I walked in the door of my office this morning, having trod across the Old Aberdeen landscape. Rotting leaves, frozen ponds, barking dogs. Having heaved one sack each of papers to be marked and proposals to be considered out of the trusty pack, I plopped the laptop onto its stand, connected a few wires, and went to do my office pūjā while it whirred into its usual bewildered state. Pungent incense from a Viet grocery in Orlando waved at the Tārā and raven on the door, at the various manifestations of the Three Jewels over my desk. A postgrad across the hallway looked a bit startled.
Incense stuck firmly into a ricepot, I ambled down the hall with a kettle and a filthy glass pot. I scrubbed the coffee stains out of the pot, filled the kettle, retreated into my office and fired up the wee espresso machine kindly sold to me by another lecturer. Now my office really stinks: incense and coffee smells pour out from under my door and fill up the whole hallway.
Either my neighbours are really polite, or it smells like home to them too. Not sure which. I know somebody must think de-odorizers are a good idea, but who?
Posted in Buddhism, Fomenting, people, Serendipity
Tagged academia, Buddhism, divination, optimism, play, ritual, sensory, sustainability, weather
Now that life has been rather stable for a while—we’ve been living in the same house for four years, Eleanor’s in school, and we haven’t had to negotiate burning barricades or tear gas for a little while—I thought I’d take advantage of the calm to undertake a proper rohatsu for the first time in a few years. The Rules: no food after noon, no television or music, no alcohol, and of course no meat, and as much meditation as I could manage in the morning, middle-of-the-day and late night slots.
Well, in a house with a small child, the no television rule meant hiding upstairs sometimes; and Bhāwanā felt obliged to give me huge bowls of broth at dinnertime. Fair enough. Most days I managed to put in two or three hours of meditation, sometimes waking early and sometimes after dinner. Two mornings, my daughter found me asleep across my zafu in some quiet corner of the house.
As it got closer to the 8th I tried, and failed, to step up the pace. I opened up Chodo Cross’s translation of the Zazengi. I made sure that I went out for long walks or runs every day. Because it’s December in Aberdeen, that meant running in the dark, which I find completely delightful even if I do fall over sometimes. One night I found myself running along the beach at high tide in a raging storm, plowing my way through runoff streams and getting slapped by waves that reached overfar. Sometimes the meditation went luminously well, sometimes it was just marking time. On the last night I found I had to help someone with a crisis rather than sit: well, an education in attachment, I suppose, and perhaps a reason to take robes someday. When I could finally sit I looked at the Zazengi: ‘Great Teacher Bodhidharma sat facing the wall for nine years.’ Then it was over; I woke up on Monday morning, read, and ate breakfast with my family. Nobody I talked to knew about rohatsu; for Bhāwanā’s family the full moon of Vaiṣākh is the important Buddhist holiday, not some Japanese holiday in December. Fair enough.
That day, a colleague walked by and when I asked him what he was up to, he said, ‘I’m wandering around. It’s one of the privileges of my job that I have to wander around.’ I told him it was an important day for Zen practitioners and that he had said something Zen people would enjoy. Two mature Japanese students talked to me for a while and we agreed we would talk some more about the relative merits of Shingon-shu and Soto-shu.
Tonight I went out for a run again. The tides have shifted, and the weather is calmer, though still cold. On the homeward stretch, coming down the beach, the sea had retreated and I could run for kilometre after kilometre along flat, open sand with the waves growling gently next to me. To the south Jupiter and Venus were up. I looked at the morning star and ran forever until the dog and I met the Don River, turned and went home.
Last week, Sunday 24 August, we had a gang of bairns round to test out the new trampoline. About mid-day on a hot day the shout went up: flying ants. I was delighted. After three years of woeful absence, I had seen a few ants wandering around the front garden—so we must have a nest somewhere nearby—and this means that the queen has perhaps bred and flown. I will be watching very closely in the next few days in the hope that we have’t lost our nest to the neighbours.
I honestly don’t know why there are so few ants here in Aberdeen, though my guess is that there simply isn’t enough solar radiation to sustain an underground nest. I’ve been trying to create a constructively messy garden, with trees and usefully lost bits of rubble for sheltering larger animals, but had no idea we might get ants in. These look like ordinary little brown ants, though I’m no specialist. Upcountry in the old Scottish woods we do have wood ants as well as slavers.
Yesterday, to add to the bounty, I found several new mushrooms. The Inkcaps that come up every year in the old Gordon Barracks have come up again, but I think I may also have found a Boletus sp. around as well as small rather spikey, globular mushroom that I haven’t yet identified. The small size of the N95 meant that I could actually get some great photos from ground level, “gnome’s eye view” so to speak. I’ll put them up over at Flickr later this week.
Okay: Bhavana had a great idea. Why shouldn’t the Anthropology Society, who are always up for a ritual, play Holi? The results speak for themself: see this, and this, and this. What the pictures don’t tell you is that it was snowing. Bleah. It’s one thing to be doused with abhir-water when it’s 35° – quite another when it’s 0° with a 50 km/h wind blowing sleet. Still, it’s the thought that counts.
Well, I’ve hauled the bedraggled blog from Blogger to WordPress. Why, exactly, is not quite clear to me; one of those fretful decisions arrived at through an accumulation of tiny reasons. Maybe just time to shake out the cruft.
Reviewing old entries I was delighted to recall dinner with Bill Woodcock last year, when I was in Berkeley for the Society of Ethnobiology conference. Turns out Brent Berlin was a friend of his family when he was a young ‘un. I don’t think we knew any anthropologists at all – biologists, yes, but not social scientists.
This will not be true for Eleanor or Raymond or Tanglewest, who will grow up knowing ecologists and anthropologists, lamas and priests, all sorts of people. There at least I’m doing the job right.
Today was such a fine day that I would be remiss not to make note of it. The bulbs are surging, the birds are singing, it was shirtsleeve warm for the first time in weeks, and it was even still daylight as we cycled home. Coming out of the Encountering Buddhism lecture I saw my first bee of the year and shouted ‘hello!’. I was so happy to see it. It promptly landed on a student’s face – and much to their credit they did not flinch.
Nothing like it.
I was running at 6:30 this morning with Hakunica, thumping along the frosty beach with the tide drawn right back to expose the old stakes where the salmon nets were tied. Last night was a wonderful lunar eclipse, abhir-stained moon playing Holi with all of us. Yesterday morning Śraddhā and I wandered over to the old barracks and carefully dug up a few clumps of woodland hyacinth for our front garden. We moved the bedraggled mint into a pot where it would be happy, went off to the DIY shop to buy better light fixtures, came home and repainted the bird table. Today started cold, bright and clear: as I reached the end of my run the sun exploded, first dawn after the spring full moon.
Now it’s pelting down, chainmail sheets of North Sea rain dragging across the south side of the house.
The women at the bakery say, ‘Four seasons in one day.’
I wonder what it would be like to live someplace warm again.