After a lovely day of wandering the island and having a mini feast that we conjured up in the new kitchen ( a little red pepper homous, sun dried tomato tapenade, Moroccan lentil soup, some raw olives, a few dolmades ... you're getting the feasting picture!) we are preparing to join Peter in his alternative new year's celebration. We have lit the fire in the Zendo (first time), have some candles and my singing bowl waiting to ring 108 times (alas, no bell). And then a we will each write something we want to let go of and toss it into the fire and then for a few sips of something bubbly at midnight.
But as I sat down to write in my journal, I found something I wanted to share with you, a little new year's offering. It's a quote I'd copied in March from my daughter's copy of "Taking The Leap' by Pema Chodron, something that had impressed me enough to scrawl into my journal. Perhaps it's a good way to send off the old year and step over the threshold of the new one??
"In the Buddhist teachings on compassion there's a practice called "one at the beginning, and one at the end." When I wake up in the morning, I do this practice. I make an aspiration for the day... I try not to make it too grandiose ... I begin with a clear intention and then I go about the day with this in mind. In the evening I review what happened. This is the part that can be so loaded for Western people. We have an unfortunate tendency to emphasize our failure. But when Dzigar Kongrul teaches about this, he says that for him when he sees that he has connected with his aspiration even once briefly during the whole day he feels a sense of rejoicing. He also says that when he recognizes he lost it completely, he rejoices that he has the capacity to see that. This way of viewing ourselves has been very inspiring for me. He encourages us to ask what it is in us, after all, that sees that we lost it. Isn't it our own wisdom, our own insight, our own natural intelligence? "
"Can we just have the aspiration, then to identify with the wisdom that acknowledges that we hurt someone's feelings or that we smoked when we said we wouldn't? Can we have the aspiration to identify more and more with our ability to recognize what we're doing instead of always identifying with our mistakes? This is the spirit of delighting in what we see rather than despairing in what we see. It's the spirit of letting compassionate self-reflection build confidence rather than becoming a cause for depression." - Pema Chodron, from "Taking the Leap"
Here is my wish for us all for 2011, that we might "feel that sense of rejoicing when we connect even briefly with our aspirations, that we identify with our wisdom and natural intelligence and that we develop the "spirit of delighting in what we see." Bows to you all for your good company on this journey.
Two years ago today, I wrote my first post on blogger. I was dipping my toe into the cyber ink pot (now that's better than ambidextrous, don't you think?). I had posted some art on etsy and the etsy tips suggested a blog was a good thing. Sure why not. I didn't have a clear idea of where I was going but I pulled on my blogger boots and headed off down the trail, posting my first piece of art called "Post Apocalyptic Buddhist Graffiti" Three passions bumped into each other on the trail, my love of writing, exploring the Dharma and art. Here was a place they could hang out together, meet, shake hands, have a coffee, do the hokey pokey, anything within the boundaries of reasonably good taste. It didn't really matter if anyone read what fell in the blogger forest, I was balancing precariously on a little cyber soap box. It felt like a strange mix of offering and opportunity.
It has been an interesting journey, sometimes with many consecutive days of disciplined writing (100 days of Dharma) and as a personal challenge, 30 days of art. At some point I decided I didn't want to post everyday just for the sake of posting. I wanted to write when something in my life or on my mind beckoned me to the page.
I found Dharma friends along the way and blogs that resonated with me, bloggers filled with wisdom and passion who offered sips and deep drinks from their wells. My Dharma has always been about the koan of everyday life, not so much what I find in books or scriptures. It has been my aim to share my life with some transparency without being too much of a Zen Soap Opera. I try to balance the suffering with some joy and find the Charlie Chaplin in the suffering. Irreverence and foolishness are important qualities to me and I try to bake a little into each batch of Dharma biscuits.
The little paper doll Buddhas in the picture above are sharing the coffee table with a book called "Pain Free" (it's written by a physiotherapist, no Dharma intended) but it struck me that often that's what we're up to, trying to escape from our pain, whatever it might be. I have been learning that pain is a little like the monsters in nightmares, you've just got to turn around and look them in the eye. I have been learning that there is so much sweetness and wisdom in the darkness, in the pain. It is full and ripe and just what you need. You just have to learn how to shine the little bike light from your Christmas stocking on it and find the hidden treasures.
That first Dec 30th, 2008 blog post contained these words from the Dalai Lama:
"Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thougths towards others. I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can."
What more can we ask for really to wake up each day with the aim to "wake up"?
I have been fortunate enough to have lots of delicious time for just lolly gagging around the house, reading, eating, contemplating. Along with a wonderful constitutional homeopathic remedy and some amazing food prepared by Everyoneisvegan this quiet time has been exactly what I needed.
Last night enough space opened up around me that I started thinking about my art again. Three encounters got me thinking about "authentic voice", something which is both important and elusive to me in my art, at least from my vantage point. A lot of the time I feel like I miss the mark due to frustration and impatience. I aim to orient myself toward this north star of authentic voice in the coming new year. I will be looking for a felt sense of something emerging as I create, something that comes through me, but isn't this little me, something connected to a greater presence. I will know it when I meet it. Sound weird and crazy? That's okay, as long as it doesn't sound like one of those mind soaked personal artistic statements.
The first encounter (does this sound like an artist's version of "A Christmas Carol" ?(ew, cheesy, chewy unintended pun left in for your guffaws and tomato throwing pleasure) was with some words from blogger friend Leslie Avon Miller over at Textures, Shapes & Colors. I find her art fresh and original and her explorations filled with passion and light hearted energy . She covers so many artistic miles in her exploration of new (to me) artistic geography. Sometimes I wonder how she has time for it all. Passion will do that for a person, I think. But what really intrigues me is how freely she explores the artistic scales of her own voice.
My second inspiration and call to the authentic self was some writing by Nathan over at Dangerous Harvest; words carved with a sharp scalpel out of blood and bone, boiling with unanesthetized authentic voice. Deep uncauterized trenches of experience laid open for examination; truly an authentic, dangerous harvest, one that etched itself deeply into the crevices of my skin. I was reminded how much I learn when someone is courageous enough to speak their truth.
And as I rambled over the landscape of screen and printed page in my pyjamas I turned to the pages of "Branches of Light", Banyen Books' catalogue and settled on descriptions of some Mary Oliver books of poems, new and old. Again, what jumped out was the deeply authentic voice that carries her across the hills and meadows of her experience, her unique vistas unfurled with such delicious quirkiness. This is truly authentic voice.
So 2011 will find me diving, digging, trekking, climbing, waiting, watching, sniffing for signs of authentic voice. Road maps, secret decoders, notes in bottles, hidden clues all gratefully accepted on my search. Watch for me. I will be wearing a Sherlock Holmes hat and carrying a large magnifying glass. The glass will be filled to the brim with magic elixir and I promise to share a sip if I meet you on the road.
In our culture, part of the season's ritual includes exchanging gifts. A lot of us have mixed and contradictory feelings about this. I have jokingly heard the season referred to as "the winter shopping festival." It is the commercial pressure circus that makes us recoil in disgust. Something gets lost in the foofaraw of black friday and cyber monday and the cry for us to buy, buy, buy, now, later, on boxing day. Sometimes the things we are urged to buy are are so incredibly unnecessary,as to be amusing; things that have caused me personally to nominate "useless gift of the year"; things such as electric jewelery cleaners, hot dog cookers. I'm sure you have a few nominations of your own.
So here's a different kind of exchange we can engage in at anytime, Christmas or not, that might seem more meaningful:
"In order to become used to caring for others more than yourself, You should bring to mind the essential points and integrate in your being The visualization for exchanging self and others, While riding the horse of the breath. from "The Great Medicine That Conquers Clinging To The Notion Of Reality" root text of Shechen Gyaltsap Pema Namgyal
Here is the wonderfully clear commentary on the practice by Shechen Rabjam: ...Breath out while thinking, "May all my good qualities, happiness, merit, and realization go out with my breath and benefit all beings." Think that all beings receive these benefits. Then breathe in while imagining that you inhale all of their suffering and its causes, their negative thoughts, and so on. Imagine that you attract these afflictions and negativities like a magnet, and by dissolving all that you inhale into your heart, others are freed. Then while briefly holding your breath, transform all the suffering and negativity that you inhaled into joy and happiness."
I am reading a lovely little book by Dzigar Kongtrul, called "Light Comes Through". Seemed an appropriate title for Solstice, don't you think? I also thought it was seasonally appropriate as he talks about the practice of rejoicing. Rejoicing he says is the antidote to jealousy. He suggests jealousy is the grossest of emotions, so easy to see, so it is the easiest to work with. "The jealous mind", he says, "wants what others have, be it physical attributes, wealth, intelligence, someone else's spouse, their job, status, spiritual accomplishments, and so on. Because it focuses on what it doesn't have, it feels impoverished and discontented all the time."
Personally I like the idea of an antidote. Take some poison, how about an antidote? We used to talk about this in the Zen tradition I sat with. They did not actively work with the mind in this way. There were a number of us who asked, well if you have unwholesome habits of mind, don't you need to retrain the mind? Dzigar Kongtrul responds to this by saying, "jealousy is habitual, which means that even though we have investigated the harm it can do and the merits of overcoming it -- even if we are completely convinced -- it will still rise up again out of habit.... Rejoicing is simply feeling happy when something fortunate or beneficial happens to someone other than ourselves...We can find so many ways to rejoice and so many things to rejoice in.... we simply share in the joy of others' virtue... When someone becomes a vegetarian (yay) or donates money to a charitable organization we can rejoice... We can also rejoice in the beauty of the world... We need to ask ourselves, "Why does it always have to be my joy? Why is it so hard to delight in the joy of others? The positivity of rejoicing practice releases within us the qualities of intelligence, selflessness, generosity, patience, strength, and good-heartedness... We use this practice to deliberately shape the mind to work for us."
At this time of year in many ways there is a turning toward this generosity of spirit so it seems the perfect time (but isn't anytime?) to engage in the practice of rejoicing. And if we turn our mind in this direction, it becomes apparent how much there is on the horizon or right in front of our pointy little noses (speaking to the pointy nosed little self) to rejoice in. I often notice how my mood is altered when I make a slightly disparaging comment about someone or something. Energetically I can feel how life force is depleted instead of life enhanced. So here is an opportunity to approach things from the other side of the proverbial pasture and rejoice, to support the life force by rejoicing. What will you rejoice in today?
There has definitely been a samsaric quality to the last several weeks. And that's okay, as long as samsara proves to be an educational experience (ah, I have spent many years in Samsara Elementary). What's important is that the suffering you encounter is the suffering that leads to the end of suffering as opposed to the suffering that just leads to more suffering. There has been a quality to some of the days like the dark, foggy fumblings of a bad dream. As in a nightmare, unpleasant things happen and I wander aimlessly in search of solutions. Only on this occasion I am awake, well, sort of.
In this little personal nightmare I am suffering from the effects of stress and environmental toxins brought on by house renovations. There have been the usual host of surprise findings and expenses. We were warned, but like so many things you don't really pay attention until the tarantula lands in your lap. For some reason even though I chose no VOC paint, cork underlay for the wood floors I completely overlooked the issue of off gassing from new cabinetry. And while I chose lovely cement coloured porcelain tile I neglected to consider the chemicals in the grouts and glues used in plumbing sealants. And so what I left unconsidered came to haunt. Isn't that a good Dharma lesson? Doesn't that hold in so many of the arenas of our life? In this case chemical sensitivities stirred with a vengeance. My body offered yet another lesson.
So while my home normally feels like a place refuge, a place to recharge and regroup, I got to experience life with nowhere to take refuge. In a strange way I was homeless, ungrounded, as home became a place that made me feel ill. I had nowhere to hide. The inclination to spin stories of how this would end were enormous. The call of the sirens of depression were alluring. What now? Do I need to rip my kitchen out? Do I need to move? Thrown into all this were some social obligations that left me feeling like a wandering ghost, moving from place to place, going through the motions, feeling unwell, feeling sad that I was unwell, imagining all others as well. Samsara on the personal big screen.
I tried to muster the stations of faith, reminding myself to look up, rather than despair. One moment I could remember, the next I was lost in confusion. I imagined the worst. My physical symptoms seemed stuck. No matter how much wheatgrass juice I drank, how many salads I ate, how much oil of oregano I sucked back, my symptoms were stuck. I followed the little trail of breadcrumbs toward a solution. I even had a nightmare about being trapped in a cul de sac in a hillside neighbourhood! I inched along like a sad little, blind worm. I called a naturopath I have seen. I researched ways of dealing with off gassing. I wandered, disheartened in samsara, looking for an escape hatch. I asked for help. Sometimes I wallowed, sometimes I groped my way forward.
And while I am a rather staunch believer in the worst outcome, this time I was proven wrong. I followed a thread to a biological dentist (my cold symptoms had morphed into dental pain). Surprisingly this grey haired, Harry Potter glassed, wizard helped dislodge my stuck physical symptoms with his bag of holistic tricks. Another day as I sorted lethargically amongst some papers I found a pamphlet for a product from AFM that when painted on cabinetry, minimizes offgassing. Slowly I was making headway and revisiting the land of the living as I wobbled back and forth between hope and despair. Slowly I was cultivating a landscape of possibility.
I learned that the stories I had conjured were habitual delusions and that yes, Virginia sometimes there is a Santa Claus (no dental work required!). I learned how hard it is to rest in the unknown, how it is so uncomfortable that I often prefer a bad bedtime story to no story at all. I learned that some deeply entrenched fears habitually send me heading straight for the panic button. This time around I noticed there is another button on the dashboard. Faintly I read it's tiny letters, "equanimity".
It has been a long, tiring couple of weeks. And there it is, samsara receding in the rearview mirror. But I am reminded that vigilance is an important quality in this life of the Dharma. Sometimes you find your reminders in the strangest places: printed on the bottom of that rearview mirror I find the words: "Objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear."
"With the ideal comes the actual, like a box All with its lid. Lo! with the ideal comes The actual, like two arrows in mid-air That meet."
These are lines from a Zen poem called "The Sandokai" which I think translates as the harmonization of sameness and differences. I was emailing with my friend the Buddhist monastic and telling her the story of my life as a home renovator. Her helpful and insightful reply was "With the ideal comes the actual".
The ideal exists in our imagination and the actual is what comes to our doorstep. We have a vision of how things should be (usually involving easy and pleasant) and then when other things happen we protest like toddlers who have had their favourite toy taken away.
"With the ideal comes the actual." This is so true of all things we regard as difficult in life. I think by regarding things as difficult, a subtle rejection of things as they are is implied. By regarding things as difficult, we imply that things should be easier, work out more smoothly and more to our liking. For me I always seem to imagine that things work out more smoothly for others. Somewhere deep inside I have bought some kind of advert image of people. If they look well put together, I imagine there lives flow seamlessly along like some silly hollywood movie. It's only when I get some snippet of their more private life that I wake up. I learn that they suffer from insomnia or their husband died of cancer or.....
So life as a home renovator has had its moments of lightness and darkness. More Sandokai here: "Within all light Is darkness, but explained it cannot be By darkness that one-sided is alone. In darkness there is light, but here again By light one-sided it is not explained. Light goes with darkness as the sequence does Of steps in walking."
The lightness was in creating the vision and sourcing all the elements of the project and in appreciating the work of some of the great trades we had working on the project, the tilers, the carpenter. There was delight in seeing things come together and match as planned. But the darkness crept in when one trade proved unreliable, two proved over priced. The washing machine and the dishwasher got damaged in the move. Unexpected mold was discovered behind a cabinet. And the number one (as David Letterman would say) disappointment was the offgassing from the new cabinets and the smells of adhesives and grout used in the process. I had completely overlooked this aspect of the reno but the aspect had not overlooked me.
Chemical sensitivies to these products reared their ugly head and my body complained about the presence of these fumes. A cold turned to laryngitis, eyes burned and watered. And as the mind sometimes does, a great long story sprung, fully formed. "What if I have to rip my new kitchen out, what if I have to move?" I have been rediscovering the panic queen side of myself! In the end I did what any sane modern person would do. I googled it. I found that mobile homes have huge air quality and offgassing issues and that heavy duty air purifiers are used to suck the chemical gases from the air. So ensued a solution, an industrial strength air purifier.
I almost have my voice back and the project is almost complete. There has been lots of Dharma here, lots to learn and now the the appreciation of silence and solitude.
Where do you find the Dharma when you discover hidden mold on the wall during your kitchen reno and you don't know what to do? How does the Dharma fit into a house bustling with 2 plumbers, 2 tilers, a carpenter and fallers arriving to remove some trees? Well for starters, you do the best you can. You get to see your habitual tendencies in full bloom and then you dance with them as you negotiate the chaos. You feel your way along like a blind person, carefully. You look for openings and light shining through from some other place. You try to find the opportunity in the problem. And as much as you can, you let go of what you "want". And occasionally you remember to breathe. Never helpful to pass out from lack of oxygen.
So that has been the work of the last week. Phone calls and following the thread to make sure that what we were dealing with was not toxic mold and a health hazard. And I got to see a strong panic reaction in myself that relates to anything that feels like a threat to my health. I was learning to be prudent but not alarmist, to weigh and measure the information I collected. I could see the inclination to feed off the panic of someone else who was present. And of course all the time the new kitchen I wanted was barking at my heels. And so by the third day we had figured out what to do, found someone to test the mold, found it wasn't any of the seriously dangerous types and then proceeded to remove it safely. It was an exhausting experience and everyone had several opinions on it. The trick was to weigh it all in a balanced manner, to put strong emotions out of the decision making loop.
I was stressed but with awareness! I did the best I could to work with it. I remembered to practice kindness to those that were part of the process and be thankful that I was in the position to be doing all of this. There was a serious samsaric quality to the whole experience. Life is like that sometimes! And so the house is deliciously quiet tonight as I nurse a sore throat. In the thick of it all lies opportunity, opportunity to get to know ourselves (and thus others) opportunity to take a stab at right speech and right action. Opportunity to not succumb to despair and doubt and panic. Opportunity to dig deep inside and find what Jiyu Kennett called "our iron being". Add a little faith and stir vigorously.
And did I mention that the sweetest 2 tilers broke the washing machine moving it back into place? The tests continue!
Technology and I have never been the best of friends. And it is said that your enemies (a bit strong perhaps??) are your teachers. I finally succumbed to several suggestions that facebook might not be a bad thing to do. A little social media marketing. I am slowly being dragged into the 21st century (kicking and screaming a bit). So there we are technology and I staring each other down.
It seems I can speak blogger but trying to manouver facebook is a bit like someone speaking to me in tongues. I mostly just don't get it. But hey I have waded neck high into this puddle and the stubborn part of me is not leaving the pond, til I at least learn how to paddle around a bit.
So technology as practice brings up my impatience. I just want to get this done! I don't want to read all this stuff. I just want it to work. I was surprised when I first read that impatience is a form of anger. But if you look at it carefully you see the truth in this. It has the sentiment of I want this my way and I want it now! So when importing my blog feed to fb didn't work, impatience stopped by for a visit. How do you deal with impatience?? This is when we start to learn about this little thing we call ourselves, our habitual tendencies, our karmic inclinations. Mostly I want someone to help me out here. And I'm onto it like a dog with a bone, dragging it everywhere.
We could throw in a little dollop of the 5 hindrances. My tangle with technobusiness shows me my laziness. Some people will buckle down and study up. Me, I will thrash around on google a bit but I don't want to put in a whole lot of concerted effort.
And so it goes. I have gone away for a few days and now returned to try again. Now that is a reasonable way for dealing with frustrating situations. This is a test post. As always we can regard situations we encounter as a test. A test of our practice, of our progress. For what is it that really matters, is how we behave out in the world. This is what shows us where our practice really lies, what needs refinement, or where we need to shine the light of attention. Where's your test post?
I don't have any new art to show due to a variety of distractions so I will do a little shameless shilling for some of the holiday cards I have posted to Etsy. And that's all I want to say about that.
As I worked away this morning clearing out the kitchen cupboards, that will be removed tomorrow to make way for new ones, I became aware of a subtle (no maybe it wasn't all that subtle!) tension. It was this tendency to rush. I need to get this done and then that done and how about the next thing, blah blah blah! There was my mind chasing me around like a horrid little boss, not even in exchange for minimum wage. Mid swish of the dish cloth, I stopped, remembering to just enjoy the pleasantness of doing. I realized I do this a lot, think of the long list of things that need doing, mostly inconsequential things in the grand scheme scenario. It creates a palpable tension in the body, steals the present moment and sucks the joy right off the bone (that's a nod to all you turkey eaters out there!)
It reminded me of a Pema Chodron video clip that I'd seen out there on the web (maybe over at Mind Deep) where Ani Pema talks about this restless state of needing to get on to the next thing. She talked about how she even experienced this unsettled feeling when she was on a solitary retreat where there was nothing that needed to be done next! So that is the state of the ego, the mind always puffing up it's important little self, creating a story of this or that. It is a habit of mind, that we can dissolve by pouring our awareness on to it. But is there more too it? Is this the mind's distraction to prop itself up, to keep us away from our real work, which is to chip away at our ego based identity, to turn this little self from a solid, hungry being into a thinner more ethereal shadowy creature, poked full of holes, the ghost of swiss cheese. Or am I on to some sort of spiritual conspiracy theory?
That's me as a little dot in the snow. Puts it all in perspective, don't you think? We spend most of our days thinking whatever is going on in our world and our personal needs are the most important thing, well at least to us. We spend a lot of time arranging the world to suit us. But if we are honest with ourselves the reality is more like this picture. It is one of our biggest delusions, that the world is here to make us happy.
I have had lots of time to watch what my little self gets up to during the recent luscious snowfall here that ground everything to a halt and knocked power out for 2 days. The snow was beautiful -- at first, and then when we'd run out of water and the toilet didn't flush and it was getting a mite chilly, I decided I didn't like this game anymore. Ah the comfort seeking human. Give me a latte when I come in from the cold and a computer to plunk away at and the snow is quite delightful. I remember a talk by Tenzin Palmo where she says something like: "if you want to find the most comfortable seat in the house, look where the cat or dog is sleeping." She reminds us that we can do better than to simply be comfort seekers, that while this may be our inclination, that is not what this precious life is for.
As day 2 of powerlessness lumbered to a slow close I felt the restless agitation of wondering when the magical sound of the fridge coming on might occur. A few hours? A few days? Longer? It wasn't so much the events of the day, it was the spin the busy, fussy mind put on it. Of course there were the lovely walks around the pond decked out in its delicious snowiness with a sugary skim of ice that the ducks danced on. And the moonlight on the snow made up some for the missing lights. And dinner by candle light. And qi gong by moonlight. And living by the rhythm of the day, like some ancient druidic being.
But the mind found more to stir itself up, missed deliveries of reno materials and work schedules buried under a layer of snow. There was the mind turning little somersaults (or should that be wintersaults) and jumping up and down like Yosemite Sam ( I know you Bugs Bunny fans are out there studying the Dharma). I got to see the stark cold facts, (lame pun intended). I am pretty attached to lights and my computer and a warm bed (I think I might have been a dog or cat in my former life). And when the power made its long awaited debut, I noticed how I flinched with each subsequent flicker, how I furrowed my brow at the evening gusts of wind as I filled bowls of water (just to be prepared). Do you know how much snow you have to melt to make a pot of coffee, flush a toilet??
I got to see that age old Dharma lesson: storms happens, suffering is optional. Suffering is a product of the mind, the mind clinging to it's ridiculous desires about how life should unfold. Yet we fall for this little sucker time after time. And of course in the grand scheme of things this was a small event, but still an opportunity to study the self. (And Dogen reminded us, "to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to be enlightened by everything.")
And finally when I had harassed myself enough I decided it was time to put my mind on notice and get out some paints, find a half finished canvas and sit down by the fire. It was time to simply get on with life. I told my mind I was taking the high road. I've heard it's less crowded.
Today is the opening of the Shambhala Sun's On-line Auction. Just in time for Christmas shopping! Is that a Buddhist oxymoron? Or does that make me a moron for suggesting that Buddhists should do Christmas shopping? Oh, help get me out of this tangle! At any rate there are some pretty fine treasures and retreats over at the auction site including a piece by moi! This is my second year participating and I love it. Last year a woman bought my piece for her husband's office and I shipped this little surprise directly to him. It was fun to know the story and to be part of the gift giving process.
But I am always honoured to be able to offer a little something to such worthy players. It was fun to watch the bidding on my piece at the recent SFT auction. This is such an easy, fulfilling way to be able to offer what seems uniquely "me" to the cause of supporting the Dharma. Am I getting into the hot water of ego (who is this me?) and desire (shopping?) Okay time for me to go back to the cave. There's a lot of cave talk these days, especially here. And of course it is the season for hibernation. Let me lumber off.....
"Nourishing Your Inner Being" is the title of Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche's latest webcast which you can watch here. I love that he even asks this question, "how do you nourish your inner being?" There are a lot of similarities in the various traditions of spiritual practice and some differences.
These days I find myself gravitating to the positive, nourishing aspects of practice. Probably for a couple of reasons. I am familiar with suffering and have a personal tendency to be a bit of a glass half empty type. So to bring this body mind into balance it is helpful to pull a little in the direction of the sunny side. Breaking my habitual patterns means focusing on the positive. And I want to be clear that this does not mean putting on a pair of rose coloured classes and a flowered mu-mu and stumbling around giddy with crazy joy.
But nourishing my inner being is something that appeals in the form of building my own strength (physically, mentally and spiritually). In his webcast Rinpoche talks about the 4 qualities of a nourished inner being: peace, creativity and expansiveness, power, strength and confidence and fearlessness. He asks "what quality do you especially need in your life right now?" If perhaps we are feeling stuck or frustrated then maybe we need creativity to approach this. How can I be of help to any other beings if I am not nourished myself? If I am depleted and crabby? Perhaps as an example of what not to emulate??
And in true Bon spirit Tenzin Wangyal describes how we are nourished by the elements of water, fire, earth and air. If we feel suffocated in our lives, maybe we need more air? Try it. Deep nourishing breaths? Time in the great outdoors? Are you someone who loves to swim? Perhaps you find your nourishment in water. Fire is the element that brings creativity and love, warmth and enthusiasm. You probably know some firey folks or maybe you are one?
Rinpoche always goes back to the source of nourishment as stillness of the body, silence of speech and mind and spaciousness of our minds and hearts. We connect with these he tells us through our awareness. The old simple but not always easy.
I always find that the great outdoors is a nourishing place for me. Lately a wander around my pond, a trek in the bush can lift both my spirit, improve how I feel physically and bring a delicous sense of peace to my day. A little hanging out with some tall, straight fir trees is truly nourishing for me (something I learned to pay attention from my wise qi gong teacher). And how do you nourish your inner being these days?
The Dharma is everywhere. But you knew that. And I have been a careful observer of the Dharma of me over the last few days. And it hasn't been a pretty sight. It all started with the frivolous wish to transform the house we bought into something a little more beautiful (man I'm a sucker for the visually pleasing). I decided it needed some new kitchen cabinets, a wall out here, a bathroom redo. I have been possessed by guilt on several occasions, thinking why this perfectly fine and serviceable house needed to be different. Is this a version of "eat your dinner, children in India are starving?" But here it is, my little self wants things a certain way. Hmmm.
All has gone quite smoothly and I can say I have been supporting the local economy, right? That is until a couple of days ago when my equanimity and cover were completely blown away by an encounter with a major retailing bureaucracy. I won't go into the he said, she said of it all or mention blue and yellow. But it was interesting to take stock of the shrapnel after it was all over.
I can say that mostly I keep my cool and negotiate consumer issues in a way that doesn't leave a bad taste in my mouth. I am often a little surprised that I do this, but somehow I get some help from somewhere and negotiations go smoothly. But this time the whole consumer thing left me feeling rather unhinged. After too many phone calls to goodness knows where I knew that my voice betrayed my irritation. I never yelled or said anything rude.... but still. I can do better. This left a bad taste in my mouth (no flavour of Swedish gingerbread cookies here). This is the karma of my own making. My friend the Buddhist nun always pointed out that this lingering bad taste when we know we could have behaved better is the karmic residue. Behave well and you walk away without anything churning in your mind (or stomach).
I also noticed that I spent several days on the phone due to my personal stubbornness to give in to what I felt were unreasonable rules on the part of those holding my kitchen hostage in their warehouse. I did not want to drive the 40 minute round trip to town and pay to send them a fax so I could change from pick-up to delivery. I wanted to simply return their authorization form by email. I clung to my expectations and belief in what was reasonable. I stood my ground. "I just want to give you some money to deliver my kitchen. Simple, let's do this." I was banging my head on a call centre cube and I wasn't going to win this one but I'm a slow learner. Call a Vancouver phone number and end up in Montreal. For some reason this made me crazy.
And in the end I allowed something of small consequence (in the grand scheme of things) to disturb my equilibrium for days. After several days of ridiculous phone calls, in the end I just drove into town and sent them their fax. I could see how my clinging to my position of what I believed was right caused my own suffering. It's a tough and touchy one, to know when to give it up and I totally missed the cue on this one. Ego, ego and ego, is all I can say about this. Was that Daffy Duck, who said exit, stage left. I missed the call despite how daffy the whole thing was.
But maybe I learned a little more about how to weigh and measure what's worth it. What is the value of my equilibrium? How do I want to spend my time? Maybe I got to have a good look at how stubborn I can be. And maybe I will make a better choice next time. No promises, I am a bit of a slow learner. So if you want to try me out, make me think I'm talking to you in Vancouver when you are really in Montreal. Then repeat the same rules over and over to me. Then forget to send me the email you promised and then let's get into a little situation of non returned phone calls. Let's see how I behave when you do this. It will be my Dharma test. And if you win I will give you the direct line to Ikea Coquitlam; a well kept secret. When you call there they will tell you to hang up if you are a customer and phone the call centre. See, I'm still at it! Happy shopping. Just remember to take it with you.
In my wanderings of my new home and especially circumam bulating the pond, Thoreau's "Walden Pond" came to mind. The deep tranquility, connection and sense of healing I experienced on these ambles made me think of Thoreau's writings about his life at his pond. So in some continued unpacking I unearthed my ancient, University days copy of "Walden & Other Writings" and have been exploring the Dharma tidbits in it. If I recall, Tricycle magazine featured a piece comparing Thoreau to Ryokan some years back? Does anyone out there remember it? I will unearth it one day in my belongings. I know I am harbouring it somewhere.
So as I begin my lovely winter read of Walden (today is a misty day with the clouds hanging low to the green mossy ground, hovering just over the barn roof, I will share some of Thoreau's Dharma:
Here's a little passage where Thoreau asks us to think about how we use our "precious human lives". He broaches the subject of how we feel the unrest inside us, the ennui, if somehow we choose not to work at discovering and living our authentic life. " Think, also of the ladies of the land weaving toilet cushions (weaving what??) against the last day, not to betray too green an interest in their fates! As if you could kill time without injuring eternity." (What a line!!)
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things."
On compassion Thoreau simply says: "Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?"
And on living in the present moment he says: "In any weather, at any hour of day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line."
And as you might expect he talks about that thing we sentient beings must work with, our inclination to covet comfort at all costs, to value it so highly as to displace other pursuits and searchings: "When a man is warmed by the several modes which I have described, what does he want next? Surely not more warmth of the same kind, as more and richer food, larger and more splendid houses, finer and more abundant clothing, more numerous, incessant, and hotter fires and the like. When he has obtained those things which are necessary to life, then there is another altenative than to obtain the superfluities: and that is, to adventure on life now, his vacation from humbler toil having commenced." ( The spiritual life, the discovery of the authentic self and what we might contribute to this world??)
Raw Vegan Thanksgiving Dinner by "Everyone Is Vegan"
And on eating a plant based diet, Thoreau had this to say: "One farmer says to me, "You cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make bones with; and so he religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying his system with the raw material of bones; walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumbering plow along in spite of every obstacle." On that subject I'd like to give a little shout out to a new vegan blog called Everyone Is Vegan. Check it out, it promises to be entertaining and informative and is written by a self confessed "recovering cynic". I won't mention that the nutritionist author is my daughter but I will offer a possible language warning for those with tiny delicate ears.
So that's the Dharma of the first 21 pages of Walden for the 21st century. And who knew Thoreau was a Buddhist?? Of course my cheek is protruding (double meaning intended) from my tongue being wedged in there! And of course, the fact is that truth is universal and no one, religious or otherwise has a monopoly on it. The Dharma is everywhere. Where are you finding it these days?
This is a picture of me in my flowered gumboots and my daughter's old down vest, working down by the pond. There is no shortage of things to be done around here and I have to be careful not to work with the grim determination of "there's so much to do around here". You know that crunched brow, shoulder to the grindstone body posture, it completely sucks all the fun out of the beauty of the day. I can get way too goal oriented when I decide there are things to be done and forget the value of the process. I can get so absorbed in this position that I see the landscape as "something to do" rather than something to enjoy.
The fall has been so amazing here, tipping back and forth between warm, misty days and brilliant sunshine and blue sky. It is truly a joy to be outside. Yesterday I reminded myself to enjoy the walk around the pond as I surveyed it for what needed pruning and assessed what dead and living wood required hauling out of the water. I liberated a curly willow from a tangle of salmon berry and pulled out the many little holly volunteers along the path. I pulled some fallen alder branches from the water and reminded myself that the ducks and I have different opinions of what makes a beautiful pond. Sometimes when I look down on the pond from the sunroom I think of Thoreau and Walden Pond. I will have to scour my packed books. I think of Mary Oliver and her poems of simply being with the land. I think of "The Sand County Almanac" by Aldo Leopold, a delightful listen or read introduced to me by an American friend many years ago. I highly recommend it
Later in the day an email came in from my old Sangha that included a little blurb I'd written years ago on working meditation and it reminded me of what a morning's work at the pond could look like. Ah to remember to approach each precious task with this view:
Working meditation can be a valuable addition to our sitting and walking meditation. Essentially we are doing the same thing, cultivating our awareness. In working meditation this takes a more active form. We attempt to be fully present with what we are doing, be it sweeping the floor or trimming a hedge. We are aware of the sights, sounds, our movements in a light and focused way. We are not rushing to complete our task but experiencing it as fully as possible, bringing our mind back when it drifts. We speak when necessary about the work at hand, but strive to maintain a quiet, contemplative atmosphere. While we work we can develop and notice our gratitude for the things we are caring for, in this case the wonderful home for our Sangha, the earth we live on. This working practice gets us in touch with our everyday life in a deeper way. We can carry this practice home with us and with time will find that it complements our other forms of practice and enriches our lives in a profound way. As we do this we can see how we are chipping away at our habitual tendencies of rushing to complete the many small, seemingly inconsequential tasks that make up our days. Our cultivation of being present will give us back our life in small and astonishing ways. It can increase our energy (which is depleted by rushing) and cultivate joy and appreciation that comes from noticing something as small and miraculous as a mote of dust caught in a beam of sunlight.
I promised I would share my spiritual thrashings with you and here's a bit. I am reading "The Tibetan Yogas of Dream And Sleep" by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. Dreams have always intrigued me and I have a dream that has followed me in different variations throughout my life. I am always driving in this dream and of course there's lots of variation, mostly troubling like the brakes don't work, or I'm driving from the backseat. Various people accompany me on these crazy drives. Most recently I was surprised and confused to find myself driving a right hand drive car.
But I digress gigantically. The main focus of "The Tibetan Yogas of Dream And Sleep" revolves around developing lucid dreaming capabilities. Rinpoche says: "If we cannot carry our practice into sleep, if we lose ourselves every night, what chance do we have to be aware when death comes. Look to your experience in dreams to know how you will fare in death. Look to your experience of sleep to discover whether or not you are truly awake." Sheesh, I am barely aware when I'm awake was my first thought! But there is something that strikes me as a practice worthy of exploration.
One of the concrete practices Tenzin Wangyal suggests is this: "Throughout the day practice the recognition of the dream-like nature of life... Upon waking in the morning, think to yourself, "I am awake in a dream. When you enter the kitchen, recognize it as a dream kitchen. Pour dream milk into your dream coffee. It's all a dream, you think to yourself, this is a dream. Remind yourself of this constantly throughout the day.... Keep reminding yourself that you are dreaming up your experiences, the anger you feel, the happiness, the anxiety, -- it's all part of the dream... In this way a new tendency is created in the mind, that of looking at experience as insubstantial, transient and intimately related to the minds projections. As phenomena are seen to be fleeting and essenceless, grasping decreases... Doing this practice, like all practice changes the way one engages the world... When we think of an experience as "only a dream" it is less "real" to us. It loses its power over us -- power that it only had because we gave it power, and can no longer disturb us and drive us into negative emotional states. Instead we begin to encounter all experience with greater calm and increased clarity, and even with greater appreciation."
While this practice is aimed at eventually helping us be aware while dreaming, I like the immediate payoff of reminding us that things and circumstances are ever changing and can't be held on to. As I tried this last night (and he recommends making it a deeper experience than just a thought) I noticed that I was okay with regarding the things I find difficult or unpleasant as a dream but wanted the things I loved to be solid and real. In an instant it was apparent where attachment rested it's hook and claw. I also found there was something slightly disorienting in regarding my life as a dream. I could feel the shaky groundlessness of it all.
So I think I might teeter off and have a piece of dream chocolate with a dream cup of tea. Where will your dreams lead you?
Here's a picture of the carpenter's helpers that have been staying off and on at our house. Sometimes they get a bit bushed from all the work they do and sneak into the zendo to do a little closed eye meditation.
On a slightly different topic from cute little puppies....or perhaps we can say i've been following the scent of something that's been enticing me, at least spiritually. For a while now I have felt drawn to the Bon tradition of Tibetan Buddhism (dare I call it Buddhism?). I started with a book by Lama Surya Das on Dzogchen and then stumbled across some talks by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and loved the simple directness of his guided meditations and his talks. It felt like the Tibetan version of Zen and I felt somehow at home here. There was a sense that I could connect easily with the meditation instructions and the directness of the teaching. I liked the earthiness of it, the shamanic connection to the earth, the use of the body. I like that it addresses healing of the body, mind and spirit through its practices of healing sounds and dream & sleep yoga.
While the practice feels simple enough even for my pea brain, there are many aspects of it to add and build on as you explore the tradition, breathing exercises, yoga, healing sounds and the intriguing dream yoga. And of course like many Buddhist traditions it works with our pain and encourages us to develop our compassion toward ourselves and others.
There is also a Bon Sangha nearby and Geshe Yong Dong who leads it does Tibetan astrology and offers it on-line. I gave my daughter a reading for her birthday which seemed appropriate as she embarks on professional life as a nutritionist.
Recently after circling them for a long time, I finally closed in on some books on the Bon tradition and bought them. I am currently reading and listening to the CD that came with "Tibetan Sound Healing". Also on the reading list is "The Tibetan Yogas of Dream & Sleep" and "Wonders of the Natural Mind", all by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. I will keep you posted as I explore the tradition.
Where are your spiritual explorations leading you these days?
I could make excuses for being awol from the blogging world but what are excuses anyway? Justification, explanation, the whirring of monkey mind when we feel we should have done other than we did. Wisdom lies simply in acknowledging what is. I have been preoccupied sweeping and phoning and feeding the fabulous carpenter who is staying with us while he does some reno work in our new-to-us house. It felt comfortable to use a dear friend's brother, from another island, to tackle the long list of jobs we had for our new place, jobs that fell beyond our meager skill set.
So with some enthusiasm and a smidge of trepidation we invited someone we hadn't met and his two papillion puppies into our home to stay while he worked, putting in doors, taking out shower stalls and walls. It has worked out swimmingly. He is skilled and quick, good company and easy to get along with. I remember my Zen teacher saying when things went well: "it didn't have to be this way." In other words appreciate and feel grateful for what goes well and smoothly in your life. Too often we tend to ignore these things. We never think, "gee I am glad not to have a toothache!"
And as always there is Dharma in everything. I get to watch my habitual tendencies, the tendency to feel a bit on edge having someone I don't know around the house 24/7. And then when I remember, I remind myself to relax and just be the silly, foolish self that is me and to enjoy our new housemate with all his own fun and quirky details.
Not being a dog person I wondered about having 2 busy little dogs around the house and honestly they are fine, cute, quiet and well behaved. I even found them sleeping in front of the Buddha in the Zendo one afternoon. Before I could snatch a picture I had disturbed them and they got up. So I am learning new things. I remember the words of Patrul Rinpoche in "Words of My Perfect Teacher" when he lists the difficulties that sentient beings born into the animal realm have. I don't worry so much that they hop up on the blanket on the couch for a little snooze.
A small glitch in a wall that got opened up presented a problem and over dinner we came to a compromise solution on how it could be dealt with, not what I had hoped for, "but sure the easy way would be okay, I agreed." But when I awoke in the morning I knew it was not a comprise I wanted to make if at all possible. So over coffee I pursued an alternate solution, asking more questions and I found that I could get closer to the outcome (less wall, more open space) that I was looking for. It reminded me that kind and thoughtful perseverance is a good thing, that if something is important to you it is worth following every thread to the end. A big Dharma lesson for me over the years has been that, just because I decide on one thing in the evening, doesn't mean the issue can't be revisited the next morning. I tend to operate from "well I agreed to this, I need to stick to it." It has been a big lesson for me to learn, that I can change my mind, nothing is written in stone. You can always move from where you are.
And I could feel so much gratitude for our carpenter's cheerful ways and competence in his work. I feel very fortunate to have found such an easy, uncomplicated solution to the work that needed doing. And so while I have been simply leading an ordinary life doing mundane things like preparing 3 meals a day and sourcing material and gathering needed supplies, the day is filled with Dharma, the dharma of working with habitual tendencies and of feeling gratitude for an easy relationship with our skilled help. It is fun to prepare food for him as a sort of offering.
What Dharma are you finding these days in your ordinary life?
It's blog action day today and the topic is water. When you live on an island as I do, water is never very far from your thoughts or sight. In many ways we take it for granted, at least its potential for great beauty. On an island water also feels enveloping, protective, sometimes. It creates community by its definitive boundaries. Islanders sometimes lament the difficulty of getting places and acquiring goods and services. In these instances water is experienced as an inconvenience. Islanders like nothing better that to have a good ol' grumble about ferry service.
And on this island, on rural properties we need to pay attention to water, to be mindful. We get our water from a well. We flush it into a septic system. More than in a city, we need to pay attention to water quality when we choose somewhere to live. In some places here, you can run out of water in the summer, your water can have too much sulphur or arsenic.
We learn to be more mindful of how we use water and more careful of what we put down the drain. We can suffer by our own hand if we ignore either of these things. And great joy comes from having delicious, untreated well water. The taste is incomparable and even after a short time here I find myself turning up my nose at city water.
But as I am always apt to think of the spiritual qualities of things, what of water? One of the spiritual attributes of water is its cleansing quality. Symbolically and in the physical realm water is useful in washing things away, for purification. Water is a key to life. It is one of the essential offerings on Buddhist alters. In looking at the many ways we can view water I am reminded of how everything is moving and changing (the Buddhist idea of impermanence). There are many ways to think of water. I am reminded of emptiness, in that we can't define the particular, singular nature of water. It is many things and these things morph with our position and point of view. Water is not as solid (or is that liquid?) as we might at first imagine.
There are many more profound thoughts on water out there today on blog action day, than mine, many more socially engaged thoughts about water and the suffering around the world caused by it's lack, the environmental concerns associated with our the lack of care, greed and self centredness indulged in by humans. But I will leave those topics to those who are more informed on the subject. These are just a few simple thoughts on water. May it wash away your suffering. May it nourish and cleanse you in many ways. May all sentient beings be blessed with the gift of clean, fresh water.
We learn a lot from our children, from our parents, from anyone for that matter, if we are willing to be their student. When my mother used to tell me what other family members should be doing, I would remind her that we only get one life to live and that's our own. Today I got to remind myself of this. And when I said this to my self, I could feel the irritation and coldness behind those words. I could feel how she might have felt when I said this, slightly reprimanded. And while I could feel the emotion behind the words, I could feel their truth. Without the emotional charge, these words are simply a statement and a true one.
But I digress. Today my daughter offered me this lesson and with it I found an invitation to let go, to drop the story line. I had suggested that something she was considering doing might not be a good idea. And when she did it anyway I felt a deep pang of disappointment, followed by a cascade of other feelings, anger for one. And then a big story started to brew on the mind's horizon, a feature length drama kicked into full production; lights, action camera. I decided to close the movie set down pretty quickly as these things are simply too tiring, too boring and suck up far too much energy. Drama is definitely the energy hog of the emotional environment.
So instead I just breathed in the hot, stinging breath of disappointment and anger until it passed, until I realized it wasn't a big deal, that I didn't want to add a layer of tension to the relationship. In my heart I know that as a parent my intention is to be helpful and to approach any situation filled with the anger of "I know what's best for you" is never helpful. What I imagine to be helpful and what is helpful can be two different things so I need to be vigilant.
So my hope is to just be with her tomorrow when I see her and let my response come from deep inside me. And I realize that the best thing for me to do is simply to have faith; to have faith in her, in her wonderful intelligence and inner knowing and to have faith in life, that it brings us all what we need.
So a simple text message offered me the opportunity to let go, to not be attached to my version of the world and to know that even if it is my fierce, motherly wish, I can never protect anyone from their pain.
Here's a picture of morning in the new zendo. It was actually the formal living room in the house but after I placed the buddha in the window seat and considering the dark, serene quality of the room it felt like a meditation space. And as our living room furniture quickly made itself comfortable in the sunroom with its soaring windows and view of the pond, well, the inclination to have this as a meditation room (sans furniture) became stronger. It's interesting how if we listen, things are suggested to us by our environment. Even our Tibetan friend who came to do our house blessing and purification recognized it immediately as a place to have a formal sitting group. Who knows what the future holds?
I am still visited by doubt, wondering if we have done the right thing. Is this too big a property? Will we be overwhelmed by the work it takes to look after it. Have I been greedy in choosing this place? In and out float these challenging thoughts. They are interspersed with feelings of great peace while digging in the herb garden, noticing the light decline and hearing a duck land on the pond. I remind the worrying mind to settle and simply be with what is, not run off conjuring stories. How quickly the mind ignites the emotions into little brush fires of fear and worry. I remind myself to take another path, to cultivate courage and fearlessness. And if I watch this activity of my mind I am reminded of its insubstantial nature, how it is a little house of cards. And the sense of emptiness sinks a little deeper into my bones.
And on the note of emptiness here's a lovely little poem that seems to suit my mood and the season. It is by the Chinese Zen nun Yi-k'uei (1625-1679). I found it in a delightful little book I am reading "Enso: Zen Circles of Enlightenment" by Audrey Yoshiko Seo.
I watch unmoved as waves recede and Dharma gates fall into disrepair, I draw a circle on the ground within which I will hide myself away. Suddenly the summer begins to draw to a close, and fall comes again: It is only recently that I have mastered the art of being a complete fool.
Here's a picture of the future studio. At this point in time it seems far into the future. I have been playing host to fatigue from cleaning and packing and riding the emotional horse of doubt and angst as we get ready to move tomorrow. I am holding on for the ride, watching the changing terrain as I fly over each boulder and tree root of my imaginings. Sometimes I am sliding down one side or the other of this unruly horse. I have lost my hat and decorum long ago. I am definitely getting a work out. And it is the perfect opportunity to experience impermanence at the gut level. A little phrase has stuck in my head from a blog I came across yesterday called Appropriate Response. "This is what it feels like to be human." So I have been feeling this raw, humanness or as Ezra Bayda calls it "the uncomfortable quiver of being".
It is so interesting to watch the machinations of the mind, throwing up all kinds of worries and fears, expectations not met, schedules not kept. And it reminds me that when we tie our hopes and dreams to external things we are bound for disappointment. I need to learn this over and over. These are the things I am working with as I prepare for the moving truck to arrive tomorrow. The mind loves to weave a big story that this is the culmination of a year's adventure of moving and traveling and relocating. It likes to make a big, scary 3D movie. It is a master at making "what is" into more than that.
I watch my inclination to want to retreat, maybe roll up into a little pill bug on the couch, to hide from all this. Overwhelm threatens to take the upper hand and then I remember to just do the next thing that needs to be done. Wrap that glass, clean the stove burners. And so the day unfolds.
I realize I will miss this beautiful landing spot on the island with its amazing ocean and island views, its bountiful garden just outside the door. It has been a good friend to us. I need to remember to feel gratitude, instead of just a sense of loss. The two can coexist in the same breath.
And our new home is ready and waiting for us. A Tibetan teacher we know came and performed a purification ceremony on Saturday. The sun came out from behind the clouds and graced us with unseasonably warm temperatures. He chanted from a Tibetan text, walk each room and the perimeter of the house with incense and finally we hung some prayer flags that had come from Tibet and had been blessed at the Green Tara Sand Mandala Ceremony held on the island in July. Yesterday friends came from the big island and helped us move some things and walk our new property with us.
Last night there was a torrential downpour, complete with power outage. Today the sky was blue, the sun warm and our parting sunset over the ocean and hills magnificent. Such is life as a human.
The "self" is an interesting creature to watch. It can provide more entertainment and drama than any movie you might rent. Two days ago I got to watch a curious drama of the self unfold, an oscar worthy drama to be sure. Two months ago we bought a new home but because the owners needed time to collect and arrange 18 years of belongings, the possession date was set 2 months into the future. We were excited and were anxiously awaiting the day when we could roll up our sleeves, shine the place up and make it our own. Finally that day arrived.
We had known that the house needed some TLC and that the aging owners who had health issues were finding the property a challenge to maintain. Yet when we walked into the house for our first viewing of it as our own, we were overwhelmed by doubt and buyer's remorse. "Oh no, what have we done?" Both my partner and I were afraid to say it out loud but it was evident from our wander through that we were not possessed by eager enthusiasm.
Instead we were visited by a huge helping of doubt. Things seemed darker, dirtier, the scale of what was required seemed larger. Could we be happy here? Had we grasped after getting settled and bought this house and property by mistake? Should we have waited? Maybe something better would have come up. And on and on and on. You're getting the picture. The sound track to this little movie is at the dark and foreboding stage.
So there it was "doubt" in full regalia, one of the five hindrances in Buddhist thought. And we got to watch it's pageant of suffering. Now as well as experiencing the doubt, we could see the little drama unfolding (kind of like watching a documentary) so we weren't fully hooked. Suffering yes, but also understanding the source of suffering. And we could see the other sources of suffering. A heavy dose of expectation. Yes we expected the place would need paint, but we expected everything else would look just perfect.
Instead we noticed that there was a view of the neighbour's house that we'd forgotten, his roosters were noisy. We could hear cars from the gravel road below. The scope of cleaning seemed overwhelming. Each expectation spawned a new one. It was like a little line of domino expectations, setting each other off. Dissatisfaction was the word of the day.
I wavered between trying to put a bright face on it and just being with that sense of doubt and dissatisfaction. We were drinking from that well of common human experience where we want to tie our happiness to external things, when we want life to please us, when we want things to go our way in every detail. I could taste the interesting souffle of doubt, expectation seasoned with a pinch of greater knowing.
By next morning everything had changed. Overwhelm had left the building. We got out our cleaning supplies and loaded up a few boxes and drove to the new house. This time it shone with the potential we had seen in it when we decided to buy it. The house hadn't changed. We had. Our self centred worry and doubt had lifted and we embraced the mop and bucket with renewed enthusiasm. Could I have found a drama at the video store that would have engaged me more, tugged at my heart strings, and offered me more teaching? I don't think so. And what's up on the movie marquee of your life today? Comedy, tragedy, drama?
"When an object appears familiar, it's a certainty that I'm merely seeing my ideas of the object rather than the object itself. Furthermore, the idea I form of an object is invariably a "rounding off" of the object to accommodate a categorical generalization, whereas the object itself is always sharp, specific to this exact moment, and doesn't repeat itself. Categorical generalizations render actual objects, persons, and events into types of objects, persons, and events. There are in reality no such types, but only the discreet things themselves." Lin Jensen from "Together Under One Roof"
I'm reading Jensen's lovely little book of reminiscences of a life viewed through the lens of the Dharma and when I stumbled upon the above paragraph I paused. It struck me how I live most of my life in this way, viewing the world through the slightly foggy lens of my ideas. It is easy and comfortable and habitual and quite human. True wonder happens when we really pause and just see something, someone, without our cherished opinions and our "knowing", delegating our mind to its appropriate role of good servant as opposed to megalomanic master.
Even, or perhaps especially in drawing or painting "the knowing", the idea gets in the way of seeing. I was talking with someone about this just the other day. If I think I know what a head looks like I fill in where I think certain lines and shapes should be. I get ahead of myself (ridiculous, pitiful pun intended). When I go back and look with care or trick the mind by looking at the negative space or holding a photo upside down, I often see how wrong "my ideas" about how a head looks are. Yet the mind is quick to jump straight to the idea. It takes care and vigilance and discipline and patience to just see.
Jensen goes on to observe: "When I give this sort of curious attention a try, I'm surprised at how unfamiliar the neighbourhood is. This fresh strangeness is the gift of attention." And that's just it isn't it? Habitual thoughts and ways of seeing things are so predictable and familiar. I have run over them with my mind enough times to put them out of their misery but still they keep resurrecting themselves in the same boring form each time. But to really see each thing brings a freshness to life. Walking down a trail today I noticed an Arbutus leaf curled upward, a tiny leaf cup, filled with water, patterned with shining shades of green and yellow and orange. Not just a leaf, not a label, not a dry, stale known thing, a leaf like no other. But mostly the mind runs over one thing ( oh yes, pretty fall leaves, lovely damp trail), and on to the next, looking for excitement, drama or danger, something more worthy of its attention, always moving like a hungry monkey.
Jensen's observations about "truly seeing" people reminds me of my Zen teacher's constant reminder to students that there are no generalizations that can be applied to life's difficult situations. Our questions at Dharma talks were always on the prowl for generalization that would make our lives easier. We wanted simple formulas and little recipes that we could apply in our semi-awakened or fully somnambulant state but our wise teacher always reminded us that each situation needed to be carefully considered on it's own merit. A similar situation with different people or on different days might require a totally different response, no canned, pre packaged, shake and bake answers. And if we are paying attention and responding from that immediate place we find an appropriate response.
And she was clear that we needed to look carefully at the details of any interaction. When I would describe a difficult situation with my mother she would ask questions, "did she say thank-you." And I'd say something like, "I don't remember, but she was so negative." After a few of these exchanges, I'd get the picture that I hadn't really been paying attention. I'd been working on the premise that my mother was always negative. I was working with "my idea of my mother". And so trouble was perpetuated as I skated along on the slippery surface of my ideas.
So Jensen extends the invitation to us to abandon our ideas of how things are and wander out into the fields of bare attention to directly experience our world. I am setting the hay bale table out in the field. Will you join me? I promise there will be no shake & bake.
Here's a link to the Art Auction by Student's For A Free Tibet. Volunteers have been working really hard to put this all together. "What The Buddha Sewed 2", shown here is part of the online auction. Check out this 11x14" cradled panel piece that I donated and all the other wonderful art. Here's an opportunity to buy some art to kick off the fall nesting season. Beautify that hibernation cave! And if you feel so inclined spread the word about this fundraiser and support the Tibetan cause.
If the plight of Tibet doesn't already tug at your heart strings, check out the movie "What Remains of Us" made by a young Canadian woman of Tibetan parents who smuggled a video of the Dalai Lama into Tibet and showed it to Tibetans who had never seen or heard the Dalai Lama's voice before. She did this at great personal risk and the movie is guaranteed to make you weep.
In Buddhist practice it is always said that there is a compassionate aspect of suffering. I have heard it said on a number of occasions that the "compassionate" aspect of the Tibetan situation is that the world has come to know and love the Dalai Lama and all the compassion, wisdom and sanity he brings to this crazy world. Let us offer what we can in return.
For some time, a long time actually, I have been conscious of duking it out with some strange studio demons. It's hard to paint when you're wearing boxing gloves and this has become a serious issue for me. Perhaps roller derby collage would be a more practical option. Toss in a little Dharma, stir vigourously and presto we've got some pretty weird reality TV. But I digress in the effort to protect my dirty, little secret. Mara, that rude little apparition, has been shovelling heaps of frustration onto the canvas for months. I create, I judge, I don't like. I avoid. I don't know what to do. I add another layer of frustration. And so on and so on. Ah, a Sistine Chapel of Samsara. And yet I sense this is where I need to go, that there is something authentic and intensely me in the process. I am a slow learner. And yet there is hope. There is a special class for people like me in the basement of every spiritual high school, next to the lunchroom.
And then recently, as I prepare for another move, I unearthed an older copy (winter 2009) of Tricycle mag and what should pop off the cover but an article by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche called "The Art of Awareness" or "art as a transformative practice". I don't know how I missed this article first time around. I must have been standing on my pointy little head in November or maybe it was all that packing and moving! Alice and I fell into a packing box and missed the tea party.
At any rate I have been reading this piece over and over and hoping it will sink into my bones, mineralize my artist's backbone. It meshes with the workshop I took with Nick Bantock who spent the weekend trying to pull us deeper into our art. I emerged frustrated and snarled in a lot of self doubt but recognizing some essential truth, treading water, coughing and sputtering. And then this morning Tricycle's Daily Dharma offered up another piece by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.
As I read this one I realized the deep sense of attachment I had to creating something I liked, something others would like (as imagined through my own eyes), something sellable, something that did not ruin a canvas. Attachment, attachment, attachment, the penny was dropping with a pronounced thud. Of course I have felt tied up in knots, when I spend so much time looking over my own shoulder, lurching between creator and judge in the twitch of a crossed eye. Recipe for a body and mind pretzel fest! Did I mention my sore back?
I read about DKR's fearlessness as embodied in his art teacher's (Matthieu Ricard's mother, Yahne Le Toumelin!) instruction: "She would say, “When you get attached to anything that emerges on the canvas, destroy it!” I would watch her create something beautiful and then paint over it or scrape off the paint. “Destroy, destroy, destroy.” This is not to say that beauty or attachment to beauty is a problem. Destroying them is not an aggressive act, an annihilation of self or a rejection of experience. It enhances creativity. It is a natural wearing away of attachment and becomes a part of the creative process itself—a way to engage a bigger mind. The more I do this, the greater the satisfaction. I am not fixated on creating something “good” or “pleasing.” My interest or focus is on the process of creating and connecting to my natural creativity. The main discipline is to let go." Yes, yes, yes, I have been looking for this roadmap.
Now I know this may seem odd, even shocking to artists out there who are not Dharma practitioners. "What is the point of this, destroying something beautiful that you have created?" And of course this is not necessary. No one needs to do this, if they don't feel drawn to. But for me there is a call to produce something that comes from past my attachment (maybe you go there already, through some natural process of your own, this is quite possible) For me DKR's following comment is what beckons: " Nevertheless, the artist continuously has to step out of the way and not obstruct the nature of mind that is in the work as it is being produced..... I can remove myself from the work and allow it to have its own life.... There is a deep feeling of satisfaction. The satisfaction comes in knowing that the evolution of the painting on the outside reflects how resolved I feel on the inside through the discipline of relinquishing all attachment. The moment I stop painting is when the outside and the inside conicide in this way. That is when the painting itself reflects a natural, uncontrived awareness."
And the one final aspect of DKR's articles that calls to me is about trust. I am working with attachment and trust these days in my work, wrestling and writhing and struggling around the studio floor. Some days I am down for the count with Mara flashing me the victory sign. It is not a pretty sight and yet it seems to be part of the process for me. I think I am coming to the point with DKR's help where I can just go in work (some days) and be okay with what happens (ah acceptance).
But back to trust, which is a deep and penetrating issue for me, one that is taking a long time to get through my thick, rhinoceros skin. Here's what he has to say about trust in the artistic and life process: "When we talk about creating art—or more importantly, the art of living a sane life—it means trusting our basic nature and its natural creativity. Natural creativity is something very large, the essence of everything. As artists we make such a big deal about creating something “good,” something “pleasing.” We want everyone to love our creations in order to confirm our existence. Our insecurities, hopes, and fears haunt us. Either we feel we lack the ability to create or we use art as a means to solidify ourselves: “Look here, my art is in the Guggenheim!” “Look at my résumé, I danced with the Russian Ballet!” Don’t let your insecurities rob you of your trust! Just remember, this natural energy created the entire universe—a humbling thought that puts our own artistic creations in perspective! Think: “The universe is here! Where did it come from?” Then have some trust and let this natural energy express itself."
You can watch him create a painting here and this will give you a little feeling for how the process works. After that I think it is just going in there and working away until it finally sinks into our blood and bones and the ah ha moment arrives. Happy creating!
I have just returned from a weekend fundraiser for Tibetan earthquake victims slightly sleep deprived and my face warm from spending most of the last 2 days outside. We were treated to teachings by 8 generous Tibetan teachers, tasty meals of dahl and soups prepared by the Tibetan community and a local Sangha.
We were an eclectic gathering of tie dyed 10 yr olds, roly poly babies, many heads of flowing grey locks (both genders) and willowy teenaged girls with fashionably wrapped scarves. We sat meditation under an outdoor canopy at 6 in the morning as the sun rose and the chant master intoned his deep, throaty song. We ate oatmeal in the sunshine and buttered our toast with slippery questions about how to fit issues of the environment, investing and politics into a Dharma framework.
And as the ceremony opened on Saturday I dedicated the merit of the weekend to my mother who died a year ago today. I became acquainted with the concept of "dedicating merit" in the Zen Sangha I belonged to. My understanding of "merit" is undoubtedly incomplete but I will take a stab at explaining it. Perhaps you have something to add?
The idea stems from the fact that certain actions "accumulate merit"; things such as acts of kindness and compassion, sitting meditation, giving alms to monks. Many positive actions, large and small are considered to accumulate merit and often merit from meditation sessions is dedicated to all sentient beings. I can remember at Sangha, people often requested the merit of a meditation evening be dedicated to a sick or dying friend, someone undergoing surgery or someone suffering in some way. We even had a merit board where you could tack up a little dedication for a loved one or friend.
There is a wonderful generous sense in dedicating merit. And it's not one of those things that when you give it away, you have lost it. I think merit increases in volume, like an expanding, rising loaf of bread, as it is shared with those in need.
So it seemed auspicious to be in the presence of numerous lamas and a gathering of dedicated Dharma practitioners on the first anniversary of my mother's death, a meaningful way to remember her. It was through my involvement with the Dharma that I finally found a way to make peace with my mother, with the encouragement of my teacher to never give up on her. Through my mother's willingness to meet both me and the Dharma at a deep level I think she made some great discoveries about her life in her last year on earth. And the two of us learned to do a dance that allowed her to die in peace with me holding her hand. Yetta Leslie 1915-2009. If you feel so inclined, you can read the post I wrote the day after she died here.
Buddhism & Art...if I had to pick two words that give an overview of what I get up to in this world those would be my choices. Buddhism is the ground upon which I rest all else. I like to think it brings me some sanity. It helps me think in some logical way about what I am doing and look at it as deeply as possible. What did I just do? Why ? What's that all about? ...To try and look at my life without sliding over things or fooling myself...To be present for life, not rejecting or preferring one experience over another. Buddhist practice makes my life full and rich, sometimes filled with joy and sometimes with a deep experience of the suffering present in this world.
After all those words does it seem odd to say that it is the simplicity of Zen that appeals to me? This inclination to simplicity pulls me to try and integrate my practice and work, to paint Buddhas, to observe my process as I work.
I am drawn to mixed media, integrating script and words with images and colour.