Friday, May 24, 2013

Photos from Austin

Finally got around to downloading the rest of the photos off the camera this morning, so here are the promised 'more' photos.

Meditation  hall. Floors here and other buildings are mahogany.

This trim around the sides of the meditation hall was taken from actual, ancient temple paintings in Burma. I assume they began with photos, but then the old, faded paintings were 'restored' by determining what the original colors would have been (presumably done by computer) then turned into wallpaper to use here. Every panel is different -- I just chose this one at random.

Part of the ceiling wallpaper, presumably produced in the same way that the side panels were. It's truly amazing to see all this at one time, in the room.

Detail of the Buddha and more wallpaper, other decor, in the meditation hall.

From the far end of the meditation hall walkway. Hall to the right, pagoda beyond, marble plaza between.

Inside the pagoda -- one carpet had been taken outside, but this was my last day and last opportunity to get a photo.
This Buddha is solid white marble, weighs two tons! The radiating lights behind change colors constantly.
Front  yard garden at the Austin Zen Center. Really a beautiful place!

I'm still not feeling up to par today, although after a long night of sleep and yet another early morning nap, I forced myself to pull up garlic (it was about to bloom, and past time), then slowly do a few other things. I'm just blah, and have a headache that developed yesterday and hasn't quit. And I don't get headaches, as a rule. I really think it has something to do with the mold in the walls of this house. I felt great until I was back here for awhile.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


As travel days go, today was short and easy.  Three hundred eighty-five miles, total travel time including lunch, 7 hours. And not even a full tank of gas. The car is usually good for 425 or more per tank, and I filled up last night in Vicksburg.

I've been back awhile. Adjusting to the humidity and the sheer comfort of being home again. Makes me wonder how I'm really going to do with the fact of not having a home to go back to after a journey, an adventure. Gave a lot of thought to this whole scheme today -- with no particular answers.

An answer exists. I just have to find it. I don't believe it is going to be in Austin, for several reasons. It's a lovely place with lovely people, no question about it. But is it the right place for me to learn and grow in my practice? I don't think so. And that is, after all, the purpose of all this effort. To find a place to grow in my practice.

My body is also glad, I think, to be back to the food it considers 'normal'. I enjoyed the Burmese food, with a few exceptions (my old bugaboo bitter melon for one, and fish sauce or paste for another), but my body had very different perceptions and feelings on the subject. I feel as if I must have gained a ton of flab, and that's not a trend I want to continue. Although tasty, the food was largely refined carbs (white rice and noodles) with meat or veggie swimming in oil-based sauces. Jiggly belly fat is the inevitable result of that kind of diet, especially when one has no real exercise or form of exercise. I could have walked around the property, or down the road, I suppose, but I'm not sure that would have helped much. Now, I just have to diet and work it off.

Still, despite the 1847 total miles, I'm glad I went. It's the only way to find out, after all. And even though it doesn't sound like a 'home' for me, it was a wonderful experience. Monday night as I was taking leave of the abbot in the pagoda, he asked me to come back any time, and next time to fly, not drive. He said they would meet me at the airport. Hard to beat that sort of kindness -- and that kindness came to me from everyone there, not just the abbot. The cat was a bit skittish, but even he came around eventually.

So now my task is to rest up and get ready for Bhavana in a few weeks -- and also to keep looking for 'the answer'. Somehow, it always points me back to California, to Aranya Bodhi, but I've yet to figure out how to make that one work.

It's a good thing I don't have a deadline for figuring this out!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Moon over Austin

When I left the Pagoda last night I glanced up and saw the moon directly in line with the Pagoda top -- so I had to get the camera, of course! This one turned out surprisingly well, for hand held. It's times like this when I wish I had a tripod.

Looks like I'm going to leave Tuesday. I'm in no hurry -- have actually begun sleeping so well here that I want to just keep sleeping! I missed morning meditation so I could sleep for another hour today, and would have missed breakfast, but I thought someone might begin to worry about me if I did that.

Today, we're going into Austin where the monk teaches a Sunday class at a Zen center, then later in the afternoon there is an Abhidhamma class taught by the abbot, first in English, then in Burmese. I won't stay for the Burmese, of course.

I promised photos, so here are a few. The moon photo finally gave me some incentive to download from the camera.

This is the kuti I'm staying in. I've nicknamed it the Taj Mahal, because it's so luxurious.

Some of those 8000 pieces of trim that went on the Pagoda.
Hundreds of small bells on this topper -- lovely sound all the time, with the breezes.

Steps up to the Pagoda
Pagoda from parking lot. It's just amazing!

That's it for now. I hope to get some interior photos, but keep forgetting. The interiors of the Pagoda and meditation hall are just wonderful!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Those pesky tornadoes!

So I'm leaving Georgia partly to get away from tornadoes, and then there's big stuff happening overnight to the north of here! Actually, tornado activity around here is one thing I researched long ago.While this is technically at the tail end of the areas generally affected by tornadoes, they don't happen all that often around here. Nothing like at home in Georgia, or further north in Texas. Still, it was quite a shock to read the news this morning and know that all this happened overnight while I slept peacefully.

I'm still pooped, my friends. I don't say that as a complaint -- it's just the reality of what's happening with my body right now and I fully accept it as that -- I am wondering how long it's going to take me to recover from the drive down here. And if I'll be recovered by the time I leave again. Old age sucks, at times like this. Recovery time is so much slower! I think part of the problem is that I'm still waking up on EDT and going to bed on CDT, so I'm losing a good hour of sleep and rest in the process.

However, all that aside, I am so glad to be here! As days go by and I relax more, get more familiar and thereby more comfortable with the surroundings, procedures and people, I find that this definitely will give me the experience I want of immersing myself not only in a monastery, but also within the Burmese culture. Two out of three monks currently in residence are Burmese. All the food is Burmese. Evening chanting is done in Pali, Burmese and English (separately, thank goodness!). Burmese culture reigns and I love it. As I hoped, this will give me the experience of a Burmese monastery, and it's the closest to the real thing I'll probably ever get, since I can't see me traveling to Burma, much as I might like that.

Long-term residency here would not provide such luxurious accommodations, but I haven't yet asked what kind of accommodation I might expect. Kuti's range greatly in size and comfort features! When I was talking to the contractor the other day, he said this is a 'five star monastery', and he's right, but I expect I'd probably be assigned a one- or two-star kuti, probably without private bath. I could live with that. One of the one-star versions is next to the Taj Mahal here, and it is seriously tiny! Nothing in it but a twin bed with bookcase headboard, and little room for much else. But, it has electricity and AC, no doubt heat as well. Some of the kutis at Bhavana are bigger and better appointed, but none has electricity or AC.

They're only months away from completion of the building project that's already take two and a half years. It's interesting to look forward to and beyond that point, see what it will look like visually (right now, much of the ground in the parking/driveway areas is torn up and rough, not to mention the big ditch that extends everywhere). And it's fun to think about the retreats and teachers they might have, the place filled with people and everything functioning as it's been planned for about 20 years now.

I've finished the first editing/proofreading assignment, and am now chilling out and waiting either for reviewing it with the monk, or meditation at 7pm, whichever comes first.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What I'm learning

It's a rainy morning here in Austin, perfect for sitting inside and working at the computer -- which is what I was doing until I decided to take a short break and communicate here. By work, I mean doing some proofreading for one of the monks. Pleasant work. Made more pleasant because I am able to pick up the computer and take it to a more comfortable location, without being tied to the endless wires that exist at home. Actually, this is what inspired me to communicate.

For the first time, I'm using this computer for a fraction of what it's designed to be able to do. No added keyboard, mouse or other peripherals. What is standing out for me is the wonderful lighted keyboard -- even in the darkness of the room, I can easily see every key and what it is, because it's lighted from below and through the characters on the keys. Pretty cool. The room doesn't have to be dark -- I could turn on a light -- but on a sunny day the six windows in this room provide plenty of light. Today, that light is adequate for everything but reading.

So, enough computer-speak, other than to say it's a nice toy that gets nicer every time I use a new feature. I'm grateful to have it, and grateful to Woot! for offering it at a price even I could afford.

I've been here not quite 2 days now, and I'm beginning to 'settle in' and figure out the ways of the place, get to know the people, be comfortable in a monastic setting that's different (Burmese culture as opposed to Sri Lankan culture) than I've known in the past. And to learn what (very little) is actually expected of me while I'm here. Yesterday, in an effort to help earn my room and board, I swept lots of walkways and decks -- very satisfying, outdoor work. I'm meditating 4 times per day with the American monk, which is good. He and I talked for about 3 hours yesterday afternoon about his writing, how I might help him, what I'm looking for, and such. I enjoyed that, except that I foolishly had not eaten enough food at either breakfast or lunch, and was therefore suffering blood sugar issues so that my brain was rather lightheaded and dull.  I don't think I'll make that mistake again! I chose to be here under the Eight Precepts, which means I live under the same precepts the monks live under, which means no eating after noon. There is a liquid 'snack' after evening chanting -- fruit juice or smoothie normally, but after having both Monday night and seeing how all that fruit sugar affected my body and ability to sleep, I requested -- and got -- a glass of milk instead.  This morning, I ate and ate and ate at breakfast and could have kept on eating, but stopped because I knew I'd really had enough. Breakfast was some warm cereal that I'd guess had a rice base, plus a noodle/sauce dish that had pork in it and was very tasty, plus a rice noodle/vegetable dish that was also delicious. All Burmese food, all prepared elsewhere and brought here daily by various supporters.

Yesterday I met the contractor who has spent the last 2.5 years building this place. He was taking a break in the dining room after lunch and I walked through the room so he introduced himself and chatted for awhile. The pagoda, I've learned from both the monk and the contractor, is the largest in this country. I had quite a different perspective from the contractor on the building of it than I might get elsewhere! All very positive, but from a different viewpoint. He talked about how it was an exact "and I mean exact" scale model of the one in Burma. Apparently, he had to undo and redo things more than once when he wasn't exact. He said (presumably told this by the Burmese architect who lived onsite for around 9 months and supervised construction) that if it wasn't precisely exact, the spirits would be unhappy with the pagoda. He also said they had 8000 'pieces' to put on the outside, all created onsite by the group of skilled Burmese craftsmen who also created the many Buddha statues inside. If you look closely at the pagoda, you can appreciate what he means, even though everything is covered in a gold metallic paint. I'll eventually post photos -- I promise! I just don't know when I'm going to download them from the camera.

One thing I do not like about this computer (the operating system, not the hardware) is that my old photo editing software doesn't synch properly with Windows 7, so working with photos isn't as comfortable as with WindowsXP. I should be (and am) happy that it works at all, since I really can't afford to buy new software. It does keep me from working with it so readily, however.

Right now, the contractors are installing a ground sprinkler system that was suddenly required by the fire inspector. A deep, serpentine ditch has been dug and continues to be dug all around and through the property to prepare for this. The contractor said that there was a big fire last year not far from here (I drove through the burned area on the road from Houston) that got everybody a little jumpy, which is why the afterthought of this sprinkler system. The fire area was indeed huge -- on both sides of the highway extending as far as I could see. All these oaks and cedars do burn, and they're really like a short forest, in that the trees are so close together and cover basically everything in sight other than where man has cleared them away.

Everyone here is extraordinarily nice and friendly. I have some difficulty understanding the two Burmese monks, but with closer attention and growing familiarity with their accented English, that's improving. I always have problems with accents of any kind -- sometimes including deep southern accents! Even British English can be difficult for me, but with time I can and will adapt.

One thing I think I've decided (since you never know with me) is that I am just too old for these long road trips. I don't know why they take so much out of me, but the fact is that they do so. It takes days to recover -- I'm still not there. I need to find a place and stay there. Soon. But first, I  have to return to Georgia, then make the round trip to Bhavana, which is closer to home.

Monday, May 13, 2013


961 miles door to door! Got here around 2:30pm central time, very happy to get out of the car for awhile! I'm not very good at stopping to rest -- except on cross-country trips, where I force rest stops.

The place is beautiful! He gave me a tour of the pagoda and meditation hall, through the cottages and such, to orient me. Introduced me to the abbot. And now I'm left to my own devices in a beautiful stone cottage set amidst the short oak and cedar trees that are so endemic to this part of the country. They're not big trees, but they grow thickly and are plenty tall enough to provide shade to the buildings -- except the pagoda, of course.

This cottage is actually much nicer than the hotel room I stayed in last night, aside from not having a TV. Spacious, clean, lots of windows and a ceiling fan, plus a desk and wireless. And other than not having my big monitor, the computer is just like home, since I also tossed the wireless mouse/keyboard into the car at the last minute. Much easier to use than the computer keyboard. It has 3 mouse buttons, and last night just with a short time using it, all kinds of weird things happened. So I'll use the regular mouse, thank you!

There are no schedules here -- other than chanting at 8pm, and he meditates at 5:30am so I'll join him there. My time is my own, he said -- meditate, whatever I want. And I'm free to help out in the kitchen or elsewhere with service chores. I expect to find a routine of sorts tomorrow -- for today, I'm just going to rest up and go to chanting, then to bed.

I'm tired, but have enough adrenaline from being here that I'm not as exhausted as I was yesterday. I also managed to eat lunch earlier today, so I didn't run on 'empty' for long.  I think I want to try to find an alternate route home. I-10 is not a pleasant highway to travel, and Houston (as I expected) was a maze of freeways and traffic to find my way through. Not sure I want to do the trip in the reverse, although it may end up being the way I do it. It was cool to cross the Mississippi that far south -- so big! I've done it before, once or twice, but as a teenager. That was practically the dark ages, so it's good to do it again.

The most fun thing I saw all day was a one of those big, fancy, expensive motorhomes with nice SUV in tow -- and a license plate from Washington that said "We Quit". I love the sentiment -- can certainly appreciate what they mean.

The cottage next to me has a porch swing, he said, so I could go sit on that and relax, and use my laptop if I want. Pretty cushy! That one belongs to some people from Austin, I think he said, who actually use it a lot, so it has more special features.

I'll get photos, but want to clear it with him first. That's it for tonight. Maybe I'll be more coherent by tomorrow.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


I find myself beset with an ever-so-tiny amount of fears and doubts and second thoughts today, when it comes to leaving this place.  I expect that's normal -- if anything in my life can be called 'normal'.

I also recognize that much of the doubts are due to the first really nice day of spring down here in the south. There are bluebirds in the yard, warm air coming in windows, loads of blueberries on the bushes. I keep thinking that since we now have two pair of nesting bluebirds in my neighbor's front yard, all it would take for me to have some in my yard next year would be a box out in the back yard, where I originally planned one three years ago. I'd really like that. It's just nostalgia, thinking of all the things I wanted this house to be three years ago when I bought it. Before reality set in. Before it became clear that dreams weren't to be realized.

Of course, I instantly forget the clamminess of both summer and winter, the fight against mold and mildew, the difficulty of keeping warm in the winter and the impossibility of keeping cool in deep summer. And the roof that's bound to spring a leak eventually.

It's not too late to change my mind -- but that's unlikely to happen, and certainly won't happen until after my monastery visits next week and next month. I expect this little bit of nostalgia will blow over once I drive away Sunday morning. As will the lack of interest in doing anything but sleeping.

I actually did spend a half hour out in the garden, getting the weeds out of the 'compost bed'. I'll need to do the garlic bed tomorrow. If I leave these until I return from Texas, they'll be much harder to clear. It felt good to be out working in the sunshine, anyway.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Appalachian Spring

My favorite, Nantahala River, although in the morning before it's 'turned on' for the day. It's dam-controlled and things get a bit more active with more water rushing through. Still, no matter how often I see it, there is that first sight each time that is always breathtaking.  I actually managed not to stop yesterday en route home, since I'd spent an  hour or so here the previous week. It was hard, though -- both my mind and seemingly, my car, really want to turn, to cross the bridge into a place where I've spent countless wonderful hours.

Hi, y'all. Yes, I'm back in what's generally considered to be the 'real world', although it seems less and less real to me all the time. I particularly noticed that last night when I got home and plugged in the computer. I found myself somewhat -- but not terribly -- interested in looking at any news sites, for example. Eventually, just to know if something important had happened during the week, I did look at a few to scan the headlines, but just couldn't drum up an iota of interest in any of it.

The retreat was wonderful -- but of course, I knew it would be. With Sayalay Susila teaching, it could not be anything less. And it was wonderful to see her again after almost two years. I'll eventually write more about it, over on Cintaspeaks, where it belongs. In the meantime, spring was bustin' out all over up at Southern Dharma, and as Aaron Copeland also noticed, springtime in the Appalachians is a thing of true beauty.

Some tree just beginning to leaf out.
And another.
If you sat and watched the trees, it seemed that you could actually see the leaves unfurl, turn fuller and greener by the minute.

These yellow iris appeared seemingly in moments -- but from one day to the next. By the following day, there were even more open. Wildflowers and perennials were bursting with color everywhere.

These ferns were unfolding by the hundreds, everywhere.
Only one of these blooming -- and I'm a sucker for bleeding hearts because they are so rampant in Oregon and Washington, and so beautiful massed in wooded areas.
Dogwood, of course. Last week it was cherry blossoms, this week, the property was scattered with white dogwood in full blossom.

Just beautiful! This is the road leading up to the main lodge. My room was in the 'attic', the peaked area at the top, in the corner to the right of the window. It wasn't really a room -- just a partitioned off 'cubby' with a curtain to pull across the front for privacy, but it was nice. The meditation hall is up the hill to the right of this photo.

More dogwood, and the lodge again.

And still more. I'm a southern gal, I love this stuff!

House was safe and sound once again when I arrived home. A bit cool here, still -- and me still without heat -- with some apparently heavy rains coming over the weekend. Flood warnings out for an area from here north. Lovely.

I now get to look ahead and plan for Austin, but not today. Today calls for laundry, shopping, other necessary chores.