Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Susan's Shuso Blog: A Chance Encounter

I sit in a cafe working on a presentation for our Wednesday night class on foggy mind. On the table is a copy of Reb Anderson's book, Being Upright. A woman enters the cafe. She is silver haired, like me. She wears a t-shirt that advertises the Fiddlehead Cafe in Hancock, NH. The t-shirt is often-washed green. She sits at the next table with her back to me. When she gets up to leave, she turns my way. She looks at the book. It is clear to me that she is curious about it. I say, "This book is about the Zen precepts. It is about how to find freedom and liberation in practicing them. "Yes," she says shaking her finger. "They are not about commandments."

I ask her about the t-shirt. "My cousin gave it to me." she says. "I love wearing it because it reminds me of her. My cousin lives in New Hampshire." I say, "My son lives in Concord. I have spent a lot of time in that beautiful state over the years." We speak of leaves turning color and falling, yesterday's rain.

She turns to leave. Her silver hair streams down her back almost covering the Fiddlehead Cafe sign.

She points to the book again. "That bodhisattva vow is so difficult - vowing to bring others across." As she opens the cafe door, she turns and says, "Kindred spirits."

I smile.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Finding Compassion for Those Who Hate

I have always allowed myself to feel justified anger for unforgiveable acts - things like blatant acts of racism, or homophobia, or sexual violence. It has been a hard, bitter place in my heart, where there is no room for opening.

Talking with my teacher Tony about this, he gave me a challenge one day. He invited me to try to extend metta or compassion to the homophobe and the skinhead. I mulled it over for quite a while. I was willing to try, but I wasn't very convinced that I could be successful.

As long as I can remember, I have been plagued by nightmares. There are many recurring themes, lots of things that I have examined and probed. And sometimes the dreams cycle towards healing, taking me to new places. Then they go back into deep hurt and terror, like that proverbial onion, always peeling one more new layer of fear and pain.

Recently, though, I had a dream that gave me an experience that I had never had before: a moment of grace.

Here is the dream:

I am a teenager, sitting with another teen on top of a car near the entrance to an alley, which leads to a path that heads to a park of some sort. We are sitting and talking, when we hear a sound. We look up, and see a man walking down the main street. He is kicking rocks, ping, ping, ping, slamming them up against people’s cars. I call out, “Hey, that’s not too bright!”

He ignores me. He turns in at the alley. I know there are dogs that live at the house at the corner, and I have a bad feeling. I see him continue to kick rocks. He hits one of the dogs with a small rock, then gives a half-assed kick to one of the dogs, then a stronger kick to the other dog. I yell at him to stop, but he ignores me.

I jump off the car, and grab my cell phone. I am going to call the police and report him, so they can pick him up somewhere in the park, and arrest him for animal abuse. Then I see him approach a stray dog. He grabs it, and starts to beat the hell out of it, kicking it and hitting it, just going and going and going. The dog is cowering, not trying to fight back at all. I start screaming as loud as I can. I wake myself up screaming, “No! No! No!”

I am sitting straight up in bed with my arms stretched out in front of me. I get out of bed, and I am sick to my stomach with the feeling of that man, beating the dog. I am standing up, but lay my head down on the bed. Sabrina woke up when I screamed, and she reaches out to me.

For some reason, I remember a Pema Chodron CD I just listened to, about putting yourself in the shoes of a person doing a horrible act, and I think of what Tony asked me to do, loving the skinhead or homophobe. And right in that moment, standing upright, with my forehead touching the mattress, I allow myself to feel what that man must feel like inside, to want to beat the dog. I am filled with an incredible sadness. It sweeps through my entire body.

It is not forgiveness, exactly, that I found. The experience has not erased that hardness I have. But it did give me one tiny glimpse into the possibility of compassion, in a place where I least expected it.

Susan's Shusho Blog: Halloween Costume

Sometimes things just come together. How could it be that the right person, the right thing, the right place come together in a synchronicity that can't be explained or understood?

I need a costume for Halloween. I will be on retreat at Black Mountain Retreat Center in Cazadero. (padmapeace.org). On Halloween Eve we will have a traditional segaki ceremony. This is the time when Buddhists unmask themselves. They approach the altar and call in their demons. The demons are recognized, invited in for tea, and asked to behave themselves until Halloween comes around again.

I want to be Kuan Yin. She is the archetype who hears the cries of the world. She is known for her boundless compassion. She has 10,000 arms and eyes to help her.

I know it is impossible to be literal but still, I can't imagine how I will create a costume that represents Kuan Yin.

I go to the Legacy. This is a shop near my home that sells recycled craft and sewing supplies. Proceeds from sales benefit the Sebastopol Senior Center.

I enter not knowing what I am looking for. I see a bolt of gold fabric. I don't know what I will do with it but I know it is exactly what I need. I give the volunteer sales person $3.00 for the fabric and I return home with it . I call my friend Peggy. “Help,” I say. “Can you help me be Kuan Yin for Halloween?”

She comes right over. She brings her sewing machine and a kimono pattern. She sews and I paint.

The back of the costume shows Kuan Yin riding a dragon. I paint eyes and hands on her sleeves and sash. My friend Corlene drops by. She shows me how to make a turban out of a piece of the gold fabric.

It takes many hands and eyes to make Kuan Yin come alive.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Upcoming Schedule, Oct. 26-31

Healdsburg Sangha:

Tuesday, Oct. 26
7 p.m. sit and kinhin
7:45 p.m. service and dharma talk by Phil McDonel

Russian River Zendo:

Friday, Oct. 29 - Sunday, Oct. 31
Sesshin at Black Mountain Center to end Fall Practice Period

Saturday, Oct. 30
RRZ Closed for sesshin

Sunday, Oct. 31
Practice Period participants reconvene at RRZ:
1 p.m. Work period
1 :30 p.m. Ceremony Rehearsal
3 p.m. Shuso Ceremony

Friday, October 22, 2010

Susan's Shusho Blog: Be Kind to Animals

A girl scout is kind to animals. This vow springs to my mind as I hear Beata, a Buddhist priest and a good friend of mine, speak about her experience with animals on the roadway.

One time she stopped for a duck who was stranded on the median strip of a freeway. She managed to shepherd the duck to the side of the road amidst speeding cars and angry drivers.

“I probably wouldn't do that again,” she tells me. “It was truly dangerous, but there is something about cars and animals, dead or alive, that evokes a need in me to stop and care for them.” In Buddhist practice we speak of this need as an awakening of bodhichitta, the desire to love and be present for all beings.

This morning on the way to Russian River Zendo in Guerneville, Beata sees a dead deer in the middle of the road. Because she is driving with a friend she doesn't want to inconvenience, she chooses not to stop and move the animal to the side of the road.

She says she is in a lot of pain. She wishes she could go back and move the deer out of the way of oncoming traffic. For years she has always stopped to help animals in distress. This time she didn't' stop. But she did renew her vow.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Susan's Shusho Blog: Anger

Last night our precepts class was about anger or not harboring ill will. There are those in the Buddhist community who believe it is possible to abolish anger and all the other defilements.

In Mahayana Buddhism we believe that growth lies in getting into the thick of things. Let the branches of the thicket cut and scratch until you are willing to let go.

Even with awakening, there is always more to do.

I told a story about being part of a practice period at Green Gulch Farm in 1998. I was in kindergarten Zen. I felt overwhelmed by the schedule. I was confused about where to be when. I had difficulty keeping track of chants and vows. I did know, however, when my toes were stepped on. I could recognize anger in myself, but I didn't know what to do with it.

I have volunteered to do a job. It was something mundane and seemingly unimportant, like passing out questionnaires. When I notice a young man passing them out without consulting me I am furious. “That is my job,” my inner voice yells. What do you do with fury when you are on a silent retreat?

I go to the practice leader, Reb Anderson. He tells me to go sit on my cushion until the anger burns up. Last night I tell this story. I also tell people about the ring of fire Reb describes in the book Being Upright. “There is pain around every Buddhist's meditaton seat,” he tells us . . . “It forms a ring of fire."

Around the inner ring is an outer ring of fire composed of anger . . . aggression . . . hate . . . ill will and violence. It is the outer ring of defenses that needs to be broken through in order to see the pain within.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Susan's Shuso Blog: I Meet a Neighbor

I am on my way down the path to my car. A woman comes toward me. “I am your neighbor,” she says. “Oh,” I say, “I wonder why we haven't met before.”

She tells me she lives in the trailer park behind our property. My home is separated from hers by a field and a fence that is covered by blackberry bushes. Robert Frost said: “Good fences make good neighbors.” Fences also shield us from one another. They keep us apart.

The woman's name is Marilyn. She is on a mission. She has been adopted by a Persian cat and she wants to find the owner. She tells me she learned to move a photo of the cat from IPhoto to document to email. She is a woman of late middle age (or early old age, depending upon how you look at it). She is my age, an aging woman. She is alive, vibrant, and engaged with the world.

Marilyn loves animals. She is also a master gardener. We talk about plants. She wants to divide her phlox and her penstemen and she wants to give me some of them.

Her neighbor is an elderly man who is often depressed. She tells me he would love to have some of my canna lilies, should I be willing to divide them.

I say, “Of course, I will give him some.” I will divide the cannas, walk up my street to the highway, go a block or so south, go east through a construction zone to the trailer park road. I will continue on the road until I find her place.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Susan's Shuso Blog: The Cider House Rules

I like to pick up films at the video store that are adaptations of books I have been meaning to read. Last night I chose The Cider House Rules which was made from a novel by John Irving. I think it was written in the '50s. I say that because I am curious about the values it presents. . . Where do these values come from and were they acceptable at the time? It raises questions about lying. Is it acceptable to lie when the lie can lead to a greater good? Do we lie to protect the feelings of self and other and do we get to decide when another person needs protection from the truth?

I am reflecting back to the 1950's when I was a young adult, married with young children. I remember being a part of a “don't tell” culture. Often people were not told, even by their doctors, that they had cancer or that they had only a few months to live. I had a friend who became ill with Huntington's Chorea. She didn't want anyone to visit her. She didn't want to discuss it. This was a more painful time than it might have been if her illness could have been out in the open.

I think of this history while I watch The Cider House Rules. Rules are pasted on the door of the cider house where the workers live. They decide the rules are not for them because someone else made them. They tear them down. Who makes the rules and who gets to decide whether they are followed or not?

The story begins in an orphanage in Maine where the doctor/administrator performs illegal abortions for the health and well being of the mother. The morality of his actions are not considered.

The same administrator falsifies documents so that a protegee of his can succeed him after he retires.

One of the orphans dies because of breathing complications. The children are told he has been adopted by a good family.

One of the precepts we are studying in our Russian River Zendo practice period is Not Lying. The cider house rules are an entry point for further discussion.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Susan's Shuso Blog: Grief

Today I will blog about the grief I feel. This grief bubbled out of the depths somewhere hiding but felt. Today it wanted out and I began the morning by working in my small sketchbook collaging images and painting watery figures bent over like willow branches weighted down by days of rain.

I experience layers of grief. Grief is never about one thing, one person, one path of suffering. It is many layered. There are layers I can't know. Layers that will never be uncovered. Layers that want attention and layers that want to lie low .

Sometimes, in the midst of joy, grief lies in wait. It knows that we are about to lose something precious and beautiful. It anticipates the change we know is coming. Grief invites us to feel and face our losses. It can bring us fully into the moment if we let it.

Yesterday there was a celebration at Russian River Zendo. Our teachers, Darlene Cohen and Tony Patchell were presented with ceremonial robes that had been hand sewn by many people from several different groups. After a brief and beautiful ceremony about fifty of us saw Tony and Darlene wrapped in shades of lavender and maroon.

During a pause in the rain we enjoy layers of chocolate layer cake on the patio. The cake has been decorated with two monks wrapped in robes of lavender and maroon.

All is as it should be. We know that soon we will lose Darlene to cancer. This is part of what is. This is what brings grief up for me this morning. Soon I will lose Darlene. I will lose all I hold dear. It is the human condition. This knowing is basic to Buddhist practice.

There is suffering in life and there is a way through and out of suffering. I move, I cry, I sit, I laugh, I breathe, I play in my sketchbook. I try to be present with all of it; moment by moment.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Susan's Shusho Blog: Coffee

Between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. coffee is offered for $1.00 a cup at the roaster's shop at the top of my street. The price is enough incentive for me to throw on my clothes, stride up the street, and take my chances on the 116 crosswalk.

This shop opened a day before Starbucks came to town. It is located in the next clump of shops. It is sandwiched in between a dry cleaner and a laundromat.

The young people who own it have created an outdoor sitting area out of wine barrels and ropes. I admire their spunk. How many people would have the temerity to open a coffee shop next to Starbucks?

I am a coffee hound. I admit it. During the day I have a hard time going by a coffee shop without going in and ordering a latte. I say give in because I am truly trying not to drink so much coffee. I know that one cup a day should be enough.

Yesterday I was brought up short. I go to Whole Foods to pick up flowers for Russian River Zendo. I think I will order my favorite coffee drink. “We don't make Jamoca's anymore,” the young woman tells me. “The ingredients in them are not consistent with our policy of offering only healthy, nutritious drinks.”

I take this news personally. Clearly this woman thinks I do not eat properly. She sees through me into my fridge and my pantry. She must know that I don't always buy organic food.

I drive away feeling shamed, angry and deprived.

I think I will figure out how to make the coffee drink in my home blender. Then I realize that the allure of the 4 p.m. Jamoca is that even though I pay for it, it feels as if someone else is treating.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Checking In

Hello, readers.

I've been a bit absent for a while, and just wanted to check in. I must admit, with Susan's regular posts, I've grown a little lazy...every morning, she has an entry sitting in my inbox, ready to go, and all I have to do is put it up on the blog. I have been rationalizing that at least there is plenty of activity....but the truth is, I've simply been caught up in my own whirlwind, and slacking.

I have been enjoying Susan's posts, and hope you have been, too. They are refreshingly simple, and often heartbreakingly honest. I encourage you to make comments, if and when you have the time. She'd love to hear from you.

It has been nearly a month, and our three-day sesshin, which marks the end of Susan's practice period as shuso (head student) is only two weeks away. We will be journeying to Black Mountain Center near Cazadero, a quiet, redwood retreat high above it all, to sit and settle into the stillness.

It will be a huge departure after my crazy October. My YWCA events, the series of author readings for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, are in full swing. We had our first event last Friday in Sebastopol, and it was a perfect evening - about 30 people in attendance, the writers all read well, the audience was appreciative, the words were powerful. It was even more than I had hoped for. Tomorrow night our second event takes place in Santa Rosa, and our third and final event happens next Friday in Cloverdale. I am still frantically composing my own pieces for that event - I have written one poem, but hope to pen two more.

I have never done event planning before, so the whole thing has been a huge learning experience for me. There have been so many little details: readers with special requests, event venues with quirky rules, etc., etc. But all in all, it has been truly a wonderful team effort, and very satisfying to feel part of something that matters.

My work schedule has continued unabated, with the last two weeks having deadline nights lasting until almost 3 a.m., and no end in sight for that, due to our reduced staff. I have vacation hours on the books, but no one to fill in should I actually take a day off. Still, once again, I am grateful to have a job, enjoying the work, and feel part of a team.

That team thing - kind of a theme, isn't it? It's amazing how much one can withstand when one doesn't feel like one is doing everything all alone.

Which brings me to perhaps the hardest part of my week - all of us in the Russian River Sangha are reeling with the news that our beloved teacher, Darlene Cohen, has recently been told that her cancer is worsening, and that she now only has a few months left to live.

When I read the email from Darlene late Tuesday night sharing this information, I could not even respond. It is only now, two days later, that I am even beginning to find a space to open up and let in the hurt.

What sustains me is knowing that I am not alone. I have my teachers, Darlene and Tony. I have my sangha. I have my partner Sabrina. And somehow, together, we will comfort each other through this, and manage to infuse the pain with love.

Susan's Shusho Blog: Vision Quest

The sky is vast and wide. Life and Death are vast and wide. Am I vast and wide? I don't think so. . . too much navel gazing . . . turning inward and taking things personally.

“It's not all about you Susan.” I make this statement while throwing a piece of paper into the fire. I am on a vision quest with nine other older women 8600 feet up in the eastern Sierras.

We have been camping here for three days. Tomorrow we will say goodbye to one another. We will form a circle. We will be smudged by our wonderful compassionate leaders and we will trek to the power spot each one of us chose the day before.

I set up a tarp. This will be my home for the next three days. I have a gallon of water a day but no food. This is to be a solo fasting retreat.

On the evening of the first day I create a circle with twigs and stones and piles of pin oak leaves. I walk the circle chanting and singing and asking the universe to help me.

I see a mountain mahogany tree. She is very old. Her trunk and branches are gnarled and wizened. I see green shoots springing from dead branches and I see how deep her roots go. She is stable. She is open to what is. In that moment I am the tree.

I return to the circle. I honor the four directions. I move in and out and around. I am the tree moving. I call in my ancestors. I tell them how much they mean to me. I call them in.

I sleep under the stars. Every few hours I waken and notice how the stars have moved, how the path of the moon has changed. I waken and I marvel.

On the fourth day I return to camp . I feel vast and wide. I embrace the others . We are each given a gallon of water to bathe with. We enjoy delicious food and we settle into three days of story telling.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Susan's Shuso Blog: Applesauce

My friend and I have a plan. We will get together to make a delicious, nutritious sauce to give away to our friends and neighbors. I buy $20 worth of apples from two guys in a truck off of Bodega Highway. I am sure these apples will be good. They have been hand-picked from a local orchard. I don't think to ask if they are organic.

My friend has several bags of apples. We decide to combine hers with mine. We core, peel, chop and cook. We sterilize jars. My friend says: “These are organic apples. Are yours organic”? I say “I don't know.” There is a awkward pause.

She tells me she doesn't want to make applesauce with any apples that are not 100% certified organic.

I think she is being rigid. I rush to the defense of my apples. I will drive to Bodega to ask the two guys in a truck if their apples are 100% organic. I will ask if they have been sprayed.

I don't want to give up on my apples. I am entrenched in my position. I don't like this feeling. I want to move in and through. Like the apples on the stove I simmer down and become soft. I make a date with my friend to be together and make sauce.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Susan's Shuso Blog: Back-up Book

Yesterday I am in the checkout line at Costco. I have gone there to get a back-up Elite external hard drive book for my computer. “You must have this,” my computer companion tells me . . . in a crash it would be like losing all your photos and family records in a fire!”

So I go to Costco feeling under duress. I always lose my car there. So I try to mark where I have left it. I enter with card in hand, find the hard drive, wander about allowing organic quinoa, toilet paper and a package of tank tops to fly into my basket. I begin to feel woozy and disoriented. I head for the checkout.

A woman is holding a cake in a large plastic casing. She has a few other things. She stands to the side of the line. If I have a question I usually ask the person if she or he is ahead of me. This time I allow my almost numb self to wheel the wagon to the counter. A nice young man helps me unload, another smiles and takes my card. I am awake again. I am feeling connected.

Then out of the blue the cake woman appears. She says: “Are you with that man”? She points to a man in a motorized wheel chair. “No,” I say. She says: “You cut in front of him in line.” Then she says, “You cut in front of me, too.” I say, “I am sorry, I didn't see you.” The "I didn't see you" was a little white lie. The "I am sorry" was the truth.

The man in the wheel chair glided through ahead of me, so I don't know what that was about.

My eyes fill with tears. Ancient stuff is triggered by the present moment. It takes me a long time to find my car.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Susan's Shuso Blog: Birdseed

This morning I learn why it is important for me to follow my daily ritual of honoring the altars and sitting zazen before daybreak. Darkness gives cover to things that call for my attention. Today I rise at 6:30, light incense at the garden altar and then, before sitting, my eye travels to the bird feeder.

I have been away, the feeder is empty, the birdbath needs water, the plants are dry. I don't have the discipline to sit with these demands. Instead of sitting, I walk to the back of the house where I keep the birdseed. I am startled by a raccoon. He looks up at me with a look of total unconcern. The look says, “Who are you to interrupt my breakfast?” I yell: “Get out of here!” I throw a shoe at him and miss. He saunters off behind the woodshed and I am left with the task of picking up scattered birdseed and minding the seed bag.

For the past month I have been drawing in a small sketchbook for a project sponsored by the Brooklyn Art Library. The theme for my sketchbook is “HELP.” I draw a woman screeching "HELP! HELP!" I draw a raccoon with paws tearing open a seed bag. I brush on glue and scatter birdseed over the page.

Last Saturday I attended a workshop on brush painting given by Michael Wenger at San Francisco Zen Center. I heard him say: “Painters don't have to sit as much as people who don't paint.”

Did I draw in the sketchbook as a way of avoiding zazen or was it zazen itself?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Susan's Shusho Blog: The Tell-Tale Radio

When I was a little girl I loved to listen to the radio. So many characters came to life as I listened to The Shadow, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Lone Ranger, and many others.

I remember what The Shadow's voice sounded like: “The Shadow knows . . . heh, heh, heh ...” Fibber goes to get something out of the closet and bang, crash, boom . . . all the stuff in the over-packed closet keeps falling and crashing into the room.

One night, when I was about 10 years old, my mother put me to bed, kissed me good night, and tiptoed to the door. “Now get right to sleep,” she said.

As soon as I hear her footsteps descend the stairs I turn on the little white radio on my bedside table. The Lone Ranger is on. “Hi ho Silver (ta dum ta dum ta dum ) away!" This call to the sound of hoof beats makes my heart beat faster.

I listen as Lone Ranger and Tonto go through various escapades. The radio volume is turned low. Suddenly, above the sound of muffled hoof beats I hear my mother's steps on the stairs. I turn the radio off. I turn my body toward the wall . I am in fetal position with my eyes tightly closed.

My mother enters the room She comes toward my bed. She puts her hand on the radio. The radio is still hot due to the tell-tale tubes inside. “You have been listening to the radio”, she says in a stern voice. “Oh no, I have been asleep”, I say in my little white lie whining voice. “This radio was just turned off,” she says. “You are lying to me. Don't you ever lie to me again.”

This was a clear case of lying and being found out. It was a lesson in morality I have never forgotton. Not lying is a deep value for me.

In practicing the 4th precept, not lying, students of Buddhism struggle with questions about what is a lie. Are there times when you need to tell a lie to protect someone else? How and when do you lie to yourself?

Where is the warm little white radio when you need it?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Susan's Shusho Blog: Dinner With a Friend

Shared history with a friend is a precious gift. Last night I had dinner in Guerneville with my former sister in law. We grew up in Holyoke, Massachusetts. In the early '50s we married brothers. Each of us had five children. Our parents were friends. We ran with the same pack.

Through one of life's amazing synchronicities we both ended up in California, she in Monte Rio and me in Sebastopol. She travels a lot with her business, Gerontological Services Inc., but when she is here we always get together. When she speaks, my mind travels on old roads and byways. I see her parents and my parents and our parents' friends. It is bitttersweet. I feel nostalgic and wish I could be in those times again. I am Emily in Our Town . . . could I please go back if only for a day . . . would I really like time travel if I could actually do it?

Our conversation moves to present time . . . what our children are doing . . . where we are in our late seventies' lives. Maria recently returned from an elder hostel trip to Cuba. "They have health care there," she tells me. There is something to learn from repressive regimes. On the way home I hear Carl Rove on the radio. He boasts about the billions of dollars Republicans are raising to defeat Democrats.

Health care? if you want it, move to Cuba.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Susan's Shusho Blog: Order and Chaos

“I commit myself to refrain from stealing my own opportunities for realization and squandering the proceeds in attempting to create more comfortable methods of remaining in samsara.”

this quote is the beginning of a discussion of the 2nd precept, not stealing, by Ngakpa Chogyam Rinpoche. Samsara means doing the same thing over and over again thinking that happiness or some kind of peace will come from it. When happiness or peace don't descend upon us we pretend we don't notice because we can't think of anything else to do.

I allow myself to get buried in the detritus of my own making. Instead of following a routine, I allow my dishes, my laundry, my art materials and various items to take over tables, chairs, beds and floor space. Even my computer feels overloaded.

This is partly personality, and judging myself will make matters worse. I love creating order out of chaos. It is the way I make art. So I have a way of rationalizing the chaos and not choosing to look at other options.

Every day for the past two weeks I have had a wonderful routine. I rise at 5 a.m., I light and offer incense at four altars. I sit for 35 minutes. Then I recite the heart sutra and say a prayer for the good health of my teacher, Darlene Cohen. Then it is time to blog. I feel satisfied and accomplished . I am ready to take on whatever the rest of the day wants to give me.

This morning I choose to break my routine. My benji Carol paul will be here at noon. We will bow and sit then. When I look deeply at my choice to break my routine I don't see it as a conscious choice at all. I see it as running away from feelings of deep grief I woke up with. I see myself trying to wash away these feelings in the hot tub. I see myself trying to connect by answering emails and wrapping presents for my grand niece and my granddaughter. Reaching out alleviates grief but going within heals it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Susan's Shuso Blog: Not Lying

It is early morning. I have the overhead light on. The light causes my head to cast a shadow on the page.

What causes a shadow to fall on my uprightness? Often, I think it is the little white lie. Sometimes it is the inability to speak up for myself or for others when intervention might be helpful.

I am reading The Mind of Clover by Robert Aitken. In the chapter on lying, Aitken gives an example of how a child might learn honesty, or dishonesty, from a parent. If the parent tells the bus driver the child is five, instead of his real age of six, in order to pay less, the child learns it is okay to lie.

I was in my fifties when my hair turned grey. This gave me license, I thought, to get into the movies at the senior rate. I thought nothing of it. In fact I boasted about it. Now I would love it if someone carded me. "Are you sure you are a senior?" is a question I don't get anymore.

In the early '90s I tried to get into Bandelier State Park as a senior. I was 62. The cut-off age was 65. The ticket taker asked me to prove my age. How humiliating!

My little girl is ten years old. We are at the the Worlds Fair. She sees a make-up booth. She desperately wants to have her face made up. A beautiful young woman will put make-up on her face for free, but she must be 12 years old. I tell the woman my daughter is 12. She sees through my story. She tells my daughter she will make up her face but she must never, ever tell a lie again.

The woman is speaking to the mother who continues to get into the movies at the senior rate.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Susan's Shuso Blog: Lost and Found

What is a blog? A blog for me is putting down what is happening right now. Is that possible? The moment found is a moment lost. The moment I got out of bed . . . the moment I made coffee . . . the moment I bowed to the altar . . . the moment now writing.

Natalie Goldberg, writer, teacher and author of Writing Down the Bones, says that Zen mind and writing mind are the same thing. In zazen we watch our thoughts as they arrive, move through and out. We watch them without attaching to them. We give them a lot of space.

In free writing, we allow the pen to move across the page. We write without judgment. We don't question what appears.

This morning , while writing, I see my sketchbook. I so want to work on it. I am aware of a dot of orange light on my glasses frame. The sun is rising above the trees. There is a stock pot on the stove. I will put the stock through a sieve. I will get manure for the garden. I will turn the compost.

I am seeing how I want to jump into the future. . . how I want to rise from my seat . . . open to the moment. What's next? What's next? What's next?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Susan's Shuso Blog: Not Killing

Last week in our practice period class we discussed the precept “not killing.” Committed Buddhists don't kill intentionally, but nonetheless they kill every moment of every day in order to nourish themselves and stay alive.

Killing is unavoidable. Little ants and millipedes are squished when we walk down the garden path. We try to be humane when we kill rats and mice and little furry things but kill them we must. We can't tell them to leave the attic insulation and the boxes of memorabilia alone. They eat what they will.

Small animals like gophers and squirrels and possums can be trapped and released in the next county. Few of us have the will and the patience and the time to do this. Anyway, do we think about where they will go next? Will it be someone else's garden?

At Zen Center's Green Gulch Farm there are ceremonies to acknowledge the intentional and unintentional killing that is part of the gardening and farming activity there. (Reb Anderson; Being Upright p. 92).

Receiving this precept our hearts are opened to the painful dilemmas involved in supporting our lives.

Recent studies have shown that plants feel pain. A carrot pulled out of the ground is a dead carrot.

Soon the six chickens we have raised on our property will go to the soup pot. They are getting too old to lay well and caring for them is stretching our human resources to the limit. The thought of killing these animals brings pain.

I remember seeing a scene from a film about a farm in Tajikistan. In it, the farmer bows low before a sheep before he slaughters it. He asks the animal's forgiveness. Kill it he must, but he will do it with love.

Before our chickens leave on their final journey we will have a ritual of gratitude for delicious eggs they have given us. I will remember the sweet times when they were tiny chicks and my granddaughter would enjoy cuddling them on her bed. Then we will let them go and move on.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Forty Hours of Intense

Today I completed 40 hours of volunteer training with the Sonoma County YWCA, a requirement before being able to do direct client work such as advocacy, hot line answering, court accompaniment, etc.

Over the past three weeks, we have learned about a wide range of topics: the cycle of violence, child abuse, human trafficking, elder abuse, sexual assault, abuse against the developmentally disabled, victims' assistance programs, the legal system, , batterers' treatment, cultural competency, communication skills, therapy, county and city resources through Health & Human Services, and YWCA services such as their safe house, therapeutic preschool, counseling, crisis line and advocacy.

This is not my first time to got through such a training. I completed one as a volunteer in 1993 in Sunnyvale, where I volunteered at the Support Network for Battered Women, and then went on to co-teach two trainings as a volunteer. I also completed a similar training with the Mid-Peninsula YWCA in Palo Alto. So most of the information was not new - but it had been a while, and it was good to brush up on things, and also to learn about the resources and agencies in Sonoma County, since I've never done volunteer work up here.

What was taxing about the training, for me, was how much all of it brought up things from my past. It was down-right alarming how many topics were broached that touched upon areas of my own life. And when I say "areas," I mean the tender spots. Just to name a few: 12 step programs, self-harm/cutting, eating disorders, mental health issues, various and sundry insensitive comments about DV (domestic violence) survivors, rape, molestation, gay/lesbian issues, being on disability....

As each item came up, I was alert and vigilant, wanting to make sure that no misconceptions came across. I wanted to protect whatever group was being spoken about, acting as its representative, since generally it was fairly clear that no one else in the room identified themselves as a member. I was able to speak out. But then I would go home, and doubt myself, and worry that I had spoken too much, overexposed myself, taken up too much space. It was a constant dance, throughout the training. Very taxing, very confusing.

Mostly, though, it made me feel stuck in the quagmire of all of those old pains. Until I brought it up with Sabrina. She said, "But Michelle, all of those things for you, most of them, anyway, were years ago." And she's right. I need to remember that I have moved past them. Much like a favorite coffee mug dropped to the ground, then glued back together, the scars are still visible, but I am whole. I am not irreparably broken; I can be of service - I can help.

And helping is exactly what I plan to do.