Monday, February 25, 2013

What does the world want to do through you?

I just spent a fascinating and enlightening weekend watching a live-stream from something called the Wisdom 2.0 conference, from silicon valley. Personally, I never gave much thought to the idea of mindfulness/wisdom/spirituality connected with the tech industry. I'm overwhelmed by my ignorance. The industry is crawling with people who care about the world, and about other people, and who do something about it. Who knew.

I don't know how long they'll leave the various videos up on the above-referenced page, but they do say that all of them, plus the ones from last year's conference, will be available online somewhere. I just didn't catch the 'where'.

It's hard to choose one speaker or panel to highlight, because each and every one had much to offer, much to make me think, much to raise my own awareness and already-existing drive to do something with whatever remains of my life to make this world a better place. Still, I can point out some highlights for me personally. You might connect more with the veterans, or the inner-city kids, or any one of the others.

For me, the most powerful talk was that given by Marianne Williamson. In fact, I just watched it again while working out. I don't know who she is -- never heard of her before -- but I sure like what she had to say. She talked largely about addressing the poverty and suffering in the world -- and she issued a challenge to the tech industry that I think will not go unheard (since a whole lot of tech execs were in the room). Powerful. Her talk was Sunday before the lunch break, so you won't have to scroll down too far on the page to find it.

Perhaps the most fascinating, for me, was an interview of Bill Ford (as in Ford Motors) by Jack Kornfield, one of the best meditation teachers this country has known. Turns out they've been friends and teacher/student for 20 years or so, which in and of itself isn't surprising. What's surprising to me is Bill's humanity, his compassion and caring and how he uses that love, compassion, caring and such that he's learned from Jack in his life, and in the way he runs FMC. That's what it's all about, people. Meditating, being spiritual (whether Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Islamic or secular), sending loving kindness into the world -- all great stuff to do for yourself. But what makes magic out of it is when you take it into your workplace, into your relationships with others, into the world at large, and not in a proselytizing way where you try to convince others that your way is the right way, the only way, but in a way of shining your own love and compassion and caring into the life of every sentient being you encounter, without judgment. Bill Ford is doing that, and the simple knowledge that the CEO of a major corporation in this country is running that corporation from that viewpoint gave me more hope and inspiration for the future of the country than I can say. He battled the board of directors over environmental issues at their plants. He says we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels. An auto manufacturing exec? It's a lengthy talk, but worth the time. It was the final event on Saturday, so you'll have to scroll down a bit to find it.

Another was a young woman named Leah Pearlman. Her talk is short, and sweet, and personal -- expressed with drawings she calls Dharma Comics. It's all about loving yourself -- all parts of yourself, even the mean and ugly parts.  You'll have to scroll past the Bill Ford interview to find it -- I think it was Saturday morning.

So -- have a look, and have a listen. There's something there for everyone.

Onto more mundane things, after a week of pouting and not exercising and eating whatever I wanted, today I have returned to the trenches. Interestingly enough -- no weight/measurement gain or loss for the week, so clearly it doesn't matter what I eat or how much I exercise. This old body is stuck where it is. I guess I do it for health, to keep the body and mind able to grow old gracefully and healthfully.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Destination unknown

I've gone on strike.  After a couple of nights without much sleep, I find myself simply unable to and uninterested in getting on the bike and alternating full-bore and rest every 30 seconds for 20 minutes. I didn't even have the energy to sit and meditate this morning, and let's face it, that doesn't take a whole lot of energy.  The body isn't willing today, and I'm going to humor it. It has, after all, been four solid weeks of HIIT 6 days per week (I consider my weight work to be HIIT too, since I only rest 30 seconds between sets and exercises, often don't rest at all, just switch to a different muscle group). Call it lazy, call it whatever you want -- I don't care. Don't know if it'll last longer than today or not -- don't care about that either, at the moment.

I made some mention a few days back about a possible different direction in my plans -- as in, not moving to Asheville this spring. As the weeks and months have passed by, I've seen a notable lack of interest in, even resistance to, that as a solution. It would be just another place to live, and that's not what I want. What I really want is some arrangement where I can have serious exposure to serious, practicing Buddhists on a steady basis. Ideally, that would be a monastic environment because I like learning from monastics even though I don't want to join their ranks. There's plenty for lay residents to do at most monasteries.

In the short term, the plans last week involved keeping this house longer, as a base of operations, but not necessarily being here very much. I can't afford to do this for long, but through summer, anyway. I'd thought I would travel to Michigan in early April for 10 days or so to sit with Sayalay and other of her students, and to check out this center as a possible place to return in the summer for awhile. I also have applied for a work-retreat (instead of paying, you work 5 hours per day) at the forest refuge of the IMS in Massachusetts, for the month of August. I haven't been either accepted or denied for that as yet, but either way it goes is fine. I think I'm eligible, but probably only through some interpretation. I haven't sat as many 7+ day retreats as they require, but I do have a long-standing practice, which they also consider.  So, we'll see about that. Last week, I was thinking that once I returned from IMS I would sell all this stuff and head to the west coast, maybe spend the winter in Ensenada, go from there.

Things change quickly. After my weekend research I've found monasteries in warm weather places and there are probably more because once I found the one in Austin, I stopped looking. I think I won't go to Michigan (I only have so many $$, so I have to allocate travel expenses carefully), but instead will go to Austin in late May for a week or so, if that still fits into their schedule as the time draws closer. Hopefully, I'll go back there in July for a retreat, if that fits in with the forest refuge schedule, if I'm accepted there. So, things are up in the air and I'm good with that. Solid plans generally change anyway, so I go with the flow, the Buddhist way.  After August -- or perhaps after July, if IMS denies my application -- I'm still planning to divest of possessions and take off. Destination unknown, but Mexico is a really pleasant alternative for the winter if I don't find a monastic home.

I guess there's still the question of how well I'd do at a monastery long-term. I've chafed in the past with scheduling and chanting and such, with not having music or an occasional TV show. And with not having much to do for the times of the day that aren't scheduled, other than meditate. From what I've seen/learned so far of the place in Austin, life there could work very well for me. Always plenty of things to do, and pleasant weather to do it in. Easy work -- sweeping the many porches or walkways. Watering plants, pulling weeds. Outdoor stuff that I'd like. No chanting scheduled until evening, but plenty of nice silent meditation scheduled and a lovely meditation hall to do it in. I like everything I've learned of the Burmese people so I don't think the culture would be an issue. They are beautiful people: 90% Buddhist, they are raised and live their lives on basic Buddhist principles of honesty and loving kindness, where they treat all living beings the same as they treat their own family. They appear to be a happy people, despite great poverty for many, great wealth for others. I've watched a couple of documentaries on Netflix over the last few months -- one on Burma titled They Call it Myanmar, another called Burma: Encounters in a Forgotten Country, and yet another on Buddhism, that takes detailed looks at Buddhism in various Asian cultures including Burma. There are lots of festivals at the monastery with music and authentic Burmese food, and the local Burmese people are very much a part of daily life at the location. Not the same as the more isolated places I've been in the past, and certainly a more pleasant environment. Of course, residing there is not a given, although I think they will certainly give me consideration. Time will tell.

For now, today, I'm about to crash on the sofa again and take another nap. The body is screaming for rest.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Still no change in the weights and measures department! Makes me wonder what the point of doing all this calorie counting is, and makes me wonder why even bother. I went down a few calories this week -- could that be the problem? I have no clue. Not quite sure where I'm going to go with it from here. The odd thing is, I feel slimmer, and feel as if I can see some differences. All the extra energy I had during the first three weeks is gone, too, although that may be due to lack of sleep (the lack of weight loss could be affected by that, too, but it's a problem I've never been able to solve for more than short periods of time).

On a happier note: yesterday I spent some time looking for Buddhist (Theravadan) monasteries or centers in the southwest, where the weather would be more to my liking. I found a couple of them, but then I hit paydirt with a Burmese place near Austin, Texas. As soon as I entered the site and saw photos of their pagoda and facilities, I was hooked. The pagoda is a smaller scale replica of their pagoda in Burma, tall and gold-domed. I've mentioned here before that I've been wanting to travel to Burma, stay there for awhile. Money and some discomfort with traveling alone to such a place has held me back. Here, I immediately felt as if I were in Burma -- but within driving distance. I've had some correspondence with one of their monks, American-born, and feel really good about the place. Tentatively, I think I will visit in May, perhaps return in July for a retreat by a renowned Burmese master. After these, if all goes well, I can easily see myself willing to reside here, if they are amenable.  I expect it would even be possible to travel to their location in Burma and spend time, at some point. I would not find that uncomfortable at all, since I'd have a known destination.

This is the Sitagu Budda Vihara, very much a Burmese-inspired temple supported by Burmese people both locally and in Burma. This page shows the Austin pagoda and tells its history. Things are still under construction, although much has been completed and all is expected to be completed by summer, when they'll have a grand opening ceremony. This very much appears to be the atmosphere I've been seeking -- and it's in warm weather country.

So that's my very cold Sunday morning. Groggy, glad that it's a rest day from exercise. And glad for some sunshine to keep some of the cold at bay as the day dawns.

Monday, February 11, 2013

"The Book" has arrived!

It's been about a year and a half, through the process of editing and proofreading, over and over again -- but finally, the long-awaited book by Sayalay Susila has arrived. This is an advance copy, sent to me by Sayalay. It won't be on Amazon for another 3 months or so, probably.

I've read every word in it, over and over again -- probably 10 times at least, maybe more. But that won't stop me from reading the 'real thing'. I have learned more about the Buddha's message through this process, and from the information in this book, than I can possibly describe. The Abidhamma is the details behind the sometimes cryptic suttas taught by the Buddha, particularly the details behind the satipatthana sutta, which is the basic discourse most widely followed by Theravadan Buddhists.