Archive for October, 2009

fall 09 111In six hours we are supposed to turn our our clocks back, although that would be two o’clock in the morning and I would be surprised if anyone actually did such a thing. I’l change them tomorrow morning, with a bit of sadness that so little daylight will be in the evening for a few months.

The picture here is actually from a week ago and not nearly so many leaves are here. Fall was lovely and some trees are still hanging on to their bright gold or scarlet leaves, but they are few.

I have mixed feelings about the next six months! Of course I love the build-up to Thanksgiving and Christmas, though I don’t decorate nearly as much as I once did. And it’s nice to make more soups and stews and curl up with good books earlier. (Though I read a lot every day.) But I think I love the sunny longer days from May to September best, if foolishly since every day can be as good as you let it be . I will have to work a little to get out into the daylight when we have it here!

And speaking of reading:  I just read two books  by Bich Minh Ngyuen. The first was her memoir, Stealing Buddah’s Dinner, and the second a novel,  Short Girls. Both are about the immigrant experience.

 Bich was born a year before my daughter Alice who was born on April 30, 1975, the day the headlines read “South Vietnam Surrenders”.  Her father, sister, grandmother and two uncles left Vietnam on one of the last boats out the day before Alice was born. Their family ended up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a town we always drove through in the 50s when I went with my grandparents, Nana and Papa, to visit Papa’s two brothers who had farms in southwestern Michigan, near Allegan, despite their upbringing as Swedish boys from turn of the century Chicago.

This book is quite well written and honest, I think. And the author’s life has turned out well. She teaches at Purdue as does her husband, the writer Porter Shreve.  I can relate to her experience in an odd way  because so many of the cultural things in America at the time of her childhood are the ones Alice and Emily were encountering – the unusual fashions, the music, the hair styles, Bich’s family even a strange Ponderosa interlude as we did! 

Some of the book makes me think of how surprisingly we are each tied to the time and place where we first encountered the world and grew up. My generation was the late 40s and 50s in  a secure and prosperous US  (the nuclear threat notwithstanding). My husband’s was the same time but another place – communist Hungary. His family had been “evil” landowners before the war, and highly suspect because of their serious Catholicism. When Paul began school at the age of six he carried an identity card which called him something like “stranger to the nation” because of this pariah like background.

The immigrant experience is so life-altering. You can truly be between two worlds.  But Bich didn’t have a really strong  gounding in what it might have meant to be Vietnamese, just enough to make her feel different. She was very young when she came, and her father was caught up in his own world, dealing with his own challenges, and her mother had been left behind in Vietnam because of some difficult circumstances, and slowly Bich lost most of her native language, a language she could only have been beginning to speak when they left… Perhaps her loving connection to her strong peaceful seemingly unshakeable Buddhist grandmother was the strongest tie she had to Vietnamese culture. But truly she was connected to Vietnamese-American culture which is different than Vietnamese culture.

Her life  was so different from Paul’s experience. He was an eleven year old boy when they escaped and although he always thought his vocabulary was not what it would have been if he had been older when he left , he was certainly well grounded in Hungarian language and culture….He was the youngest in a large family with a strong sense of its own history and a Catholic background which gave them a framework from which to view everything that was happening to them. They came to Cleveland, Ohio, a city with a strong Hungarian presence for more than 100 years, and where they had an aunt, uncle and three cousins.

Bich seemed to have to figure everything out for herself, from a place of isolation. And she did.

I would like to have read more of Bich’s  later life. The detailed descriptions of the world as she saw it end when she begins high school, though there are brief parts relating to a later time, when her mother turned up in the US. 

 I recommend  this book for it’s clear honesty, though it often made me sad.

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Fall Memories


fall 09 073fall 09 106fall 09 087fall 09 051fall 09 081October has been a busy month, but a beautiful one: first, the retreat; then the always astonishing glories of red and gold and bronze as the leaves change their colors and fall to become more fertile soil.  One of the pictures is Sofia with a Teddy at the end of the music class when each student rocks a Teddy and sings a lullabye of “Shenandoah” (a song Paul loved) to them. Another is Ingmar showing a gourd to little Clara Maus during our dinner together at Aladin’s last Sunday. Em, Ingmar, Sofia and Clara were in town to attend their cousin “Little” Suzie’s baby shower.  Alice and Em conferring about some camera concept is another snapshot,  and another is Nathan and Sofia cooking up a storm in Nathan’s corner of his family’s dining area.  Alice fills a pot with water and lets them use old herbs and spices to cook…………And last is  a picture looking down Hametown hill, minutes from my house, showing  glimmer of our fall color. Just some good memories. Our life is so blessed.

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Meditation Hall from a smaller retreat
Meditation Hall from a smaller retreat

Blue Cliff Monastery monk walkingHere are two more pictures from retreats in the summer. Not my pictures and I don’t know who took them and hope they will be ok with my using them here! Both give a good sense of the ambiance.

So I stayed for the second night and things became a little better. My legs became a little stronger…I knew a bit more what to expect…The  toilets on the dining hall side of the road were fixed. I learned to sit near a loudspeaker for the Dharma talks and could understand what was being said. Many wonderful people helped me carry my basket or wash my dishes. There was a lovely spirit of helpfulness everywhere. I enjoyed the silent eating and meeting my “Bird” group for working meditation and Dharma discussion…We had deep relaxation Saturday with Sr. Chan Khong whom I had been listening to on tape for months. She is with Thay’s entourage as was my Discussion leader( at least for this American Teaching Tour), but she was with his School for Youth for Social Service in the ’60s during the war in Vietnam. She spoke and sang for us during the relaxation exercises. All these people could easily become impressed with themselves and their place in this world, but they don’t seem to. I believe they remain true to their ideals of peace, joy, mindfulness, service to others. They seem down to earth, practical, without pretense or pretentiousness. And they also seem peaceful, joyful, mindful. (Oh, perhaps there are moments when I see or sense some agitation about getting everything accomplished for this enormous undertaking, but remarkably little.)
The working meditation and the Dharma discussions were always excellent things that comforted my  soul and watered seeds of peace and joy. The Dharma talks given by Thich Nhat Hanh were wonderful. Many practical ideas on how to improve our lives and the lives of others, presented in a calm and gentle way. Slowly…..
There were also presentations by others on his trip to India and the ongoing  tragedy  with the monastics from Bat Nha monastery in Vietnam whose monastery has been destroyed and who have been expelled to a small refuge in a village monastery. We ate mindfully in noble silence. Whenever the bell rang, everyone stopped whatever they were doing and returned to an awareness of the blessing of the present moment. Days went by. I could feel myself becoming more calm and realized how much I worry about everything, about the silliest nonsense. By the time I was home again, Andy said he could see a difference. I really enjoyed the music, too. There was English singing and beautiful Vietnamese or perhaps Sanskrit chanting…The 5th was Thay’s birthday and the children’s group sang for him and gave him a birthday card.
I left at 10am on the 6th and packed my car and drove back to Emily’s where they were still struggling with Clara’s sleeping problems. But I stayed until Thursday morning to go to Art Class and Music class with Sofia Maus. It was such fun, especially the music class which has a great teacher. (But the art teacher is also excellent and her little daughter Cora is a dear!) and that afternoon I drove home to Ohio through a world of glorious scarlet gold and bronze trees with enough dark pines to show them off……
I’m still grateful I stayed! I received the transmission of The Five Mindfulness Trainings from Thich Nhat Hanh and the dharma name of Joyful Peace of the Heart. I am trying to find a local Sangha, though so far without success . I also met and had a long conversation (really two)with a Maryknoll sister, Dr. Marion Puszcz, (Hungarians, this Polish name is pronounced “Puscs”) who was a medical doctor in Africa for perhaps 35 years and then Honduras for many years.  She told me about her parents, about her training in Columbia Medical School in NY in the late 40s and 50s. We talked about Paul’s long illness and death and the two years  after. I felt blessed to have met her. She is a great soul, with a very big heart.
And today, Emily called to tell me that I now belong to the Maus family. Everyone in her house calls each other Maus or Sofia Maus, Clara Maus, etc. Sofia has begun to talk about me as “Nana Maus”. I love it! I feel so honored!

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100_2258I wanted to write about this earlier, but my main computer which has the pictures from this trip is in a state which Andy calls, “semi-hosed” and until he can fix it, I will not be able to access them. But I wanted to write something about it while it is still  fresh in my mind, so I am using pictures found on the web to illustrate it, pictures whose photographers and owners I don’t know. I hope they will forgive this!

walking toward the Meditation Hall

walking toward the Meditation Hallmy dharma groupThay giving a Dharma talk

I have only one picture which is from my time at Blue Cliff and that is the one of my Dharma Discussion Group which was sent to all of us by “Jiffy” a charming young woman who was part of this group to which I became very close in just a few days.
(I am still having problems! I uploaded four pictures but when I saved the draft, only one was saved, though it had the captions from three of them………I re-uploaded the Dharma Group one because I am in it and it is from my time at Blue Cliff.)
I will just write a little and publish it and perhaps try to do more when I have my “real” computer.
I had wanted to attend this when I first read about it in May, but when I finally got around to trying to sign up, after all the rush  of the summer, and Clara’s birth, it was “waiting list only”. So I flew off to Germany in early September and only heard about a week after returning that it was possible for me to attend. It seemed too soon after the European trip, but I really wanted to do this, so I signed up.
October 1st I left Ohio and stayed overnight with Emily who lives in Bellefonte, PA, exactly halfway to Pine Bush, NY the mailing address of the monastery. It was fun to see darling Sofia and sweet  Clara as well as dd Emily and sil Ingmar. Next day I drove on to Blue Cliff, a nice autumn drive, and arrived at about 2pm. I registered with a slight difficulty because they had my name, but nothing else – no name tag, no group assignement.  But slowly this was accomplished. I was to stay at Dharma Drum retreat center about 15 minutes away and be bussed back and forth, but the registration was so slow, there was no time to get there before dinner and the orientation meeting which was conducted by Thich Nhat Hanh, called Thay which is pronounced either Tay or Tie and means “teacher”. It was difficult walking from the area where the registration and dinner was over to the meditation hall, but I managed this and the orientation was wonderful. After, I drove to Dharma Drum, very tired, and with a little problem finding my way in the dark, but it was done………I had asked for a first floor room because of my knees, but this didn’t happen. (It  probably would have had I registered early.) But I met a Benedictine nun on the bus who was on the first floor and offered to trade with me and helped me unpack the car. I set the alarm clock for 5:30 because we were to do our morning meditation from six to 7 am at the Dharma Drum hall across the road. I fell asleep in perhaps 5 seconds, exhausted but ok.
Our dormitory was really nice, though spartan. But there were lots of showers and hot water and “facilities” which made the morning easier. After dressing we walked across the road in the dark and came into the very dimly lit hall – really only illuminated by the low lights around the statue of Buddah. I can sit on the floor with my legs  straight rather than in a lotus or half-lotus position, but it was ok. This sitting meditation was  a wonderful and peaceful beginning to the day, and the hall had windows all around so we saw the dawn slowly fill the sky with pale saffron light. After about ten minutes of more of silent following our breath mindfully, two nuns began a guided meditation for us. One was an African-American sister with a beautiful calming voice whom I had noticed the day before, and the other was Vietnamese. There was the mindfullness bell and the sitting meditation and the peaceful but living silence and I felt so very well it is a little beyond my powers of description to explain it.
Then we walked to our buses and we taken back to Blue Cliff. There is “noble silence” from after the last dharma talk until after breakfast, or perhaps after the first talk next day. It helped a little to deal with the 1100 people who were there.
 That first day was extremely difficult physically. Walking was very painful and slow.  I worried about everything…The toilets near the dining tents broke down and we had to walk very far across the road to find others. For the first dharma talk I was sitting in a place where I could not hear one work in ten. All these things disturbed me more than I should have let them, and I was seriously thinking that I would leave the next day. I planned just how I could accomplish this. It  was all I could think of for a time.
But slowly the day improved.  It was still very difficult and painful to walk around, and I worried too much about everything, but in the working meditation after lunch, I met an  older woman, Nancy Rudolph, a photographer from New York who was a lay person in the OI (Order of Interbeing). We cut up carrots together and talked. She told me about spending three months at Plum Village in ’92 after her unexpected and devastating divorce, and how happy she was all this time.
I began to read Thich Nhat Hanh (whose book on Peace I knew already) and other Buddhist writers more after Paul’s death, when a Buddhist book , Grieving Mindfully by Sameet Kumar, PhD,  helped me more than anything else I encountered. Thay’s books seemed to fit better with my own understanding of reality, though other writers had good ideas too.
Buddhism seems like a practice not incompatible with being a Christian as I understand it. In fact, this practice is very similar to that taught by my brother in law, Franz Jalics, S.J., (known in  the family as Feri bacsi) who founded a retreat house in northern Bavaria, called Haus Gries.  And I met more than one Roman Catholic sister on this retreat, which I found very interesting.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Living Buddah, Living Christ is very worth reading filled with ideas which were new to me.
After the working meditation we had our Dharma discussion group, led by Brother “Emptiness”  (a translation of his actual name). He had been an international banker for nearly a quarter a century and then became a Buddhist monk. This group was very close and I felt connected to the different people from different parts of the world, with somewhat different problems(or perhaps different aspects of the same problem)…. We were all together on a journey, a search, and were finding mindfulness, peace and joy and trying to help one another……..There was something healing about it all.
Gradually, I began to think that however hard it had been, I had made it through the day. I really wanted to be at this retreat. I could take it one day at a  time. I would stay. I would stay.  I would stay.

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