Mountains and molars sesshin

July 23rd, 2016

View-from-the-Lookout-at-SSRC-AfternoonI sat this sesshin with my best buddy, the angry Molar.

The Zen retreat was at a small Tibetan Buddhist center at the foot of Black Tusk, in the forest near Squamish. I got a ride up to the retreat with Kaye, an RN specializing in mental health care. She counselled me to take Ibuprofen at regular intervals, and if my face puffed up,  to get myself to the hospital pronto. She also divulged my job assignment for the sesshin: I was to be Ino. The Ino is ‘practice coordinator’, or ‘mother hen’. My job was to care for everyone else’s pain.

Hour after hour, I hung out with the howling Molar. I tried my best to observe it with kindness and curiosity. At lunch I chomped down on a bit of red pepper. My head, a brass gong, hit by a hammer. I recovered in time to clack the wooden sticks to signal the next round of oryoki. On with the show.

Teacher Kate dropped a dharma talk about mountains and waters. She said that mountains walk, and people sit; mountains are created within us; the elements trade places; earth water fire and air, volcanoes and glaciers and bugs and grass … we are the mountain and the mountain is us, nothing existing alone. Meanwhile, Molar screamed bloody murder. My body feverish, limbs heavy and throbbing. Fire inside, fluids thickening, minerals mixing, breathing in, breathing out. Everything rushing to aid poor little Molar and its suffering root. My body the mountain, knows how to heal. In five elements I place trust: in earth, in water, in fire, in Ibuprofen, and in air.

If there was an empty cushion in the zendo, it was my assignment to track down its missing occupant. If someone felt woozy and left the room I followed them out. I made sure the sick ones had food and the sore ones got chairs. I woke up the nappers so they wouldn’t miss tea. I chased down almond milk and calamine lotion and extra blankets. I fussed and cared. I soothed. I noticed that my particular pain was temporary, where others’ was chronic. Vivid to me was the fact that this pain, that I was feeling, was pain—but it wasn’t mine. I was not it, and it did not belong to me.

On the third day the fever passed and my energy started to return.

I unzipped the mosquito door of Teacher Michael’s dokusan tent and stepped in. I prostrated to the buddha, took my seat on the cushion, and told Michael about Molar. His face creased in sympathetic pain. Then he cheerfully assured me, in typical Zen style, that this toothache is great practice for what is yet to come.

Molar and I bowed and stepped out of the tent. We took our mug of milky tea down to the lake. A glossy brown bear strode out of the woods and rambled down the beach. It stopped, raised its head, sniffed toward us. Then it turned, and melted back into the mountain.

<photo: view from the lookout at Sea to Sky Retreat Center>

Angels on every corner

July 2nd, 2016

brianMy bike got nicked while I was running the door for PattiPow’s choir concert, at the Korean Hall at Hastings & Clark. The ol’ slippery pole trick got me. I locked my bike to a sign post with not-one-but-two heavy-duty U-locks, and even gave the pole a firm tug to ensure that it was solid before I walked away. The thief simply pulled out the bolt at the bottom of the post and slid it out. Bike vanished, U-locks and all.

PattiPow hugged me and said don’t worry chum, I’ll help you. Tomorrow we will go out and look for your bike. We’ve done this before and we’ll do it again. Conrad Schmidt was loading a/v gear into his van behind the Hall when I came trudging down the alley in the rain, feeling pathetic in my yellow bike jacket with my helmet on my arm like an empty shell. Quick, jump in the van, Conrad said. We’ll drive around and look for your bike. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t lose your bike key

June 18th, 2016

mutantbikeWhen I help a customer in the bike shop to choose a new lock, my standard spiel includes: “…and it comes with five identical keys. Don’t carry them all around together”.

So guess what I did?

Five days ago with the best of intentions, I finally reclaimed my old mountainbike from Red Sara’s crowded shed. This is a strange little brass-coloured mutant my brother Bennett bought for me at a Toronto auction maybe 15 years ago, which I brought back to Vancouver on the plane. It is a weird unlabeled prototype with fat aluminum tubing, high-quality components and fancy gold axles. Read the rest of this entry »


May 17th, 2016

Dai_Bosatsu_Zendo_Kongo-Ji_2Silent in the zendo face to the wall, Sangha surrounds me. Conventional wisdom says that the reason we gather is to support our practice, but I wonder again whether really the practice is just reason for sangha. Stripped down to essence of presence we don’t even pretend to drink coffee or walk or even talk. We just sit. Together. That’s enough.

I am thinking about Sangha:community. About why we need other people, and the ways we have of satisfying that need. I call up a friend to have coffee, play Scrabble, walk in the park, go to a show. Read the rest of this entry »

Dumpstering on Granville Island

April 9th, 2016

Granville-Island-ShoppingI’ve been taking a course with Michael Stone down on Granville Island (more on that soon). The Island —which is technically not an Island but a Landfill—is an urban wonderland of hidden treasures and oddities. My coolest new discovery is the big green dumpster in front of the trés-upscale Public Market. Yesterday a quick exploration yielded carrots, green onions, and a package of baby pattypans. The day before, a fine cabbage, a perfectly good red pepper, many red and yellow potatoes, and a small Read the rest of this entry »

A twig in my teeth

March 14th, 2016

danger-sign-cliffA daydreaming monk falls off a cliff. As the monk is plunging downward he sees a twig sticking out from the side of the sheer cliff, and he manages to grab the twig with his teeth (yeah!). He is hanging by his teeth, above certain death, when a student arrives on the beach far below. The student calls up to the monk: “Oh wise monk, why did Bodhidharma come from the west?!” Obliged to deliver the dharma, the monk knows that if he opens his mouth he will fall to his death.

The power of the question is lost in the answer. Read the rest of this entry »

A little pink notebook

March 2nd, 2016

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am having an identity crisis in the fancy-ass stationery store on Granville Island. A little pink notebook is messing with my head.

You see, I am the Kind of Person who carries a notebook all the time. It is the repository and record of my life, from to-do lists to major epiphanies. I get twitchy when I don’t have a notebook (and working pen) within reach. It is what people see when they see me. The notebook is me, it defines who I am. I am the Kind of Person whose notebook is black—serious, beat-poet, anarchist black. Read the rest of this entry »

The progress of long-distance love

February 14th, 2016

crows troutlake horiz8This long-distance cross-border love thing—this thing that everyone says DON’T DO, it’ll drive you crazy, it’ll never work—i daresay, seems to be working. The naysayers are probably right, too—long-distance love never does work. For the young. But I am a grownup, and grownup love is different.

I am in love with an American man, and there have been times when it has felt utterly crazy-making. There have been days when i was sure it was all just plain over. Read the rest of this entry »

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