Saturday, January 31, 2009

Blind Spots

I was thinking about "blind spots" this morning as I was sitting.  We all have them, those things that we do that we just don't see.  Often everyone else sees them but us.  You see mine, I see yours, but we don't see our own.  It's a term that makes me think of driving (and perhaps that's where it comes from?).  You know that spot where you can't see, just over your shoulder, where the rear view mirror doesn't show you what's there.  It's the spot where you need to turn and look, the spot that can easily result in an accident if we fail to check it.  A lot like life really.

And the interesting thing about blind spots, is that by their very definition we don't see them.... those aspects of our behaviour that cause us trouble over and over until one day we go .... ohmygawd! and some little (or not so little) shadow pops into focus.  One of the really funny ones for me, was that I always lamented about how negative my mother was.  Then at some point I realized I was being negative about my mother's negativity!  sheesh we can be twisted little creatures!

So they are out there in that spot, just behind us, slightly out of view, just waiting .... waiting either to work their mischief or come in to view.  Our work is to keep looking at our actions with honesty and contemplating and examining what we do .... that is our practice and in time we chip away at our blind spots.  We get to know ourselves and see the oddities and humour in what we get up to sometimes.  And as my teacher would say "it's not on our terms or our time lines."  The realization happens when it happens.  We can't force it, legislate it or make it happen.  We can only do the work until the tipping point is reached and the blind spot spills over into our awareness and we see the little puddle on the floor.

This little mixed media Jizo called "Lighting the Way" kind of works with "Blind Spots".  There he stands looking forward, lantern in front, shadows behind.  

Friday, January 30, 2009

I am not the Buddha

"I am not the Buddha."  I made that comment to my friend the Zen monk after telling her a little story about how I decided that I could only do family house guests for 4 or 5 days rather than a two week visit as requested.  The decision was made with a lot of care and consideration and contemplation.  I had to acknowledge my own limitations and my place on the path.  I knew the potential suffering that can come from hoping to act in ways, that are past where I am, if that makes any sense to you.  I sometimes wish I were more generous, compassionate, more tolerant, but there you have it.  While this does not stand against me making an effort to be these things, to aspire to higher ideals, I must be realistic of what I can pull off without getting myself in more trouble and ultimately creating more suffering and karma for all involved. It is a tricky business!  It is much more flattering to think I am kind, compassionate, generous and nice but truth is I am not always these things. Gasp!  ouch, the truth is a prickly customer sometimes!

I was reminded of the fact that "I am not a Buddha" today when I went to do my last little bit of business regarding the fender bender I was involved in the other day.  I had an appointment to see the government insurance company that determines liability.  As I readied myself to g to the appointment I could hear my self cherishing point of view that I was right....  Man, that is a hard one to let go of.  And during the interview I could hear that irritation rising in my voice as the agent questioned me in a confrontational manner.  In the end she decided I was not at fault.  I felt tired after the whole event and wished it had not stirred so much emotion in me.  I wished I could have been like the monk in the story who when wrongly accused of being the father of a young girls baby simply nods, saying "is that so?"  and accepts the baby to look after.  But alas here I am, little me, with all my stuff, attached to my opinions and point of view, easily roused from equanimity.

And while it is good to acknowledge the truth of where we are (how else can we change?)  I am learning  it is also important to cut ourselves a little slack, be kind to the vulnerable humans that we are.  It's okay to be where we are and it doesn't stand against the fact that as my teacher would say "we can do better."  I realized one thing I could do better here, was pay more attention.  I realized during the whole accident process I didn't pay enough attention to the details.  I wanted (attachment) it to be an amicable transaction so I was not as careful as I should have been.  My inclination toward "niceness" actually worked against me.  I needed to be a little more careful and vigilant.  

And always, everyday I find there is something for me to learn, something that helps me stretch further in the direction of wisdom and compassion.  So while it may not always be fun, it is always worthwhile.

This little mixed media is a contemporary take on a thanka with all the little Buddhas in their circles. It seems to go with the writing, the various sizes and colours of Buddhas speaking to our various places on the path.  

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Playing With the Dharma

A couple of nights ago we saw a fabulous Tom Stoppard play called "The Real Thing" at the Belfry Theatre.  I can't say enough good things about it.  The actors were fabulous and the play was intelligent, witty and thought provoking.  It was about love but not just the frothy stuff that skims the top, but  the depth and complexity of romantic love, what it means to really love someone.  Not the "I'll love you if you're nice to me and do what I want" kind of love .... but the love that sees the beloved at it's worst and loves anyway.  A love that can embrace betrayal and forgiveness all at once.  .....that cares enough to stay, to have patience and faith, that perceives the truth and goodness in that other human that the beloved hardly sees themselves.  You felt somehow that Stoppard understood the nature of loving another deeply and had amazingly been able to convey it in all it's painful and joyful essence.  He got it.  You got it.

When it was over, my partner said he had read that it was somewhat autobiographical for Stoppard.    I said "that makes sense and that's just like the Dharma!"  You could feel that Stoppard understood the terrain intimately.  And likewise you don't really get the principles of the Dharma until you live them.  I not only know this for myself  but have heard so many practitioners say this.  As did the Buddha when he said "Don't believe me, make it true for yourself."  It seems to me as humans we need to experience things at some blood and bones level to really understand.  How do you know  impermanence, letting go, having faith, attachment ?  You can read about them and hear about them for years without ever really getting them and then one day..... it happens .... in your life and you understand,  ... ah now I get it.  

And in art, like the Dharma,  you can only write or paint or create with depth what you really understand.  Every writer's workshop starts out with the advice "write what you know".  This is where art and the Dharma intersect, at this heart level of experience and understanding.  In art we go on to try and express it and in the Dharma we may express it or simply reflect it back in how we live our lives.

The piece of art for today is called "Moonlighting Monks".  For me there is both a feeling of community and chaos in this mixed media piece.  There is a sense of samsara in the dimmed light but also a sense that we are  all  on this journey together.  Sometimes it's hard to remember that the person rubbing up against you in some way that feels annoying is your brother and just like you he wants to be happy.  But there is our work, walking together, under the moon, experiencing the mystery of it all.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Accidental Dharma

Ah life, there is never a shortage of things to train with!  This morning as I was parking my car to go to an appointment, a van backed directly across the road and grazed my passenger door.  The woman got out, apologized and hoped there was no damage.  Well there was a small scrape and we exchanged info..  All was amicable, seemingly straight forward.   Perhaps if the estimate was small enough she would pay for it out of pocket and not go through our insurance companies.  Seemed fine to me.  Call her later with the estimate.

By afternoon the story had changed somewhat.  She had reported the accident and was now saying that perhaps it was not all her fault.  After all we were both backing up (me in my parking space.) As this second part of the story unfolded I could feel the irritation rise in me.  I was spending a bunch of time on this (talking to her, going to the claim centre, making two more claim calls).  And where is the teaching in this I thought to myself.    As the irritation rose I could see it plainly  "you know it's easy to be nice when things are going well but not always easy when the going gets tough." I knew not to say anything unpleasant to the woman, yet I could hear the irritation in my voice.  "I let her know I was feeling frustrated at the time I had to put into it and the fact it seemed like she had changed her story."  I could see the potential for this to ruin the beautiful sunny afternoon.  And then I could see my work was to let it go...  To do what needed to be done and let it go.

I could see that propensity to retell the story to myself, to my partner.  I could see the self cherishing (I am right, she is wrong point of view I was holding on to).  "How could she change her story like that!" I could see how the mind wanted to go over and over it, in some perverse way, in some need to understand or resolve what was really beyond resolution at this point in time.  Let it go....And as the minutes ticked on and other activities filled the space I could see the truth of change and impermanence as the incident slowly faded in it's intensity.

I could think about her point of view, maybe she can't afford this and hopes she won't have to pay.  Maybe she's worried that her insurance will go up.  Whatever her concern is, within the space of an hour or two she has changed her story and even though I didn't know her I felt betrayed.    When I looked I could see that this is what we humans so often do.  When something is not to our liking we run our mind over and over it, reshaping it into something more palatable.  We talk it up a bit.  Our friends commiserate with us.  And before long we're standing on the other side of the fence.  It is so easy to get confused.  It can be especially easy to get confused if there is some money involved as in this case.  It was nothing personal.  It was not even an instance of overt lying to get what you want.  It was the mind playing with circumstance.

And so there it was, the Dharma lesson for the day.  For me, while I didn't like being hit, the irritating part was the woman's behaviour, her little switcheroo of position.  From this I could see my real work was to do what needed to be done, attend to the claim centre activities, and get on with the day, not to get stuck in the cycle of hashing over the unresolved details, not to feel disappointed in human nature.  To be able to say, this is what we do as humans sometimes, we try and wiggle out, self justify.  We all do it in places, big or small.  Sometimes there is only so much truth we can take and then we jump in the back seat and have a little roll around with delusion.  

So the story for today ends with a very nice claims agent from my  insurance company who believed my story and says ING has an "I believe you" policy and it will not cost me anything.  I still have to give up some time to go through the process with the government insurance agency and the auto body shop.   The possibility while slim, still exists that I could be found partly responsible if the location of the damage doesn't indicate fault and while this feels irritating it is without penalty.  

I could see how quickly my anger rose and realized how vigilant I need to be with that.  But all in all it was a fine day.  I chatted with some nice people and was reminded that greed, hatred and delusion are often lurking around the corner.   That is part of our human condition and we need to be ready with our vigilance, wisdom,  equanimity and our kind heart.  If we keep those in our spiritual tool box, truth and happiness are never far off.

I love photos that play with truth and illusion.   I took the one at the top of the page in Vancouver's Gastown.  It  makes me think about what is real and what is not.  What do we see, what is reflected back?  And what is that lens we're looking through?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It Doesn't Matter What You Do

My daughter, who is in her late '20's is trying to decide what to do next with her life.  (Aren't we all in some way?)  And I have come to realize that my role as a parent doesn't lie in telling her what to do, but in helping her find new and helpful ways to think about her life.  Sometimes when it seems appropriate I make a little offering.  

The other day I was reading some material from an online Buddhist course I took last year called "Awakening Joy".  A little piece made me think of her.  It was written by the Spirit Rock Buddhist teacher, James Baraz and went like this "When I was younger I faced a crossroads in my life... I didn't know what to do and was afraid of making the wrong decision.  I went to a wise psychic, Reverend Miller...($5 a reading!).  He said that although he wouldn't tell me what to do he did have one piece of advice: it doesn't matter.  My initial response was, "What do you mean it doesn't matter?!   That's my life you're talking about!"  He told me that as long as I was paralyzed with fear over making the wrong decision the benevolent forces of life... couldn't help me along in my journey."  

The full quote I sent my daughter was a bit longer than this but basically it speaks to the issues of faith and movement. We do the best we can and then have faith.  We can't, with our little minds figure it out, no matter how hard we try.  At some point we have to give up that sense of control and take the leap.  It is so easy to be paralyzed by fear and indecision.  I have spent many years living in that little dark house myself so I am well acquainted with it's cobwebbed corners.  And yet only we can open that door and walk out.  I can only knock on her proverbial door and suggest that the weather outside is really quite nice.  

At some point we must draw on our courage.  And I have come to realize that a big part of practice is having courage, to take a step, to say something in a situation where I might normally opt for comfort and quiet.  There is such momentum and energy (chi as traditional Chinese medicine calls it) in taking a step, moving out of the stagnation, the sleepy comfort of inaction that many of us spend our lives in.  We can do it in small ways or big ways and as we do we build new and wholesome habitual tendencies.  We eek out new neural pathways in our brain and ultimately we become a little bit more alive.  We experience the richness of life.  So as I sent off my email I realized as I so often do, that what I was thinking about and saying were things that I needed to hear myself.

In December in the spirit of doing something different and moving the energy, I hosted my first open house/art sale.  I got to see, first hand, how moving a little energy  built on itself.  I found that things that had formerly seemed like a big deal could be done with a light touch and  a "let's see what happens" attitude.  As a result several  pieces of my art work found their way to the e Art Gallery of Greater Victoria's  Christmas show and another few pieces made the trip to another small gallery.  So here's to moving some energy.  And with the beginning of the lunar new year, what better time to rededicate ourselves to this task!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dogen And Cheese Blintzes

I did a few paintings a while back, using only shades of grey with lots of texture and in the end they please me.  I think there is something about the rough texture and slightly crude form that I like.  I call this one "Dogen's Boat" because it has a quote from Dogen collaged on to it that says: "When riding in a boat, if one watches the shore one may assume that the shore is moving.  But watching the boat directly one knows it is the boat that moves."

I think Dogen is talking about perspective here, about where we place our eye and the difference between truth and illusion which is tricky business.  What I have been experiencing today as Dharma may not be an exact experience of what Dogen is talking about but I think there is some relation.  Today I took my soon to be 94 yr old mother to the doctor.  Lately, after much work (years in fact) I thought to myself I am making friends with my mother.  She no longer pushes my buttons in the same old way.  And then I realized that yes I am making friends with my mother but really I am making friends with myself.  I have done enough work on this that I am no longer stirring up trouble, making myself irritated at the things she does.  I don't read things in to her every action.  I don't take things personally.  In short I have come to see the "truth" of how things are.  I have come to accept her and myself.  We are no longer doing the age old misery tango that we have done for so many years.

I still listen to what she says and think that it has a negative bend to it, that her glass has a hole in the bottom and is more than half empty.  And that makes me feel sad for her.  But I can see that  life can be difficult for those of us with a practice, who spend time reflecting  and working  with what we do.   So how difficult is it when you have nowhere to rest all your troubles and grievances?  Today my partner and I could even have a good old laugh about some of her comments, no ranting and grumbling on my part, no need for him to commiserate, just a good old laugh and on with the day.  And so there I was in a boat with my mother eating cheese blintzes and poppy seed cake and both of us were enjoying ourselves thoroughly!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Zen Dust

This morning as I was sitting in meditation I got a little insight into the koan of stress I've been working with lately.  (I get some of my best ideas & insights when I'm sitting.  That certainly keeps me coming back to my cushion for more!)  A couple of things became clearer to me. I have been highly aware of a feeling of bodily stress lately, brought on by the thought that I have a lot of things to do.  This morning I could see clearly that what the mind was doing here was an intense (but subtle) form of grasping or clinging.  I had this sense that my whole body was somehow reaching forward, into the future, if that makes any sense.  

Next I could see that this grasping was definitely me wanting to be in the driver's seat, wanting to control what happened.  And then it was like a little set of dominoes.  I could see this as a form of fear, this wanting to be in control, this needing to get things done.  And as I write this I realize what is fear, but a lack of faith?  There it is my grasping, my needing things to be a certain way,  my fears are all really a lack of faith.  Because faith is really a trusting that everything is fine just the way it is.  We are always taken care of and what we need is always right there for us.  Our work is really just to be present, and make our choices from that quiet place of non grasping, if we can.  If not, well what we need will come to us as well.  When we don't get it, the lesson just keeps coming back to us until we do.

And while this came as understanding I was also reminded that the desire to understand is another form of wanting.  And that as much as anything when we are in a place of confusion we need to let go of our desire to understand.  Such a western mind thing, it seems to me.  We are so attached to figuring things out and having to understand  (says she who feels she had figured something out this morning! ah we are such funny creatures,  my teacher would say!)  Ah, to simply appreciate the world in it's complexity and mystery, there is a pleasure if and when we can do it.

So that was my further exploration of the koan of stress that I wrote about in "What is the sound of one broom sweeping"?  A proverbial shaking out of the dusty broom, for now.  And so I have posted this unfinished painting that makes me cringe a bit.  It reminds me to rededicate myself to that silent, what do I know approach, to creating my art.  An approach where I simply go into my studio and spend some time with a piece.  I am not grasping after "I want to finish this".  I am not grasping after "I'd like to get on to the next piece."  I am not judging it saying "I think you're ugly."  I will just spend some time with it, getting to know it, with no agenda.  And maybe it will whisper something to me about where it wants to go or what it wants to be.  Or maybe it will remain a complete mystery to me for a while longer.  I just need to have faith.  And perhaps a nice coffee to go with it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Where is evil?

Today I spent a really nice afternoon with friends, a little hot & sour soup at a Vietnamese Restaurant and then we watched a PBS video from a series on India.  It was interesting to be reminded that although the Buddha was born, reached enlightenment and died in India, Buddhism virtually died out in India.

But to me the most interesting part, was the story of King Ashoka who was by all reports a violent warrior responsible for the deaths of thousands.  At some point in his life he realized the error of his ways and gave up everything to go to live out the rest of his life as a holy man. There is a similarity to the of the story of Milarepa in Tibet, again someone responsible for great atrocities who then becomes a dedicated monk.

These stories reminded me that it can be the case that those capable of great atrocities can convert that evil into good.  Sometimes we humans sink down to the depths of despair or bad behaviour before we (or is it in order to) see the light and change.  It reminded me that we need to be careful not to judge what we see and to remember "what do we know?" in the grand scheme of things, that all things come into being and pass.  Now this is not condoning violence or making light of it.  What seems horrific or bad to us may have a purpose we can't possibly understand with our little minds.  It's like the question "why do bad things happen to good people?"  My teacher will often answer this with "something is working itself out."   Maybe you want to call it karma or not.  Maybe we can just say we only see a little part of the picture.  Or maybe we could say, who are we to judge what is good or bad.  And who are we to think we can understand everything with our logical minds?

It is difficult to watch atrocities, see scenes of mindless violence and not flinch or feel angry or despair.  I was reminded of this over at the Humble Yogini's blog as she talked about a film called Gommora set in the slums of Italy.  And yet....
we can't change what has happened and perhaps we can't do anything to personally alter what is going on in places of great darkness.  I guess it is always to keep working away personally in our own little patch of turf, making a difference there, working in small or larger ways as they seem appropriate.  

As we watched the India thing and chatted afterwards a friend talked about her grown son who had come home to live with her for a while.  And while she has found it difficult, she said she can see how he has been her great teacher because he has shown her where she is still angry, where she still has work to do... that she likes to think of herself as peaceful but her son shows her where she is not.   It makes me think of the Dalai Lama's comment this: "To be aware of a single shortcoming within oneself is more useful than to be aware of a thousand in somebody else."  The fact that humans have varying degrees of greed, hate and delusion create the potential for us all to act in unwholesome ways.

So I guess our work is to not loose heart, or to loose heart and find it again... to embrace our little self when we feel disheartened by the shadow of great darkness and know like everything in the world, that this too shall pass.  

Friday, January 23, 2009

What Is The Sound Of One Broom Sweeping?

You know what a koan is, right?  It's one of those Zen riddles that seems esoteric and difficult to solve.  They can't be solved with the thinking mind.  The answer comes from a deeper understanding within. For me these little riddles pop up in daily life.  One I've been working with for the last couple of weeks goes like this:  I feel this sense of stress (noticed especially when I sit in meditation).  It is always there and it comes from thinking about how many things I have to do.  I somehow feel chased around by my potential activities. I can see this little picture of me running with a broom chasing behind me!  Eek I've become my own cartoon!  

The activities are things I love (I even get a strange pleasure out of house work when I feel I have the time to attend to it with care).  But lately I find myself with this uncomfortable forward momentum that I sense as stress in my body.  I feel the tensing and tightening of muscles and sense that this tightness is always lurking in the background.  It doesn't feel good and it sucks the joy out of the individual activities.   So what to do???   That is the Koan.  Sheesh that's an awfully long koan.  Usually they're like "what's the sound of of one hand clapping?"  "What was your original face before you were born?"

Each morning as I sit I vow to be more present as I go about my work but somehow this intention quickly evaporates and I'm off to the races:  emails,  a chore or two or an errand,  computer stuff,  painting, lunch with friends ..... you get the gist of it .... I bet your life is like that too.  And yet it is the spirit or intention of how each thing is done that somehow feels a little off. 

On it's most basic level maybe it's about remembering to breathe.  The faster I'm hurtling myself into the future, the more I need to slow down.  Sometimes a little mantra that I say to myself like, "everything is fine just the way it is" can be a helpful way to reorient.  Maybe it's all just a little nudge to be more present, to practice awareness at a deeper level, become more committed to it.  While I sense that this tension starts in my mind where I really feel it is in my body so maybe it's a call to integration, to synchronize the two.  In one of the Asian languages they don't even separate the mind and body as we do in the west.  It's all just the heart/mind.   

If I think of it in terms of the story that I am telling myself about life, the subtle  background note is, the more you do the better your life will be. Is it about a mistaken conclusion about who really is in control here? And while the cause might remain unknown to me it never hurts to look at our stories and adjust the ones based on faulty logic and basic untruths.

So this is my koan.  As I told it to a friend who came to have a walk down by the ocean today she became quite animated confessing that she was struggling with exactly this same sense of uneasiness with all that needed to be done in a day.  When I told my partner about my koan this morning he suggested I read a small chapter in a book I'd bought him.  The book called "Zen Guitar" by Philip Toshio Sudo turns out to be quite excellent and the ideas can be extrapolated to any area of life.  But I will end with a quote from the book that seemed helpful to me and my koan  (sounds like that old song me and my shadow): "Do what has to be done, when it has to be done, as well as it can be done, and do it that way every time."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Are You A Bookstore Buddhist?

Today over lunch several friends and I were discussing, what else but Buddhist practice.  One friend said, "you know I've been reading a lot of books on Buddhism lately and I find it doesn't really do it for me.  I don't really understand things until I experience them for myself."

Ah, a sentiment so near and dear to my heart.  For years I was what I jokingly refer to as a Bookstore Buddhist, until I met my teacher.  I mostly just read about Buddhism.  And while there are lots of wonderful books out there (I have a bookcase full of well thumbed volumes)  I could never actually put it together in a way that made a real difference in my life. It always seemed hard to convert  the teachings, no matter how pragmatic, from those thin tidy slices of paper to the messy trenches of life.

Even  Dharma talks ... no matter how inspiring they are, I have found that to really have an "ah ha moment" I need to encounter the teaching  in my life.  I need to experience the idea or principle to convert it from the head to the "blood & bones" level of understanding.  Like the idea that no one can make me angry, that I make myself angry through my thoughts and reactions to the other persons action.  It wasn't until the gazilionth time I was recounting "what my mother did" that I realized that it was me who was stirring this pot.  She wasn't there, she wasn't doing anything, yet I was still railing on about her.  Now, I had heard the Dharma talk before.   I heard the lovely story about the monk who carries the woman across the stream and puts her down only to have a fellow monk mention it hours later.  And of course that classic reply of "I put her down hours ago, but you are still carrying her."  I had to finally hear my own angry words echoing into the phone before  "the penny finally dropped," as my teacher would say and I realized I was very tired of carrying my mother around.  For such a tiny woman she was very, very heavy.

So while the Dharma talks and the books can be wonderful inspiration and fingers pointing to the moon, there is no substitute for doing the work in everyday life ... the difficult, sometimes thankless, frustrating work of looking at what we do, getting to know ourselves and our little games and tricks and habitual tendencies.   And then doing the work that needs to be done.  

I thought I would just put up this little picture collage cover of a spiral bound journal.  Here's the place to record all your musings and rantings and tidbits as you get better acquainted with yourself.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Letting Go of Ice Cream

Yesterday I commented on a project I'm working on saying, "ah, so many things to think about."  My Dharma friend's return comment was "so many thoughts to let go of."  That got me thinking about the Buddhist concept of "letting go".  It is the opposite of clinging or attachment which this photo illustrates pretty well.  It was a fun little photo I snapped when I was lying in bed one day with the flu.  First I saw the shadow of the bottle and then in old fashioned shadow puppet style I added my hand.

My friend's comment of "so many things to let go of" was apt because I was thinking about all the things I needed to do.  I think she could hear the grasping in my voice, my attempt to make things turn out a certain way.  She could hear the underlying message that I was somehow trying to control the situation. And so the advice was right.  Do what needs to be done and let go of the rest.  Yes we need to take action, yes there are things to be done.  But you contemplate those in a balanced and un-clinging  way and then let go.  It's pretty simple if you can see it, but mostly when we need to let go we are caught up in confusion or clinging and aren't traveling in the "let go" lane.  Sometimes we just need to step back and sit down, have a cup of tea, or put things on hold until we can gain a little more perspective .... because inevitably action that arises out of confusion is bound, well, to be confused.  And you know where that goes, usually down the runaway lane of regret.

Today  the idea of letting go popped it's clever little head up again (and before groundhog day) when a friend started talking about how we create ourselves through the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves.  Really we're like these little walking stories with hats and mittens (it's winter).  The stories are often so subtle we don't notice them or we're so attached to them we can't imagine how to live without them.  What do you tell yourself about yourself?  Are you terrible at math?  Are you lazy?  shy?  You can't change because that's just how you are?  And what stories do we help other people reinforce about themselves?  ...By a look, by a simple comment.  If we could let go of the stories that we've told ourselves about how we are, and what we're good at, and why we do this or that, we'd be free to respond to the present moment in fresh and exciting ways.  We would be free from the smallness we impose on ourselves with our stories.  We'd open the little cages we've build for ourselves and have a little fly around this big old world (never coming back to change the paper).  

The tricky thing about letting go is that it is easily confused with "getting rid of" something.  Getting rid of something is pushing it away, which surprised me  when I learned, that it's really just a part of clinging or desire.  Wanting or not wanting are both "attachment" by the Buddhist definition.  They both imply that we want things our way.  Pulling the ice cream dish toward you is really the same as pushing away the  plate of liver and onions, if you get what I mean.  Another way of saying letting go is letting be.  Your okay with or without  the ice cream.  It's nice but you don't NEED it.  And the liver and onions, well that's your koan!

So there are lots of things out there to practice letting go of: thoughts, stories, expectations, desires, our attachment to stuff.  There is never a shortage of things to work with.  And ultimately cultivating the ability to let go brings us freedom and clarity.  The more we let go, the less we have to carry around with us.  We are freer and more able to respond to the moment.  The Thai Forest Master Ajahn Chah said something like, "let go a little, get a little freedom, let go a lot, get a lot of freedom, let go completely, have complete freedom."   I read about a woman who was trying to let go of attachment.  When she went to a restaurant she would just point and pick anything, so as not to be so attached to her wanting.  So what's on the menu tonight?  A little freedom, with maybe a chopped liver sandwich?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Patience Is The Reward of Patience

I have chosen this little collage to keep today's writing company because in my mind the tea ceremony is the epitome of patience.... the care and attention to detail, the slow moving pace of the ceremony, now that takes patience. No racing up to the drive thru window for a bagful of something warm and greasy.

Yesterday when I visited my friend the Buddhist monk and we talked Dharma I remarked on how long it took to get some aspects of training.  And her comment was "yes it takes patience."  And when I thought about it, it seemed like such an important part of any spiritual practice, giving oneself time for it to all settle in and percolate and come together in some whohlistic and meaningful way.... the time it takes for practice to seep into every aspect of our lives.  Sometimes we don't even know it's happening until bingo, we do something differently one day, we think a different thought, see our life or someone in it from a wider perspective.

It seems to me there are two aspects of  patience.  There is patience with oneself and patience with the process.  I find my natural inclination is to put some effort into something and then expect some results (impatience with the process).  When the results aren't coming after I've put in whatever I've deemed to be acceptable effort I feel disappointed.  I watch myself repeat this process.  And it's not that I don't know better.  It's just that sometimes I just forget.  This has come up as my Dharma for today for a couple of reasons.  I was feeling disappointed that I hadn't sold anything at my on-line site.  I was reminded by a fellow artist and Dharma friend that it takes time and to keep on, keeping on.  Ours is not to choose the timelines but to do what seems good in our heart of hearts and let go.  This creates the atmosphere of patience that can fill our space and help us carry on in a steady, grounded way.  It was wonderful advice and just what I needed to hear. .... See things from a wider perspective, the bigger view.

In terms of practice itself I have found that after 4 years of training I am only beginning to see results in some areas of my life.  And that is just how it is.  It takes time and patience.  If I'd given up at one year or two years of training I would not have seen some of the results I am seeing in my life, a lessening of anger, a growing compassion, the ability to let go (sometimes).  And in this respect it has been not only patience with the process but patience with myself ... to be willing to cut myself some slack,  to not hold myself to impossibly high standards.   This is sometimes the hardest part of patience, one we often miss, I think, patience with ourselves.

And there is a little saying I love about patience - "Patience is the reward of patience," which I believe is attributed to St Augustine.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Are You Empty?

Today I visited my friend the Buddhist monk.  It is always a wonderful opportunity to talk Dharma and ask questions.  I asked about something that came up for me as I wrote yesterday 's blog ....  the fact that when I noticed a former pleasure (shopping) no longer held any interest for me  there was a sense of loss, a sense of discomfort in this recognition .... a small sense of not knowing who I was anymore.  I have noticed this in other situations as I've gone on with training, that all of a sudden I will recognize that things that formerly brought me pleasure no longer do and there is some disappointment associated with this at first.

"That is emptiness," was her comment "and we're often uncomfortable with emptiness.  We try to fill up the emptiness with activity, with busyness."  It was interesting to me too that she called this emptiness, this uncomfortable feeling of not knowing... When I think about the Buddhist term "emptiness" it seems deep and mysterious and hard to comprehend but there it was explained as a simple phenomena of daily life.  When you don't know what to do, who you are, what to be .... you are experiencing emptiness.

That conversation led me to think about busyness.  It seemed to start in the 90's, everyone running around saying "I'm so busy".  I thought it was code for "I'm so important", but really it turns out it's just us expressing our discomfort with just being .... being by ourselves, with ourselves, as if we don't know how to do this or maybe we're afraid of what we might find, that we'll see our own human frailties, vulnerability and imperfections.  I read in a Buddhist book somewhere that busyness is actually a form of laziness which was kind a strange concept at first.  ...Took a bit of wrapping to get my head around that one, and then I could see the point, that being busy relieves us from doing that deep, difficult spiritual work.  We don't have time for meditation, we're too busy.  We  don't have time to study the Dharma we're too busy.  And so to amuse myself sometimes when someone says to me "I'm too busy" in my mind I substitute "lazy" and this entertains me because it is so opposite of what they seem to be saying to me.  (Man, I have a twisted little mind sometimes)

So in this modern world, the difficult, radical thing to do, is to just be, to unplug the pod, the computer, put down the magazine, turn off the phone and just sit.  Spend some quality time with ourselves, get to know ourselves the way we would a friend or a lover, learn the lay of the land.  What do we do when we're uncomfortable and what is that thought that continually pops into our head over and over?  Maybe it needs some attention.  And maybe we can just relax and hear the birds or the delivery truck or the kids playing outside or the sound of our own heart beating.  And maybe we will find this deeply satisfying or maybe it will scare the pants off us.  We won't know unless we try.

The abstract painting above bears the words "Form is" "Emptiness Is" "Form", which is from the Heart Sutra (the heart of the matter) and can be read altogether or as separate little phrases.  And what better to go with this than an abstract painting?  Where is the form in it?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Impatience Is A Shopper's Virtue

Yesterday I went down to the art supply store to pick up a couple of canvases.  On the way back to the car my partner and I wandered in to a local home decor store when some art in the window caught my eye.  As we were walked by a bedroom display he poked me and said, "You are virtuous."

"What?"  I looked around and he pointed to sign sitting on the night table.  It read (I kid you not):  "Impatience is a virtue." and went on to describe some credit plan that would allow you to purchase what you wanted right now.   I poked him back. His quip was meant as a joke and as in all jokes there is an element of truth!  Impatience would be one of those things I work with... I like my results and I like them right now!  Ah, I never run out of things to train with!

But the story for me was, that the store and  the copy writer who created this little ad thought it a fine way (and slightly funny too I'm guessing) to persuade people to buy what they might not be able to afford, to encourage them to buy on impulse...  To use desire and the instant need to fill it as a way of selling their wares.  And would there be shoppers who would respond to this reverse, perverse logic?  Might that help you justify buying something when reason and patience dictate that you think it over or leave it until another day?  You might actually go home and the clutches of desire for that new couch might fade or your credit card statement might appear in the mail and a cooler head prevail?

So if we are doing our practice and trying to lessen the grip of desire we are doing a difficult thing, going against the culturally condoned sentiments of our consumer culture.  There is a quote from Buddhist scripture that says something like "when we undertake training we are standing against the world."  And I think this is the pragmatic meaning of it.  "You're a freak if you don't want stuff, new stuff and want it now."  I have found it so interesting (and at first slightly disconcerting) that shopping no longer holds a lot of interest for me.  I come from a long line of shoppers and still have friends that find solace in a little retail therapy, but for me the charm has worn off for the most part.  Oh sure I still need stuff now and then and still buy stuff and enjoy it but shopping as an afternoon's outing no longer holds much interest.  When I first noticed this loss of  a form of entertainment and excitement  I felt a little lost, perhaps disappointed in a strange way.  A pleasure lost.  I had to adjust to my new mind that had somehow been quietly changing below the surface. 

Ultimately I think it is about coming to know the truth  .... the difference between pleasure (found in outside things) and happiness (a state generated from the inside).  First we hear about it and then after a while it becomes part of us.  Then we can know that a houseful of brand new furniture can't really make us happy.  And no one can convince us then that impatience is a virtue.  Unless you work on commission!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Zen Gardening, It's All In Your Head

It is that time of year when gardeners pour over seed catalogues and plan and dream of digging their hands into the cool brown loam.  In this corner of the world if you're lucky some kale may have survived and perhaps the garlic is poking it's head out timidly.  As my partner turns his mind to our community garden I am reminded of a gardening metaphor.  

About 30 years ago (eek!) we went to a series of workshops with  John Kehoe, who was just starting out in the field of mind training.  He used the "mind as a garden" metaphor  and when I think back,  it had a very Buddhist quality to it -- Buddhism without the Buddha.  Here's how I remember his little garden manual.  Our minds are our gardens and it's up to us to cultivate them.  How we work with them will determine what grows there.  If we plant the seeds of hatred well guess what grows, if we plant the seeds of happiness, the crop ripens accordingly.  It is up to each of us to plant the appropriate seeds.  If we cultivate and tend and water, our harvest will be bountiful.  If we neglect our tender seedlings they will be withered, dead, stunted.  This is  akin to the idea in Buddhism of working with our minds... cultivating awareness, wholesome thoughts, choosing and re-directing our thoughts rather than letting our minds run wild.  When we work  to cultivate  mindfulness, faith and wisdom  we are working to enrich the fertile ground of our minds.  When we cultivate joy and gratitude we are planting the seedlings of happiness.  When we try to step back and see the bigger picture we are planting a stalk of compassion.

Kehoe talked about weeding the garden, which was an idea I loved.  Weeds pop up in the garden, that is simply the nature of the garden (our unwholesome habitual tendencies from a Buddhist point of view).  And so the garden needs weeding, otherwise you will end up with an unruly patch of goodness knows what, something bitter or poison or just inedible.  (The definition of a weed is a plant growing where you don't want it.)   So the weed or the thought is not inherently bad (an important tenet of Buddhism) it is simply growing where we don't want it. Presto -- out comes the hoe.   When I think about it now, those weeds can actually become good compost for our gardens (our unwholesome thoughts or obstructions can become the fodder for good, showing us where we need to do our work and providing us with the opportunity to turn weeds to rich loam)

 He pointed out that we don't dig up the seeds we've planted to check on them .... because if we do there can be disappointing consequences.  So as in Zen training we just train.  It is not helpful to be constantly checking to see how our "meditation" is doing.  We just do it, for the sake of training.  It takes time and patience and faith.  And then one day we notice something nice growing in that sunny patch over there and we are as surprised as anyone.  

So dust off that Buddhist  (or any other tradition) seed catalogue and start studying what you might plant and get inspired and motivated.  Start digging around in that fertile patch of yours, planting and weeding and adding compost and water.   And if you need to borrow a hoe or a rake, just ask.  Oh ya,  that's me over in the corner plot holding the biggest weed you ever saw!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Do You Have "Poverty Mind?"

This painting from a series called "Zen Squared" bears the words "Open Your Eyes and Heart".  One of my favourite things is to combine words and images as I've done here.  This painting seems to go with the quote: "Until we deal with poverty mind, the redistribution of all the wealth in the world won't change the outer situation."  This quote is from Pema Chodron in her book "No Time To Lose" which is a commentary on Shantideva's "Way of the Boddhisatva.  

Even though this book was published in 2005 this quote seems to speak directly to the current  climate of economic doom and gloom that's on everyone's lips.  Are these economic problems really concrete issues best solved in the board rooms of the business world or are they a sign of something deeper?  Are the big boys really just smoothing a little cream on a rash when we should be doing a liver cleanse???  As a society have we simply lost our way, are we spiritually bereft?  And is that now simply being reflected in what's going on in the market place?  Do we need to look a lot deeper if we are ever going to begin to deal with the real problems?

Yesterday I was reading about a book called "The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property."  It is apparently a longstanding cult classic with a multidisciplinary approach that's been getting a bit of press lately.  The book references  Native cultures where wealth was based on the gifts given rather than the possessions held.   These cultures were cultures of abundance and sharing (gift giving) while our society is based on scarcity and personal ownership.  When you think about our consumer society, it keeps on chugging along by constantly creating a sense of need or desire in us, the consumer (kind of the opposite of a Buddhist practice in a way, where we want to lessen the grips of our attachments.)  

Advertising is based on this idea that we  lack something.  We are needs waiting to be filled.  Advertising's sole aim is to stimulate desire in us, desire strong enough to motivate us to go out and buy something.  If we just had this diamond or that soap or this cereal we would be more beautiful, more satisfied, healthier.  How much of our culture revolves around advertising and selling and shopping?  I read a study that asked people where were they most likely to be found.  If I remember correctly, the second most popular answer was "the mall". 

 If we are good consumers we respond to this advertising, hoping to  find happiness in this face cream or that car, the relentless search..... the poverty mind, that Pema Chodron talks about.  So here's a radical idea, maybe we can become the solution to the economic crisis, maybe we can realign ourselves with abundance mind, maybe we can be happy with what we already have, with trading and sharing, swapping and gift giving.  Maybe we can contemplate what would really make us feel happy and abundant.  Maybe once we work on eliminating poverty mind in ourselves, this will start to spread and grow and we will reach some strange unimaginable tipping point where sanity  and abundance prevail in a quieter more satisfied world.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Dharma of Family

This little mixed media piece measures 5x7 and combines a photo transfer technique with acrylic paint, some hand stamping and collage.  I chose it as the piece to go with this writing as it contains both complexity (in its use of varied techniques) and simplicity (in its outward appearance) What I want to talk to myself about today (because ultimately we are always talking to ourselves, saying what we really need to hear) is that life can be both complex and simple at the same time, that one doesn't stand against the other.  

 The photo is also an altar scene and today I was made aware that sometimes we need put our problems on the altar, to offer them up, if that makes any sense, to something greater, to the unknown perhaps. As my Zen teacher says, the solutions are not on our timelines.  It takes as long as it takes.    

So this writing is like a walk with a friend.  I don't really know where I am going, there is no direct destination but maybe we'll see some seals or an eagle if we walk down by the ocean.

I am going to talk about my mother again today (oh, oh I see you rolling your eyes) because that's where the Dharma went today and well that's what 100 Days of Dharma is about.  It seems that we often have the most to learn from those we are in closest relationship with, those we have the strongest "karmic connection" with and that learning can be fraught with difficulty.  Yet it is some of the most important spiritual work we will do in this lifetime, with siblings, partners and parents.

Yesterday my mother phoned me in a panic.  "I am loosing my memory I need you to come over and help me."  It was an insistent call and I noticed my irritation rise (good I still have my awareness with me).  When I went through the details with her what she really needed was for me to pick up some medication that she'd run out of and drop it off for her.  My irritation was not so much at the request but at how she currently is trapped in a little loop that goes "all signs point to the fact that I am loosing my memory."  I will scan every situation for information that confirms this. I will repeat this to my family at every opportunity.   If you've read this blog before you will know I find my mother to be a pretty negative character.  Can you feel my long held opinion about my mother here.  Am I seeing clearly ?   You will also know that I use this as the basis for a lot of spiritual work.  

So this morning as I went to pick up the meds I thought to myself.  "What can I do to be helpful here?" ( This is the arising of compassion, instead of simply going with the old story of anger.  It has taken a long time getting here.)  Being angry, no that is not helpful, delivering the meds in a grumbly sort of way, no that's not helpful.  I would like to say something to her that is helpful, that might help make her life more pleasant, truly that is my wish.  So I contemplated this as I drove.  When I arrived with the meds and she made her first comment about her memory I offered a little Dharma that I thought might be helpful.  I prefaced it by saying "this is offered in a spirit of wanting to be helpful."  

I  told her what I knew about how the mind works,  that often we humans get an idea in our head like "I'm 93 and I'm not well  and I'm loosing my memory."  And we use information to corroborate that belief rather than examining the idea and asking "is this true?"   She nodded in agreement and we continued our conversation.   We talked about dying (which I know is on her mind a lot lately) and I offered the Buddhist belief that we can never know when or how we are going to die.  And yes it is scary to think we might suffer in some prolonged way.  And that all we really have is the present moment and how important it is to experience it, that fear and regret are signs that we are living either in the future or the past.  And that sometimes we do feel afraid and that is okay too.

I don't specifically remember how we got to each place but we had the talk that I have imagined  a thousand times before and discussed with my Dharma teacher - but for lack of courage or whatever I just didn't get there.  Today I found the courage to tell my mother (without malice) that my experience of her is that she is negative.  She said she was aware that I found her negative but didn't see herself in that way at all.  I was brave enough to tell her that it feels like she is always mad at me and that what I do never seems like quite enough ( can you see my karma creeping out?)  We covered a lot of territory that has separated us for years.  I took ownership of my opinions and beliefs about her.  It might seem strange when you see the content to hear that this was a totally amicable discussion.  No one was angry or upset.  I shed a tear or two and perhaps that helped my mother see the impact of her actions.  In a family that never expresses their emotions to each other I could tell her I loved her and that was what was really important.

We talked about karma and death and about how I want her to enjoy the time she has left here, that is my wish for her.  She has said to me before that she is not scared of dying (which I don't really believe) but that it was being born she should have been afraid of.  She repeated this and we could talk about the Buddhist idea that there  is suffering in this human life (the first noble truth), that is just the nature of the human experience but that it is our connection to each other that lends richness to life, the sharing.  In the end she could say to me "I know I am not an easy person to get along with but I never had anyone to show me love as a child and so I don't know how to show that myself."  My response was that maybe that's what she's "hanging on for" as she calls it, so she can learn to do that.  As I left she said,  I want you to remember that I love you."  

So there it is, a hearty vote for the neuroplasticity of the brain (we can change, even at 93) and  a hearty vote for training (it has been instrumental in bringing me to this dialogue).   I know I have  wound around the Dharma today like a road hugging the coastline and I have bared my soul (in way that makes me squirm) but  it is a Dharma offering, musings on life, the Dharma and everything (If I were Douglas Adams I would simply have told you at the beginning that the answer is 42).  So long and thanks for the  fish!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Begging Bowl

The poem on this textured mixed media piece is from  the Japanese Zen poet and monk, Ryokan.  It reads: 
On the first day of the eighth month I go into town to beg
At dawn, the doors of a thousand homes are flung open
The smoke of myriad hearths slants through the air
Last night's rain has washed the road clean
And An autumn wind rustles the rings of my staff
I take my time begging
The universe is vast without end

 There is so much teaching in this short poem.

I love how Ryokan conveys his sense of presence, of being right there expressed in the clear seeing of things as they are, the wonderful details of the simple scene.  Ryokan is reminding us to be here for our lives, in their fullness, in their simplicity.... to be here in the wet and the wind and the smoke.  

And not only does he see the rain washed street and the smoke and  hear the wind , you can feel his appreciation of those simple details, a savouring of them.  He is showing us how there is pleasure in participating fully in what is, in sensing the texture and flavour of the day.  He is not saying man it's dark and cold and wet and there's smoke everywhere, it's windy.  This really sucks. I wish I was on a sunny beach somewhere.  He is not rejecting what is or imagining it as the source of some suffering.  He is not adding on to what is.  He is "taking his time" knowing that this precious moment is the only one we really have, wherever we are.  There is a wistfulness too, a bittersweet quality to this savouring, a lonely heart tugging quality  expressed in these few words, which can often be present in life.

And of course there is the humility of the monk with his begging bowl.  How comfortable would I be holding out a bowl to strangers, asking for something, anything....   just being open to what they offer or don't choose to offer.... open to rejection, to receiving something I don't want, or to going unnoticed.  Do we willingly put ourselves in this position?  And how much courage does it take to do this?  It's all about the "little self" as my Zen teacher calls it, the ego.  Always shoring itself up, protecting and defending it's poor little vulnerable self.  How much energy do we waste on that process?    How subtle is the mischief of pride?  How attached are we to our opinions and points of view? And there in lies a lot of our spiritual work, it seems, loosening the grip of the ego.

And finally Ryokan reminds us that there is so much that is beyond our human understanding that really it is probably good to just give our thinking minds a rest and be present.  How can we understand the ultimate mystery of it all, that ...."the universe is vast and without end" ....

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Action & Re-Action

The other night I watched a 25 year old video on Youtube of Anthony De Mello, a Catholic priest.  I was completely blown away by two things.  One how wonderfully clear and to the point he was and how much it sounded like the Dharma.

It was forwarded to me by a friend with a serious Buddhist practice (I don't know if she'd actually call herself a "Buddhist") whose son has become a practicing (baptised) Christian.  This has lead her to an exploration of Christianity.  Ah the world is an interesting place.  In my generation it was the opposite, parents raising an eyebrow (or more) about their kids embracing Buddhism.

De Mello's message is wonderfully simple.  If you think that other people, situations or circumstances make you happy, you are wrong.  It is OUR reaction to what is happening that generates the feeling....  It's simple, but not easy.  All we have to do is change how we see things and as he points out this could take 2 minutes or 25 years... to change the focus of that internal lens that we see things through.  

Newsflash: the buck stops here!  We don't have to change anyone or anything, just how we see things.  Always we are responsible for our own happiness.  That's the good news and the bad news all rolled into one.  It took me a long time to see this and if you've been reading this blog much you've probably guessed this message was not brought to me by Proctor and Gamble but by my mother.

So how do we do this?  Well the Dharma always points back to the same little formula for me.  First I must be aware of what's going on.  So if I'm running along at top speed on autopilot I'm definitely gonna miss it when my mind swerves off the highway and hits the ditch of "everything would be okay if only..... "  So number 1.  I must be aware.   Number 2 - I must be willing.  If I don't want to take responsibility or do something differently I am going to be pulled in the direction of the old story.  I am going to want and want and want some more for things to be different than they are (the secret formula for suffering)  I'm gonna wallow in the drama and story.  So if I find myself willing (and this may be conscious or not) I can grasp my will, that is make the colossal effort to do something differently.  (Remember the definition of insanity?  Doing the same thing and expecting different results)  That's #3.  Making the effort.  Number 4 is the  action, instead of the reaction.  I have to turn my mind to a new way of seeing the person, the situation or simply tell myself "I have a choice here."  It's an experiment in the ol' life lab.  No big deal.  Maybe I get it right.  Maybe not quite right.  Maybe I see how I can adjust for next time.  But I am no longer  caught in the mindless dance of action -re-action.  I am on to a new dance - the Zen tango.

The acrylic painting at the top is part of a series I call "Zen Squared".   The words "Explore The Other Edge" well now that's your koan! 


Monday, January 12, 2009

What Do You Expect?

Expectations can be a subtle thing.... or not.  Do I expect life to be a certain way?  Happy, satisfying, trouble free?  Do I expect my day to unfold as planned?  Most of the time we glide along without noticing our expectations. ...Not until they give us trouble.  It's like our muscles or the hot water tank, we don't pay a lot of attention to them until they ache or break.

Even when they start to work their mischief we may not realize that expectations are the source of our problems.   Do we expect to enjoy someone's company, to be thanked, to finish some project by a certain time, for it to be sunny today?  How many expectations do we have in a day?

And what's the opposite of expectation?  Is it just being open or okay with what is?  .... just recognizing what is and resting there for a bit, maybe deciding our next move from that open spot.  Or just being okay with "I don't know."

I had an opportunity to look at expectations yesterday courtesy of my mother.  My mother is one of my biggest teachers.  After spending an afternoon with her, as much as I know her, as much as I think I am doing my spiritual work I left her company feeling defeated and frustrated and a little depressed.  When I got home I started to "get curious" about it.  What went on?  Why did I feel like that.  I realized  that the subtle, underlying expectations were  she might appreciate my visit, that she might engage in some conversation, that she might be happy or positive in some way.  When I think about it these are unrealistic expectations based on past history, but there they were when I looked.  I also expected that I would be fine with however she behaved and that I could handle it all skillfully.  So many expectations wedged into such a small space! 

And where do expectations fit into the Dharma?  They are part of attachment (the 2nd noble truth), that reminds us that it is our attachment that causes suffering.  We are attached to having things "our way".  We see it from our personal point of view.... (self cherishing as it is sometimes called).   Without awareness we spend a lot of time looking at the world from the point of view of "this is what would make me happy" rather than from a wider perspective.  We forget the other person's point of view or the larger picture.  The part of attachment that took me some time to get is that the pushing away of  the things we don't want is also a form of attachment.  So there we are in our habitual states of either wanting or not wanting.  We spend a lot of time there (or at least I do).

So I got another close up and personal view of my "expectations" and the mischief those little monkeys can get up to when you're not watching.  It reminded me that training is ongoing and  that I am grateful that I don't have a toothache and my hot water tank supplied me with all the hot water I needed this morning!  

And what are the expectations of the cats in the collage at the top of the page?  Or the mice?  Or the birds?  Or is it merely us humans that have expectations?  This collage is created with acrylics on mat board with painted, cut script paper.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What Nourishes You?

When I thought about what to write this morning I thought about this painting and in turn it made me think about food.  This painting of rice bowls has a heavily textured background and the painting  (16x20) could be hung either way.  I was playing with what is up and what is down.  The chopsticks are painted Asian script paper that has been collaged on.  

It is easy to think about what nourishes us when we think about food.  We think healthy.... we think green veggies, fruit, grains, protein sources.  We are all acquainted with junk food, the fatty, salty or sweetly processed foods that call to us.  And we know how these things can make us feel.  Maybe sluggish and lethargic, maybe they give us a headache or an upset stomach, maybe they just make us feel generally crummy.  Or maybe after we eat a bagful or plateful it still tastes like more.  You know that feeling of being full but not satisfied??  But sometimes we eat these things anyway.  We don't think about it, we need comfort.....  In a way that's a completely different story, left for another day.

But there are other parts of this body/mind that are either nourished or not by what we put into ourselves.  What activities do we choose, who do we choose to spend our time with?  When we start to look at these things and pay attention we can find what nourishes us.  Last winter I spent a lot of time watching TV (gasp!).  I love the Food Network and Home and Garden channel but what I found after repeatedly gorging myself on them was this:  I would turn the TV on for one show and then just stay and before I knew it the evening was over.  There was a strange drug like quality for me. And I always felt crummy when I got up, kind of like a human slug, physically tired and disappointed in myself for spending yet another evening in front of the telly.  This was not a nourishing activity for me.  

When I go out for a coffee and find the music is so loud that I can't visit with the person I am with I feel on edge somehow.  I am not nourished by the space.  The coffee may be superb, the art on the wall fabulous, the people watching fun, but the whole package doesn't work for me.  The other day we had lunch in a wonderful local restaurant called "Cafe Ceylon" and while it was full and busy and noisy there was still a nourishing quality to it.  You could feel the food was prepared with love and care, the place was decorated in this simple clean style and everyone was having a good time.  I can say I have seldom felt more nourished in a restaurant. 

There are people too that fall into the nourishing category, people that support our spiritual life, people that inspire and uplift us and those folks for reasons unknown feel like kindred spirits.  And sometimes when we look at relationships we have had for a long time we can see we hang on to ones that are perhaps not nourishing, perhaps even destructive.   

It is important I think to look at what nourishes us.  We can tell almost immediately by looking inside and asking how we feel.  Does this give me energy or does it deplete me?  The body seldom lies while the mind is easily confused and often jumps in to second guess us.  We may still have obligations that we need to keep, people who don't nourish us that we need to see, activities that drain us and must be attended to.  But sometimes we keep the non nourishing because we don't think about it or think we have no options but to continue as we have always done. My mother falls into the non nourishing category for me.  (Does that seem unkind?)  I mention this as an example of how I work with the nourishing/ non-nourishing aspects of life.  I could pretend that this was not true or that I was above feeling this way (I have tried this and it doesn't work).  Not only does it not work it stands in the way of finding "wholesome" solutions to the problem.  To learning how to nourish and support myself.  First I acknowledge what is true for me and then I flail around for a long time trying to come up with solutions!  At one point I found that taking my computer over when I visited my mother so we could watch the Oprah and Eckhart Tolle webcasts was nourishing for us both.  I plan to record some of her thoughts about her family history.  It is important for me to see her but I also want to support a healthy emotion and mental environment for both of us. 

As we become more familiar with what nourishes us we will make more wholesome healthy choices, find creative ways to do what needs to be done.  This will nourish us in ways we might never of imagined and move us in the direction of our dreams and toward being the person we are really meant to be.  And when we are nourished and strong we can more easily nourish others.  

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Working With Doubt

Last night I had a bout of doubt.  Sounds like something they might advertise a remedy for on TV.  It's a tender raw, spot for me but I'm going to be brave and share it anyway.  I suspect you have your own doubts about things....

It was quiet.  I was sitting alone looking at the recent addition to my art marketing, my Etsy site.  I looked at my site which I set up in mid December and then I started cruising about looking at other people's sites.  In a very short time I was down the dark rabbit hole of doubt.  Alice and I were not drinking tea with the mad hatter, which would definitely have been more fun.  Nope.  I was comparing myself to others and finding myself coming up short.  The self talk included things like," what are you doing, maybe your stuff really is no good, you haven't sold anything.  Lots of people are selling lots of things here. Maybe you're just wasting your time and effort."  Would I ever talk to anyone else like this?  You bet not.  But there I was.

I decided to investigate my doubt which is part of the daily practice my teacher suggests, investigate what's going on in difficult situations.  Steve at fluxlife talked about getting curious about your fear the other day.  So I decided to get curious about my doubt.  Details are important in this investigative process.   What were the circumstances that caused the spore of doubt to arise and flourish, forming this little patch of mental mold?  The physical circumstances were that it was quiet and I was alone.   Thoughts were popping into my head.  (This is the function of the mind to generate thoughts, we get to decide whether we believe them or not!)  Underlying and supporting all this doubt I could see the unspoken expectations.  "Well I've waited long enough, done enough work, it's time for some sales here."  I could  see I was "attached" to a certain outcome based on "expectations" which were fueled by "comparing myself to others".  BINGO... instant formula for doubt which I experienced as a big energy sucker as I sat there.  My mind was telling me stories, (none of them suitable for bedtime) and I was believing them.

So how do you work with doubt?  For starters I could see the self indulgent, lazy quality of the doubt, the habit of doubt.  Oh yes I've gone this way before.  So it required me to do a couple of things.  One was to "grasp my will" as my teacher calls it, to make an effort to do something differently.  I made a conscious choice not to follow those thoughts, not to strengthen the neural pathways of old, unhelpful tendencies.  I thought about "Faith" which is the opposite of doubt.  I needed to remember that this is a friendly universe and that everything that happens is for my good, that there is a bigger picture playing itself out that little me is not aware of.  I needed to remember that I am really not in control (thank goodness!)  I needed to have faith in myself, that I am up for whatever comes to me and that I CAN figure out what it is good to do next and execute it.  

So here I am again with the little meter ticking up toward the faith side instead of the doubt side, remembering to relax into my life and do the next thing that needs to be done with faith and good humour.

This mixed media piece is based on a piece origami paper that I loved and has the following little words printed  on vellum and glued on "All beings are flowers blooming in a blooming universe." It is from a Japanese poem.