Growing in The Dark.

Mung bean sprouts, good enough to eat.

In order to ‘wake up’ the bullet hard beans one needs to soak them in water for 48 hours then, having softened up, they have the potential to sprout. Next they are drained and left in the dark to grow. (The soaking water is an elixir for plants, they love it.) It isn’t enough to just leave those beans, they need to be flushed with fresh water about twice a day or they will dry up. When ready, you eat them. They are very nourishing, but I’ll not go on about that.

I usually sprout green lentils and they are ready to eat in about three days. The mung beans seemed to take forEVER! Even then there were a few bullet beans remaining among the plump sprouted ones. Time to deal with this sort of project is in short supply however I knew I needed to sift out the hard beans, or I’d likely break a tooth on one of them. That’s time consuming work, “do I have time for this”? I asked myself “is it worth the trouble” I complained! Then I thought if there is time to sit and face a wall there has to be time to stand and pick through these beans. Dear Dogen Zenji, weep not for me! For those of you who may not be familiar with his teaching the nub of it is that it is a mistake to believe there is a separation between ‘practice’ and ‘daily life’. Here is a quote from Rules for Meditation by Dogen Zenji: “To live by Zen is the same as to live an ordinary daily life”. I hasten to add here that a goodly part of his life’s’ teaching was answering the question “Ok, so if that is the case why bother to practice then”?

A recent phone conversation inspired me to write the above since it pointed so clearly to meditation where ones spiritual potential grows ‘in the dark’, is watered by ones best efforts and then benefitted from (eaten) in ones daily life.

A much-desired promotion had eluded this person and the news hit hard. There was great disappointment, as well as envy and jealousy eating away in the background. “I have to let go now”! “Sob”. My question was, “OK, however are you willing to let go?” The reply came “But I HAVE TO let go”! “OK, that is all very well, however are you willing to let go?” “Well, I’m not there yet. I’d be telling a lie to say I’m willing”. The conversation went on and in the end the person said, “OK, I am willing to be willing to let go”, it was a step and not an insignificant one either.

When all Else Fails.
What can you do? When you can’t let go?
Simply, Tenderly, Lovingly open your hands.
That’s being willing, to be willing, to let go!
Sometimes (quite often) that’s the very best one can do.

Offered to all those who face disappointment and wish to go on beyond it

When Something Sticks.

To day I’ve been occupied preparing for a series of introductory meditation sessions at the University of Alberta, which is quite close to the Priory. The first session is on Thursday at 3.00 p.m. One of the lay ministers here is a professor and he, along with a woman who teaches at the University, will be helping on Thursday and then running the rest of the sessions. Mike and I got our heads together this morning on the best balance of information and the actual practice of meditation. Students get talked at from dawn to dusk so I don’t want to fill them up with more information than is absolutely necessary. If they feel drawn to the practice they can always come round here for more instruction.

I feel a million miles away from 18 year olds although I can empathize with their situation. Many will be away from home for the first time. That kind of release from parental boundaries can go both ways; mad partying or sad casting around not really knowing where one fits in to the new scheme of things. We have quite a few students come for introductory instruction. They do it as part of their course work for “Religion 101” and I regard their time here as sowing seeds that may, or may not, ripen in the future. I love their open willingness to give meditation their ‘best shot’.

All day, between phone calls and other business, I’ve been back and forth in my mind about what literature to have available for these up coming sessions. Contemplating how many copies to make and where the price break comes in terms of number of copies made. My intention was to nip over to Staples, the office super (dooper) store, in the afternoon and get the work done. It is never a hardship to visit Staples; just ten minutes walk away with only Calgary Trail to negotiate. That is the main southbound road out of town, a veritable racetrack with at least five lanes to get across, however it is worth it. But, something was sticking about this whole copy project and in the end I headed out for a walk in the other direction.

Returning to the Priory somewhat red cheeked from the cold it dawned on me that we have a copier at the Priory! So without further ado I tackled the complexities of double sided copying, putting together leaflets etc. For those of you who may run a meditation group or are part of one there is a booklet in PDF format called The Eightfold Path of Buddhism on the obc web site. It is in both A4 and Letter size to accommodate the two different paper standards in North America and Europe. Rev. Master Daizui wrote the booklet and it is well worth the effort to print up a few copies to give away to people who ask questions like “what do you believe in?” “Why do you meditate?” and “why do you insist on keeping to the speed limit?” Ahem! that sort of thing.

Still scratching my head about how I managed to over look the Priory copy machine!

Faster Horses.

This morning I was gazing out of the kitchen window at the new bird feeder I bought last Monday and notice, not for the first time, that there were no birds on it. Ever since I put the feeder together, filled it and hung it up the bird population has all but evaporated from the garden. I am told that they will come back and indeed several birds do visit including an impressive posse of wood pigeons that clean up the fallen seeds. My hope was that a larger feeder would bring more birds that would eat more seeds. And, to be honest, I anticipated the enjoyment of observing all those extra birds thus enticed into the garden.

Monday is a day to rest and reflect and the bird feeder brought me right back to the book “Buddhism From Within” written by the late head of the O.B.C., Rev. Master Daizui MacPhillamy. He tells of how he heard a song that suggested a way for him to speak about Buddhism in plain English. The song was “Faster Horses: The Cowboy and the Poet” (Mercury Records, 1997). He describes it as being partly humorous, partly philosophical and basically about the meaning of life seen through the eyes of a seasoned old cowboy. His solution to life, in the song, was “Faster horses; younger women; older whiskey; more money!” The first chapter of the book is entitled ‘Faster Horses’ where, in plain English, Rev. Master Daizui launches into one of the problems of human existence: we’re never satisfied, we want more, larger, faster ‘whatever’s’. He is talking about the root of suffering, craving.

Incidentally, I’m not down on myself for the new bird feeder however it did bring to light a certain tendency towards believing that new equipment will get the job done, better and faster. In this regard I realize I have been delaying writing a number of things until I have my computer set up ‘just right’. This includes my contemplating buying a couple of items of equipment. Having seen the tendency towards ‘faster horses’ my resolve is to just get on with the writing; I hope that means more blogger entries too.

I’ve found that the more regularly one ‘picks up the pen and writes’ the easier it is to continue to pick up the pen and write, and the writing seems to get easier too. As with the pen so with faster horses, only in the case of ‘Faster Horses’ it’s letting go of them. With practice it gets easier, it’s never easy though.

Autumn Reflections.

Chikakoo Lake near Edmonton.

A couple of weeks ago one of the priory members drove me due west of Edmonton. It was a beautiful clear day and after lunch, and having done some business in a nearby town, Jean and I went for a walk around a series of small lakes. Pictured here is just one of them. It was a still autumn day when all the life and energy is falling into the ground. But not all life! Quite suddenly there was a rustle in the rushes beside the path and out swam a beaver dragging rushes, so close. She proceeded across the lake and in the distance we saw that she disappeared into the bank. Perhaps there was some lodge repairs going on. A number of smaller beavers swam around in circles greeting the returning parent. What a treat!

Jean went with her daughter last week-end to log beaver activities. All they saw were lodges and tracks and other evidence but no beaver. They went again this week-end.

Of course there is no knowing if the beaver was female. I decided arbitrarily that it was.

Knowing how I enjoy sharing a poem now and then here is a haiku I saw in a glossy book in Chapters (our local book chain) and copied it. At the time, oh about a month ago, I thought ‘Hah’! ‘Interesting’? Now I appreciate it.

even the birds,
and clouds
look old.

Zen Master Basho.

Last of the Autumn Leaves.

Last Sunday, during our working meditation period, the last of the autumn leaves were raked up by Chris and Mike.

I thought some of you might like to see what the Priory looks like from the front before we get into winter when the lawn will be permanently white until March. It has been an interesting time these past weeks as we all wait for the first snow fall. Sort of like waiting for the other boot to hit the floor. Last night there was a light dusting of snow but nothing serious. Traditionally it snows on October 31st but not this year so all of those ‘trick or treaters’ were able to be out in force in their costumes. I had quite a number of children turn up at the door on the 31st to receive their bag of ‘Cracker Jacks’. That is caramel covered popcorn for the uninitiated.

The Edmonton Priory is, as you can see, half of a semi detached house. In North America this kind of house is called a duplex by the way. There is a ‘half basement’, meaning that part of the basement is above ground. We use the basement for teas and talks and it has held over 30 people. The meditation/ceremony hall is the main room on the ground floor with a kitchen and dining room running along behind the main room. This is a house built in the 1960’s with the open plan arrangement so common then. Upstairs is an office, bathroom and two bedrooms, one for me and one for guests. The heating comes via a gas furnace in the basement, the warm air is blown along ducts and comes up through a number of openings in the floors. It’s very efficient. So that’s it, the place where I will be this winter.

Sometimes I catch myself looking around and realizing how fortunate I am to have a roof over my head, food in the fridge and good people coming to practice here. When out and about on the streets of Edmonton one sees a lot of people with their hands out for cash. Lots of people living rough there are, however, houses for homeless people, nobody could sleeping out in the winter in Edmonton. People do die of the cold each year though. Brrr!

Edmonton etiquette: When being dropped off at ones house the driver waits to make sure you have got into the house before driving off.