Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking back, Walking Forward

I have a little New Year's Eve ritual. I like to spend some time looking back on the old year, taking a broad sweeping look, like I'm flying overhead looking down at the landscape. And some years there are more clouds than others obscuring the view. I see quite a few stars this evening.

A lot happened in 2009. As the result of a "health opportunity" that generally goes by the name of cancer in late 2007, I realized in 2008 that, "news flash: I was mortal". It was time to wake up and do what I really wanted to do, instead of thinking about it, writing about it, imagining it, or being afraid of it. The penny finally dropped that I should get on with life, in a get out there and do things sort of way. Some of that self absorbed, self consciousness and fear dissolved with the surgeon's stitches. So 2009 was the year when I decided to get up everyday (well not everyday, but you know what I mean) and create some art. I needed to show and display my art and meet other artists. I needed to take risks and get uncomfortable. 2009 was the year I looked in the mirror and said who cares if I look stupid. Vanity and vulnerability travel in the same make-up bag.

It was also a year I did a lot of deep spiritual housekeeping. I worked earnestly and made peace and forged a heart connection with my 94 year old mother. I gave up blaming her and grumbling about her and said the hard things to her that needed to be said to move forward. To her credit she was open and ready for the healing to take place and our last months together were warmed by feelings of deep connection. I think the wanting and needing something from each other somehow dissolved. We had deep conversations about her impending death and it was the most peaceful experience I have ever had, to sit with her as she died on August 29th.

We finally decided to sell our house and move from the city to a smaller island than we live on now. We worked hard to get the house ready and put it up for sale. It was a spiritual experience to travel the road of big monetary transaction with integrity. But we negotiated it in a way that felt good and on Dec 16th we signed the final inky flourishes to the sale documents. House sold, time to move on. I have to say Mara made a big visit the night after we signed those papers. Every fear I've had about my health came to visit. Doubt and terror are not at all fun to share the pillow with. It felt pretty clear that the only way out was through the little burning, toxic pit. I found the where-with-all to sit with it and consider my options. Fear was feasting on speculation. Instead of pulling the covers over my head I worked to get a felt sense of what it would be like to throw the deal, stay put and be safe. Mara left empty handed.

I gained more confidence in my art this year by devoting more time and attention to it. "What we feed, grows stronger." I learned a little bit about hitting my stride. I learned not to throw myself into fits of despair when things didn't go my way ( a long standing habitual tendency of mine).

And so 2009 has been a time of great learning and looking forward. Things didn't always go my way but I learned to work with that. I worked to resist collapsing into a little heap of "I can'tness" at the first sign of trouble. Oh maybe a few times but who's counting? I worked with my tendency to obsess over things when they didn't go my way. This is such a strong, alluring tendency for me, one of those things I know in my head to be unwholesome but man, it can grab hold of me and take me on a big old chase.

And the Dharma has remained central and strong in my life. I didn't find a Sangha to sit with in 2009 but maintained my own practice and am connected to a number of "Buddhist" friends and my monk friend.

As I look forward to the new year I have new plans to address some health and stamina issues so that I might do more out in the world. We will move to Salt Spring Island in March after living in our wonderful urban home for the last 13 years. And of course based on impermanence and the fact that we are not in control of the big picture I can look forward to the adventures of another year. As my Zen teacher always says "we do our part and the eternal (or whatever you like to call it) looks after the rest."

May you experience happiness and health and the fruits of your good training in 2010. May we be good company to each other as we walk this path together. Bows to you.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blue Cake With Sprinkles At Zendotstudio

I felt I couldn't pass up posting today. How self absorbed is this? I just realized it's my blog's birthday! I posted for the first time last year on December 3oth. So here it is this toddler blog with a mouth full of pablum, smooshing pureed peas into its metaphorical little scalp and shrieking with delight.

And like any good toddler I've fallen down, had a tantrum or two (usually about my mother), gurgled and cooed when things went my way, put a pot on my head and acted the fool more than once. I have gotten into the crayons and paints. And I've messed around with the language spewing out all kinds of babble and unintelligible sounds. What do you expect from a toddler? Gosh, it's freeing to have low expectations. Takes that self imposed, prideful pressure off.

It's interesting to think back. Taking stock is a good Buddhist practice, I think. ...Looking at what we have done, what worked, what we might like to alter. How else can we grow and change and learn? How do we adjust our course? Become wiser? Honest reflection is the answer I think. And while it is human nature to have blind spots, things that we just don't see, if we look at our past actions they can help clarify what is important to us and help us decide how to move forward.

Interestingly, I think I applied much more care when I began blogging, spending more time composing and working on each piece of writing. I had lots of Dharma topics rolling around in my head that I wanted to write about. After a few days I started to write 100 days of Dharma which was a real exercise in discipline. There were many days I wondered "will I have anything to write about?" Surly the well is dry by now. But always something came to mind. It was an exercise in faith as well as discipline.

In the summer I did 30 days of small art projects which was again an exercise in discipline, this time in the visual department, rather than word sculpting. This was much more difficult for me. I found (and not to my surprise) how much time I would spend creating something that pleased me. There was much more critical judgement of the little pieces on my part. No dashing off a little work in 10 minutes (occasionally perhaps). I learned that acts of spontaneous creation were not my forte. But it is interesting to learn how we work, where we cling and get stuck, where our strongest expectations lie.

And in the great tradition of "how do I know what I think, until I see what I say" I learned a lot about my own human experience through blogging. I mined the depths of the every day. I got to be a little less self conscious by spilling the contents of my spleen and other internal organs onto the page.

And I have connected with lots of kindred spirits out here in the blog bog. I am awed by the vastness of the blogosphere and feel like I live in some tiny constellation in the vast dark universe of blogs. I am constantly discovering new blogs and from the very beginning (and much to my surprise) I was blown away by the creativity and imagination I had somehow discovered. I travelled oceans and continents to arrive at amazing and inspiring sites. This has been heartening to me, discovering these unknown treasures, a thriving counter culture of creativity and awareness. It exists slightly apart from the mundane world I live out on the street, that can often seemed filled with consumer consciousness and disregard for the things that seem deeply important.

In some ways I think the focus of my blog has shifted toward my visual art. I blog less than I did when I started. I had to look at the fact that I didn't want to just blog because I wanted to post everyday. I got to examine my motives. I got to look inside and see if I truly had something to share that day. And I found a balance between the real world and that of the deep blue computer screen.

So come and share a slice of cake with me. If I was all grown up I'd choose a cake that was a sumptuous dark chocolate with a middle layer of cheesecake and preserved cherries. But I'm a one year old and I want a blue cake with sprinkles and gummy bears. And I'm going to lean over and take a big bite out of the middle of the cake and then I'll probably try and stuff some ofthat ungodly blue icing up your nose. I will be giggling and sporting a blue icing mustache. What, where are you going?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sukkha, Dukkha & Cranberry Sauce

I have fallen down the rabbit hole of family and holiday events and become only an apparition in the kingdom of blog. It has been a happy kind of falling. And where is the Dharma in that? Things are flowing smoothly along. I have less grist for the Dharma mill, less to blog about.

I remember my Zen teachers saying, when things are going well, we just go about our lives. We don't give it a lot of thought. It's when things are difficult that we really look to the Dharma to help us out, to light the way, to make us feel less crazy. Is that selfish or bad or just human nature?

I am savouring this time of things going well. Perhaps that is the Dharma of it. When we know that things don't have to be this way, that things don't always go well, it allows us to appreciate the preciousness of those times when all seems right in the world. And we've all been served our helpings of Dukkha in large or small dishes at some point.

It is a real joy to have our daughter, who lives several thousand miles away, home for several weeks. It warms my heart that the little girl who grumbled that her mother wouldn't buy jelly dinasour fruit snacks like all the other "normal" moms, way back when, is now studying to be a nutritionist. Cancel sugar, flour, animal products of any sort. Mom can now learn a few tricks from her. Tables turn, their contents get shaken up.

So when she suggested we have a "raw" Christmas dinner I extracted the dehydrator from the cupboard and we got to work. Here's a picture of dinner. We dressed it up in a suit and took it to see Santa Claus! Okay so no Santa Claus but it's cute anyway, complete with raw cranberry sauce, a version of mashed potatoes (made from raw parsnips), a raw stuffing made with mushrooms and a cashew cream and a dehydrated burger impersonating a turkey created from the loins of some shitake mushrooms, a few nuts and lots of herbs that smell like Christmas (sage, rosemary & thyme). Simon and Garfunkel did not drop by. Probably the no turkey thing kept them away.

There has been much visiting and chatting and just quiet sitting around. No rushing about, no packing in of thousands of events and activities, no dreaded or difficult visits with family and friends. We had a heart warming visit with family just before Christmas when we gathered to scatter my mother's ashes. It wasn't a sad event at all. We scattered ashes, we visited, we had dinner together and then we looked at old pictures of mom/grandma and listened to some recordings of my mother talking about her life that I had made a month or two before she died. Everyone wanted to hear what she had to say. It felt like sharing a very deep experience of getting to know my mother.

The lovely gift of the season has been this simple sense of easy togetherness, a few gifts, some tasty treats. And what does a budding nutritionist give their parents for Christmas? How about "Dr. Jensen's Guide to Diet and Detoxification" & "Dr Jensen's Guide to Better Bowel Care" (some interesting photos here, not recommended for the squeamish and a section that qualifies for the comment, kid's you might not want to try this at home). And I haven't even got to the "Encyclopedia of Natural Healing". I might even get healthy yet! " It is both a hoot to get these, an expression of caring and an invitation to better health.

I will end with a quote from Bernard Jensen from his "Guide to Diet & Detoxification": "Nature's creative power exceeds man's inclination to destroy." This seems like an optimistic world view, perhaps a vision for planetary detoxification?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Opening Presents & A Dart To The Heart

This little painting is a work in progress, as we all are. And like us, it feels like it is vulnerable and standing on the edge. Like us, it can go in a variety of directions. The moment always holds both danger and possibility. As my Zen teacher says, "we have more options than we think.

But I will pull back from the brink of the metaphorical. This mixed media piece is a continued exploration of a matte textured background in shades of grey combined with a shiny, drippy enso. This enso has a hint of ultramarine blue with some chartreuse and black. The line drawing of the Buddha still needs work, some refining (as do I, which is part of what always makes us a work in progress!). As I say this I am conscious of that Zen idea of holding 2 seemingly contradictory possibilities in our minds at once. We are fine just the way we are AND we can do better. Is that confusing? Only if we want to carve the world into opposites.

There is so much at play in creating a painting that parallels our everyday life. We are always exploring the background, don't you think? Feeling and creating and responding to the texture of life around us, to what life brings to us, to what we encounter. We move from dark to light and back again (like the little yin/yang amoebas). And like this line drawing of the Buddha we are continually inventing ourselves, drawing some aspects of our character with deeper and more definite lines, erasing and lightening the traces of what doesn't work for us, if we are attentive and skillful enough.

And the recycled pattern pieces in this work open a conversation as we might expect words to do. The dart to the heart... I liked that idea for a variety of reasons I don't need to explain, the piercing of the heart, that tender, vulnerable part of us. But the idea of the "dart" is used in Buddhist thought. The first dart is regarded as the event or instance of suffering. The second dart is the mental anguish we create or "add on" to what happens to us. The idea here being that pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. The other pattern pieces that found their way into this work are the little cutting line scissors that the Buddha holds and the words "back facing" which can speak to us in different ways.

So while life and art talk back and forth to each other, sometimes whispering, sometimes shouting, I never start a piece with an intention to "say" something. I become aware of some hinted at meaning as if I was an independent observer. Life imitates art. Who said that? And there is the natural synchronicity of things if we are willing to just look. It is happening all around us, all the time, the conversation between what goes on in our lives and the small things that pop up; our thoughts, our dreams, how the colour of our shoes matches the scarf of someone that we are drawn to, how a line in a poem that we read in the morning, somehow fits perfectly with something that happens to us later in the day.... It is about being open and aware and receptive to life with a capital L. It is after all the season of presents (presence). And as with all presents, they require opening.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Did the Buddha Wear Nail Polish?

A few days ago Marguerite from Mind Deep posted a list of 15 Buddhist Blogs by women (thanks for including me, Marguerite!). So it got me thinking about the gender issue as it relates to practice. Do we relate to practice in a different way? Are there aspects of practice that call out to us more, as women? Is it a non issue? How does that relate to annata (no self)?

So it seemed good to have Green Tara here to keep us company for this conversation. You've seen her before if you pop by here on a regular basis. Tara is regarded as the female Buddha of Compassion. Green Tara, specifically, is recognized as a protector against fear (I have some experience with this!)

I have never really thought about it but at a recent art show (and on several other occasions) people have commented that my Buddhas have a very female look. I was surprised by this when it was first pointed out but could see it immediately. One idea of the spiritual life that I like, is that we are energy having a human experience. And if we're born here as women well then some of us are having a more feminine experience of that energy. We all have masculine and feminine energy and perhaps it's simply a continuum and each of us lie somewhere along the scale. But for me, there are definitely differences in this energy. And I don't think this stands against equality in the social/political realms. We can be different but have equal opportunity.

So it is interesting to look at the Buddhist women blogs and explore the differences (and similarities) in our practices. A couple of observations, I have made in my short life as a blogger : I have noticed that about 90% of the comments left on my blog are by women, as are the little pictures of those who sign on as followers. So I assume that what I say has more interest to women?

Personally I also notice (as my daughter would describe it) that my eyes glaze over when the discussions of Buddhism become more theoretical or move away from an everyday life focus. I have wondered if this was a male/female difference or just a personal difference. I've always regarded it as a bit of a personal obsession on my part. I don't really know the answer to that one. I know I am strongly drawn to any Dharma that explores how it relates to everyday life.

When I think about the gender thing in relation to my own Buddhist practice experiences I notice that The Zen teacher that I studied with for 4 years was a woman. Some of my favourite Dharma books are from Joko Beck, Pema Chodron, Tenzin Palmo and Lama Tsultrim Allione, all women. I must say that Ezra Bayda and Tarthang Tulku are also big favourites of mine and last time I checked they were both still men! As a slightly interesting aside, someone told me they'd heard that Dzongsar Kyhentse Rinpoche was seen wearing nail polish and quoted as saying he was coming back next time as a woman (is this hearsay or gossip?).

So in the spirit of exploring, I am reposting Marguerite's list of Buddhist Blogs By Women. I know I'm putting on my invisible hiking boots and packing a bag of cyber gorp for the trip. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What the Buddha Sewed

Here's a new bit of art (16x16" mixed media). It builds on the "Blue Enso Buddha" I did a while back. I've been working with texture, something I've always loved but never seemed to be able to execute to my satisfaction. Ah the distance between expectations and results! Often a very long car trip between the two. But the first step is to wake up at the wheel and realize we're stuck somewhere on that dark little stretch of road . Mostly we start honking & complaining or put our foot wildly to the floor and hope by some miracle we end up where we want to go. Or maybe our style is to put the car up for sale and say we're never going to get there anyway, what's the use?

But in reality it's not about the expectations or the results. We can waste a lot of time and energy getting hung up at those little detours. It's really about the process, the open road, (please no tickets for an over metaphor violation!)

It's about keeping our eyes on the here and now. By simply doing our work, focusing on the task, whatever it is, we not only enjoy the journey but we build patience and perseverance. These are the gifts of any continued work. And in time we'll get where we're supposed to be going. It might be a destination we never imagined. The principle of the spiritual life at work here is: ultimately we're not in control. We do our part and the rest takes care of itself. It takes most of us humans a life time or three to get this.

In addition to my work with texture, old sewing pattern pieces have been calling to me lately. I bought a few, ages ago, at Ruby Dog's in Vancouver, because I loved their transparency and the words and symbols on them. I knew they'd find their place someday. Recently they have surfaced on the top of the flotsam & jetsam pile and I am delighting in them. In fact I think I might have to get me down to a local thrift store and snag a few more!

The other element of this painting is the enso (Japanese for circle) which symbolizes enlightenment, strength and emptiness. Creating an enso is a whole meditative practice, a serious calligraphic art but my relationship to them is simply personal. I have no training in the traditional aspects of how to execute them. I have been mixing my "enso" paint with a gooey substance called tar gel and love the shiny, viscous quality that materializes. I like the juxtaposition of the shiny raised enso against the matte textured background. It's a strange pleasing tension, a slightly surprising combo, not intentional in any way but the result of messing about with materials. It is a following of an intuitive sense, I suppose. So much of what we do, we don't really understand.

So that's been the studio fun lately, following this thread of texture and pattern bits and tar gel. It feels personal and authentic which Leslie Avon Miller talks about on her blog when describing her "mark making" process. It's as if after some time, things start to come out of you, that are you. They are not repetitions of things you have seen or art work you admire, but your own unique voice. It takes time to get there. Lots of just mucking about, lots of false starts, frustration and exploration and garbage cans full of stuff. And we can't make it happen, force our will on it. It's like anything we do in life really, perhaps all of life, for that matter. It takes time for things to brew and steep, to percolate and mature, like any good life sustaining drink worth it's sipping power.

It's also about developing an inner confidence. Not in a prideful way, but in a way that we come to believe in ourselves, in a way that we trust and have faith in what is happening inside and around us. Our friend, the Tibetan teacher, talks about this inner confidence in relationship to our attitude toward life; how we need this to develop our practice. We become the little zen "engine that could". It is not enough to get caught up in the suffering. We need to apply this antidote of inner confidence. And the close room-mate of this inner confidence is faith, I think; faith in the fact that life is not out to get us and that life unfolds as it should, bringing us what we need.

How is your unfolding process going? Things coming out crumpled? Still tumbling around in the dryer? Or perhaps you're holding up something lovely that you never imagined you owned and are as surprised as if you were looking at the laundry of a complete stranger?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Double Tall Eggnog Latte with a Slice of Dharma

Custom Buddha Boxes Created for a Customer to share with friends & family

Last night we attended the final talk of a 4 part series by a Tibetan teacher. The talks were based on the teachings of Dodrupchen Jikme Tenpe Nyima. We started by going around the room and each reading a portion of the text. There was something simple and lovely about this. Then Kalzang gave a little talk based on the text. He told a wonderful teaching story about a Tibetan lama, who was confronted by a thief. The thief asked the lama his name which turned out to translate as "golden leg". The thief poked him in the leg with a needle and the lama cried out and winced in pain. "You don't have a gold leg. You are the same as me. You wear a sheepskin coat, you ride a horse, you eat meat," the thief chided him.

At that point, the lama realized the truth of what the thief was saying and bowed to him. In an instant he saw his pride in his position, his belief that he was somehow better and different than others and he saw that his behaviour did not always correspond with the Dharma. After that, as the story goes, when reciting the names of his teachers he added the thief in as his root teacher because he had helped him see the truth.

It was a great tale and posed the question to us, when someone tosses an uncomfortable truth in our face, are we willing to look or do we just feel righteously indignated? Do we criticize their behaviour (how rude of that person to say that to me!) or do we lob an insult of equal weight back in their direction (your mother wears army boots!) Can we, are we willing to learn from these encounters? Or do we simply want to protect our vulnerable little self, build a larger protective shell around our delicate coating of ego? Can we accept that tapping on our shell, do we let it crack open and grow and expand to become our true self?

It is pretty humbling to face the truth in this way. An encounter with a neighbour years ago showed me that I had a lot of anger inside. Her "poking of me" offered insight into the depth of that anger and how close to the surface it was actually riding. I liked to think of myself as kind and quiet, reasonable and gentle. But I got to see the unforgiving, prideful, vengeful side of me, how I clung with great self righteousness to my position. It was a very painful picture to behold! Yet it was the beginning of my sincere dedication to the Dharma.

I see these events as some of the most difficult teachings. Teachings that are really thrown in our face, most often by people we find difficult. Our habitual way is to grumble about these people and justify our own behaviour but if we really are dedicated to the work of the spirit (in whatever tradition that might be) we will sit up, pull out the thorn, mop up the little pool of our own blood, and have a good look at our bruised egoic self. What made me so angry, so defensive? What truth am I avoiding about myself? It is really the work of going deeper, the work of purifying the heart. It is one of the most difficult things for us to do, to bow down and say thank-you to those who have criticized or offered us the bitter taste of humiliation. It is one step on the journey toward loosening the grip of the self; a step toward true freedom. We can use these painful experiences to help us see who we really are (or who we are not).

So where will we find our teaching today; when we get cut off in traffic, when a shop keeper treats us with indifference or rudeness, when our mother-in-law offers us unwanted advice? Where are the frayed edges of our tolerance? I suspect we will all meet this teaching out in the world today, in big or small ways. Are we willing to mix the bitter taste of this offering with our double tall eggnog latte?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Impermanence in a Scrap of Paper

I am in a bit of a time lag here. I will rewind myself to Saturday because it seems worth mentioning. On Saturday we went to see the monks dismantle their sand mandala. It was a strange and crazy day and so we were late arriving and the gallery was full. We watched from outside the glass doors of the gallery until some folks left and there was space for us inside. I could watch myself feeling dis- appointed that we'd been late and couldn't hear the talk about the meaning of the mandala and the explanation of the ceremony. We had visited the mandala often during it's construction and sat a number of times for the morning chant. We had long been anticipating this event. There we were on the outside looking in. But somehow there was such good energy surrounding the event, so many smiling faces, that it was easy to let go of the disappointment and just watch; to see without hearing, to watch the babes in arms, the little girl standing and twirling a long strand of her mother's hair, the restless grown-up or two that moved back and forth through the crowd.

And finally the monks got out their big sheep skin duster (which amused me) and swept up the mandala, 3 weeks of painstaking, meticulous work swept up like a messy floor or a dusty table (ah I see it now a ktel commercial, if you buy 1 of these mandala sweepers right now, we'll throw in another one absolutely free. Operators are standing by to take your order.)

But in seconds the lama pulled his duster skillfully outward from the centre and the once beautiful detailed patterns and figures were gone, gone, gone. In an instant he had sliced through our cherished ideas that we can, that we should, hold on to things. If we're listening with our eyes the tiny motes of dust remind us that the stories of how we are and how life should be are just that; insubstantial, impermanent clouds of thought we gather around us. The dust of of impermanence, of changeability, mutability floats through the gallery settling invisibly on everyone.

In one moment life takes one form and then shifts to something different the next. One minute we are breathing, the next minute we aren't. One minute we love our partner, the next minute they have angered us or hurt us deeply. One minute our children are tiny and need us, the next they have moved out and have a life of their own. One moment something is filled with beauty, the next moment it is a grey amorphous mass (ah artists you know how this can happen!). This is the truth, yet we resist it with great effort. It scares us, unsettles us. We want to think we can hold on to things, the things we love and cherish, that they are solid and substantial and will be there for us when we think we need them. We spend a lot of time and energy on these holding on projects.

The monks want to remind us that this is not how the world works. They want us to get it at the deepest level, that everything is always in flux, down to the tiniest of particles. And that's okay. It is our wanting to grasp on to the log that is floating downstream that causes us to suffer. We need to learn this everyday in small ways so that when the time comes to really let go and move on from this world, we won't be shocked or surprised, that we will understand it as part of life. Understanding impermanence offers us the opportunity to appreciate the bittersweetness of what is here now. Enjoy. Drink deeply and let go. That is what the particles of sand are whispering to us.

At the end of the ceremony at the gallery, little bags of sand were offered to those who came to view. You can see me in the photo up above, collecting my little grains of greyness in a scrap of paper, from Barry Till, the Curator of Asian Art. I have them at home sitting under my fat orange, happy Buddha in the dining room, reminding me of the wonder and impermanent nature of my world.

Friday, December 4, 2009

String For Your Finger & Gold Mining in Tibet

I am just unravelling a little metaphorical string for your finger, if you live in the Victoria area. Zendotstudio is warming the apple cider and setting out the treats for Sunday's Open House & Art Sale. Hope to see you there!

Some new work is on display, and some great studio clear-out treats, as are some custom Buddha Boxes for a happy customer that bought 4 last year and wanted some more for this Christmas. It was her great idea last year to use 4 similar 6x6 paintings and give one to each friend. This year she has requested 6 for her sisters and friends.

It's an interesting way of joining and connecting people together with small hand made treasures. I thought it was a brilliant idea. Two good friends and myself have bought the same scarves (different colours) when shopping together but I haven't done it as an intentional way of joining friends together through gift giving. Kind of like each person has a piece of the puzzle. I love it because it expresses the sentiments of generosity, kindness and acknowledges the connection that we have to each other.

On that note we went to hear the second talk by a young Buddhist teacher last night. He spoke about loosening the grip of self centredness that we have and practicing generosity and loving kindness. He also talked about working with our habit of choosing comfort. His talks are based on a text by Dodrupchen Jikme Tenpe Nyima. The written handout exhibits the depth and breadth of the teaching. We get to experience first hand the courage and equanimity of this young man who has only been speaking English for 5 years and often consults us listeners for help with words.

We have heard some interesting and heart tugging stories of his life in Tibet and his ongoing commitment in working for the Tibetan cause. We have learned a little about the history and geography of Tibet: all the stories you might expect to learn from the news outlets but don't. Last night he spoke briefly about how several Canadian companies are working with the Chinese to extract gold from Tibet. He talked about how the villagers have been displaced and now have no place to grow food and means to look after themselves. We never hear these stories on the evening news. He used the story as an example of how when business and self centred interests are used as the bottom line, we can cause harm to others, either wittingly or unwittingly.

And even though you could feel the deep sadness that he felt for Tibet's plight, you never once sensed animosity. He said he approaches protests not in the spirit of hating the Chinese but in the spirit of wanting the Chinese Government to recognized the Tibetan's as human beings. It was interesting to see how he balanced his political activism with the Dharma.

We will hear his last talk next Thursday before he heads off to Nepal to visit his teacher who is 90 and unwell.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Snow Globe Buddha Offers Greetings

Okay here's a Christmas Koan. What kind of holiday card do you send to your Buddhist friends? Is that like the joke, what did the Buddhist find when he opened his Christmas present? Emptiness. I know this is okay because you've come to expect complete foolishness from me if you pop by here now and then. I don't bill myself as a Zen fool for no reason at all!

I did this little mixed media piece last year (it's sold) and decided it would make a nice little holiday card. I've been searching around for the perfect quote. This morning on Tricycle's Daily Dharma there it was waiting courtesy of Sylvia Boorstein: "(I often think about the snow globes with lovely scenes at their center, scenes hidden from view as long as the “snow” is shaken up. Once the globe is left alone on a steady surface, the snow settles, and what is meant to be seen is revealed.)" I have simply used the last part of the quote "the snow settles and what is meant to be seen is revealed." And a little shameless shilling - they are for sale on Etsy if the fancy overtakes you!

It's a great thought actually because it is so habitual for us to be stirring things up. I have heard Dharma talks with the same message based on a glass of water and sand or a lake, but the stirring of silt and mud all have the same effect. These liquids and their swirling bits are offered to us as reminders that running here and there, with our incessant chatter and pouring over things simply muddy the water. If you are engaged in a regular sitting practice you will know how helpful it is to just sit; how sometimes the answers or solutions to problems just arrive as you sit. Or the problems loosen their grip on you. But we also know how difficult this is when life puts a little squeeze on us. It's hard to stop shaking that globe. We just grasp it as hard as we can and shake and shake.

Our wanting to make things happen, to have things go our way, our sense that we are in control; these are the things that cause us to grab that lovely clear snow globe and shake the dickens out of it. We think all the shaking will make the snow land in just the loveliest little drifts that will please us, but in reality life doesn't work this way. Yes our actions have consequences, but we are not privy to all the things that go into creating the results. So here is the Buddha in all his lovely hot pinkness offering up holiday greetings and Dharma from within his little enso of a snow globe.

What are you shaking up in your world today?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Four Immeasurables - Holiday Baking Without Cups

On Thursday night I went to hear a talk by a Tibetan teacher. It was part of a series of 4 talks on "Trans- forming Suffering". It was easily accessible and I was curious to hear the Dharma from a Tibetan point of view, as the direct teachings I am most familiar with come from a Soto Zen perspective.

The talk was on the 4 Immeasurables which are Love or Lovingkindness, Joy or Sympathetic Joy, Compassion and Equanimity. It was interesting to me that he started his talks here, rather than the 4 Noble Truths (life is suffering, attachment is the cause of suffering, there is an end to suffering, and the 8 fold path is the way to this end.)

If you're not familiar with Buddhism, you will probably twig onto the fact that (as the joke goes) Buddhism is a religion of lists. I always think this is because Buddhism is so logical and things are organized in a way for people to examine and study the ideas that form it's basis. So if you're a list maker, this may be the practice for you!

In my understanding of Zen, you do your practice and these qualities arise. They are not cultivated, per se. At least there were no practices associated with these states of mind in the Sangha in which I practiced. This belief is based on the fact that you can't make these things happen. They take time to develop. They arise naturally as a result of practice. Let me say that I am by far no expert on the subject, this is just my understanding of it. And also, I am not offering criticism but exploring the path. Allan Wallace, in a book called "Buddhism With An Attitude" says: "The treasure is really within your own mind and heart. Teachers, traditions, techniques, all have the single purpose of helping unveil that which is already within you." This is the spirit of my exploration here.

The 4 Immeasurables are based on the fact that we are all connected and the Buddhist belief that in past and future lives we have been and will be closely connected with those who now seem to be our enemies or those to whom we are indifferent. And even if this is an idea you need to put on the back burner or reject completely, it is easy to understand that embracing feelings of love, joy, equanimity and compassion in this life are indeed more pleasant and generally helpful to the world than their opposites.

The love that forms part of the 4 immeasurables is not our traditional idea of romantic love, but the type of love or loving kindness you might feel to your child or someone dear to you. The aim is to extend this outward to others. This is done through a loving kindness meditation in which you first generate love toward yourself and as you become more skilled you radiate it out into the world, working from friends and family, to neutral people and then toward people we have difficulty with, and finally to all beings.

This practice is repeated for the cultivation of compassion in which we generate the wish that beings be free from suffering. Joy or sympathetic joy, which I think is more descriptive, (I have also heard it called appreciative joy) is taking pleasure or finding joy in the good fortune and success of others. It is an extending out of feelings of happiness when things go well for others. It helps in loosening the grip of our habitually self centred feelings. In my mind it expresses the true sentiment of generosity of spirit.

And the last of the 4 immeasurables is equanimity which I think we all long for. Equanimity in my mind is that steady feeling of everything is fine just the way it is, right now. We are neither pushing away what we don't want or chasing after what we desire. We are not overly excited or discouraged. It expresses true peace with what is.

I know that amongst old Zen friends the question would sometimes come up, well if these things don't arise or don't arise for a long time, wouldn't it be good to cultivate them in some way? For me, right now I feel that I would like to spend some time cultivating the weedy parts of my mind, that I would like to explore working with habitual mind sets that don't lean naturally toward joy, love, compassion and equanimity. Maybe you'll have to give me a little poke and see how I'm doing with it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Buddha's Auction

Just a little reminder that The Shambhala Sun On-line Auction officially kicks off today with lots of great goodies. Proceeds go to supporting a worthwhile spiritual publication. Check it out at

Well we can think of desire and attachment to stuff or we can think of generosity and the spirit of giving. Or maybe we can be like a juggler and hold all of these in our mind at the same time. Or maybe we can just be in the present moment with the colour and words and the clicking of the keyboard, perhaps the fragrance of the cup of tea that is keeping us company. As my Zen teacher always says, "We have more options than we think."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Buddhist Cowboy Songs

Last night just before the howling winds started and in the middle of a torrential downpour, in the dark of night (7pm eek) we went to hear Brad Warner's public talk at UVic's Interfaith Chapel. After all the vitriolic commentary that swirls around him in the blog world I was too curious not to go. I will confess that I don't read his blog on a regular basis and that I did read his book "Hard Core Zen" when it came out. I bought the book for my daughter who was seriously into the "Punk" music at the time, thinking it might appeal to her. In last nights talk, someone asked about his books and he said he originally thought of "Hardcore Zen" as something he was writing for his 14 year old nephew and never really expected to get it published.

It was an interesting evening. Warner presented as a very youngish looking (my friend asked if he'd written the book when he was 12!), reasonably at ease looking guy. He looked like he needed a shot of sunshine or geritol. Some of my meat eating friends might have suggested he looked like he needed a good steak! My preconceived ideas about him from "Hardcore Zen" and the second hand commentary I'd heard in the blog world, had me thinking he was a bit of a provocateur and a little cocky. I watched my own reaction as the talk opened and I thought to myself, "I can feel myself getting ready to bristle and be all fault findy. I can look at him through the jaundice tinted glasses of preconceived opinion. I can let other people make up my mind for me OR I can just take him at face value. I chose face value, instead of value loaded. I could feel the shift. I was just listening now. I was not searching for things to prop up any "ideas" I might already be holding about him. It was a much more pleasant way to receive his words.

He was low key and pretty soft spoken. He is irreverant, but frankly that's a quality I like. And he was not the least bit confrontational or provocative. He described himself as a pretty conservative Soto Zen kinda guy. I could see that perhaps his inclination to be a little flippant could get him into trouble, but it didn't last night. I cannot refer to any of the content in his latest book which some find offensive, because I haven't read it.

My agreement with myself was I would take him as I found him. He was not a particularly engaging speaker. He was not an orator that fired you up and inspired even the unconverted. He chose to simply answer audience questions rather than deliver a talk which is a responsive point of view. I didn't disagree or find fault with any of the answers he gave. He seemed to know his Dharma. He didn't seem full of himself or impressed with himself. He seemed very human, sometimes mumbling or loosing his train of thought. He didn't appear to "need" to be anyone in particular. He didn't appear to need to be a punk rock guy (he actually reminded me of my electrician, a t-shirt, jeans a hoody, slightly messy hair and some facial hair). He didn't appear to "need" to be a good speaker or be overly concerned that we like him, no fabulous stories, no name dropping. Just honest answers to the questions posed.

He talked about the need for some form in practice and that he had tried it with none and that it didn't feel right. He pointed out that different practitioners opt for observing different aspects of form. Someone asked him about transmission but not as a personal affront and he answered in a very non defensive way. He said his teacher described transmission as a recognition by the teacher that the student has understood the teachings in some deep and essential way and is therefore qualified to teach.

Someone asked about enlightenment and he gave the good Zen answer, that you may have an experience that matches your idea of an enlightenment experience but that doesn't make you enlightened. He told a story of how he had described such an experience to his teacher and the teacher said something to him like " you're a comic book kinda guy, you have a pretty active imagination." He talked about how there are references that show that even the Buddha continued to meet Mara after he was enlightened.

Initially, Eshu and Warner shared a little banter and conversation over the on-line Sangha thing verses the real life Sangha experience. They had a little fun with this, comparing it to internet sex with Eshu asking well isn't some better than none? Eshu even pulled a local paper out of his robe and showed the write up about Warner on the page opposite adds for "consenting adults". Everyone had a little giggle over that one. Zen for consenting adults... In the end Warner's comments were that virtual Sangha is not a replacement for the real life experience but that it can augment practice.

I asked Warner about all the who-ha that goes on out in the blog world about him and if he is intentionally provocative. His answer was that people get all fired up over things that he doesn't intend as provocative and then seem not to bite when he is intentionally provocative. And perhaps this all ties in with the virtual/ real life based meeting of teachers and students and Dharma practitioners. Maybe the people who froth and fume over Warner might feel differently if they were sitting in the same room with him. Maybe that face to face interaction would diffuse some of the reactions that seem to arise in response to Warner's on-line presence. Or maybe a Zen punch or two might be delivered. You may love him or hate him or perhaps you couldn't care less. But if he makes you think deeply about how you view the Dharma, well then he's done his job.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Zendots To Zen Squares

If I'm Zen Dot Studio then what happens when I paint squares? Is that a koan? Are these Zen Squares? And what is Zen Squared? Is that a math-ematical equation? Would Einstein know the answer?

We've all said "shit happens" or am I leaping into the realm of giant assumptions? But sometimes fun things happen too! This little painting happened the other day in the studio. I say this because in truth that's how it is sometimes. Things emerge from somewhere and you recognize them as something to work with rather than something to line the bin with. When work goes well I never really feel like " I did it". I am often as surprised as anyone at the end result! Look what fell off the easel. Where'd that come from?

I don't know if you can see but I cut little squares of words out to add in. Come on in for a closer look. Little words like meditation and happiness, and self and faith and see and kindness and few more. Something about it made me think "encaustic" and because I don't work in that medium I decided to do a little kamikaze encaustic. I melted some beeswax and applied it to the surface. I used an embossing heat gun to smooth out the wax and called it done! For me there's a retro feel about it all but also a feel of film stock and pixels. These little squares are just jumping around. Also there is a sense of the ethereal, of mystery and foreigness too, maybe French. Someone on one of the art blogs was talking about getting sound or taste relating to colour, for me it's just feeling.

And where is the Dharma for me in all of this? I am really relishing taking back my studio from the clean state of ever preparedness for the real estate market. And two observations come to mind. After a long period of not much studio time I seem to have more creative energy. It's like it was a dormant, underground period that was helpful. It wasn't like, oh I haven't been working, now I'm stiff and arthritic and I need time to limber up. Quite the opposite.

And that is the mystery I think. We never know what will happen. It is about relinquishing expectations and control and just being with what is. And well tomorrow who knows what? Maybe everything will come up black smears and brown lumps. Where I do have choice is in how I view it. Barry over at the Ox Herding Blog once said something that really struck me, "we're always saying things like "expect the best but be prepared for the worst." Why don't we prepare for the best?" he suggested. Something about that reminded me of a saying my Zen teacher has:"look up".

From a lot of the reading I've done on the human mind, it seems we're a hard wired to "look down" or at least behind us to see what's chasing us. It takes a conscious effort, a turning of the mind (at least for me) to expect the best and look up. It's subtle and it's something I find I need to be constantly vigilant about. That old monkey mind is a busy little customer, that often likes to fling you-know-what at anyone who might decide to enter the temple. And if we know that's what monkeys do, well then we don't have to get too excited about it. We just use whatever skillful means we know to send them on their way. Or maybe we just enter by a different door? Happy monkey hunting. And be careful, I hear they have been known to bite.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Karen Meets Ted - Not Just Another Story

Here's a new little 8"x10" done on a wooden cradled panel. It has a textured background created with something I bought in Toronto a few years back called sludge or something equally appetizing. It's interesting as it's made from waste products that come from production of other paints & mediums (yum!) I liked the idea that we're using this stuff instead of dumping it into the water system or a landfill. To create the enso I tried a little experiment with some tar gel mixed with ultramarine blue acrylic to give it a resin like look. Hope this doesn't sound more like a toxic waste site than a painting!

I had some pieces of old sewing patterns kicking around the studio that I have been itching to use, and well, this seemed to be the time and place for them. Here's the part where zen meets canvas, or board as the case may be... It's about letting go of thinking and being drawn to what feels right for the piece ... walking the critic to the door ... letting go of questions like what would be good here? Just trusting and following.

The piece called out for the line drawing of the Buddha (I have no idea why, like so many other things in life.) And the bits of text... something I love but am not always brave enough to add. The text often gets left behind in some second guessing or when doubt rears it's familiar two headed little self. I seem to be in an exploring mood these days with one painting not looking at all like the last. Ah, the schizophrenia of creation. Is that Sybils signature on the back?

On the Dharma front it seems to be cloudy with a hint of compassion, maybe a 60% chance of compassion today. Perhaps it's the season for compassion, days are getting shorter, all things Christmassy are making their appearance? First there were the monks who worked so tirelessly on the mandala of compassion at the Art Gallery here in Victoria.

Earlier in the week continuing on this theme, I heard about Karen Armstrong's "Charter of Compassion". Then later in the week a friend emailed me a link to the site. If you don't know Karen Armstrong I highly recommend her book "The Spiral Staircase" which chronicles her journey from young Catholic nun to a secular life. Recently she was given a TED award and with it, the recipient gets a wish. Armstrong wished for help in creating a charter of compassion for the world. She sums compassion up as the "golden rule", do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It's about taking ourselves from the centre of the universe and putting others there. She talks about how the spiritual life is really about "what you do everyday". If our practice isn't translated into how we treat the clerk at the dry cleaner's or how we behave when someone runs over our toe with their grocery cart then what is the value of our practice? And of course we don't always get it right, but it's about working on it.

Recently there was a good reminder about working with compassion in Tricycle's Daily Dharma. It talked about treating our enemies in the same way we might treat those dear to us. And to me that's a really important nitty-gritty reminder about compassion. As a concept compassion is nice to think about. We can read, we can sit, we feel inspired by the idea of compassion, We feel all warm and cozy but then bingo, someone rear-ends us in traffic.

It's easy to be nice to someone when someone is nice to you or when the day is going our way. The real test of practice is when strangers or people you're not so fond of behave badly. Someone insults us or criticizes us. What do we do then? Are we like the rat in the experiment? Do we bite? Can we count to 10 and let it go? Can we say something firmly but with kindness? There's the cutting edge of practice.

I feel encouraged by people like Karen Armstrong to work on building the compassion muscle, to get out there and lift a slightly heavier bar bell of compassion than I might normally choose. I am encouraged that the charter is out there to remind all of us about compassion. I am reminded of the Dalai Lama whose people have suffered so many losses. He says so simply and directly, "my religion is kindness."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Thinking About Art, Meditation & Science

Here is a new painting. I have been spending a lot of time at the Art Gallery here in Victoria, watching the monks who created the sand mandala and wandering the galleries of old Thangka paintings and statues, attending the curator's wonderful talks and tours. We watched a film about an American woman who makes applique thangkas, regarded as the highest art form in Tibet. Truly amazing to watch the meditative detail as she winds threads around horse hair that outlines the pieces of silk brocade.

A couple who came to look at our house even brought me a book on Buddhist art and architecture from the Met! So I feel like I have been immersed in the ancient world of Buddhist art. And so it wasn't too surprising to find myself being drawn to do something that had an old world look. It's very different from what I usually do, based, in fact, on an old fresco of a Buddha. The colours are mine but the style is much more detailed and delicate.

On the Dharma front, we have been working our way through a series of 5 or 6 DVD's on the Dalai Lama's 2005 Mind Life Meetings lent to us by a friend. Each disc is around 2 hours worth of talks and presentations by scientists on brain research and how it relates to meditation. Some of it is pretty, dry, and sciencey for my taste and yet it all relates. Jon Kabbat-Zinn and Richard Davidson talk about their research on meditation and mindfulness. The work that Kabbat-Zinn has done with his "Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction" makes you wonder why the medical community and schools haven't embraced it more whole heartedly. It's cheap (you just need space and an instructor) and it's effect in influencing the body seems amazing. One piece of research shows the effectiveness of meditation on healing psoriasis, a very tricky skin condition. We get to see what a powerful tool the mind is if used skillfully.

Ajahn Amaro, a monk in the Thai Forest tradition, uses the term "adventitious suffering" to describe the suffering that we conjure up in our minds. He distinguishes it from the suffering of real pain that is part of the human condition. The pain that we create and have control over is this "add on" pain where we worry and fret and imagine possible outcomes.

Some of the most interesting information came from Robert Sapolsky's research that explores the activity of our limbic systems as they relate to stress, the old fight or flight syndrome. Super system when being chased by tigers. Digestion shuts down, detoxification shuts down, blood pressure and heart rate go up, all dedicated to giving us the best chance to mobilize and escape danger. Trouble is in modern society most of our perceived danger is psychological and prolonged and this has serious implications for our health. What protected us and served us well when being persued by tigers on the savannhas doesn't serve us well in cube city or wherever we hang out.

He talks at length about the old 'shock the rat experiments'. Interesting, even though perversely unkind. If poor Ratty (remember him from "The Wind In the Willows"?) has no outlet after being shocked, he develops ulcers. Interestingly if there is another rat in the cage, guess what Ratty gets up to after he receives a shock? If you guessed that he runs over and bites the other rat, you'd be right. And that, apparently, prevents him from getting ulcers. Interesting if extrapolated to human behaviour. Got rats at the office? Oh, footnote. The rat can also bite a piece of wood for the same results. Note to foot: Hurry out and buy large box of wood and distribute to all angry human/rat associates. Also ulcers are avoided if the rat knows when to expect the shock.

We haven't finished our Dalai Lama video marathon but I have to say these DVD's have been great for reinvigorating my dedication to sit. It's great to be reminded of the health benefits of meditation. So excuse me for a moment I'm off to either gnaw on a piece of wood, bite someone or sit on a cushion for a bit. I haven't quite decided.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Spiritual Path As Heros Journey

Orange Buddha wandered into the studio the other day looking for a facial. "I've been hanging out in the hallway feeling a little dark, a little flat, perhaps a little too tentative. Maybe I need a little paint Dharma," he said. I invited him to hop up on the easel and we'd spend a little time together, exploring the possibilities. And here he is, post facial, feeling a little lighter, more defined, no botox required. We shared some fine time together and parted company both in good spirits.

I have been reading a book by Lama Surya Das called "Letting Go of the Person You Used To Be". Does that sound too "self-helpy"? I am always drawn to Dharma books that offer specific ideas for working with your life and this is one of them. It is true that we are fine just the way we are but we could all do a little better. That's what I like about Buddhist thought, these 2 seeming contradictions don't stand against each other. I thought I'd share some tidbits from the book that seemed helpful and uplifting in contemplating daily life.

In a chapter called "You Are The Hero of Your Own Life," he says: "Walking the spiritual path is inevitably an heroic journey. ... Sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning and stumbling to the shower, requires a heros spirit. Trying to live a meaningful life requires a brave heart. Whenever we try to act in ways that correspond with our deepest beliefs and values, we will, by definition, face major challenges. ... How are we being called, and are we heeding our deeper call? In what ways are we being deceptive or truthful? How are we being brave or cowardly? As seekers we are climbing huge mountains, but we are climbing them step by step. ... We can rescue our heroic higher Self from our conflict-ridden and ego-driven self concepts. We can save ourselves from preoccupation, narcissism, indolence, hedonism and love of comfort."

Right now rain is lashing in, riding sideways on the wind from the south, from the ocean, just down the street. Winter in the Pacific Northwest: no snow, no below zero temperatures, just lots of grey and white sky, wetness and wind. Bone chilling, drenches you in minutes. Can you hear my comfort seeking behaviour! Perhaps I should try out the storm lovers stance? I have seen them out there, facing into the wind driven water, hanging out with the cleansing sea breezes and the powerful pounding waves. Where will your heros journey take you today?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Spiritual Renovations

Do you feel like going to an auction? Naw, is that what I hear you saying? You drive, you sit, you come home empty handed or maybe over spent. Or maybe you wake up the next day with a new koan: "Why did I buy that papier mache rooster, anyway?" Mostly they're noisy affairs, a little boring and just a general waste of an evening? I agree.

But if you wander your self over to the on-line Auction that the nice folks at Shambhala Sun are having ( you can even wear your jammys), you will find lots of goodies like this painting I donated. There's lots to savour. I was drooling this morning over several retreat packages, including one for a retreat centre in Italy. Anyway it's all for a good cause. Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma offer up great Dharma covering a wide range of topics. Worth supporting I think. The auction starts on November 23rd so there's lots of time to ponder choices and watch as new goodies roll in.

And what Dharma nugget have I been chewing on? Nothing with chicken in it and no side of special sauce. I am a big believer in "your path or your practice (however you like to think of it) is in what life brings you." And sometimes you need to hold that little lump up to see where the light comes in. Yesterday was a strange comedy of errors around here. At about 10 in the morning jack hammering and sledge hammering erupted from the basement storage room in the rental house next door. Not only was the sound overwhelming and constant, but I got an instant mental attack of "what are they doing there, they're up to no good, they're adding more rooms, another suite. Lament, lament.... That will make it harder for us to sell our house. Yada, yada, yada." Ah, the drama theatre of the mind, such predictable plots, the protagonist always so self centred in her dialogue. And in the late afternoon we went out while the jack hammering continued and a realtor was scheduled to show our house. Apparently some screaming accompanied the house showing as the frayed nerves of next door residents came unravelled at around the same time.

It was truly an opportunity to let go. I reviewed my options. Options 1. For reasons you might well imagine, there is no talking to the 2 brothers that own the next door house. Like my little self they have an agenda. Option 2. Despair. A familiar, well traveled road. I'm starting to know this play so well it's getting boring. I could collapse myself into a fit of despair, or I could save myself a lot of suffering and see it as an opportunity to practice equanimity.

I have come to the conclusion that there is always someone around willing to yank on your chain, so you might as well loosen it up a notch or two. Oh excuse me, that's me yanking on my own chain. Sheesh! It's so easy to lay blame in the chain yanking department.

Maybe it sounds like magical thinking or new age drivel, but it feels like this has come to me for a reason. It is just another call to give up the self centred preferences that cause so much suffering. The outer world is always somehow related to the inner world. It's just up to us to figure out how. It's like a strange puzzle or making sense of a dream. And besides which is the dream? And what is reality? Oh, oh, is this play sounding like "Waiting for Godot?"

I always think of it as keeping my eye on the ball, that's what I need to do in situations I find difficult. Just paint, just make my phone call, tidy up, have some lunch, do what needs to be done. Don't run off down Despair Alley screaming and wailing and creating that internal drama of "what if?" If action that seems good to take, becomes clear, well then I'll do that. In the meantime I will just trust that in the grand scheme of things, it all fits together in some way that is not clear to me. It felt good to just "keep my eye on the ball." Strength giving in it's own way, building spiritual muscle and new neural pathways. I was doing my own excavation and renovation of sorts. So I wish you happy carpentry and rewiring and plumbing (of the most spiritual sort).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Opportunities For Generosity

I can't remember specifically why but yesterday I started thinking about generosity. And then I did that very human thing. I started thinking of all the ways I am not very generous. Then I realized how this made me feel. Next thought went something twisted like "well how ungenerous you are to yourself to point out how ungenerous you are. Sheesh! In seconds I was tangled up like some mutant pretzel, all I needed was a little salt for the wounds.

As I watched my little pretzel self I remembered an article I'd read on creativity. It said when they'd done research on what separated the creative folks from the non creative ones, it was, simply, that creative people believed they were creative. Non creative people believed they were not creative. Hmmm. So maybe if I believe I'm generous, I will be more generous. So I tried this on, like a size 10 pair of shoes. I thought about all the occasions I have been generous, instead of the other way around. That felt better but still had an oddness about it. It felt so I, me, my, if you know what I mean.

So as I sat this morning it came to me. Generosity. It doesn't need a subject. It doesn't need a verb. It doesn't need to be "I " am generous". There doesn't need to be a me doing it. If I am going to focus my attention on it, it simply needs to be "generosity". I can immerse myself in a sense of generosity. It really is all around us, all the time, in many and varied forms.

And a funny thing happened as I contemplated generosity. The door bell rang and the post person had a package I needed to sign for. "It's even for you" she said (usually the packages are for the downstairs neighbour). "It's from Thailand and they only opened it once," she teased. I sort of knew then what the package contained. Colin from Spaces & Lines had sent me a beautiful pencil sketch of a Buddha (as a thank-you, he had said, for inspiring him to start his own art blog) and friend, Marcus had added a beautiful sacred Buddha textile from Waht Suthat as a treat. So it was like Christmas morning as I opened the package with all it's little additions and cards and even the beautiful Thai lettering on the envelope and the exotic postage stamp. So how's that for an experience of generosity! I hung my Red Cloth Buddha on my studio door and propped the gorgeous Buddha sketch on my cutting table and happily got down to work. Thanks guys for the Treasures! Bows to you both. What shear delight to get snail mail filled with Buddhist goodies.

The air filled with the smell of incense and generosity as I worked away on a new painting. As I contemplated it some more it seemed to me that kindness and compassion and generosity are all really one. And it struck me that rather than thinking of the ways we are ungenerous we might think of them as new opportunities to practice generosity. That seemed much more generous.