No more boring graff

It’s still raining from yesterday and last night, although “rain” is perhaps too strong a word for this mist that falls without the sound of raindrops. You can see it in the air, and you can see it in the drops and rivulets that gather on impervious surfaces. But you can walk through it, like a cloud, without feeling you’re getting wet.

Two faces

It’s a metaphor often used in Zen that meditation practice is like walking through mountain mist: without realizing it, you get soaked clear through. And I guess that’s how things have been with my own Zen practice: as I do it, it doesn’t feel like it’s working, but all these years later, look at how wet I’ve become.

I think many things are like that: if you do something daily, you get better at it without really knowing it. As Ken Kessel JPSN once said, we become what we practice, or as Malcolm Gladwell writes, it takes 10,000 hours of doing something diligently to become proficient at it.

Wink

I know that over the years, I’ve probably spent 10,000 hours on my meditation mat, and as many hours (at least!) scribbling lines in cherished black notebooks. And I’ve probably spent the equivalent of 10,000 hours blogging, or snapping photos if you could somehow tally the total time it takes to snap, snap, snap day after day, taking bad shots along with the good and gradually learning how to sort one from the other.

It’s not a mystery, this method of doing something every day whether it seems to be working or not. It’s simply the wisdom of mountain mist: an imperceptible influence that cannot be denied.

This is a lightly edited version of this morning’s journal entry, illustrated with images from yesterday’s misty-morning walk down Modica Way in Central Square, Cambridge.

The Potluck

David Fichter’s murals look better on a sunny day…but it was raining when I arrived at the Cambridge Zen Center on Sunday morning, and I’m in the habit of taking a walk before sitting down to meditate. So despite the drizzle, I left my purse in the car and walked with just my camera and a raincoat: just me, the rain, and a neighborhood full of images.

The Potluck

In response to Rurality’s comment on yesterday’s post, today I’ve been sitting with a question: what is wrong with quick picture-posts? As a writer, I feel guilty when I post “just” a picture, yet I continue to stockpile more photos than I could ever blog, even if I posted “just” a picture a day. So what am I waiting for? Why am I saving images for a proverbial rainy day when I know the secret to successful blogging is simply showing up?

So here I sit on the evening of a sunny day sharing pictures from a rainy day. This is how Central Square, Cambridge looked on a wet Sunday morning, before I arrived at the Zen Center to meditate to the sound of raindrops. What better way to spend the morning of a rainy day?

If these rainy-day images of David Fichter’s “The Potluck” have left you hungry for more, you can revisit my sunny-day photos of “Sunday Afternoon on the Charles River,” another Fichter mural in Cambridge, MA. And if you still haven’t gotten your fill of photos, I’ve finally uploaded a photo-set from the May 3rd soccer match between the New England Revolution and the Houston Dynamo. Enjoy!

Ca$h for your Warhol

In trying economic times, you don’t have to be a starving artist to be on the lookout for an alternate source of income. This offer of cash for your Warhol is a not-so-gentle jab at Brandeis University, whose doomed decision earlier this year to bolster their budget by selling the school’s art collection turned out to be a public relations disaster, earning them nothing but ridicule.

Fresh paint

In the aftermath of my friend JW’s death last week, I’ve experienced a new appreciation for the intangible wealth that is friendship. I shot these photos on my way to the Cambridge Zen Center for a Dharma teachers’ meeting this past weekend, and it was like stumbling onto treasure to see my long-time friends Jen and Jody there. “Make new friends but keep the old,” an old song advises. “One is silver and the other gold.” Old friends are as precious as gold because they’ve seen you–and loved you–through years of changes and challenges. Seeing Jen pregnant with her second child, I remember the joy I felt when we spent some time alone together during her first pregnancy and the happiness of her double baby shower with another long-time friend, Stella. I knew Jen before she was pregnant, before she was married, and before either of us grew into our long Dharma teacher robes. Jody, too, has been a friend through many changes: a musician who once collaborated with my ex-husband, she’s stuck around while he hasn’t. It’s wonderful to spend even a short time with someone who knew you when you were one half of a couple and still loves you after the dust of divorce and heartache has settled.

Fresh paint

In the aftermath of loss, being able to come together with old friends to commiserate a shared loss is invaluable. Last night, I made a two-hour drive to Rhode Island and back to attend JW’s seven-day Buddhist memorial ceremony at the Providence Zen Center. One of the three jewels in Buddhist practice is the community called sangha, and to me it was worth a four-hour round-trip to hug a handful of friends after having chanted, shared stories, and wept in a Dharma room packed with fellow mourners. JW himself was a treasure: a man whose kindness, loyalty, and good humor helped Zen practitioners all over the world for the 20 years he worked for the Kwan Um School of Zen and its international sangha. Approaching PZC last night, I felt a twinge of emptiness knowing JW wouldn’t be there, omnipresent clipboard in hand, to greet guests and see to their needs. That emptiness melted, though, when I heard a Dharma room of people, all gathered in JW’s memory, who were already there chanting for him. Make new friends, and keep the old, even if some of your golden friends have left this suffering world behind. The memories and love you carry in your heart are priceless indeed.

Goldenstash = stash o' gold

This is my belated contribution to last week’s Photo Friday theme, Wealth. Originally, I had intended to end with this “pot of gold”-themed photo of Goldenstash, which I spotted on my way to the Cambridge Zen Center this weekend, but I got sidetracked by another, more intangible sort of wealth. It’s all good.

Su Bong Sunim Memorial Garden

Email is an impersonal way to find out a dear friend has passed, but sometimes there’s no better way to break bad news. In my Zen school, we chant Kwan Seum Bosal–the name of the bodhisatta of compassion–when someone is in need and Ji Jang Bosal–the name of the “Earth Treasure” bodhisattva–when someone dies. Right now, the names of Kwan Seum Bosal and Ji Jang Bosal are echoing around the globe as members of my Zen school learn via email that one of our own–a long-time and dear Zen-friend–has passed, leaving a bereaved wife and many devastated friends.

Leafy Buddha

In the immediate aftermath of shocking news, you have no words to express (much less explain) what has happened: all you have is a sad, stunned feeling, like a punch to the chest. The beauty of chanting, I’ve found, is that you don’t have to say anything. Once you take up your moktok–the hollow wooden instrument used to keep time during chanting–and open your mouth, the familiar melody takes over, like an oft-repeated prayer that prays itself. When Zen Master Seung Sahn died several years ago, Zen practitioners around the world chanted “Ji Jang Bosal” in his memory; when MBTA operator Terrese Edmonds died last spring, folks at the Cambridge Zen Center, having read the news in the paper, intoned the same chant. It doesn’t matter how near or far death strikes; when you receive word of bereavement, either your own or that of another, there’s only one proper response: Ji Jang Bosal.

Weathered

Years ago when I lived at the Cambridge Zen Center, we’d come together every evening to chant Kwan Seum Bosal for those in need or Ji Jang Bosal for those who’d died: as a community, we carried one another’s heartaches. Every time I go to the Cambridge Zen Center to practice, I look at the names written on cards on the altar: one card listing those who are struggling, and one card listing those who have died. It’s a reminder that we’re all in this together: at any moment, any one of us will find ourselves suffering or bereaved, and at any moment, any one of us might die. We chant to give one another solace in times when words can’t express our sympathies, and we chant to remind ourselves that none of us is immune from suffering and death.

Standing Buddha

When I lived at the Cambridge Zen Center, residents would sometimes use the main meditation room for solo practice during the day, when others were at work or in their rooms. Sitting meditation nicely lends itself to solitary practice, but the sound of chanting seeps through walls and windows. Whenever I’d come home to the Zen Center during the day and would hear the sound of one of my house-mates chanting, I’d pause to listen: Kwan Seum Bosal means someone needs help, and Ji Jang Bosal means someone is grieving. In that brief moment of listening, I’d silently chant along with my unseen house-mate, not knowing the precise story behind her or his intention. From day to day, the names and faces we chant for may change, but the chant itself–and the emotion behind it–stays the same.

I was living at the Zen Center when both of my grandmothers died, and I was living at the Zen Center when my father was diagnosed with (and successfully fought) cancer. In all three cases, chanting by myself and with others brought me great emotional solace: it was something I could do, I found, even when my heart was broken, the fluid ribbon of a familiar melody carrying me even when my voice trembled with sobs. In the aftermath of tonight’s email, I have no words, but I have a clear intention: Ji Jang Bosal Ji Jang Bosal for the one we have lost, and Kwan Seum Bosal Kwan Seum Bosal for those of us left behind.

Pink

This week promises to be busy, but I’m still showing up at the page, still writing. It’s as if I’ve reached a point where walking and writing are such a guaranteed part of my daily routine, I know they’ll happen whether life gets busy or not.

Band-aid

Life always gets busy, so don’t postpone the important stuff. That’s one thing I’ve learned over the years–don’t wait until you have the time, because you won’t. Life’s busy-ness isn’t the kind of thing that comes and passes, leaving you a blissful break when you can get your life together. Instead, life’s busy-ness is like the coming of waves, one after another. There is no end to waves, as water by nature perpetually moves. Even at low tide, when waves recede, the water still moves and your floating leaf of a life is tossed on its surge. Don’t wait for the ebb and flow to relent. Instead, strengthen your sea-legs and learn to walk on water.

Imaginary meat

For years I spent more time not writing than writing, my notebook lying neglected when life got busy. I’d tell myself I’d get back in the habit of writing when life calmed down–next week, tomorrow, or after the next deadline. But procrastination is self-perpetuating, and next month leads to the next month, tomorrow to the next day, and this deadline to the next and the next and the next. There is no end to noisy demands on one’s time, and one’s notebook never complains, sitting silent and neglected when you fail to write for days or even weeks on end. And so gradually but inevitably you move from being a writer to being someone who wants toplans tomeans to write.

Peeling

Every day I have a long to-do list, and every day my to-do list contains the things I failed to do yesterday. But every day I walk Reggie, and nearly every day I write in my journal. Through sheer force of habit, these two things–walking and writing–have become as automatic as eating, bathing, or brushing my teeth. I’ve come to see them not as optional additions but as absolute essentials: the daily maintenance it takes to be “me.”

And so on busy days, I don’t skip writing, although I might write less than usual. But I set pen to page even on busy days, seeing that routine as being central to my productive functioning. Coffee-drinkers don’t skip their morning cup because they’re busy; they see that morning infusion as being the impetus that fuels their day, even (especially) when they’re busy. I don’t drink coffee, so my morning walks and my morning pages are my version of caffeine: the two things that get my day rolling.

Skull

I’ve given up trying to catch up; being caught up is as elusive as the rainbow’s end. If I’ll never catch up–if another wave of busy-ness will surely follow this one–there’s no use in waiting for calm, tranquil seas. Write right now, I tell myself, even as the boat rocks with the waves of activity. There will be plenty of tranquility when I’m dead, but no opportunity for writing then.

I wrote these paragraphs in my notebook yesterday morning, on a day I had time to write but not blog. For the complete photo-set of images from this weekend’s walk down Modica Way in Central Square, Cambridge, click here. Enjoy!

Landscape with tower

It probably sounds strange to admit it, but some of my favorite places are cemeteries. On Saturday, my friend A (not her real initial) and I met to take a sunny, almost-spring stroll at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as we’ve done before, and I fell in love all over again with the garden park that is Mount Auburn.

Tower

I’d suggested Mount Auburn as a walking destination in part because of its proximity to the Watertown Diner, where A and I could conclude our walk with afternoon pancakes as a mid-semester root beer reward. Pancakes and root beer weren’t the only things I had in mind when I suggested we go walking at Mount Auburn Cemetery this weekend, however. Although the first snowdrops and crocuses are blooming in Boston-area gardens, it’s still too early for wildflowers, so the woods are sprouting mostly mud these days. At Mount Auburn, walkers rule the paved roads and gravel paths, and planted perennials cheer the eye. Although the evergreen-shrouded Dell was still snow-covered, elsewhere in the cemetery it was easy to believe that “almost-spring” was spring indeed.

English woodbine

Although I’d had enough presence of mind to bring my binoculars on our walk, I left my new ultra-zoom camera at home, thinking A and I would be walking rather than stopping to take pictures. So imagine my chagrin when, upon parking at the foot of the tower where we’d decided to start our walk, A and I encountered a throng of photographers armed with tripods and zoom lenses.

“Did you see where he landed?” one of the photographers asked me as I got out of my car.

“Uh, who?” I asked dumbly, guessing the answer before I heard it. For years there has been at least one pair of red-tailed hawks nesting at Mount Auburn, and hawks are large, photogenic, and slow-moving enough to merit the use of a tripod. When a hawk finds a sunny perch from which to scope out the territory, he or she is likely to sit there long enough to allow photographers their fill of shots.

Red-tailed hawk

And indeed, on Saturday there were two (and by some reports three) red-tailed hawks flying around the Mount Auburn tower, which was still closed for the season. So while birders, photographers, and Saturday strollers alike bustled around the base of the tower, enjoying a sunny, hilltop view of the Boston and Cambridge skylines, one sun-worshipping redtail perched at the very top of the tower, which is open to birds year-round. If birders and photographers alike are going to ogle you, you might as well ogle back, and this is one hawk-eyed observer who had a truly bird’s-eye view.

Red-tailed hawk

I took these pictures with my old, beat-up, purse-sized digital camera, having left my new ultra-zoom at home. I can only imagine how nice a shot I could have gotten with an 18x rather than 10x optical zoom…

Sign of spring?

Shall we file this one under “Goes without saying?”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,834 other followers