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Archive for December, 2009

This time of year has always been very important to me.  First of all, there is the Winter Solstice, the most powerful day of the year.  If you have the day-to-day affairs of your life in order, and can meditate well for the few days before and after the Solstice, it can fill you with tremendous energy.  And that energy can help you make major breakthroughs in your life.  If your day-to-day affairs are not so in order, or if your consciousness is a little sloppy, then that same tremendous energy will bounce your mind all over the place and you’ll experience many challenging emotions and states of awareness, and you may come away from the Solstice in worse shape than you went into it.

Then comes Christmas.  Recently, I commented on what Christmas is like for me.  I don’t like the commercialism that stokes the consumer fires this time of year, but I think it is great that people focus their minds on giving.  So, I can’t complain.

To cap off the holiday season, is the celebration of the start of the New Year.  My teacher taught that it is very important to put your full attention into everything you do, and to finish everything you undertake with your best awareness.  Because the awareness you end one task with is the awareness that you will begin the next task with, and that awareness will either help ensure the success of the next task, or doom it to failure.

When he washed his dishes and put them away, he arranged the cupboards perfectly, with all the handles of the tea cups pointed in the same direction.  Food was organized and arranged perfectly in his refrigerator.  His clothes were clean, contracts signed, and his bills were paid.  He said that if you are sloppy in the details of the most mundane things in your life, then you’ll be sloppy with the more important things in your life.  And if you are sloppy with the more important things in your life, then you will likely arrive at the end of your life in a worse level of awareness than you had at the start.  And, you will carry that lower level of awareness with you into your next incarnation.  Setting up a downward progression in your conscious evolution.

So, the New Year’s celebration always reminds me of this teaching, and I strive to get my act together before the end of the year (and the end of the incarnation).  I clean, I fold, I pay my bills, I meditate more, and then I try to have some fun.  This year was a challenging year for me, but I achieved some important things, and most importantly, I’m in the best state of awareness I’ve been in all year (with a couple of minor detours around the Solstice).

So, I’m going to do a little snowboarding, a little celebrating (just a little, hopefully), a lot of laughing, and try to start off the New Year right.  The following week brings my birthday, which is the most powerful day of the year for an individual.  So, the challenge for me is to ride the energy of all of these most powerful days well into the New Year and ensure its success!  Happy New Year everyone!

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Christmas

I have a virtual friend up in Canada (someone I’ve never met, but know well enough through the internet).  He sent me some musings about what Christmas is like at his house.

Yes, Christmas is that time of year, when we up North think that if there isn’t snow, well it just isn’t Christmas. There has to be snow falling from the sky as we leave Midnight Mass, evergreens packed with white carpets, fireplaces blaring hot and food, lots of yummy food as we celebrate till the wee hours of the morning. Of course, most of us congregate in families and invite friends, who couldn’t make it home, to share with us all that is good about Christmas. Oh we know aunt Jeanne has a pint in her purse, and that the teenagers are taking their time at the wood shed. But then so did we. Getting ready is exhausting, it last but a few days and it take weeks to get over it all. And next year we’ll do the same.

I dated a woman from a catholic family in New Hampshire for a long time and Christmas at her parents’ house was exactly the same!

My Canadian friend asked what Christmastime was like for me.  For many years, I worked for the US Postal Service, so, from mid-November up through Christmas Eve, all I did was work.  I’d work six or seven days a week, 12-14 hours a day.  We stayed every night until all the mail collected that day had been sorted and shipped out. And the next day brought with it another mountain of cards and packages.  The work was so stressful and so demanding, that nearly every year, I would come down with Strep Throat or some serious cold or flu.  Christmas was the light at the end of the tunnel; the day of rest.

Since I worked up until Christmas morning, I rarely went away to spend the holiday with family as most of my friends did.  So, I often spent the day alone, but happy for it.  Perfect peace!

On one of my more memorable Christmas mornings, sick with a fever, exhausted from work, I drove up to a little natural hot springs a few miles north of Santa Barbara, where I lived.  I hiked up the trail and had the little pool all to myself.  I soaked and let all the stress just float away.

There was fine clay on the banks of the spring, and I fashioned a sculpture of Pan playing his flutes, somehow fitting for this natural setting.  The sun was shining, the water was warm and I felt pure bliss.

My Christmases are often spent alone, though never lonely.  A day of rest; a day of peace on Earth.  And may yours be so too!

Happy Christmas everyone!

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There is a very popular book out called Eat Pray Love.  I haven’t read it yet, but friends who have, really enjoyed it.  It might be sort of a ‘chick flick’ for books (do they have a term for ‘chick book’?), but I love the title.  If you added ‘Drink’ to the list, and if I assumed for myself that ‘Pray’ means ‘Meditate’ then you’d have four of my single most favorite things in life — in no particular order (admittedly it’s a long list).

It’s Christmas Eve, so, I’ll dispense with the philosophy in favor of talking about something really important; eating!  And, by extrapolation, cooking.  At various times, I’ve been a vegetarian, a pescetarian, and a full-on carnivore.  Most of the time, I stick with rice, vegetables and fish, but occasionally I’ll cook up some poultry (usually chicken).  My normal recipe is to simply fry up a skinless chicken breast… pretty dull eh? Sometimes, I make chicken cacciatore, which is very tasty, but it completely covers up the taste of the chicken itself.

One day, I was looking for a new way to cook a whole chicken and I stumbled upon a French recipe for Poulet au Pot (Chicken in a Pot).  If you google that, you’ll find the recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, or something of the sort (kind of worries me, as I envision guys in white lab coats with clipboards waiting for a hamster to die).  The same recipe is quoted on many food sites and blogs and seems to gain high marks all around.  I think this is the recipe I first tried and it was great.

I didn’t have a ‘fat separator’, so just dished out the juice as is, and I cut a couple of other corners too, and I added too much Rosemary, but even so it was some of the most succulent, most flavorful chicken I’d ever cooked! Try the official recipe, and follow it as closely as possible, and you will enjoy your chicken as, perhaps, you never have.

I’ve been thinking about cooking it again, but my living situation has since changed and my kitchen (re: galley) doesn’t quite have all the amenities of your regular kitchen.  First of all, I don’t have a refrigerator, but I wanted to buy some chicken to cook on Christmas day (as most restaurants are closed).  So, I went out to the dock and scooped up some snow, sealed it into a few ziplock bags and placed them in my ‘ice boxes’. Then I went shopping.

I didn’t really want to cook a whole chicken this time, so instead, I got ‘Split Chicken Breasts’ with the skin on (important to buy chicken with the skin, as this is where most of the flavor comes from).  Since there was enough for two large meals, I decided to cook half tonight, and half tomorrow.  I also bought some small red potatoes, garlic, and shalots.

The true Poulet au Pot recipe calls for browning the chicken on the stove top first, then sticking it in the oven to slow bake and steam in its own juices.  While my stove does include an oven, I thought I’d try the whole thing on the stove top tonight, and it actually came out really well.  So, I’ll give you the details of what I did tonight, and you can decide for yourself how to mix and match with your own Chicken in a Pot experiments!

So, take a large chicken breast with skin and sprinkle a little sea salt on top, season with ground black pepper, ground garlic… I threw in some Old Bay seasoning just because it was there.  Get a large pot, put some olive oil in and heat the oil  up.  Fry the chicken, breast side down first, for a good 10 minutes… to cook a good way through. Flip the breast over to the bone side.

Chop up and add a small red potato, a couple of small shalots, 3 or 4 cloves of garlic… peeled and cleaned but not crushed.  Add a TINY bit of Rosemary (if you like rosemary, go for it, but for me, it can overpower the flavor of the chicken, so, I just added a few sprinkles from a single twig – maybe a quarter twig total).  Since I’d bought a pack of herbs with sage and thyme in it too, I added a little of each to the mix too.  Let everything fry for another 5-10 minutes.

A whole chicken will release a lot of juice, but a breast wont, so, if cooking just a few chicken parts, then add a little bit of water at this point (and check occasionally and add more as necessary), and make sure you fit on a tight fitting lid (this helps the chicken and veggies to steam for a while).  For a breast of chicken, cook for maybe another 10 minutes then either check with a thermometer (should read 160 F degrees at the thickest part.) or, what I do is just slice the breast at the thickest part to see if it is cooked.

When close to serving, I add about a half to one tablespoon of lemon juice to the mix, turn off the flame and let it rest for a few minutes.  Then, dish out the chicken, veggies on the side, spoon the juice over everything and bon appetite!

Oh, and as an added bonus, all that is left to wash up is one pot, one spoon, one plate, one knife, one fork and one wine glass (or, you might double up on some of those last few things depending…).

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If you’re acting a little crazy, someone might ask you ‘are you out of your mind?’  I suppose they mean ‘out of your rational mind’, but for me, it seems more likely the opposite; I go crazy when I’m too much IN my mind.  Like yesterday, for example.

Since I got rid of my TV, I’ve been suffering some withdrawal pangs, and I really wanted to see the Survivor finale (even though I’d seen a spoiler and knew the outcome).  If I really want to see a favorite show, it is possible, on many networks at least, to watch them through streaming video over the internet.  But that requires a fast and reliable internet connection.  Or, a lot of  patience.

If your connection is slow, video doesn’t stream fast enough for you to watch it continuously.  It will play for several seconds, then freeze.  If you pause the player for a few minutes, then resume, you will have built up a buffer, and it will play fine for another minute, then freeze.  Occasionally, you lose your connection altogether, and have to restart the video from the beginning (which means sitting through their commercials again), and then trying to get the player to skip up to where you were before you lost your signal.

In between your short play sessions, you have to try to find something to do.  Wash the dishes, fold clothes, answer e-mails, read every news story on Yahoo news, post too many messages on every message board you belong to and Facebook (way too many posts), and play solitaire, hundreds of games of solitaire.

What you don’t realize is that while trying to watch this 90 minute video which takes all night, all this mental activity is compounding the frustration caused by these constant interruptions and slowly driving you out of your mind, or into your mind, or whatever, but insane, nevertheless.  I toughed it out, but then felt pretty horrible and went to bed, and still felt pretty horrible the next morning.  Partially, just from the pent-up frustration, partially from the shame of letting myself get so wound up, I should know better!

But, if you know what makes you crazy, you also know what makes you sane. I start by patting myself on the back and telling myself that it happens to everyone once in a while, and not to beat myself up over it. Then, I queue up a nice long meditation music playlist and quietly go out of my mind.

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It snowed down at the docks last night.   First real accumulation of the year.  As the wind blew, the flakes began to drift up against the portholes and it felt like being covered up by a big down blanket.  It was so quiet and so still.

Water is a psychic defuser;  it defuses psychic vibrations, thoughts.  This is one of the reasons I love water so much.  When you sit near the water, your mind quiets down as the thoughts of others are diminished.  With less noise in your head, it is easier to meditate and easier to ‘see’ or perceive the truth or the way.  There are a couple of islands off the Eastern coast of the US that I often go to, to get my ‘seeing’ done!

From a psychic perspective, one of the most heavenly places to be is a hundred and thirty feet down below the water.  But if you can’t get there, swimming through the water, or floating above the water is pretty great too.  Sitting next to the water is nice, especially in the Winter time.  But lying in a warm cabin beneath a blanket of snow is pure bliss!

If you can’t be near the coast or a lake or a river, then a big snowy field will do just fine, as snow is water.  Have you ever noticed how happy a dog is playing in the snow?

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BEing

It has been roughly 45 days since I started my Boat Experiment.  You could say I’ve been Boat Experimenting, or as I prefer to think of it ‘BEing’.

For the last few years, I’ve had a comfy, (too) roomy apartment overlooking the dock where I keep my sailboat(s).  Every month, I was painfully reminded how expensive it was to keep a nice apartment as well as one or more boats, when the rent check was due.  Down on the docks, there were several friends of mine who lived on their boats, and for what I paid for two months worth of rent, they paid for their entire year on the dock.

I started to envy them, as it seemed they had a much simpler life… no cable T.V. (well, one or two of them have a satellite dish), no internet, smaller living spaces to heat and to clean, little or no furniture.  No doubt they had other things to worry about, such as the fact that they turn the water off to the docks in November, so, you have to find alternate means to fill your tanks.  But I was curious about their lifestyle. It was definitely much cheaper, but would it be much worse living on a boat, than in a big apartment?  I had a nice empty boat 500 yards away, so I thought I’d find out.

After the first few days, still somewhat in shock after moving out of a two bedroom apartment into an 8X10 foot storage locker (and tossing out anything that wouldn’t fit), and moving myself and a handful of clothes onto the boat, I was wondering to myself… ‘what was I thinking?!’

My main cabin is about 10 feet wide by 6 feet long and 6 feet tall.  Just big enough to lay down and stand up in.  There is a nice table in the center of the cabin, and I can eat and work on my computer there.  occasionally, I can get a WiFi signal and even connect to the internet.  I have a small galley (kitchen) with a stove but no refrigerator (though a couple of insulated compartments I can use as an ice box cooler).  I have a toilet, though, a small holding tank, so, I prefer to use the facilities on shore whenever possible.  I don’t have a shower on board, so, have to use the showers on shore anyway.  It’s just a question of timing both activities!

So, how are things after 45 days?  Much better than the first week.  I find that I have to be fairly organized on the boat.  I only have so many places to stow things, and only so many clothes, so, doing regular laundry is a necessity.  I’ve got my shower kit ready when I get up in case I need to make a mad dash to the restroom. If not, then I might enjoy a pot of coffee and a meditation first.  I’ll come back and work on my computer programming most of the day in a very pleasant environment.  Then, in the early evening, perhaps shop for food to bring back and cook (no refrigeration means little stock on hand), or grab a bite to eat out and socialize.

In the evening, I light several tea lights and place them about the cabin.  Their light, some Christmas lights I’ve hung in the galley and the light from my monitor is usually all I need to illuminate the cabin.  A little space heater purrs by my ankles. I’ll enjoy some wine, read… I’ve read two or three books since I’ve been onboard, more than I’ve read in the past 3 years!  Or, if I have an internet connection, sometimes catch up on T.V. through the magic of hulu.com.

When I crawl into my bunk, it seems small, but it is cozy.  And, it is more comfortable than the couch I used to fall asleep on (frequently) in front of the flat-screen T.V.  I fall asleep easily with the rocking of the waves, and have vivid dreams. While I may wake easily in the middle of the night, I don’t mind, as I lie there listening to the creaking of the dock lines and the sound of the wind in the rigging. Staring up at the ceiling on a sleepless night in the apartment was never this nice.

So, has it been worth it?  I’d give it maybe one and a half thumbs up so far.  The only thing I really miss is my own, large master bathroom, but everything else is pretty fine.  And yes, it is a much simpler life, more conscious and deliberate;  less ‘doing’ and more ‘being’.

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Early in my studies of buddhism, I’d learned of the Bodhisattva Vows that nearly all new buddhist monks take as part of their initiation.  At the time, my understanding of the vow was that it was a pledge to withhold one’s own absorption into nirvana, Enlightenment, until all other sentient beings were able to be liberated before you. The ultimate self-sacrifice, to work for the Enlightenment of all others before working on your own Enlightenment.

At the time, it struck me as a tad egotistical.  Do you really think that if you made it to the threshold of Enlightenment, that you could somehow hold it at bay until it was convenient for you to enter?  I’ve never heard of anyone with that much control.  There were practical problems too… what do the last two Bodhisattva’s do? Who were those two chipmunks?  Chip and Dale?  “After you.”  “Oh no, please, after you.”  “Wouldn’t dream of it my dear fellow, after you, I insist.”  “I couldn’t possibly go before you…”

Then there is the question of whether there will ever come a time when all sentient beings attain Enlightenment.  Oh, there is supposed to be a golden age, or Yuga called the Satya Yuga where all beings are Enlightened, but we’re not in that yuga, and may not be for some time, if ever.  So, in effect, you would be vowing to never become Enlightened, and this seems antithetical to the whole process.

Luckily, either it was my misunderstanding, originally, of what the vow meant, or, they have better translations available now, because if you Wiki it, they have a pretty nice definition of the vow there.  Now, in part, it reads that you will strive to attain Enlightenment for yourself, for the benefit of all others.  That makes a lot more sense.  As an Enlightened being, you would be a lot more effective at actually helping others to achieve their own realization.

People vow to become a Bodhisattva as a way to state their intent to provide selfless service to all sentient beings.  And this is a very important stage, particularly for individuals newly embarking on formal spiritual training.  But does Life, the Universe, God, whatever you want to call it, really want you to do that?  Or is that what you’re imagining the Universe wants you to do.  That’s the Bodhisattva’s Dilemma.

The ultimate Bodhisattva Vow, is to vow to be a tool of the Universe, to be used in any way that It sees fit, that’s really what following the dharma is all about, discerning the true way.  That might mean spending your life, teaching others meditation.  It might mean sitting alone in a cave and radiating pure Enlightened energy out to the world.  It might mean becoming a politician and leading a country in a new direction.  It might mean that you should become a chef and develop a new heavenly recipe for chocolate.  It’s your job to be quiet and hear what the Universe is asking you to do, rather than simply vowing to do what others tell you you’re supposed to be doing.

To assume that you know what’s wrong with the world, and what you need to do to set it right, is, in effect, saying that the Universe doesn’t know what it’s doing.  That life isn’t perfect in every moment.  That the world somehow needs saving.  But the Universe might disagree.

If you touch the right level of awareness, you will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Life is, indeed, perfect.  Even with all of the pain and suffering and drama taking place, it is perfect.  Parts of it may not be to your liking, but all together, it is perfect just the way it is.  It’s like a big cosmic soup.  You might prefer peas over carrots, and maybe there are both in the soup, but together, the soup as a whole tastes just right.

So, if Life really is perfect, just the way it is, with all of its pain and suffering and striving and triumph and humor and love… then what is there left for a Bodhisattva to do?

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