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Last weekend I was able to spend the afternoon with the charming, intelligent, warm, friendly, thoughtful, delight of a person named Jack. I am quite fond of Jack. He is unceasingly kind and welcoming to everybody who lives at Green Gulch, as well as seemingly every other being he encounters. He is already a living Bodhisattva incarnate. I hope you enjoy getting to know him better!

Catherine: Hello! I am with Jack…oh, can I use your last name?

Jack: Of course

C: Ok, I am with Jack Thomas. Hi Jack.

J: Hi Catherine

C: So, I think a good place to start is to talk about what you’d say you do here, at Green Gulch.

J: *Phew* Um, wow. Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the farm apprenticeship. That’s the primary substance of my day. So, let’s see, that kind of work goes anywhere from 8:30 or 9:00 to in-the-neighborhood-of 4:15, 4:30. And, the apprenticeship, as probably many of the other interviewees have mentioned, is primarily focused on learning the ins and outs of working on and maintaining a small, organic farm. So, at Green Gulch there’s seven acres, approximately, maybe five or six of which are in cultivation at any given time; and we have a pretty small crew, and it consists of, I believe, five staff members, and two–or three–formal leadership figures, and then the rest are apprentices. So, we do the labor. We sow the seed, we plant out starts, we prepare the fields for plantings, we harvest what we have grown, and then…maybe all of this has already been covered *laughs*

C: No! It’s great!

J: Ok! *laughs*

C: I want to hear exactly how you…what you think you do.

J: How I conceptualize this?

C: Yeah.

J: Yeah, so I mean that kind of work, the processing, the very hands on–the creating of the causes and conditions for produce to come out of the earth, and to distribute that produce to the hungry patrons of Mill Valley and San Francisco–I am a part of a team that facilitates that process.

The second thing that comes to mind, which is probably–wow, definitely–the heart and soul of what I do here is practice! So, it pervades…practice pervades work, it pervades the apprenticeship. It is the water through which I swim at Green Gulch, and it begins before work, and it ends after work, when I go to bed. *Pause* I mean, I could talk about the schedule, but really it’s not even confined to morning zazen, or to service. And, it’s not even necessarily confined to Green Gulch, although this is where the wheel of my practice began turning, and is encouraged and supported to turn. But, yeah, I would say, as often as I can remember, every minute of every day, what I am doing is practicing just this life *pause*.

I am trying to navigate between how do I answer this question keeping your audience in mind. Like, I don’t know exactly which concepts I need to articulate more clearly. Or, if it’s just a conversation with you, just telling you how do I…when you say “What do I do here?” and when my answer is practice…I feel like I can go in so many directions with that. Is there anything that is more helpful?

C: I think it’s more the latter. I mean, if people read my blog consistently, I talk about life here pretty frequently.

J: Ok.

C: So, they have some sort of idea of what that means. And, also, I’ve found that a lot of the people who read the interviews actually live here.

J: Sure.

C: So, they know that that means…and, yeah, what I’m personally more interested in is your take on the practices.

J: Oh my god, I could talk about practice all day.

C: Ok, let’s do it!

J: Great! So, ok, I did not have very much of…I did not have a consistent practice before coming to Green Gulch. I was living in Boston, Massachusetts when it began. I was a sophomore in college, at Tufts University, just outside of the city actually, in the Somerville/Medville area–holla!

*Catherine giggles*

And I was really unhappy. I felt very overwhelmed, and that I wasn’t giving school what it deserved. And because school is so expensive, I felt like I was wasting a colossal amount of time and energy and money–my parents’ money, my own time and energy–in an environment that just wasn’t…I didn’t feel like I was thriving even though I was doing lots of potentially fulfilling activities. I was singing acapella, I was a part of this orientation group, this wilderness orientation club that I loved. I had great friends, but there was part of me that was existentially preoccupied, and also incredibly anxious–just trying to juggle classes with social life and acapella and other commitments was totally overwhelming.

And my sister sent me this book, it was Wherever You Go, There You Are by John Kabat-Zinn and I began meditating after that. And–in conjunction with counseling–those were the only two things that made me feel better, like I could calm down. And then the following year, junior year, I started listening to ZenCast, which is a podcast distributed by, and created by, Gil Fronsdale.

C: Oh!

J: Yeah, who was actually just here a few weekends ago, at Green Gulch…and that was my self-medication, in a really big way. I started on car rides, on bike rides, any chance I got, I was listening to ZenCast and to Audio Dharma and to the Alan Watts podcast…and so it was like I was beginning to massage my existential crisis. I couldn’t really reconcile the size of the universe with my existence and my place in the world. I felt meaningless…and those podcasts helped me interface with that kind of thinking in a new way, that actually gave me a little bit of space and room to breathe, and some tools with which I could see those thoughts, and take back or embrace them, make room for them.

And…I would say I really didn’t do too much meditating in Colorado. I don’t think I mentioned that–when I took time off and started listening to these podcasts, I moved to Colorado. And I used to not just listen *giggle* on bike rides or car rides, but I would smoke weed on my aunt and uncle’s roof…

C: Mmmhmm!

J: …and look up at the vast Colorado night sky, and listen to these podcasts.

C: Ha! That sounds lovely.

J: It was phenomenal. That was the first time I realized that the night sky is actually three-dimensional and that you can see it in 3-D. It’s not just like a sheet with poked holes in it, there’s actually depth. And that blew my f***ing mind.

*Both laugh*

Yeah, then I decided to go back to school and I realized that in order to succeed in that environment I needed some parameters—that I had to incorporate the tools that I had introduced myself to, that Gil had introduced me to–in my daily life, and I started going to the Cambridge Meditation Center on a regular basis for their “35 and Under” sitting group. So, that was weekly, and then I would frequent the Greater Boston Zen Center…infrequently?

*Both giggle*

Like, maybe I went a total of seven times, or six times, over the course of two years. But, I would sit with them on Saturday mornings, I think it was from like nine to noon. We would do periods of zazen and kinhin, and service–with Josh Bartoch, who was great, he’s doing a wonderful job out there. That’s where I first chanted the Makka Hannya Haramita Shin Gyo, and loved it. I’ve been a sucker for ceremony and service since going to Catholic school and high school. Yeah, and the more that I invested myself in these opportunities to meditate, in these sanghas, these little sanghas…*long pause* Yeah, the more I did that, the healthier I felt. So, let’s see, what happened next.

Oh, ok! So I began volunteering…I volunteered at the garden at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center…and somebody–I think it was my first day volunteering–someone was like, “How do you like this, Jack?” and I said I loved it! I loved working with my body, I loved having my hands in the soil and supporting plant life, and serving this organization, the CIMC, that made such a big difference in my life. And, this–I don’t even know who it was, this angel–was like, “You know that you can do this all the time? There’s this farm that is also a Zen center out in California!” *giggle* And it was like fireworks in my head, because I had always felt…I was born in Redwood City, and lived the first two years of my life in San Mateo. So, being told that as a kid growing up, you know, “actually Jack, you were born in California, you’re from the Bay Area….” I always felt a longing. It’s like I’m a homing pigeon!

*Catherine laughs*

I just wanted to return! *giggles* Back to the land of origin, back to the motherland…and so, when they said “you could do these two things that you love in your…in the place of your birth” I knew that I would go there, I knew that I would come to Green Gulch. So I applied at the end of my senior year, to come out for a two-week guest stay; and then I ended up getting a sales job and cancelled my guest student stay, and worked at a tech company in Kendall Square, just outside of Boston, across the Charles. It was for eleven months…and about six months into that I realized that…no…well, three months in I was like, “I do not like this!” I mean, it’s challenging work, I can see it being fulfilling for a certain type of person. Like, if someone was really competitive and really a great cultural fit, like very much into sports, and probably a male, and probably straight, like a dude! And it’s such a fun environment if you’re comfortable with all of those things…and I was not. And on top of that, being a call monkey is really hard! Doing telesales is a difficult job. So three months in I was like, “screw this!” and I almost quit, and then I decided to give it more time, to try to tackle this beast. So, six months in, the game had changed, I was doing really well, but knew it wasn’t for me…and I thought, “Ok, I’ll ride this out because it’s not a bad gig, it’s paying the bills. I’ll at least stay here through my lease. I need a contingency plan, I need something else set up for when this window’s, when this tech-job window, is up.” And so I reached out to Green Gulch and I got in touch with Francis Dwyer! *giggle* And he was like, “Yeah, unfortunately, the farm apprenticeship for this upcoming summer is already full, and there’s a wait-list. So, you can’t do that. But you can come out in the summertime and do your two-week guest student stay, and get a feel for whether or not this is the kind of place that you want to spend a serious amount of time.”

So, I made plans to go to Green Gulch in July in the summer of 2015, and buckled down at work, and just kept my nose to the grindstone. Then I got my two-week break, in the summer, and came to Green Gulch, and was floored. The way I described it at the time was: it was like a puzzle piece being fit into place; after years of looking–I finally, finally!–found a community of people who thought about the world the way that I did, that cared about aligning their daily life with their morals and values. And, who also didn’t shy away from heady philosophical, or psychological, or existential, really abstract conversation. That’s just where my mind just gravitates, like I’m always…like I’ll be at a bar with friends, and I’ll be like “How are you?”, and they’ll say, “Oh, I’m doing this and this and this and this,” and I’ll be like, “No, how are you?” *giggle* Like, “Tell me about yourself, let’s be real!” And I always felt like I made people uncomfortable going for very substantive conversation, in settings that maybe were not designed for that. It was a misalignment in that way…but not at Green Gulch. That is the bread and butter of our relationship here–being real with each other, saying what’s on our heart and mind, really, and immersing ourselves in the cosmic mystery…also, the mundane mystery.

But anyway, I felt an immediate resonance, and I went back to Boston and started…I set up a little altar in my room, and started sitting a period of zazen every morning, before work *giggles* They have these little pamphlets, the prayer pamphlets, so I would chant the prayer pamphlet. So, I memorized those, and I would read from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and I’d burn incense, and it was a very beautiful morning ritual. Actually, I came back from Green Gulch, made this altar, and then my first day back to work they offered me a promotion. And…*chuckle* I had to tell them “Actually, I’m quitting” *giggle* “I’m so sorry!” And I thanked them, and they were very supportive. It was a phenomenal place to work! The company is called InsightSquared. I felt like their professional development was off the charts. I felt very well taken care of. My career was a priority to them. They wanted me to succeed as not just a bottom-level call monkey, but they wanted me to develop to be a contributing member of the team for the long term. That was the tact that they took with all of their sales people. So, in that regard I just…I have nothing but great things to say about that company.

And it wasn’t a fit, so they gave me big hugs and sent me on my way and then I spent the next month enjoying my time with friends and meditating. That was really the turning point in my practice, when it became a daily exercise. I began meditating regularly, I began feeding my brain, and began paying attention to what I was digesting–like through visual media and in written word. That summer—I guess my lease was up in August, so that summer I spent with friends in Acadia National Park and at Walden Pond and in Portland, Maine, and then once I moved out I began a cross-country road trip that the final destination was Green Gulch.

Then the journey really took a turn, and s**t got so real. Like living in this little community, this village at Green Gulch Valley–probably the best analogy that I’ve come across for livelihood and practice here is–I think it’s a Zen saying, or maybe just a Buddhist analogy for Practice Periods, actually–*giggle* Its going to be literally like Catherine: “tell me about your practice” *both laugh* Jack: life story. Wall of text!

C: Yeah, but that’s okay! This is great!

J: Ok

C: I’m kind of relieved that I don’t have to ask a whole bunch of questions. You’re just doing it!

J: Ok, great! *giggles* Ok! *laughs*

*Catherine is laughing a lot*

J: Ok, so for Practice Periods they say it’s like being rocks in a tumbler, where we bump up against each other in such close quarters, and our edges soften. I would say that the first four months of practice and work practice and immersion in the container, they felt a lot like that. It took me forever to get my bearings, and I didn’t know what my practice looked like. I continued to love sitting zazen, I continued to….*sigh* I feel, like, ecstatic during services. So, loved that, and began trying out dokusan and practice discussions. So, in terms of formal practice, I really liked that, but didn’t understand or know how to take my practice with me from the zendo into the rest of life. I was really blessed in my first…it was October, November, December, January…my first four months living here I had a roommate—and one of my really good friends, actually—they were like…they influenced me in a really big way, and showed me, everyday, the many ways that practice can be something that we carry with us all day. So that became a focus of mine, like “Ok, I feel very…I’m holding myself in my body intentionally, and it feels very good in zazen. And I’m paying attention to the quality of my thoughts and studying the self in the zendo.” And then I began, with their guidance, and with the support of this community, to do the same outside of the zendo, at work…and in social situations, started to…like, social busyness…and…why is that? Why am I acting the way that I’m acting around these people, and why do I act differently around other people? It just felt like layers and layers of my habits, I could finally see all of the bottoms that are pressed dictating my unconscious actions in the world—and suddenly, I could see the machinery behind that. So, that continues to be my practice today—paying attention to, and becoming very intimate with, this person. I would say another huge practice would be the practice of love, and of self love, which actually is a practice of liberating all beings, of loving all beings.

Actually, maybe this is a good time to share this:

C: Ok.

J: I have…these are intentions–practice-oriented intentions–for the month of September.

C: That’s funny, Duras did the same thing.

J: Yeah.

C: She talked about it in her interview too.

J: No kidding!

C: Yeah.

J: So I’m…Duras’ intentions inspired mine.

C: Oh!

J: She asked–we had an email exchange–and she asked if had any intentions for this month, and this was my response to her. The first is, “At every opportunity, with great perseverance, remember and return, whole-heartedly, to the seat of awareness.” Which is also the observer position, and I think of it as being…when you hear Reb talk about the buddha-mind seal or the buddha-mind, I think all of those things are the same. It’s the witness to all thoughts and mental objects and experience. So, return to that place at every time that I remember to. “Let go of mental objects; let form, formations, perceptions, and consciousness swirl around me, and neither touch nor turn away from them, like the eye of a storm.” So, that’s one. The next one is: “No hesitation. Offer myself in service of others, in service of practice, in service of each moment. Do this with dignity, sincerity, and humility, characterized by”– and this is quoting the I-Ching–” a passively firm correctness”. That is from Hexigram-2, “Receptivity”. The next is: “Accept and pay attention to guidance, and be a student of life”. The fourth is: “Realize peaceful and righteous persistence”–again this is from Hexigram-2–“as I endeavor to take good care of this person, with an emphasis on eating in moderation, paying special attention to sugar, peanut butter, bread, and second helpings”–We could say more about that–“with emphasis on getting good sleep regularity and following through on my commitments to the farm, to friends, to 12-Step work, and to family”. And, there are 2 more; one is “Be receptive like the Earth”–this is all from Hexigram-2–“be receptive like the Earth, like a hard-working mare, like an open doorway”. And then this next bit is from a poem that I love by Rumi: “Be receptive like a reed flute for Your breath”–capital “Y” like the Beloved–“like wax for the buddha-mind seal”. And then the last one, the last intention for practice, is actually inspired by Dina! My dear friend!

*Catherine giggles*

It is: “To love outwardly endlessly”. So, maybe that’s all I’ll say….In response to your first question!

*Both laugh hard*

C: That was great!

J: *giggling* good!

C: I know so much more about you! Something that I think would be interesting would be to know more about what you feel about working outside and working on the land and working on the farm.

J: Mmmm, mmmhmmm. *long pause* You’re saying you don’t want to know more about practice?

*Both giggle*

C: I think you’re super cute but—*laughs*—I’m thinking let’s delve into some different areas.

J: Yeah, we can cover some different territory, so to speak.

*Catherine laughs*

J: So…wow, my relationship with the land has changed since arriving at Green Gulch. I’ve always had an appreciation for the Earth, going back to when I was a kid, I loved being outdoors. My family de-emphasized small screen media…like, I definitely watched movies growing up, but there was a cap on the amount of television time I had during the day. We had a swimming pool, I was obsessed with catching bugs, all things outdoors–that was my playground, was the forest behind my house. And then, when I got a little older I went to a summer camp in Estes Park, Colorado! Holla!

*Catherine giggles*

And so for a month every year I developed a sense of awe…and a big part of my soul felt connected to the mountains, because that was my safe haven for…I think I was a camper there for five years, during some really difficult summers in my life, and so it was—I mean that place formed me in really important ways. Maybe one of the most important ways it informed me was in giving me an appreciation or the Earth that I wouldn’t have had. So, I see that coming up at Green Gulch, like the difference between my office job, where I had two huge computer screens in my face all day–I would have a head-ache going home at the end of work. And then ironically, in order to escape from the headache or feeling drained at the end of the day–in order to soothe myself–I would watch Netflix, which is another screen. So, my exposure to nature was limited. And, now, I spend the vast majority of my time outdoors–the vast majority of my waking hours outdoors. Like I said, from 9:00 to at least 4:15, 4:30–hands firmly planted in the Earth, and getting sweaty underneath the sunshine, or more often, muffled in the mists of this North Bay Green Gulch valley.

Something that’s maybe unique to this summer and to this internship is this subtle attunement to the weather, feeling—certainly earlier in the summer–my mood would reflect the environment around me. On sunny days, high-energy, and on cloudy days, more mellow vibes. Certainly, that’s true because I’m working on the lettuce team. There are three of us: It’s Emila, the farm elder; and Zach, who’s a staff member, he was an apprentice last summer; and myself. Because lettuce is so sensitive to sunshine, to direct sunlight, on the mornings that the sun was not shrouded by cloud we were hustling. I mean we would ramp our production up like three-times as quickly on sunny days, so really my material reality, like the way that I would think and act, was dictated by the weather. And continues to be.

Another thing I would say is that the same awe that I would have of mountains in Colorado I have for the generative power of the Earth. I feel, at this point, minimally involved in food production. Even though I know that without the work that the farm crew does there would be no produce–like, we wouldn’t have anything to hand over to customers at a farmers’ market. We really do–I don’t even know the percentage…it’s…we do a fraction of the work involved in creating the substance, in creating the value. It’s more like we arrange, we do the logistics. Like, we’ll do transport, we’ll make sure the seeds get to the right place and that they get watered…but the Earth! The Earth and the sky and the sunshine, that is where all of the power is coming from, that is where the real creativity happens…and it’s astounding. I mean we are just flooded by produce. We’re hustling to process the quantity of greenery that is overflowing–like, it’s flooding us–out of our fields. I have no idea how that happens. I don’t really understand, still, how a seed that is so tiny can create ears of corn, or a chard plant from which we harvest for weeks. So, that’s miraculous and mysterious.

C: Can you see yourself doing farming work if you were to leave Green Gulch?

J: I can, yeah. I thought about this because there are some people on this apprenticeship crew–the 2016 season–that think like farmers, and I’m recognizing that while I have a lot to offer as a member of this crew, I don’t think the way that a farmer thinks…yet, at least. I think it comes naturally to some of the people that I work with. But I do derive great–I mean immense–joy from this labor. I don’t know if I would want to be the captain of a farm, like lead that initiative solo, but I could be a partner in a farm endeavor, for sure. I would really like that…because there’s something about the manual labor, about working really hard, and getting sweaty with a crew of other people, and being outdoors all day…totally invested in a cause I care about, which is creating food, which is an essential need–for all forms of life, but specifically humans, supporting healthy human life in a way that is healthy for my body. It’s exercise, so I’m taking care of this person in a way that’s sustainable for the planet. It’s organic, it’s…we’re not using very many–well, any–chemicals. No pesticides, minimal amounts of machinery, and that’s important to me too. So, yeah, if there were an opportunity to work on an operation like Green Gulch–in that it’s a small, organic farm–elsewhere, then yes. I could totally see myself doing this.

C: Would you say…Im curious if you can identify certain passions that you have.

J: Mmmm. Yeah, I mean, I can. I have…are you just making sure that it’s still working?

C: Yeah, usually I do the interview for about 45 minutes…so that’s 9 more minutes.

J: Cool, ok.

C: *laughs* Go! *laughs* It’s so great! It’s so great.

J: Passions! Yeah, I’m passionate about this practice! I…*pause* it has been transformative for me. I feel…*pause* like I’ve come back to life–in living at Green Gulch and working here–in a way that I didn’t think was possible. For so much of my life I was…numb. To myself, and to how I felt, to my emotional life. I didn’t feel like who I was was acceptable, and so I was constantly finding ways to repress difficulty, and keep my head above water…and present as a very happy, successful person. Through meditation and Zen Buddhist practice at Green Gulch I feel awakened to all of myself, and I feel a capacity for intimacy with other people that I did not know that I was capable of. And I am so passionate about honoring…I am so passionate about helping other people help themselves, in a way that—like, if there are kids out there, or if there are adults out there, that are struggling in any way similar to how I was struggling, and if they find their way into this community, then yeah I want to help them in a way that I wish someone had been like, “Jack! Let me help you!” It’s difficult because I think, on the one hand, getting from where I started to where I feel now is the kind of journey that an individual has to choose for themselves, and it’s the effort an individual has to make alone. And by alone I mean that they have to make the decision to show up for this work again and again and again. And it goes without saying, none of what I did happened independently. All of it was through the support of family and friends and the Green Gulch community…and infinite causes and conditions, literally. I can’t name the all. But, yeah, I feel passionate about helping people with the tools that helped me–with mindfulness, with 12-step programs, with Zen Buddhist practice–through Dharma, essentially. Because I’ve seen…it transformed me and I have no doubt that it will help other people. So, I feel passionate about that.

I feel passionate about continuing to do this work with myself, which I have a feeling is going to last until the day that I die, and maybe into infinite future lifetimes *laughs*. There’s this quote that goes…Wait! Let me get out my (journal).

C: Ok.

J: *sighs*…It’s by Winston Churchill.

C: Ok.

J: I quote this a lot! *giggle*

C: Ok! *giggle*

J: Let’s see…”Every day you make progress, every step maybe be fruitful, yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you’ll never get to the end of the journey, but this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and the glory of the climb”. Yeah, I feel passionate about continuing to study myself. And to open myself to myself and to other people, to walking the path of practice, essentially. And I feel really passionate about love!

C: Mmmhmmm!

J: I feel like that has been the key to transformation for me. Like learning to accept myself unconditionally, and learning to love other people without condition. Like, whoever you are and whatever you’re doing with me, I will love you. Period. So, when I heard that–this came from Dina too–this idea that, yeah, there are difficult situations and there are people who are hard to work with, but, one: who is it who’s really hard to work with? Is it the actual person? Or is it my own internal landscape and what I’m projecting into that person, and what’s coming up for me is difficult? So that is a pivot that never occurred to me, and that’s why it’s a practice of self-love. Because I’m learning to be spacious and gracious with the parts of myself that I hate or reject or find difficult–and project into other people. So, she introduced me to that pivot, and then to the notion of love, period. Love, no matter what.

And, practicing that put all of my religious exposure into a new context. Like, looking at The Bible now, and being like, “Oh! Jesus wasn’t f***ing around” He was serious! And I’ve met people that do this practice, and their lives are changed…and it’s the same thing with the Bodhisattva precepts, or with all of Dharma. This practice of love has made me realize that if you actually try to exercise the admonitions and encouragements of these spiritual sages–all of our ancestors–it works! With time, my edges have softened. I feel a tenderness and care for myself that I didn’t a year ago when I arrived here. I feel an acceptance and an inclusion…I keep coming back to this word–an intimacy with other people, a dependence–an interdependence with other people–that I did not feel before this. I feel very passionate about continuing to do that work and to open to my life, and to open to love, unceasingly.

C: Good, that’s great. Yeah! We’re at 45 minutes.

J: Nice!

C: Well, I try not to go past 45 minutes because it takes me like…

J: Forever?

C: …three-times as long to transcribe it.

J: Yeah

C: So…*laugh*

J: Great!

C: But thank you very much!

J: Thank you, Catherine! Always nice spending time with you!

C: Yes! Always nice spending time with you!

J: Thanks for doing this project.

C: You’re welcome.

J: Yeah, I’m so excited to read everyone else’s interview.

C: I’m excited for you to read them too, because they’re all marvelous.

Polaroid taken of Jack at Singing Frogs Farm

This past week I had the absolutely delightful pleasure of spending a portion of one of my evenings talking to the lovely Duras Ruggles. She is insightful, thoughtful, poignant, and, at times, wonderfully fantastical. This interview offered only a sample of the intelligence, whimsy, and fortitude that Duras embodies, but I feel like it’s a rather good sample indeed.

Catherine: Ok, Hi

Duras: Hi Catherine

C: I’m with Duras Ruggles. Duras, could you tell me what you do at Green Gulch?

D: In terms of the work that I do?

C: Yep

D: I am a second-year farmer. When I first came here I worked in the kitchen for a couple of months, and then I fell in love with the farm, left, came back, and was a farm apprentice for a year. I did two Practice Periods this winter, and now I’m back as a staff-ish person.

C: *giggle* And…what brought you to Green Gulch in the first place?

D: I dropped out of college, studying physics, because I was extremely depressed, and I needed to do something different, and I remembered that I used to love meditation. And I was very fortunate that I lived in the area, and I knew about Green Gulch. And I stayed for two weeks, experimentally, and those two weeks were very influential. I knew it was a place of of change.

C: And did you have any sort of farming or gardening experience or anything prior to working here?

D: I am a tree-person in general

C: Ok!

*both giggle*

D: I am a dirty…tree…person

*both laugh*

D: And I took an organic farming class with Wendy Johnson at College of Marin, and I worked at a nursery in Marin for a while, and was being trained to be the buyer for the edibles section, so I had experience with edible plants in that area.

C: Did you take the class with Wendy before you moved here?

D: In between the kitchen and the farm.

C: Hmmm. How long of a gap was that?

D: Less than a year, but not by much.

C: Hmm. And you grew up in the area?

D: No…

C: No?

D: I grew up in Portland and in Austin and kind of here.

C: What does that mean? Kind of here?

D: Well I’m not sure…in a sense I grew up here, but I was already teenaged when I moved here.

C: Oh. Do you have a favorite? Between Portland, Austin, and here?

D: My experience is different of each one, because I was a teeny-tiny child in Portland, a medium-sized child in Austin *giggle*, and a large child in California. I had the most diverse experience in California, so I’m going to say that’s my favorite, but I feel like I haven’t gathered enough data to reach a conclusion.

C: *giggles* Do you have any plans for your life after…just…right now!

*both giggle*

D: I want to remain flexible with whatever may appear. It will probably appear before me beyond what I can conceive of at the moment, but I have so many dreams and aspirations! I might go back to college and instead of studying physics, study soil science, because it is incredibly important for us and our planet to take care of the soil. More than important. Vital. I also might not go back to college and become more of an educator and advisor in terms of sustainability, soil health, perhaps herbal medicine. And, more immediately, I want to work for Outward Bound, which is a backpacking organization for teenagers. I’m also interested in combining therapy with community gardens, I think that’s a perfect pair…and there are tons of other ideas, like being an emergency medic or a circus performer.

*Catherine giggles*

D: We’ll see what happens.

C: Do you have any favorite parts of Zen? Or, why Zen in particular? Why Zazen? Zen.

*both giggle*

D: And then I just sit here silently.

C: Yeah!

*both laugh*

D: It’s very grounding, it makes a lot of sense. It’s open to all of the philosophies and spiritualities and religions that I know of…you can incorporate them into Zen. I’m a very airy person, and very colorful and creative, so it’s good for me to be reigned into just simple, here, eyes open. It’s the perfect practice for me, personally. And I’ve found it’s given me grounding to live my life in a healthy way. And I have a lot of faith in the sitting, especially after doing two Practice Periods and seeing what happens to my psychology after sitting silently for seven days, and more. I think that there’s a lot of transformative power in that. So, that’s why Zen, in this moment.

C: Hmm. Would you describe yourself as a Buddhist?

D: Well, I practice Buddhism. I’m taking the precepts (to become lay-ordained). I would describe myself as a Buddhist in the sense of Buddhism as a philosophy and a lifestyle. I’m not a religious person, although I am spiritual. So, in conclusion, yes *giggles* I would describe myself as a Buddhist.

C: So…and if you don’t want to answer my questions, you can just not answer them.

D: Ok. Feel free to ask very challenging…personal…I’ll answer all of your questions.

*both laugh*

C: Ok! So, when you describe yourself as a spiritual person, what does that mean to you?

D: That’s a good question. The question “What does it mean to be a spiritual person?”…the sense I get of that question is…water *moves hands in a flow-y manner, like water* It is very…relative…and I don’t think it really has a fixed definition. For me, it just means I speak to a feeling I have about life and my existence that is a sort of direction and purpose in a sense. Purpose is another thing we could talk about for a long time….but just my own purpose, and how I interact with myself and others. And this could all be viewed as not spiritual at all, it’s just trying to be a good person and improve. But there’s just this very nature-based devotion to the miracle of life that I think would be my spirituality.

C: Do you believe in karma and reincarnation, and those kinda elements of Buddhism, would you say?

D: It depends on what you mean by “believe”. I don’t think I really believe in anything…but also somewhere in the back of my head, I do believe in those things *laughs* It might not be my choice what I  believe. So, in that sense I do believe in karma and reincarnation. Not exactly as some people think of it. It’s not like I might get reborn as a fox, or if I do this, then this will happen. It’s more encompassing of the inconceivability of how things actually work. I think it’s a lot more complex than the kind of linear way that we tend to think of things.

C: So why do you not think you have a choice…or what did you say? Not have a choice in what you believe? Is that what you said?

D: Yeah

C: Yeah

D: Well, I was thinking of it as…I have a belief system that comes from my sub-conscious and it’s from how I was raised, and my environment–and my belief system I think is an automatic response from all of that. So, over time I think that I can change what I believe, but I think that would be a long process. I can have ideas, and thoughts, and feelings, but my definition of belief in this moment is…not a conditioned response.

C: Do you think you’re having studied physics has any sort of impact on your spirituality?

D: Hmmm, well I’ve always been a very scientific and spiritual person. I never wanted to combine them somehow…I think they co-arose and impact each other.

C: How did you choose to study physics in the first place?

D: I love outer space!

C: Ok

D: Physics was the first thing you study before moving on to something more specific…which is…astrophysics, or something like that. I was going to decide where to branch off after studying just physics, because it’s a long process of getting to those places. But it turns out I like being outside. I need to be outside for my well-being.

C: Hmmm, what does that mean?

D: Mmmm. Well perhaps I could overcome it, but it seems at this moment that I need to work with my physical body in the natural world in order to have sanity and mental stability.

*both laugh*

C: What do you like about outer space?

*Both laugh*

D: I just…there’s a part of me that just wants to explore the universe, and expand people’s minds. I think that the universe is so much more complex than what anybody thinks, or what anybody is aware of right now. When I think about the universe in terms of astral bodies and dimensions and all of those manners of things, I just get this golden bubbly feeling…and I don’t know why!

C: *giggles* Do you think there is potential for extra-terrestrial life forms?

D: I think it would be insane to think that there is not.

C: Why is that?

D: Because statistically speaking, or just thinking for a second about how the universe is infinitely huge, beyond space and time, it’s pretty obvious that there are lifeforms everywhere. And, also, that they don’t have to be carbon-based life forms as we know it. They could be ammonia based. They could be in a spectrum that we can’t see. Did you hear that our closest neighboring star has a planet in the habitable zone, that they’re considering could maybe be our next home if we mess everything up?

C: *laughs* Yeah!

D: *laughs* I hope we don’t

C: Yeah. Well, that’s fun…I kind of know this about you already…which is why I thought to segue to this question next, but what kind of books do you like to read?

D: I used to have a debilitating addiction to fantasy. So, I’m trying to avoid that right now, because if I start reading good fiction, or fantasy, or sci-fi novels, I won’t do anything. But right now I’m loving reading about herbology, natural plant medicine, permaculture, biomimicry, wilderness survival. There’s a book I’m reading about horses and spirituality

*both laugh*

D: And, a little bit of poetry, and…I’m not looking at my bookshelf, so I can pull it out of my mind. I could just read the names of the books off my bookshelf

*both laugh*

D: I’m reading some Zen books too. Let’s see, what else…oooh, oooh, I’ve been reading Women Who Run with the Wolves lately, and that’s just really great.

C: What’s that?

D: It’s a collection of stories about powerful feminine archetypes that are in touch with their wild power.

C: Hmmm, cool. Archetypes, like throughout legends and myths? Or how they exist today?

D: Well, mostly I’ve been reading about so far is the author’s rantings, I suppose, on these things. She has this beautiful poetry, poetic energy, that makes you feel like you have some sort of female wolf-beast coming out of you…

*Catherine giggles*

D: …and I think that’s really helpful for women to get in touch with their true self, and what is their femininity

C: What does “feminine” mean to you?

D: It means…I have a vagina, and….that’t it

*both giggle*

C: Cool, cool

D: I’ve been thinking a lot about gender, and I’m not really sure how to really go into that

C: Hmm, yeah, because there could be feminine men, too

D: Yeah. I have been thinking that there’s no such thing as feminine and masculine energy at all, it’s just that there’s biologically male and female bodies–except for people who don’t quite fit into that–and then there’s energy “A” and energy “B”, which over hundreds and hundreds of generations has co-evolved with us so that we think that energy “A” is predominantly “woman” and energy “B” is predominantly in men, because of cultural conditioning over thousands of years. But actually, it’s just energies that are independent of the biological body

*both laugh*

C: You think just two energies?

D: Well, it could be a spectrum

C: Mmhmmm

D: It could be one energy that expresses itself dramatically

*both laugh*

C: Mmhmmm. So you, I think, are a very creative person. What are your favorite outlets, would you say? This could be throughout your life, or right now, or both, or neither, and answer completely differently…

D: I’ve always really liked visual art and music and many other things, but those are the two things I do the most right now. I’m trying to learn bass right now. Oh! and poetry too, and writing in general. And, I’ve recently gotten into body movement. Contact improv is sooo good.

C: Could you talk more about contact improv?

D: Ok.

*Catherine giggles*

D: Hmmm…it’s another way to get out of your thinking mind, and into your body, which is especially good for people like me who are very much in the cloud-space, to get out of the cloud-space and into the physical form. And also interact with another person, because you maintain a point of physical contact with another person the entire time, essentially. There aren’t really any rules, it’s very improvisational…and there’s a space you get into when you’re doing it. It’s very hard to lie. Have you ever done any improvisational anything?

C: Ummm I’ve done a little improv comedy, but not very recently.

D: Hmmm, I’m trying to find a way to describe the feeling of doing improvisational physical movements, with no music or talking or anything. You start just by rolling around on the floor *giggles* and then rolling around on the walls, and then rolling around on other people. It really breaks down all of the walls that you have, and I’ve found it to be the most therapeutic thing that I’ve done yet.

C: Really?

D: Mmhmm.

C: How long have you been doing it?

D: Not very frequently, but a few months.

C: Ok, and when you go, is it the same group of people there usually or is it usually kind of different?

D: Usually it’s people I don’t know.

C: Uh-huh. Why is it so therapeutic for you?

D: *long pause* You really find your weaknesses when you’re doing it, and you’re really pushed to move beyond them, on a dime. It’s really good intimacy training as well–being with another person, and interacting with them beyond the thought realm, and for me, I like it to not be sexual. And…hmmm…yeah, this one’s really hard to describe. Maybe one day I’ll write something about it. It might be abstract too, because this is something that is kind of beyond verbal.

C: Mmmm

D: But if this sounds intriguing, I know there are many people who have written about this, about contact improv. There are some books.

C: Hmmm, ok. What kind of visual art do you do?

 

The piece of art mentioned

 

 

D: Mmmm, I made that thing *points to drawing on her wall*

C: Oh, that’s nice! Is that drawing? And…I can’t tell what medium that is.

D: It started as pencil and then pen, and then watercolors, and then I glued some real butterfly wings on it.

C: Oh!

*Duras giggles*

C: Yeah, I really like that. Maybe I’ll come back and take a photo of that so people know what we’re talking about when they read this.

D: Oh, and there’s also the mushroom fairy over there.

C: Oh yeah! It’s mostly…drawing, that you do?

D: Mmmhmmm. I made my intention board, over there, the other day. It’s not…an art display.

*Both laugh*

C: Do you do that every month?

D: I have been doing it the past few months, and I am very different now, since I’ve begun.

C: Really?

The mushroom fairy!

D: Mmhmmm. For example, just like….I’m trying not to use the word “like”.

C: It’s okay, I edit it out….most of the people use the word “like”, and I edit it out.

*Both giggle*

D: Ummm, for example, the food that I put into my body, before the intentions I put pretty much anything into my body. And now, I’m a vegan who also doesn’t eat gluten or sugar or caffeine…and I’ve been on caffeine since the seventh or eighth grade, and I am caffeine-free now, as of the past few months, and it has been…mmmmm, yeah, just the way your experience changes when you are able to control what you put into your body. You don’t have so many waves. You can actually just be a natural, energetic, human being. I think that food is responsible for most of the mental health problems in the modern world.

C: Really? How so?

D: With processed food in particular. I’ve noticed it personally through my experience, as well as observing it through other people’s experiences, and just thinking about how we evolved as a society with food, and looking at what the average person puts into their body, and looking at the ways that it really does affect your brain chemistry, your gut flora. 80%, approximately, of your serotonin lives in your gut. It used to be that when I ate gluten my gut serotonin would get all messed up, and it would be that every time I would get so angry, and exhausted, and depressed, whenever I ate gluten.

C: Wow.

D: And sugar does crazy things to your energy and your moods. And processed food does who-knows-what.

*Both chuckle*

D: And so if you’re putting this stuff into your body year after year after year, it just kind of makes sense that, yeah, you are going to have a hard time.

C: Yeah your body and your brain are all connected, because your brain is your body!

D: They say that your gut is your first brain. And this brain *points to skull* is just a collection of neurons that we’re all fascinated by, but is not a big deal.

C: Mmmmm. Hmmm, that’s an interesting perspective. With your intentions…have you noticed any other changes with the intentions you’ve set this past month, besides the food intentions? *awkward pause* That was a very inarticulate question

*Duras giggles*

C: Ummm….I guess I’m just curious what some of your other intentions have been, beside your food ones.

D: Mmmhmmm. Well, I’ve had an OCD behavior since the seventh grade called dermatillomania that I’m really trying to not do anymore. It’s taken a lot of time and a lot of patience, but that’s one of the intentions. I mess with my skin, pretty much, is what that is.

C: Hmmm.

D: And…ummm….another one is more on an emotional level, trying to feel more deeply. I have many walls put up against intimacy and allowing myself to feel emotions fully…and I’m putting a real effort into feeling all of the emotions all the way through, and enjoying that journey. Or, maybe not enjoying that journey, but really experiencing that journey fully. And engaging with strangers, with more active curiosity.

C: Yep, that’s good for Green Gulch.

D: *polite giggle* and…writing every day, and time awareness. Increasing time awareness. There are a few different ways of doing that. And….

*both giggle*

D: And I feel like the core of most of these intentions is not wasting any of the time in my life, and not procrastinating any of my life away. Some people kind of waste–not waste, but don’t fully utilize–every moment in their life, and I think that’s very tragic, and I would like to not do that, because I see it in myself all of the time.

C: What do you think happens when you die? When we die?

D: In terms of this physical body, or the like….I know what question you’re asking. Ok, ok.

C: We could talk about that, sure, whatever you want to talk about!

*Duras laughs*

D: The body goes into the soil and is eaten by microorganisms and inflates and smells bad!

*Both laugh*

D: Well, again, I don’t want to have firm beliefs about anything. But somewhere down there I do have this kind of semi-belief that we have the energetic bodies—oooh, this is going to sound really hippy…

C: Ok!

*Both laugh*

D: Ummm *pause* well, first of all, maybe we just enter the infinite eternity of nothingness, and we’re all this mass consciousness expressing itself in a big multi-dimensional program, or experience…

C: Mmmhmm *giggle*

D: …which could also be true, that there’s one “soul”–in quotation marks–that is a trunk of a tree, and there are all these branches and all these leaves. And each person is a leaf on this tree. And when you die, the leaf falls off, which is your body, but then your energetic self just rejoins the branches. And perhaps that energetic self has memory and, as with everything, there is constant evolution and change—and that memory decides where to go to in its next evolution and change. And perhaps in our existence in this realm we lose contact with that memory, and we become confused, simple organisms of desires and suffering. Except for some of us! I’ve met many people who have some sort of contact with that energy and those memories, and I think that somewhere I do have a belief that all of that is real.

C: Hmmm

D: Mmmm, yeah!

C: *chuckles* That’s a good answer! Do you think that….ah, I don’t know, I feel like these are leading questions, because I’m thinking about my own beliefs when you’re talking about this stuff. So, I guess I’m just curious to see if your thoughts align at all (with mine), or if there’s difference.

D: We could just talk.

C: Yeah.

D: Yeah!

C: But *laughs* part of the reason I wanted to do these interviews for my blog is that I talk so much about myself through my blog, that I just get tired of it. So I just want to talk about other people

D: Mmmm

C: *laughs* That’s why I’m not sharing very much right now. I just want to get to know you.

D: Oh gosh.

C: *laughs* Ummm, what was I going to say? Oh! Do you think that thoughts on death have brought  you to any sort of desire or awareness within your own life to–I guess I can share this–I’ve been thinking a lot about death. I think that just comes with maybe being alive, and maturing, and living at a Buddhist Zen center and meditating many hours a day. But I’ve just been feeling this very–since moving here–I’ve always thought about death, but since moving here I’ve had this really urgent sense of: life is going to end, and I’m going to end, and that’s real. And so, when you were describing how you no longer want to procrastinate…I’ve been feeling that way more urgently lately, just because of the juxtaposition of death, just right there. Anyways, I was just wondering if you have any sort of feelings or thoughts around such things, like that.

D: I have always thought about death. Even when I was a little kid. Maybe it was my spiritual upbringing, or maybe I was an interesting kid, I don’t know. But, I’ve always thought a lot about death. When I was little, I really felt that I wasn’t afraid of death. I was actually very excited about this prospect of old-age and death…and if I was old, and about to die, I would make it into this fun scientific experiment of what would happen to me. And I began just picturing death like “Yes! Here it comes, here it comes! I get to see what it’s like on the other side now, woo!” *giggles* And I imagine perhaps when that’s actually happening, I might be clinging, who knows. But I continue to think about death, and I still don’t think I’m afraid of death. I am afraid of suffering, of course, and of pain–but death itself, I am not afraid of. When other people die, that is something very sad, but again, death itself, I don’t’ see anything wrong with that. It’s just when you lose somebody you love, it’s very challenging.

When I said I came to Green Gulch because I was very depressed, I was also very suicidal. So, I was very much in that. And, I did eventually come out of it, and ever since coming out of it I’ve been just like, “Holy shit, wow! I survived!” I feel like it’s so amazing to be alive right now, because I’ve been through the experience of not really wanting to be alive. And I have a lot of compassion for people who struggle with this, and I really want to support them, which is what inspired me to someday make a therapeutic garden–because the way that our society handles death is not good. We put people on drugs in white rooms and that’s it. I think that death can be really beautiful, and in a lot of cultures it is really beautiful. And you can meditate on things like your sibling or your parents eventually dying, and one day…I think I’m going to live a long life, and that many of the people I know will die, before I do. And, that’s something you can meditate on, to prepare yourself, but death itself is not bad. It’s kind of exciting. It’s kind of beautiful, if you want to think about things in that way—or empty, just like everything else. I also don’t want to become too fixated on the idea of that, and obsess about it and think about it all of the time. I’ve been there, and I want to appreciate the current moment, which right now is life—which is especially vibrant, because right now I just feel so grateful to not be depressed *laughs*

C: Mmhmm, mmhmmm, I get that, yeah.

D: It’s like, “Oh my god! I’m functioning! Woah!”

C: *laughs* Yeah, I totally get that *giggles*

D: Just not being sad is awesome *laughs*

C: Mmmhmm, mmmhmmm *chuckles* yeah

D: Are you having anything come up, on this subject of death? Now that I’ve gone on a rant, and I’ve lost where I’m going?

C: Yeah, so, this is another thing that has been interesting me. Have you ever read Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury?

D: No

C; Well, I think you should read it. It’s not science fiction so much. It is fiction, but it’s only borderline fantastical. It has fantastical elements to it, but it’s very real at the same time

D: Mmmhmm

C: Anyways, the protagonist of the story is a twelve-year-old boy, and at the beginning of the story it describes him realizing the first time that he’s alive…like, “Oh my god! I’m alive!” Something that’s been interesting to me is if people can remember that themselves. Can you remember the first moment you realized you were alive? And I guess for me, it happened right around the same time I realized I was actually going to die. But, I can’t remember which one came first. I don’t know, anyway, do you have any sorts of insights or recollections or memories or anything of that sort?

D: Hmmm *pause* I think I caught onto a lot of things when I was young, so I don’t really have a lot of those memories. I’m not sure why that is. But *giggle* hmmm….I think that as soon as my brain was capable of philosophizing things, I concluded, “Hmmm, yes, death. Life.” *laughs* “Fairies! Let’s go play!”

*Both laugh*

D: So, I’m afraid I don’t have those memories.

C: Yeah, that’s okay.

D: I do feel strongly about de-stigmatizing words like “death”, “depression”, and “suicide”, and having people talk about it. Because, when people think that they can’t talk about it, their problems get worse. There’s more suffering.

C: Mmhmmm. What are…this might not be possible…but I’m curious if you could maybe describe, to you, what it feels like to have moments where you realize that you’re really alive? Could you describe any sensations or thoughts that happen?

D: There is…I’m trying to think of a specific moment, and there is one that was actually pretty recent. It was at the end of the second Practice Period, and I had just been sitting, and sitting, and sitting. And then we sat Sesshin, and Sesshin had just ended—for the readers, Sesshin is seven days of meditating while not talking to anybody–and I was riding my bike down to the farm, and I just looked around. I felt like I was on psychedelics, and I just thought, “Where am I? I am here. What is this? What’s happening?”

*Both laugh*

 

A polaroid that Jack took of Duras while touring Singing Frog Farms

 

D: I just had this really visceral, bird’s eye view of an organism on a bike, on a farm, and it was blowing my mind as it was happening.

*Catherine giggles*

D: And I don’t know how I can describe that. Maybe you can identify with the psychedelic feeling of just like, your bubble’s popped, and you’re just like *makes dramatic face and body movements*

C: *laughs* Yeah!

D: What is this flesh? Time! And you’re just very in the moment, and you almost can’t remember how you got there or what you’re going to do, you’re just here. Like a hamster.

*Both giggle hard*

C: *laughs* Sure!

D: *giggles* But I feel like that’s really being alive, when you’re so in the moment that it becomes like a psychedelic experience and you’re wondering what the hell’s happening. I think that’s really being alive—you’re kind of making sense of things. I think that’s you making sense of your environment and being more in the matrix of your mind…and when you get out of the matrix of your mind, into weird states, that can’t possibly be put into words, that’s life.

C: Ineffable! *Laughs* It’s one of my favorite words.

D: Me too!

C: Yeah! Yay! *giggles* Umm, we have a minute and a half left. I’m going to bring it back to more light-hearted stuff. Do you have a favorite vegetable you like to grow on the farm?

D: Hakurei turnips.

C: That’s funny, that’s what Isabelle said. Why is that?

D: Because they’re like apple-pear-radishes. And if you get them when they’re just right, you bite into them and they’re soft and juicy and sweet.

C: Wow! I think we’ve had them in salads and stuff. Was that at the sustainability dinner?

D: Yeah, but they’re best if you eat them like apples.

C: Hmmm, well maybe I’ll have to try that sometimes. Ok, we have 37 seconds.

D: Ok.

C: Do you have 30 seconds worth of anything that you want to say?

D: I just want to say that the most important practice for us all–and it can get deeper, infinitely, no matter how good you get at it, you can always get better—and it’s self-love.

C: That. Is. Wise. Yes. I think that is something everybody needs to work on. It is very clear here, how much we all need to work on it, for sure.

D: The deeper you love yourself, the deeper you can love others.

This week I had the absolute pleasure to interview my absolutely wondrous yurt neighbor Dominic. He was very patient and accommodating to my questions, and answered them very thoughtfully and genuinely. It was lovely to be able to get to know him better and to spend a portion of my afternoon with him (and Miss Jo too, of course).

Catherine: Hello, Dominic

Dominic: Hello
Jo: Hi Donimic!
*everybody chuckles*
*Craig, a guest student, walks by*
C: Oh, hello Craig
Cr: Hi!
*everybody giggles*
C: This is also why I didn’t want to do it (the interview) outside, but it’s okay
D: Ah, this is fine
C: Yeah, it’s fine
D: There’s not going to be that many people walking by. I mean, if you look up you don’t see anybody, so it doesn’t matter
J: Yeah, it’s very nice to look up and see branches
C: We’re outside, on the pool deck…
D: A somewhat-inspiring location
C: A somewhat-inspiring location?
J: By “pool deck” we mean “not a pool deck” *giggles*
C: Why is this not inspiring?
D: I just prefer to be in my natural habitat, on the farm. But it’s okay, this works, this is where I eat all of my meals
C:Yeah?
D: I’m pretty comfortable here too, especially when horizontal
C: Mmmhmm, mmhmm. So, what would you say your job is here?
D: My job…is to…
J: Save all beings
D: That is my vow, to save all beings
J: Hmm
D: My job is to cultivate the soil of Green Gulch Farm.
C: Ok
D: And the job of the people around me is to cultivate me
*everybody giggles*
D: The people who manage the farm, their job is to cultivate farmers and future Bodhisattvas
J: Do you feel cultivated?
D: Ummm…I feel like there have been changes as a person, since coming here
J: Like what?
D: Ummm…I find them hard to pinpoint, but I would say that I’m better at focusing on whatever the task at hand is, or just putting myself into the current situation, and not thinking about things that are just distractions that are not in front of me. And…I think also I’m just more open to what the universe throws at me, and accept it, rather than trying to control outcomes.
C: Why did you decide to come here in the first place?
D: There was a sequence of events that….for about a year I was unsatisfied with what I was doing with my career. And I had been to Green Gulch once after I got back from living in Asia and traveling in South East Asia for a little bit, and I became interested in Buddhism more, after seeing more people that were practicing it, and seeing how their values were different from mine…and I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and found that there was a sitting workshop here that I came and did…and I became more interested in it…I didn’t really practice while I was working, and I had a lot of other things going on in my life…
*Reed and Justin, the Maintenance Apprentices, come onto the pool deck with drills*
C: *giggles* Are you guys going to be drilling?
R: Yeah
*Everyone giggles*
R: Are you guys talking to someone?
J: We’re recording an interview
*More giggles*
D: We can move though
C: Yeah, we can move
J: No problemo
R: Are you going to edit out the sound of my voice?
C: Uhh, only I’ll listen to it, but I am definitely going to include everything you say in it, for sure
D: Is it still recording?
C: It’s still recording, yeah, I can’t interrupt it. It’s great though, I love this.
D:*starts speaking far away from the mic*
C: Wait, I can’t hear you though, you need to come closer if you’re going to talk
D: Why don’t we go to the table over there?
C: Okay
D: The farther one
C: Oh, the far one, yeah that’s a good idea. And you guys can lie down again.
J: Isn’t this such a good Goodwill find?
D: What?
C: What, the fleece? Oh, yeah!
C: That bench…
*Sounds of Jo and Dominic moving the bench*
D: Shall we resume?
C: Yes!
D: Okay, ummm….yeah so I was just working for the last few years, just kind of grinding away, and I just wasn’t feeling satisfied, and I wanted to do more meditation, but I just never found the time in my schedule because I had a lot of other competing priorities, and I couldn’t really carve out the time for it…and then when I quit my job in December I started doing some part-time work, and randomly came upon the Green Gulch website one morning. Just looking to see if there were any more workshops like I did a few years ago, and I randomly saw the Farm and Garden Apprenticeship…and I had already started working full-time at that point, again, but this seemed really interesting to me, and just sort of immediately thought that I would like to…I started planning out how I would like to come here to do this, and what I would do over the next few months, leading up to that…and if I would be able to spend six months to actually come and spend time here, because in the past I  needed to immerse myself in something if I was ever going to make it part of my schedule. Doing little bits and pieces at a time never really affects me. So, yeah, then I applied at the exact same time that I found it, and then two weeks later I came here for the guest student stay, met Catherine and lots of new friends!
C: Mmmm yay! *giggles*
D: And was pretty much sold on it, although I pretty much knew that I would do it, but then I went back to the city for a while, and was just kind of deliberating over it, if it was a good thing for me…and there was a lot of downsides as well, because I had to move out of my house, which was awesome. I was living with two really good friends, and we had this massive house that was a great deal for San Francisco, with our own backyard and all of this stuff, so I would have to lose that, in order to come here. But I just decided that the risks of doing it were not that significant in comparison to this potentially transformative experience. So, I just decided to sack it up and come here.
J: Were the people around you at that time supportive of that? Or were people one way or the other?
D: Umm…my housemates tried to convince me not to do it, and they were not very supportive, because, for whatever reason, they didn’t really want someone else to move-in in my place. They were like “We’d rather just move out then sublet to somebody else”
C: Oh, that’s nice!

D: Because they had bad experiences in the past and I had been there for like two-and-a-half years, and I think before me there were like seven other people before me that were like a few months at a time, and it was not good for them…and so, I think that was part of the reason why they tried to convince me not to do it, and they were pretty annoyed for some of the time, and it was kind of threatening our friendship at a certain point. And then, gradually they started to accept it, and eventually those guys became very supportive, and ended up making kind of big changes in their lives too, so it was a catalyst for other things…good things to happen. And, other people…yeah, I have some friends who are into meditation practice, and they were very supportive, they were pretty envious…and my family…some of my cousins I’m closed to I talked about it and they were very supportive. My parents were just confused, and were just like, “Oh, if you want to do farming, why don’t  you just do…like go back to school, or do an internship or something like that?” But it’s partially because I was telling most people, outside of my close group of friends that I was like going to work on a farm, and focusing on the farming aspect…but really I wouldn’t have come here if it didn’t have both the farming and the meditation. But, yeah, rather than telling people I was going to live in a Buddhist community, it was easier for me to say that I was going to be a farmer. And then if they asked more questions, I’d be like, “Yeah, it’s also a Zen Buddhist monastery”.

C: Mmhmmm. And you…I take it you really like the farming aspect?
D: Mhmmm, yeah,
C: And you’re interested in doing that more in your life?
D: Yeah, it’s something I wanted to pursue as a career option. That was definitely part of the reason I wanted to try it out, so in that two week period (the guest student stay) we had to try out farming a little bit…and I had jobs in the past where I was physically active a lot of the time, and I just felt a lot better, in general, in outside work, when I’ve been active in my work life.
J: Have you worked in a manual labor job before?
D: No, not really. It’s my first time doing that. But, yeah I kind of like it. I like doing manual labor because it’s very easy to see the progress that you’ve made and the outcomes of your work on a daily basis, rather than the projects I worked on when I was doing project management work…I think a lot of it was auditing, so you don’t really get to see any outcome, you’re just checking the work of other people. And other types of projects where you’re just re-doing the same stuff over and over again. Taking a long time to get anything deliverable out, it’s just sort of a frustrating process. The farming work is much more inspiring, and being outside is where I’m most comfortable, and also working with my hands and being physically active are big benefits for me.
C: And would you mind just talking about your education for a little bit?
D: Sure, how far back do you want to go?
C: *laughs* However far back seems pertinent
J: To the beginning!
D: So, I was born in California, lived here and went to Kindergarten here, and then I moved to Scotland. I went through like elementary school, and middle school, and part of high school in Scotland, and then moved back to California for high school, to finish it out…and then I stayed here for undergrad, did a business degree…and then worked for a year, and then I went to grad school back in Scotland. My graduate degree was in carbon management, which is geoscience, business, and economics, sort of focusing on how businesses can adapt to changing climate. Then I worked in that field for a while, as a sustainability consultant, and I worked in the solar industry, and that sort of segued into me here, thinking I might want to do something in sustainable agriculture. But I’m definitely learning that I think that it would take a lot more experience working and doing something in that…like if I was running my own farm, I’m not a fully trained farmer after working here for six months. But I definitely have learned a lot…also, seeing farmers that we met through various field trips and people here–you can kind of figure it out as you go along, and you don’t necessarily have to go to school for this and do the formal education route. You can study, ask other farmers, and just sort of go by trial and error.
J: Yeah, I feel like farmers really enjoy being part of a community that teaches each other; at least, the farmer’s I know get a lot out of that
D: Yeah, I heard the average farmer in the U.S. is like 67 years old
J: Mmmm!
D: So most people are really encouraged when they see young farmers coming up, and they want to give them as much as possible. So, it’s definitely good to know, in the future, if I have any questions, people are definitely willing to help out
J: Do you think you want to stay and farm in California?
D: Most likely, yes. I like it here.
J: It’s very nice here.
D: Lots of farming opportunities.
C: Do you have any favorite parts of Zen?
D: Hmm…
J: He doesn’t have any preferences at all, he’s so Zen
*Catherine giggles*
D: Ummm…I like the work practice. I feel like I don’t ever resent going to work, which maybe I did in the past.
J & C: Mmhmmm
D: I feel like it’s very easy to go, and each task you just go and do it and put your energy into it, and you don’t have to second-guess yourself. And…I enjoy sitting zazen, most of the time, when I’m not really exhausted and I feel like I’m really only going because I have to. Other times, I’m pretty motivated to go, and a lot of the time now I feel like I’m not doing enough sitting. Just because we’ve had to skip a lot due to farm work and I sort of got used to doing two periods of zazen in the morning,…and now I really only do that once a week, because of zendo jobs or farm work. So, yeah, that’s part of the reason why I’m probably going to do Practice Period, because I feel like that’s a good time to really hone in on that aspect of it.
J: I wonder if that’s part of their plan, is to get us believing like “Yeah, two periods is normal”, and anything less than starts to feel abnormal…and then we all start craving more, and Practice Period happens!
C: *giggles* Craving zazen seems sort of counter-productive
D: No craving!
J *giggles* We’re all grasping.
C: *giggles* We’re all grasping! Grasping for whatever…
J: For non–grasping
C: For non-grasping! I worry about that sometimes, if I’m too attached to the idea of non-attachment.
J & D: Mmmmm
C: And the fact that I’m attached to that causes me suffering.
J & D: Mmmmm
C: Right? I don’t know, I guess I’ll just have to sit.
D: It’s not right, it’s not wrong.
C: *giggles* non-dualism
D: Sit with it
*Jo and Catherine giggle*
D: Ummm I guess I also like the peaceful feeling that I have…I don’t know, it’s partially due to the work that I’m doing, and the amount that we sit in zazen. Which is, I’m basically just practicing having a relaxed mindset, and relaxing my body. And also, just the environment we’re in gives you this nice peaceful feeling. You feel kind of oblivious to the outside world, so you can just be here and relax. But I noticed that even when I went back from my guest student stay here, or even when I returned to San Francisco or went other places for short weekend trips, it’s easy to sort of come out of that pretty quickly. You definitely feel it again when you come back, but I’m wondering how I’ll sort of have that as part of my life when I’m not here.
C: Yeah, me too. It’s definitely something I worry about. I shouldn’t worry. Have you ever lived in a community like this before?
D: No. The most I’ve ever lived with is six.
J: How do you feel about it?
D: I enjoy it. I mean I definitely enjoy solitude, because I’m a little removed, living over in the yurts. And I was pretty adamant when I applied…or like after I came and stayed here (for the guest student stay) and I lived in the yurt…I pretty much said I didn’t want to live in Cloud Hall. I really liked the idea of being a little bit separated from the community, but doing all of my activities and eating…just all of the aspects of community life that take place in this central area, but I like having a little bit of solitude out there. I think it helps keep it balanced, not having everybody in my business all of the time.
*Jo and Catherine giggle*
D: Having the ability to escape.
J: I love having everybody in my business.
*Catherine giggles*
D: But yeah I like living in community. Especially with the farm crew, and also with most people, we’re doing everything together, and I think it builds pretty strong friendships quickly, becoming pretty well-attached and connected to people.
C: Mmmhmmm
D: Just because you spend so much time together, and it becomes like quality time…unlike nowadays when I feel like it’s not as much quality time with people, just because they’re very distracted by everything else that’s going on. And, not having phone reception here is a total blessing.
C: Yeah!
D: I’m pretty amazed with how distracted people are when they have the ability to engage with the internet in their hand.
C: Mhmmm yeah
J: Do you think you’ll ever live in a community again?
D: Yeah, but I don’t think it will be exactly like this, where you are expected to do everything together. I think I would like to live in a closer-knit community where people are more willing to help each other out, and are more neighborly, but not necessarily that you’re expected to do everything together. I find that sometimes here people take part in community events only because they have to. Maybe they would prefer to eat a meal somewhere else and be on their own, but they’ll go and sit in the dining hall and be surrounded by people who are having conversations, but they don’t really want to engage in that. And that’s fine, it’s just that maybe people should have a little bit more freedom to do what they want. But I think this works well as part of the community where the focus is on Zen practice, because I think this is an important part of the community life here…but it might not necessarily work in other places.
J: Mmhmmm.
C: Do you think that your interactions with the people here are different than the way you interact with people outside of here? Like your friends from growing up or college, or your roommates in San Francisco?
D: Mmmm…yeah, I think that most times, interacting with people outside it needs to be centered around an activity. But I think that oftentimes here people are fine with just doing nothing, or talking, or maybe even not talking. That’s maybe the biggest difference.
C: Yeah
D: And, oftentimes the activity that it’s centered around with my friends outside is like drinking and stuff like that. It’s maybe not the healthiest thing, it’s maybe not the worst, but…
C: *giggle* Yeah, that’s something that’s interesting to me, because I feel like, for me, sometimes I maybe have different…well, maybe not all of the time…but I sometimes have different roles I play, depending on which group of friends I’m with, even if they’re friends I’m very comfortable with. So, I don’t know, I’m just curious to see if that’s the case with other people. *sigh*  Uhh, let’s see, do you have a favorite food that they make here?
D: Hmmm. *long pause* I don’t know, I’m not a very picky eater and I love the food here.
*Jo and Catherine giggle*
D: It’s hard for me to choose one thing…but…*deep inhalation, followed by long pause* I like the Mediterranean food, like the falafel, eggplant, quinoa tabouleh…
J: We’re having that pretty soon!
D: Yesss. I also really like Mexican food, whenever they have that, it’s a big treat…and…yeah, it’s very easy to be a vegetarian here, because the quality of the food is really good.
C: Would you consider being a vegetarian outside of here?
D: Yes…I don’t think…I’m not 100% opposed to eating meat, every once in a while. But, definitely don’t have the desire to eat it every day. So, it’s pretty different…maybe I would eat it like once a week. But yeah, I was making a lot of vegetarian meals before, because it was cheaper, and also just experimenting with what you can do. And also just recently realizing that eating vegetarian is actually really good, and you feel healthier too.
C: Do you think farming has influenced your thoughts on food at all?
D: Yes, definitely.
C: Yeah?
D: Just being able to see how food is actually produced…I was pretty oblivious to most things. When I first started working on the farm I was kind of in disbelief when we would shove these little plants into the ground and it would grow to produce tons and tons of food…and that didn’t make sense to me.

*Catherine giggles*

D: When we first started planting these little seeds, these little starters, I was just like, “There’s no way this is going to work”.  I’m always surprised…and now we have seven acres of vegetables sprouting and it’s pretty incredible.
J & C: Mmhmmm
C: Do you have…ummm…a favorite book you like to read? Or a favorite kind of book you like to read? Have you enjoyed any books recently?
D: Ummmm I enjoyed reading The Practice of the Wild
C: What’s that?
D: Gary Snyder
C: Oh
D: It’s a collection of essays on life in the wilderness…
C: Mmmm!
D:…and wild people, and Zen practice a little bit, and that was pretty inspiring. And…I’m reading several books on Zen practice, also. I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind again, since I came here, and one of Norman Fisher’s books, and Zen in the Art of Archery.
J: I just read that
D: Yeah?
C: I read that in high school, I haven’t read it since
D: And, yeah, some of the books are more engaging. I kind of like what the speaker (Gil Fronsdale) said today, that you don’t want to read too much
*everybody chuckles*
D: That you have to see for yourself and not have other people give you expectations for what it’s supposed to be like
J & C: Mmmhmmm
C: Did you read much before you came here?
D: On Zen?
C: On anything
D: Ummm, I’ve gone through phases. For the, like, 3-6 months before I came here I was reading a lot more than I used to, because I was commuting a lot, and enjoying sitting on a train and reading everyday
C: Hmmm
D: But, in general, not that much. It hasn’t changed that much since I got here, I thought it would, but I don’t have that much free time to do it. Just finding little bits everyday, and I’ve got like 6 or 7 books that I’m reading right now, rather than just reading one book at a time, which I think would be better…and not trying to read too many different things, because yeah…kind of all over the place with that.
J: Do you find the schedule kind of limiting? Or do you…I feel like some people say that sometimes there’s strictness to the schedule, but there’s also some liberation. Just…having your life kind of scheduled, at least for a few months, you just kind of settle into it, like “okay”.
C: You have more awareness in the moment if you don’t have to anticipate what you’re going to do next….is the idea I think.
J: Yeah
C: I don’t know if that’s always true *giggles*
J: Yeah, no
D: Yeah, I’ve definitely had times where I feel more resistance to the schedule because I feel like I’m maybe being a little bit deprived of free time, and sometimes I’m antsy to get out and do something that I won’t really have time to do. But…at the end of the day I think that, like, if I’m only going to be here for like 6 or 8 months, then I should really focus on like what they’re doing here and the schedule they’ve made is really designed to really help you engage with this practice more, and for me, knowing right now that I’m not going to be here for that long, I’m pretty comfortable doing that. And, that I’m not doing as much reading as I would like. That’s not really the reason I came here, to sit and read quietly; it was to try out this lifestyle and engage with it more fully…so there have been times where I’m resistant to the schedule because I wish I could do more, but at the end if you just focus on what you’re supposed to be doing here and the schedule they’ve laid out, and you’re confident that it’s going to be doing the right thing for you, then, I don’t know, I’m not as resistant to it anymore.
C: Would you describe yourself as an introvert or an extrovert?
D: Introvert.
C: Yeah?
J: Really?!
C: Yeah! That’s surprising to me too! *laughs*
D: Well, it’s a community of introverts, so maybe I don’t seem so introverted.
C: Yeah
J: That’s true
D: Do you think I’m extroverted?
C: You’re definitely one of the more extroverted people here, for sure. You’re friendly, which I feel like a lot of the people aren’t, here *laughs*
J: Yeah, like you initiate conversations
C: Yeah.
D: Hmmm, interesting
J & C: Yeah
C: There are definitely sometimes when I’m sitting at a table, and there’s somebody we don’t know that well, but you’re there, and I’m like, “I don’t have to worry about this, Dominic will handle this”
*Jo and Catherine laugh*
C: You got this *laughs*
D: Okay…Yeah, uhhh, I stand by my answer
*Jo and Catherine laugh heartily*
J: Well, now you’re on trial *giggles* we need proof. I have a theory–I’m probably not the person who came up with this theory *giggles*–I just don’t believe that most people are either introverts or extroverts. I think that the vast majority of people are both, and there’s a very small minority who are on both extremes.
C: Mmhmmm
J: It’s like, everybody has introverted or extroverted tendencies, depending on the circumstances
C: Yeah
D: Mmhmmm
J: Like exactly what you just said, like here is a community of introverts, and so now you seem like an extrovert all of a sudden. But maybe your friends outside of here would totally describe you as an extrovert
D: Yeah, I mean, not always, but I think I have a very quiet mode where I’m not engaging as much with people, or I don’t know, I tend to absorb more than I put out. I think my dad’s like that, he’s very selective with his words, and I think I’ve sort of taken that from him.
J & C: Mmhmmm
C: Do you think there is a pattern of what you first notice about a person when you first meet them?
D: What do you mean “a pattern”?
C: I guess…like when you meet someone, are there certain things you tend to notice about them? About anyone you first meet? I feel like maybe I’m not articulating this well…but also I feel like I’m interested because I often feel like girls have an answer to this and boys don’t.
J: Hmmm. Well maybe if you gave him an example…
C: *Unnecessarily sassy* Well, I’m not the one who’s being interviewed here *laughs*
J: Well, maybe an example…
C: Ummm, well, like, I feel for me, I often notice peoples’ eyes. Well not just the eyes, like what they look like, but how they use their eyes to express themselves.
J: I never notice people’s eyes. Like if you told me right now that you had different colored eyes, I wouldn’t be able to tell, for either one of you, what your eye color is.
C: *laughs* Do you notice something?
J: I notice people’s laughs
C: Laughs, yeah
D: Mmhmm
C: Yeah, laughs are good
D: Yeah, I think just people’s facial expressions in general, like smiles…I sort of recognize that pretty quickly. I think that says a lot about a person. But…*long pause* I think also, I’m pretty quick to notice when people are self-centered and the way they engage in conversations. Or, yeah, the way they engage in conversations, or how whether they’re actually listening, or they’re just taking some things and waiting to spit out thoughts. That’s something I notice.
C: Do you have elements of yourself that you wish people would notice when they first meet you?
D: No.
C: No, not at all?
*Jo giggles*
C: Not even your personality?
J: Not even your red hair?
*Everybody laughs*
D: Ummm, that’s probably the first thing people notice.
*Jo and Catherine laugh*
D: But, no, I can’t really think of anything I’d want people to notice
C: No? Hmmm.
J: *whispering* okay, I’m sorry, but I have to go. I have to make a call at 4.
C: Ok
D: That’s unacceptable
C: Whoah, it’s already 4!
J: Yeah…
C: *laughs* How did that happen?
D: Somebody was late
*Catherine laughs*
J: We’re not going to say who that was. Protect their innocence.
C: Mmmm, we’ve got about 9 minutes left on the app.
D: Okay
C; Thank you Jo! *giggles* Bye!
D: Byeeeeee
C: So that’s interesting to me, that you don’t have a way you wish to be perceived. Is that true? Did I jump to a conclusion there?
D: No, I can’t think of one.
C: No? Am I just being too personal with my questions?
D: No, not at all.
C: No?
D: Yeah, I like them.
C: Yeah?
D: I don’t think I really mind that much. I think I would much rather let my actions speak for themselves, rather than have people…I don’t really care if somebody makes an opinion based on something. I’d rather just express myself in a way that feels more authentic, and then people can make whatever opinion they want.
C: Do you think you’ve always been like that?
D: No.
C: No?
D: Definitely not.
*Both giggle*
D: No, I just think that when I was younger I was more concerned with trying to fit in, and…a good example is that I used to have a very thick Scottish accent, and it was totally gone after a couple years of coming back to California for high school, because I didn’t really want to stand out. I wanted to blend in, and also just be, like, understood. So, I started speaking differently.
C: When do you think that transformation of you no longer caring happened?
D: Probably after college. So like 6 years ago.
C: Yeah?
D: Yeah. Maybe longer. Sometime in-between going to college and now.
*Yuki’s charming cat Morrel joined us on the table*
C: Hello, Morrel
D: Do you have any questions Morrel?
*Catherine giggles*
C: How do you think your friends would describe you?
D: Hmmm…reliable?
C: Mhmmm? *giggles*
D: Um, easy-going?
C: Mmhmmm.
D: *long pause* Yeah. Reliable and easy-going.
*Catherine laughs heartily*
C: Okay!
D: I don’t know, that’s a tough question for me to answer.
C: Yeah?
D: Yeah. You’d have to ask my friends, I don’t really know.
C: That was a good answer
D: Okay
C: Yeah *giggles* Do you miss Scotland?
D: Yeah.
C: Yeah?
D: I don’t miss living there, so much…I miss my family over there, and I miss spending time there, but I don’t think I’d want to live there right now.
C: Do you think you’d ever want to live there again?
D: Maybe when I have a family, spend some time there, so they could see a different side of the world. But not in the immediate future or anything…unless Trump gets elected.
C: Yeah? Do you think you’d actually move to Scotland if Trump got elected?
D: I think I might, I think that would just like put me over the edge.
C: Yeah.
D: Or, just like move away somewhere. Not Scotland, actually…I just feel like I couldn’t be here. But that’s a story for another day, for another interview. Let’s not talk politics….
*Both giggle*
C: Are you a Scottish citizen?
D: Yeah, British citizen.
C: Ahhh, right, sorry. British.
D: Yeah, well, it might not be British pretty soon, if we vote for independence again after we just left Europe…or after Britain just left Europe.
C: The EU.
D: Yeah, the EU. I think that was pretty silly
C: *giggles* Yeah?
D: I would rather be a citizen of the EU than of Great Britain, considering how Great Britain doesn’t really do anything. Well, that’s a lie…but again, a totally different interview.
*Both giggle*
C: Ummm, oh, I had another question *sigh*
D: Make a cutting one
C: A cutting one?
D: One that pierces through any armor.
C: Ahh well I can think of some, I don’t know if you really want me to ask them.
D: I asked for it.
C: Okay, we have three minutes *giggles* What are some deep insecurities for you?
D: Hmmm. *long pause*
C: You have two-and-a-half minutes to answer
D: I guess I’m not very good at pinpointing what they are. I think I know I have some, and I think in general I’m not as emotionally intelligent. I think I’ve always been very rational, and sort of neglected even thinking about what my emotions are and what I actually feel. I think that was a big reason for me actually coming here. So, I don’t know if that’s related to insecurities, but I think insecurities and emotions are things I haven’t been as tuned in, and that’s part of the reason I came here, was to have more of a relaxed mind and kind of tap into that, somewhat. Which I think has come up in some interesting ways through zazen.
C: So you think you’ve seen an improvement?
D: Yeah
C: Yeah?
D: Definitely…and just being more open in general, and using my heart rather than just my mind, and following my instincts more…just more intuitive in the way that I act and go about my life.
C: Have you been practicing that?
D: Yeah.
C: Yeah? And has it payed off for you, do you think?
D: Yeah
C: Yeah?
D: Yeah, I think so. But there’s a lot more work needed, I’ve just sort of tapped into it. I think that the most valuable thing that I’m getting from this time, and just having a set schedule and being here for a somewhat long period of time, that I’m just able to step out of all of these other things that were taking up my attention, and just bring it all back inside, and just think about what I really want to be doing with all of my time and energy…and, I don’t know, becoming better at moving truly and expressing myself.
C: Ok! That was awesome! Thank you very much! *laughs*
D: Cool, you’re welcome. Do you have any last questions real quick?
C: *giggles* Ah, ummm, what’s your favorite vegetable?
D: *Deep exhalation* My favorite vegetable is….POTATO!

A cute photo of Dominic and Jo on the pool deck
I’ve been interested for a while in interviewing some of the Farm and Garden Apprentices for this blog, so that everybody could get to know them better. I decided to start with Isabelle, a lovely, thoughtful, brave, beautiful, strong, elegant lady who I admire very much. I lived with Isabelle in the yurt for the first few months we lived here, and she just recently started working in the garden with me as well. Our friend Jo helped me with the interview. Read below to get to know more about the wonderful sweet-pea Miss Isabelle🙂
Catherine: Hello, Isabelle
Isabelle: Hi
C: Hi, Jo
Jo: Hi!
*giggles all around*
C: So, Isabelle…oh, are you ok with me using your last name?
I: Yes
C: Ok, Isabelle Ellingson, hi
I: Hi
C: So…what’s your job here at Green Gulch?
I: I work as a farm apprentice…and I guess I can also say I’m a garden apprentice
C: mmhmm
I: I’m doing both, and my job is to do whatever Qayyum tells me to do *giggles* But we’re basically taking care of the Green Gulch farm and garden, and also, I’m a zen student, so that includes waking up really early in the morning, meditating, following a really strict schedule, and then working on the garden and the farm.
C: Where are you from?
I: I’m actually just from Mill Valley, which is over the hill from where we are now, Muir Beach, and that’s about 10 minutes away.
C: And have you lived there your whole life?
I: Yeah, pretty much my whole life. I was actually born in Utah
C: Hmm, I didn’t know that *giggles*
J: I’m learning things already! *giggles*
I: Yeah, I was born in Utah and I lived there until I was 3 months old, and then I moved here, and I’ve lived here ever since…well, I went to school in North Carolina and lived in New York for a year last year, but lived and grew up in Mill Valley
C: What school did you go to in North Carolina?
I: I went to University of North Carolina School of the Arts
C: And what did you study there?
I: I studied acting
C: And have you acted since?
*knocking on the door*
I: Come in!
Laura (Isabelle’s next-door neighbor in Stillwater Hall): Are you guys recording?
C: Yeah
L: Oh, ok I was going to move my furniture, but I won’t now
*giggles all around*
I: I think it will be ok! *giggles*
J: Hear a lot of scraping sounds…*giggles*
*Laura leaves*
C: Um…yeah, so how much acting have you done since you graduated?
I: That’s a funny question, actually, because in school it was a very intensive program… So it was conservatory training, a Bachelor of Fine Arts, where basically they say 3/4 of your training are arts classes, and 1/4 of them are academic classes, but really my whole schedule was just arts classes. Everything from acting to movement to Shakespeare to clowning to mask-making…
J: Clowning? *giggles*
I; Yeah, this crazy thing…
J: What is clowning?
*giggles all around*
J: I mean I’m imagining huge feet and a red nose
I: Right, exactly! You imagine like circus clowns…ummm….clowning…it’s starts out very basic, and it’s really aimed at getting you tuned into your physical impulses, and finding your truth as an actor. It’s finding an authentic place to behave from. Exploring almost child-like play…we would start out the class–and most of the class is actually non verbal–and the teacher would just do hand signals and motions and would do things and we’d mimic him, and it’s actually a very innocent and pure sort of practice. You know like kids playing on a play ground, making mistakes, and you develop a persona based on–well you go through all of these different stages–the final stage is mask clowning. So there’s this mask that’s been made, and the teacher made all of these very intricate and different masks that express different emotions. You get the mask and you put it on, and you let the mask transform you. So you’re looking in a mirror, and then you’re seeing how the mask moves your body and then you’re basically working the character from the outside-in. So you’re just looking at the face—and I don’t know if i’m explaining this well, but like you’re letting the mask move your body instead of intellectually developing a character from  the inside and then putting it outwards. It’s just another way into character work.
It’s sort of complicated, and it’s a little bit hard to verbalize because it’s not a verbal practice, but it’s really complimentary when you’re learning how to act because you follow physical impulses rather than over-analyzing or over-thinking. And it’s actually interesting…it really compliments what we’re doing here, because both (Zen and clowning) have a strong root in psychology and human nature, and why we do the things we do…like stuff we’re trying to understand here, like the truth of why we behave the way we do as human beings, and just trying to discern reality, like “What is real? What is really happening in this moment?” And that’s the basis of acting as well, trying to connect authenticity with other human beings, and trying to create something, together. Create something beautiful, hopefully
J & C: Mmmhmmm
I: Maybe beautiful isn’t the right word…but create something tragic or…Shakespeare….the whole gamut of emotions of being. Yeah, I feel really grateful…when I had a practice discussion with Fu–or dokusan with Fu for the first time–she was like, “See! You’re already so many steps ahead! You’ve been to acting training. You know how our human minds work!” *giggles all around* Yeah! I guess in a way I don’t feel that way all the time.
J: But that relationship between authenticity and acting, which is sometimes seen as “being fake,” but really, you know, you can tell when a really talented actor gets up, that nothing about it seems fake.
I: Right!
J: It seems even more authentic.
I: Right! Yeah! Well, humans are bullshit detectors
J: Yeah!
I: They’re like…if you get up on stage you can’t lie, the audience will know
J: Yeah
I: It’s kind of the same thing…we get to choose how we want to be in each and every situation. It still has to come from a place of truth.
C & J: Mmhmm
I: Well, Fu says that, don’t take my word for it!
*giggles all around*
C: Well she knows a thing or two, i think
*giggles*
J: That Fu…she knows a thing or two
*giggles*
C: So you acted a lot in school…
I: Acted a lot in school, yes, to answer your question, I acted mostly in school. We were doing mostly classical theater training…Shakespeare, Chekov, Strindburg…The theory of the Dean was, if you could act the classics you can act anything, and I graduated having done a ton of classical work, and then was thrown into this really modern world where I was just going out for, like, ABC pilots and Showtime dramas, and just stuff I hadn’t really worked on before. And doing a lot of auditioning, so a lot of work on my own, but not a lot of performance like I was used to…but after a couple months my friends and I were like, “Wait, we can just make our own art!” So we did some smaller scale stuff…my friend did a play that we put on in Brooklyn, I did some performance art things…I don’t know if you’d call it performance art, I guess it was theater. Some theater things, kind of out in public with friends…a lot of comedy.
C: Oh, really?
I: Yeah, I love comedy. It’s actually, I think, harder than drama…and then I acted in a play when I moved back to Mill Valley, “The Little Prince”
C: What were you in “The Little Prince”?
I: I was the rose and snake!
*giggles all around*
C: That’s so cute!
I: *giggles* Yeah…
C: Do you have a favorite character or play to perform?
I: Hmm…ugh! That’s such a tough question *giggles* ummm….yeah, I’m forgetting the author, right ow, but “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea”. “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” is a play from New York, actually set in New York, in the 1970s, I guess…It’s a love story, but its about…maybe I’ll have to look up what its about and then tell you, give you a better synopsis at some point, it’s hard to remember…but yeah, she’s just like this kind of rough character…she’s just very opposite of who I am, which is I guess why I like to play her. She has a New York accent, she grew up in the Bronx, and is in love with this guy…but he’s…it’s just kind of a pretty rough play, and I grew up doing ballet, and in Marin County, so it’s just things that I’m just not. So I really enjoy pushing myself to do better…It’s also fun to be Juliet. I’m a big sucker for romance.
J: Who isn’t?
C: Yeah! Would you describe yourself as a romantic?
I: Hmm…maybe a skeptical romantic.
*giggles all around*
C: What does that mean?
I: Just like, I like the idea of it, but then the reality of it…I’m a tad bit cynical.
C: Yeah?
I: Yeah! *giggles*
J: Mmmhmmm
C: Do you have certain qualities you find yourself falling in love with in a person over and over again?
I: Hmmm….
J: That’s a hard one! *everybody giggles* That went straight to it
I: Ahh yeah, I mean, honesty is a big one for me. I mean, if somebody shows up and is their full, straightforward, direct self with me, then it’s not only refreshing, but I feel like I’m challenged by them, and I’m challenged to then be honest and meet them 100% of the time. It’s scary, but it’s fun. I also like to laugh…and spontaneity too, like “Let’s go on an adventure,” “Ok, let’s go!” And, yeah, smart
C: Yeah! *giggles*
J: Mmhmmm
I: Good brains.
C: Do you have any sort of good adventures, spontaneous adventures, that you’ve been on that come to mind?
I: Hmm…
C: Sometimes those are hard to remember, i think
I: Yeah!…Just like ever, in the history of my life?
C: Yeah
I: Oh! Yeah, I guess so! So it was my 21st birthday…
C: Alright! *giggles* Good start!
J:…and we went to Las Vegas…
I: Sort of, my version of Las Vegas *giggles all around* So it was my 21st birthday, and I guess it was kind of more of a surprise, but it’s still an adventure, a bunch of things ended up happening that I didn’t expect. We were in North Carolina, Winston-Salem North Carolina, where my school was, and I was dating a guy at the time…I was dating my best friend at the time…and we were just kind of planning on having a really mellow night, or at least that’s what I thought, and we got out of rehearsal that evening at like 5:30 or something, and were like, “Let’s go grab dinner,” and I was like “Ok,” you know, casual, not thinking about it, and he’s driving, and we get on the highway, heading towards the Blue Ridge Mountains…just this beautiful mountain range in North Carolina, and we don’t really know anybody who lived there, other than this one guy we went to school with who graduated, and he had this amazing, beautiful cabin in the woods that he would always tell us about that his parents built, that we had never been to before…And I was like “I think you’re going the wrong way,” and he was like “No, don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it,”  and we just kept talking on the road…and I’m not telling this story very well *giggles all around* Anyway, we ended up going on this amazing adventure. I knew there was a concert going on that night by my favorite band, The Punch Brothers, and he ended up surprising me by taking me to the concert…
J: Aw my god….
I:…and afterwards we went to this cabin, this amazing cabin in the mountains, and we hiked up…the concert was incredible, so amazing, and we went there and then we ended up going to this cabin which was just incredible. I  want to live there forever…this log cabin his parents had built, and we ended up hiking to the top of this mountain and looking at the stars in the sky…
Yeah, I don’t know, that’s the only romantic adventure that stands out
C: That’s a good one! *giggles*
J: Yeah, pretty good *everybody giggles* What would you say has made you skeptical, or cynical?
I: Hmm…we’re really going into my love life! *everybody giggles* Can I read this before you publish it?
C: Yeah, yeah
J: This is going to Cosmo!
I: Good…good
*so much giggling*
J: “Zen in Love”, “Love in Zen”
I: There are definitely some people I am not going to tell about this interview
*everybody giggles*
C: I think it’s good, you know? It’s so much a part of who you are, and who we are as people, you know?
J & I: Yeah, that’s true.
I: You got me there…sorry, what was your question again?
J: It was just, you know, what would you say has made you more cynical about romance?
I: Ohhh….maybe “cynical” is the wrong word…maybe more like “realistic”….I think I always thought it was just like “Oh, I’m looking for just one person, just one wonderful person…” maybe that’s a kind of cliche answer, but realistically I’ve found myself attracted to multiple people, and just feeling sort of enchanted by multiple people…and appreciating that I can cultivate more of a universal love, than more just monogamous love…and that goes for my friendships as well, often times in high school or college, I’d find myself clinging to just one friend, but, yeah….maybe just more skeptical of the more traditional views of love
C: Disney princesses falling in love when they’re 16 and getting married 3 days later?
*giggles all around*
I: Yeah…it’s more like enjoying more of an open…openness….being open to more possibilities
J: I don’t think that’s cliche at all
I: No, maybe its not. Yeah, it’s just more…real. The way that society puts us in these little….humans, we like to label things, it helps us understand, and identify, and relate, but even relationships in the past for me, just classifying them, like “this is my boyfriend, this is my hook-up buddy”, or whatever, why do we have to define that? Limiting gender roles, limiting what you identify with, what you’re attracted to, which I think is really prevalent in our society right now, questions about “What does that even mean?” Why do we feel like if one person identifies as this, they can’t be that…and of course there’s this other thing…this feeling of fluidity in sexuality, this feeling of fluidity in gender, and giving everybody their freedom to find it as they want to.
C: Mmhmmm
J: Yeah…it also creates hierarchies. Like, “Oh, you’re the spouse? We’ll treat you very differently than the best friend”, meanwhile, many people have beautiful intimate relationships with the best friend, equal with the spouse, but it’s seen so differently
I: Mmhmm, yeah.
C: This is sort of related, and sort of not…I’m just curious if you have any sort of insights into the ways you’ve seen yourself develop as a person since you’ve moved here, to Green Gulch? If there are any? I imagine there are *giggles*
I: There are a few, yeah. i’ve been noticing more that I put up barriers for myself, complicate things, to make it harder for myself to succeed.  Like, I like to dream really big, and then find all of these reasons why like, “Oh, there’s no way I can do that! There’s x and x and x–these reasons–stopping me from being able to accomplish that goal.” So, I’m noticing the habits of my own self-criticism, and self-doubt. I’ve become much more aware of the ways that I criticize myself and communicate with myself, and much more aware of how I communicate with others. I want to be more intentional with that. Before it wasn’t very intentional…I thought I was thinking about what I was saying before I’d speak, but…*mumbling* Yeah, that’s a tough question, I’m finding a lot of things are coming up for me, I just don’t know if I have fully formed ways of talking about them yet…Like little bits and pieces, I think one thing that I’m really happy about is that my perspective of the world has been widened greatly, and how before I was really considering myself like there’s this one part of myself and that’s who I am, but now I’m becoming aware that there are all these other parts to who I am, and that they can all kind-of live together. Like before I was like “I’m in New York, I’m a professional actress, this is my path, this is what I’m doing”…But taking a step back from that and looking at “Wait, I have all of these other passions!” I love to dance, I love to write, I love science, I love learning about the body, I love working on the farm, understanding how food as medicine can affect my body and shape my health for the rest of my life, my psychological health. Yeah, there are so many things I am interested in doing with my life. This place is a refuge and in some ways has allowed me to drop outside responsibilities, and get to the core of what things really speak to your heart, what aids you…I feel nourished, but also feel challenged and motivated. Yeah, it’s given me a lot of energy.
J: Was that a conscious choice, to go from acting in New York to farming in California? Do people ask you about that? Because it’s kind of a big leap.
*giggles all around*
I: Yeah people say, “wow, that’s 180 degrees” *everybody giggles*
J: Yeah, like seeing you yesterday covered in pond scum *everybody giggles* You could have been in a movie…you kind of looked like an actor
*everybody giggles*
I: I just have a craving for a variety of experiences in my life. I’m always wanting to do a lot of different things at once, but I think that when I was in New York I realized how connected I am to the land that I grew up on, and how much nature is a part of who I am, and part of my happiness, and coming back here just felt very natural. I mean I’ve been coming back to Green Gulch since I was 3 months old, with my grandmother, and every Sunday we’d come. I spent my first Mother’s Day in the Peace Garden just down the road, and my mom fed me raw chard from the farm as a baby, and that was kind of like…it’s just in my blood, it’s in my bones to come back to the land that cultivated me. So, maybe there wasn’t one big moment or decision made when I’d come back.
I have a deep interest, I’ve already mentioned, in food as medicine, and how we can heal people…just how food can be medicine. Yeah I was also getting really extreme migraine headaches in New York, and they were so debilitating that I would have to stay in bed for weeks at a time. I was sustaining myself, I was supporting myself, working, but the headaches were so bad. Just being in a city where I was really overstimulated all of the time, surrounded by people, by fumes, and bright lights, and loud noises, my body started to reject the environment, saying something was wrong. So, rather than looking at my migraines as a disease, I looked at them as a blessing, like “Wow, this is really telling me something, I really need to make a change.” And so, I came back here to heal, and to restart, and to reevaluate, “Ok, what choices are you making, how can you take better care of yourself?” Not to say that my headaches have gone away completely, but I’m lucky that my body is the one that tells me when I’m doing something wrong. It immediately responds, like “You’re not getting enough sleep” or “You’re not feeding yourself the right food.” Yeah, that’s a really big part of who I am, the headaches, but I’m not identifying it as a disability. I’m just like “Yeah, this is a thing that happens, a thing I have to deal with.”

C: I’m pretty amazed at how you’re able to so consistently think positively about them. It’s really inspiring, I think.

I: Thank you
C: Yeah
I: Thank you so much
C: Yeah
I: Every day is different, and if you wake up and you’re in pain, this is a question that really struck me, I think Fu might have said it, I’m pretty into Fu, if you guys can’t tell *everybody giggles* She was just like, “human pain, we look at it…but who’s pain is it? How am I identifying with this pain?” I can ask myself, “Is this my pain? Is this the self’s pain?” And really there I am identifying with the self, like “I am a person who’s experiencing this,” or “I am a self”, and that to me kind of takes a lot of the worry and the extra stuff that surrounds pain away. Like “Oh, poor me, hear I am sitting in bed while all of my friends are out in the sun having a wonderful time farming and gardening”…It kind of takes my identification with the pain out of the question. It helps me to accept that the pain has happened before, and it’s gone away before, so what’s to say that won’t happen again? I think I’m very grateful that I’m here right now too, because of the support and the unconditional, whole-hearted loving-kindness nature that comes from this community is so sustaining. I have not even felt this much generosity from my own family. Which is …they’re wonderful, I love my family! But there’s something about living in a community and the interdependence that we experience. I just am able to rely on so many different people at once when I really need them…and them knowing that when they really need you, you’ll be there for them too…it feels very natural. It just feels like this is the way that we’re supposed to be living.
J: Yeah, I like that a lot also. Do you think you would try and live communally elsewhere, or can you see this as maybe a longer-term living situation?
I: I’ve been thinking about both of those things a lot lately. And it’s hard to say that I have an answer to give, because, you know, I haven’t done a Practice Period yet, and I haven’t studied, you know, in an intense way here, yet. Maybe I’ll have a better answer after that, and then I’d probably also have a better answer to the communal question about a year into living in a situation like this, because it does have its challenges, too. I like to spend a lot of time alone, writing and listening to music, decompressing…luckily it’s very quiet here *everybody giggles* *mumbling*
J: *whispering* I have to go. It’s 9:20-something. I have tea class.
I: Well, thanks for coming Jo!
J: Yeah! This was so great!
I: Thanks for asking questions!
J: I like, can’t stop myself, once I start asking questions
C: No, it’s great!
J: I don’t mean to break up your party
C: I think i want to finish the time, we have like 15 minutes, is that okay?
I: Yeah, sure!
J: See you later!
I: Bye!
J: Thanks for including me!
C: Yeah!
*Jo leaves*
C: Do you identify more as an introvert or an extrovert?
I: Hmm…I’ve taken so many of those little personality tests to try and figure it out *both giggle* I say I’m sometimes extrovert, sometimes introvert. Semi-introvert. You know, like “Well, you’re an actor, you must be an extrovert!” But I’m also living at a Buddhist monastery, so I must be an introvert.
*both giggle* A little bit of both…different people bring out different parts of who I am and I say, you know, I don’t love to be in big social gatherings all of the time, but part of me thinks it really nurtures me too
C: Do you think your education in acting has influenced how you see the world on a larger scale, and how you interact with the world, and interact with Buddhism, and all of the teachings here?
I: Mmmm definitely. Definitely. Yeah. I just have an extreme curiosity about human beings, and I’m always sort of analyzing my social interactions. I don’t know if it’s because I was trained as an actor, but I’m curious about people’s intentions, about what drives them, what moves them to do the things that they do, in the way that their experiences in life have shaped who they are. Upon interacting with them I’m often distracted in conversation by the way someone talks, rather than what they’re talking about, not to say that people don’t have wonderfully interesting things to say, but fascinated by the way a person speaks, and how their voice sounds, and the way they’re moving their body and their body language. It’s been a huge shift for me coming to Zen Center, because so much of the teaching is through speaking…a more verbal, more intellectual, heady way of looking at things, and I’m more of…in the past I’ve been more of a bodily learner, like more tactile, more feelings moving from my gut rather than my brain. I mean I grew up dancing ballet, since I could walk, I went to San Francisco Ballet School training professionally there up until half-way through high school…I’ve been trained from my body first, from my core, when I interact with others. Now, I feel that Zen Center has really shaped me, even in these 4 months…I’m just so much more aware of language and how it can be used as a great tool to communicate so specifically and so intentionally. I’ve been trying to hold myself accountable to use words that I actually mean, rather than saying “That’s so crazy!” or “Wow! That’s interesting!” I mean Isabelle, what are you really trying to say? “I love the way this picture makes me feel” or “That talk you gave was inspiring and heartening”…Actually identify with words more. I don’t know, does that answer your question?
C: Yeah, yeah definitely. Do you have certain aspects of Buddhism that you identify with really strongly, or is there any specific teaching, or Dharma Talk, or reading that you identify with particularly?
I: Hmm….Bits and pieces, yeah. I mean the whole concept of mindfulness is challenging, but really a wonderful practice. Just cultivating a life that’s rooted in a mindfulness practice has been extremely beneficial for so many aspects of my life…Healing my headaches, deepening friendships, trying to be a more organized person, setting intentions about my future–rooted in that mindfulness of “Why am I doing this?” “What am I doing in this moment?” Paying attention…just waking up, seeing all the very basic principles, discerning the truth. and not being so afraid…I got really afraid when I moved to New York, really afraid of people…and I didn’t have the nicest encounters when I was there, and losing a little bit of faith and trust in humanity, really becoming jaded. I really did not like how I was engaging with others and engaging with the world…and engaging with myself, I wasn’t being very kind with myself. So, coming back to the path of the Bodhisattva, I think. I’m inspired by the loving-kindness and returning to the loving-kindness, just returning to that spirit of saving all beings. Also accepting that although you can trust people, knowing that there are bad things that happen, and people aren’t always their best selves.
So many things come to mind when you say that, trying to distinct that into a succinct answer….I think that’s why I appreciate honesty and straightforwardness in other people, because I’m having a hard time these days being efficient with my words, so when people are really articulate, I’m like “Yes!”*giggle*”Can I be like you? Help me!”
C: Do you enjoy sitting zazen? Or how do you feel about it, I guess. That should be a more open-ended question *both giggle* *Catherine’s watch alarm goes off*Oh I need to change watering, I can do that later I guess *both giggle*
I: Ugh, do I enjoy sitting zazen? Or, how do I feel about sitting zazen?
C: Yeah I probably shouldn’t direct you, how do you feel about sitting zazen?
I: How do I feel about sitting zazen…It’s great. I love sitting in a room in the morning with my friends, smelling the incense, listening to the birds waking up. Knowing that everyone came here for a reason, and being really inspired by that, being really sustained by that. Whoever else is around me, and whatever else I might have experienced, we all came here with this intention to be of service to ourselves and to others, and to heal in a way. Zazen I think is a lovely way of honoring that, together, and supporting each other. So, some mornings, I’m like really pissed-off *giggle* really sleepy, but somehow out of that frustration this kind of buoyant compassion arises. Not every morning, but some. And then also, it leaves this space for darkness in my life, that I don’t always create or allow to come up…Yeah, I tend to be more positive. I’m giving myself permission to think about scarier, darker things…I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately
C: Yeah, me too…*giggle*
I: Yeah?
C: Yeah
I: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that, not trying to force any thoughts about it, but just seeing what comes up. Like “Oh, what is this thing? How do I feel about it? How does it move my body? What sensations are happening? What thoughts are arising?”
C: We have a minute-and-a-half left. I want to ask you quickly if you have any favorite things to grow on the farm? What are your favorite things to grow?
I: Lettuce, duh
*both laugh*
C: Good! Perfect!
I: Our Hakurei turnips are insane. I’ve been loving tending the roses in the Kitchen Garden that came from Emila’s garden. It feels very much like honoring the ancestors, honoring the elders.
C: Good, I think we have 28 seconds left *both giggle* Well, that was lovely!
I: Thank you very much!
C: Yeah, thank you! I’m so glad this worked out so well!
I: Oh! Well I’m glad you think it worked out well!
*both giggle*
C: Yay!
I: I hope I gave some okay answers…
C: I think you did! I think you’re very poignant and very eloquent
I: Good!
C: Yeah!
*both giggle*
I: Especially that section about my love life!
*both laugh*
The End

This post is to commemorate the incredible, long-standing generosity of our friend Lan Kauffman. For those of you who have worked at the Mill Valley Farmer’s Market, you are surely very familiar, but for those of you who have not, you may only be aware of her as a mythological being.

Lan grew up in Vietnam, but has lived here in the bay area for many years, raising a family and working as a social worker among other things. Every Friday, for the past five years or so, Lan has shown up in the morning to take home some produce, returning a few hours later with some really remarkable dishes including anything from BLTs to Vietnamese meatballs (what Obama ate in Hanoi she tells us). Often times she comes back an hour later with dessert for us, often French style tarts (filled with figs, apples, pears, or mulberries) that she has perfected the art of making. If she doesn’t have time to do so, she has at times apologized only to return with a pint of ice cream. And sometimes she brings a pint of ice cream and a tart. Often she likes to bring us her own produce from her garden, most recently mulberries and home grown tomatoes! If that isn’t enough, when Ginnette, a fellow vender who makes us amazing breakfast sandwiches every week, is away for a market, Lan will take it upon herself to also make us breakfast too! This week she made us an incredible frittata loaded with Green Gulch chard. Sometimes she will hang around, helping customers and cracking jokes for hours on end.

I am continually awe-struck by Lan and really don’t know how to express my gratitude fully for her generous way of being in the world. She is always taking such great care of us! She is a legend here at Green Gulch and I thought I would confirm for you all that she is real.

image1

Lan and her Mulberry Fig Tart with Nick, Tanja, and Max, July 2016

We are learning to Love

Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.           -Rilke

Today’s crew meeting was unusually beautiful, which is to say that it was the ordinary beauty of sincere people who do wholesome work together, day after day while the weather turns, the seasons evolve, plants grow & our collective body strides through summer hours. In this green space zen farmers invoke love & offer the harvest with soil-stained hands.

We give thanks for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

IMG_1569.JPG

Little Buddha Leaf

qayyum & emila

I stood about twenty-five feet from a fawn feeding in lush green, tall grass along the hillside, on a foot path at the edge of the farm, near the back forty. For a long while she didn’t see me. Then she did. Then she sprung, bounding along the ravine toward Muir Beach. And her white bushy tail soon vanished behind the grass. Perhaps an eye that discerns differences dilated in recognition before her body recoiled like a spring. Perhaps an eye of oneness transgressed a moment too long, looking beyond some threshold of harmony.

The owls are out now, hooting at twilight amidst the chirp and chatter of songbirds, trilling and whistling. Softer, fainter. Somewhere the master switch on the volume nodule turned low. Probably by a long slender arm, as the sun dips west below the Pacific. And the running marketplace, since the afternoon ticker-tape commentary of quails and crows becomes a kind of remembrance on the air. Resonance. Echo. Perhaps it’s often intuitive enough to discern vaguely some precipice where life harmonizes in the valley. That feels like much of what we practice day-in, day-out, within and without. “Ambulatory embodiments of work” that we inhabit (as Qayyum nicely phrased it in an email.) Less clear is the exactitude of that delta—what’s ephemerally contained, uncontainable, what sings beneath the current, ebbs and flows. Like counting waves. But who’s waiting for nirvana anyway?

GGF collage

While sitting zazen my first morning we could hear coyotes yowling in the near distance outside the zendo, cries volleying back and forth in the hills over an orchestra of songbirds. The muted blare of fog horns some few miles away. What doesn’t thrum or hum with life in the gulch? Last week we planted at both the back forty and at the fifth, communing with the earth, cultivating our 7-acres of farm into the full thrust of harvest.

I’ve snapped a few photos since approaching the deer on the outskirts of the farm, some two months ago and counting: Qayyum and Emila at market at Ferry Plaza; Nick, Duras and Isabelle weeding the green beans; an otherworldly sunset along Coyote Ridge; an equal parts silly and sweet, post-lunch impromptu line-up for shoulder massages near the Kitchen Garden. Even the one head of green lettuce among red-heads seems to harmonize fashionably in its rebellion. Little Buddha leaf.

GGF crew

The deer approach the yurts about every evening. “They with you?” Qayyum asked me walking out his front door. Maybe I’d like it if I were more with them. Though I’d probably hasten for exemption from chasing, or rollicking and being chased through thickets of grass. Feeding on the hillside might not be bad, before the skunk joins in furiously, nuzzling the earth for grubs—little self-possessed gorger at dusk he seems to be. And at three decades and change, I’d probably opt out from the whole ‘let’s smash our heads together and sharpen our antlers game.’ But who’s to say? Stars will soon light up the night sky with constellations. Everything changes. And then the evolving stories from antiquity that the stars tell remind: Nothing changes. Below the yurts, the fields are in constant transformation, abundant and bountiful (and beautiful) before harvest clear cuts the treasured goods back to soil. Yesterday, as the first morning: the wake up bells, far off, then near, then the scampering of feet; and the sound of the bells moving through the morning between sleep and thought awakening.

watercolor 071716