Night surprise, Dr. Wong, Cupcakes

Friday practice and I was grateful for just primary. We are a little under the weather — The Cop had a headache last night and I heard him call in sick with “a malignant brain tumor.” So colorful, he is.

Really, though, it was “just” a migraine.

I went to bed early with my mild sore throat and general run-downedness. The Cop stayed up a bit later. This morning as I got up at 4:30 (and he slept in — slacker!) he wanted to tell me about how the cat barfed after I went to bed and he had to clean it up. He actually encouraged me to sit back down on the bed so he could tell me the whole, detailed story of hearing the cat getting ready to throw up, his subsequent finding of the barf, description of the barf, and the horror of the cleaning of the barf. But let’s just cut to the last sentence, which was: “And he threw up as much as a 300 pound man.”

***

Technology for children.

Well, My Gift isn’t a child anymore, at 20. Still, I think back over her childhood and realize how good we had it, what with technology and all. When she visited her Dad for vacations, we were always in touch — generally via text message or IM. Both of those technologies are nice because they are immediate but not intrusive. You can choose whether to respond right away or not. I’ve always cut her a lot of slack about responding immediately (in other words, I don’t fuss if she doesn’t get back to me ASAP), the result being that we are in touch frequently and non-dramatically. Her dad, on the other hand, is always on her case to call more/email more/respond to texts immediately, etc. The result being that she doesn’t want to do any of those things. Ah, human nature.

Anyhow, last night she texted me an image from the audience of an event at her school. B.D. Wong (Dr. Wong on “Law and Order”) was visiting the school and did a session on gay activism in the Asian community. The picture she texted to me was of him receiving a text on his phone during the talk. How technologically Escheresque. My Gift was so psyched to see him: we are huge “Law and Order” junkies at my house. It’s probably the only TV program that The Cop, My Gift and I all like.

So yay! Dr. Wong! Almost as good as when she texted me a picture from the top of the Eiffel Tower. 🙂

***

For LI Ashtangini

Chai Latte Muffins
from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World (a fantastic cookbook!)

Ingredients

1 cup soy milk
4 black tea bags or 2 tablespoons loose black tea
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup vanilla soy yogurt
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of black pepper

For topping:

1/2 cup confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 and line muffin pan with cupcake liners.

2. Heat soy milk in a small saucepan over medium til almost boiling. Add tea bags or tea, cover, and remove from heat. Let sit for 10 minutes, then remove teabags. Measure the soy milk and tea mixture and add more soy milk if it is less than 1 cup.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, yogurt, sugar, vanilla, and tea mixture until all yogurt lumps disappear. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, and pepper into wet ingredients. Mix until large lumps disappear; some small lumps are okay. Fill tins full and bake about 20 to 22 minutes, until a sharp knife inserted in one comes out clean.

4. Make sure cupcakes are completely cool before adding topping, or sugar will melt and not look pretty and powdery.

Whine, whine, ache, ache, dream

Weird achey stuff these days. Last night: Traps = ow! To the point of slathering on China Gel & wrapping up in a pashmina. Is it bad that this is how I use the beautiful pashmina someone gave me? Aw, it felt soooo good.

I made artisan bread and chatted with My Gift, who was making chai latte cupcakes for a potluck dinner. She is a new baker, and was very concerned about the recipe — particularly since she lives at high altitude. I looked up some resources on high altitude baking and we revised her recipe accordingly. Later she texted me: “They’re cupcakes!” Then, a couple of hours later: “And they’re delicious!”

***

This morning, I woke up with sore eyes. Kind of eyestrainy feeling. Thought, “I’ve been looking at things too hard.”

Work has been super-left brainy lately, so my thought felt kind of metaphorical. Left brain stuff is learned behavior for me, and I’m quite good at it, but gosh, sometimes it gets carried away.

Logic. Vastly overrated. Though lovely when applied judiciously.

***

In October I got all hot and bothered about my non-chakrasana. Practiced persistently with something under my shoulders day after day for four months, and while I understand the motion now, I still totally suck at it. In part, I think, because I have an inflexible neck. This explains my strong dislike of sarvangasana and halasana and karnapidasana. At this point, I am digging into those poses a bit more, pushing myself a bit, and hence, I suspect, the trappy pain and suffering.

***

In addition to the previous whines, I have a recurring mild sore throat. Hey, is this because I’m paperclipping my throat, I wonder? When I move a joint/limb/whatever a lot one way and then a lot the other way, I inevitably think about a paper clip and how if you bend it back and forth long enough, the metal fails and it all falls apart. Perhaps not the most helpful visualization.

Nevertheless.

So, the paperclipping the throat chakra project. Chakrasana/closing poses versus all the jalandahara bandha. I was kinda snappish with someone at work yesterday. Not snarky, but a little hyper-logical, a little too quick to respond in an objective, Mr. Spock, “your logic is flawed, humanoid,” sort of way. I had an almost immediate impulse to apologize, and, simultaneously, an impulse not to respond in a usual fashion (to apologize). So I left it alone. Maybe the paperclipping of my throat chakra has a lesson in it. We’ll wait a bit and see.

***

Remembered, as I had my morning coffee, that in my dreams Volleyball Guy was overseeing me in hanumanasana. Told me to reach way back and grab the back foot. Which I did rather easily.

Nice.

It was good to see him.

Rolling along

Whoa, I’ve been tired. Super tired. Pass out at the end of the day tired.

Too much vata, I think. In part, I just realized, because I’ve been eating fruit for breakfast (smoothie!) and salad for lunch. And running full bore each day at work. Need more warm, oily food, maybe.

I really try to practice zen in the office, which is great for management style, but less great for multi-tasking. If someone comes and sits down in front of me with a question or something on their mind, I put down what I am doing/thinking about. Full attention. And I make myself available for ad hoc interaction.

So lots of days involve hours of paying attention to other people. Which is something I really enjoy. The catch, of course, is that my other tasks can back up. And then I have to really burn through them when I have the opportunity (during lunch, between meetings, at the end of the day — I’m starting to hear from The Cop about how I’m getting home too late). I can accomplish a LOT in a little bit of time, but it takes a kind of turbo-energy that can be draining.

In the end, though, I rather like it. Just need to re-balance the energy occasionally. Look through the work and prioritize and optimize and just generally GTD the whole thing.

Okay, enough about work. Oh, except for this: I wouldn’t be able to get through it without my practice.

***

People keep commenting about how The Cop sounds like their husband/boyfriend/self. Okay, let’s try this one: Last night, at our favorite sports bar, The Cop sat up and stretched. Shoulders back, sat up straighter, was clearly practicing a little pratyahara. I realized he was having a dandasana flashback of sorts. Smiles at me across the table and announces, “I am tightening my anus.”

***

This morning, during his UHP dance, The Cop actually internalized his response. He did not snort or say “motherfucker.” He just hopped, toppled, and regrouped. On the one hand, the yoga is working. On the other hand, I felt a little sad. Perhaps he is being absorbed.

***

My traps are KILLING me. In the same fashion as the collarbones during the supta kurmasana learning curve. Constant, deep ache. I blame the hanging-back dropback prep exercise. I think I need a lighter head.

Laghu V, More Copisms, Italianism

So I get to laghu vajrasana and think, stricken, “What if I can’t do it anymore?” Aw geez, seriously? I just laughed at myself and went on. And it was fine.

Work, work, workity work that mind, Karen.

Here’s the video of a jumpback that made The Cop so happy.

Last night, out of the blue, he announced, “I don’t think about yoga much.” Um, okay. And this morning he said, “I am mostly interested in the athletic parts.” I sense cult-resistance. Nevertheless, we discussed jump backs and jump throughs. Of course, it was hilarious, because as soon as you start thinking about your jump through, you’re pretty much destined to go totally uncoordinated and take a header right off your mat. Yup. Just delightful to watch him learn this lesson.

Utthita hasta padangusthasana. Like many (most?) men, The Cop struggles mightily with this pose. As I have mentioned before, I generally don’t try to teach him anything or say anything unless he asks. This morning, I fell for it and spoke up: “You know about picking a focal point, yes?”

“It doesn’t work,” he said, with finality.

I was already committed, so I explained a little about how and where to focus, blah blah blah… Oh, I’m sorry, was I saying something? LOL! He was having none of it. Focal points do not work, and even if they do at first, as soon as you turn your head for the second part of UHP, you fall over. It’s a law of nature and no one is exempt. Well, except for small women. It’s not possible for men, especially tall ones. God, I love this guy. I can easily imagine bringing him to a shala and showing him a tall fellow using gazing points to keep his balance throughout UHP. That wouldn’t prove my point, though, because The Cop would just look at me and rationalize it thusly, “Well, that guy’s a tool.”

***

I am eating (more accurately, inhaling) a salad at my desk. And guess what else?? ARTISAN bread! I love this stuff. Between the artisan bread and the homemade pasta, I’m sure to develop a gluten intolerance. Not really — half of my family is melancholy Irish, but the other half is Italian. Pasta and bread, baby!! Bring it on!

Abhinivesha

Yes, I realize I listen to Richard Freeman too much. And refer to him in my blog too much. And tell everyone else to listen to him too much.

Sorry.

But seriously, you should check out his podcast: Deep Avoidance and Fear of Yoga.

He talks about the kleshas, and really hones in on abhinivesha. Ah, abhinivesha! What an interesting torment. The wikipedia definition is pretty lacking. How about: clinging to life — that seems more accurate. I can’t help but think that my karma, the part that makes me Irish in this lifetime, and that connects me to an Irish literature of loss and death and melancholy, is just another way for the Universe to manifest abhinivesha.

I am a sensitive carrier, and have been all my life.

Enough so that I keep this little Buddhist poem close to my heart (and physically on my desk):

I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is not want to escape ill health.

I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

I’ve always wondered why I am so attuned to this awareness — I really did figure it had something to do with the Irish ancestry.

Okay, enough of that. What the podcast starts to get at is that fear of change, and more specifically, fear of losing one’s self, is what not-wanting-to-practice is all about. That disinclination. Even though you know it is a good idea, that it will feel great afterwards, etc. There is that kind of resistance to zazen practice, too, by the way.

So listen to RF! He says MUCH more than I can express here. When I was driving to work this morning, thinking about listening to him yesterday, I realized that I have a very high tolerance for ambiguity and obliquity — it’s the poet in me. On the other hand, the instructional designer in me would LOVE to spend an afternoon designing one of his talks — really honing in on the objectives in order to make a super-focused delivery. I guess that might take away from the homespun quality, though. If I ever DO get such a chance, I promise I won’t ask him to use PowerPoint.

***

Practice this morning: I wanted to do some of my old second series poses. I have no idea why. So I did up to ustrasana. I was tempted to do laghu vajrasana, too, since I can do it easily — but I think laghu v is meant to balance kapotasana, which I do not want to mess with right now. So LV is off the menu.

Interestingly, just as I crouched into pasasana, I heard myself say “abhinivesha” to myself. I wonder what that meant?

Urdhva dhanurasana felt gorgeous (said in Steve Irwin voice) after the intermediate backbends. Of course, now I am in a huge quandary, because I have given myself poses. Of course, they are poses I was given before, by a teacher. But I took them away in October and am now giving them back. I can’t tell if this is criminal behavior because it is exercise of free will, or if it was criminal behavior to have taken them away. And maybe double criminal to reinstate them now. And a little more criminal sprinkled on top for taking some back but not all.

I need a consultation with the Ashtanga Police.

Jazz, Pyrex, Snowheart

This morning did a repeat of something I tried last Sunday. Listened to jazz during practice. Yikes!

What jazz, you ask? None other than Herbie Hancock’s new River: The Joni Letters. I have no idea if any of the ashtangi.net folks even know who Joni Mitchell is. I have never been a huge fan, except for her terrific lyrics and her intimations of jazz. The pop part, eh, not so much. And just as an aside, she’s always been a fiercely independent woman/artist. So props for that.

Hancock takes her work all the way to jazz, though, and wow, is it something.

And interesting to mix with Ashtanga. Ashtanga, to me, seems like a grid of regularity, a grid against which to plot daily divergences of body/mind (or, if you’d prefer: breath, bandha, and driste).

Jazz is similar in the sense that it, too, provides a grid, a system, and then maps divergences. Aw, might as well throw abstract painting in there, too, since we’re considering materials that affect/reflect the nervous system. There is the richness of the material, whether sonic or visual or energetic, and there is the regular beat, and there is the improv. Woohoo! Such fun.

Plotting the transcendent in relation to the methodical. I love minimalism, and always wonder how far order can be reduced before everything spins off into nothingness. What thread connects the semblance to the disintegrating grid? And is it a holding or a releasing? And so with jazz, consciousness comes undone — like shaking out a knot.

***

Yesterday I made my first loaf of artisan bread. A million thanks to Yogamum for bringing this book to my attention.

The road to artisan bread, however, is paved with drama. When it was time to pre-heat, I put my pizza stone in the oven, along with my oven thermometer and a Pyrex pan. The stone would hold the loaf as it cooked, and I’d put some water in the Pyrex pan to keep the oven humidified. Alrighty.

So finally the oven is properly heated, I put the loaf on the stone, and I pour some water into the Pyrex pan. Which immediately and LOUDLY explodes, shooting glass and water all over the place. Scared the crap out of me. I wondered if I should turn the oven off and just forget the whole thing. The water is sizzling on the bottom of the oven, the glass shards in there are creaking and splitting. Nah, I’ll just shoo the dog away and get out of range in case there’s anything else in there that can explode again. No sense jettisoning the cooking of the bread just because there is glass all over the bottom of the oven.

I did take a little time to deride myself for pouring water into a heated glass pan. Geez! How DUMB could I be?!?! But wait a minute! It’s Pyrex! Impervious to shifts in temperature! That’s the whole point of Pyrex. So I hopped online with the keywords, “Pyrex” and “explode.” And sure enough, Pyrex has a dirty little secret.

The loaf was free of embedded shards of glass, so I served some to The Cop when he woke up after his night shift. “I smell ARTISAN bread!” he said as he entered the kitchen. He is amused by the title of the book, which is very specific.

“Is there any glass in the ARTISAN bread?” he wanted to know after hearing about the Pyrex problem.

“This is very good ARTISAN bread,” was his pronouncement, once he’d given it a go.

And “I wish I could have another slice of ARTISAN bread, but it will spoil my dinner.”

For all of his goofing around about the bread, I have to say: this is the best freaking bread I have EVER tasted. Seriously. And you can make the dough on the weekend and have it ready for impromptu baking whenever you want during the week.

***

I have always loved the story of Won Hyo, at least in part because I can’t quite fathom it. And the part about the fawn (quoted below) has always been lovely but elusive.

In Silla, there was a very great Zen master—a little old man, with a wisp of a beard and skin like a crumpled paper bag. Barefoot and in tattered clothes he would walk through the towns ringing his bell. De an, de an, de an, de an, don’t think, de an, like this, de an, rest mind, de an, de an. Won Hyo heard of him and one day hiked to the mountain cave where he lived. From a distance he could hear the sound of extraordinarily lovely chanting echoing through the valleys. But when he arrived at the cave he found the master sitting beside a dead fawn, weeping bitterly. Won Hyo was dumbfounded. How could an enlightened being be either happy or sad, since in the state of nirvana there is nothing to be happy or sad about and no one to be happy or sad? He stood speechless for a while, and then asked the master why he was weeping.

The master explained. He had come upon the fawn after its mother had been killed by hunters. It was very hungry, so he had gone into town and begged for milk. Since he knew that no one would give milk for an animal, he had said it was for his son. “A monk with a son? Dirty old man!” people thought. But some gave him a little milk. He had continued this way for a month, begging enough to keep the animal alive. Then the scandal became too great, and no one would help. He had been wandering for three days now, in search of milk. At last he had found some, but when he had returned to the cave, his fawn was already dead. “You don’t understand,” said the master. “My mind and the fawn’s mind are the same. It was very hungry. I want milk, I want milk. Now it is dead. Its mind is my mind. That’s why I am weeping. I want milk.”

This morning, I got a little glimmer. My Gift is returning home, which means a drive up into the mountains, where it is currently snowing. Of course it makes me nervous — she learned to drive here in the desert, so snow is a challenging project, and the mountain roads rather treacherous. As I practiced, I kept having pictures of snow in my mind, and memories about driving in snow, and about low visibility and skidding, and just all the snowy car-related things I could imagine. It is easy for my mind to be her mind.

Cave of Tigers, No Checking, Bon Yeon

Dharma Combat

Dharma encounters (or Dharma combat or Dharma assembly) are public dialogues between master and student. These dialogues happen in the zendo or the assembly hall, in front of the entire group and have a long tradition as well, going back to the days when a monk might encounter another monk or teacher and engage in a dialogue covering a teaching point. Over time this engagement became formalized in the monastery with a fixed structure and became an important part of Zen training that continues today in many Zen centres.

Zen Master Bon Yeon (Kwan Um School) [Posted at the end of this entry is a terrific talk by Bon Yeon]

One of the things that I appreciate about the “combat” side of dharma combat is the way it teaches us to trust your experience. A great example of that is to go in for an interview with someone who, in our case, is very male and very strong, like Zen Master Seung Sahn. He asks you a simple thing like, “What’s your name?” But he has such a strength and clarity that you’re stunned–you can’t even answer!!! Then he teaches you, “Your name is Jane.” Ha Ha! Oh Jane, yeah, good. The next day you come in and he says “What’s your name?” and you proudly say “Jane!” and he says “No good!” Then what happens? You fall down. You think, “Oh, something’s changed, today is different. I must be off the track again.” Then he pokes you and says, “You were right! I’m just seeing how much you believe in yourself!” Can you imagine–Buddha gets up from six years under the bodhi tree and somebody asks him a question and he says, “The sky is blue,” and they say “No good!” Will Buddha stumble and say, “Oh, was that not a good answer?” No! Why? Because he believes his eyes, he can trust his experience. Both women and men in today’s complex world have been so beaten down by all the thinking and all the different choices we have that we fall down very easily. Zen Master Soeng Hyang, who is a woman, was one of the first teachers to teach me that I, too, can be strong. I, too, can believe in myself. I can see that blue sky. I know my name, it’s Jane. Twenty years later I can really say that. If somebody says to me, “No, it isn’t,” I’m not going to fall down. Very basic stuff, not about winning or losing, and not about fighting–it’s about trusting in yourself.

Zen Master Seung Sahn

[Long ago] many [zen] schools appeared, and there was some fighting between them. Many techniques also appeared, many different intellectual styles. Before, the teaching had been very simple. When these intellectual styles of teaching appeared, dharma combat also appeared.

***

On Checking

Zen Master Dae Kwang (Kwan Um School)

The Third Patriarch Seng Tsang said, “The great way is not difficult, simply cut off all thought of good and bad.” The Sixth Patriarch taught that one “…who treads the path in earnest sees not the mistakes of the world. If we find fault with others we too are in the wrong. Restlessly we will pass our days and in the end we will be disappointed.” Our school, too, says, “Don’t check!” Cutting off your checking mind reveals your true self.

The injunction about not checking is one of my favorite teachings. If you are busy fussing about what others are doing (“So-and-so is eating meat!”, “Someone said something ridiculous!”, “That person is driving like an idiot!”), you are spending your energy outside yourself. Paying attention to others’ behavior is a great way to distract yourself from your own practice, from your own behavior, from your own mind. Setting “checking” aside is an unbelievably powerful practice.

***

Dharma Talk by Bon Yeon