Monthly Archives: September 2010


Susan’s Shusho Blog: Confusion

Confusion/Delusion: it’s all the same to me.

The schedule is off and I can’t find it. I wake up after 6 a.m. I reverence the altars and, instead of sitting, I begin to do this and that. It all needs doing, so it is easy to rationalize. Feed the birds – water the bird bath – water the plants – do the dishes – vacuum the floor – make a list – somewhere in all this frenzy I catch my delusion. I think that after I do this or after I do that I will feel peaceful. I will be in a frame of mind that will embrace doing worthwhile things like writing this blog.

Then I begin to reward myself. “Have another cup of coffee,” I say, “You need it. The coffee will help you settle down.” Of course the caffeine has the opposite effect. Now I am really jazzed and my mind is busy making future plans. Will I go to my grand niece’s wedding in Baltimore in June? Where will I stay? How will I get there? If I decide this now I will feel better.

I have forgotton the importance of doing each thing for its own sake. I stop this writing and I take three deep breaths. I take refuge in Buddha. I take refuge in Dharma. I take refuge in Sangha.

Every day is a good day.


Susan’s Shuso Blog: My Turtle Dies

When I was a little girl, the maid who cared for me often said: “We are born to die, Susie, we are born to die.” My mother did not like hearing that. My mother said the maid was being morbid. She said it was something to do with being Catholic. Eva, the maid, was Catholic, but we were not.

One day when I was in the third grade I came home for lunch to find my pet turtle stiff and rigid in the round della robbia ceramic dish from Italy I kept him in. I picked him up. I wanted him to move across my hand. I wanted to feel his tiny feet tickle me the way they usually did. But that was not to be.

I think this was my first experience of grief. I was inconsolable. I cried and I cried and I cried. I refused to go back to school. I was afraid I had done something wrong. Perhaps I had fed him too much, not enough, or perhaps I had not played with him enough.

I don’t remember what happened after that. I don’t remember burying the turtle or having any kind of ritual around his passing.

Ritual was something Catholics did. I wonder where Eva was. She would have understood. We might have said the rosary together the way we did when I went to church with her.

I think that all those years ago Eva was saying something about acceptance of death as a part of life. Buddhists say: I am of a nature to be ill; I am of a nature to grow old; I am of a nature to die. Acceptance of this deep truth is a gateway to liberation.


Susan’s Shuso Blog: What I Want

This morning I awaken at 6 a.m., a bit late for me. I so enjoy getting up at 5 a.m. and making the rounds of my four altars before day break. There is something soft and soothing about being held in the transition between night and day. Often I sit outside in the Buddha garden before going inside and sitting zazen in front of the altar I call the heart of the house.

After sitting I recite the heart sutra, say a prayer for my teacher Darlene Cohen, and do three bows. Then I am ready to begin my day.

On Wednesday I will teach a practice period class on the first precept: Not killing. I want to prepare to teach this class. I want to know everything there is to know about this precept. I want the words to flow out of me in a way that will touch others and inspire them to study the precept further. I want I want I want. The words I have written jump out at me. They are in capital letters . . . boldface . . . highlighted in red.

Wanting will not work here. Try being, Susan, try being with the efflorescence (unfolding) of your own enlightened nature.

What is trying to unfold here? How can I get out of the way? I love the word effloresence. I find it in an explanation of the five precepts by Ngakpa Chogyam Rinpoche.

“I commit myself to refrain from killing the efflorescence of my own enlightened nature as it sparkles through the fabric of duality.”

In preparing for class my mind desperately wants to know which quotes to choose, what order to put them in. I want to know how to present the material in a way that will be helpful to others.

I want. I want. I want. Let this go, Susan. Let the efflorescence sparkle through. Remember your dharma name.

Ki shu Gyoku jun – bright effort jewel, shining benefit.


Susan’s Shusho Blog: Fear of the GPS

I have a new GPS. I bought it because I have fear of getting lost in the city, going the wrong way on freeways, having an accident because I can’t read a map and drive at the same time.

The GPS has been on the back seat of my car for two weeks. I have been afraid to open the box. I am afraid I won’t understand the directions.

Some fears are primal. Others are gleaned over time. In a crisis fear can be a motivator: “The house is on fire . . ..Get everyone out now!”

Sometimes fear, for me, is paralytic. It can deny me expression of deep feelings. It can deny me the experience of doing things I know I would love to do. It can deny me the satisfaction of jobs well done. I don’t want to volunteer to do the hard jobs for fear I won’t do them well. Sometimes fear says “better not” when “go for it ” would have been the better response.”

My parents were cautious beings. Trips to New York City were circumscribed by rules that made them feel secure. They stayed in the same hotel, went to the same restaurants and shopped in stores where my mother made friends with department managers. Straying off the beaten path was a dangerous thing. They tried to make me a part of their safe and secure world. At 18 I was packed up and sent to Europe under the tutelage of a chaperone.

There is still a chaperone inside of me that says: “No, no, not yet. Don’t do that; it’s not safe.” Sometimes I listen to her . . . At other times I remember getting lost in Kathmandu and finding a motorcycle taxi to take me home. I remember being on the top of Machu Picchu at night. I remember not knowing where I was in Xian, China and finding a monastery and an English speaking monk who invited me in for tea.

I remember these times and I wonder about all the adventures that await me in the future, now that I have a GPS and a computer companion to show me the way.


Happy Ending

Little Bit is home!

I am feeling grateful to the universe that in this one instance, just this one time, there is a happy ending to the story. I know, it could have been otherwise. Life is pretty iffy. But today, things turned out OK.

Yesterday Little Bit was removed from the oxygenated atmosphere, and although she’s still breathing somewhat rapidly, and has pneumonia, she can and should recover. We were able to pick her up from the vet hospital this evening, and can administer her medications at home over the next two weeks. She is playful, happy, thrilled to be out of her “glass box” home that she’s been in since Tuesday.

The fear we had was that, at some point, that damn piece of nipple that started this whole thing would still end up in her bowels and cause a blockage. Happily, yesterday afternoon, Little Bit threw up the offending piece, intact. It had been in her stomach the entire time.

The nurses and doctors at the vet clinic were all smiles as well. They, too, were pleased to have a happy ending – all too often at an emergency clinic, that’s not the way things turn out.

Thank you to all who offered metta, good thoughts, prayers, kind words. Your support was and is greatly appreciated.


Susan’s Shusho Blog: The Vacant House

I walk by an empty house on the street where I live. I know the house is empty because my friend moved out two weeks ago. I walk by and I am curious. I see some things resting on the window sill. I wonder if my friend left some things behind. I try the door and it is unlocked. I walk in. I see that the things on the window sill are model trains. I surmise that the landlord has found a place for his collection, now that the house is vacant.

I feel drawn to walk through the other rooms in the house. I see a new phone book on the kitchen table. I need a new phone book. I am a yellow pages junkie. Going on line is not nearly as compelling for me as “letting my fingers do the shopping.” I pick up the phone book and I think I will take it with me. Then something happens. I am physically uncomfortable. The space is pressing in on me. I do not belong here. I walk out the door and down the street to my home. I leave the phone book behind.

Phone books, of course, are not considered valuable. What if there had been cash on the kitchen table, or a diamond ring? I would have gasped and I would have told the landlord. Of course I would not take something of value, but what is the principle here? I was tempted to take something that was not given . It is as simple as that. The value or lack of value of the phone book begs the question.


Susan’s Shusho Blog: Killing

What is killing? I read so much about killing in the newspaper. I hear about it on the news. I see it on my tv screen and in the movies. I was brought up on the ten commandments. “Thou shalt not kill” was the big one. War, of course, was rationalized away as being a necessary evil. In graduate school I read a book by Michael Walzer called Just and Unjust Wars. His thesis was that we no longer have just wars. Vietnam changed all that. One of the rules of a just war was that it didn’t involve civilians. In Vietnam and now in Iraq and Afghanistan we don’t know who the enemy is. Innocent people are hurt and killed; wedding parties interrupted by violence.

Projection is a psychological process whereby we project powerful feelings inside ourselves onto the body of another. This can happen between two people. I see you and I have a story about you. I am hungry so I think you must be hungry too. I am sad and I feel sadness coming from you. When negative feelings of anger, rage and fear are projected out onto a group of people they become “the other” and a dangerous situation is created.

I remember trying to understand how I was a part of what happened in Nazi Germany before the Second World War. Jew hatred and fear of Jews and jealousy of Jews was projected out onto millions of people. Millions of Jews became “the other”. It was easy then to see the other as enemy and see the need for their annihilation.

How can we live in the peace and harmony we say we desperately want and seek? In my 12 or so years of Buddhist practice I have come to believe that the answer to that question lies within. If we can’t recognize and own our deepest feelings, we are all in danger of projecting them out. Buddhist confession is reality based. It says look within for the darkness that lies there. Zazen creates the space and the stability for this process to take place.

All my ancient twisted karma
from beginingless greed, hate and delusion
born through body speech and mind
I now fully avow

After saying the confession we say the refuges:

I take refuge in Buddha
I take refuge in dharma
I take refuge in sangha

We are held by the perfect teacher, we have a path and others are there to help. This works. Take it from me.


She’s a Fighter

The last 36 hours have been gut-wrenching. Little Bit is still at the vet hospital. My partner Sabrina and I have ridden a rollercoaster of emotions, with each phone call from the vet sending us up to hope, or down to despair.

The very good news: Little Bit has recovered her spunk, is eating heartily, and is very responsive. She is fighting this. And it doesn’t appear that there is any blockage, so that fear is gone.

The not so good news: Her lungs are still very compromised, because there is mineral oil aspiration. Earlier today, we were told that she would never be able to live outside of an oxygen tank, and knew that the decision to put her down was imminent. But moments later, the vet called again to say they had taken a new x-ray, and much to their surprise, the lungs showed improvement – against all of their expectations. So there is still hope.

When I called Tony in tears yesterday, he said, well, Buddhists don’t really pray….but, heck, people pray. Pray!

So I’m praying. And some good friends who are Catholics have called in the saints. Do what you can. Send out a good thought for Little Bit.


Susan’s Shusho Blog: Being Upright

Last night was our first Russian River Zendo practice period class. We are studying shila paramita: the peace and coolness of being upright.

There are 35 people in the class. At the beginning of class I offered everyone ten minutes of authentic movement. Half of us moved in the center of a circle with our eyes closed while the other half witnessed them . Then we switched places: the movers became witnesses and the witnesses got to move. In allowing our bodies to move freely where they will, we experience a letting go of and a transition from the work world to the spaciousness needed for studying the precepts.

Darlene spoke about shila as the opportunity to be truly present to our experience right now. She recommended we read Reb Anderson’s book: Being Upright.

After Darlene’s presentation we did a free write on the prompt: “I feel upright when . . . ” People were asked to write for five minutes without judging, questioning, changing or crossing out. “Just let your pen take you where it will”, I told them. The idea for doing free writes comes from Natalie Goldberg’s book: Writing Down the Bones. Along with being a writer and a teacher of writing, Natalie is a Zen priest. She believes that writing mind and Zen mind come from the same place.

After writing practice people shared what they had written with a neighbor. The room was alive with chatter. Everyone had so much to say. We then shared what we had written with the larger group.

My writing took me to a time last winter when I needed to be honest with a friend about something he had done that I didn’t like. My friend called me and asked if he could stay in our guest room. The easy thing would have been to lie and say the room wasn’t available. The honest thing was to say I didn’t like the way he had left the room the last time he stayed there. I was resentful of all the work I had to do to clean up after him. I chose to tell the truth and in so doing I realized I was breaking a long habit of slipping and slithering through life by telling half truths, little white lies, or remaining silent because I was afraid I would hurt someone’s feelings.

This time my friend did not stay with me but he did come for dinner. We talked a long time. Our conversation went way beyond the messy guest room. At the end of the evening we had a better understanding of one another.

How did it feel to be upright? It felt like it was me being me. It felt wonderful. It felt cool and it felt peaceful.

“The condition of you being you is the source of peace and the source of love”. (Being Upright, pg. 43.)


A Tiny Life

We are in the midst of weaning our kitten, Little Bit. She has been resistant, often still wanting the bottle and refusing to eat the various foods we have tried: second-step weaning mixture, like a gruel; kitten food; moist kibble; baby food. We have been at our wits’ end, trying to make sure she gets enough nourishment.

Yesterday I had her at work with me, and was trying to feed her. She hadn’t eaten much at all so far that day. I was using the baby bottle to pour the gruel into a small dish. She had previously gnawed through the tip, so it was open at the top. She was acting frantic for food, but wouldn’t lap out of the bowl. She was grabbing for the bottle. I finally decided to see if I could use the bottle to let her chug some liquid down, even though the nipple wasn’t all there. But – in the middle of that, she took a big bite, and ripped off most of the rest of the nipple and swallowed it.

We called our vet, and he was worried that it might cause problems, blockage in the intestines. He recommended trying to get her to vomit. She only weighs 1 lb. 7 oz. I didn’t feel confident doing it on my own. Our regular vet is in Santa Rosa, but I was in Calistoga, so I brought her to the vet there. We induced vomiting, but no nipple piece came up. The vet then gave her some mineral oil, hoping that at least it could help her pass the piece from the other end.

But she was miserable. By that night, it was clear that it was not just trauma from the day’s event. Something was wrong. We ended up making an emergency trip to PetCare in Santa Rosa. She had aspirated either vomit or mineral oil, and was struggling to breathe, in danger of developing pnemonia. We were told that the diagnosis was “guarded” – less than fair. We left her in their care, driving home in tears.

This kitten, who we have bottle-fed and nurtured for the past five weeks, has become like a baby for us. We are both feeling devastated. My feelings are compounded by guilt: I shouldn’t have let her use the bottle. I should have brought her to the vet more quickly. I should have brought her to our regular vet. Etc. Etc. Etc.

I called just a few moments ago, and the doctor said she is doing slightly better, breathing without quite as much effort. I am just praying she is strong enough to make it through.
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