Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Buddha's Bible Stories

Words of the Buddha
Acrylic on Paper mounted on matte board
8"x8" black matte, image size 3.75"x4.5"
$25 including shipping in North America

I was completely thrown off my game (whatever game it was I was playing) by my mother today.  So instead of speaking to the little Buddha picture I have here I will share the Dharma and Karma in my evening conversation with my mother.  And of course the Buddha is never far away.  My mother who is 94 is nearing the end of her life.  And not quite quick enough for her.  We have made our peace my mother and I.  And this really has all come about as a result of a lot of difficult spiritual work I have done around our relationship and her willingness to talk openly about her impending death.

Now tonight my mother drops a little bit of burning coal on the evening phone chat.  A number of years ago she gave her mother's bible to a family member who was supposedly marrying into a Jewish family.  That marriage didn't happen and my mother said to me tonight that there is only one thing she needs to do before she dies.... And that is get her mother's bible back and give it to me or my daughter.

Now perhaps this sounds simple.  And perhaps it is.  But there are layers of implication in it.  And my mother is asking for my opinion,  probably even my approval...  And yet I realize the need to tread carefully here.  I need to be honest.  I need to say that I see the potential for hard feelings.  I see the potential for this small action to explode in a spray of shrapnel that will leave me picking sharp bits out of my flesh for a long time to come.  I need to acknowledge how much I don't know and can never know about how people will react.  I acknowledge that it could all be projection and imagining on my part. 

 And I need to say that everyone must decide what they have to do from a place deep inside them.  Who am I to tell someone what to do?  And yet I feel it is appropriate to remind my mother to look deep inside for the answer, to make sure no retaliation is involved.  We chat about all these things several times and how sometimes we humans can trick ourselves and have a hard time looking at our own unflattering motivation sometime.  An action taken from a place of spite is always a mistake.  I feel the need to say this loud and clear.  I am not good with "well mom if that's what you need to do, go for it."  I also know it is not up to me to discourage her from doing the thing that she says will allow her to die in peace.

I also can share the wise counsel I have received from my friend the Buddhist monk on other occasions; that we need to decide what to do from our heart of hearts and don't base it on results.  We can't know what will be the outcome, nor should we base our decisions on imagined outcomes.  Our heart leads the way.  And after that it is out of our hands.  We do the best we can, as carefully as we can.  I remind her that choices that come from the heart may not always seem logical and that reason might not explain what our heart decides.

All that being said I worry that her choice will put me in an awkward position and create hard feelings toward me by the person loosing the bible.  I am not particularly sentimental about things and am surprised (but understand in a strange way) my mother's seemingly sudden pang of sentimentality over this bible, one of the few things she had that belonged to her mother who died when she was just 3 years old.

There is a strangely, weirdly awkward karmic flavour to it all.  I have resented my mother for a lot of my life for putting me in awkward positions, for creating drama and conflict  and here she is doing something with this potential  as her dying wish.  And there is a feeling through recent conversations we have had that there is a deep karmic connection between my mother and I and that somehow my mother wants to honour this by giving me the bible.  At some level I sense this.  I know there is a karmic lesson here for me to negotiate all this with kindness and without anger and resentment, and perhaps with a little grace.  Wish me luck.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Hanging Out With The Pink Buddha

Pink Buddha
Acrylic on Matte Board
8" x 8" matted, image dimension 3.75 "x 4.5"
$25  free shipping in North America

I was wondering what to say about this little pink Buddha.  First I thought I might talk about the colour "pink" so I looked through my favourite book about colour (all about colour, by Janice Lindsay).   I toyed with regaling you with facts about pink.  Perhaps telling you that pink is calming and jail cells are often painted pink for this reason, weightlifters cannot do as many bench presses in a pink room as in a red one.  "And before WW ll pink was for boys because it was considered red's little brother".  But I decided against any of that.

I think I painted this little pink Buddha because the Buddha is always with me in some way, riding around on my shoulder or in my pocket, peeking out at me, patiently observing my human bumbling.  Some days I easily get caught and confused but today I somehow managed to slide along the surface of the day, without creating or getting drawn into any drama or stories.  I talked to a realtor, several friends, had to pay our taxes, organize passport documents, and my neighbour who teaches me many things offered an opportunity for me to watch my anger rise like a little brush fire and then left unattended it sputtered out.  
Today was a study in impermanence and faith.  The scenery and conversations were like passing clouds.   Can't give me a ride (a little internal grumble) and then it's okay.  Not the news I wanted to hear regarding real estate (a little internal grumble) and then a sense that I could have faith that everything would work out in the end, even if I didn't quite know how.  Unhooked and seemingly unattached to outcomes I skimmed lightly along like one of those little air hockey pucks.  I could acknowledge that the universe doesn't exist to please me and I could sense the confusion in those who seemed unthoughtful.  

It was fun to watch.  And I have no answer as to why some days I can be put off my game without much provocation and then there are days like to day  where I can somehow feel unattached to outcomes.  When I make comments like this to my kind teacher, she will often say, "it is the fruits of your training," but at some level it feels like a bit of a synergistic mystery to me.

So it is a day that I feel thankful for because it felt harmonious and peaceful and yet I know that sometimes the days I learn the most are the difficult days, fraught with challenge and dark feelings.  They are all good in the grand scheme of things.  But today the Buddha was pink and calming and for that respite I am truly grateful.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Biodiversity of Being

Where The Wild Things Live
Acrylic on Matte Board
8"x 8" matted in black  image size 3.75" x 4.5"
$25 - free shipping in North America

This little textured acrylic makes me think of an outing I had last week to a place called "Quick's Bottom".  Don't you love that name?  Sounds very British and boggy, don't you think?  (Sorry, no cheap bum jokes here.) It was a fabulous sunny day and the marsh was giddy with life; hummingbirds, wrens, swallows, ducks, geese.  And the grass so tall we hardly recognized the place from our last visit in the winter.  A hawthorn was growing up to slightly obscure the view from the bird blind that we climbed.

As I stood and greedily soaked in the sun and the breeze and the wildness of it all, it dawned on me that what was hospitable terrain for me was at odds with what was hospitable to the wild things.  Their space was wet and goopy and probably filled with bugs, teeming with things unknown and unseen, squirmy, wiggly, slimy things.  The grasses and reeds were too thick and tall to make passage easy and the ground shoe sucking wet.  And it struck me how this opposition of needs between the tame and the wild is true on a wider basis in this world.  We humans go around paving, and mowing and  gentrifying the landscape in ways that we find necessary and pleasing.  And all the while we push the wild into a slimmer corridor, narrowing and eliminating the places where they can survive. 

We do this, not because we are cruel or malicious, but mostly because we are ignorant and don't pay much attention to the needs of wild things.  It is the ultimate act of collective ego, don't you think?  We humans, we are the centre of our world.  We are kind of like big dumb giants, trodding on everything in our path, unaware of the possible implications.   Our collective awareness barely registers on the richter scale and our willingness to share this planet with other life forms squares up about the same.

 And the people that make the decisions that drain wetlands and turn grasslands into malls probably don't have the time to come and stand out in the  marsh and get up close and personal with the wild things.  What a pity.  I suspect if they could slow down enough to hear the breeze sifting through the grasses or see a humming bird hold a drop of nectar on the tip of it's beak they just might make some different choices.

And does the act of simply witnessing the wild things make a difference?  I think so; in many and varied ways, just as surely as the marsh is teeming with unseen life, so the simple act of witnessing radiates out into to the world in ways we can not possibly know and understand.  It is just another form of biodiversity; the biodiversity of just being.  It doesn't stand against "doing".  We can still write our letters and go to meetings and chain ourselves to fences if we choose. And as with all aspects of the Dharma we do what seems good to do and don't measure it's "rightness" by the results we get.  And if you choose to chain yourself to some structure, remember the final line from the movie "I heart Huckabees" where one character, referring to a protest meeting, reminds the other to bring his own chains.  And the final retort is, "We always do." 

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Enter & Be Nourished

Enter And Be Nourished
Mixed Media Collage
8" x 8" matted, image dimension 3.75" x 4.5"
$25 includes shipping in North America

The chopsticks in this little mixed media piece are talking to you.  Never had a conversation with a pair of chopsticks, before?  These ones are particularly wise.  Here's what they have to say, listen up:  "By expecting nothing we gain everything."  Sounds like a bit of Zen wisdom, wouldn't you say.  And here we are talking about expectations again. 
The other stick bears the title of the piece, "Enter and be nourished."

So let's talk about nourishment?  What nourishes you?  Are there different kinds of nourishment?  The other day a friend suggested we might do something together.  He is a raw food chef.  Dinner and art he suggested.  And these words came to me in the shower.  (I think the shower is a nourishing place for me; I get some of my best ideas there!):  Food to nourish the body and art to nourish the spirit.  Then it felt like we needed one more thing (to create that magical threesome).  Meditation to nourish the mind.

And can we really separate the 3 or is the separation artificial?  Is this just the western preponderance to chop things up and put them in a can before serving?  Are we bloated on a diet of concepts?  When I feed my body things which are truly nourishing I suspect I am also nourishing my  mind and my spirit.  I am creating an environment in which all aspects of myself are nourished, an environment where each imaginary limb supports each other.

And if I nourish my mind, perhaps I build discipline and awareness that assist me in making mindful food choices and eating more mindfully.  If my monkey mind is tamed even slightly, I suspect it aids things like digestion and in subtle mysterious ways nourishes my physical health.  The whole quote on the chopstick is: "Enter & be nourished by traditional Zen training,"  which seems to speak to both mind and spirit.

And my spirit?  How does it fit in to the nourishment buffet?  I suspect when it is nourished and uplifted by some inspiring or meaningful activity or by human connection it too, supports the other forms of nourishment.  The physical body responds to a joyful, peaceful spirit with health and vigour .  The mind is deeply connected with the spirit;  feelings of joy and peace produce more positive, grateful thoughts.  

And in the grand scheme of things we can't be carved up, reduced or boiled down.  At least not if we are to continue our little human life here.  We are a complex whole swimming in a cosmic soup, always connected in ways so subtle and overriding that we can barely understand.  Scientists talk about psychoneuroimmunology.  We can talk about the unity and mystery and deep intuitive knowing of our true selves.  How at some level we are in touch with what nourishes us on every level.  We know in every cell of our body if only we will trust and have faith in our deepest knowing.

So here it is.  A bowl of something to nourish us, some talking chopsticks to offer wise counsel.   Summer has arrived.  Let's spread out the table cloth, break out the lemonade and throw a few nourishing thoughts on the barbie. ( I hope  Ken won't feel left out.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Are You Surprised By Your Expectations?

Mixed Media on Matte Board
8"x8" matted, image dimensions 3.75" x 4.5"
$25 includes shipping 

Oh makes me think of surprise, especially a big black O on a magenta pink background.  And what makes us feel surprised?  Expectations?  When something turns out differently than we expected we are surprised, sometimes pleasantly, sometimes not so pleasantly.  I was talking to a friend today and we mentioned a mutual friend.  I commented that there is a thing this person does that "pushes my buttons".  Her comment was that it might push hers too if she had expectations.  And that is it, isn't it?  We often have unspoken expectations, ones we're not even aware of .... until things don't go as expected.  These expectations float just below the surface until something dislodges them and they bubble up.

 I might say I have no expectations about some new situation I'm going into.  But as things progress I find that in fact I do.  A friend gave a talk to a small group, thinking she had no expectations.  But at the end of the evening she found a whole little constellation of expectations twinkling around her.  She expected she would like her host, that she would feel some rapport with him.  She expected she would be treated in a certain way by him, a way that denoted respect to her.  She felt disappointed and slightly agitated when these expectations weren't met.  Sometimes when we think we have no expectations what we really mean "I don't know what is going to happen."  And during or after the fact we can see that we often have subtle and unconscious expectations.

The situation where we feel most free is where we have no expectations.  It's okay whatever happens.  We know that the universe does not exist to please us.  The next best thing is to be aware when expectations arise.  We can feel their tug but it's a bit like the monster in a nightmare.  When we turn around to look at him, he looses a lot of his power.  So just to see, helps loosen the reigns of expectation.

And now I am going to stumble off in the direction of bedtime without saying anything amusing or foolish.  What did you expect?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Where Is Perfection?

A Perfect Ten
Mixed Media on Matte Board
8"x8" matted, image dimension 3.75"x 4.5"
$25 includes free shipping in North America

That phrase popped into my mind when I saw the "10" appear in this mixed media piece..... "A perfect 10".  I'm not much on popular culture but if my mind serves me well it comes from some rating system of the opposite sex that seemed everywhere for a while.  Was it in the '90's?  Did it apply to women only?  I don't really remember but it shows the strange bits of flotsam and jetsam the mind holds.  Give it a little poke and out fly the strangest things.

But it makes me think.  What is perfection?  In this context it appears to be a  value judgement.  My daughter who works in a Vegan Restaurant told a very funny story about a numerical rating system. The dishwasher who has limited English knows that "number 1" is very good so when someone does something he doesn't appreciate he tells them they are number zero.   We like, we don't like, we assign some rating and ranking system.  It might have numbers, it might not.  We do this in subtle (and not so subtle) ways all day long, judging, preferring, attaching, craving.  

But there must be another dimension to perfection.   Philip Toshio Sudo, in his book, "Zen Guitar" says: "The point of training is to strive for perfection.... Being human, mistakes are unavoidable.... Many mistakes arise from self-consciousness -from too much focus on what the body is actually doing.  The only way to overcome self-consciousness is through practice.... Our skill becomes natural - part of what zen masters call our ordinary mind... With practice our muscles no longer rely on the mind."  Ah, a movement toward perfection involves not relying on the mind.  Perfection is greater than this little conscious mind, deeper than my little self.

So is there really perfection in this human realm?  Is it really perfection that we find in something we see or hear or taste, or experience; the perceived pleasure in some "thing" or "action"; the perfect meal, the perfect gift, the perfect day.  Or is it just a turn of phrase?  Perfect today, imperfect tomorrow.  And then there is Toshio Sudo's "striving for perfection", the act of trying to do your best.  Perhaps this is as close as we get to perfection in this human realm, moving toward perfection.  And being okay with that.  And this seems like a perfect point to make my exit and hope that you don't shout number zero at me as I leave.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is Life Puzzling?

Life Can Be Puzzling
Original Mixed Media on Matte Board
8"x 8" black matte
window opening 3.75" x 4.4"
$25 includes free shipping in North America

This little mixed media piece is asking a question.  It's asking what puzzles you?  Today, yesterday, on an ongoing basis.  Where are the puzzling bits in your life?  We all have them.  Sometimes they are like those giant 1000 piece puzzles with blue sky and ocean and reflections that drive us mad.   Solutions elude us, questions follow us around. 

There is so much we can't understand with our rational minds, so much that we find puzzling.  We spend a lot of time trying to label and categorize and get things under our control.  We think if only I could understand this, everything would be okay.  We mostly have a hard time just being, letting go of the need to understand with our minds.  I am reminded of the simple state that requires no more of me than just knowing how to be, by the poet and Zen master Ryokan, when he says, "Sometimes the moon and I sit together all night."   In that state I can give up the puzzle and the questions.

And if we want to talk puzzles there is the Zen puzzle, the koan.  They are always there if we're willing to see. My favourite kind of koans are the ones that appear in everyday life; situations or problems that comes to greet us again and again. They are the things we can't quite negotiate; what angers us, defeats us, what makes us crazy. Here's a little koan I have worked with over the years.  It involves a relative (let's give her a yellow no-name label). No matter how much I try, she has the uncanny knack of dragging me into some petty squabble or irritated retort.  Each time I swear I am not going to bite but every time she manages to get me to have a little nibble on the hook.  I avoid the hook I swallowed at the previous fishing event but she always has a new one, barbed and waiting for the foolish, prideful, annoyed part of me.  This is a cross word puzzle (I couldn't resist!).

Our personal life puzzles mostly resist our logic and will.  They balk at all the muscle we apply to "make things happen".  At some point we usually realize we we may even give up.  But eventually in time if we keep the puzzle in mind, the answer makes itself clear; maybe in a dream or in the shower or when we're sitting in meditation or driving to the hardware store.  The solution comes from that deep, mysterious inner place, a place so vast and deep and unfathomable it makes our logical mind look like a children's plastic swimming pool.  Now that's puzzling, don't you think?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The House of Scribble Moon

The House of  Scribble Moon  
Original Mixed Media On Matte Board
Matted size 8"x8"  Inside window dimension 3.75" x 4.5"
$25  includes free shipping in North America

More little houses.  There is something so lovely and comforting about these little houses for me.  I could think of a thousand reasons why, but I prefer to say it's a mystery why I find these little paper abodes so satisfying, a lovely mysterious puzzle, like so much of life.  And I love the bit of poem that insisted on being the title for this piece ... Scribble Moon.

Tonight I am thinking about faith which for me is a kind of mystery in itself.  It has this bigger than human understanding quality.  It is about letting go and standing back.  Kind of like setting off fireworks, in a way.  You light the wick, stand back and then watch wide eyed to see what happens.  Sometimes there is a fantastic show and sometimes they just go phphphtttt.  We don't know why and yet we know there is a reason.

I am thinking about faith because I was talking to my daughter tonight about some new direction she's taking in her life.  She was looking at a new job, but the trial run didn't work out so well.  It didn't feel right, it didn't stimulate any passion or enthusiasm and then she didn't hear back about it.  As my Zen teacher would say, "A no is as good as a yes."  It moves you closer to an answer by eliminating one option.  So she is on to step 2, checking out some schooling options.  And oddly some money has appeared as if from nowhere that will make this possible if she decides her heart is there.  

So I reminded her about faith when I spoke to her, that the direction is making itself known.  And it is just interesting to watch things unfold as she finds her way.  She was stumped for a long time, and just working, happily enough.  Now some less than satisfactory circumstances in the work place have been her call to action, her motivation to move to the next stage.  It is fun to watch when you have faith.  I don't feel disappointed that she didn't get the kitchen job she had applied for.  I am not worried that things won't turn out for her.  I am not attached to having her do a particular thing.  It has taken me a while to get to this place.  But I have faith that life is taking her where she needs to be.  I suspect things will unfold in a way that leads her away from working in a traditional kitchen environment to a job with more dimension but that is only my hunch.   I have faith that she will find her place in this world, a place where she can make a contribution (where as she puts it she can be part of the solution, not part of the problem).

I have faith that the moon will continue to rise and that I will continue to scribble.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Shirley Valentine Meets The Buddha

Peace Garden - Original Mixed Media
Matted 8"x 8"   Image Dimensions 3.75"x 4.5"
$25  free shipping in North America

This mixed media piece incorporates a sepia tone photo of  a Buddha statue from a Zen temple with some calligraphy paper that has been stamped and painted with acrylics and walnut ink and finished with some calligraphy pen work.  For me it has the feeling of a serene Japanese garden or a waterfall with the cool mossy greens.

I could talk about gardening which seems to be on everyone's mind these days.  But what I really want to talk about is the play we saw this evening  ....  Shirley Valentine.  A one woman show by Willy Russell, the production we saw at the Chemainus Theatre was a fundraiser for the theatre by the amazing Nicola Cavendish.  

Ostensibly it's about a middle aged woman, bored with her life who runs away to Greece.  But when you get past the personal details of her story, the protagonist could be talking about anyone.  She comes to see that her crime against God is her "unused life."  She realizes that at some point along the way she has stopped being alive.  She remarks that it's not as if something  happened that caused  it (as in the neighbour came home and found her husband sleeping with the milkman) but that gradually little by little her life grew smaller.

 I could hear the Dharma echoing through the play.  For me, if you scratch the surface of any good art, you will always find the Dharma peeking out.  The play provides an apt description of  how we choose comfort instead of the unknown, how we choose the stupefying boredom of the familiar and easy until that becomes our way of life or lack of life.  We are unhappy and we don't know why.  

 The Dharma reminds us to regard our lives as precious.  If we think deeply about our lives and try to live with some awareness,  we will sometimes make the difficult choice.  And often it is the difficult choice that leads us to a sense of aliveness.  We make these choices not simply because they are difficult but because they are right for us at this time.  They offer an opportunity to wake up.  Sometimes we need a big jolt to remind us to live our lives.  We may cruise along on auto pilot until we get an unwanted medical diagnosis or someone near to us dies or leaves us.  But Shirley Valentine's invitation to wake up and be truly alive is a ticket to Greece given to her by a friend. 

I think we all need that invitation, that ticket out of that reclining easy chair.  Have you picked up your ticket yet?  For me I need to get that invitation out on a daily basis and look at it.  Otherwise I might be duking it out with the cats and dogs for the most comfortable seat in the house. 

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Who Is Thinking These Thoughts Anyway?

Moon Buddha - Original Mixed Media On Matte Board 
 8"x 8" Matte  3.75"x4.5" Inside Dimensions 
$25   includes  free shipping in North America

I have learned something today.  You can blog late into the night and that works just fine.  You can even paint ( a bit trickier because of lighting) or do design work late into the night but it is next to impossible to take a good photo of your work after the day has morphed into evening.  You see where I'm going with this....  So I am keeping honest.  I did create a new piece of art today but alas by the time I was done it was too late to capture with the magic box, so you are seeing a brother to the Brush Buddha of Day 1.  I was having so much fun I did several of these.  Just goes to show that it never hurts to have a spare Buddha in the freezer.  You never know when someone is going to drop by.

The fun part about today's piece of art is that it is very different from the two days that went before.  I have my own little surprise factory.  I never know what is going to come out of the studio's easy bake oven (remember those?)  It reminds me that we don't really know our own minds.  They are a mystery to us in so many amazing ways.  I can create something and be as surprised as if I am a stranger at what has appeared on the page.  It's kind of delightful.  It makes me wonder, who am I anyway?  And where do my thoughts and inspirations come from?  In a way these surprises that appear are like little road signs pointing toward the illusory nature of the self, the fact that no solid, substantial self exists.  It is always moving and changing and becoming something else.  It is not that solid, pinchable me that I normally take myself to be.

The little buddha in today's post is done on a page from a small chapter book I purchased at my door about 12 years ago.  A young man was selling two little books he had written, door to door.  I don't remember how much they were or if he left it up to the purchaser to decide but I was so taken with his bravery in doing this that I had to buy them.  If I remember correctly his name was Stephen Parks.  Sometimes I wonder where he is now and what he's doing. I liked his writing but over the years I have used his art to make mine.  One thing is always becoming another.  Impermanence, yes?

And so that is my story for today.  I have learned about shadows and the mysterious nature of the self, the odd things the mind remembers and how it is all part of the ever changing landscape.  

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Finding Your Way Home

Finding Your Way Home
 Original Collage on Vintage Book Page          Matted Size 8"x8" - Image Size 4.5"x 3.75"
$25 CDN free shipping in North America

Do you think I'll be able to touch my toes with a pencil in 3o days?  Is my 3o days of art like joining curves or weight watchers for the right side of my brain?  Maybe that part of my brain will be lean and muscular or maybe it will be sneaking out for french fries when no one's looking.  Wouldn't it be great to discover you are creatively double jointed, that your mind can bend backwards in strange contortions creating amazing and wonderful things.

Just like in other parts of our life we have habitual tendencies.  I think it's the same in our creative lives.  We have places we know, grooves that are burned into our brains, little neural cow paths.  Sometimes we  call it our "style" and it's not a bad thing.  But sometimes you need to stretch, you need to move off that familiar little cow path and sometimes you need a little kick to get you going.  Is that a goat on my cow path?

Knowing I am going to create a small piece everyday, somehow lets me wander off the path.  It feels more like play and exploration.  And this is where happy accidents happen.  I didn't know I was going to create a little village when I started out this morning but here it is... something totally different than I usually do. 

As I cut and pasted and painted I looked at the little houses with their pleasingly simple forms and thought: " What is home?  Where is home?"   It's not just a bricks and mortar kind of thing or a straw thing with 3 little pigs and a big bad wolf.  It reminded me that we have a deep call, a pull toward home like Odysseus in the Greek myth.   This is the Dharma of home.  Home at it's deepest level is our authentic self.  We are searching to discover who we are, to understand what is really important in our lives, to be comfortable in our own skin, to know we are perfect in our imperfection, that everything is fine just the way it is; all our bumbling and stumbling.  That is the feeling of our true home.  It is a place of calm and comfort and generosity. But home always has its dark corners and a cellar that can be dank and earthy, where bottles of old wine and ignored heirlooms hide.  Perhaps a dusty attic that holds a cobweb and a treasure or two.

That's my home over there, the one that's green and orange, with the crooked stair case, two chimneys and a big porch.  Where's yours?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Does Buddha Belong In The Market Place?

Buddha's Bedtime Story - Original Brush Painting On Vintage Book Page - Matte Size 8x8
Image Size 3 3/4"x 4 1/2" - $25 CDN - free shipping

I have a confession to make.  You have arrived just  in time to catch me with my hand in the cookie jar.  Don't worry no goods, services or more importantly beings,  have been harmed in my foray into banditry.  I am swiping an idea from a fellow artist.  Would it sound better if I said I was borrowing an idea?  Would you find it more palatable if I reminded you that imitation is the highest form of flattery?

Randall Plowman of the "Collage A Day " sells a collage on his blog most days (as do a number of other sites).  And I have decided in an effort to challenge myself and shake things up a bit to give it a try.
 I wrote 100 days of Dharma.  Now I think I will post 30 days of art.  Partly its because I see how beneficial it is to do something repeatedly.  Partly it is because the sluggish side of me needs some reason, some serious encouragement to apply some discipline.  It's so easy to let the days slip by with all kinds of good reasons why studio work hasn't happened.  Sloth and Torpor, my good friends, invite me out to tea.  My mother's business details have kept me busy.  There's the garden calling for attention.  The sunshine beckons for long walks.  But the truth is there is still time to get a little studio work done everyday.  And the benefit of exercising that muscle is immeasurable.  It builds skill and takes us places we didn't know we were going.

So here I am cookie crumbs and chocolate chip smears on my chin posting the first piece of art for sale.  And that's not the all of it.   I wrestled with the commercial aspect of selling each piece here.  For me it adds a slightly different twist.   I did post a piece of art with each writing for a 100 days so I needed a little variation.  And in truth the economics of a $25 original are kind of an interesting idea.  It makes original art affordable for more people and contributes to my my own right livlihood.  But how does that fit in with the Dharma?  Is it a bit crass to post something for sale in the same place I write about the Dharma?   Are the Dharma and money and commerce mutually exclusive?  Must they be separate?  Where do we draw the line?  I am exploring all of this.  So maybe I am eating cookies in the nude now?   

So  I must say this is an experiment, one that makes me wriggle a little but then what is life for, if not to provide a little wriggle material for ourselves.  I'm on the hook now, I might as well wriggle!  It reminds me of the Bruce Springsteen song (courtesy of my daughter) I was listening to on my ipod the other day.  The song is "Dancing In the Dark" and I thought to myself, isn't that what we're doing here a lot of the time.  It seems so descriptive of this human dimension somehow.  Springsteen also reminds us that "we can't start a fire without a spark" and that (my personal favourite) "you can't start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart.".  So here I am out on the dance floor.  Care to join me?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tuning In To The Dharma Channel

Here's a little picture of some scrabble tile pendants I've been working on.  I want to create little pieces of wearable art from my own work and this is the first step.  So far as a techno-dunce I'm having some difficulty shrinking my images and maintaining their clarity.  These ones pictured are bits of Asian stamps and collaged paper and they seem to be working out fine.  Patience, patience.  No banging your head on the corner of the table when things don't work out!  On another art note if you feel like taking an electronic wander over to Indienorth next week I am doing a little art give-away on Beth's site.  But on to the Dharma, the underpinning of it all.

Last night as a comment, someone asked, "you always write about the Dharma, what do you actually mean when you say Dharma?"  Good question, yes?

The simple answer for me is that the Dharma means the teachings  of the Buddha.  And in my constant reference to the Dharma I am talking about how to apply (if you want to call it theory or teachings) the words of the Buddha to my everyday life.  If the Dharma says "have faith", what does that mean to me, how do I take the idea of faith and actually make it mine and use it on a daily basis.  If I just read about faith and think about faith but never really let it move out into my actions I may "know" about this aspect of the Dharma in my head but I haven't really tasted it.  I haven't lived it.  I haven't covered it in tears or brushed the dust off it.  So while in simple terms I think of the teachings of the Buddha as "The Dharma" an integral part of it is, as the Buddha said "make it true for yourself".  He encouraged this working with the Dharma.  So for me the Dharma is the basis for how I live my life, it is always there in the background.  In a way it's a part of the "Self" with a capital S, as opposed to the little self or ego.  Maybe it's like if we all have "Buddha Nature", we all have "Dharma Nature".

If one of the eightfold path is Right Speech then how does this aspect of the Dharma work in my life?   If I say I'm practicing Buddhism but never think about the gossip I engage in over coffee or how I talk to my daughter or my mother or my spouse where is the Dharma for me?  And I think we get to these places in stages, gradually peeling that metaphorical Buddhist onion.  First we have a niggle that maybe what we just said wasn't so nice.  And then we see how we are somehow drawn to do this, how we repeat this unpleasant behaviour.  Until one day we catch ourselves before the words come out of our mouth.  It can be tricky and it takes time --- a lifetime.  But in my mind this is what the Dharma is.  It's a guideline, a little reference book, a little light that I hold my actions up to and examine.  Is that a good thing to do?  For me it cuts through the confusion.  I can always think about "where is the Dharma in this situation?"  Where is the opportunity in this difficulty?  It brings me sanity when my mind goes to the crazy channel, not that I don't spend some time shopping on the crazy channel.  But somehow the Dharma channel is always playing in the background and as I watch my environment, I pick up the cues and finally hear it loud enough so that it helps point me in the right direction.

So it is important to study the Dharma and know what it says.  Otherwise how can it guide us?  And as in any learning process there are various ways of studying the Dharma.  We can read about it, listen to talks, go to retreats, be involved with a Sangha (a group of like minded practitioners) meet with a teacher.  We start with the basics and then refine our practice I think.  We work with our own personal stuff.  We all have different learning styles so some ways work better for different individuals.  

In my mind there are some essential ingredients to working with the Dharma.  First you need to do some form of study.  Then you need to do some sitting meditation.  Some of my best insights into what I should do or what my little self is up to, come when I'm sitting.  We need to be willing, willing to be honest with ourselves, willing to be uncomfortable, willing to be humble, willing to be disturbed by the truth.  But willingness is a key ingredient.  And I think at some point it is good to have a teacher.  For me my teacher helped (helps) clarify the confusion, calls me on my stuff when it's easier to pussy foot around it.  "Oh my daughter would think I'm just her crazy old mom if I said that to her."  And teacher just raises her eyebrow.  Or when I think I've mined a Dharma gem all the way down to the bottom, my teacher will say,  "I didn't get that you really felt your mother's pain at a heart level."  I might initially reject one of her suggestions.  I might feel insulted and huffy, but if it is a true statement I always see  it's truth in the end.  I can see what I might be pushing away.

So to make a short question long (a task I apparently excel at) the Dharma is the teachings of the Buddha and how it relates to my life in a moment by moment way.  I could go to Wikipedia and get you the Pali definition and a more in the "head" description, but I know you can do that on your own.  For me the Dharma is alive, it lives, it breathes, it enlightens.  It is the bringer of sanity and truth.  I can't imagine living anywhere but steeping in the Dharma.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Dharma Brook is Babbling Along

When life is just flowing along, well it's just flowing along.  We  go along doing our thing.  We sit, we try to be present and kind and mindful and generous and grateful.  We get parts of it right, we get parts of it wrong but life is like that lovely little brook in the forest, just meandering quietly.

I find when I really turn to the Dharma is when the road gets a little bumpy and the stream turns into a somewhat belligerent torrent.  Is that wrong?  I don't know.  I think it's just how it is.  It's kind of like a good friend.  You might not talk to them for a while and then something happens: your dog dies, your kids are giving you grief.  You call up that old friend to have a little chat.  And you always gain some wisdom or solace.  The Dharma is like that for me; a solid, old friend, wise and supportive.  Sometimes I lean on it a little harder than others, sometimes it carries me.

So here's the small bit of life where the Dharma has been so helpful for me lately, where it has helped me negotiate the little torrent that flows behind the fences in my neighbourhood.  You've heard me talk about the "barking dog" next door, maybe once too often.  But it's a good place for me to practice.  And I bet you have a barking dog somewhere in your life: your boss, your sister-in-law??

Since December I have been listening to the intermittent barking and wondering what to do.  I know the pitfalls of irritating young people who live in rental units next door to you.  Sometimes your well intentioned words can backfire in your cute little face.  Lots of people out there are not working within the framework of the Dharma.  So I've spent a lot of time considering my options.  To speak or not to speak?  Could I make it worse?  Should I approach it as an issue of quieting my own inner barking dog or deal with the physical issues of the real life loud mutt.  Maybe if I could somehow not care I would be released from a whole slew of little things that can seem bothersome?  Maybe if I could see it as their suffering and lack of awareness and have compassion for the human condition it would be the most helpful thing.  I have been able to do that with the neighbour on the other side who sometimes  fills all the parking spots in front of the houses as some sort of angry statement.  It used to annoy me, now I just see it as her suffering when she gets up to that and know that it doesn't matter. 

Sometimes you need to give things time to get clear.  The leaves and silt swirling around in the little creek need some time to settle down so you can see to the bottom.  The other day I looked into my Dharma creek and there was the answer lying in the bottom.  Nathan at Dangerous Harvest  had talked about dealing with a noise issue in his living space.  The barking escalated next door.  Due to the fine weather both dog and I were spending more time outside alone.  And then a conversation with another  neighbour who has two large dogs made it really clear.  Someone had called "Animal Control" on her.  She said she wished the neighbour would have spoken to her and they could have worked things out.  She said she had heard that the kids next to me were pretty noisy.  So I put all the grist in the mill and came out with a little cake.  It seemed clear to me that I needed to talk to my over-the-fence neighbours.  I know not to speak in anger.  That much I have learned.

And so yesterday I caught the young woman as she hurried into her basement suite.  At first she was defensive but as we chatted about what made the dog bark she warmed a bit.  I told her about the neighbour whose neighbours had called "Animal Control" and how she wished they'd spoken to her instead.  I think the light went on for her then.  In the end she thanked me for talking to her.  She didn't look overly happy and I wasn't necessarily convinced she would take huge amounts of action about the barking.  But I feel better for dealing with the situation, instead of letting the little current of my displeasure swirl under the surface.  We can move from here as the situation evolves.  This to me is Dharma in action.  I felt freed and satisfied with my choice and each time I navigate a difficult stream with the oar of the Dharma, it becomes clearer to me how to do this.  I gain much needed skill that will be helpful in more difficult times.  I don't create new karma for myself and others by doing something unskillful, like speaking angrily or calling Animal Control or chewing on the noise bone.  I learn how to do the uncomfortable thing which can be applied in so many places in this life.

So that's the Dharma story for today kids.  It has dogs and streams, a problem to be solved, a point of tension and a resolution.  What more could you ask for in your Dharma tales?  Go ahead tell me.  I can take it.  And I promise not to chuck a bucket of water from the Dharma brook at you.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Steeping In the Dharma

Font sizeI have been munching on lots of  little Dharma tidbits here on the lovely Quadra Island.  As I did my qi gong on the grass overlooking the ocean this morning I was reminded of how infrequently I live in the depth of the moment, how soul refreshing it is to notice the little weeds, to feel the sun and the breeze, to settle in to the movements of the body.  How when nothing needs to be done it is easier to just be.  The slowing down of time and life.  And where are we going in such a hurry anyway?

It is interesting on the island that after a minute or two of conversation with someone there comes the inevitable, "you're not from the island," or "where are you from?  Mostly it's just natural human curiosity but it makes me think about the "self" or "little self" as it is sometimes referred to in Buddhism.  How quickly we establish the boundaries between self and others in so many ways.  Just another way of creating separation.  None of it done with malice but one of those unconscious ways we build our little shell: a habit, a way to create some order, a protection, a defense, but always inevitably an unconscious strengthening of the "fortress me".

And there have also been lovely moments of connection, chatting with artists about their process.   John Schevers, who does amazing Vietnamese style lacquer work and enormous textured mixed media was my favourite stop on the artist's studio tour.  I loved the experimental and exploratory quality of his work.  He seemed to be always reaching and exploring his medium.  A builder too, he uses concrete and sand and horsetails, even toilet paper in his pieces!  We were treated to a searingly hot glass blowing demo at the "I Blew It Studio" of Cherie Hemmingson, stopped by guitar maker, Richard Peilou's studio and got the personal guided tour of all the steps and woods and hand made tools he uses to create a the labour intensive hand made guitar.

And I was reminded that the Dharma is everywhere as I lay on the lawn reading  the introduction in a drawing book I brought along.  Listen.  Does this sound like the Dharma to you?  "Whatever your motive, try not to be impatient.  Impatience has probably been a bigger stumbling block in the way of real ability than anything else.  Doing anything well, I'm sure, means hurdling obstacles of one kind or another most of the way to the goal.  Skill is the ablility to overcome obstacles, the first of which is usually lack of knowledge about the thing we wish to do.  It is the same in anything we attempt.  Skill is a result of trying again and again, applying our ability and proving our knowledge as we gain it.  Let us get used to throwing away the unsuccessful effort and doing the job over.  Let us consider obstacles as something  to be expected in any endeavor; then they won't seem quite so insurmountable or so defeating."  Sounds like good advice for just about anything.

In this paragraph Andrew Loomis has addressed the value of patience (one of the 10 perfections in Buddhism), of studying (and the Dharma is no different) how else will we understand the nature of the truth and learn to work with our confusion and greed and anger?  And of course good old persistence because it takes a long time to change our habitual tendencies, maybe a lifetime, maybe several lifetimes!  And the part I love is that if we know there are obstacles (as in, there is suffering) we will not be surprised or defeated.  So often people say, "oh Buddhism, it's so negative, it's always droning on about suffering."  But the fact is that suffering exists.  Do you know anyone who has not experienced suffering of some sort?  To think otherwise is to set yourself up for disappointment.  You can put on your rose tinted glasses, stick your fingers in your ears and sing the la la song but it won't change this.  

And the discovery that I make quite often is that I hear the Dharma everywhere.  So even in a book called "Drawing The Head and Hands" there is the Dharma all dressed up as drawing instructions.  The world is steeping in Dharma.  Yes, that's it, the Dharma is like a giant tea bag gently infusing the world with it's wonderful colour and flavour, creating something warm and nourishing.  Can I offer you a cuppa?

Friday, June 5, 2009

It's Noisy In Here

Today was our third day on the small island we are staying on and it feels like I've slowed down to something approx-imating "island time".  Not that I consider myself a speedy person, but it's like when you go on retreat and at some point you just settle into it.  Here, there is less to be done, more sitting time, more walking time, time for an afternoon nap.

And in the quiet, more isolated island life it is interesting to see that less Dharma "tidbits" are served up to me, the hot flaming morsels of everyday life that burn as they go down.  It reminds me of the story of the monk who sat in a cave in meditation for 20 years and felt very calm and peaceful and then rejoins the world.  With the first nudging he pushes right back.  There is no one nudging me here.  The rubbing up against others than can seem so painful seems minimal here.  The opportunities for practicing with your jagged edges are less.  And in a way that is a good thing, a pause, a breath, a small reprieve.  I think we need this sometimes.  It's like an opportunity to digest, as if we're a snake who just swallowed some Dharma frog, all whole and wriggly.   

I am savouring it all:  the quiet, the breeze, the abundance of air, just spending most of the day outside.  Out here you get to sense the energy of the natural world when you slow down.  Today I took a nap on the grass, pressed up against the earth, soaking up its energy.  Such a healing thing.  How often do we do this when we live in the city?  We are getting to know the eagles we are feeding: the shy one that will watch the chicken leg we toss out but seldom come for it, and the other one that will swoop down almost instantly and scoop up the offering.  We can tell them apart because they always sit on different branches, the shy one always comes first and sits on the top branch, turning his head almost full circle, watching in all directions.  Today when we thought he was checking our menu offering, he glided to the ocean (an enormous distance) and scooped up a fish.  The eagles are spooked by us because we are not the usual folks that live here.  Would you think an eagle could distinguish between one of us humans and another.  Almost instantly it seems, by our movements, our habits, by who knows what.  We are different enough to make them wary.  Such are the wonders of the natural world when you have time to hang out there.

I have been thinking about noise, partly because it is quiet here but also because there is still noise, barking dogs, voices carrying across the water, a generator here, some music wafting in from a fish boat radio.  At home I have been feeling pressed by noise on either side of my house for a variety of reasons.  It has become my latest koan.  Partly it happens as people spend more time outside, partly because of changes in the rental house next door.  It is not my preferences that are a problem, it is my attachment to them.  The noise raises irritation in me and then I add on by wishing it didn't bother me.  As is always the case I create my own suffering.  First by pushing away the noise and then by pushing away, my pushing away, if you know what I mean.  I could suffer once, but apparently I prefer to supersize the suffering (would you like fries with that?)

When I looked at what bothered me about the noise in my neighbourhood last week I saw something interesting.  When the  dog was barking next door and the owners partying in the backyard I wasn't responding just to the noise as it was at that moment but my mind had done a fast frame to the future.  I was worrying that this noise would make our house hard to sell when the time comes.  Imagined situations, imagined outcomes, kind of like the Mark Twain quote that goes something like: "My life has been a series of tragedies, some of which have actually happened."  It's one thing to feel annoyed at a bark, it's another thing to turn it into a pack of rabid dogs ruining your life.  My mind is kind of like a ferrari, from present to future projection in 6 seconds or less.

And so when I came to this quiet rural setting and heard all kinds of sounds I realized that if you don't make peace in some way with your "noise" whatever it is, it will follow you around wherever you go.  This metaphorical noise will get louder and louder and more painful until you look it in the eye and address it in the form that it needs to be addressed in.  We all have these lovely bittersweet koans,  the ones that make us crazy but will give us great peace when we finally approach them and find that whatever it was we thought was snarling and drooling at us, really requires our attention and compassion.  It is different than we imagined and making friends with it in some way will set us free.  It is the most courageous thing we will ever do, look at what makes us crazy, really see it and make peace with it in some way.   I am talking to myself now.  I just hope I don't have my hands over my ears.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

So long and thanks for the chicken leg

First of all I would like to give a heartfelt thank-you to Beth at Indienorth who featured 3 pieces of my art and gave me the nicest write-up yesterday.  I discovered her site by merrily clicking down the road (like Dorothy I'm not in Kansas anymore), following  a comment left on an article I wrote for CanArtisan by Laura Bucci (who makes awesome linen pouches and things) to discover indienorth.  Now if you know me, you just know I'm going to tie this into the Dharma.  And not because I'm stretching things that don't really fit (oh, oh whose been into the organic dark chocolate?) but because if you look at this, it's the modern day, internet version of  "we are all connected', by a thin, invisible electronic thread,  We are all dependent on each other in some way, which in very simplistic terms describes the rather complex Buddhist topic of "dependent origination."  And as a small digression, a local Rinzai monk just wrote a wonderful blog on dependent origination the other day.

The other aspect of Dharma which Beth at Indienorth illustrates is the spirit of generosity, of thinking of others,  in that she spends some time almost everyday featuring different artists and their work. She is not out there screaming, "look at me, come to my shop, buy something, buy something from me."

I sometimes hear it said that there is alot of "calling out" on blogs and websites and people saying inappropriately rude, harsh or insulting things to each other.  Over at Dangerous Harvest Blog, Nathan wrote a really good post on this and a great discussion ensued.  But this has not been my experience of the blogging and internet venues I have encountered since my arrival in this strange land in December/08.  My experience of it has been that it's a pretty generous, friendly place.  I visit mostly Buddhist sites, art sites and handmade art/craft venues, so my experience is specific and somewhat limited I admit.  

But I am blown away by the willingness of people to share and help in the both the art world and the Buddha's world, to help promote and link and support each other.  Now as artists we could all be standing in our little corners, eyeing each other suspiciously as competition, but frankly I haven't smelled a whiff of "eau de me cologne" anywhere in my travels.  And as we know when we try hard to have a sincere practice, nothing makes you feel more shrivelled and withered and truly tired than focusing only on what "I" want and need.

As I write this I am sitting in what feels like a heavenly abode, on a spacious deck in a Quadra Island home exchange watching a Toni Onley mountainscape  fade from pink and blue to grey and black.  A few tall pines frame a plexi-glass sheet of ocean, backed by darkening mountains.  We have been wandering the stony beaches in unheard of 28 degree sunshine here and exploring the island.  We have fed raw chicken legs to Eagles (eek! at the request of our hosts) and been awed by the force of that  swoop  as they flash by to grab dinner for their little ones.  But we have also been surprised at the shyness and caution of these giant birds who purportedly can knab a small dog on the beach. We are not the only complex and contradictory species on this planet.  So I shall retire from this glowing screen to watch the final descent of darkness as it comes in for it's evening landing.  May your day be this pleasant and peaceful.