Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Notes After a Summer Retreat

On the evening I finished the meditation retreat the weather shifted to cool gray skies.  The rain started in the evening and continued through the night.


-On the first day out, it's raining. A lot. I love the rain and it's great to come out to a nice, fine cool downpour.

-I went down into the basement of the main house and grabbed my cell phone. After weeks of silence and wondering, I would now confirm my worst fears or highest hopes. I read my emails and texts like a starved child eats gruel.

-Turns out I didn't miss anything. 

-I talked to Retreat Master about "A Course in Miracles," nonviolent communication, and Charlotte Joko Beck's "Everyday Zen."

-Retreat Master went into town to visit the chiropractor. Her daughter drove and I went along for the ride. I to get out of the house. Surrounding land was covered in lush green grass, weeds, and wild flowers. The farm fields were high with a waving sea of summer corn. There were also a lot of grazing buffalo.

-After doctor office, we stopped at Butterfly World. The butterfly house wasn't open. The rain had driven all the butterflies to the stop of the ceiling net. Instead we walked around the garden and looked at the different plants and stone fountains

-The rain stopped the following day. I grabbed a canoe, paddle, life preserver and went out on the lake.  After a few minutes, I got back my stroke back and cut across the pristine water. I spotted a giant aluminum boat that had been abandoned on land with its front pointing into the sky. The people at Tree of Life main house told me that they've found canoes that are hundreds of years old that some times float up. The natives would sink them as a way to preserve their quality. They said after cold winter when the lake was frozen over, two canoes bob'ed to the surface after the initial thaw. Both boats were given to museums because they were over 400 years old when analyzed.  

- I gave the Retreat Master a book of Buddhist poetry as a gift of thanks. She handed the book over to little girl who lives in the house. Apparently, she communes with spirits and can 'see' into books. I'm skeptical but open-minded to the idea.  

-The little girl went into a trance or what I would assume was some sort of altered state (I'm no expert). She began gesturing, rolling her head around, closing and opening her eyes while holding the book. Her head started nodding. No sound came out of her mouth. In trance, she drew a picture of a ovoid circle with light rays beaming off of it. She handed picture to me. The circle looked like it could be an eye, or the heart chakra, or the universe, all three, or absolutely nothing. 

-Still in a trance, the little girl ran off and came back with a porcupine needle. She spoke for the first time saying 'be very careful. It's a porcupine needle.' I roll the needle around in my hand and then hand it back to her. 

-Still in a trance, the little girl ran off and came back with a sea shell. She handed it to me. I try not to over-think this 'symbol' but to just accept it as something lovely. In reality, the sea shell is actually very significant to me. 

-Still in a trance, the little girl ran off and came back with a pink crystal in the shape of a ring. She grabbed the book of poetry and opens it to an exact page. She put the shell and ring on two separate pages. I look down and see that the page is open to the only poem in the entire book that I've used in my work. Not only that but she has put the shell and pink crystal exactly on the two verses that I've quoted in my writing. I looked up from the verses and she's nodding her and pointing at me. I nod back at her. 

-When the little girl returns to her 'usual' state, there isn't much to say. I don't wish to intrude upon what just happened. I thank her. She wandered off to go play with something. 

-I cleaned the zen rock labyrinth. This took days of work. Some of the weeds are waist high, many are growing on top of a layer of dead weeds. I had no idea how or where to start. So I put a small rug down on the northeast corner, got down on my knees, found the smallest daisy weed there was, and I plucked it. I flicked the uprooted plant into a white gardening cart. 

-I surrendered to this garden process. What was just plucking a few weeds, turned into an obsession. Sweat is pouring down my shirt and sweat pants. I'm moving around the, dipping down, spinning around. I realize it must look like I'm dancing or a whirling dervish with both covered in dirt and filled with daisies. Weeds are flying out of the ground and into the cart. I have no idea what's going on. Hours pass. I lose myself in the process. I understand why people can fall in love with gardening and pulling weeds. 

-Someone stopped by the garden and gasped, 'WHOA!' I stepped back and looked. Nearly half the garden has been plucked clean of weeds. I didn't intend on doing that. I don't know what I intended by besides plucking a few weeds. I have experienced similar situations when working out, or playing my violin or writing. There is a submersion and the 'I' evaporates. It's just the action happening. 

-The weeds fly into the cart. I take several carts overstuffed with weeds and dump them by the lake in the recycling/compost area for gardening. A small mountain of green weeds accumulated. 

- The garden was 2/3 done. There was the southeast corner, which was untouched. It scared me for some reason. The weeds were different in that corner with purple flowers low to the ground and vines. I attack the over corners and areas of the rock garden. 

-The Little Girl stopped by the rock labyrinth eating a bag of chips. For some reasons I'm hearing the words 'about time you did something.' She sat on top of one of the main stone markers and watched. After a few moments she said, 'about time you did some work around here.'

-Little Girl pointed out the Southeast corner (the area I've avoided). "That's going to be really difficult." I nod, dreading that area as I continue working around it. She pointed up at the sky, "LOOK." I looked up and it's a morning dove serenely watching from a power line.

-I recalled at the beginning of this retreat, the black snake that slithered across my path and disappeared. Now a morning dove. 

-The cats from the house started to come out and lay in the rock garden now. The nuzzled their chins against the grey stones and nap for a few minutes in the space as it cleared up. 

-The next day, I'm discouraged and aching from hours of weeding. The southeast corner is hopeless. I'm feeling depressed. It occurred to me that I can just get on the ground and pick one purple flower. I slowly laid on the ground and pulled up a purple flower. It came up easily. I picked another and another. The vines have spider webs intertwined in them. I ripped them up from the earth and tossed them in the white cart. 

-The zen rock labyrinth is finally cleared. It has been done!!! There's still weeds and some vines, but it's possible to walk the entire path now. The entrance was at the southeast corner, where all the purple flowers I dreaded were. I walked through the entrance and took the path curving around in beautiful loops from the East, to the North, to the South, and finally West. The labyrinth's path grows more pristine as it moves to the center. I walked to the heart of the labyrinth. At the heart of everything was a large red stone with 4 crystal donated from the Dalai Lama. 

-I can now see the labyrinth in all its beauty and simplicity. Traveling from the four points to the center of the universe. For a moment a path has been opened.

-Lightning storms put on a fireworks display at night.

-Last night at Tree of Life, we all had dinner at the table. Quinoa burgers and salad. Someone decided that champagne was appropriate. Then for dessert they cut up strawberries, diced chunks of waffles, and melted raw cacao and chocolate. We drank champagne while eating strawberries and waffles with dipping chocolate.

- On the way back to New York we got lost. I woke up and our car was rising over the Hudson River Valley. We were in New York state. Usually you enter New York City through New Jersey. Unwilling to go back, we trudged forward. I said there must be a reason for us to take another route. We ended up driving down the Palisades Parkway. It's beautiful. Maybe that was our reason.

-Stench of sewage plant hits our noses as we crossed into the city. But we're home so it was fine. 


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Notes Before a Summer Retreat

I arrived back in New York City this afternoon at rush hour.  It's been 25 days since I had seen the city. I was away in the woods of Pennsylvania on a meditation retreat. Surprisingly I wasn't frazzled or overwhelmed. But my eyes were constantly jumping around at all the shiny, sweaty, yelling, vibrant people bustling down the streets.

I was fortunate enough to finish another month-long retreat this summer. In my particular Buddhist tradition, there is no talking about the meditation experiences -whether they be amazing or mundane- that happen during the actual retreat. This is difficult for me because I write as a way of processing and remembering. The past two summers I've had to keep a private journal for my own thoughts and experiences in retreat.

There is, however, nothing wrong with talking about what happens before and after the actual retreat. Here are some notes on the before and after.

-I passed by a Zen rock maze overgrown with weeds that was in front of my cabin. It bothered me that this was/is a holy labyrinth blessed by Dalai Lama and his monks and now it has been taken over by wild weeds and daisies. It felt like it was calling me to do something. But there was no time.

-On the way to the cabin a black snake slithered across my path. It appeared out of nowhere and seemed to disappear just as quickly. Afterward I asked the Retreat Master about snakes. She said they mean growth and power of some sort. I never saw that snake or any snake again.

-I get sick the first night there. I'm anxious and very nervous. My mind was racing with all the possible catastrophes that could happen. Coughing, sore throat, congestion, wheezing in my lungs. The wheezing would disappear and re-appear throughout, some times dependent on time of day or emotional state. I've decided not to take any medicine for the time being, although I've brought along aspirin. Not trying to be a hero, but interested in exploring further. If it gets too bad, I'll take medicine.

-The cabin has an unusual vibration/frequency thing going on in the air. I think I might be imagining this but I'm not sure. I go outside to check the electrical lines. Nothing appears out of sorts.

- I decided and then un-decided on where the altar was going to be, where my meditation seat was going to be, and where my bed was going to be in the cabin. I switched around the room a couple of times before settling on what seemed like something reasonable.

-I noticed that the cabin was surrounded by wild blueberries, black berries, and raspberry bushes. I've never seen so many berries growing naturally in such close vicinity.

-Ducks live and sleep in the grove beyond the trees. They sleep there at night. Apparently ducks snore and do some sort of quack-babble in their sleep (perhaps in duck REM sleep reliving some trauma or happy days).  A snoring duck sounds exactly like you think they would.

-I'm trying to catch a fly with a drinking glass. I accidentally chop it in half and feel sad. I set the glass down on a table and clean up. The frequency/vibration things intensifies in the air for a moment and then the drinking glass explodes. There was nothing in it, it was not on a hot surface, and all the other items surrounding the glass remain undisturbed. The empty, perfectly sculpted glass just exploded into a thousand different shards. And then my bed breaks! I apologized and purified for the 'fly chopping incident. Then I cleaned up the glass, replaced the bed with just two mattresses stacked on top of each other, and continued cleaning. I catch a few more flying insects and spiders that day. I am very careful and nothing gets chopped in half. The bed doesn't break again and no more glasses explode for the rest of the retreat.

-I have one last dinner with the retreat family in the  main house and then say goodbye to everyone. No more talking, sitting, or being with them until the end of the retreat.

- I went down to the lake and looked at all the lotus flowers blossoming along the muddy shores. I took two pictures and sent to my facebook.

-I can technically check my email and phone but can't even muster the effort on the last day before going in. I was also afraid of getting that 'one last email' about something that would haunt me into the retreat. Turned off the phone and put it in suitcase in the basement of the main house. Feel relieved.

Monday, July 23, 2012

sexy poetry GUEST BLOG by FC

Nuestros Cuerpos Como Banderas:

Your hands seeps down my stomach
like drops of water
HEAT....your eyes numb my toes
HEAT....your lips numb my convictions
Our bodies are flags, free as the wind
constricted freedom
Hanging from a pole
We can only dangle as far as our strings can reach.
Our sex is nationalism
Pledging Allegiance to our facades in the morning
Fucking our guilt out at night
Our bodies are flags,
Imagined Sexual Freedom.

By Fernanda Coppel

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A dressing room orgy. GUEST BLOG.

I've always wanted to tell this story because it's one of the most inhumane things I have ever observed. And it really reminded me how inhumane we treat each other on a daily basis without acknowledgement. About four years ago I was a disgruntled employee of Urban Outfitters and I had to wear things like this:

  • Tripp NYC Zebra Print Jean 
    to work! Attractive, I know. But besides wearing hipster clothing I was asked to do highly important tasks. I mean life changing chores such as standing at the front door for hours, saying "Welcome to Urban Outfitters" and folding those coveted pair of jeggings with a fake smile on my face. Sometimes I was sent to "man" the dressing rooms where I would hand out keys and tell people those skinny jeans looked really good on them (even if they didn't). 

    One day a homeless man came into the dressing room with a stack of pants and T-shirts. He might have not been homeless but he seemed like he had been through a rough time (dirty/tattered clothing, alcohol breath, and smelling like he hadn't showered in a while). It was a busy night so I quickly opened a room for him and rushed to the next customer. The man thanked me and I saw that he was missing some teeth, but I still didn't deny him service. I mean people without teeth still need clothes too, right?

    Well a couple of minutes later I hear groaning and moaning from the man's dressing room. I kept folding and tried to ignore it, I mean maybe he was having trouble putting on a shirt? Maybe he noticed the price tag and was groaning with disbelief at the how over priced most of the clothing in that store is.

    A few minutes later I heard more intense groaning, but this time I realize that these are sounds of pleasure. Another customer asks me what is going on, so I walk over to the man's dressing room and see the clothing he was wearing is in a ball on the floor. This man is completely naked and he is masterbating in front of a full length mirror in the comforts of his locked dressing room.
    I panic as the man really gets down and dirty with himself. 

    I page my manager that there is an emergency situation that I can't explain over the walkie talkie. Meanwhile, customers clear out of the dressing room. Between this man's smell and the animal like sounds he's making, I'm surprised I stayed in there. 

    But then, just at that moment, this homeless man reaches an astonishing climax like a nimble gymnast's dismount, the man screams mercy and jumps landing ass first in the stall. That's right. His hairy and unwashed butt landed in plain view and the man began snoring. He was spent.

    My manager comes in and asks what all the fuss is about and all I have to do it point at the man's ass sticking out of the stall. My manager looks at me like this is a first and I ask what the hell we are supposed to do. He calls the security dude and they pound on the door until the man wakes up. He gets dressed in his own clothes and is escorted out of the store and asked never to return. 

    After the homeless man is gone my manager comes back down to the dressing room and gives me a pair of gloves and a plastic trash bag. You can see where this is headed. My manager asks me to put any clothes found in the homeless man's dressing room in the bag and throw it away immediately. 

    If you've ever worked in retail you know that most stores NEVER THROW ANY ARTICLE OF CLOTHING AWAY, NEVER. Damaged, previously worn, and unrepairable clothing is never discarded. Its always put back on the shelf as is and sold to another person who doesn't notice that the item is damaged and then when they try to return it they keep the money and give them store credit. Fucking retail industry!

    Despite the fact that this man committed a lewd act in public, he was still a human being. He obviously didn't have another place to go and obviously needed some help and obviously had a mental problem or two. Yet, he was was treated like a criminal and everything he touched in the store was thrown away, as if the store needed cleansing from reality. A clothing store turned away a man who was in need of clothing which seems unethical to me. And then they trashed any clothing he might have used because his poverty stricken fingers touched them.

    This homeless man stuck with me. And as I threw the clothing away, I reflected on the fact that I too am guilty of treating people in an inhumane fashion. One prime example is on the subway. Everyday I see homeless men and women sometimes giving them some change but most of the time turning the other cheek because I am tired or because they are annoying me on my commute. But my dressing room fiasco made me realize that all people deserve respect or at the very least acknowledgement that they are in fact human beings. This might seem like common sense but you would be surprised how often we forget this fact.

    --Fernanda, guest blogging for Aurin while he is away.

    Friday, July 6, 2012

    I'm still getting f**cked by the movies.

    My trip to the movies tonight to see "Savages" was like taking a tour of US pop culture.
    The previews... the previews did all the work.

    Take the Tour:
    It's always a sea of Caucasian at the movies
    1. The Watch: The new Ben Stiller movie has three white men and one brown guy RICHARD AYOADE, who is also English. The trailer proved that Ben Still is still funny and he doesn't have to tell anyone to fuck off. Of course, this movie preview was sandwiched in between two really intense movies, so the audience was ready for a laugh, someone could've picked their nose on the screen and we've all would've laughed a hearty laugh. This preview also proved that Vince Vaughn doesn't have to be talented to be cast over and over again. He just has to be a "regular" guy who doesn't keep in shape and, tells you to fuck off... I mean, as long as you're white, you can be that guy and get away with it. He didn't become a better actor over the years, he just got more comfortable being on camera.

    Is there hope for brown people on TV?
    2. The ads for the new cop show, "Elementary," which has a woman of color Lucy Liu and a Latino, Manny Perez in the cast kinda gave me the idea that perhaps there is hope yet for the brown people on TV, even if the main character is white? Who the fuck knows. Maybe the show will be good or maybe it will suck so bad it'll get cancelled after 4 episodes.

    Maybe there is!
    3. Denzel Washington is starring in a movie called FLIGHT. He plays a pilot who makes a miraculous landing after the aircraft he is flying malfunctions. He was also drinking the night before, so that gives the hero his underbelly, his complexity. I know why Denzel made this movie, I mean, "I know" as in, "this is my idea of this since I've been an actor for a while," it re-imagines Black men as: HEROS. And I love that. I love it. I want my brother to watch it so that he can see Black men in a different light from our typical nightly newscast where Black men just show up as they're being put in jail.

    You can be whomever you want, as long as you can pay for it (and that's fine, I'm not hating)
    4. Tyler Perry is straight and not in drag? And, um, Matthew Fox is scary?
    In his new movie "Alex Cross," Tyler Perry plays a straight, happily married detective who hunts down a super vicious killer (yah, yah, nothing new there with that plot but I don't think that's the point of this movie), the vicious killer is none other than Matthew Fox. They tried to make Fox look scary in the preview, and some 14-year old will buy it because she will have never seen Party of Five... but I almost didn't recognize Perry... See, Perry is teaching me to see him in a different light: he, too can be straight and a cop. And you will root for him while you watch this movie. The movie is also named after his character so he IS REALLY drilling down the fact that he is the modafucking star of the film and that you will see him and ROOT for him as a straight, male cop! I got respect for that. Re-invent yourself, girl.
    PS. the film also stars Edward Norton... He has a nasal, squeaky voice that really annoys me. He is only seriously wowed me in American History X, and I guess he agreed to be in Tyler Perry's reimagining of his public persona, so he gets 2 points, other than that, boooooooooring.

    Ben Afflect still can't act
    5. My partner thinks he was decent in "The Town," which he also co-wrote? In his new movie, "Argo," he stars as a CIA specialist who comes up with a "genius" plan to save some "Americans" (AKA more white people) trapped in Iran. I think he is also playing a Latino guy, Tony Mendez? Maybe the real guy was Spanish... but if he was in fact from one of the Americas, could they have just hired a Latino guy? Ben: I don't care whether you grow your hair out, you should've had a brown actor play that role. I hope Bryan Cranston saves the movie, go Bryan Cranston! (Breaking Bad's new season is beginning soon!!!!!!!!!!)

    The scary white masculine thing still sells (but I agree, Jeremy Renner IS a really good actor)
    6. I'm still scared of Jeremy Renner who stars in the Bourne Legacy... ah, I wish they had just left that alone. I liked Matt Damon in it. Anyway, I can't help but be a little intimidated by Renner after watching him in Hurt Locker.

    At least some women get their 15 minutes on TV (this includes Glenn Close and not Lena Dunham)
    7.  Closer, all white people again, well, at least it stars a woman and has been on for 7 seasons. And apparently there are only six episodes left. HURRY! Get your Kyra Sedgwick on!

    HorrorMedy still sells (add Asians and Kung Fu)

    8. Eli Roth's new movie The Man with the Iron Fists directed by RZA (co-written by RZA as well) seems promising. Lots of AsianExploitation and shit you'd see in a Tarantino movie... plus Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu (of course), but at least it knows what it is and who their fans are (see below for the Savages run down).

    They'll keep feeding us shit as long as we eat shit
    9. And, then Ice Age number 47 should be coming to your screens soon.

    There were some other previews but I don't remember them. A few minutes later, after some cheesy AMC thing about shutting off my cell phones and the animated cartoons from Ice Age Number 47 telling me to shut my face, the movie began:

    Let me tell you one thing about Savages, it doesn't KNOW what genre it is, and those in the cast who think they know (Benicio del Toro , Salma Hayek, and John Travolta) rock that shit out. The others (Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, and Aaron Johnson)  don't know and kinda suck in it. Well, Taylor Kitsch was sorta convincing. Allow me to illustrate the genre confusion: Blake's character gets kidnapped by a Mexican cartel and while she's in captivity, she asks "can someone give me a salad! I get pizza all the time" and she also asks to get high... "you know, the thing we're all getting killed for?" um... you're gonna die, who cares if they feed you shit or caviar (which is sorta another line in the movie)... And, really? You wanna get high? The entire theater laughed out loud when she uttered the salad request, but I'm pretty sure we were supposed to be concerned for her character's well-being.
    That failed.
    Benicio also made all of his lines funny (his whole characterization was funny)... and Salma played it a bit over the top (as she does) and funny and so did Travolta who all seem to think this was a fucking comedy. Oliver Stone, was this a comedy? A slap in the face? Who the fuck knows.

    PS. Also, Blake's character gets passed around between the two guys but at the end, she learns that three people "can't love each other equally."
    (Shaking my head. Shaking my head.)
    I left the theater with a tummy ache from my Nestle Bunch Crunch (because I just needed more sugar in my life) and with an ache in my heart for the movies... the women parts suck, the women parts mostly go to girls like Blake Lively (who just need to take an acting class and learn to pick better scripts), and I guess, maybe... I really shouldn't have any hope.

    That was my fucking night at the movies.
    At least the tickets were free.

    (Guest blogging for Aurin while he is away at Silent Camp.)

    Monday, July 2, 2012

    My Mom is HOT.

    The last time I visited my family I wasn't pissed off, which is generally a good sign. I felt something in between cautious (that I wasn't pissed the fuck off) and  feeling alright; I felt like I went to do something there and it got accomplished without a hitch, without a fight. I think that meant I had a good time. Or something like that.
    As my 14-year old brother rolled my suitcase from the airport's garage to the ticketing booth, I felt... neutral. My mom walked behind my brother, dressed in a tight, long, black skirt and a blouse that hugged her torso. I looked back just to make sure I wasn't walking too fast for her. Not because she's not an agile woman but because I still remember the times she slapped me across the face, as a teenager, when I lied or did something wrong. I guess I'm always watching over my shoulder when I'm around my mom. I'm always trying to make sure I'm not fucking up. That's probably not healthy and probably a sign that I still need therapy.
    She had no make up on and her hair was freshly washed.
    Before coming to airport I helped her color her hair. My mom has long, curly, jet black hair that is constantly threatened by grays daring to spread from the roots to the ends. But she's not letting age win: "Fuck no," or whatever her war cry against aging is. She exercises almost every day and eats healthy, so at 50-something years old, she actually weighs the same as me (120) and has less cellulite. But that's not what I saw when I looked back.
    Well, first of all, when I looked back, the first take I did was to make sure she wasn't too far behing.
    The second take I did was because her siren-like figure caught my eye.
    In an 8-second span, I saw her marvelously (is that a word?), sinewy black hair drape over her shoulder and her hips move in perfect cadence with her torso. I checked her face out and she didn't look 50-something, she looked 40. And hot. Like really, really hot, beautiful.  God-beautiful.
    I looked away because I felt shame, not because I thought my mom was marvelously beautiful but because I used to think she was ugly.
    Yah, back when I was kid, someone called my mom "ugly," and I let them because I thought so, too.
    My eyes watered and I had to exhale really slowly to fight those guilty tears.
    I didn't have time to process right then at there because before I knew it I was standing at the American Airlines line waiting to check in my bag and she and my brother were right there.
    And then I had to go through security and take off my shoes and be padded for bombs or whatever the fuck they think someone leaving Nashville, Tennessee would carry.
    It wasn't until I was almost in New York when I thought again about my dumbass ideas of beauty. How, when, what gave me the right to ever think of my mom as ugly? JESUS, did I ever really look at her?
    I'm a stupid person.
    And this is not about some silly feelings of guilt... I mean, my mom has had a pretty challenging life. Somewhere in her early-30s she had a motorcycle accident (because she used to ride a motorcycle/A.K.A. being "fierce") and the doctor told her she'd probably never walk again. But she did, just fine. In her late 30s she moved from South America to the US, had no one here, and then got her masters in education and is a teacher here, the same profession she had in our other country.
    No one can say she's not one hell of a fighter.
    No one can say she's not self-made.
    No one can say that she's not heart-breakingly beautiful.
    God, it's taken me so long to realize that. Why does it take, some of us dumb creatures, so long to see beauty in the people who are closest to us?
    We admire the beauty "out there," but what about the beautiful people who raised us?
    Who slapped us in the face when we lied?
    Who taught us that honesty is more important than not looking like an asshole? (I mean, if you're worried about not looking like an asshole, maybe you are behaving like one.)

    Those people who teach us the most important lessons in life don't always look beautiful to us.
    Is this because they make us see the truth in our actions?
    Because they put a mirror to us and say "Look! Really look."

    I finally looked mom, really looked.

    (Guest blogging while Aurin is away at Silent Camp).

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