It has been a busy interval.
On Friday afternoon, a steady stream of visitors began passing through the hollow. My eldest son Isaiah and his wife left Durham NC and drove over the Smokies before dawn to spend some time with us. Zoe joined the three of us for a sunny afternoon walk out to the extreme northwest corner of the property, where we sat surrounded by leafless woods on the weathered porch of what we refer to as the 'retreat cabin'. Here we caught up on recent events. Isaiah and April work at a printing press in Durham. A few months ago he invited his brother Isa to move in and begin working in the same business. Later that evening, after the ladies returned from work, we all enjoyed an excellent meal of curried gluten and rice.
In the Tibetan tradition of time-keeping, we are approaching the first full moon of the year (Wednesday). In relation to the day, early morning is universally considered a good time for meditation. In the same way, the first weeks of a buddhist new year are considered an important time for retreat and spiritual practice. Saturday was the tenth day after the new moon, a day noted for strong masculine energy. In the Nyingma tradition, each tenth of the lunar month is associated with a different aspect of Padmasambhava. This month, in keeping with the emphasis on one-pointed practice we contemplate his supreme qualities as the thunder yogi Santirakshita ('guardian of peace') devoted to ascetic disciplines while dwelling on the extreme fringes of the civilized world.
Saturday morning, I woke to dark skies, high winds and torrential rainfall. So far this year there have been 291 reports of tornadoes, which marks an increase of nearly 500% for this time of year. A peek out the kitchen window reveals a few sparrows picking through seeds spread on the walkway.
Amazingly enough, the skies were soon clear. Zoe and Scott appeared to join us all for coffee and whatnot, neighbor Patty, her son Jeff and his kids showed up at noon as did Dechen's mom and niece Jade. Jeff erected a small platform for bird seed and bread crumbs in the front yard and it has been fairly busy out there since. One rufous-sided towhee seems to favor working the grass, a lady cardinal, a dozen house sparrows, and a few titmice flit between the concrete and the platform. Around sunset, Tenkar, Dechen, Jade and I walked up to One Heart Rise to feel the wind and watch the light play on the underside of the dark clouds. Jade (9) lives in town and doesn't get to do this kind of thing very often.
Soon after the ladies left this morning, Brother Ralph, the self-styled preacher who sold us this house twenty years ago, drove up on his 4x4. I invited him to come in and set a spell. As always, he asked about my 'outlook on the spiritual universe', and told me he wished Huckabee would win the nomination.
Then at last, this afternoon, I began formulating my thoughts and working on this post.
Over the years, I have initiated various forms attempting to provide the sangha with opportunities for creative expression and meaningful interaction. For over a decade we maintained an intense schedule of formal practices, both as individuals and as a group. Rasayana journeys, sweat-lodge ceremonies, ngondro and Vajrayana sadhanas, public rituals, dharma crafts, astronomy class, Tibetan language studies, posting forums, a community website, reading and discussion groups. In the latter half of the 1990's, there were countless opportunities to go backpacking for days and sometimes weeks at a stretch both here in the southeast and in the deserts and mountains of the southwest. The last seven years have seen an emphasis on making devotional music. All of these forms have had their limitations while also serving as primary vehicles to focus interest and available energy in a manner which has virtually defined the sangha at any given moment.
Now the days pass ever more quickly. What have we accomplished here? Years ago when there was more fire and activity in these parts, Khenchen Palden pulled me aside to warn me not to be distracted or sidetracked by the bustle of community and that he could tell me about scenes much bigger than ours which had completely dissolved and are no longer able to introduce anyone to the Dharma because their personal commitment to practice and awakening was weak or secondary.
At this point, we are once again in a sector of the labyrinth where samsaric distractions dominate and there is not very much holding us together as an active spiritual community. At times, it seems my interest is the primary connection of this group to the teachings of the Buddha. This impoverishes us all and should be recognized as a challenge to both our individual and collective well-being. In considering this, I feel an urgent need to finish up the retreat cabin.
Eight long years have passed since the structure began to take form. In spite of our talk and ideals and plans, it remains a dusty shed and sits unused and isolated in the woods. I have often said that I think we would all hassle less and evolve more rapidly if we each spent a few days out there alone every so often. Apparently, not everyone agrees with me about this. Even though we regularly suffer through familiar patterns of discord, there must still be faith that there are more direct and practical ways to move beyond these difficulties than by increasing the frequency of time spent in solo retreat.
We have made good use of the porch across the years as a place to spend Sunday afternoons, a quiet place to share tea and read Longchenpa and a bug-free destination for a day hike but the building itself is not finished. Nobody has spent a single night out there yet. This Year of the Rat we must work to finish the interior and make serious use of it. And considering the benefits that we have gotten from the porch alone, I am equally inspired to make this the year that we construct sitting platforms on both Turtle Hill and Easter Ridge.