Uphill Both Ways

Do you think you have it hard? Well when I was a young monk, we had to get up at three o’clock in the morning for sitting meditation.  And we couldn’t just walk over to the meditation hall and find our seats like the young people do nowadays. We had to swim there. Uphill. Both ways.

Here’s some recent scribbles on paper:

Strange Happenings


I’m not much of an astrographer, but Winter has already started here in Upper Hamlet, damn what the calendars say.  We’ve had freezing weather for a couple of weeks, now turning into a cold, bitter rain.  Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and inherently lacking common sense, I refuse to don more than a hoodie for my day-to-day activities.  I realized yesterday that I dress to be comfortable in my room, and cold under all other circumstances.  On the bright side, as a monk I’m encouraged to go to bed fully-clothed, which has significantly lessened my daily workload.

Mingling with the weather is the mandate of the Winter Retreat itself, eighty-some monastics with no chance of escaping this icy encampment.  As the daylight grows less, so too does the light in the hearts of men.  Some brothers have already cracked.  You can find them in their rooms, rocking back and forth with a cup of pu ehr tea.  Others have hit the hard stuff: Christmas cookies sent by loving mothers.  Judging by the frenzy they induce, that’s not powdered sugar on top.  I think you know what I mean:

There’s also a squeeze of lemon on there!  I can taste it.

Anyway, my favorite way of spending the day is looking for situations that can leave me just a little baffled.  I come from a long line of pranksters, but not of the aggressive variety.  In high school I knew a lot of people who seemed to think that the best pranks always started with a bomb threat.  As for me, I support harmless pranks that result in ten to thirty seconds of confusion.  There isn’t a lot of actual pranking going on here, but there are definitely plenty of opportunities to ask myself  “What?”.  Also, let me take this moment to apologize for the lolcat.

So first up are these two pairs of slippers:

20121126-untitled shoot-004They’re not the same color, they’re not the same size, but dammit there is no force in the universe that can undo what has already been done.  It’s been probably three months now that no one has taken the necessary 0.05 seconds to reconcile this organizational monstrosity.  I’m as guilty as anyone.  When I go into the bathroom, I grab one of these mismatched pairs just like everyone else.  And this tells something else about our community: NO OCD ALLOWED!  It isn’t intentional, but there’s a kind of discrimination in our way of life here.  People like to say that we do things “organically”, but I think there’s a bit of a value judgement in that word nowadays.  We do things organically all right, but not as in organic agriculture.  For me, the image that comes to mind is a opossum decaying on the side of the road.  It’s organic, it can be seen as beautiful, but first you’ve got to have the stomach for it.

Next up is my fleeting encounter with what I assume to be a secret admirer.  Bustling into my room, looking for something to give one of the bros, I noticed a foreign parcel on my nightstand.  What have we here?  Caught in the excitement and mystery of it all, I settled down on my bed to savor the moment.  Then I thought, no, I’m in the middle of something.  I need to give this special moment the attention it deserves.  I carefully placed the package back on my shelf, and went out to finish what I had been doing.

Later I returned and directed my attention to the task at hand.  Oh! The excitement of community living!  What caring brother wished to express himself to me in such a way?  Or was this something related to work?  Maybe the treasurer had eschewed envelopes, and now everyone’s monthly allowance would arrive in a cardboard box wrapped in a shopping bag from InterSport.  Who could really say?  These were the questions that raced through my mind as I attentively unwrapped the package.  The contents were even more surprising, in that I couldn’t connect them with any aspect of my daily life.

20121126-untitled shoot-005An antenna, a remote control, a couple of power adapters, one of which plugged into a cigarette lighter.  What the hell was I going to do with this?  I looked around the empty room for answers, but found none.  At this time, my two roommates were stationed on the opposite side.  The odds of an accidental placement on my desk seemed negligible.  Confused and loving it, I returned the equipment to the box, left it where I found it and went to eat dinner.  When I came back, the box was gone.

Now things have changed.  Our fourth roommate, Phap Nhiep, has returned from Viet Nam.  Now we’re four dudes in the room, and it seems that tacitly this is the tipping point for body odor and stuffiness.  As a result, the door is left just a little bit open each night.  This change was signaled with a distinct, lip-smacking sound that came from alarmingly close to my head last night.

20121214-untitled shoot-054Why, that’s not a pair of pants!  A bit of grooming on my bookshelf is one thing, but things quickly degraded.  First, I awoke with a whack to a distinct smell and taste.  The cat was sitting nonchalantly beside my bed.  Misty, did you just step IN MY MOUTH to get out of bed?  Next, it was decided that a hairball needed expulsion on my art supplies.  Things can’t continue like this.

It occurs to me that the thread holding this post together is thin indeed, so why don’t we just throw away all pretense.  Here’s a random and unrelated photo, praising Man Trung’s innovative use of the hot water boiler.  The dumpling is sitting on top of a glass, so that it can be steamed to perfection.

20121126-untitled shoot-001He’s already boiled many an egg in that thing, and who knows what he’ll try next.  Let’s just hope things stay nonviolent.  My brother Jacob once told me a story from the Washington State Department of Corrections about some inmates who managed to kill a deer during recess and cook it up in one of these things.

And just to let everyone know for realsies, it’s not so cold and miserable here.  Well, it’s a bit cold, but it’s not so tough when I’ve got this to look forward to:

20121214-untitled shoot-070-Edit

Sitting in the Woods with Tuy Niem

Things are really low-key here right now.  There are about a dozen brothers, with everyone else supporting the retreat in Germany.  Tuy Niem left yesterday, but we made good use of the down-time.  The other day we took a pallet down to the woods and chilled for the whole morning. The real stars of these photos: the Yixing teapot and Taiwanese oolong that my Mom got me for my birthday.