Monday, May 5, 2014

A Practice Trajectory: Ordinary, Extraordinary, Everyday... Pt. 10

"With the sky blue sky, this ride in time wouldn't seem so bad to me now
Oh, I didn't die; I should be satisfied I survived
It's good enough for now"  — Wilco

I felt pretty fragile after my mother's death, but I was nonetheless determined to make it when I moved to San Francisco in 2005, having just made a commitment to chanting practice and becoming a member of SGI. First I took a room in an apartment in the Lower Haight with a friend of a friend. I didn't know her and it soon turned out to be a bad match. She was battling addiction problems — she'd overcome alcoholism but had an open addiction to painkillers — and OCD. If I left a crumb on the kitchen counter, I heard about it.  I did not feel welcome. It was a perch not a home.
Despite the new address in San Francisco, I received my Gohonzon in Marin County. Years later the event feels like a blur. I couldn't believe how crowded it was at the Redwood Center. I think I left my body a little bit when I was standing up on the stage with the other recipients as the crowd clapped their encouragment for us.
A few days later, my Buddhist sponsor came over with three other members to help me enshrine my Gohonzon in a butsodon so I could start chanting at my home.
I had no real idea what I was in for, standing on the Marin Redwood Center stage, but as soon as I started chanting, things began to change rapidly. Unhappy in my small room with my more unhappy roommate, I set about finding my own apartment, and quickly found a small studio in Hayes Valley. It was tiny, not the nicest building, but close to everything and I could afford it (that wouldn't be the case today. I know the building hasn't changed much but the rent has likely been tripled in step with current SF rents).
The day I got my Gohonzon, I had a gig with two other artists. Sitting around waiting to play, I learned that one of them, a songwriter I already knew, and his wife, were active Buddhists! (In fact she was a longtime member and leader). They caught me up on where to chant in my new district.
'There's chanting every day in Hayes Valley,' they told me.. I didn't know the local district leader, but found out her apartment was two blocks from mine and that she opened her doors for tosos 5 days a week. It would be the first of many times I would be protected and not know how much until later.
As much as I wanted to be there, living in the city was a shock to my system. The difference between visiting the pace and hubbub of the city and living it were two different things. And finding work and paying the rent on time each month wasn't as easy as I'd expected it to be. I took a low-paying fundraising job, a blow to my ego but a necessity. Many days I was exceedingly disheartened and scared. I missed the pleasant yoga community who I practiced with in Marin as well as the trees and the beauty that masked the fact of my often low income. In SF, I practiced yoga with others sporadically at first, when I could afford the class, which was now a luxury. 
The simple practice of chanting Nam-Myho-Renge-Kyo wwas now taking center stage as lifeline and strict teacher. Even if I could barely think to chant beyond 'i want to feel different' it altered my feeling state and changed my vibration. I understood practice worked from the years of yoga, and chanting was complimenting the process I'd started on the mat. Now the local district leaders showed me how important it was simply to create a space for practice. Not everyone had that privilege either.
My present day worries, coupled with the grief of having lost my mother, often weighed me down as I walked those two blocks to the toso each morning. One part of my brain marveled that I'd landed in such a dynamic part of the city, next to the Symphony, the Ballet and home to so many other creatives while the other part of my brain had a hard time enjoying it when I could barely afford dinner. The city both reminded me of possibility with the it's bustling cafes and people moving to and fro on the sidewalks and bewildered me completely. I felt lost. I also couldn't avoid the grief I felt at losing my mother. Some days, I considered walking into traffic, and to be done just like that. It was a shock to see my dark thoughts as all my own. There was one to blame, no parent or partner to act out against anymore. What was this about? 
These were my most sticky, deep-seated beliefs, my 'fundamental darkness' that I was just beginning to recognize. I struggled along, going to meetings, writing incessantly, and working two part-time jobs and the occasional temp job. Then I got hit by a car riding my bike. I could see I was unbelievably fortunate that I wasn't hurt badly and that it wasn't my fault, given I didn't have insurance. 
 The accident was a turning point. I realized, laying in the hospital, that I had to make some changes.  I was writing songs and getting to play them and that pursuit was its own long road, but I wasn't valuing my life. And I wasn't be responsible for it either. I wasn't happy but I knew it was on me. I stepped up my chanting practice.  
I was that much more fortunate that the powers that be had placed me in a very strong community. I just had to make a phone call or take a short walk to find other friends in faith. Soon after a friend of a friend hired me to edit some marketing projects then gave me a lead on a job with a start-up. It wasn't my dream job but it paid very well and gave me opportunity to learn about new media which was just taking off. The work also afforded me yoga classes at the new Mysore studio. Along the way I met the man who would become my husband. I also met another influential yoga teacher. And nearly four years after moving to the city, I was able to finish my first full-length CD and return to India. It was a big time of growth and learning held together by yoga and chanting. I was putting out much effort and when I did, it was easy to see the support was there. 

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