Monday, May 19, 2014

International Movie Star

Saturday a week ago, my friend and co-worker Venkata came to town from Fremont, attired in tan cargo pants, a red form-fitting long-sleeved t-shirt, red shoes, and mirrored sunglasses, looking like an international movie star. He favors a formidable-smelling cologne, so I had to tell him beforehand that I’ve become ultra-sensitive to smells and need to avoid perfume and cologne, and he graciously said he’d skip that aspect of his toilette.

Venkata and I had brunch at Boogaloo’s on Valencia St. at 22nd, where I’d never been, because there are always a lot of people standing around outside at that time on weekends, so I assumed the wait would be lengthy, but after Venkata wrote his name down, it was only ten minutes or so. The atmosphere inside was low-key and pleasant, with children’s artwork on the walls, and the only noise was conversation—no loud music. My homefries and biscuit were superb. Scrambled eggs with avocado, mushrooms and yellow onion were kind of dry. If there is another occasion, maybe it would be better to get plain scrambled eggs. The prices were very reasonable. Recommended as a breakfast spot. Venkata had the desayuno tipico (Spanish for typical breakfast), with scrambled eggs, beans, salsa, tamarind sour cream, and a sort of corn cake. He said all of it was good.

After that, we walked for a bit on 24th St. east of Mission St., but not very far. Venkata doesn’t believe in walking for even ten minutes, and doesn’t go to the gym or ride a bicycle or anything like that. Fortunately, he never overeats and so he remains a slender, fit-looking young man. I hope he’s that rare person who can maintain perfect health indefinitely without exercising.

I came home and called my father to wish him a happy mother’s day—he was just going out to do an errand—and then my mother. We talked for about 45 minutes. Her spring gardening has begun and she has acquired an add-on for Firefox. We discussed a couple of things we’d both read in The New Yorker. Then David and Lisa and I had a very extended chat on the phone, which we do every now and then, and which is always fun. We discussed work and non-work and their newish and very cute cat, JoJo.

I’d thought I might go out for a proper walk, but by then the wind had really picked up—it had been very windy for several days in a row (which I think is going to be more and more of a problem as the climate changes)—so I made dinner and then watched A Teacher, which I was very impressed by. It’s about a high-school teacher in Texas who is sexually involved with one of her students. You know that’s not going to end well, but several times when I thought I knew what was going to happen next, I was wrong, and my initial assumptions about the relationship were not entirely correct. The two lead actors, Lindsay Burdge and Will Brittain, were superb. Both have the ability to project tremendous charisma and attractiveness, and both, especially Burdge, also have the ability to appear plain and even ugly. Her face is remarkably expressive.

The next day, Sunday, I cooked green split peas and buckwheat, and chopped up vegetables, and in the evening, Lesley and I went over to Eugene Cash’s sangha, where I would go every single week if it were at a more convenient time of week, but where I haven’t been in a year or so. He was fresh back from a retreat with Sayadaw U Tejaniya, at Insight Meditation Society, which is in Massachusetts, the sibling of Spirit Rock. (IMS was started by Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield, and then Jack came west and started Spirit Rock.)

When Eugene was giving us meditation instructions at the beginning of the sitting period, he said something like, “Do nothing. Do nothing, and notice what you’re aware of.” (You can probably hear this talk online at some point and hear what he actually said.)

As for the retreat, he said that Sayadaw U Tejaniya said it was fine to sit with your eyes closed or open—he wants intensive practice to mimic daily life as much as possible, for maximum utility. If everything on retreat is different from your daily life, it can be hard to figure out how to bring your practice into your life, or, as Howie thinks of it, to bring your life into your practice. If on retreat you do many of the things you do while not on retreat—go here, go there, decide what to do next, have your eyes open—with encouragement to sustain awareness throughout, that should translate more readily to daily life.

Yogis were invited to walk at a normal pace and there was even a bit of chatting, since we do do some of that in the course of most days, and Eugene reported that not a single dharma talk was given and no bells were rung. (Really—none? We had fewer bells on the Tejaniya-style retreat at Spirit Rock, but not none. But then, Sayadaw himself was not there.) He said that Sayadaw would come into the morning sitting and everyone would bow, as is customary and respectful, and he would give some instructions or share some thoughts while people sat, and then he would leave, sometimes unnoticed, and if people began to bow as he left, he would discourage that.

Twice a day, he met with groups of about 15 people, and Eugene said that is where the bulk of the teaching took place, via those questions and answers.

I think I’ll experiment with the “Do nothing” instruction. I really appreciate the simplicity of this approach, the draining away of strain and tension.
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