Today was intense. It involved tears. You may remember when I gleefully wrote of my first driving lesson. It was two summers ago. I had sat with a group of 15 year olds through a Driver's Ed series (I was old enough to mother them all) and then my driving teacher, DJ, took me out for a spin. That blog contained the seeds of freedom and glee. I did my written exam, got my permit and... two years passed. And not much driving practice occurred.
For the past five days, I've been submersed in a powerful peace. The kind of peace that wraps kindness around your temples. That pulls your center of gravity out of your fast-paced head and down into your heart.
The kind of peace that is like cotton wool headphones plugging you into another soundtrack. Where air and space take the place of busy sound. Where we can begin to slow down the cogs.
I heard the news tonight as I stood in the kitchen cleaning pots. Terry Gross's voice cutting through the din of aluminum pans clanging, through the ceaseless flow of thoughts. She caught me mid-air as I moved to grab another one off the counter: "... Peter Matthiessen, who died this weekend."
Time freezes. Like a bell cutting through the forest.
That feeling when you're out in the woods and you sense a great being in your midst. You sense his passing footsteps.
And because of this, we must stop.
I pull up a stool at the kitchen table, slowly sink down and hold my face to the speakers. And the obituary plays out.
You may have seen the news reports this week about the group of monks and nuns protesting outside the Dalai Lama’s teachings in San Francisco. You may have seen this video clip where a nun asks him directly to allow religious freedom, and he says to her: “No. This is not religion, this worship of spirit, so that’s wrong.”
I walked yesterday through the West End of Portland, as a wild wind blew. It was a strangely warm day for early October and a full spectrum of red, crimson, yellow and green leaves were spinning in circles. Pumpkins lay on doorsteps and there was this kind of funny, wild energy to the air, like the Wicked Witch of the West was conjuring something.
Spring is an extraordinary season to be in New England. Blossoms are dropping off trees. The roads are covered in dazzling red and pink, petals in all directions. The sun has come out and warmed all of us, and life has leapt into this dizzying action. Nature launches it's immense season of fertility — and it affects us all. We all go crazy busy.
My most recent new development is that I have started to work with an array of New England poets, painters and visionaries. Some very artistic karma is ripening and it's occurring as naturally as the buds coming to the trees.
You see that image above - the lone meditator in a forest of tranquility? It's taken from the front cover of Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, a poem written in the eighth century by the Indian Buddhist master, Shantideva. For the past six months, I have been studying Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's translation of this poem in my Foundation Program class at the Serlingpa Meditation Center in New Bedford.
Because I live in Maine, I cannot attend most of the classes in person. I get emailed the recordings. Once a month, our Maine study group gathers at someone's home to discuss the teachings. But most Sundays, I lay my cushion down before my shrine and turn on my iPhone. I put on earphones and tune in to the words of my teacher and sangha friends in New Bedford, one hour south of Boston.
I am sitting in a farmhouse kitchen overlooking a crumbling stone wall where blue tits swoop in to eat sunflower seeds from a birdtable. This is my third day in French life, 11 more to go. Life, already quite calm and quiet in Portland, has been reduced to an absolute stillness here. An old way of life, where the only warmth comes from a couple of stoves so you spend your days sitting in the kitchen with your family, sharing stories and silences. You don't go off and sit on your own in your room because it's bloomin freezing out there.
There is the ringing sound of possibility in the air. It's the same every Lunar New Year, whether I'm deep in the flower markets of Hong Kong or in the polar ice plains of Portland. The planet feels like it is entering a new phase. The new animal rises to meet us; a snake with a playful game.
I am told, via my friend Alison on Facebook and the person who took the photo above of a print-out from Man Mo Temple (click on it to read the marvelously wacky predictions), that this will be a "wonderful year" for the horse. You may also spot the interesting mention of my "lucky accessory" of a Kirin unicorn.
Something curious happened to me on my recent trip to Xi'An. I had arranged to go there to meet with the heads of the Xi'An Academy of Fine Art on a trip to establish a partnership with Maine College of Art (MECA). I was also meeting my friend Karen Smith, a wonderful writer and art critic in Beijing who is the director of a new museum here in Xi'An. She pretty much arranged everything and met me at the airport where we jumped into the academy's car.