Sunday, 1 November 2009

Letting go of letting go!

We are in the end phase of the homeless life as we have known it for the last year now.
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... "

Sunday, 23 August 2009


It's beginning to bite now this homeless life. We are at the half way point of our 6 months in the US and we have been without a home for 10 months.

We left Rhode Island on 23rd July and went back to New york for a night. Karunadevi and Acharasiddhi came through for us, yet again, and invited us to stay with them the night in a lovely rented town house they were in for a week. We arrived hungry and tired and then left refreshed the next morning for Garrison, still in New York state and did a 10 day retreat there with Lama Surya Das. There must have been 50 or so people on the retreat and it was very good. The whole thing was in silence and we appreciated the emphasis on 'just being' and 'letting go' (particularly of meditation being any particular experience) as well as the heartfelt chanting. Really getting a sense of how all suffering is caused by self clinging and this is a big practise in our daily life, not letting the self clinging motivations be the ones to act from.

The next stop was Portsmouth, and we stayed at Akashaloka, next to Aryaloka retreat centre, for 10 days. We had the whole building to ourselves, only having to leave once or twice to let mitra groups meet in the lounge. The shrine room was lovely, it had a big window so was nice and bright with wooden floors. We did lots of Chod and other practises each day. We had wanted to make it a time to mostly retreat and assimilate all the input we had had, but it turned out that we were quite busy. Some of the local Order members invited us out for walks and dinners which was delightful and then we led a day event on the sacred feminine and an evening full moon puja. There was an Order day as well. So our time was great and we made lovely connections with the Sangha who were very generous to us.

We left on the 11th august from there getting a lift with Viryalila to Boston where we stayed with Sunada and led an evening with the Boston Sangha on the system of meditation. Just 2 nights there and on to Portland, Maine on the greyhound bus. Dharmasuri picked us up. We stayed with her for 4 nights and led a day retreat there at Nagaloka buddhist centre. She was a lovely host and spent the entire time with us.

From there we had 3 days on a train, sleeping in our chairs. The scenery was beautiful but very exhausting to travel like this, however better than flying. Arrived in Montana on 19th august and staying with Varada. The views are amazing here, surrounded by the Rocky mountains. This week we are care-taking the house while she is away and looking after the animals: horses, goats, dog, chickens, ducks and fish; also the vegetables and flower garden. We intend to spend the week having a much needed time for reflection and assimilation, the psyche hasn't caught up yet, so much is going on internally and externally.

Internally the themes are around koans or contradictions, connection and working with the habitual 'views' that our circumstances are drawing out into the open.

The first koan is around will/volition. So the big practise in this way of life is letting go of ones will. This is important because we are staying in other peoples homes and it would be ungracious, even inappropriate, to be demanding and try to assert our own preferences. This last month this has really been the practise at the forefront. Time and again ideas about needing to have a certain kind of time or space have been unmet. The feeling arises of not wanting to accept , but quicky we realise that to hang on to this would be unpleasant for all involved. So when the inspiration is there, this is a fantastic opportunity and the task is to act from openness and connectedness and not from self clinging. "The everyday practice is simply to develop a complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions, and to all people, experiencing everything totally without mental reservations and blockages, so that one never withdraws or centralizes into oneself." - Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche... So when we keep letting go the rewards are a deep sense of "going with the flow" and really meaningful connections. But sometimes the vision and inspiration isn't there... at these times this action of letting go is not so wholehearted and results in passivity, alienation and disconnection. So we are both realising the need to keep inspired and remember why we have chosen to live this way.

A couple of times when at a low ebb we have looked for comfort in some of the usual places, sometimes called "false refuges"; eg. last night we put TV on for a while but it was so unsatisfying, in fact just made us both feel even more low... So, we are feeling the rub where keeping the spiritual perspective, that is, really "going for refuge" to what is real, is a necessity otherwise it's too challenging to live this way. There is a hexagram in the IChing, sometimes called The Wanderer, that talks about success in small things and about how the wanderer has to be on her best behaviour and can't get away with much, to give in to difficulties would be more trouble than it's worth. The thing is that the vision of the spiritual life keeps changing as we change so the type of inspiration needed differs too. This week we intend to refuel on inspiration.

Another koan seems to be around connection. Our experience is that meeting new people from an open hearted place is very meaningful and it seems that this generally meets the deep need for connection too. Yet at other times, again, maybe when the particular kind of spiritual inspiration required is low, there wells up a big need to be really known by people - people that have known us well over time. At these times the feeling of missing this kind of connection is strong. This has been happening more in the last month or so.

Lastly for this blog, the theme of views. Some underlying views have been drawn out in to consciousness lately around not being wanted and being in the way. Often they come up when arriving in a new place and quickly go away when we realise that they are unfounded. We have however also been experiencing that giving in to these views is, at the very least, unpleasant and uncomfortable and at worst just creates a web that needs some work to get out of.

So, for the path of transformation: Sudakini is really learning to let go into the moment more - a deepening of confidence in the basic ok-ness of things. She is changing from a person who doesn't like dogs to someone who is bonding with all these different pets people have... amazing!

Vajralila however is in the process of wearing away a view of herself that was pride based, around being capable - so, a good driver, good with animals, a good cook, fearless! The reality right now is that when driving a truck for the first time here she was not confident, drove too fast and nearly pulled onto the wrong side of the road, making the owner uncomfortable with letting her have use of it. The dog she was going to look after kept growling and so was put in kennels as the risk of it biting was too high, and the cheese sauce she prides herself on was sweet instead of savoury and tasted rank! So the learning curve here is letting the feeling of humiliation (which involves attachment to a particular view of self) turn into a positive sense of humility.

Lastly, a comment on a view that there is a time and place one can get to that then one will be able to relax. This is untrue. Life... time keeps rolling on, there is no place where it's all going to stop. Going with it is the only way, relax as it all keeps moving.....or something!?

"Happiness cannot be found through great effort and willpower, but is already present, in open relaxation and letting go..." Lama Gendun Rinpoche.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

So we left San Francisco at the end of June and got a train called 'The California Zephyr", all the way to Colorado via Nevada and Utah. It was amazing scenery (photos on vajralilas facebook). The is a viewing carriage so spent 2 days there riveted to the desert and the rockys and the white water. We met some lovely people on the train, 2 sisters and their mum. One of them invited us to come and stay at her ranch in North California for as long as we liked and she would feed us too. This kind of generosity is not unusual.
We got to Grand junction and struggled in crazy heat to carry more luggage than we could really cope with, (we had had to get a tent, sleeping bags etc just for the retreat at taramandala) and got lost so walked double the distance we needed to. But we got our greyhound bus to Durango and this was our first experience of 'couch surfing', it's a website you just ask a stranger if you can stay. so this lovely young woman had us stay on her couch the night. She wasnt in when we first arrived which was worrying, but she turned up and showed us the lovely town. She left us there with her house mate the night and she went to sleep at her boyfriends and the next day she came back, cooked us breakfast and then went to work, leaving us to see ourselves out. How is that for validating faith in human nature! A similar experience happened after the retreat when we had our second couch surf experience. This time we had a proper bed and the lady took us out for dinner and said she'd like us to come back and do a day retreat that she would organise. Its good practise all this in that we travel and feel at the end of our tether and then stay with people and we can't just withdraw and go to a room somewhere, we have to go beyond our self and be friendly and sociable. And actually when theres no option, its ok. Now is always ok, it's just the projected future that isn't.
The retreat in the middle of this was amazing. The place itself, Taramandala is magic. Lama Tsultrim has had this incredible vision to build a temple and has! Its a massive Tibetan temple in the middle of mountains in a valley. Lama Tsultrim generously taught 5 or so hours a day. We learn a lot more about Chod and improved our drumming. The whole time was blessed and it really does feel like a positive force is guiding us. At the end of the retreat this woman came up and handed us an envelope with $100 in it saying she could recognise our going forth and wanted to support it, that was meaningful to be witnessed in that way. Lama Tsultrim encouraged us to return in august for a special retreat but it looks financially impossible we think.
One day Vajralila saw a bear not far from where we were camping and that night a heard of horses trotted around our tent and we thought it was bears and freaked ourselves out. When they went we took our sleeping bags and slept in the Temple!
So next was a 3 day, 2 night train to New york, which although the scenery was fab, the sleeping in the chairs and the airconditioning for this long was exhausting. Sita had us stay with her in New York, she was lovely and her and Sudakini got to do contact dance together. We did a day on the System of meditation for the New York sangha which went well and was a privilege.
Hey ho! of we go now from a few days in Rhode Island to a Lama surya Das retreat in Garrison.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

kiss the joy as it flies

So... we have been nearly six weeks in San Francisco. We arrive at the airport to be met by Karunadevi who takes us back to her house for food and sleep then drops us the next day at our accommodation for the next 3 weeks in the annex of the SF Buddhist center. Dazed and disorientated with jet lag, like neither of us have ever had so bad before, we settle in to our comfy room and wonder where the sunshine and Sangha are... After two cold, lonely days the friendly people start popping up everywhere. Warmth and generosity have characterized our contact with the SF Sangha. In fact so much generosity that we have found that receiving is a more challenging practice than we would have thought. As Viveka put it "don't block the flow of giving by not being able to receive" (I paraphrase - she was a little less blunt than that). We have found that some of our views around finding it difficult to receive generosity from others include feelings of indebtedness and powerlessness. It's a good practice to not let this get in the way. I think we have managed quite well!! Money has been a theme in general - learning to be frugal without being stingy. Trying not to let poverty mentality get a hold. Actually we are so rich in so many ways. Just not with pounds and dollars. Sudakini veers towards extravagance and being too laid back with the bucks and Vajralila veers towards super frugality - between us we just about manage to strike a balance, but not with out some "process".
At times we have felt ourselves to be hungry ghosts surrounded by gods... For sure not the truth of how things are, but in such a beautiful city, where tasty food opportunities on every corner and an invite to eat out at every turn meet our limited budget, it has been somewhat painful.
When we made our decision to leave Norwich and "go forth" it had an air of romance and glamor. The vision was BIG. And now at times we feel so small. It is so much more gritty and so much less glamorous on the path of transformation. Old habits (samskaras) are writ large under these conditions. Without the familiar such as jobs, routines, roles, positions, home, an ongoing sense of community and physical contact with friends, the deep needs for security and belongingness are challenged, and feelings of meaninglessness and lack of confidence are looming.
We are lucky that Sangha works. We have made meaningful connections with so many people in such a short space of time. A mini temporary chapter weekly with Viriyalila, the opportunity to join the SF order chapter for a couple of weeks, treated to 3 days in a hotel by the ocean with Karunadakini and Joanneke, then on retreat with 30 others from the SFBC at lovely Jikoji in the Santa Cruz hills, and almost daily contact with one or another of the community members in the annex (Elaine and Shantinayaka the caretakers) or from the women's community above (Lisa, Padmatara and Viriyalila while Suvannaprabha is away). Add to the mix the wonderful participants on the day events we offered at the center here and other individuals in the Sangha who have moved towards us and held out the hand of friendship and generosity... Our practice is definitely becoming more seamless. So many negative views being stirred up and challenged each day, how could this not be the path of transformation?
We are blessed this last week in the Bay area with staying in the house of Karunadevi and Acarasiddhi while they are away. We are playing and delighting in having a home to ourselves for a week. Moments of settling in are punctuated with the poignant reminder that we are moving on soon and can't get too comfy. Learning to kiss the joy as it flies.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Whatever way it goes may it go that way

This ones just vajralila as we have been doing different things!

Well my mum came out of intensive care and I had run out of couches to sleep on in Colchester and Ipswich, although Amalaketu and Debbie were very welcoming and said I could have stayed longer. I was in a strange state during that time, when you think someone close might die the whole world becomes more precious and beautiful somehow.

I eventually arrived for my month at Taraloka at the beginning of May. It was a very special time. A few days in I was on 2, week long retretreats back to back, Cooking on both for 35 people which I loved. The first retreat was on the Lakshanas and the doorways to liberation led by Vajradarshini. Her presentation of the material helped it sink in more than ever and after a great talk with her one day i realised there is no security anywhere, not even in the transcendental and that the fact that all phenomena change constantly, that this existence (samsara) is unfixable like a wonky wheel on a cart, with all its interconnected co-arising patterns (including me) that can't be seen as independently existing.... means that I can only find true freedom in the moment, that I am better of not wishing things be a certain way (accepting how things are) and letting go into the openness behind the fear of not existing in the way i think I do, then the world become more beautiful and awesome even in its imperfection, losses and brokenness (in fact because of them!).

And so this was exciting and also uncomfortable as i began seeing the eternalistic edge that had crept into my relationship to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Perfectly, the next retreat was a Sadhana retreat in which my devotional practise changed into a kind of reverence for the heartness I was 'in' here and now in 'real life', sort of a tangible yet unsentimental love. My Sadhana practise also changed with some permission giving from Parami and Padmasara, to just the seed syllable of 1000 armed Avalokitesvara (HRIH) instead of a very complex form I had been doing it and feels very right. I also offered massage on some of this time and people gave what they wanted so this helped fund our project a bit.

I had been inspired to have an attitude of service and so best i could tryed to come from this place as i continued my time at Taraloka. Found my self doing great jobs like mowing the grass on a sit on mower and sawing wood. It was great meditating with them all in the community shrine room each morning at 7.30am and chanting the refuges and precepts. I connected well with the women who live there and hope to deepen some of these connections as time goes on. Also enjoyed meeting Julie again and was impressed by her love of the Dharma, hope to be part of her journey as it develops.

Was sad to leave but it was then all about family, who are all poorly at present. First went to my Dads in penzance, met Sudakini on route, we hadn't seen each other for a month. My Dad has Lewybodies dimentia and had deteriorated since I last saw him, hallucinating wildly and aggressive at times. He is unlikely to live more than a few years I discovered. Sudakini and I took him out every day and we had a lovely time, we also cooked each evening to give his wife a break. So after 6 days we went to my Mums who is slowly recovering from phenomena and is in a wheel chair and unable to do much yet, my step dad is caring for her. It was lovely that our best buddies Ruth, Joan and Jenny came to clacton for the day to see us. I also met my half Sister (same Dad) and enjoyed spending rare time with her. She is only 31 and had had part of her bladder removed as well as part of her bowel and appendix to reconstuct a damaged bladder. She is cathetirised constantly and her one of her kidneys no longer works due to all this, she has a great sense of humour and is very brave as is her 10 year old son. Then 3 days later we are in Eastbourne with Sudakinis Mum and Rob where it is always relaxing. It has felt important to have'good endings' latley because thigs keep ending quicker than in 'normal life' and almost like how it would be to die well, like I don't want anything unresolved and want to have the most positive effect I can have. We are now firming up our USA plans and fly to Sanfransico the day after tomorrow!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

In the Bardos of East Anglia and Shropshire

Vajralila's mum is getting better gradually. Sudakini has been and gone from the womens order weekend at Padmaloka and is now happy to be at Viryajyoti's in Norwich for a few days. Vajralila is finding ways to make herself useful at Taraloka and enjoying getting to know the community there.
Friends and family are being ongoingly generous to us in so many ways... Rather than being homeless it feels more like there is a home for us in so many places. Undeniably there are wobbly moments when a stable base is missed; but the moments pass and overall the taste of freedom and the opportunities this way of life offers are much appreciated. To be able to share in the life of someone else by staying in their house, even if only for a couple of days, is a real privilege.
The next time we see each other will be when we have our 6 month visa interview at the US embassy on april 15th. Our plans for america are progressing - we have decided to travel by train whilst there to see the landscape. Starting in San Francisco, then to Colorado... Next to New York, via Texas (maybe)! Vajralila's personal myth of the cowgirl archetype is calling. Apparently Texas is the size of UK plus several european countries all rolled in to one, so we need to do a bit of research about where exactly we might find some cowgirls... Sounds like Fort Worth might be the place?? Once in New York we hope to spend a bit of time with Sangha on the east coast then all the way back to the Northwest to Seattle and Montana.
So, in England till mid to end of May...

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Life is whats happening while we're busy making other plans

The night before our flight from Delhi to London, Vajralilas Dad phoned to say her mum had gone into critical care, emphysema and infection. So we came straight from the plane the next day to Colchester hospital. She seemed stable and we went to Eastbourne to change bags, but a few days later she was more seriously ill, she had pneumonia and psdumonus. So Vajralila went straight back to discover the consultant has said she has a 50/50 chance of recovery! So Vajralila encouraged Sudakini to carry on with her retreat at taraloka and Vajralila is back in Colchester staying with amalaketu and Anona, a 20 minute walk from the hospital. We have paid £200 odd for a non refundable visa interview in a few weeks, for the USA, we have all sorts of train tickets we booked in advance months ago that are useless. We have no income only out goings. Vajralila can't let Taraloka know when and if she will be there to do cooking on 5 retreats. This said just to show that going forth isn't about having it all nicely planned out. Somehow, doing the right thing and taking it one day at a time is working at the moment. It all seems a bit out of time and space and so much is unknown, mainly Vajralilas Mums recovery which overides all else in importance right now.