Monthly Archives: June 2010



I am stuck in a frittering mode…frittering away time. I guess it’s partially because I am recovering from three weeks of hyper-alertness, after all the emergencies and interrupted sleep. I finally had a weekend with no need for extra trips anywhere. Add to that the 90+ heat, and it was a recipe for extended naps.

I have a long list of things I want to do. The basics are to get back into my routines: of blogging, of sitting, of writing, of reading, of walks at the river with my dog. Then there’s the piano I haven’t touched in months now, the piles of magazines that remain unopened, the e-mail in my inbox that I want to respond to but haven’t made the time.

On Thursday, I had a meeting at the YWCA, my first, to begin volunteer work. I used to work as a volunteer doing domestic violence prevention advocacy, mostly community outreach. What I like best is giving talks to various groups, educating people about domestic violence, and potentially getting the word to victims. I have wanted for the past year or so to reenter that world. I finally made the phone call a month ago, and a new team of outreach volunteers met this week to brainstorm on plans. It felt good to take that first step. But now I have to do a bunch of reading, to refresh my knowledge on the subject, and I need to actually start making time in my weeks to do the work. One more thing to add to the list.

What I know about myself, is that when I am busy, I can get an amazing amount done. When I am idle, I do it like a professional. Everything stops. It’s hard for me to be in the middle. Moderation has never been my strong point. And going from inertia to movement is always tricky – I’m never sure exactly how to start the proverbial ball rolling again.

I try setting schedules. Apparently that works for many people, but it never has for me. Whenever I write up a week’s plan, or even a day’s plan, I completely veer off course almost immediately. And then I berate myself for being so unreliable. Patterns, patterns. Sometimes it is a curse to know yourself so well.

How do you deal with time management, and getting out of the drag of inertia? Any thoughts on setting goals without setting yourself up for failure?


Upcoming Schedule, June 26 – July3 and Beyond

Healdsburg Sangha:

Tuesday, June 29
7 p.m. sit and kinhin
7:45 p.m. service and dharma talk by Michelle Wing

Russian River Zendo:

Saturday, June 26
9 a.m. informal sit and service
10 a.m. formal sit
10:30 a.m. dharma talk and tea

Saturday, July 3
Closed for Fourth of July Weekend

Sunday, Aug. 15
8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. all day sit

Special Event:
Sunday, July 25
Dharma Float: kayaking trip & discussion of Dogen
(contact Debi Papazian to sign up)


Sitting in a Hut With Anger

The passage in Jack Kornfield’s “The Wise Heart” that spoke to me goes something like this:

Jack Kornfield had graduated from college, and gone to Thailand, where he had joined a Buddhist community and taken monk’s vows. One day, he became upset because he felt he had been mistreated by a senior monk. It made him feel angry. He spoke to his teacher about the incident, hoping to find resolution. His teacher said, “Good. Go back to your hut, put on all of your robes, sit, and be angry.”

It was in the middle of summer. He went to his small hut, put on all of his heavy monk’s robes, and sat down to meditate. He was hot outside from the heat of the day and the heat of the robes. And he was hot inside, from the anger churning inside of him. The anger boiled up, all out of proportion to the incident which had occurred with the senior monk.

Kornfield had grown up in a home with a father who beat his mother. As a child, he had tried to be the peacemaker. All of his life, he had imagined that he was incapable of anger, that it was something that did not exist within him.

Sitting in that hut, he began to open that old wound, and slowly started the process of healing, by experiencing the anger. He worked with anger over the next few years. He realized that all along, he had been much closer to his father than he ever realized – so close, that he had suppressed the anger out of a deep fear of hurting himself or others.

I completely understand the flash anger that is out of proportion to the incident, such as Kornfield experienced when mistreated by the senior monk. My sense of righteous indignation is strong and fierce and sudden. Most recently, I have been dealing with some issues in my work, where I feel people are not being truthful with me. It is not personal; we are playing out roles, with me as a representative of “the press,” while they are representatives of “interviewees.” But I become incensed, enraged by the apparent dishonesty. I am quick to judge, and relentless in my determination to “win.” My years of training have allowed me to camouflage that anger in their presence – I am a master at playing nice. But in the office, in front of my peers, I pace and rant and storm about. It seems that I am gradually losing my ability to tamp down the feelings. They keep popping up unexpectedly, lingering, following me home. I’ve been feeling really pissed off.

Although this feels like a loss of control, it is, ironically, I believe, a move in the right direction, a step towards greater cohesion. If I can face these little irks and problems, maybe then I can begin to tap into that deep well of rage boiling deep down inside of my gut. I think it is my time to go sit in my hot hut in all of my heavy robes.


Does That Evil Little Voice Ever Shut Up?

In two short months I will go through my jukai ceremony. I am feeling woefully unprepared. It’s been so crazy recently – with the extra load at work, first because of a co-worker’s illness, and then because of my boss’s long vacation, and then my grandmother’s hospitalization and recuperation, and now this ongoing worry about our parrot – on Saturday, just as I was about to head out the door to my Precepts class, he had another “vascular event,” as the vet put it, and we had to race him to the emergency clinic to put him in a tank with oxygen again. He is home, but still weak, and we have no idea what the prognosis is, and that is too much to even think about right now, so we are taking it one hour at a time.

There is this naggy little voice in my head that is berating me on a daily basis. You missed your Tuesday sitting group again. I can’t believe you’ve missed Precepts twice now! And you had to find a substitute last week for doan duty! You’re not blogging regularly! When was the last time you had dokusan? Are you serious about this? What kind of Buddhist are you, anyway?

It would be bad enough if the evil voice was only echoing around in my head during the day time. But it even shows up in my dreams. The other night I dreamed that Tony and Darlene were both mad at me, and took me aside to tell me how disappointed they were in me. The next night, I dreamed about my mother being disappointed in me. The next night, it was my boss. Hey, get in line! Apparently, everybody gets a turn!

In the middle of all of this mess, though, there is a tiny little voice saying, “But you’re working really hard on some big issues now, too.” The precept I chose to study for my year leading up to jukai was the one dealing with anger. For a while, it seemed that I had made a mistake, that it wasn’t the right one. But in the past two months, I have come to realize that it is exactly the right one – my anger was simply so deeply buried that it has taken a long time for me to unearth it. Lately, it is spilling out all over the place, and I am learning a lot, about anger, and about myself.

When Tony and Darlene said people were one of three types, either greed, hate or delusion types, I could never figure that out. None of them seemed to fit for me. But reading a book by Jack Kornfield recently, I finally heard an analogy that opened it up for me, and I clearly saw myself – and I knew instantly that I was a hate type, which horrified me. I’ve been burying that for my entire adult life. That’s where all that anger is.

So there’s this part of me that knows that even though I haven’t been able to keep every commitment I wanted to keep recently, I am still doing the work. I am still here, opening my heart every day, looking deeper, showing up.

I wish that other evil little voice would pipe down every now and then and give me a break. Any suggestions on how to hit the mute button?


Sometimes Life Throws You Curve Balls

It’s been a long ten days. Only ten days? I’m just now getting caught up on my sleep. My grandmother is on the mend – this saucy photo that I snapped today is proof of that. She spent a week in the hospital, but has now been released to a skilled nursing facility. The first two days there were rough; she had been in bed for days, and just getting dressed was taxing. Trying to walk with a physical therapist completely exhausted her. But today, for the first time, she was truly her old self again, spirited, strong willed, full of energy, and determined to get home as soon as possible.

I have been making daily trips to visit her, doing what I can to cheer her up and keep her motivated. I brought helium balloons and flowers, a stuffed animal duck, and a solar-powered dancing flower. I stopped by the grocery store to pick up Entemann’s glazed donut holes, her favorites. I plied her with M&Ms. Her drab walls were cheerless; I wanted to brighten them with posters of garden scenes, but found that no one carried such posters, after searching everywhere. I had to settle for posters of puppies and kittens. At least they’re colorful and cute.

Most important, of course, has been simply being there. Kissing her hello, touching her hands, smoothing her hair, calling her “Lady Jane.” I don’t even remember why I started calling her that, but it’s a nickname that I picked up, and it fits.

The beauty of all of this has been the closeness I have felt, being able to be there for her, and also being able to be a support person for my uncles Ken and Lee, my aunt Alice, and my other relatives that have been involved in her care. Gladys is my father’s mother, the father that I lost six years ago to cancer. In his memory, I am grateful that she is surrounded by all of our love.

In the middle of all of this, Sabrina and I had another crisis at home. On Monday, I had spent a full day at work, capped by an evening school board meeting. I returned home at 9 p.m.; Sabrina was already in bed, since she wakes at 3 a.m., leaving the house early to start a 5 a.m. shift each morning. I greeted the dogs, let our parrot Barney out of his cage, and went to my office to work on some paperwork. At midnight, I was getting ready for bed, and I went to put Barney back in his cage. He was up on top. As I asked him to get in for the night, I saw that he was wobbly and unsteady. His breathing was erratic, and his chest was heaving. Alarmed, I picked him up and held him. He was clearly in distress. I went to wake Sabrina. “Something’s wrong with Barney.”

She sat up blearily, and shook herself awake. We started making phone calls. We’ve been in this position before, unfortunately – there are no pet clinics in the area with 24-hour avian specialists. The closest is U.C. Davis. We finally found a doctor at Pet Care in Santa Rosa who said she could stabilize him for the night, giving him oxygen and fluids, until he could be seen by an avian vet. We made a 1 a.m. trip to the emergency clinic. He was placed in a glass tank with oxygen, and given subcutaneous fluids, because he had been vomiting and was dehydrated. It was a long night. We had to leave him there, and make our way back home.

We were both exhausted, having just spent the last four days in emergency mode with my grandmother. We took the day off work, and spent the morning going to veterinary clinics, getting x-rays and bloodwork done. He was in the hospital for two days. Walking past his empty cage at home each night was breaking my heart.

We finally got word – it was the same problem he had experienced three years earlier, when he had been diagnosed with high cholesterol, a problem that occurs in African greys. He had been on cholesterol medication for a while, and we had radically changed his diet, and then stopped the medication, thinking he was alright. When I asked the vet what exactly happened that Monday night, she said, “He was having a heart attack.” Thank god I was awake, and I noticed.

So – now Barney is safe at home, on the mend, and from here on out, on birdy Lipitor.

And we are feeling exhausted, but grateful. Right now, everyone is doing okay. It would be nice to have a couple of days of boredom, just for a change of pace.


The Fragility of Life

On Wednesday I pulled an all-nighter at work, working 31 hours in two days. I got home about 7 a.m. I had received a phone call the previous afternoon from my uncle Ken saying that my grandmother, Gladys, was not doing well. She has had a sore on her leg for the past week, and had made several trips to the doctor, and it seemed to be getting worse. Ken was up at his cabin in the Sierras. My other uncle, Lee, was helping out with care, but Kenny was keeping me in the loop.

When I got home, I decided to call to check on her to see how she was doing, knowing that she is always up by that hour. (She lives in a senior apartment complex.) She answered the phone, but sounded groggy, and said she’d woken up in a lot of pain. I asked her if a nurse would be checking on her, and she said yes. I told her to keep me informed, and said I’d come in that afternoon to make sure she was okay. My plan was to sleep for four hours, and then head in.

Thirty minutes later, the nurse called. Grandma needed to be seen by a doctor right away. It looked like a staph infection, and it was spreading. I got on the road, and before we knew it, I was being told that she needed to be admitted to the hospital for IV antibiotics.

It turned into a very long day. We were able to reach Kenny, and he was back in Santa Rosa by 6 p.m. Lee showed up too, after he got off work. But for most of the day, it was just me and Gladys, first at the doctor’s and then at the hospital, going through admissions, then the endless intake questions, the lab tests….

For the past four days, I have been making daily trips to the hospital, sending out e-mail updates to my large extended family, and keeping track of everything with cell phone calls while we try to coordinate all those things that need coordinating.

Gladys is going to be 100 years old on Aug. 3. She is a feisty, active, amazing woman, who has rarely been sick a day in her life. The whole family is involved right now in planning a huge centennial birthday bash for her. This unexpected reminder of the fragility of life, especially of the life of a 100 year old woman, has made us all hold our breath.

My grandmother hates to be a bother to anyone. I am so intensely grateful that I made that 7 a.m. phone call on Thursday, because she knew I was home, that I was available, and that I would be there in a second. (Thankfully, I didn’t tell her that I had been up all night – otherwise, I am positive that she would have tried to take the bus rather than inconvenience me!)

I love this woman with a fierceness that I cannot even begin to describe. We have grown so close, especially over the past six years, since I lost my father (her son) to cancer. When my dad passed away, I vowed to honor his memory by strengthening my relationship with his mom, and being there for her in as many ways as I could as she aged. As is usual with these vows, I think I have benefited at least as much, if not more, than she has from the extra attention. She is nearly 100 years old, and I know it is only a matter of time until I must lose her. But until then, I’m going to fight for every minute I can get.

We are hopeful that she will be discharged from the hospital on Monday or Tuesday, and then we will plan from there. Things may be a little different now. She might not be quite as independent. It’s going to be rough for her. I hope I can help her through the transition.


Ring My Bell

Last summer, when Sabrina and I were in New Mexico, while I attended a writing retreat, Sabrina stumbled upon a small town named Madrid. When she picked me up at the end of my stay, she took me there to share her find.

They pronounce it MA-drid, unlike the similarly-spelled city in Spain; it was only a few blocks long, but contained a thriving little arts community, with enticing shops at every turn. We meandered through a store filled with items made from recycled goods, where I picked up a notepad constructed out of an old license plate. And we could not resist purchasing a whimsical welded bat, hanging upside down. We dubbed him “Madrid,” and he now peeks from under his wings on our deck.

We were being tourists. It was fun. We went in and out of shops, oohing and aahing over all of the interesting things for sale. Neither of us are shoppers, generally, so this was a treat. We were definitely in vacation mode.

But then I found the real reason that I was in Madrid. As usual, Sabrina had something left as a surprise. There was an art gallery whose outside yard was filled with temple bells. They were stupendous. We walked around admiring all of them, striking each of them in turn. The sounds were gorgeous. And Sabrina said, “Do you want one?”

“No, we can’t,” I said. “They’re too big. They’re too expensive. Thank you, sweetie, but no.” I hit one last bell wistfully, and we went to go find some lunch.

Let me tell you one thing – Sabrina is persistent. Lunch was only a detour. Two hours and some price haggling with the dealer later, we left Madrid with a huge temple bell on the floor of our truck.

The bell weighs about 70 pounds, I would guess. We got it all the way home to California, lying mutely in the back seat next to its leather-wrapped striker. Now what? Where were we going to hang it? At the gallery, the bells had been hung from metal stands. A co-worker of Sabrina’s offered to make one for us. We had taken photographs, and gave him copies. But it was a favor; he would do it in his spare time. The bell was relegated to an ignoble position on the floor of the garage, wrapped in a beach towel.

Time passed. A lot of time. Yesterday morning, I was sitting at my desk writing, and I heard Sabrina out on the deck, working. I knew she had yardwork plans. She had said she was going to the hardware store for weedspray. But when I stepped outside for a smoke, I saw that she had installed a new post underneath our porch roof – and immediately, I knew. It was for the bell.

Our porch has a roof, and we had considered hanging the bell there, but we were afraid it was too heavy. Sabrina solved the problem by adding another post, creating a solid frame. The bell was finally liberated. We lugged it up the stairs, managed to hoist it up into the air high enough to get it on the hook, and, voila! We had ourselves a bell!

The moment had come. I picked up the striker, and hit the bell. After nine months of silence, its rich, deep tone rang out, filling the valley air.

It was worth the wait.

Michelle Wing © Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved