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In addition to the delicious, fresh and healthy food, daily exercise and my monumental Zen moment, there was another equally exciting moment when a stash of chocolate had been found! Perhaps now would be the time to mention that said chocolate stash was located at the very back of the bookstore, in the corner, on the lowest shelf, tucked in back of … well, emergency feminine hygiene products. I don’t know about you, but this makes perfect sense to me! Within a few minutes, all the chocolate was sold out, gone, zippo! All of this happened, of course, during the time that I had been pondering the meaning of life without technical gadgetry in my journal down at the lily pond.
It wasn’t until I had wandered back up the hill and saw everyone sitting and huddled together in what looked like a big ball, eating chocolate, that I realized there had been a sacred stash (the nuns were holding out on us!). I would have been completely out of luck had it not been for a nice lady who bought extra and insisted I take one of the pure, rich, solid, milk chocolate bars (I am convinced that only at a Buddhist retreat would someone be nice enough to share the only stash of chocolate on the premises). Being no fool, or rather a fool who loves chocolate, I immediately and graciously accepted her offering. Within moments I was having my second Zen moment.
The next time chocolate surfaced, it was I who saw it first. I chalk this up to pure coincidence that I happened to be
hovering standing at the food table when the chocolate covered strawberries arrived. Like a swarm of bees, we all made repeated trips until we just couldn’t eat another single bite of food. I must state for the record that these were the best chocolate dipped anything I’ve ever eaten. As we were learning to follow the “middle way” we did not eat all the dessert, saving a healthy portion for the following day, which we devoured by noon. Pat, one of the women at my dinner table didn’t like chocolate. She preferred the strawberries without embellishments and so she used a knife and fork to peel off all the chocolate, at which point my disbelief was evident by the widening of my eyes and dropped jaw. I intensely stared down and studied her bowl. As if she had been reading my mind (which probably was not difficult given my obvious facial expressions), she laughed and said something that for the life of me I can’t remember. What I do remember is that she gracefully slid the bowl across the table, smiled and told me to enjoy the chocolate. And so I did!
Both retreats flew by quickly, much more quickly than I had wanted. I was sad on the final day of the last retreat when people packed their bags and departed, one by one. The laughter and goodbyes grew faint until there was only silence. There I sat on the a chair under a tree, feeling pangs of melancholy, the same pangs I felt as a kid on the very last day of our family vacation. I was not ready to leave. I had learned so much, and I realized the more I learned the more I wanted to learn. The time that I had spent at the Buddhist temple was special, and I cherished every moment, even the moments of awkwardness due to forced silence and chants in a language that I did not know, moments of withdrawal from high-tech gadgets and creature comforts I had grown used to. I missed Bill. I missed Webster, but I was not yet ready to return home, return to my fast-paced, frenzied life and I certainly wasn’t ready to go back to work. I had finally relaxed, calmed and silenced a very noisy inner critic.
As I was heading around the corner from the pay phone that was on the blitz, which meant that I would need to drive to a point where I could obtain a cell phone signal in order to request another day off from work, I happened to see Pema, one of the Buddhist nuns, standing on the edge of the deck outside theGompa. Or rather, I should say hanging off the side of the deck, cell phone in hand and held high up over her head. My first reaction was hysterical laughter. Picture this: A bald headed nun dressed in a full Tibetan ceremonial robe hanging off the deck trying to score a cell phone signal! Oh how I wished that I had my camera. I know what you’re thinking right about now, and you’re partially correct. I did, indeed, whip out my cell phone. I typed in a text message asking my boss for another day off. I leaned off the side of the deck, just as I had seen Pema do, and held my phone high above my head until I heard the all to familiar “bloop” of the text message being sent. I was fairly certain my boss would approve the additional vacation day. I then turned the phone off, tossed it in my backpack and slowly snaked my way up the long, steep hill to a sit in silence in the middle of the woods, to bask in the sunshine with only my journal and prayer beads, and my simple desire to experience pure tranquility.
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I have been interested in Buddhism off and on for many years. I like the concepts of Buddhist philosophy and how it complements other more formal religions if one so chooses. One thing that inspires me about Buddhist practices is the fact that Buddha encouraged his students to question everything and not to believe everything he said merely because he said them. He inspired people to live wisely and apply those practices that made sense for each individual. I admire the “do no harm” practice of Buddhism in which protecting all living things is important because it is believed all living things are interconnected. There are many other things I admire about Buddhist and Zen practices, but I won’t provide you the entire list here, because it’s a long list that goes on and on and could end up a dissertation instead of a blog post. The bottom line for me is that I like the way Buddhism’s governing principles give everyone the benefit of the doubt in that at our very core, people are good, we are all good.
The people whom I've gotten to know during the course of my retreats are absolutely fascinating; a Catholic Priest, a schoolteacher, a fisherman, a Buddhist nun, and two women from Missoula Montana who run their own Buddhist center. Everyone was a kick in the pants and each of these individuals inspired me in different ways. Laughter, stories, advice and kindness were shared freely and openly. Everyone had experiences to share and from which we could all learn. Meals and break times were always lively and entertaining, and I was in awe of the accomplishments of some of these people. On more than one occasion I stood, mouth wide open and speechless, (it is rare that I am rendered speechless as my family -- particularly my dad -- will swear to). There was a very wise, older woman who traveled the distance of several hours to attend the retreat. She was funny, childlike in her inquisitiveness, and pure joy to be around. She had noticed that I wore a lot of t-shirts with logos from a very prominent company in Silicon Valley. After the 4th day she finally asked if I worked for the company that was advertised on the shirts. “I do,” I told her, with a twinkle in my eye (little did I know that this very fact would make me very popular at meal times). She chuckled, mischievously, and told me her son works for the “other guy” and then we both laughed. Our inside jokes and bantering continued throughout the course of the retreat. When the time had come to exchange email addresses and phone numbers, she told me, apologetically, that she wouldn’t be online for a while. Apparently, her computer had come down with the “blue screen of death” right before she left for the retreat and so she said she would let me know when her system and email were back up and running. And so she said to me, “I guess you get the last laugh on this one” to which I just grinned, closed my eyes and shook my head, saying not a word.
Three days into the retreat on a Sunday afternoon, I finally had what is known as a “Zen” moment; a transformational experience that no book or person could have convinced me was possible. Up until now, I believed such encounters were fabrications from well-meaning authors, and that the only way I would ever have such a moment was if I shaved my head and fled to the nearest ashram) not something that’s likely to happen anytime soon, if at all). As my mind frequently jumps from one thought to another, a mis-calibrated stream of consciousness, I have a difficult time keeping in the moment. There is a never-ending, constant, chatter that I have grown to accept and understand. The ongoing, inner dialog never leaves me feeling lonely and without company. Is it any wonder that I’m an insomniac?
The extraordinary moment came about during one of our many meditations and after having recited a single mantra well over 150 times, so many times, in fact, that I think I actually lost count. My prayer beads in hand, I continued reciting in silence. I have no idea how much time had passed, but I do know that when they called time and rang the gong, I was overcome with feelings of serenity and peace; complete relaxation, intermixed with exuberant energy, and I felt like I was busting out at the seams (not to be confused with “busting at the seams” from one too many trips to the food table). It’s a feeling that is difficult to describe and a feeling that I have never before experienced. Not long after our meditation, several people discussed the constant, loud noises that had been coming from the next room, noises that made it difficult for them to meditate. Noises I never heard, which is odd since repetitious noises typically sends me through the roof (remember the post about barking dogs?). I felt so tranquil. Still, I was in a state of disbelief, so I asked Juanita, the woman who sat to my right, if she had heard any snoring coming from my direction. She confirmed, there was no snoring and assured me that I had NOT fallen asleep in an upright position. I was happy, and I felt a sense of accomplishment from having achieved the sense of calm that I had always read about and that I so very much needed. I was also encouraged that if this could happen once, it could happen again, and so it did, but not until after several more failed attempts.
It is peaceful and serene here at the Land of Medicine Buddha temple and sanctuary. I am sitting in Lotus position on a special meditation pillow, surrounded by candles, incense and statues of 9 Buddhas lined neatly in a row. I am reciting a prayer and mantra after mantra. Still, I cannot seem to move beyond the fact that I have no cell phone service, which makes me feel quite intense! Try as I might to lead my mind from missing my cell phone service back to meditation and mantra, I continue to dwell on the fact that I went from 5 bars to no bars the very minute I turned up the long, winding and heavily wooded driveway. In my current state of withdrawal, I am most certain they did this with thoughtful intention.
Morning, noon and night, during every available break, I continue to check my iPhone, even through the previous 5 times I checked the phone still reported, "no service." Did I honestly think that somehow my body could act as a giant receiver and that I could, miraculously, lock in service? My mind resurfaces and I wonder what he hell is wrong with me in that I cannot enjoy this alluring place, serene moments of silence and meditation (note that I originally typed medication, to which I am certain that I am that in need of at lease one prescription). I have sadly come to the conclusion that I am a high-tech junkie in need of a thirteen-step program, the additional step needed, specifically, for having fond attachments to electronic devices. Since meditation and Buddhist philosophies advise that you not fight your thoughts and simply acknowledge them, no matter how obsessive, and gently let them pass, I practice doing so. Out of sheer mental exhaustion, I finally surrender to the fact that I have no service and I begin to relax. However, looking around at all the smiling, peaceful faces in the room, I am fairly certain that I am the only person attending two, back-to-back, Zen retreats who was foolish enough to smuggle in a laptop computer!
One of my biggest pleasures in life is eating. I make no excuses to hide the fact that I love to eat (nor do the hips lie)! For this very reason, I am often on a diet (along with the dog). The food served at the retreat, to my surprise, has been amazing! It’s beyond what I would have expected (of course, what I “expected” was a cardboard & broccoli concoction drowning in an unidentifiable green sauce). However, nothing even remotely resembling a cardboard, broccoli combination, nor any overcooked noodles with unidentifiable sauce of any type, or color has been served. What they did serve was what they refer to as sustainable vegetarian, what they can grow or purchase locally and that which will not deplete earth. Everything was fresh, homemade and organic. I have tried, many times, to buckle down and become vegetarian without success. In spite of my efforts, ultimately I return to my flesh eating habits (barring anything resembling Bambi or Peter Cottontail, and the very reason I do not befriend chickens). Tonight we are dining on salads with fresh vegetables with a lemon dill vinaigrette, lentil soup and homemade vegetarian pizza. We continue to go back and forth for seconds and thirds until we are all too stuffed to move, which is likely to be an issue since after dinner there is a scheduled walk and qigong session (and for this I pray that we are all not standing too close to together given our hefty dinner portions). There were many meals that were so delicious that I never once missed having chicken or fish. Rarely, do I eat beef, but this is more attributed to having had a pet cow more than the issue of “beef” (perhaps a topic for another blog post). If only they had had a cookbook that I could purchase (not that I cook, but it is a nice addition to any library and a beautiful accessory for any kitchen countertop)! When all was said and done and I returned back home, I was not chomping at the bit for any of the foods that I ate before the retreat. I was perfectly content to continue eating vegetarian cuisine, at least for a while, the “awhile” being the longest period of time I’ve ever gone without eating meat like substances.
(To Be Continued) ...
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I love our kickback Sunday morning ritual of going out to breakfast, reading, going out to breakfast, taking a leisurely stroll and pretty much doing nothing, except going out to breakfast (I LOVE going out to breakfast, although I'm sure you figured that out pretty quickly). Saturday’s tend to be hectic running errands and doing shopping or whatever chores I put off during the week, including torturing the dog as we did a couple of weeks ago (something I always have enough energy for). But on Sunday’s I never feel compelled to do anything more than I want to do. It’s my day.
My day started lying in bed watching Grey’s anatomy where I yelled at Meredith to stop all that whining, already! Seriously! My day usually starts earlier than Bill’s day. Bill stays up too late playing on the Internet. I can see him scowling at me now for telling you all this little tidbit, and I’ll likely hear about it when he reads this post because there will be a comment fly from across the hallway from his office to mine. However, in being completely honest he has been staying up late working on this new blog site. So I can hardly tease him too much about it (at least if I want him to finish the site).
We make the short jaunt down the road to Rocky’s Cafe for breakfast, one healthy breakfast and one not so much. I bet you can probably guess who had the “not so much” healthy breakfast of pancakes! As it was cold, Webster was stuck in the car, but he never has to worry because we always come back to the car, doggy bag in hand (his reward for patiently waiting and without any indiscretions). This morning was great because, for some reason, there were very few people out on the road today or in Rocky’s. Usually there is a wait unless you’re willing to sit outside, which we always opt for unless it’s cold like today. No wait, either to be seated or getting our food. Which was good because I was pretty hungry. My plate was perfectly clean when I was finished (well, not quite as clean as when Webster does the plate cleaning, but pretty close).
Next on "my" agenda (which, of course, Bill gets lured into): the bird store. I needed a new bird (the reasons for such shall be the topic of another post). But here’s a clue: damned squirrels! Bill falls over when he sees the price of the one that I’ve selected, truly the only squirrel proof feeder. It’s probably a good thing I fed him before the trip to the bird store.
The sun came out and the skies were blue, embellished with white, puffy clouds so we took the slow route home. The rest of my day will likely be spent in a combination of relaxing and getting blog posts ready for the upcoming week. But maybe before all that I'll just have myself a little nap.
This morning I awoke with a migraine. Six aspirin and a flax compress later, I am finally able to sit up without feeling like I want someone to shoot me.
Still, everything seems rather blurry.
But, in spite of all of this, my faithful companion is still on the bed next to me, wondering why we haven't yet gotten up. Webster is growing restless, as am I.
But have no fear, Webster, for we do need to get up. Because you know what? We have about 6,000 photos to transfer from the old drive to the new one. Remember that rainy day project?
Well, it's raining today.
No creativity required. Just drag the photos folder to the new drive and copy away.
Maybe tomorrow, something more interesting.
The wind had picked up, as did the rain. Our first fall storm continued. However, in spite of the flickering power and lights, I was perfectly content. After all, we were on the generator, which provided enough power for me to keep working to finish my blog post.
Damn, it happened again; lights on, lights off. Every time the power went on, we’d cut the generator only to have to repower it up again and hour or so later. At least the power, once it went off, did come back up quickly, within a couple of hours, and much sooner than the typical cycle of events. There have been times that we’ve been without power for days, and once, a few years ago, we were without power for a week due to bad storms and road closures. I remember working on a video project for a client where I was rushing against a Christmas deadline and with limited power. All the power that we had coming from the generator was siphoned into my studio/home office. Power cords everywhere, it was a mess. But I did finish the project, albeit the clients family back east did not get their movie until the day after Christmas. So this … this should be a piece of cake.
As I typed away, I noticed that one of my drives wasn’t showing up. Never mind, I thought, I’ll finish my post and then worry about it later. The post went up and I went to work, moving the extension chords out of the way and getting equipment off their power strip and back to where everything belonged. But my drive was still MIA. I tried rebooting, new cables, powering down, then up, disk repair, to no avail. The drive, simply wouldn’t boot. The drive won’t boot, “OH MY GOD THE DRIVE WON’T BOOT!” My husband could hear my panic from across the hall. Actually, I’m fairly certain that even the neighbors were able to hear my panic attack in spite of a storm and rain hitting so hard it sounded like workers banging on the roof. We continued to try everything, including yet more cables and three different computers, different operating systems, yet nothing worked. The drive refused to come up (and I yelled at it as if it had a conscience and it were spiting me just to teach me a lesson). I took a deep breath to see, double check, once again, to absolutely make certain the drive that died was NOT my primary photo drive. Yes. Thank goodness, it was the backup drive, not the primary drive that stores my 1600+ photos, spanning years of picture taking, travels and whatnot. Of course, now that I was over the temporary rise in blood pressure and relief it wasn’t my primary drive, it was the whatnots that concerned me. For you see, that second partition on my backup drive housed my entire music, movie and TV collection. All the content I had purchased from the iTunes music store was housed on that drive! Was I smart enough to have backed up that partition? No, I was not. I went against common sense and all that experience has taught me about backups and computer equipment. I just forgot. How, I wondered could I have been so careless? I know these things happen and I know to always back up my content. And I always back up my content. Although, now I could no longer use the word, “always.”
Bill took the drive and continued CPR efforts to no avail. Do I have a copy of the software program, Disk Warrior, he asks? Without one peep, not a single word, I give him “that look”, the one that answers his question, but with a serious attitude. And so he assured me that we’d buy a copy of the software, these things happen, and he’s sure he can get into the drive. He’s sure he can, he’s sure he can, he’s sure he can, and I am now contemplating giving him “that look” again, because I am thoroughly disgusted, but I think better of it. After all, he is trying to help and it’s not his fault I was careless.
Meanwhile, I am faced with the fact that my primary drive no longer has a backup drive. It’s still raining and I don’t want a repeat of events. I frantically go through my office, searching for every available drive I own, be it a big one or a small one. Finally, I’ve located 3 drives and I diligently go to work backing up here, backing up there, backing up, backing up everywhere. It’s a whacky system, but it worked. I had enough room on each of the drives to get every important photo backed up. God forbid, however, that I need to use this whacked out system to really find anything. But at least I can sleep through the night knowing photos are safe. As luck would have it, in my finding space to back up my photos, I also find a “partial” backup of the drive that I lost. While it doesn’t contain everything, it does have all my music and half of the video content that I purchased. And so the memories come rushing back as to why I had not finished doing the back up of my music content -- I had run out of room. I had had good intentions of backing up some content to DVD and the rest to another drive. And what’s that quote about good intentions? Ahh yes, those were the drudge tasks that I was putting off for a rainy day. Can anyone guess what I’ll be doing this weekend?