Friday, October 21, 2011

Seeing the Light

I made pumpkin bread and pumpkin muffins this morning.

I loved how the light was hitting them through the kitchen window... they look like holy golden muffins. I wouldn't say they tasted quite as heavenly as I would've liked. I balked at the recipe calling for 2.5 cups of sugar when I was only using 3.5 cups of flour, so I took out half a cup... much to the disappointment of the muffins. They also lacked the moisture I would have preferred. Note to self and others: don't apt for the shortcut of canned pumpkin, just go for the real thing.

I attempted to save them by making a cinnamon and suger glaze with butter and cream. All in all? They were, just, okay. I brought them down to Carollton and shared them with the hospice patients and hospice staff.

I was finally able to get a nice, long, 45 minute meditation sit in last night. I'm looking forward to a longer one this evening. I'm still trying to ferret out what makes for the really awesome sit and what stifles or obscures a sit. Last night I found concentration to come quite naturally and easily. As I entered deeper and deeper into the breath I began to notice something peculiar taking shape. Whether it's an act of my imagination, or the "sign" Bhante G talks about in his book, I'm still not sure. It was incredibly encouraging, though! I began to sense being at a doorway. It had real shape to it, and sort of pointed up at the top. I felt the doorway surrounding me a little, like a bubble. I sat in this doorway for a few minutes, minutes which I knew wouldn't last because I had already begun to ponder the experience and think about it, rather than be in it. That's a tricky balance to manage...

I remember when I had my very first meditative absorption. It was back in Iowa on my 21st birthday in a zen monastery. When I entered absorption there was a distinct "popping" sensation, like bursting through or popping your finger through plastic. There was a domed light surrounding me and the color of dark army green. I have no idea what these things mean, but they were present and experienced on some level that was neither just in my mind nor outside of it.

The recent dhamma talk posted yesterday was also encouraging. I was reminded that, though we accumulate bad kamma through our actions, we also create good kamma too. And this good kamma builds and builds. When we sit for meditation, each time we do, it's building good kamma. Eventually, we must enter the jhanas. It's simply bound to happen, like filling a pitcher of water. Eventually, the water will spill over. I'm hoping that the doorway is a sign, a symbol, that I'm building that kamma and coming closer to the first real step inward.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Autumn and All Things Good

I can't sing the praises of this salad enough. Wow. Just, wow! Roasted delicata squash and fingerling potatoes, fresh kale, pepitas, radish, and a delectable handmade miso-harissa dressing. Well, I had to do a little improv for the harissa, which is one very elusive sauce to find. I've searched far and wide without any luck, until I realized I needn't search at all... it can be made in my very own kitchen! Of course, who has the time to put it together at quarter after six, staring at 50 pages of research needing to be read and analyzed for a grant proposal whose deadline is looming? Yea, me neither.

Chili oil can go a long way.

To balance out the citrus and spice in the salad, I also made a sweet corn soup finished off with yogurt and dill. I was unfortunately too full to eat this bowlfull after finishing off a plate of the delicata salad, but the husband had no problem polishing off both! Men... I wish I had half their metabolism!

What are some of your favorite autumn foods?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Getting Stuck on the Way Up

[Cleveland, our 6 month old kitten, takes a look out the window with his butt stuck in the blinds]

It's been a month since I've last written. I have only one excuse: school.

School has been amazingly busy this semester. It's no help that I also signed myself up for the impossible: four classes, practicum, research assistantship, working weekends, hour-long commutes. Needless to say, I dropped a class to keep my nose above the water line.

Even with the recent dropping of some of the load, it hasn't come without its consequences. In the month struggle my stress and anxiety levels went through the roof, I had an emotional breakdown, upped my intake of wine, and the meditation practice almost completely fell out of each day. I watched my sits go from nearly two hours a day, down to one, down to thirty minutes, down to thirty minutes every other day, and finally, twenty minutes once in seven days. I'm reminded of the story Phakchok Rinpoche told me about his experiment with the 'ordinary' life, in which he gave up meditating for an entire week. At first he didn't notice much difference, maybe he lost his temper once in a while. But by the end of his experiment he had become extremely stressed, angry often, loosing his temper frequently, in a constant hurry to go places and do things. "It was just awful," he said, shaking his head. He was amazed that people could function at some level -- albeit with varying degrees of insanity -- without the practice in their lives.

My month-long slope down hill felt very much like his experience. I'm trying hard to turn the boat around, but the current that has built up against me in the meantime has grown quite strong. There's a lot of resistance I have to work against just to get myself back to where I was on the path. It's not just the loss of concentration ability in formal sitting that's difficult to regain. It's more about the memories of various heedless moments I've had -- broken precepts, poor virtue -- that weighs me down. A careless lie, a mean word, one glass of wine too many... these things hurt the faith in ourselves necessary to push on.

I have an overwhelming urge to sit perfectly still, not doing a thing, but it's a real illusion of stillness that is actually lack of energy and motivation. I'm sitting still anyway, in order to try and slow it all back down. An hour's sit this morning and an hour's sit last night, listening to a few deeply meaningful dhamma talks, may help realign the focus.

I'm finding a little bit of inspiration in this picture of Cleveland from this morning. Even though his bottom half is tangled up and stuck in the blinds, he's still reaching for the perfect view.