One of the peak experiences of our time in the USA was a weekend we led at Deep Bay, Montana. Varada had organised it and we just had to turn up and lead it. It was a long "labour day" weekend at the beginning of September, Friday to Monday with 15 women. We pulled out everything we had to offer and it was a complete success. The place was stunning with the turquoise-blue bay. We had a massive, beautiful cliff-top house but it was a bit squeezed in terms of sleeping space. Then we discovered the hot water wasn't working, so the owners let us have the house next door (as well) for free, so we then had, not only extra bedrooms, but a very large, extra lounge for movement sessions. We got into the creative zone like never before and offered drumming journeys, demon feeding, creative exercises and evening rituals that had many of us in tears. At the end of the weekend we were amazed and moved as we were offered $600 Dana and then we were whisked off to the hot springs. What a lovely bunch of women and what a blessed weekend.
We then went to Missoula for a few days where we did an evening with the Sangha, and reconnected with two of the women from the retreat.
Then Vicki, from Seattle, drove to collect us and bring us back to her beautiful house overlooking a bay in Tacoma, Washington state. It was an 8 hour drive each way and we were bowled over that she had spent her whole weekend coming to get us.
We have spent 6 weeks at Vicki's and she has been incredibly generous throughout including loaning us her car so we can get into Seattle to lead events. We enjoyed leading a three week block for Sangha evenings on "the system of meditation", as well as a "going deeper" course and a day retreat for 12 women on the sacred feminine. So we have been well used which feels good and Seattle Buddhist Centre has been very generous in offering us Dana which has helped a lot. When we were gathering our vision for this time of homelessness and intensifying practice we had a metaphor of breathing in and out as fully as possible. This meant that we wanted to learn and practise (breathing in) and then share this with others (breathing out). It really is as though this is what has happened throughout and the giving and receiving have become one creative process, in fact quite magical. An area of contemplation here is how useful is it to call ourselves "teachers". We have heard the term used quite often here in the States to describe people offering classes in meditation and Buddhism... also the phrase "teachings" used quite a lot... there are a number of experienced and senior practitioners of Buddhism here, within a variety of traditions, who are leading retreats and offering courses and classes. But we have both felt uncomfortable with calling ourselves "teachers" in the Buddhist context, feeling it's a bit grandiose when applied to ourselves, and that "sharing practice" is a better term for describing our experience of leading events at Buddhist centres... but then again, if one has things to teach isn't it a fact that to share this with others is teaching! Semantics or stepping into what one does with authenticity?
So now the trip is nearly over and we look back and think: how did we have the courage to take such a risk in selling everything and thinking the money we got (only 12,000 pounds in total) could take us very far. We never could have imagined we would have such a generous response that has enabled us to do what we have done "and yet..."(as Khajit would say). We saw a card the other day that said: "Take the leap and the net will come" ... maybe that says it all: a leap of faith.
So, as it has been such a rich time and Bhante seemed so interested in what we are doing, pleased with us even, we thought maybe we can continue this way of life in the UK. But it soon became clear that this was not to be. There would be no way of creating Dana in the UK and so we are having to think...what now? It has highlighted how there is no system or structure in the WBO to help practitioners try the homeless life, even for slots of time. We have been playing with ideas about how that might look... perhaps a website could be initiated, a bit like "couch surfers", but for Order Members and it would have a list of people offering a room in their house, food or money and there could be a way for people looking to connect with these offers as a way of going forth. So an Order Member may choose to be receiving Dana for a while whilst giving back by intensifying their practice and at another time the same person, now having learnt to value this way of life and it's aim being the practice of going beyond self seeking interests, would be offering his/her house and supporting others to do what he/she did. "The inner renunciant" Thomas Merton says "is as relevant as the trees that stand unnoticed in the night converting the carbon dioxide into oxygen for the living beings to breath".
How does one deeply go forth, continuing to be a renunciant in the world? We are faced with the practice of letting go of being homeless wanderers, experimenting with a modern western version of the outer renunciant, and now considering what work and living situation will next best support practice... moving back to a life where the inner renunciant becomes more of the practice. Amongst other things, we have a wish to start FWBO activities where there aren't currently any, and Cornwall is a possibility. We also want to develop a livelihood doing workshops for women.
A big practice right now is working with the mind that keeps turning to the future, creating anxiety. So its about remembering that right now everything is OK; that dukkha can't exist in full awareness of the present moment, only in leaning towards the past and future... "For even though it is just a moment, the present is limitless. In letting go of the structures of the past and future, we realize that this present is an infinite ocean, and the result of this realization is living in the eternal, the timeless. We needn't solidify and conceive the present in contradistinction to a past or future - it is it's own self-sustaining vastness." (Amaro Bhikku)
We have had some nice ending connections. Just spent a week in Oregon with a couple we met at the beginning of our time America, at Taramandala. They kindly invited us to stay in a retreat cabin they had built in oak savanna woodland. So we had a self retreat for 9 days there with the deer, snakes, wild turkey and black widow spider. Enjoyed doing Chod and Prajnaparamita with Mimi and Michael most days. The place was stunning with an hours walk to the Columbia river Gorge. Then Mimi took us to see Michael Meade, a mythical story teller, in Portland on the last night. We stayed the night in Portland at her friends house, a student of Ruth Denison (another figure that has emerged here in big way). Our jaws dropped as we entered this house, it was an architect or interior designer"s dream, a 3 storey contemporary town house.. are we in a god realm or a pure land? When we left it was lovely to hear that just by practising we had given something to Mimi and Michael, its important to hear this as it can feel off balance to feel that one is receiving more than giving, what a mysterious thing giving and receiving is! Ajahn Munindo speaks about how meeting someone that is practicing renunciation brings the inner renunciant alive in them too and that by offering food to the "outer" Nun/Monk, their inner Nun/Monk is nourished, the part of them that "contemplates life's mysteries and seeks to see beyond the outer manifestations of the outer world. It is the part of them that has said no to personal gratification of desire".
Then we spent some time with Lokanath, a guy we met in New York on the Lama Surya Das retreat and someone who has been very helpful in formulating thoughts around the sacred feminine subject. And then this weekend, Tania has been to stay at Vicki's, so reconnecting with a lovely being from San Francisco, where we flew into and spent our first 6 weeks.
Our bodies have clearly travelled long distances - thousands and thousands of miles; and assimilating new cultures always expands the psyche. We have both travelled before and were clear that this time we were not going travelling to seek experiences as such. So meeting different attitudes and cultural influences has made it's mark but the more profound experience is that of having travelled spiritually. In the film " A Vajra Sky Over Tibet" Pilgrimage is defined as "the process of shedding worldly attachments and separateness to enter into a cycle of sacred space and interconnection". We had thought of this journey as a kind of pilgrimage and that definition resonates.
A year ago there was some awkwardness around meeting Buddhists practicing within different Buddhist traditions and there was a working out over the following months of "where do I stand in relation to them?" a kind of "whose Buddhism is best?"! A process of integration and re-evaluation has led to a new experience of feeling a mutual respect and deep resonance with all serious Buddhist practitioners, and a sense of commonality. There is now a feeling of being clearly grounded within the Western Buddhist Order and at the same time experiencing no conflict in being part of a larger Buddhist Sangha. There is a hope that heart connections with new friends in the wider Sangha will grow and deepen through the years ahead.
So sad to be leaving... America has brought out play, possibilities, aliveness, spontaneity, generosity of spirit, confidence, courage, creativity, gratitude, manners!, magic and room for the psyche to expand. Thank you for having us America! We have yet to notice other effects you have had on us both. How hard it is that all things end! "and yet... "