'm now immediately surrounded by hundreds of people on the sidewalks and subway stations, in the middle of MILLIONS of people in the New York metro area, feeling sensory overload from all the activity and extreme alienation from the consumerism/materialism that pervades every landscape here. There's a low hum of paralysis, even agoraphobia, beneath all these days.

Unrelated to all of these issues and even vacation, after a month of a simpler life I'm also facing the realization that I feel deep anxiety all the time. I've stripped my life of many things I blamed for stress, like too many social commitments or an intense job, but anxiety still infuses my days. Sometimes it attaches to big threats (like a hurricane), sometimes little (like insecurely obsessing about a conversation). At first glance, it seems probable to me that this is the same fear as a childhood spent terrified of hellfire and damnation; I ignored it for many years as a young adult, but after pretending it didn't exist during/after college, now I have to face it again. I'm no longer a powerless child, and I have many tools at my disposal now -- an older mind, guidance from friends and spiritual teachers, counseling, even medication if necessary. But the fundamentality of this anxiety is still disturbing to observe, let alone feel.

I'm going back to the Zen Center on Saturday, when at least I can sleep extra and find some level of quiet in my surroundings. Senior staff doesn't come back till a week from now, e.g. people from whom I can seek guidance. I hope this is a phase of rebirth, but it feels like losing control of my shit that used to be manageable... even if by suppressing it!
Severus Snape //hvane

On the eve of staff break...

I intend to write a post about how life here at the Zen Center started easing in the second week, as well as the intensive, painful, silent sesshin weekend, but while I've been pondering how to begin that post, I want to capture this moment, this evening at the beginning of the 2-week staff summer break. I've almost spent a full month here...

I know a handful of sangha members now, who also know me by name. I've been breaking in the shoes I bought for my work in the kitchen, I have housekeeping assignments like all the staff and I know where most dishes get stored in the kitchen, and MOST EXCITINGLY the seamstress just finished my own robe that I ordered. It thrills me to have my own robe, so I don't have to worry about tripping during prostrations or swimming in waists or sleeves that are too wide.

I'm also deeply excited and proud of outward accomplishments in my practice; I've survived my first (2-day) sesshin, and I've received approval to become a formal student of the abbot here.

The sitting has eased too, since sesshin. When I arrived here, I realized that a lot of pain builds during 35-minute rounds that didn't develop during the 15 minutes I would (occasionally) sit at home; every round seemed vulnerable to so many different kinds of pain that I didn't know how to handle. However, after experiencing the seemingly-unending and unbearable pain that builds during a whole freakin' day of sitting, a single round no longer scares me, even 3 rounds in an evening. It's also tremendous to realize, just in the last couple days, that all the sitting and all the advice/feedback on posture is starting to pay off; I'm still experimenting, but I had a couple days of rounds that were actually comfortable in the cross-legged position. Even more deeply tremendous is the way I've realized, again in the last couple days, that my impatience is starting to ease in the tiniest ways. The rounds no longer always feel like an endurance trial, annoying, frustratingly counting the seconds tick by and wondering when it will end. Now I'm a tiny bit more willing to simply sit in the present, even if it's just a second or two before my mind wanders; I enjoy that second or two, instead of wondering how many of those seconds I have to manufacture before I can stand up.

There are other deeper realizations I'm starting to have about myself too, that I'll try to mention in the post directly on sesshin. In the meantime here, I'm remembering Roshi's words, during the sitting after sesshin, about the deeper quiet infusing the room. He quietly thundered, 'Never doubt the power of zazen!' I feel amazed and astounded at the shifts I feel within even a month, I feel proud of myself for persevering through the pain, continuing to sit and listen to my body and the warm advice of the staff and teachers here. I feel joyful with, and enjoy, the friendliness and encouragement that everyone here is offering me. I feel deeply moved and appreciative that my parents are so loving, even though my explorations of Buddhism and my own beliefs cause them some concern, given their Christian convictions. (No real desire to open a conversation on that topic, at this point.) I feel honored and grateful for the support and excitement of my friends too, especially my dear ones in Philly and those everywhere who cheer on my FB status updates. This journey is profound for me, but I want to bring you all with me.

And now, I have two weeks off. No homework, no work brought home, no apartment to tend. I have projects on a list, but they're organizational projects that I've wanted to do for years. I can make progress now, but I can also visit friends without a real to-do list for any type of work. I feel incredibly fortunate and blessed.

[FYI, zazen is the name for the sitting meditation practiced in Zen Buddhism, which is often simply called 'sitting'. The exact details vary throughout the day, but formal sittings here happen in timed rounds; an evening sitting is 3 35-minute rounds, with walking meditation in between. There are a couple monitors that time the rounds and make sure everything goes smoothly -- and what I'm noticing and enjoying most in this post, is that I no longer feel convinced that one of them has fallen asleep or forgotten to look at the clock or the clock has stopped working or some other torturous possibility...]
Spock beaming down //mata090680

first week at the Rochester Zen Center

It's now been 10 days I've been living at the Rochester Zen Center, so it occurred to me that it'd be a good time to look around, gather my thoughts and feelings, then write about my experience of the first week.

I can't say it all feels real yet. I live somewhere other than Philadelphia, after 10 years of living in that area. I don't have a regular/paying job. I live with Buddhists. None of these statements has seeped into my mind or body as reality; I'm still looking around quizzically and assuming that this is an odd dream or that I'll have to leave soon. I'm not refusing to accept these facts, but they simply surprise me when I repeat them to myself! Um, really?!

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At the same time, I feel well. There were a couple days last week that weren't smooth -- I was given a (small, mild) correction in posture or work that triggered my defensiveness, I wanted to talk to a friend who wasn't available during my couple hours of free time -- but as acutely as I noticed those emotional disruptions as I chopped 20 cups of tomatoes (or whatever), I felt well on a deeper level. I think this is a good place for me to be.

I look forward to building relationships with the people here. The abbot, in my experience listening to his talks and as he relates to me (since I'm aware the teacher-student relationship can differ from person to person), is intellectually nuanced, perceptive, and above all, warm and gentle. The head of zendo is also remarkably reasonable about expectations, insightful & thoughtful but lightly humorous when he explains anything, and genial. There's a few young men here who are fun for chatting, a couple women in their 40s I'm looking forward to spending time with, and an older couple that lives out at the retreat center (40 min away) who are wonderfully sweet and warm.

I'm intrigued and eager to explore this path of Zen practice. The mental discipline, the patience with imperfection, the ideal of balance between body and mind, the encouragement to be fully PRESENT in pleasure and pain, the allowance for personal choice and avoidance of dogmatic legislation… it all uplifts me and resonates with me. Part of why this all resonates with me is that it's similar, although older (of course!), than reevaluation counseling; both systems assert that humans are born (loving, cooperative, wise, flexible) and (endowed with Buddha-nature), etc. but patterns from past hurts or lives cloud our flexibility/presence and keep us trapped in the past/future. It's so completely different than the harsh, judgmental, dogmatic, authoritarian, controlling church in which I was raised, in which I learned not to trust my self/nature. Which is right, the Buddhist conviction that we will all become enlightened or the Calvinistic assertion that every human will always be tainted by original sin, who can say. I'm still filled with doubt; I was raised a Puritan but long to be a Buddhist, or similar. I feel myself blossoming within that Buddhist or RC view, eager to work on casting aside old patterns and flourishing into *myself*. So far, every interaction I've had with the teacher and senior students here encourages me to be gentle and patient with myself as I pursue this path but also determined that this path WILL shift me towards my better nature.

Odds and ends: I like the chanting here, usually at the morning sitting. It's my reward for waking up at 5 am and surviving an hour of stillness! The houses and grounds are peaceful, there's a wooden portico for when it rains (every day?), the veg food is yummy and plentiful although I'm being careful not to eat too much soy, and the location is perfect for exploring fun cafes in my free time.

(Written Sunday afternoon.)
Severus Snape //hvane


Last Friday I had a clearness committee, borrowing from the practice of Friends/Quakers. In the community of my closest friends here in Philadelphia (plus A), I came to internally-official decisions that I had already felt drawn towards... I will leave my job (not take a leave of absence), and I will pursue plans to spend time at the Rochester Zen Center. I will probably step away from my life -- and my boss and all my farmers -- here in Philadelphia around the end of June.

I want to allow myself time to settle into all the emotions and intentions I've explored in RC for the past (almost) 2.5 years. I want to find peace between my authoritarian/conservative upbringing and my mystical/progressive desires as a young woman. I want to strip away all the anecdotes and details of my job to explore what I'm learning satisfies me as daily work. I certainly don't expect to reach any 'final' decisions about who I am or what I want, but I feel desire and need to take my next step along my path in relative quiet, a retreat.

I deeply believe this is a good and wise decision, the right time. But for now, I am sad for the time I must step away from the life I've built here, the innumerable connections within dance communities, urban friends, local food colleagues and farmers, shopkeepers and daily life. I've poured my heart into a deeply-connected life here.
the wizard Howl //hvane


I am amazed tonight, on the edge of what I can comprehend yet ready to embrace more, about my week and life and growth. I am in love with my relationships, and my intense emotions.

I apologize in advance that some of these phrases will be cryptic, and yet... consider them placeholders. Fill them with whatever intensity of emotion or moment of calm flashes or drifts into your mind and heart.

The tingling sharpness, relaxing excitement of whiskey or wine.

Confidence, pride, respect for myself: assurance of place amid the thoughtful, wise people I choose to surround me.

Sobs that felt like they pulled my heart clear through my ribs and spine.

Exultant, eager light-heartedness for creative love.

Astoundingly productive responses, from sparks of fiercely defending my perspective to the realization that I can surrender in apology. No need to fight for myself, simply acknowledging that I want to grow.

Excitement for the possibilities of, time, reflection, satisfaction, soothing...yet sadness at stepping away from the life I have built.

All of this, intensely. Almost too intensely, tiringly. All of these feelings I don't think I named or welcomed, before. I welcome the growing sense of calm that I can claim my place as a woman, yet I will still walk amid the intensity and push into it.

What moments of intensity stay with you, from this week?

Also, I'm tending towards an intention of writing a reflective post once a week; that seems accessible. I have jury duty (!) mid-week, so next week's post might come out of that time sitting around. A possible topic is reflecting on a difficult interaction with a religious leader...
Severus Snape //hvane

where I was not and where I might be

I was physically at NEFFA over the weekend, but I wasn't there emotionally. I did a handful of dances (including my alter ego's ECD session and the medleys, of course!), but most of the time I hid and thought about other stuff.

I'm cautiously dipping my toe into being here on my blog occasionally. I updated and reorganized my flist, and I rewrote my bio. Do any of you have thoughts on reading my reflections on emotions or self-awareness, occasionally?
Severus Snape //hvane

Massachusetts vacation

The T and I got off to a bad start, this visit. I took the airport shuttle to Logan with Ted & Lynn and caught the Silver Line, but my journey to Boyleston St did not go smoothly. It pissed me off -- since I do not usually fail at public transit navigation! -- that I failed to find the SL4/5, so I had to go back into the T station to catch the Red Line -> Green Line. All the Green trains go to Boyleston St, so I didn't have to put a lot of thought into navigating Park St, but geez louise what a nightmare of navigation! Then on my way back, after my quick and successful procurement of a new phone at the Verizon store, the till at Copley malfunctioned in such a way that it deducted two rides from my Charlie Ticket, and there was no customer service person around. Grr.

But my MBTA experience improved... I took buses a number of times, and I was repeatedly reminded that in my limited experience with Boston bus drivers, they give the impression of being less completely impatient and taciturn than Philadelphia bus drivers. AND when I didn't have enough money left on my Charlie Ticket, I discovered a cool solution from the MBTA to the problem of giving change for bus fare: the MBTA buses print a Charlie Ticket with the value of the change you're owed (e.g. $0.50 after putting in $2.00 for a $1.50 fare). THEN, lo and behold, the Charlie Card/Ticket machines at the T stop allow you to COMBINE stored values on more than one Charlie Ticket. I am so impressed by how sensible and helpful that is, contrasted with SEPTA's steadfast refusal to be helpful by giving change at all or using smart cards, etc.

Camp was different this year, but good. There were people who weren't there, that I missed. There were people who were there for the first time in awhile, that I love. There were many people there, who are always at camp with me. :) There were those new to camp and a program director unfamiliar to me, so sometimes the week felt less coherent than previous years; yet every time I looked around, almost everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. I spent a lot of time with a few people who are very dear to me, but I also had deeper conversations with a few acquaintances, grew less scared of cool people, and met a few fun contra people that I should've met awhile ago. I took a longsword class in which I learned one of Ted's crazy-energetic dances. I drank a fair amount of beer, but I went to sleep earlier than usual most nights, and I woke up at 7 am to hang out in the dining hall every morning! I explored the area around camp -- canoeing to Little Long Pond, finding the head of several trails around the nature preserve, walking along the cranberry bog. I had my own cabin, but a porch on which to host social times.

I had really excellent food and drink around the Boston area, this time even more than usual. I had an awesome dinner at Russell House with entropydevice and ultranurd! They told me all about the bad habits of CS academic papers, and we ate an astonishingly crispy poached egg, delicious pork rilette, orgasmic bruleed manchego. I also had little crab salad sandwiches, a prosecco cocktail (Seelbach), and a California white...sauv blanc, I think. Then they took me to LA Burdick for hot chocolate... I sat by the Charles River on Sunday afternoon with jere7my. That evening, delicious southern food made the long walk to Highland Kitchen worthwhile - scallops with spicy remoulade and bacon bits on fried green tomatoes, grits with shrimp and more bacon and mushrooms, and a sharply vinegary pulled pork sandwich. YUM. Oh yeah, and a Dark 'n Stormy variation with chili-infused housemade ginger beer! Liz & Dave cooked pasta on Monday night with farmers' market vegetables (thumbs up!), but afterwards we went to Christina's for ice cream; I had avocado and Mexican chocolate, hee. It was good to catch up with my good Boston-area friends, and I love spending time around Inman Square. I wish it were easier to contemplate a weekend visit up there... I also wish I could be positive I'll find time to visit western Mass this fall/winter.