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Monthly Archives: July 2015

Opening Up the Hidden Heart

Buddhism 150There are very few things as alienating as feeling like some deep part of yourself isn’t understood, or worse, hated. We each have core aspects of ourselves that we prefer to keep hidden — only showing them to a few people we trust. Sometimes we don’t get to trust anyone, and we move through life feeling as if no one knows us, as if we were aliens who just happen to be born here.

Sometimes the disconnection between our secret selves and the world around us is some deeply personal quirk of biology or personality; we can’t help the things we feel, even if society doesn’t understand it. Most of the time, even we barely understand it. Sometimes that disconnection comes because we find ourselves uprooted from a place and a people that gets us and transplanted somewhere different. Customs and ideas clash with everything we’ve come to know, and there’s no interest from the broader world in easing that tension. So we have to make do with whatever small and imperfect connections we can find. We spend so much time and energy finding ways to be a little less alone with each other.

This is an aspect of the human condition that fascinates me, so when I see stories featuring characters fearfully reaching out towards someone — anyone — with this precious, tiny, hidden part of themselves I’m all in. The first season of Bates Motel struck that chord with me, for example. Norma and Norman Bates are both legitimately insane, seriously damaged people, and as protagonists they’re very hard to like. But what kept drawing me back were the timid, small ways they tried to show the core of themselves to each other. That desperate need to be seen and acknowledged, even in the worst of people, is one of the things that will almost always make me empathetic.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, about our need to transmit our experience and inner lives to other people and how astonishingly inefficient words can be for that. It’s a minor miracle that we can ever think we know each other at all; it’s hard enough to describe a concrete object so that everyone has a consistent image in their heads, but it’s next to impossible to discuss something as ephemeral and nebulous as emotion, or an idea that grabs us in just the right way. A few really talented people can find ways to use the right combinations of words to awaken the same kind of feeling in us, but most of us just flail at it.

And I think that’s why I feel such a connection to characters who try to express what’s going on inside their heads. It’s an act of bravery to talk about the things that lurk within our recesses, to pull them out and expose them to the light. There are so many things running against our chances of success — we’re not equipped to give words to these things, and almost nothing will pinpoint our emotions. Even if we find the words that make the most sense to us, there’s no guarantee that the person we’re speaking to will understand the intent behind those words. Maybe it’s the order, or the tone we use to say them, or the baggage they’re carrying with them — so many things could get in the way of true understanding, but we try anyway. It’s a fool’s errand, but it’s also one of the most hopeful and noble things we could do.

I love stories about the pain of realizing you’re different from everyone else around you, of trying to deal with that. I love stories about people who connect with other people — suddenly, as a surprise; or gradually over a shared experience. I love reading stories by people who are trying hard to transmit the particulars of their experience, broadcasting their most secret selves out into the world in the vain hopes that someone out there will feel the way they do if only they get the right words in the right order, and their audience reads it at the right time.

The most tragic stories, to me, are the ones where people attempt that connection and fail. The ones where they’re forced to be alone because of some impossible barrier. Requiem For A Dream makes me bawl every time I see it because the ending forcefully puts that final nail in the coffin. Each of the main characters are in a hell of their own making, but not because they’re evil people. They were simply broken, too broken to see that the ways they were trying to connect with each other weren’t working, that they had different perspectives, dreams, priorities.

I love these stories because I come away with them feeling a kinship with everyone around me. I have my secret heart, but so do you. And I know that we’re both looking for the people we can show it to, who will understand and accept us. There’s no feeling quite like showing someone else who you really are and being told “I see you, I know you, and I love you.”

On my best days, I want to give that feeling to everyone I come across. It requires a radical sort of acceptance, a lack of judgement that is very difficult to achieve and maintain. But the people who try? Those who understand that fundamental desire, who want to lead people to it? That’s my tribe. Those are my people.

This isn’t something that comes up consciously in my writing so far — at least, I don’t think so. But I think it might provide me with a direction with stories I have trouble finding a proper hook for. I just wanted to get these words down as a statement of intent; these are the things that interest me, these are things that I wish to do.

 

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The Clarion Write-A-Thon, Week 4

Writing 150We’re halfway through the Clarion Write-A-Thon, and I’ve been fairly remiss with hitting my goals consistently up until now. I’m up to 14,535 words now, 7K short of the 21,500 that I wanted to have by now. I’m still working on my second short story, but Civil Engineering should be done today or tomorrow. Still, what gives? Why am I having such consistently slow weeks?

There were a few personal things that made it difficult to be consistent with my writing practice. There are the social engagements, of course, but I can see those coming for the most part and plan around them. I think it mostly has to do with my preferred writing schedule and the incompatibility of that with my life right now.

I do my best work in the mornings, no question. I’ve always been a morning person; I love getting up early and getting a lot of stuff done before noon. If I were able to set my own schedule, it would probably look something like this — wake up at 5 AM, meditate, coffee, writing, exercise, shower, breakfast, writing, lunch, then light organizational stuff through the afternoon. Work would become more social through the afternoon, until the evening where I’d hang with friends and/or read. That’s the way I would live my life if I won the lottery.

Unfortunately, that just can’t happen. I work for a living; I wake up at 6 AM needing to be out the door by 7. I have to meditate, groom, prepare breakfast and lunch before that happens. If I play my cards just right, I have maybe 20 minutes to get some writing in. Work is…work; I take 30 minute lunches so I can go home earlier and try to beat the traffic, so getting some words in there isn’t really an option. And once I’m in there’s a laundry list of things to be done — cleaning the burrow, cooking dinner, getting some exercise in, and spending time with my beloved husband. I tend to start turning into a pumpkin at 9 PM; it gets more difficult to concentrate and my willpower is mostly spent.

That was before my ADHD diagnosis, though; with the medication and organizational skills I’ll learn in a six-week course, things might be a bit easier. That’ll take six weeks though, and the Write-A-Thon will be over by then. For now, it looks like I’ll be doing my best to wake up early, prepare for the day as efficiently as possible and get in as much writing as I can in the mornings.

My preferred writing time tends to work much better during the weekends, so I’m finding that I do the bulk of my writing then. It might be that once this is over I’ll focus on getting as much work done on the weekends as I can; writing every day just might not be possible for me, and the stress of trying to maintain that schedule would do more harm (as in, causes me stress) than good.

Anyway — for the next three weeks I’ll really need to step it up. The daily goal for the rest of the Write-A-Thon is around 1,700 words, and by gum I’ll get them by hook or by crook! With that kind of output, I should be able to finish “Civil Engineering” fairly quickly and move right into “A Stable Love”. I’ve been really itching to get started on my Beast (of the X-Men) fan-fiction as well, sketching out character profiles for Hank, his allies and rogue’s gallery, determining the themes and stories I’d really like to play with, seeing where the arc is going to go for the first “year” of “issues”.

So that’s my plan, folks — write my ass off through week 4, find a way to prioritize getting my words in over just about everything else in the time I have available. I’ve raised $380 for the Clarion Workshop so far; thanks so much to the ten people who have donated so far. You are amazing, and I really do appreciate your generosity!

My goal for this week is to write 12,000 words; that’ll put me up to 26,500 by this time next week. I would love to have $450 raised for the Clarion Workshop by next Monday as well. “Civil Engineering” will be done with a quick editing pass being done, “A Stable Love” will be much closer to finished, and I’ll be doing the preliminary work on Beast: Wild Genius.

To all of my friends coming back from Anthro-Con 2015, welcome back to the real world! I hope the convention was as amazing as it sounded on Twitter and there’s no con crud this year. Fellow writers, what projects are you working on this week? I’m always curious about how others manage to juggle their writing practice with the rest of their lives. Any pointers for me?

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2015 in Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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Rabbit-Hearted Guy

Myth 150No Shame Day was last week and I completely missed it, so I thought I would take a bit of time to open up further about my mental health issues. I believe that the more we discuss these things openly, the more people understand the nature of mental illness and the more we destigmatize those suffering from them.

I manage chronic depression, and I’m pretty sure I’ve had it all my life. Depressive episodes have been really bad a few times, and it was only recently (when I moved to California) that I finally got the help I needed. Now, I cope with a mixture of medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and Zen meditation. For the most part this does the trick — my thoughts don’t run away from me nearly as often because I can recognize when something is being driven by depression and have tools to engage that.

However, things aren’t perfect. One of the reasons I identify with rabbit so strongly is because it’s a creature whose life is ruled by wariness. They’re constantly on guard for potential threats, and so much of their communication is about worry and the lack of it. The less they worry, the more their personality comes through; it can be hard to “get to know” a rabbit, but it’s a delight when you do.

I’m a high-strung person; most of my effort goes towards the managing and alleviating of stress — in myself and others. At work, I sweat the small stuff as much as I can, though it gets exhausting to do so and I end up dropping a lot of the details because I just don’t have the capacity to deal with them. THAT can stress me out, knowing that I’m inconsistent with my attention to detail or the ability to get things done. And since I’m stressing about that, I have a reduced capacity for new stressors in my life.

The cycle completes when I get overwhelmed. It becomes impossible to concentrate on the things I need to do. The more I try, the more my brain just seems to slide off the task and I look for anything that can provide a distraction. Sometimes I’ll end up just clicking on the same three websites over and over for distraction’s sake, not taking in anything, just doing something so I don’t have to think.

But that’s no way to live your life, much less spend your career. I’m trying to move into a position of more responsibility at work, but it’s difficult when you struggle to manage the responsibilities you have. This obviously isn’t something I can talk about my superiors with; I’m not a bad worker, I just have trouble dealing with certain aspects of my work. Still, something had to be done.

So I went to a psychologist to see if I had ADHD; the lack of concentration and focus, the excitability, the tension all seemed to point to that. After a test and a consultation, she determined that yes, that was a likely possibility as well as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. GAD is characterized by excessive worrying about various aspects of daily life (in my case, writing and work) with physical symptoms that include fatigue (yes), muscle tension (yes), twitching (yes), difficulty concentrating (yes), irritability (also yes).

So now I’m embarking on a new front for my treatment: group therapy classes for GAD and ADHD, with a round of medication possibly starting up today. I’m hoping that the coping mechanisms learned in these group therapy classes can help me cope with anxiety, and the medication at least puts me on an even keel for long enough to make those mechanisms habit. We’ll see how the rest of the year goes, but I’m optimistic that it’ll at least help me deal with my reactions to stress.

I know that mental health issues are difficult to speak about. You have celebrities and various seminars and self-improvement courses trying to tell you that it’s “all in your mind” and medication is never a good idea. You have the media promoting the idea that when something terrible happens (like say, Dylan Roof) it’s because the perpetrator was mentally ill. Well-meaning friends and associates tell you to suck it up or get over it without properly understanding just how difficult (and sometimes impossible) that is — like people who suffer haven’t tried that already.

But mental illness is a real thing with real causes; sometimes those causes need medication to be resolved, and sometimes developing a mindfulness program is enough. Sometimes the condition is transient, brought out by extraordinary stimuli. Sometimes it’s chronic, without any cause but chemical, and you’ll have to work to manage it for the rest of your life.

All of this is OK. We each have our own burdens, and sometimes we need the help and wisdom of people better equipped to deal with them. It takes a while to find a therapist we feel understood by; it takes a while to find the medication that makes us feel even without feeling emotionally restricted. Learning just how to handle mental illness is a journey that can be long, lonely and frustrating. But like getting to know a rabbit, the end result is very much worth it.

It’s important to me that people know mental illness is a real affliction, and that it can be managed. People who have them can live productive and meaningful lives. And most importantly, that there’s help out there. If you feel there’s an issue that you can’t manage on your own and need help, mentalhealth.gov is a good place to start. Reach out to friends and/or family you trust; a support network can be tremendously helpful. And know that you’re not alone. There are those of us who are fighting the fight with you, all the time, every day. We see you, we understand you, we love you.

 

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The Clarion Write-A-Thon, Week 3

Writing 150Two weeks of the Clarion Write-A-Thon are in the books — we’re one-third of the way there! So far, I’ve written 10,773 words (an average of 770 per day), raised $295 in donations and finished one short story! Feedback Loop has been completed, though I didn’t submit it in time for consideration in Defying Doomsday — the deadline was listed in Australian time, so I screwed up my calendar. I’m disappointed, of course, but it’s a valuable lesson to learn for future submissions. Check and double-check your deadline, and if at all possible, make sure you’re early.

There’s a good story lurking within the first draft of “Feedback Loop”; it’s an epistolary short story in the form of journal entries, chronicling an inner-city college student’s journey through depression, school, family issues and the end of the world. The writing could stand to be a bit more subtle and a bit more tight, and the chronology of events could use some reconfiguring, but this is the first short story in a long time that I’ve finished and been interested in editing. I’m excited to polish it off (after the Write-A-Thon, I think) and show it to my writing group!

I didn’t make my word count goal (14,000 by today), but I came fairly close. This week’s goal is a flat 1,500 words per day so by next Monday I’ll should have 21,500 total. It’s ambitious, sure, but I think I can make it! My fundraising goal for week 3 is to have $400 in pledges and donations. If you’re interested in helping me reach that, good news! You totally can, and I would be ever so grateful. Just go to my writer’s profile page at the Clarion Write-A-Thon website to make a donation. Just 1/10 of a cent per word (or $.001) from two people will get me there!

This week I’m working on my MegaMorphics story. Unfortunately that means I won’t be able to show it around until later this year, but I have to say I’m excited about this one too. It’s about a coyote who survives a bio-terror attack that leaves him completely unable to re-assert himself into normal society; most people exposed to the agent die immediately or slowly over a matter of weeks, but around 5% end up becoming something else. I’d like to say it’s a study on how tragedy shapes and isolates us from others, and there may be bits of that in there. But mostly it’s an excuse to introduce giants into a society that is in no way prepared to deal with them.

Once “Civil Engineering” is finished, I’ll move on to “A Stable Love” (another giant-oriented story) and start working on a few other projects that shall remain nameless and vague for now. Of course, this blog will be updated on Wednesday and Friday with personal observations and story snippets featuring whatever topic interests me.

My blog entry on “FurAffinity and the Realities of Capitalism” was edited and reposted over on [adjective][species], an incredible website that features personal and critical essays about the fandom. There’s a lively discussion going on there about the nature of advertising on community sites that’s intelligent, respectful and interesting. I highly recommend going there to check it out and reading a few other entries there as well!

One last plug: the Clarion Workshop has raised $4,275 of their $15,000 goal for the Write-A-Thon so far. Donating through my author’s page not only encourages me to push on to make my word count, but it also helps some truly great writers have unique instructions and form lasting connections with colleagues within the SF/F industry who have invested in helping to shape the next generation of greats coming up. If you have any coin to spare and you want to help guide the future of the genre, please donate!

OK, that’s all I’ve got. Thanks for your time, interest and donations so far all. You’re the best! What are YOU planning to work on this week?

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Friday Fiction: The Exchange (Kraugh – Star Wars: Age of Rebellion)

Gaming 150This is a short short story featuring a character I’ll be playing for a friend’s Star Wars: Age of Rebellion game. He is a Togorian (a tall, feline-like alien species with a really interesting sexual dichotomy) who eschews the typical nomadic lifestyle of his species by choice — he views traveling throughout the galaxy as merely an extension of that lifestyle, where he gets to meet all manner of different sapient beings and find interesting technology for his wife. I like playing big guys who are more interested in the intellectual, spiritual or social, what can I say?

Kraugh slouched low in his chair, made sure his hands were under the table, kept his voice low and didn’t display his teeth. He knew that his size and teeth and claws had the potential to put his trading partner on alert, and he really didn’t want that. If he could manage to pull of this score, it’d be a huge boon for the crew.

His ears flicked around the bar as he scanned the riot of people stuffed into close quarters, shouting over each other to be heard. No sign of his partner, but it was early yet. He wouldn’t start to feel nervous about being stood up for another few minutes.

For now, he simply watched people. There were a pack of Bothans sitting in one corner booth, drinking something brightly colored out of a glass as long as their forearms. They were speaking quietly, their big ears turned towards each other, fur rippling in ways that meant something only to them. Kraugh briefly thought about heading over there, buying them a drink and striking up a conversation. He’d bet at least a thousand credits that they had something intensely interesting going down. Bothans tended not to gather in one place otherwise. He shifted in his seat and drained half of his drink in one long draught. The evening would pick up soon enough, he told himself. No need to go chasing excitement when it was coming to him.

A Wookiee and a Twilek sat at another table, speaking animatedly. He could pick up a few of the growls and muted roars of Shyriiwook, but couldn’t make much sense out of the conversation. They were worried about…either a person or a box that had gone missing either three days or three hundred years before. Either way, that sounded intriguing too. Maybe if he listened closer, he could find a way into–

A Rodian slipped up to the table, holding a satchel close against its chest. A shock of reddish-brown hair leapt between its antennae and presumably continued down the back of its skull. Kraugh would have guessed it to be female, but it was difficult to tell with reptilian races. He shifted his weight to stand, thought the better of it, and simply nodded to the empty chair across the table.

<<Thank you.>> It spoke in Rodese; thankfully it was one of the few phrases Kraugh knew.

“Basic, please,” he purred. “I’m sure you don’t want to hear me butchering your language any more than I’d want to mangle it.”

The Rodian sat down with a nod. “Fine. It’s enough of a surprise to see a Togorian away from his homeworld. I guess it’s too much to expect one to speak other languages.”

Kraugh flicked an ear, taking his partner’s measure. Clearly, she was nervous — the smart play here would be to put her at ease. “I’ve picked up a few here and there. You can’t be a Galactic citizen for very long without learning a few things.”

“True.” The Rodian clutched the satchel even now. “Like being brief when you’re making a deal.”

Kraugh smiled, remembered his fangs, and stopped. “I won’t keep you.” He nodded towards the bag. “Is that it?”

The Rodian nodded, shrugging the satchel’s strap from around her shoulder and pushing the package across the table. “Open the bag and inspect quickly. If you need a closer look, you can take it into the refresher.”

Kraugh perked a brow. “You’d trust me alone with the package?”
“You wouldn’t be. There’s a Gamorrean there who’ll be glad to escort you back to the table.”

This time Kraugh couldn’t suppress a grin. “Smart.”

“You have to be to do what I do for very long.”

“I’m glad you are.” He opened the satchel with the flick of a claw and lifted the flap to peek inside.

The gun looked like the standard issue SE-14r given to stormtroopers with a few modifications. The sight was missing, the barrel was slightly shorter and the overall form factor was a bit sleeker. The pack was notably smaller, presumably to make room for a slightly rounded bulge near the safety mechanism. That could mean only one thing.

“They did it.” Kraugh purred as he closed the satchel and shoved it back towards the Rodian. “They got the gyroscopic sight to work.”

The Rodian simply nodded. “You can fire as many shots with a smaller battery, too. Small, efficient, accurate. It’s a big improvement.”

“But this is only a prototype, right? So what’s the problem?”

“The laser battery is right up against the gyroscopic sight. So if you auto-fire or shoot off a few too many rounds in too short a time, you start to warp the scope.”

Kraugh blinked. “So the more you shoot, the less accurate you get.”

“That’s right. But you don’t want a functional weapon anyway, do you?” It was possible that the Rodian smiled. Kraugh would really have to become more familiar with the finer points of their physiology.

“No, I don’t. Let’s just say it’ll be neat to see how this thing works.”

The Rodian clicked once. “A Togorian interested in technology? Now I’ve seen everything.”

Kraugh shook his head. “Oh, it’s not for me. Give me a good sc’rath any day. This is a present for my wife.”

“A romantic Togorian is even more surprising. Who’s your wife? I might have had dealings with her.”

“Give me your name and I’ll see if she knows you. She doesn’t meet many off-worlders, but that could change once her position improves.” Kraugh grinned, showing teeth this time.

The Rodian waved off the comment good-naturedly. “Perhaps another time, then. Once we’ve learned to trust each other.”

“Once you’ve learned to trust me, you mean.” Kraugh dug into the pack at his hip and fished out a number of credit sticks. They were easily hidden in his hand, and he placed them under the satchel. “You’ll find it all there, plus a little extra for making this run so smoothly. Hopefully, that’ll help.”

He leaned back while the Rodian counted the credits and slipped them into her pocket. “It does, a little. It’s been a pleasure, Togorian, but I’m sure you have other places to be.”

Kraugh lifted a brow. “Other business here?” He drained his drink and stood, grabbing the satchel in one big hand. “If you have anything else for me, just pass a word along to Talik. He’ll make sure it gets to me.”

“I sure will,” the Rodian said. “Until then.”

Kraugh nodded and stalked towards the entrance of the bar. It only occurred to him when he ducked out into the heat of the day that this could be some sort of sting operation, but he quietly dismissed it. Just because they were engaged in a number of under-the-table activities doesn’t mean they couldn’t trust one another? There had to be such a thing as honor among thieves, after all.
The Rodian looked to make sure the Togorian was gone before speaking into her comm. “The mark has taken the bait. Repeat, the mark has taken the bait.”

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2015 in Furries, RPGs, Writing

 

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Notes From the Zendo: A Softening

Buddhism 150Last Wednesday I went to the Kannon Do Zen Centre up in Mountain View to hear Natalie Goldberg speak. A friend had invited me to see her, and when do you get a chance to actually meet the writer of Writing Down The Bones? Of course, I had to go.

It was a bit of a shock to see the Zen Centre right there in the middle of Mountain View, just a small way from downtown. The grounds were immaculate, the neighborhood was quiet, and everything there was geared towards one purpose — the practice of Zen and the encouragement of mindfulness. I was really impressed with it, and introduced to a community of practitioners who were all striving for the same thing.

We meditated first. My friend asked if I wanted to sit in a chair, and I told him I would probably be able to hang on a cushion. That turned out to be a big mistake. I meditate on a seiza bench at home; it’s basically a tiny little bench meant to hold your butt up off of your heels when you’re kneeling. I’m way too inflexible for half-lotus, and I’m pretty sure I’d break my legs if I tried full-lotus. (I’m still marvelling that anyone can manage that pose. It’s like they have cartoon noodle legs). Sitting seiza, though, is not the best without some sort of barrier between your rear and your heels. If you’re not tiny (and I am not), then it doesn’t take long for your lower legs to fall asleep. After that, any shift you make will send a horde of angry ants skittering from your ankle to your kneecap.

At first I could hang, but the second half of the meditation session was pure agony. I shifted out of seiza, awkwardly tried the half-lotus before I gave that up too, and just sort of ended up hugging my knees and resting my chin on my legs. It’s a horribly undignified way to meditate, but nothing brings you into the present moment quite like shame.

After meditation, there was a brief chant. I had never experienced anything like it before! We chanted the “Great Wisdom Beyond Wisdom Heart Sutra,” which is this:

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva when deeply practicing prajna paramita clearly saw that all five aggregates are empty and thus relieved all suffering. Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness, emptiness itself form. Sensations, perceptions, formations, and consciousness are also like this. Shariputra, all dharmas are marked by emptiness; they neither arise nor cease, are neither defiled nor pure, neither increase nor decrease. Therefore, given emptiness, there is no form, no sensation, no perception, no formation, or consciousness; no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of sight…no realm of mind consciousness. There is neither ignorance nor extinction of ignorance…neither old age and death, nor extinction of old age and death; no suffering, no cause, no cessation, no path; no knowledge and no attainment. With nothing to attain a bodhisattva relies on prajna paramita and thus the mind is without hindrance. Without hindrance, there is no fear. Far beyond all inverted views, one realizes nirvana. All buddhas of past, present, and future rely on prajna paramita and thereby attain unsurpassed, complete, perfect enlightenment. Therefore, know the prajna paramita as the great miraculous mantra, the great bright mantra, the supreme mantra, the incomparable mantra, which removes all suffering and is true, not false. Therefore we proclaim the prajna paramita mantra, the mantra that says “Gate gate paragate parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!”

Something came over me in the recitation of this sutra. It felt like something came unlocked, this idea that there is nothing to attain because whatever we could strive for is illusory; and once you realize that, the very idea of holding on to something — or scrambling to achieve it — just doesn’t hold any weight. When you realize that, fear simply leaves you.

Fear is something I struggle with all the time. The past couple of weeks have shown me that I’m a very tightly wound person. I’m terrified of making mistakes. It frightens me to talk about something that means a lot to me and have it dismissed or rejected. I hate the idea of stretching myself out, of being in a place where I’m not certain. But that’s where life is; and as much as you strive for the comfort of knowing exactly where you are and what you’re doing, you will actually spend very little time there. That comfort, that stability, is illusory and impermanent; attaching so much of my emotional energy to it is a thing that causes me suffering.

Natalie spoke, after chanting and a period of silent reflection while a few associates navigated through technical difficulties. She talked about living in (and hating) Palo Alto, and how it taught her to be careful what you hate because so much energy goes into that act. She talked about being diagnosed with cancer and how it stopped her writing cold but channeled her creative output into painting. Her work there was interesting; warm, vibrant yet serene, touched by her New Mexico lifestyle while still capturing pieces of the setting she was in. Her self-portraits were the most interesting, capturing the fear, worry and sadness she couldn’t express in words.

I was impressed mostly by the softness with which she lived her life. She was very gentle with her words and her tone, as if she knew that she didn’t need to use pressure to get at the truth she was trying to communicate. There was a deep and abiding acceptance in everything she did, even when she spoke about the cancer that had frightened her so. That discomfort was something she knew intimately and embraced just as much as everything else.

Silicon Valley is not a place that lends itself to that softness. It’s a fast-paced, high-powered world, and it’s not conducive to slow and ponderous attention to one thing. It’s difficult to know how to attain that soft and gentle attitude. The current teacher of Kannon Do, Les Kaye, wrote Zen At Work and actually worked at IBM for 30 years before becoming a Zen teacher. I think he understands the unique challenge of marrying Zen practice to the tech sector, which is pretty neat.

The intimacy and care with which the community of Kannon Do related to the space and with one another is something I’ll remember for a long time. There are a number of things within my calendar right now, so I’m not sure if it’ll be possible right now to attend services regularly. It’s definitely something I will make time for, however. Just being there for one warm summer evening gave me an awful lot to chew over, and for that I’m grateful.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2015 in Buddhism, Self-Reflection

 

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