Thursday, 28 June 2012

Tea Tetris

We have a whole entire cupboard in the kitchen dedicated to tea: black tea, herbal tea, green tea, white tea, chai tea, you name it, it's probably there.  And also some coffee, just for the sake of equanimity. (But not the hot chocolate! No, that's in my cupboard).  I didn't think the cupboard could get much more in... until our new flatmate moved in, with a load of her tea and also some spacial awareness (which is handy for packing lots of stuff into small spaces).  Now everytime I want a cup of tea, I have to play tetris to get it all back in the cupboard. Fun!

Behold the tea tetris! Much, much tea.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Maiden Voyage!

I'm very excited because my car is finally up and running.  As of Tuesday, Mrs W assisted me to put the tax disc in, put in a new battery, fill up with petrol and put more air in the tires and other technical stuff that I don't entirely understand (yet).  We're ready to Rock n' Roll! Well... except there is a chip in the windscreen that I may need seeing to, and the wing mirror is looking a bit dodgy on the driver's side.  We had a fiddle about with it but we didn't want to go too far in case it broke. But I needed to hold it in place somehow or I can't use my mirrors, so we solved the situation with blue tack. Well, if it works, I'm not knocking it.... (I'm sure it'll get seen to soon enough. My driving instructor said he's take a look on Saturday when we start the pass plus.)

This evening I took the car out for a run ON MY OWN! It was so exciting! I put Hey Ocean on the stereo and had a little cruise down through Blean towards Whitstable, and then came back.  It was getting dark when I left, but it was still a nice drive.  It was a pretty mild night and it's beautiful down that way, there's lots of trees and fields that you pass in between the small villages. I wasn't nervous at all and actually found it quite relaxing. I shouldn't be surprised at this since I have been learning for, oh, aeons, but still. I'm really excited about getting to know the car and having a good old pootle about.


Also, just as a side note, I made Snufkin's Thinking Bouillon from The Moomin Cookbook for dinner.  It was the first time that I've made any recipes from it and I must say it was mighty tasty.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Ancient Wisdom in a Modern World

Yesterday, at 5am four of us piled in car for a road trip up to Manchester for a public talk and an empowerment granted by Gen-la Dekyong.  I think that this is a testament to how much I love empowerments, because I'm not getting up at 4.30am for just anyone. Mrs W kindly offered to drive us up there.  She is essentially a small squirrel in human form, and she was so excited she was dancing around the kitchen when I came downstairs in the morning. We had to pull her back down to earth so that she could actually drive the car. We had a fairly uneventful journey until we got into Manchester and tried to find the car park: damn the one way system! We got the the Convention Centre eventually, and just as it started to rain we managed to dash inside and register.

The day started at noon with a public talk, which was inspiring as always.  Gen-la Dekyong is a very accomplished meditator and she has a lovely stage presence.  Her voice is very soothing, I felt all my worries disappear as soon as she started speaking.  There were hundreds of people there and I ran into quite a few people that I know: one of which being a friend who is based in Sydney but is back here seeing family for a bit.  It was delightful to catch her in the country and not busy for once, so during the break we ambled out and got a white chocolate mocha from Starbucks to perk us up a bit.  They don't have Starbucks in Australia so it's one of her rare indulgences when she comes here.

After the break, Gen-la Khyenrab, a monk who has also been practising Buddhism for many years, guided us a meditation to prepare us for the main event later.  It was brief, and I have to say that my mind was all over the place.  Would this have anything to do with the large caffeinated beverage I had just consumed? Possibly.

I managed to hang out with some more people (really? you ask) while I had a late lunch.  There were so many old friends meeting up, it was a real festival atmosphere.  (Except without the camping and the mud, of course.)  After that, it was back into the auditorium for Buddha Shakyamuni empowerment. The shrine was really beautiful, and there was a huge painting of Buddha projected onto the wall behind her, it was heartwarming!  Buddha Shakyamuni is the main person that people think of when they think of Buddha.  He was the founder of Buddhism in this world, and chiefly occupied with reducing people's suffering and increasing their happiness through teaching people how to train their minds.  Empowerments are special blessing ceremonies that enable us to get closer to Buddhas, to feel like they are a presence in our lives through their teachings, rather than mere historical figures from a long time ago.  I have been to many empowerments, and I love them because you get a real feeling of connectedness. Also, because you can sleep through them and still manage to transform your mind.

We managed to reassemble and after a few wrong turns we made it to Vairochana Centre where we were spending the night.  They had a mens dorm on the ground floor and all us girls were upstairs in the shrine room.  More happy hopping about occurred as Mrs W was incredibly excited that we got to sleep in with all the statues of Buddhas. The centre itself is across the road from a big Catholic church, it is very spacious, and the shrine room is fairly big and airy.  There were lots of big windows and sky lights, and there were lots of mattresses and pillows already out for us, all we needed to do is bring a sleeping bag.  They had a selection of breakfasty things for the morning and tea in the next room.  They had even provided us with eye masks and ear plugs in cases we needed them! How kind! It was much more comfortable than I expected... although there was some general rustling at about 6am (6am!) Of course by that point the girls had already been up for an hour and had showered, breakfasted and gone for a walk. I managed to sleep for a bit longer and then gave up.  So the girls stared at me intently while I got my confused, sorry self dressed and ate something and in the end we were back on the road by about 7.10am this morning.  No wonder I'm knackered!  I did sleep for an extra hour on the road which was helpful.

The journey back was quite illuminating.  I learned things about Mrs W's childhood that were a bit shocking, and she discovered that I really like cheesy music.  I like lots of other music as well, in my defence, but there is something about road trips that inspire me to listen to sing 80's songs very loudly.  This is quite handy because Mrs W also had a penchant for a bit of cheese while on the road, and we are going to have a few long journeys to Buddhisty things together I suspect.  We ended up getting home just in time for lunch.... and then, another nap. Naturally.

It was  a short but sweet weekend.  It was so fun to have a blast of my spiritual community, if only for a day or two.  I can go back to my daily life inspired to keep those blessings alive, to train my mind, and to cherish all the people around me.

Friday, 15 June 2012


I'm back at yoga again after some dilly dallying around. Our class is really popular so you have to book a week in advance, but I finally made it both days this week.  The theme this week was inversions. This basically involves having your head lower than your hips, so well known yoga poses like downward dog are semi-inversions, handstands and headstands are full inversions.

Today, we focused on some exercises to increase the strength in our upper body and then we moved onto some poses.  We did Bakasana:

The extraordinary Mr. Iyengar
This is a balance on the hands, where you dig your knees into your elbows for balance and then rock forward until your feet lift off the ground.  Needless to say I had blocks and bricks in front of me, so that I could rest my forehead lightly onto them.  This allays the fear of tipping over too far and smooshing your face into the floor.

From this we moved onto a variation of this which involves balancing on the crown of your head, with your back upright and then balancing your knees on your elbows, like so:

This is not me.  This is this lady

Also not me.
So the thing about this pose, and indeed series of poses, is that I'm terrified of them. I'm scared of smooshing my face into the floor.  I'm scared about bending things that shouldn't be bent. I'm scared that I don't have enough muscle strength to get up there and back down again.  I'm scared of being in a very unnatural position. Then this brings up lots of other fears I have. This pose is as much about confidence in your mind as it is about strength in your body.  I've been working bit by bit to overcome that fear, not just in this particular case, but also in life in general. With a little help from my teacher, I managed to do this pose.  It was quite a brief stint up there, but I did it!  And that's the thing: the more I challenge the fears I have in this life, the more I build up my confidence to be able to look them directly in the face and see what it is I'm actually scared of.  I sit myself down and settle my mind and look inside and start to break it down, stripping away the layers so I can deeply understand what it is that I'm feeling and how I can live with that. Doing this pose was as much about challenging unnecessary, paralysing fear in my life as it was working my body. Today, I'm proud of my progress.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Some days are like that...

So this week I:
- Lost one of my favourite earrings on the way to a very posh work do (I felt so underdressed. I wished I'd put an extra pair in my handbag just in case.  Then when I got home I emptied my posh handbag and realised there were another pair in there. sigh.)
- Threw champagne down myself at the very posh work do (I don't think anyone saw me, and then we went into a dark room for a presentation, so I think I might have got away with it.....maybe....)
- Nearly set fire to my bed (damn you, hair straighteners. There are actually scorch marks on my duvet cover)
- Left my toothbrush behind when I spent the night at Mr & Mrs-is-thinking (It was my travel toothbrush. I have another one, just in case you're worried about my dental hygiene)
- Exploded my phone (oh alright, not quite, but it did stop working and I had to borrow an old handset from Mrs Im.  It started working again as soon as I got home. Bah!)

But it's ok, everything will be alright, because Immy and Mr-is-Thinking gave me this:

now all is well with the world. yay.

Yeah, a 1kg 1kg! tub of organic, fair trade, instant hot chocolate. Really! Miss H nearly fainted when she saw it. Now, I just have to figure out how to get the lid off without sending everything on the work-top flying....

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Gathering light

My Grandma and I have always had a strong connection, she has always contributed a lot to my life.  This is mostly visible in the way I spend my time: I go to art galleries, cinema and theatres, I drink coffee,  paint, cook, watch the world go round - all of these things I inherited from her.  I even use Nivea cream on my face before bed, just as she did. 

I went to see her recently for a few days.  Every time I go, I wonder if it will be the last time.  She is getting older, her body and her memory are getting frailer.  She said to me, 'My mind is not working now. It was different last time you saw me, but my mind doesn't work now.'  And there are flashes sometimes of dementia that come and go, where the recognition in her eyes fades for a few seconds before she refocuses and remembers who I am.  My mum finds these flashes maddening and difficult.  I don't mind, sometimes I feel like she reveals interesting facets of her personality in these moments - some of them have led me to understand our family more clearly.  She asks me certain questions over and over again - which reveals to me the things she thinks about most, what she worries about, what she associates with me. Again and again she asks me, 'Do you have a boyfriend?' and when I say  'No' one day she says, 'Pity. It's nice having boyfriends. I always enjoyed having them around. When you don't have someone you don't realise what it's like but it's very nice. Only if it's the right one, not just any one.  One day....' and she waves her hand and gives a shrug. On another day she responds, 'Well. It's of no great importance.'  Another thing that preoccupied her was how I spend my time. 'Do you have any hobbies?', 'Do you paint? Do you draw?'. When she caught me looking at one of her drawings on the wall, she commented, 'I like drawing in charcoal.  You can do very little and achieve a lot.' Most of the emphasis was on my happiness, 'Do you enjoy what you do?' she asked again and again.  'You have to enjoy what you do, if you don't it doesn't work.  Nothing doing.  Things happen, you can't change it, but you have to enjoy it.'

My favourite times were the times she told me stories, little sentences, her eyes staring into space in a reminiscence for a while.  They weren't long, indepth rambling stories, they were little nuggets that pointed to a wealth of thought underneath the pauses in between. 'Vienna was a very nice place once. I expect it's all different now' she says of her home town.  'When I first came to Jerusalem I was very young.  I liked it.  I don't understand that now, but I did. We lived on the corner of Ben Yehuda.  I went to school in Talpiyot.  Instead of catching the bus, I would walk and save the money and have coffee in town or go out to eat on the way home.'  Another day she tells me about her piano playing: 'I used to play piano.  It was very nice.  But not like my mother, she was a concert pianist.  Even when she was very old she could play like no-one else.  One day a friend of ours came to the house with some sheets of music and she said "young man, give me that music." He said "Oh, Mrs Schaner, you won't like this music, it's too modern for you" and she said "Give it to me, I'll play it anyway" and she put the music on the piano and she played it note for note one hundred percent perfect.  She'd never seen it before.  I never played like that.  I liked to draw and paint.  I painted the dresses that I saw in the windows in the stores in Vienna.  I had a notebook full.  When we got to Israel, when I was about 12 or 13, my father went out in Tel Aviv and sold all the drawings, every last one in that notebook.  People bought them.  He was a wonderful salesman my father.' And she says with a sigh 'It was all so long ago.' More long silences. Then she says 'I never got along with my mother.  She wanted me to do things she wanted me to do, and I didn't want.'  She waves her had over her shoulder slowly, indicating the passing of time.  'We used to have a good time long ago, you and I.' We smile at each other, and resume our long silence.

Some days Grandma is more resigned to her fate.  She doesn't go out now, she admits that she is not interested. 'What for?' she waves her hand impatiently 'I had a good life.  I traveled and I did all sorts of things. That's how it was. Now I am old. I've had enough. I don't worry about my dying'.  Other days there is still a glimmer of the things that used to interest her, 'Are you going to the airport? I envy you.  Enjoy it for me.'

In the end, when I leave, we look at each other again, she takes my hand in her thin, tiny ones and I say 'I love you'.  With conviction, she replies 'Same here.' She squeezes my hand once, and holds my gaze for a few seconds. 'Come back soon and visit.  Soon'. I will.  I will.