Meet my dharma nephew, Misha Mountain!

March 2nd, 2015

Misha Mountain Ross SchmittThis is Misha Mountain Ross Schmitt, my new dharma nephew. His mom is my dharma sister, Red Sara Ross. Misha entered into the world in a brave and unorthodox way— a bicycle buddha baby for sure.

Long before we were dharma sisters, Red Sara and I spun through each others’ orbits. Coinciding at Vancouver art happenings, celebrations and demonstrations, we were two red-headed shit disturbers, hell bent for saddle leather. For years, we circled the bike activist world of Vancouver like twin suns. But it wasn’t until I returned from Upaya in 2011, a newly-minted zennie, that we deeply connected. I prodded her back to regular attendance at Mountain Rain Zendo, and together we sparked up ZenYU: Young Urban Zen. We led Bicycle Buddha Rides together, and schemed and joked and cried. We bonded as steadfast creative co-conspirators, and as sisters in the dharma. Spiritual friends it is said are the most precious of all relationships, and I knew when Red Sara and I re-connected that our bond had the power to both rock and steady my world.

Red Sara struggled for some time with the notion of motherhood. She wanted to have a child, but couldn’t conceive. She considered many options but they were not to be. And so she stared reality in the eye and rode forward through disappointment and grief, to set herself free of delusion. A process I very much relate to, in my own journey as a childless woman. I believe among other things that her journey to acceptance of her condition tempered her, made her stronger and more flexible and more ready to receive whatever the trickster Universe might have up its sleeve.

This is what the Universe dished up.

A couple of months ago I got a text from Red Sara, who was visiting with her partner Michael’s family in the States: ‘Life is uncontrollable! Can I call you—now?’ The first thing she said when I answered the phone was, “I have news. I can’t be in your book.” (My book: One in Five: Portraits of Childless Women and their Lives). “Whaaaaaaat??!” I said…”You’re not … ?!?” No, she said…not exactly…not biologically.

The short story is, Michael’s 22-yr-old younger sister (by adoption) was about to have a baby. She was considering her options and was unsure how to proceed. She had decided that possibly the best way to care for her child was to put it up for adoption. And then one day during that family visit, she asked Sara and Michael if they might consider adopting her baby.

Not selfless. Not selfish. Just doing the thing that needs to be done. Like a hand, reaching for a pillow in the night.

After intense reflection, Sara and Michael said Yes. They flew back to Vancouver, and got married in the park by the zendo. Two eagles, the witnessing guests, perched in the tree overhead. Sara drove around Vancouver gathering baby supplies from friends, and from thrift stores and back alleys. They readied their East Van collective house to receive the new tiny housemate. Then they flew back to Virginia in time for the birth. On the 19th of February, Misha Mountain sprang forth.

There followed a flurry of lawyers and immigration specialists and adoption authorities, paperwork and tests and conditions. A court hearing was held, where Misha’s birth-mom officially entrusted him to Sara and Michael’s care. Two weeks ago Red Sara and Michael and Misha flew home to Vancouver where a wide and eager community was waiting to fold Misha into its arms.

I am stoked to go to Vancouver in April to meet my little dharma nephew, and to sew a final stitch in Sara’s rakusu as she takes her jukai. Accepting the precepts, and all that arises. Full warrior style, flying into the wind.

And here is a photo of Red Sara and me, around 2003 (?), riding in a march against the US invasion of Iraq (I think) … note my baby dreadlocks…




Intimacy in relationship

February 1st, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am working on intimacy in relationship, from the epic to the microscopic.

When I worked at the bike shop, sometimes I would challenge myself to have an intimate relationship with every person who walked into the store that day. I know, that sounds like a good way to catch a disease. But that’s not what I mean.

I would decide, if I sell a customer an inner tube today, i want our relationship to be intimate. From helping them select the right tube to leading them to the register, to swiping their debit card and handing them a receipt. I want that interaction to be intimate: mutual, respectful, and complete. I must not forget to give them the receipt, and to thank them for their visit. Complete, in its form, and in its realization. I want for myself and the customer to feel satisfied by the interaction in its wholeness. I want for both of us to feel fully met.

I try to practice that intimacy or relationship when I buy bus tickets at the variety store, or discuss the qualities of various squashes with a woman at the co-op, or talk to my brother on the phone, or when I am alone with my lover.

I want my relationships to be intimate beyond people. I want to get up-close-and-personal with the limp brown leaves on the trees and the wet stony dirt in the potholes. With the gulls, with the dogs, with the flies buzzing endlessly around the lightbulb. With Stephen Harper. With my toothache. With the cars, and the road, and the rain. I want to apprehend the intimacy with which the cars meet the road, and with which the road accepts the rain.

Intimacy demands respect. By ‘respect’ I don’t mean, ‘I respect that it is your basic nature to buzz past me on my bike, in your car, at 90km/hr on a blind curve…so I’m just going to practice with this feeling of near-death, and god speed you on your way.’ Uh-uh. I don’t need to approve of your behavior, or accept it, in order to respect you. But I want to try to understand that you didn’t do what you did with the express purpose of killing me – and that there are inherently benign reasons why you do what you do. I’m sure you desperately needed to get to the store to buy whipping cream before it closed. Or something. The point is, that respect relies on being fully met. We don’t need to agree, but we need to meet each other neutrally, in the understanding that we mean each other no harm.

I know for sure that I cannot be intimate if I take things too personally. If it is all about me, then I can’t even have an intimate relationship with someone I love—let alone with someone who is annoying the piss out of me, or who may be wilfully opposing me. I want to be intimate with those people too. So I just have to let go of me. Letting go of my self – I am no-self! – means there is no one out of whom the piss can be annoyed.

Thats the theory, anyway. I snooze out all the time. I think i’m being oh-so-present and then I realize that in this moment of ‘intimacy’ i am actually just thinking about how intimate I am, or about what a great blog post this will make, or about what might happen next…and how this reminds me of that other thing that happened once before, and how that really messed me up and I want to prevent that from happening again and … snap! Out of intimacy and into attachment. Out of the present and into the story. Me. Again.

So lately this has been my click-click-mantra-trick. When i  feel myself peeling away from my own experience, I say: I am no-self. I am no-self. And this helps me get just a bit closer, a little more intimate. With others, and with me. With the cars, and the road, and the rain.

A small fortune

January 18th, 2015

Fortune_cookieI got an email callout today from a filmmaker friend, asking if anyone could help him pay down some credit-card debt. The bastards had let him exceed his credit limit, and then without warning had simply upped his interest rate and added a hefty monthly surcharge to his bill.

My friend declared that he would much rather pay the interest to a friend than to those bloodsuckers. He is confident that he will be able to repay the full amount, with interest, within a few months. Could anyone lend him $1,000 for a few months? Read the rest of this entry »

Only seeing one side of the moon

December 22nd, 2014

dark moonWhen you see forms or hear sounds fully engaging body-and-mind, you intuit dharmas intimately. Unlike things and their reflections in the mirror, and unlike the moon and its reflection in the water, when one side is illuminated, the other side is dark. –Eihei Dogen, Genjo Koan

I knew there would be darkness, outside and in. Can’t say no one warned me, I said, I understood. On this long night the dark lies thick as a rug and the rain falls like stones from the sky. I don’t mind the dark, and I don’t mind the rain, blackness warm as a sweater, rain caressing my spine.

But the blackness within, well—I knew that would come. I was warned. I understood. I was ready, I said. Read the rest of this entry »

I live for library day

December 18th, 2014

libraryThe new library at Linnaea Farm is the joy of my week. In the summer i’d ride around the lake to the farm, stopping at the produce stand for blueberries or peaches. I would choose a book from the library, then wander down the trail to the huge fallen log, strip off my clothes, and dive into Gunflint Lake. And then I would lie naked on the smooth old log among the bullrushes, reading my book and eating blueberries, or dozing in the sun to the sound of blackbirds and giant dragonflies. Careful not to drop the book in the lake. Read the rest of this entry »

Never take this for granted

December 16th, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADaylight shreds through the clouds beyond the lagoon. For once, so rare, no rain. A clear cold morning, and today  Geshe Yongdong is giving a teaching on Quadra Island. It is a perfect day for a ride, and yet my grumpy mind finds resistance. My lower back stiff, my bed still warm. It is Sunday.

But then I dress and drink my coffee, stuff some snacks in my bag. Heading out I am creaky and slow. The thought of my warm bed lingers. But then I break out of the woods, hit the sweep of pavement, opening sky. Mist hangs low on the fields, shards of sunshine on Gunflint Lake. Swing onto Gorge Harbour Road toward the ferry on the roller-coaster ride, not a car to be seen. My lungs squeeze in and out, mind and body clear as I jet snot from each nostril. Read the rest of this entry »

Little lemon tree

November 19th, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe little lemon tree is crying again. Infested with scale, it weeps sticky tears.

On homecoming to Vancouver I find the little tree in sorry state. Once again I apologize for my absence and neglect, and set to tending her. I borrow pruning shears from my neighbour, kneel before the little tree, and amputate the most crusted branches, knowing new ones will sprout at the stumps. Then I set to work with rag and dish soap, gently cleaning  each leaf and stem. It takes a couple of hours but when I am done she stands shiny and straight.  I scratch a glossy leaf with my nail and the clean tang of citrus fills my nose.

Pablo planted this tree from a seed oh so many years ago. He gave it to me when he went away. When I clean the the little lemon tree I think of beautiful Pablo and his sticky tears.

I’m in the soup

November 5th, 2014

rainy-lake-and-islandRain drums on the roof of my bus, waves pound the rocks below. Into the darkness and back to the light, I commit, to this. I commit to this slippery grey stone in the Salish Sea, which will be my home through this winter. I am stoked, intrigued, and a little terrified.

I have taken a job as part-time Marketing Assistant at Hollyhock, until May, and who knows from there. I was hesitant, because the word ‘marketing’ kind of makes my skin crawl. But mostly it  will be graphic design, writing copy, and connecting people up – more or less what i like to do, and do well. I know it really grounds me to have some kind of a job, to give a semblance of structure to my time. I respect Hollyhock and think the work will be fun. And of course it will pay the rent, which on Cortes Island, is pretty cheap. Read the rest of this entry »

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