Recently my wife and I bought a home, a lovely four bedroom bungalow built in the 50’s to enhance the space for our growing family. Before we took this step of home ownership we had been renting a two bedroom apartment which felt like it was mostly hallway. Logistically this meant that we were going to need some additional furniture. One condition I had before we bought was that we would not become mortgage poor by the purchase; having a lovely house but not having any furniture. We were able to budget pretty well and that meant buying a lot of our new furniture from the furniture wonderland known as Ikea.
As many of you probably know, when you buy furniture from Ikea it comes unassembled in boxes. Those whose income is greater than ours have the luxury to purchase the upgrades which include assembly and shipping. A digression. When I was a young man I loved to work on cars, I kind of had to as I drove an old 1963 VW camper van that I bought for a 999.00 dollars, from a “Dead Head” that probably had driven the camper to Woodstock. My father would watch me and shake his head. My father did not understand this thing I did called DIY, for him one of the joys of making money is that other people did this kind of work for you.
Father: “You know you can pay someone to do that for you and it will actually work”
Me: “Can I borrow $200.00?”
Me: “C’est la vie.”
I still love to work on cars; furniture not so much. You are probably wondering when I am going to get to the dharma stuff? It’s all dharma. This was the first time that I built Ikea furniture as someone following the Buddha Way. But it didn’t start that way at first.
The instruction varied for each piece of furniture. Some easier to decipher than others, which seem to be written in Tibetan! As many men do, I looked at the instructions and then laid them aside. How hard could it really be? And why read them, most the time the instructions barely make any sense. So I just started building it. The first piece was easy. The base was done in no time and sturdy, on to the sides that attached to the base. “Umm it’s not working, they didn’t drill the holes right and now I am going to have to pack it back up and return it.” The holes were drilled correctly. I had assembled the base incorrectly by not noticing the little differences in the pieces which were clearly marked on the instructions. It made me think of how many times I think that I am just going to practice the dharma, “how hard can it be”, and I don’t look back at the instructions. The instruction can be the Four Ennobling Truths, the Eightfold path, the Sutras, the teachings of our teachers, formal and informal. We head off in a direction “of knowing” and “this can’t be that hard” and head off into the world. We half listen, stop chanting, meditating, ignore the more difficult precepts. We think the instructions are confusing, or get in the way, or that they are not that important. Sometime later we are wondering why our base won’t support anything when we try to build upon it or when things get difficult. Things are just not lining up.
Nuts, Bolts and Blood.
Then there is the blood. They don’t tell you about that when you are line buying your furniture and your lingonberry jam. Trying to feed bolts into holes, at an impossible angles, turning the Allen wrench hard to make sure it doesn’t fall, that’s when your hand slips and you scrape all of your knuckles. I used to have the mouth of trucker who sailed ships, it comes to visit now and then. It always amazes me how angry I can become at inanimate objects. So angry, as if the bolt, the nut and the hole are colluding to thwart my attempts. It was while I was in a unique Yoga position called the “Side Reclining Right Arm Lift With Left Leg Twist Bunk-bed Pose” that I slowly became aware of my mind. I observed the anger and asked myself the likelihood of such a Bolt, Nut, and Hole collusion. I started to think of how I was feeding the bolt into the hole and how the threads were not lining up. I started to think about Karma and skillful action, cause and effect. There was nothing personal about what was going on. There was really no Self at all. It was simple, the threads of the bolt were not lining up with the threads of the hole. It reminded me that Karma is not personal, it is simply that our action and our thinking is just not lining up with the Dharma. When I am angry at the bunk bed or a bag of hammers that I dropped on my foot, I am casting anger and blame on everything. I am not taking responsibility for my actions and mind. I am ignoring Karma.
I watched my mind, returned to the instructions, adjusted my understanding with each turn. With each bolt, nut and hole I would say, “this is not personal it is just cause and effect, it is just the laws of karma.” As my mind settled into this understanding, I found that my hand had become steadier. My other teachers, Mr. Bolt, Mr. Nut and Mr. Hole, worked with me and not against me. The fruit of this understanding now stands sturdy in my son(s)’ room. Now when I look at that bunk-bed at any bunk bed I am reminded of the teaching it gifted me and I am grateful.
I found Ikea furniture to be a good teacher.
On a brisk morning in November 2014, I found a small fellowship of people gathered in a room sharing experiences of addiction, anger, loneliness, divorce, and instead wallowing in their pain and sorrow, this group of people almost celebrated it. They said hello to their suffering, thank you to their adversity, and sat face-to-face with their fears. Individually they seemed weak, almost broken; however they were not. These individuals were strong like a tree that has stood weathering the effects of wind, heat, cold, and abuse over hundreds of years. They greeted each other with acceptance, compassion, and dare I say love. They came together to drink at the well of each other’s wisdom and to “awake from forgetfulness and transcend all anxiety and sorrow.’’ Their leader’s theme: Come as you are.
And so I did—I showed up just as I was. Each week: I wept. I struggled. I learned. I forgave. I found me.
Going to Sangha each week allowed for me to learn little by little. Over time my perceptions of my conditions changed. I learned to appreciate and accept wherever I was literally and metaphorically. One of the key principles that transformed my life was a deeper understand on suffering.
When I started with Christopher’s fellowship, my 21 year marriage had broken down, and divorce was just in my rear view mirror…but not very far gone. Oh how I wanted to put my car into accelerate and say goodbye to my pain and suffering, but I knew that was impossible. Learning more about mindfulness and being in the present allowed me to understand my suffering. I had been punishing myself with all of my would-ofs, should-ofs, could-ofs. I would think and replay things in my head over and over until I couldn’t bear it. The deal is: suffering is a part of life, but we don’t have to use it as a flogging mechanism to beat ourselves up for failed expectations.
The more I learned about suffering I wanted to transform. I decided to say hello to my suffering instead of avoiding it; to greet it with open arms and sit with it for a minute, even listen to what it had to say. And oddly, the more I gave myself permission to be in the moment, feeling sad, angry, hateful, hurt, or lonely, the less I suffered.
I didn’t run or try to avoid it, but I didn’t wallow in suffering either. I started to find joy and when Suffering approached again, I would acknowledge it and then tell Suffering it was time to move aside.
In our lives we constantly chase happiness to avoid suffering. We have been programmed to think that certain behaviors, physical items, or ways of life, lead to happiness; therefore, if we experience suffering than we have done something wrong. But sometimes, you didn’t do anything wrong.
I grew up in Seattle; a city of great natural beauty, influenced by American, European and Asian cultures. I have lived in Salt Lake City for 35 years. I began learning photography as a creative outlet about 7 years ago. My work falls into two distinct areas expressing both the light and darkness within myself (I embrace both). The Buddhist-themed photos here are from a portfolio exploring the image as meditation. I have learned that seeing the details, colors and moments of life as a photographer can be deeply contemplative. In the process of slowing down and lingering over moments of beauty, one cultivates the ability to see the world beneath the surface of things.
My spiritual photos (the “light” side) reflect not just Buddhism, but many religions. As such I have had occasion to bring diversity to spiritual exhibits, such as at the annual Religious Art Show at the Springville Museum and the Parliament of World Religions a year ago. It is my opinion that no single spiritual tradition holds a monopoly on truth. To me, the more one learns of the world’s religions – the larger and more beautiful the universe becomes. The life of the spirit places us within the context of a purposeful universe. Religions and cultures reflect the Divine within a specific context, time and place. Each of these facets is equally lovely, meaningful and true. The imperative is discovering where among these riches, lies the path that will best promote one’s own growth.
In the selection of photos here I see relationship, offering, compassion, “bling”, meditation and fun. I remember where I was and how each temple, garden and sacred space felt. However once shared, the end product is a two-way street with the viewer. What you see says as much about yourself as it does about my choices. You get to tell your own story with these images, which I hope is enjoyable.
Elesha moved out of state recently but stays connected to all of us in the sangha. Here is a poem she wrote for the newsletter.
In my mind, with no way out... but in.
A pounding in my chest arose
When the next step was proposed
I’m typing and breathing deeply
from feelings of unreal realities,
and I’m still learning not to rush,
finding distraction if I feel to much,
Now I go where darkness is,
where pain and self doubt lives
trying to escape my skin,
smiling and afraid to let others in,
This body no one can step into
its just me in here with thoughts of you,
I’m just a human being
Practicing the power of being
Now I reach out in poetry
in hopes to shift emotionally
still creating a future of worries
because now you “know” my insecurities,
I take another breath and set myself free
releasing fear and easing this anxiety
Namu Amida Butsu