Hello Portland Sangha,
I thought I should write a little update about how things are going here at Gampo Abbey. I will include photos in this email. I forgot to send some as I said I would for the previous email.
Life is going quite well at the Abbey. We have fully transitioned into summer, and the days are long, quite warm, and a bit humid. Thankfully, the winds from the ocean keep us cool, and keep the breezes moving through the Abbey. Yesterday we got out and did some community service. There was a bike ride for children with cancer, and myself and 3 other monastics served 80 cyclists their lunch. What a fantastic day! There were very lovely people to engage with and inspirational conversations about their experiences knowing someone with cancer. The main message I got from the cyclists was to “live life fully”! It felt great to be of service.
As far as daily activities at the abbey, I am now trained in most tasks that we have here. I am opening/closing the shrine, acting as Umdze and Gatekeeper for our meditation practice sessions, leading the house in our morning chants (about 25 minutes or so of chanting) and meditation practice session, and I have also learned how to make tormas, as well as participating in the Sojong Ceremonies as an assistant. Sojong happens on the new and full moon, and we take those days to recommit to our vows.
I have now been here 4 months, and I have taken the temporary monastic vows, the Tsancho Genyen/Upasaka Brahmacharya ordination. Initially, the ordination brought up the a feeling of groundlessness and a big questions of “who am I?” and “what is self?”. The days following the ordination were a bit challenging, because I didn’t feel like “me”. At the same time of not feeling like “me”, I questioned what that “me” is anyway. Having a freshly shaved head, maroon and saffron colored robes, and a new name was surprisingly unsettling.
I noticed that my sense of self was getting hooked to the uneasiness of the transition. It felt clear that I had two choices: one, I could relax into the uneasy feeling, simply observe what was happening, and see the groundlessness as the moment of potential. Or two, I could get hooked in the uneasiness of the situation and spin with the emotions and mental chatter.
A sense of self and having self-importance is such a fundamental part of being human, and there is much suffering in trying to maintain that sense of self. “Self” is not bad, and the ego isn’t something to be done away with. Yet, it is definitely something we can keep in check and question. I did my best to go with option number one and relax into the transition.
Watching the landscape here, I am able to observe impermanence and see the constant flux of nature. In moments when I can remember, I can also apply this to the sense of self. Self is constantly changing. Another reminder of this when I look back over the years and see all the different photos of myself, friends, and family. We have all changed, grown older, moved to different places, and taken various life paths. What a relief we can change and relate to all the different things we encounter.
I am learning here at the Abbey that all of life is simply a series of encounters that provide endless opportunities to make choices. We have the choice to stay asleep and not see the beauty and freshness of each moment, or we have the choice to wake up to that freshness, inspire each other, and make the best of this experience of being human. It might not be possible to awaken in every moment, but I think we can simply show up to the best of our ability which can look a lot of different ways. From the Shambhala Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa says, “Do not be afraid to be who you are.”
Do we ever really know who we are? What I am pointing to is the importance of questioning our habitual habits and thought patterns that create a fixed idea of self, and that seems to be a big part of what I am learning being in a monastic community. It’s quite a gift to have the time to explore the questions in such a unique environment, and to be so supported by the monastic community here.
After four months of countless hours of meditation, I have to say that the mind is workable. I thought it was before, but I am beginning to see that it truly is. Patience and discipline are your friends. 🙂 So, to all you Portland sangha members, I hope you find ways to stay committed and inspired with you practice. The more space we allow for our minds to relax into the environment and not force our minds into doing what we want, the mind begins to respond. Of course, everyone is different, but as the Chogyam Trungpa has said, “the mind is like a wild horse”. It’s definitely a process of learning the “not to tight” and “not to loose”, and most importantly KINDNESS! Minds respond so well to kindness and compassion. 🙂 Believe me, in the beginning, I had a bit of an agenda, and this agenda was perhaps a bit too tight. Needless to say, I was bucked by the “wild horse”! For those of you who also experience this, no need to fear. Simply come back to your breath and “get back on the horse”. 🙂
There is so much more I could share. If I could sum up all that I am learning into two words, it would be this. “Just relax”. That’s all we really need to do in this life. Simply relax into the present moment and let the beauty and chaos unfold around you. I just read the Sakyong’s newest book, “The Shambhala Principle”, and he states that “Chaos is good news. It is the great space of emptiness that occurs before genesis. It is the openness where things fall apart and new creations arise. When things are really bad, there is a great opportunity for good to happen.” So true!
Well, that’s enough for now. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and thank you to all who support the Gampo Abbey monastery. We function here largely on donation, and I am very grateful to experience the generosity of others. I wish you well from Gampo Abbey and am glad to stay connected with the Portland sangha!
In the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha,
(At the ordination we take our refuge names as our name. Mine means “Enlightenment Sun”)
(The photo of the Lobster is from the annual lobster release that the abbey participates in, which is described on the website. Otter creek is about a 1hr and 45 minute hike from the Abbey. It is absolutely beautiful.