Shuso blog


Susan’s Shusho Blog: Halloween Costume

Sometimes things just come together. How could it be that the right person, the right thing, the right place come together in a synchronicity that can’t be explained or understood?

I need a costume for Halloween. I will be on retreat at Black Mountain Retreat Center in Cazadero. ( On Halloween Eve we will have a traditional segaki ceremony. This is the time when Buddhists unmask themselves. They approach the altar and call in their demons. The demons are recognized, invited in for tea, and asked to behave themselves until Halloween comes around again.

I want to be Kuan Yin. She is the archetype who hears the cries of the world. She is known for her boundless compassion. She has 10,000 arms and eyes to help her.

I know it is impossible to be literal but still, I can’t imagine how I will create a costume that represents Kuan Yin.

I go to the Legacy. This is a shop near my home that sells recycled craft and sewing supplies. Proceeds from sales benefit the Sebastopol Senior Center.

I enter not knowing what I am looking for. I see a bolt of gold fabric. I don’t know what I will do with it but I know it is exactly what I need. I give the volunteer sales person $3.00 for the fabric and I return home with it . I call my friend Peggy. “Help,” I say. “Can you help me be Kuan Yin for Halloween?”

She comes right over. She brings her sewing machine and a kimono pattern. She sews and I paint.

The back of the costume shows Kuan Yin riding a dragon. I paint eyes and hands on her sleeves and sash. My friend Corlene drops by. She shows me how to make a turban out of a piece of the gold fabric.

It takes many hands and eyes to make Kuan Yin come alive.


Susan’s Shusho Blog: Be Kind to Animals

A girl scout is kind to animals. This vow springs to my mind as I hear Beata, a Buddhist priest and a good friend of mine, speak about her experience with animals on the roadway.

One time she stopped for a duck who was stranded on the median strip of a freeway. She managed to shepherd the duck to the side of the road amidst speeding cars and angry drivers.

“I probably wouldn’t do that again,” she tells me. “It was truly dangerous, but there is something about cars and animals, dead or alive, that evokes a need in me to stop and care for them.” In Buddhist practice we speak of this need as an awakening of bodhichitta, the desire to love and be present for all beings.

This morning on the way to Russian River Zendo in Guerneville, Beata sees a dead deer in the middle of the road. Because she is driving with a friend she doesn’t want to inconvenience, she chooses not to stop and move the animal to the side of the road.

She says she is in a lot of pain. She wishes she could go back and move the deer out of the way of oncoming traffic. For years she has always stopped to help animals in distress. This time she didn’t’ stop. But she did renew her vow.


Susan’s Shusho Blog: Anger

Last night our precepts class was about anger or not harboring ill will. There are those in the Buddhist community who believe it is possible to abolish anger and all the other defilements.

In Mahayana Buddhism we believe that growth lies in getting into the thick of things. Let the branches of the thicket cut and scratch until you are willing to let go.

Even with awakening, there is always more to do.

I told a story about being part of a practice period at Green Gulch Farm in 1998. I was in kindergarten Zen. I felt overwhelmed by the schedule. I was confused about where to be when. I had difficulty keeping track of chants and vows. I did know, however, when my toes were stepped on. I could recognize anger in myself, but I didn’t know what to do with it.

I have volunteered to do a job. It was something mundane and seemingly unimportant, like passing out questionnaires. When I notice a young man passing them out without consulting me I am furious. “That is my job,” my inner voice yells. What do you do with fury when you are on a silent retreat?

I go to the practice leader, Reb Anderson. He tells me to go sit on my cushion until the anger burns up. Last night I tell this story. I also tell people about the ring of fire Reb describes in the book Being Upright. “There is pain around every Buddhist’s meditaton seat,” he tells us . . . “It forms a ring of fire.”

Around the inner ring is an outer ring of fire composed of anger . . . aggression . . . hate . . . ill will and violence. It is the outer ring of defenses that needs to be broken through in order to see the pain within.


Susan’s Shuso Blog: I Meet a Neighbor

I am on my way down the path to my car. A woman comes toward me. “I am your neighbor,” she says. “Oh,” I say, “I wonder why we haven’t met before.”

She tells me she lives in the trailer park behind our property. My home is separated from hers by a field and a fence that is covered by blackberry bushes. Robert Frost said: “Good fences make good neighbors.” Fences also shield us from one another. They keep us apart.

The woman’s name is Marilyn. She is on a mission. She has been adopted by a Persian cat and she wants to find the owner. She tells me she learned to move a photo of the cat from IPhoto to document to email. She is a woman of late middle age (or early old age, depending upon how you look at it). She is my age, an aging woman. She is alive, vibrant, and engaged with the world.

Marilyn loves animals. She is also a master gardener. We talk about plants. She wants to divide her phlox and her penstemen and she wants to give me some of them.

Her neighbor is an elderly man who is often depressed. She tells me he would love to have some of my canna lilies, should I be willing to divide them.

I say, “Of course, I will give him some.” I will divide the cannas, walk up my street to the highway, go a block or so south, go east through a construction zone to the trailer park road. I will continue on the road until I find her place.


Susan’s Shuso Blog: The Cider House Rules

I like to pick up films at the video store that are adaptations of books I have been meaning to read. Last night I chose The Cider House Rules which was made from a novel by John Irving. I think it was written in the ’50s. I say that because I am curious about the values it presents. . . Where do these values come from and were they acceptable at the time? It raises questions about lying. Is it acceptable to lie when the lie can lead to a greater good? Do we lie to protect the feelings of self and other and do we get to decide when another person needs protection from the truth?

I am reflecting back to the 1950’s when I was a young adult, married with young children. I remember being a part of a “don’t tell” culture. Often people were not told, even by their doctors, that they had cancer or that they had only a few months to live. I had a friend who became ill with Huntington’s Chorea. She didn’t want anyone to visit her. She didn’t want to discuss it. This was a more painful time than it might have been if her illness could have been out in the open.

I think of this history while I watch The Cider House Rules. Rules are pasted on the door of the cider house where the workers live. They decide the rules are not for them because someone else made them. They tear them down. Who makes the rules and who gets to decide whether they are followed or not?

The story begins in an orphanage in Maine where the doctor/administrator performs illegal abortions for the health and well being of the mother. The morality of his actions are not considered.

The same administrator falsifies documents so that a protegee of his can succeed him after he retires.

One of the orphans dies because of breathing complications. The children are told he has been adopted by a good family.

One of the precepts we are studying in our Russian River Zendo practice period is Not Lying. The cider house rules are an entry point for further discussion.


Susan’s Shuso Blog: Grief

Today I will blog about the grief I feel. This grief bubbled out of the depths somewhere hiding but felt. Today it wanted out and I began the morning by working in my small sketchbook collaging images and painting watery figures bent over like willow branches weighted down by days of rain.

I experience layers of grief. Grief is never about one thing, one person, one path of suffering. It is many layered. There are layers I can’t know. Layers that will never be uncovered. Layers that want attention and layers that want to lie low .

Sometimes, in the midst of joy, grief lies in wait. It knows that we are about to lose something precious and beautiful. It anticipates the change we know is coming. Grief invites us to feel and face our losses. It can bring us fully into the moment if we let it.

Yesterday there was a celebration at Russian River Zendo. Our teachers, Darlene Cohen and Tony Patchell were presented with ceremonial robes that had been hand sewn by many people from several different groups. After a brief and beautiful ceremony about fifty of us saw Tony and Darlene wrapped in shades of lavender and maroon.

During a pause in the rain we enjoy layers of chocolate layer cake on the patio. The cake has been decorated with two monks wrapped in robes of lavender and maroon.

All is as it should be. We know that soon we will lose Darlene to cancer. This is part of what is. This is what brings grief up for me this morning. Soon I will lose Darlene. I will lose all I hold dear. It is the human condition. This knowing is basic to Buddhist practice.

There is suffering in life and there is a way through and out of suffering. I move, I cry, I sit, I laugh, I breathe, I play in my sketchbook. I try to be present with all of it; moment by moment.


Susan’s Shusho Blog: Coffee

Between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. coffee is offered for $1.00 a cup at the roaster’s shop at the top of my street. The price is enough incentive for me to throw on my clothes, stride up the street, and take my chances on the 116 crosswalk.

This shop opened a day before Starbucks came to town. It is located in the next clump of shops. It is sandwiched in between a dry cleaner and a laundromat.

The young people who own it have created an outdoor sitting area out of wine barrels and ropes. I admire their spunk. How many people would have the temerity to open a coffee shop next to Starbucks?

I am a coffee hound. I admit it. During the day I have a hard time going by a coffee shop without going in and ordering a latte. I say give in because I am truly trying not to drink so much coffee. I know that one cup a day should be enough.

Yesterday I was brought up short. I go to Whole Foods to pick up flowers for Russian River Zendo. I think I will order my favorite coffee drink. “We don’t make Jamoca’s anymore,” the young woman tells me. “The ingredients in them are not consistent with our policy of offering only healthy, nutritious drinks.”

I take this news personally. Clearly this woman thinks I do not eat properly. She sees through me into my fridge and my pantry. She must know that I don’t always buy organic food.

I drive away feeling shamed, angry and deprived.

I think I will figure out how to make the coffee drink in my home blender. Then I realize that the allure of the 4 p.m. Jamoca is that even though I pay for it, it feels as if someone else is treating.


Susan’s Shusho Blog: Vision Quest

The sky is vast and wide. Life and Death are vast and wide. Am I vast and wide? I don’t think so. . . too much navel gazing . . . turning inward and taking things personally.

“It’s not all about you Susan.” I make this statement while throwing a piece of paper into the fire. I am on a vision quest with nine other older women 8600 feet up in the eastern Sierras.

We have been camping here for three days. Tomorrow we will say goodbye to one another. We will form a circle. We will be smudged by our wonderful compassionate leaders and we will trek to the power spot each one of us chose the day before.

I set up a tarp. This will be my home for the next three days. I have a gallon of water a day but no food. This is to be a solo fasting retreat.

On the evening of the first day I create a circle with twigs and stones and piles of pin oak leaves. I walk the circle chanting and singing and asking the universe to help me.

I see a mountain mahogany tree. She is very old. Her trunk and branches are gnarled and wizened. I see green shoots springing from dead branches and I see how deep her roots go. She is stable. She is open to what is. In that moment I am the tree.

I return to the circle. I honor the four directions. I move in and out and around. I am the tree moving. I call in my ancestors. I tell them how much they mean to me. I call them in.

I sleep under the stars. Every few hours I waken and notice how the stars have moved, how the path of the moon has changed. I waken and I marvel.

On the fourth day I return to camp . I feel vast and wide. I embrace the others . We are each given a gallon of water to bathe with. We enjoy delicious food and we settle into three days of story telling.


Susan’s Shuso Blog: Applesauce

My friend and I have a plan. We will get together to make a delicious, nutritious sauce to give away to our friends and neighbors. I buy $20 worth of apples from two guys in a truck off of Bodega Highway. I am sure these apples will be good. They have been hand-picked from a local orchard. I don’t think to ask if they are organic.

My friend has several bags of apples. We decide to combine hers with mine. We core, peel, chop and cook. We sterilize jars. My friend says: “These are organic apples. Are yours organic”? I say “I don’t know.” There is a awkward pause.

She tells me she doesn’t want to make applesauce with any apples that are not 100% certified organic.

I think she is being rigid. I rush to the defense of my apples. I will drive to Bodega to ask the two guys in a truck if their apples are 100% organic. I will ask if they have been sprayed.

I don’t want to give up on my apples. I am entrenched in my position. I don’t like this feeling. I want to move in and through. Like the apples on the stove I simmer down and become soft. I make a date with my friend to be together and make sauce.


Susan’s Shuso Blog: Back-up Book

Yesterday I am in the checkout line at Costco. I have gone there to get a back-up Elite external hard drive book for my computer. “You must have this,” my computer companion tells me . . . in a crash it would be like losing all your photos and family records in a fire!”

So I go to Costco feeling under duress. I always lose my car there. So I try to mark where I have left it. I enter with card in hand, find the hard drive, wander about allowing organic quinoa, toilet paper and a package of tank tops to fly into my basket. I begin to feel woozy and disoriented. I head for the checkout.

A woman is holding a cake in a large plastic casing. She has a few other things. She stands to the side of the line. If I have a question I usually ask the person if she or he is ahead of me. This time I allow my almost numb self to wheel the wagon to the counter. A nice young man helps me unload, another smiles and takes my card. I am awake again. I am feeling connected.

Then out of the blue the cake woman appears. She says: “Are you with that man”? She points to a man in a motorized wheel chair. “No,” I say. She says: “You cut in front of him in line.” Then she says, “You cut in front of me, too.” I say, “I am sorry, I didn’t see you.” The “I didn’t see you” was a little white lie. The “I am sorry” was the truth.

The man in the wheel chair glided through ahead of me, so I don’t know what that was about.

My eyes fill with tears. Ancient stuff is triggered by the present moment. It takes me a long time to find my car.

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