Friday, September 28, 2007


Last weekend I taught my second residential writing retreat for my home students here in WI. It was a lovely time - the weather was impeccable (still pretty much is!), the number of students smaller than last April, and I was calmer than the first time, both because of my confidence level calming down and also because of having the "first retreat in that location" down from earlier this year. My life leading up to the retreat was less hectic, too.

I'd love to teach more retreats. I plan to keep as many classes during the week as I currently have, but the retreats, especially now that a core of my students attend them and also do a great job of holding space for the newer students - are a real bonding space for all of us, and a real chance to take the practices deeper. I have a few retreats in mind - I want to do four a year, three in the Arena WI location we've been doing it (a lovely old farmhouse with 200 acres of hiking land and goats and horses and great views) and in the winter, one at the Shambhala retreat center near Plymouth, WI. Then, I have in the pipes a few other ideas - non-residential retreats (like what I taught in Florida) - in particular, one the weekend before New Year's Eve for folks to process the year and visualize what they want out of the New Year - and yoga and writing combined retreats with one of my students, who is a yoga teacher in town and has expressed really similar teaching philosophies to mine.

All of this is spurred on too, not just by time and adjustment, but the support from the group of teachers at Marquette, where I will begin teaching in the spring. Little did I know when I rejected my acceptance to the Contemplative Education Masters at Naropa in order to have more time to teach that I would be able to find a community, be paid to be a part of one, nonetheless!, in which I could do a lot of the same research, discussion, exploration and be supported by similar approaches to the Naropa program. This month's reading focuses on how to balance intuition and intellect in teaching, how to leave room for space and koans and also get the grading done. We have our first big monthly meeting today, this afternoon in Milwaukee, and I am actually *excited* about it - excited to continue working in this ecumenical group, excited to follow up the retreat from last spring which surprised me with the diversity and acceptance (various breeds of Catholics alongside various breeds of Buddhists and other even atheists) - something I didn't expect to find in academia. Certainly, perhaps because of my parents' extreme academic mentalities and intellectualism, I never expected to find the kind of teaching I do - very intuitive, non-graded, well thought out for certain but non-standardized for even more certain - not only validated but encouraged in a well-reputed academic university. Let's hope this is just the beginning!

Off to go hear the Venerable Khandro Rinpoche speak in Milwaukee as well this weekend. For years I have wanted "a teacher" and just recently, ironically right before this 40-something young and perky teacher's visit, I have settled into realizing that I have many teachers and I am likely more a many teacher person than one teacher person. She fits the bill -challenging and young, favored by the feminist queer set, reputed to be edgier than Pema Chodron (also related to the Shambhala Lineage) and it may still work out - we'll see, I'm not decided yet. But training for Shambhala Arts is starting up in Minneapolis next month and I am most likely to continue on the track I am on - learning through teaching, and workshops related to that and the arts, than to go and study with one particular teacher. It might just be resistance, too, so we'll see. Regardless of outcome I am exceptionally grateful at the moment for the potential for growth that continues in my life and the myriad manifestations of the work I've done so far and that others have done for me. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ours is not to question why

The last two mornings I have woken with what Chogyam Trungpa calls "Early Morning Depression". Sad, tender heart with a sense of mourning and aimlessness, no desire to face a day which, on the surface, is totally approachable: no major stresses, no major happenings, and the most perfect weather the Midwest can get imho: 70's, cloudy, windy, almost no humidity. Yet, the first two hours or so of the morning, certainly that first hour of semi and real consciousness merging, are spent feeling grumpy, overwhelmed before I even begin. I used to feel this a lot more often - it's gotten "better", meaning, less frequent and less overwhelming. The obvious trigger is PMS - and once I've been awake long enough to realize this, I take the appropriate herbs and things relax a lot. Yesterday, I went to the Co-op (something I rarely do considering how close I live to it, for a spontaneous breakfast purchase or the like) and got a nothing muffin, and asked Becky for the freshest anti-cold juice she could make me (side symptom is that lungs, throat and sinuses are reacting to the clotting grief) and enjoyed them in the semi-sun with the latest Dan Savage column.

Becky and I have been talking a lot lately about how appreciation is an often-forgotten antidote to many things. Even appreciation can be appropriated and used against yourself - oh I am depressed because I am not appreciating my situation enough, blah blah blah. But true appreciation, giving the things I enjoy and desire a chance to show their face in the field of manure that seems to be my mornings - is actually helpful, and mostly available. For instance, I got my heart of hearts car last week for a super sweet deal, as Becky's and my car (a one dollar hand me down from her parents, which lasted us a year) died full on last week. Even during that occurrence - me stranded in Fitchburg on the way to test drive the car I was certain I was going to (and did) buy - I had an appreciation of the humor of the way things sometimes fatefully crash together, and of the high winds and weather, the crispness of the air and the cost of the tow truck, of how we didn't wind up stranded in that old Toyota Wagon near Milwaukee or Chicago, which were trips taken recently and planned on again in the upcoming future. I appreciate that I appreciated those things in those moments. I wonder, actually, if I am more able to do this in "crisis" moments than in everyday life. Perhaps this is why CTR really focuses so much on "Ordinary/personal world" - our day to day maintenance, relationships, carpooling, work and break time. Though certainly some folks don't handle crises "well", I have known a large number of folks, myself included, who excel in crisis, but somehow tend to fall short in daily life. This sounds judgmental as I write it - it's not a performance issue, but more how a moment in alarm is somehow sharper, clearer to me and easier to act in than in the fuzzy morning, even if what is making it fuzzy are the very things I like most - soft sun, new kitten in my lap, meditation.

Let me recount the tale of the the car transfer, as it is a doozy. Becky and I bought her parents' second car last year for the low low price of a dollar, and we put a few hundred into it, shared between the two of us. It got us through a winter of driving to Milwaukee for Shambhala Training programs, trips to Chicago and Milwaukee for holidays, and even got Becky to Northern Minnesota and Southern Illinois. It was a Toyota Camry, 1990, the wagons that some folks still love so much and they don't make anymore. We knew there were going to be other costs coming up soon - an oil leak slowly getting worse, brake lines rusted from some time in the garage in disuse. I was even entertaining the idea of putting a few hundred more into it to get me to Milwaukee/Marquette over this upcoming winter, but in my deep heart I knew I'd need to get a much more reliable car. A couple of weeks ago, we were aimed to go to Plymouth Wisconsin for a meditation instructor training program, and I went to get the oil changed and a fuel-ish smell checked out. Turns out the fuel lines are both rusted together and also falling apart (so much for the strength of a union, eh?) and they informed us the car was on the way out and certainly not to take it out of town. So we took another friend's car to the retreat - or, started to - only I burned her clutch disk while getting used to her clutch, which is especially picky, and there was a big panic with smoke and we wound up taking a THIRD car, because we feared the second cars' clutch fork was BROKEN. I set aside in last week time to ask friends who know cars how to buy a new one, and scoured Craigslist for a couple of days, emailing folks about used but still good Honda and Toyota Sedans, but my heart wasn't in it. Sure, they are sturdy, reliable cars, and sure I can no longer afford the Saabs that my ex used to fix for me for free, but I needed something that would make me happy, too, and boring sedans just don't do that. I never said it aloud, but what I really wanted was a Subaru - an Impreza Outback, a hatch with stationwagon size but a cuter back end. Ask, even silently, and sometimes things get delivered - for one appeared, cherry red, incredible deal, on Craigslist the second day. After a flurry of emails and hoping someone else hadn't gotten to it first, I drove the now-dead (at the time dying) Toyota out to Fitchburg on the edge of Friday afternoon to test drive the Suby. The old car DIED (I heard the last fuel line POP just a mile from his house) and I succumbed myself to it so simply, without resentment or panic, because it just seemed to make so much (absurd) sense. I called a tow company, and then Erika, my former roommate, who came to get me and take me to the new car. We drove it and I fell in love - yes, this is a car I could drive to Milwaukee once a week, with Becky out to Colorado next year, and anywhere in the interrim in town and to Chicago to visit folks like Birdfarm. He agreed to take it to my mechanic, and we got the very last appointment of the day - all to find out it needs some work, more than he or I realized. At this point, I turned to him and asked if he'd lower the price and he and I negotiated outside of the Car X, and he said I could take the weekend to think it over. "Oh no" I said "I am sure if you are. I have my checkbook on me (had to take out a loan) and I have no car. I'll drive you back to Fitchburg and we can sign the title there, if you don't mind." He was clearly blown out of the water, and needed to think about it himself, but in the end, he was as happy as I was to have his search to sell the car done in less than two days. And so we did. I registered it yesterday.

In recounting this funky tale of seeming fate, my appreciation increases for how the unknowing we have about any situation sometimes leads to what we call auspiciousness, or coincidence, and sometimes leads to murky mornings without direction. I realize I don't always have to get a "prize" like the Suby to appreciate things. And I realize I can't be appreciating 24/7. So I'll go have a cup of coffee, grateful I had the time to write, grateful even for a floor I have time to sweep so I can appreciate it clean instead of resenting it as dirty. And when I get sad, I will cry, hopefully, without worry. This is appreciation too, accepting without judgment, regardless of the status of the situation - it need not be perky and cute like my new-to-me Suby in order to be something I can say I am grateful exists. And for the things that are seemingly beyond gratitude, things I really don't appreciate exist, nor do I see myself appreciating? Who knows. There's always room to learn. Ours is not to question why.