Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Still Here, Bless This Day

When I call my friend Philip and ask how he is, he invariably answers, "Still here" and I usually say, "Me too." I think Philip is 81. He used to be a Hollywood set designer. He has always been a rather colorful chap, prone to various interesting ensembles, including turbans, sarongs and other such items.

His daughter Tara took this photo of Philip "doing his Moses impression" on Mt. Ashland. Philip was the main builder for the Tashi Choling temple in the 80s. He spent summers living in a school bus and went back to work in Hollywood for the winters. Then he bought land near the temple and built an adobe structure and filled it to the brim with family and friends. He used to say that he was starting to grow a third world country there. His place did have some of that quality at times. After years of living that way, he built a bigger adobe house on his land. He is an artistic guy with a fondness for beauty and it shows in everything he does. 

I have a tender feeling about him these days, knowing that both of us are at the tail-end of this particular lifetime, and having a great appreciation for his determination, loyalty, and eccentricities, which once could be a bit annoying at times, but now seem to be endearing.

"It's a new day," as my Mother was fond of saying. Coming back up to the surface from the dream dimensions and waking again. Musing about the dreams and then meditating. Walking, writing, looking at birds and people. Reflecting on the state of the world, sperm whales dying with their stomachs full of plastic, the deranged phantasmagoria of politics. Memento mori. How good David Bowie looked even two days before his death. Fortunate in that way.

Yes, I have become this person about to turn 75, with a body verifiably older, my belly pregnant with wisdom or whatever, and so forth on the rest of the usual details re face, arms, breasts, neck and derriere which have not been subjected to plastic surgery or herculean exercises and are letting go into a far more relaxed, soft style. Acceptance.

I have gone from being a bohemian, beatnik, hippie and now bringing all that along with about 40 years of Buddhist study and practice, find I am an elder woman living in what I prefer to think of as voluntary simplicity, but which others might describe as low income. I am on the waiting list for a senior apartment. Which truly cracks me up at moments. But one never knows what is next, really.

A National Geographic photo from the 40s, Texas bluebells

The lilacs are in bloom. I am in the midst of my annual lilac yearning. This year, I have no garden with big old lilac bushes as I did at my flower cottage or at my friend Kate's place last year and I find myself walking along the back alleys in Ashland wishing I had brought my clippers to take a bit of lilac here and there for a bouquet. This could well happen. I may be a flower thief this year, unless somebody reading this brings me a lilac bouquet before I set out to quench my lilac thirst.

Everything is blooming much earlier than it did years ago. Lilacs always remind me of the day long ago when I took Refuge, agreeing with myself to enter (or re-enter) the Buddhist path. I brought a big bouquet of lilacs to Sister Palmo that day, which was May 13th, some year in the past, maybe 1975? Somewhere in that region. I wrote about this in my book Songs of the Inner Life. The book chronicles my adventures only to my early 30s.

I guess my current book project provides some kind of followup, though not in the memoir format. I helped to start Tashi Choling in 1978 and now I am collaborating with my sangha sister Lisbeth to create a book about Tashi Choling, a project I avoided for years, but which now has a kind of sweet inevitability about it. I feel quite lucky actually.  I have finally relaxed into the sweet inevitability, how I as a writer and as someone there from the beginning am a natural person to engage in writing this history. People tell me, "Oh, you're the perfect person to be doing this." Perfect, not. But definitely a likely suspect.

In fact, I feel more content than I have felt in a long time, working on this book. If all goes well (translation: and I live long enough) after we finish this book, I will go on to write a book about my teacher Gyatrul Rinpoche's life. I have already begun on that effort, but have to finish the Tashi Choling book first.

You would never find me doing this tightrope walk. At least not physically. I am a real flatland type of gal, strongly favoring solid ground over vast chasms.  And yet.....

I have been reading Chogyam Trungpa's brilliant book The Myth of Freedom again. In it, Trungpa opens up topics like boredom, restlessness, simplicity, mindful awareness and the various ways in which we use credentials to confirm or prove our existence. The last item is one I contemplate these days. The tightrope of identity. Or just being a lot more open. Work in progress. Letting go is Sage's Play, and practice for the upcoming journey out of this particular body and life.