On August 19th, 2010, dropping all thought of “here” and “there”, an unusual event took place over the Internet, when three of the members of the virtual Threeleaf sangha lead by Soto Zen priest Jundo Cohen, were ordained as novice priests, all by the book, in the traditional manner. People from all over the world could stream  the ceremony (now available on YouTube). It was performed simultaneously on three continents: while the teachers (Taigu and Jundo) were perched in front of their laptops in Japan, the three ordainees were located in Canada, Germany and Sweden, linked via the Internet. Torbjörn or Fugen, as he is known at Treeleaf, was one of the three novices receiving ordination, connecting with the others from his flat in Tibro, Sweden. In a number of emails we exchanged shortly after the event took place, I asked him a few questions about the ceremony itself and his thoughts on becoming a priest in training. Here I publish them in one post (with Fugen’s permission), just as they are. A lot of snow came down since August but better early in winter than never…

– Fugen, do you remember when the idea of becoming a Zen priest first crossed your mind?

I had no thought of becoming a Zen priest, but I was asked by Jundo on December 22nd last year if I would consider it, and here we are. Now, for me, becoming a Zen priest is no big thing, I don’t really see me as any different or having become any different, and I didn’t seek any of honorifics some people sometimes seek and call themselves by. I’m really just me, being here, doing this.

That being said, for me, becoming this is a good practice and it enables me to help more people in the process.

– This particular ordination is unique in that it was conducted entirely online. I guess I want to ask you if it felt real?

First up, what is real? I am not a Zen teacher and only in training as a priest, and as such is not to be viewed as an authority of any sort in the matters of Buddhism and Zen Buddhism, but according to Buddhism the world you think is real isn’t really as you think…

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During Maracatu rehearsal the other night something interesting happened. In a matter of an hour two alfaias (rope-tuned bass drums of varying sizes playing a mixture of complimenting, powerful rhythms) got cracks. Our wonderful group leader was shaken and asked us to play a song that celebrated the spirits of Maracatu. That somewhat surprised me: he seemed to have given this happening some meaning, saw it as a bad sign. I liked the devotional song a lot but the new rhythm was hard to pick up for a beginner. We did the song a number of times and moved on. Soon after that our leader’s alfaia cracked, the third one in one evening! In my time with the group this had never happened before. Our leader explained that drums don’t get cracks because someone plays passionately but they do break when they are played nervously, with the wrong kind of energy. I think  he was also devastated by the fact that two of the drums got broken when he was playing them.

My first thought was of a practical character: could the changed in the last few days weather conditions have effected the skin of the drums? Of course, it could be the combination of both: dry air and nervous energy. The last two practice sessions we were preparing for the upcoming workshop with the three renowned Maracatu teachers from Brazil. Our leader arranged for the workshop to happen in Uppsala and was keen on our group making the best of this master class with the masters of Maracatu. Maybe a little too keen. Maybe the pressure was too much and he brought in something extra into those rehearsals.

This made me think of the right effort that has always been a big question for me in many life situations. Strong willed and persistent as I am sometimes, I can keep pushing to only end up in the same place I started. I could have saved the efforts and time by stepping aside in the right moment, had I paid attention and not have become obsessed with the idea of how it should be. Most often I could make a good case for my persistence that in the end is more a sign of stubbornness.

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Highwire Dharma

“Suddenly I experienced for myself the fresh breeze that rises up when the great burden is laid down.”

~ Fayan

About a week ago I had a disagreement with someone. For the first few days I was more puzzled than upset by the lack of willingness from the other party to clear the issue that to me seemed like a trivial matter. Then I got angry and tense. I wanted the world to make sense. I wanted grown up people to behave in a mature way rather than act out the dramas of five-year olds. I wanted to know.

In the days when I started relaxing around the fact that I might never know what drove the other person to end up our cooperation in such an abrupt manner, I started looking at the identities and roles that I hold on to in my life. It is not entirely impossible that the falling out would have happened anyway and had nothing to do with me but with the way I was fitting into the world view of another person. Yet I found the guided exercise on identities to be very helpful in reminding me where I was tensing too much, where I mistook the mask for the skin itself, where those identities were doing me and others disservice.

The exercise starts with identifying seven most powerful in my life identities/roles (negative as well as positive) and writing them down on separate sheets of paper. Then I take one of them at a time and feel what it is like to be this (no man’s woman, the one who wants to know, the one who knows, activist, artist, creative person, nice person, hard working student,  wise leader, professional, failure, poly, vampire, criminal, etc). Next I let the images and situations come up and reflect on the impact this identity has on my life using the following questions:

  • how does quality/identity/role show up in my life?
  • does it have certain gifts and benefits?
  • what are its shadow aspects?
  • how might others perceive me when I show up in this role?
  • how does this role serve my life and others?
  • are there any ways in which this role gets in the way of my life, my intimacy and connection with others?
  • where does it serve?
  • where does it not serve?
  • does it have light to it or did I buy into it?
  • how much awareness do I have around this identity functioning in my life?

All this time I am staying with it, feeling it, embodying it, allowing image after image to arise. When do I act from this place? How does it feel?

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In his  interview at  Buddhist Geeks lama Surya Das was asked about the ways that would allow us to experience the transformative powers of spirituality in our everyday lives and outlined the following six building blocks as a base for a well-rounded and grounded spiritual practice.

  • a daily, formal spiritual practice period (meditation, prayer, yoga, chanting, etc)
  • some form of spiritual study (anything from opening the book of nature to studying yourself to studying your relationships)
  • inner growth work (therapy, men and women’s support groups, twelve step programs)
  • working with teachers, elders, experts, and mentors
  • group practice, being a part of a community
  • some form of service, giving back

He also noted that most of the time we already are doing one or two of those and that could be enough for some period of time (parenting, being a good colleague and worker, being engaged in the community work, etc). What I particularly was glad to hear was the point about the inner work. It is my understanding that meditation alone is not enough to help us deal with the internal issues and as another guest at BGs mentioned some time earlier, it was not designed for it.  This inner growth work includes any kind of self-inquiry work that gives us insights about ourselves such as expressive arts, gardening, contemplation.

I have been exploring different forms of inner work, depending on what I have access to and what appeals to me at the moment. Moving to a greener part of town that would allow me to take walks in the fields and the forest at any time was a way to come closer to nature that always brings me back to center and is conducive to the contemplative moods as opposed to analytical thinking. I see the inner work as coming close to the unconscious part of ourselves by getting to know its language that uses symbols to communicate to us.

“To get a true sense of who we are, become more complete and integrated human beings, we must go to the unconscious and set communication with it. …It is only by approaching it that we have a chance to become conscious, complete, whole human beings… We begin to live in partnership with the unconscious rather than at its mercy or in constant warfare with it.”

Robert A. Johnson “Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth”

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A certain person came to te Friend’s door

and knocked.

“Who is there?”

“It’s me”

The Friend answered, “Go away. There’s no place

for raw meat at this table.”

The individual went wandering for a year.

Nothing but the fire of separation

can change hypocisy and ego. The person returned

completely cooked,

walked up and down in front of the Friend’s house,

gently knocked.

“Who is it?”


“Please come in, my self,

there’s no place in this house for two.

The doubled end of the thread is not what goes through

the eye of the needle…”

Rumi, from The Essential Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks

Nathan’s post on fear of abandonment inspired me to revisit that old companion of mine since childhood. According to psychologists the two main fears that shape our reactions in childhood are fear of abandonment and fear of being overwhelmed by the large world. Already as children we develop defence mechanisms such as withdrawal, pleasing others and others in order to deal with them the best way we can. We have to. We are entirely dependent on our caregivers and have to make it in this world. Interestingly, most of us use the same mechanisms even in adulthood and do not take some time to reflect on how those reactions to the old fears shape our (unconscious) decisions and influence our relationships today.

Pretty much early in life it became clear to me that people and relationships were not there to stay and that nobody could ever truly get me. People were there to teach me something and our time together, however fleeting, was valuable. Some would teach me read in English, others taught me generosity, and others – what mattered to me when I felt those values were violated.  As a child, I was terrified to get lost, that my parents would forget me somewhere. When the waiting became unbearable, I’d convince myself that they did forget me and would start looking for them myself and – of course – got lost, wherever it was they had left me to play. I would finally make it home with the help of strangers, thankful for this opportunity to return and enriched by the experience.

I made my worst fears come true. I guess somehow it was preferable to the waiting to be abandoned. Now it seems funny and sad but I see how through those experiences I’ve learnt the art of getting lost and found and that I would not always need my parents or people I thought I depended upon. Those were pretty useful lessons to learn as a child. I did not become better with directions and often times I get lost in the fields and forest not far from my new home but now I look forward to those brief moments. And never for a second do I feel lost and lonely in a forest full of trees. Getting lost makes me more aware of the potential to be at home wherever I am and to establish connections with others.

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Faith in nights

Every human life is made up of the light and the dark, the happy and the sad, the vital and the deadening. How you think about this rhythm of moods makes all the difference. Are you going to hide out in self-delusion and distracting entertainment? Are you going to become cynical and depressed? Or are you going to open your heart to the mystery that is natural as the sun and the moon?..”

(Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul, p. XIV)

Some of you who occasionally stop by the site noticed that I haven’t been posting for a while and wrote me asking if I was alright. Wherever you are, please know my life would not be the same without you and for one thing you are the reason I pulled myself together to write this current entry for which I am very thankful. So – thank you! 🙂  I am alright although maybe not quite in the conventional sense of the word. In fact, there’s been quite a lot of sadness, grief, confusion, and other emotions and feelings of distress that normally would not be associated with an alright state of affairs. But who wants a normal life? Authentic is what makes me wake up in the morning with an anticipation of yet another day of this life, mess and all. If pressed, I would admit that I would not mind skipping some of those emotions but it doesn’t seem to work this way. Not if I want to live a fully expressed life of a three-dimensional human being.

When the dormant for the last 200 years volcano in south Iceland near glacier Eyjafjallajökull erupted this past summer, many of us were reminded that some forces in the universe are out of our control (surprise!). When something larger than our spilling over with entries filofax is on its way from the very core of existence, the only wise thing to do is sit and wait. Wait and wonder. In the overcrowded airports, in the company of our own distress, in the arms of a friend or a lover who cannot take away our troubles neither accompany us on our journey. This journey is to be undertaken by me and me alone, if I am to find my own voice.

Dark Night of the Soul

The phrase “the dark night of the soul” was chosen by the Spanish mystic and poet John of the Cross (1541-1597) as a title for one of his poems and is used by a monk, university professor, and psychotherapist  Thomas Moore in his book Dark Nights of the Soul in the meaning of a period of transformation.

I like the metaphor of the night as it is the natural part of the cycle of Life itself. The night is fluid and pregnant with the dawn of the next day. Only on a dark night, away from the distracting lights of the city when I pause to look up and pay attention, can I clearly see the light of the stars scattered over the cold velvety sky and find solace in the darkness. The night frames this beautiful mystery unfolding over my head of which I am a part and so are you.

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Sit happens!

This zucchini (that my friend Erica grew on her plot and donated to the good cause of feeding her friends) and I bonded in just a few days that it stayed with me.

Sitting started happening again, monkey mind and all. Sometimes my buddy Marian and I Skype-sit on different continents but when the time for us doesn’t work out, other company will do.

If you are in Europe and would like to join me for a morning sit once a week or so around 7 am CET, whatever kind of meditation you do, let me know!

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