Category: General

Just a general, misc post.

Support indie tech feminist Recompiler magazine + podcast

On Saturday, Recompiler Media, which publishes a print and online magazine as well as a podcast (hosted by me) turned two years old. Yay!

Audrey reports about year two accomplishments:

I’m very proud to be producing a podcast component of the magazine. We’ve shared interviews with amazing, thoughtful technologists such as Meli Lewis, Amelia Abreu, Helga Hansen, Sumana Harihareswara, Thursday Bram, and Heidi Waterhouse. We’ve talked about what happens when your toaster has a DNS bug, we’ve shared all kinds of creepy fun tech news, and we’ve figured out how to hop the internet.

But it’s tough because the Recompiler currently doesn’t generate enough revenue to pay me, so I do it for free, on the side, as a “passion project.”

Audrey provides more details in her post about where we’re struggling:

This is not a sustainable level of subscriptions, sales, and reader support. The way things are right now, we won’t be able to continue publishing The Recompiler into year three.

We know we have a lot of enthusiastic readers, and many of you contribute what you can. Here’s what we need:

  • If you forgot to renew your subscription, please do that! I send out reminders but there is a limited amount of time I can spend on admin tasks and still keep the articles coming.
  • If you’ve been meaning to subscribe: this is the time. We have print and digital options, and we can do invoicing or bundles for schools, libraries, and offices. Email us to discuss.
  • If you have the means to make a recurring contribution or sponsor an issue, this makes a huge difference in our ability to keep things running smoothly.
  • Finally, if you haven’t ordered a copy of the book yet, it will be out soon and it’s a great resource.

We need to bring in about $3000 by the end of the month in order to publish Issue 7 (security) on schedule.

Audrey has pledged the following: for every $500 in new subscriptions, renewals, monthly pledges, and sponsorships, she’ll find something fun to post on our Twitter account.

For my part, I am pledging:

  • For every $500 raised, I’ll record a dramatic reading of a tongue-twister for the podcast. (We’re up to $1588 as I type this, so I’m on the hook for three already. Can you help me it four? Five?)
  • If we exceed the $3k goal by 50% or more, I’ll figure out how to do the readings LIVE.
  • If you pledge $100 or more, I will read any short message of your choosing on the podcast (within reason, subject to our code of conduct).

Thanks for reading this far, and all your enthusiasm and support. We wouldn’t be able to do this without you!

A Lonely Vegan in the Sangha

I have to start getting this out of my system: I’m vegan. I’m Buddhist. And I’m awfully lonely in my Sangha.

I became vegan just over two years ago as a direct result of my starting to study and practice Buddhism. I had been a vegetarian (who made exceptions for sushi and sashimi) a few years prior to that. My reasons for being vegetarian did not have a strong ethical foundation. I stopped eating meat in order to have a healthier diet and to reduce my own environmental impact.

Now, you could say that maintaining good health and treating the planet well are ethical actions, and I suppose they are. So what I mean when I say that my vegetarianism did not have an ethical foundation is that I did not take into account the ethical problems of using and killing animals for our own pleasure and convenience. I did not consider it wrong to do these things. I did not recognize the moral personhood of my fellow beings.

Fast forward a few years.

I now study and practice Buddhism whole-heartedly. It is the foundation of my spiritual and ethical life. The more that I look at the precepts of not killing, not misusing sexuality and not stealing, the more I know from the bottom of my heart that these precepts must guide my interactions with all sentient beings, not just humans. I am a committed vegan.

Unfortunately vegans are a rarity in our sangha. Sherri and I are the only two that I know of, though I am sure there are a few others.

Now, we (the Sangha) do require that meals be vegetarian at both our Downtown practice center and at our monastery. But we do not require that meals be vegan. And, in fact, some offerings make quite heavy use of butter, eggs and cheese (as a lot of vegetarian, but not vegan food is ought to do).

At first the lack of vegan meals bothered me only a little. Mostly it was sad to be left out. Sherri and I are good about bringing vegan meals or preparing vegan treats for special occasions. But we aren’t always told ahead of time that there’s a special occasion and we aren’t always able to prepare food just for us. Last year I recall the time a few surprised our teacher (and the rest of the sangha) with special treats to celebrate the 40th anniversary of him starting Buddhist practice. We didn’t know about the occasion and no one had thought to bring something that was vegan so we couldn’t partake in the sharing of the sweets.

The trepidation and estrangement I feel around sangha isn’t so much about not being able to have a cookie when everyone else is. Rather, it’s about the ethical divide that I feel between myself and my spiritual community, especially regarding our relationship to food, all the sentient beings of the world and our interpretation of the precepts.

A great deal of our practice together revolves around a set of ethical principles, the precepts, that we are supposed to have in common. We recognize these precepts in nearly everything that we do as a group. We vow together to uphold them. And yet, there are fundamental disagreements about what these precepts mean and how we manifest them via our actions.

It is no secret that there is great debate over whether or not Buddhists are required to be vegetarian, let along vegan. Some point to ambiguity in Buddhist scriptures as ethical justification to eat meat/dairy/eggs. (For more on what the Buddha actually taught regarding this issue, I highly recommend checking out Norm Phelps’ The Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights.) Many famous buddhist teachers, including the Dalai Lama, continue to eat meat, further confusing the issue.

Personally, I think that when one really examines the heart of the precepts and relinquishes their own attachments to the habits and convenience of consuming animal products, it’s very clear that to practice Buddhism one should really adhere to veganism.

However, I’m willing to accept that not all Buddhists will come to the same conclusion that I do on this matter, even if I don’t like that fact. What I take issue with is that as a community we have made a choice that is not the most compassionate one we can make. We aren’t setting the best example that we could. We have a tremendous opportunity to provide a container of shared practice that is most compassionate and we don’t. Out of habit. Or ignorance. Or something; I’m not sure of the reasons.

When this topic comes up in my practice circles, abstention from animal products is often compared to abstention from alchohol. I think this comparison is raised to indicate that while there is some prohibition against causing harm to sentient beings (as is required in the consumption of animal products) and misusing alchohol, that ultimately it’s up to the individual practitioner to determine his level of abstention from each activity.

I take great issue with this comparison. First, I do not think that occasional and moderated use of intoxicants (a definition to which many, many things can apply) is akin to the killing and/or causing suffering to an animal merely for the sake of convenience and desire. However, the validity of this comparison is immaterial to the discussion at hand.

My point in mentioning the alcohol-vegan comparison is that my Sangha has a very clear policy that no alcohol be served at community functions. I’ve never asked why this policy is in place (though I think I will now). But, I imagine that it is in place to support those who are in recovery, and to support those who take the precepts to mean that one should refrain from alcohol and other intoxicants. In any case, it’s clear that the use of alcohol is morally questionable and so we do not allow it at community events or in our residential training center.

Why, then, do we not follow the same logic with our meal choices? I can only fathom that we have yet to overcome the inertia of habit, and of living in a society that is not vegan.

This saddens me greatly and it’s becoming more and more difficult to share a meal whole-heartedly with my community.

Sherri and I try to attend the public serve at Great Vow whenever possible. We enjoy practicing at the monastery and sharing a meal with our community afterwards. However, I’m starting to dread these meals.

Some Sunday lunches are more vegan than others. Sometimes we are able to partake in the main meal (occasionally having to leave off a non-vegan condiment or topping). When the main dish cannot be made vegan, a seperate dish is placed out for the few vegans in attendance. The same procedure is followed for others who have unique nutritional requirements such as gluten-free, hypoglycemia, etc. (Once again, it hurts to have my ethical choices be relegated to another “special diet.” But I digress.)

During my most recent meal at the monastery a wave of pain and grief hit me while we were performing the meal chant. Chant cards had been handed out and as we were about to start, I looked down to see that a small bowl of food had been set aside and labeled ‘Vegan Daal.’ I immediately thought to myself, “there’s no reason, other than lack of foresight and effort, that a vegetarian daal can’t be made vegan.” Rather than feeling happy that Sherri and I had been accommodated, I felt deeply unsettled. Tears came to my eyes. After the chant I excused myself for a while and sat in the car by myself until I could regain some composure.

I felt that by being there I was saying it was okay that everyone else was eating milk and butter. But it’s not okay. Milk and butter are products stolen from a cow, a mother, for which she did not give her consent and for which she undoubtedly suffered. I felt complicity to this suffering. It’s hard for me to feel cameraderie or good will in my community under these circumstances. How can a community that is supposed to share the same values as me, or at least very similar ones, disagree on something so fundamental?

I will pause here to say that I do have compassion for my fellow non-vegan practitioners. I know that change takes time and that making the switch from omnivore or vegetarian is challenging for some. I don’t think that non-vegans are intrinsically bad people. Veganism, for me, is not about us, or you or me. It’s about the animals who suffer because the world isn’t vegan.

I have tried to direct my energy around veganism and the precepts into positive, non-judgmental education and outreach. For the most part I think I have done a good job, and will continue to engage in vegan-related advocacy projects and conversation.

But I don’t know what to do with the pain that I feel around shared Sangha meals. They are now triggering to me in a way that I find nearly debilitating. I shouldn’t have to endure panic attacks in order to partake in the community hearth.

I’m not sure what to do. Do I take a break from Sangha activities? Do I request that all meals be vegan? What do I do if the answer is ‘no’? Do I seek out another sangha, one that is vegan?

Are there any vegan buddhists out there who have worked through a similar situation with their own Sangha? What did you do?

Our meal chant has been floating through my mind while writing this post, so I’m including it here:

We reflect on the effort that brought us this food

We reflect on our virtue and practice and whether we are worthy of this offering

We regard it as essential to keep the mind free from excesses such as greed.

We regard this food as good medicine to sustain our life.

For the sake of enlightenment we now receive this food.

And 2010 is off to a roaring start

2010 started busy and shows no signs of becoming less buy any time soon.

Job Stuff

I’m now nearly five months into my new job at FINE Design Group. I’ve launch one project for Blackstone Winery and will launch another one shortly. In addition to my programming work at FINE, I’ve also been able to flex my system administration skills, which I has been nice. I’m also about to wrap up my contracting gig, which will be a big relief. It’s been very difficult working these two jobs simultaneously while trying to keep up with my volunteer commitments.

Volunteer Stuff

This year I’m serving on the planning team for the second Open Source Bridge conference, happening here in Portland during the first week of June. This year I am serving as Project Manager and Volunteer Coordinator. The conference went really well last year and I’m very much looking forward to this year’s event. We just opened the Call for Proposals (so get yours in!) and are about to finalize our venue.

Photo courtesy of @turoczy
Photo courtesy of @turoczy

I’m happy to announce that I am now a Legion of Tech Board member! For those who don’t know, Legion of Tech produces free events for the Portland tech community, including BarCamp Portland and IgnitePortland. Part of my duties as board member is to help plan this year’s BarCamp, which will be co-located at the University of Portland with CodeCamp. Very exciting stuff!

Last, but certainly not least, I’ve continued my role on the Communications Committee with the Zen Community of Oregon. We’re working on a new website (design and custom content management system), and really stepping up advertising efforts for our Portland Program.

Garden

Sherri and I have started working on the garden for this year. So far we’ve managed to completely clear the blackberries (again) and have one of the raised beds prepared. In fact, last week Sherri started sowing peas at either end of the bed. But this is just a start. We plan to use all four raised beds this year, the entire area around our deck and also to expand last year’s winter squash patch. With luck, we’ll send our un-used hot tub off with a friend and use that space entirely for greens. I also have tentative plans to build a new compost structure.

Blue Beauty

In December, I bought a friend’s 1972 Toyota Corona Mark II. This is definitely a project car. Like any vehicle nearly 40 years old, it needs a lot of work. I’ve wanted to learn more about working with cars for a long time. So, I’m as excited as I am daunted by this particular project. I know I don’t need to do it all myself, however. I think I’ll be working on this a lot more when the weather warms up.

1972 Toyota Corona Mark 2
1972 Toyota Corona Mark II. Yes, the car is older than I am.

Origami

I’m not sure where I got the idea, but around Christmas time I started folding paper cranes with the idea to make 1,000 of them. I’m at 62 (hey, I’m 6.2% done). I’ve also been learning how to make some geometric origami structures. I’ll be adding items to my Origami Set on Flickr as I complete them.

Morning Crane
Crane #50 out of 1,000.

My Practice is Following the Breath in My Body

One of the ways to start sanzen (private interview with the teacher) is to state what your zazen practice is. There are several techniques one can employ during zazen. Your teacher will often suggest a particular technique based on what she knows about you and the state of your Zen practice. Some of the most common zazen methods are: opening awareness to sound, performing body scans, doing metta (loving-kindness), and following the breath in the body. My practice is the latter-most technique: I follow my breath in my body.

When I sit down to meditate, I first work to find a comfortable position. Usually I sit on a zafu (round cushion) in Burmese style: legs crossed in front of me, but both flat on the floor. At times I will also sit in half-lotus position, but I find that harder to do for longer periods of time. I check that my posture is upright, but not stiff. I make sure I can breathe freely, that my stomach is unencumbered and can move easily as my diaphragm expands and contracts with each breath. Then start to breath deeply and deliberately. I try to maintain my attention with my breath as it moves through my body. I notice how my ribs expand as I breathe in, starting with the top most ribs and extending towards the bottom-most ones. I notice how my stomach expands and moves outward. I notice how my arms move outward ever so slightly. And then I do the same in reverse as I follow the breath as it leaves my body. I note, without judgment, any tight spots in the path of my breath. Sometimes I find that my breath is shallow and difficult as if I simply can’t get oxygen to the bottom of my lungs. Sometimes my chest grows heavy and starts to burn. Other times I feel like the air itself: light, almost as if I could float right off the the zafu.

While I’m doing this I try to think of nothing else but the sensations of the present. If I notice my mind wander, I try to simply notice this wandering and once again return my attention back to the sensations of breath in my body. I do this over and over again and without judgment. Okay, sometimes I have judgment about how well or poorly I’m doing zazen. But then I notice this too and return my focus to my breath.

My ability to concentrate in this manner varies. At times my mind wanders incessantly and I will be lucky if I am able to count three breaths before I start revising my todo lists, having practice conversations in my head, or working out a programming problem. Or sometimes I realize the monkey-mind has been running wild for who-knows-how-many minutes and I’ve not even been aware of it. But every now and then I will have several moments of sustained concentration, of simply being present to my life.

It sounds so easy, yet anyone who has tried it knows how truly difficult it is to just sit with yourself and breathe. It sounds so simple, and yet the depths of this technique I feel I’m only beginning to experience.

"They were just love"

I’m in the middle of reading Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. The novel centers around the Belsey family, Zora of which is the eldest, followed by Jerome and then Levi. The latter bit of narration nearly brought me to tears because it so elegantly captures how I feel about my own three brothers.

People talk about the happy quiet that can exist between two lovers, but this too was great; sitting between his sister and his brother saying nothing, eating. Before the world existed, before it was populated, and before there were wars and jobs and colleges and movies and clothes and opinions and foreign travel — before all of these things there had been only one person, Zora, and only one place: a tent in the living room made from chairs and bed-sheets. After a few years, Levi arrived; space was made from him; it was as if he had always been. Looking at them both now, Jerome found himself in their finger joints and neat conch ears, in their long legs and wild curls. He heard himself in their partial lisps caused by puffy tongues vibrating against slightly noticeable buckteeth. He did not consider if or how or why he loved them. They were just love: they were the first evidence he ever had of love, and they would be that last confirmation of love when everything else fell away.

2010 Goals

Yes, it’s the obligatory “resolutions” post. These are not in any particular order.

Do Zazen (Meditate) Everyday

Finding, or rather making the time to sit is a real challenge for me. Particularly after I haven’t sat for a while. My monkey mind generates a thousand different reasons why I can’t sit still with myself for a few minute. So, rather than concentrating on the length of the zazen, I’m going to concentrate on making sure that I do zazen every day, regardless of the duration. Currently I’m sitting 10 minutes in the morning and 10 in the afternoon (aside from the time I sit with my sangha).

Attend a Sesshin

Attending a sesshin (multi-day silent retreat) was a goal for 2009 that I didn’t accomplish. I did, however, establish a retreat practice by attening a workshop and a Beginner’s Mind retreat (sesshin-lite). But this is the year I will go to sesshin for the first time. Actually, I think it’s how I’ll be celebrating my 30th birthday. Right now, the Loving-Kindness (Metta) Sesshin is the week of my birthday. If you had told me a few years ago that I’d be considering spending such an “important” birthday in silent retreat, I would have said you were nuts. But, Metta practice is something I’m very interested in (and haven’t had a lot of experience with). And, giving myself the space/time for such deep practice seems like an awesome way to celebrate my birthday.

Establish a Writing Practice

Last year I had more blog entries than I ever have before, but they were sporadic at best. My personal journal entries are even fewer and farther between. So this year, I will try to blog more, journal more and even play around again with some creative writing.

Maintain a Yoga Practice

My yoga practice dropped off substantially last year, firstly due to illness and then because the studio that I’d been going to closed. However, during the last week of the year I went to two yoga classes and was amazed at how quickly I felt its positive effects. When I’m doing yoga regularly, I eat better, I sleep better, I have fewer digestive issues, I feel more connected to my body. And it helps incredibly with zazen. So my goal is to go to 2-3 yoga classes a week and work on doing postures at home.

Improve the Garden

Last year’s garden attempt was shotgun at best. That’s okay. I’d been sick and moved in after the start of planting season. There was definitely an up hill battle to fight to even get the back yard in shape to plant anything. This year I want to grow more winter squash, trellis/cage the tomatoes and cucumbers properly, install some kind of irrigation system to make daily watering easier and more efficient, plant cover crops and actually record what we plant.

Make a Significant Contribution to the Portland Tech Community

I’m not attached to a particular way of contributing to the PDX tech community, though I do have a couple of ideas in the works.

Learn New Things

In my 2009 goals, I was pretty specific about some of the things I wanted to learn. (Ahem, three new programming languages? What was I thinking?) So this year, I’m making this goal very broad and giving myself flexibility to explore and change what I’m working on. Some things that I’m interested in now that could fall under this goal: Working on the Blue Beast (my ’72 Toyota Corona), origami, woodworking and programming.

Stay Out of Debt

Last year, I paid off all of my debt except for my federal student loan. This year, I plan to keep it paid off.

The Year in Review: 2009

What did Christie do in 2009? Briefly: I said goodbye to a good friend, moved in with my beloved, got even more involved in the awesomeness that is the Portland tech community, practiced some Zen, and found a new job. For the long version of the above, keep reading…

2009 started out with a quiet weekend trip to Eugene (trip photos). When I tell people that Sherri and I took a mini “vacation” to Eugene I usually get very puzzled looks that tell me Eugene is known to be boring and why would we go there for vacation. But Sherri and I wanted an economical, mellow trip. And we both like college towns. We found a lovely bed and breakfast at which to stay. We explored the campus, including the natural history museum and art galleries. We enjoyed the vegan pizza and playing cards with some of the locals at Sam Bond’s garage. We drank champagne and watched tv in bed. It was a nice way to begin the year together.

Rescuing a Worm
Christie saving a worm from certain death on the Oregon State campus

In February it was revealed that our openly gay Mayor Sam Adams had had a relationship with a teenager before he became mayor (at the time he was a city council member). It’s still not clear what activities did or did not happen before the person in question turned 18. Anti-Adams groups called for his resignation (and now recall). Many more people turned out in support of the Mayor. Sherri and I were two of those people. I’ve never been much of an activist, politically or otherwise. Actually, this was the first rally of any type that I attended. I found it energizing. Adams said later on that he was prepared to resign in light of the scandal, but changed his mind after seeing so many people come out to support him. Participating in the rally made me feel positive about community involvement. It made me realize that my, seemingly inconsequential actions could indead add up to make a difference.

In April, I attended my first weekend workshop at Great Vow Monastery, called “Working with the Inner Critic.” Much of the workshop focused on using voice dialogue to identify and work with the Inner Critic. Rather than banishing the inner critic, we learned techniques for putting what she has to say in context and then making our own decisions, from our true selves. During the workshop, I learned just how much my inner critic, and another very fearful self, hold me back, particularly in my professional life. I found the workshop to be fairly transformative. So transformative, in fact, that I came home and had Sherri help me cut off all of my bleached blonde hair. After nearly a decade of doing crazy things to my hair with chemicals, it was time to just be Christie again.

Less than a month after the Inner Critic retreat, I moved in with Sherri. We’d been planning this move for nearly six months. While I’m finding that home ownership can be overwhelming at times, Sherri and I have slipped into domestic routine very easily. Most of the pre-moving concerns we shared have evaporated under the warmth of being together so consistently. I revel in the simple pleasures of meal-making, playing with the cats and reading together before bed.

This year I spent a lot of time thinking about my own decision to go vegan, how to talk to others about veganism, and how to be a force for positive change towards veganism within my community. I talk a bit about what prompted me to want to be more activist in the blog post “Vegan is More than a Strange Diet.”

In early June, we said goodbye to Atari the Wonder Cat. I miss him still.

Shortly after Atari’s passing and partially in his honor, I got my first tattoo. It’s a flash style heart that says “Vegan” inside of it.

This year I got even more involved in the awesome Portland Tech community. I started to co-lead Code ‘n’ Splode meetings. I participated in a few other user groups like PDXPHP, Ruby Brigade and Javascript Admirers. I volunteered for Legion of Tech events Ignite Portland and BarCamp. Perhaps the highlight was speaking and coordinating the volunteers at the first ever Open Source Bridge in June.

I often travel for my birthday, but this year I decided to stay in Portland. Sherri surprised me with tickets for the musical Rent. I’d never seen the theatrical production before, but had seen the movie and knew the soundtrack by heart. The seats were awesome. We enjoyed strong, tasty cocktails before the show. It was a most excellent evening.

On the weekend after my birthday, Sherri and I traveled to Sacramento to visit with my family. While in the area, we spent a few hours in Davis, where I went to college. We visited the farmer’s market and I gave Sherri a tour of campus. We had a good time despite the fact that it was over 100 degrees that weekend.

Jesse's Memorial Tree
I was surprised at how much Jesse's memorial tree had grown. I almost didn't recognize it.

To celebrate Sherri’s birthday, we spent a week on Hawaii’s Big Island (photos). The trip was somewhat exhausting (we scheduled many activities), but still fantastic. Hawaii is simply gorgeous. I can’t believe all of the native plants we saw: lilies, orchids, mangos, bananas, all growing in the wild. And, I swam in the ocean for the first time (albeit with a life jacket). And with Dolphins! We know we’re going back, and probably this year.

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Sherri and I recharge with some shaved ice after a morning spent swimming with dolphins.

During our time in Hawaii I had some downtime to reflect on my freelancing career and decided that upon returning to Portland, I’d start looking for full-time employment. I found a web developer position at an agency here in town within a month. Next week, I will have been there three months! I enjoy where and with whom I work.

A women in our Sangha fosters cats and kittens for OHS. She often posts their photos and progress on Facebook. Shortly before leaving for Hawaii, she posted about two kittens, a tuxedo and a black and white striped tabby. I told Sherri these were my two favorite colorings of cat, and she suggested we go meet them. So we did. And I fell in love right away (they’re kittens after all). We’ve named them Puck and Oberon (from Mid-Summer Night’s Dream). They’re doing very well.

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Two new additions to our family: Puck (left) and Oberon.

One of my 2009 goals was to establish a retreat practice. I didn’t manage to make it to a sesshin, but I did attend a Beginner’s Mind Retreat. It was a very good experience. I wouldn’t say it was easy; it wasn’t. Any time you a required to do sitting meditation for 8+ hours a day isn’t going to be easy. But I did notice that I felt at home at the monastery and was able to begin to relax into the container of practice that it provides. I look forward to (if one can look forward to) my first sesshin (week-long silent retreat), which I’m planning for mid-2010.

In October, right after completing my Beginner’s Mind retreat, I received the Five Grave Precepts from my teachers Hogen and Chozen. My mother, step-father, two of my brothers and a number of our friends attended the ceremony and celebration afterwards. I was honored to be supported in this way. Sherri also took Jukai during this same ceremony and it was lovely to share this aspect of practice with her.

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Precepts and Jukai Ceremony

I made the tough decision to spend the holidays in Portland, for the first time with Sherri, but away from my family of origin. It was nice to not have to travel, and to get to spend these special days with Sherri and with my Portland community. But it sucks that these good things come at the expense of missing my family and not getting to spend the holidays with them. I envy those who are fortunate enough to see their families more often.

Thanksgiving was quite lovely. Our Sangha holds it’s annual holiday party on Thanksgiving day with a giant potluck out at Great Vow Monastery. This year I think there were at least 70 people, including two friends that came with Sherri and me. At least a third of the dishes that other people brought were vegan (a great improvement over previous years). The residents put on quite a marimba concert. Some of us played a strange board game from the 70s called “Social Security.”

Thankgiving at Great Vow
Thanksgiving at Great Vow. Everyone gathered in a circle for the meal chant.

Christmas was just as lovely, although more low-key. I worked at home on Christmas Eve, knocking off in the early afternoon. Sherri and I stayed at home and open our stockings and gifts on Christmas Eve. Sherri and I both had the week between Christmas and New Year’s day off from work. We spent the time at home working on projects, took a few yoga classes and mostly just rested.

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Getting ready to exchange our Christmas gifts

A few days before the end of the year, Portland received a few inches of unpredicted snow. Because we were home already (both having the week off from work), Sherri and I went out to play shortly after it started snowing.

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Surprise snow makes Christie happy

This year we opted to stay in for New Year’s Eve. Sherri made a wonderful Japanese food themed feast. I even lent a hand by making some cocoa mochi (turned out okay, but I think I prefer other kinds of mochi).

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Sherri preparing burdock root for our NYE feast

Despite the fact that it was a very busy year, we managed some fun day trips. Some of the highlights were Ecola State park and Canon Beach, Lincoln City on Memorial Day weekend, a visit to Kiyokawa Orchards for apple tasting, and a couple of visits to Hood River.

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Inside of Grief is Great Love

During a recent discussion with my Zen cohort, someone mentioned that inside of grief is great love. I had never thought about grief in this way before. I had always thought of it in strictly negative terms and not as originating from positive emotion.

I’ve worked a lot with grief. There are ways in which I grieve the childhood that I wasn’t allowed to have. There are ways in which I grieve the relationship with my father that I once had (or thought I had) but no longer do. It’s this loss that I’ve been thinking about a lot of late.

The reason I’ve been thinking a lot about my father is because this week I’m receiving the Five Grace Precepts from my teachers. There’s a part during the ceremony where you are supposed to honor your parents by bowing to them. If your parents are in attendance, you bow in front of them. If your parents are not present, you turn and bow in their direction. The idea behind this is not to demonstrate some kind of subservience to your parents, but to honor their contribution to your life. After all, regardless of how you choose to judge this contribution, your parents enabled you to have life in the first place. My mother will be in attendance, so I will be able to bow to her. However, my father, who is still living, will not be in attendance. I have struggled with whether or not to bow in his direction.

My father has been estranged from our family for some time now. This estrangement, in a way, is a good thing. My father is not a healthy person. He was abusive to both my mother and my siblings throughout my childhood. In my early twenties he went to prison after a felony conviction. The last time I saw him was during his arraignment hearing (it’s a strange thing to see your father in shackles and an orange jumper). He’s since been released and I’ve thought about contacting him several times. I miss having a dad. I’ve missed having a dad since I was 13 when I realized my father was mentally unwell and unable to carry on normal, healthy relationships. From what little information I have about how my father is doing today, there’s little to indicate that anything has really changed about his disposition or ability to have healthy interactions with people. So I choose to remain disconnected from him.

Nevertheless, he’s still my father. For better or worse, I would not be the person that I am today without his contribution to my life. It’s true that I’ve endured a lot of heartache and have hard to work very diligently to heal the damage that he directly contributed to during my childhood. I do not absolve him of responsibility for these actions. But I do forgive him. My father is a deeply damaged individual. He did the things to me, my siblings and mother that he did because of pain and suffering that was inflicted upon him by his own caretakers. For whatever reason, he didn’t have the wherewithal to stop the cycle of abuse with himself, so he perpetuated this abuse upon his own children and wife. This is sad, unfortunate and certainly inexcusable. But it is human. What I wish for my father is to find some relief for his suffering, in whatever way that is possible. For him, it may only come with death.

So I have decided that I will bow to my father during this week’s ceremony. I will honor his contribution to my life.

In my heart, I think I knew from the beginning that I would choose to bow to my father. What, then, was the source of aversion and consternation I felt around this decision? I think it was that bowing to my absent father would acknowledge his absence and acknowledge how deeply I feel and grieve this absence. When I was younger, I thought that my sense of loss and grief would simply go away with time. But it hasn’t. In some ways it grows more acute. As I approach the time of starting my own family, I am saddened that my children will not get to know their grandfather. They won’t get to work in the print shop that I worked at as a child, they won’t get to work on projects with him. With each home improvement project, I have the urge to call my father up and ask for advice. Sometimes I just want to tell him about my latest accomplishment and I can’t. And it hurts.

So when I heard that inside of grief is great love, I immediately thought of my father. I am able to have grief for my father because I have a great love for him. And that’s okay. I have struggled with this notion over time. Love was not a word that was used in our family while I was growing up. I’m not sure that my father in capable of actually loving anybody. I think I internalized this ambivalence. But what I’ve come to realize is that it’s natural for children to love their parents. It’s what children do. It’s okay that I love my father even though he’s not part of my life and probably never will be again. It’s okay to love a parent who is deeply flawed and has done terrible things. Honoring that love doesn’t diminish any of the struggles that I endured as a child. In fact, I think it honors them.

And so I no longer look at my grief as this terrible burden. Rather, it’s the counter part to love. The ante we pay to experience love.