Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Spiritually Unemployed Type Checks Out Reggie Ray

Tonight we had the great, good fortune and treat of seeing Reggie Ray speak in person. I have his book "Touching Enlightenment With the Body" and his teachings, which I first encountered in Tricycle Magazine, have always resonated with me.

But I was not prepared for how deeply I experienced what he said as true. Some of this may drive you crazy, but now you're warned, so if you read on, it's only because you want to be incited! (that's the disclaimer, kids, no karmic lawsuits allowed). He started by saying how much of Tibetan and Asian Buddhism is cultural, bringing with it the hierarchies, the sexism and other aspects that are not essential parts of practice. Yes, I wanted to stand up and shout, yes. That's what doesn't sit right with me. That's one of the things that causes me to say "I am between traditions" when people ask me where I sit these days. It's like that awkward pause when people ask you what you do and you confess that you are "between jobs". Ah so now I get it, I am spiritually unemployed!

Ray seemed so clear and present in a way you don't often see. He talked about how his initial relationship with his Buddhist practice was all in his head and his intention was slightly misplaced. He talked about a brush with a cancer diagnosis (that turned out to be false positive), but lead him to throw out all his academic writings on Buddhism and embrace a more earthy approach that was based on the importance of how we live our daily lives.

I loved his story about his cancer encounter, how he realized as he spent time in cancer clinic waiting rooms, that there are 2 world views. Most of us live in a dream world, he said, even if we say we know we will die some day, we don't really believe it. There is an unreality to it. It's out there in the great beyond of "some day, pass me another slice of pizza, please." The other world view is that of cancer patients, who finally get it on a visceral level that they will die. Once you have been touched by this, he said, it doesn't go away. Speaking as a member of this little club I can attest to what a shocking realization this is. And even though there is a waking up to reality, I don't recommend membership in this club (not that you get to choose)

Ray went on to candidly talk about how he is hated by 12,000 people, briefly touching on his split with the Shambhala community. He spoke of his teacher Chogyam Trungpa with nothing but the utmost reverence and respect.

He did a couple of short body meditations with the group so we could have a taste of his practice, and talked about how his Vajrayana style or pre-Vajrayana meditations bear more similarity to the spiritual practice of indigenous people than Buddhist practice as we know it. It can sound a little esoteric or perhaps heady when he talks about the ultimate reality being accessed through the relative reality but I think it is just the shortcoming of language. It is difficult to describe in words what must be experienced through the body. You need that direct encounter to actually "get it". All the words are really only pointing the way.

He talked about what is really important, is how we live our day to day lives, how we experience each person and circumstance as our path. He talked about how the body is each person's personal gateway to what he calls the "ultimate", what others might call awakening. He talked about how it is all a transformative experience that takes a life time and that it's really all about love; coming to that place where we can deeply appreciate everything we encounter. It's not about "idiot compassion" which has been a subject for discussion out here in Buddha's blogland or "being nice all the time". Just as we can love our children but let them know that some actions are inappropriate, we can use this same discernment but without judgement and unkindness. Not easy, but possible.

I was deeply moved by what I experienced as a deep expression of truth as I listened to Reggie Ray speak. I have seen videos of him and heard his audio tapes and while I often liked what he had to say I was never really touched by it in the same way as hearing him speak for 2 hours. Tonight I experienced the humility and clear vehicle that he is for the Dharma. And for that I am truly grateful.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Knitting The Giant Rumpled Sweater of Humanity

Everywhere you go these days there is talk and relief efforts being directed toward the situation in Haiti. Over at Full Contact Enlightenment I was touched by a quote posted a few days ago. "The misery of millions is not a cause for pity. Rather it is a cause for developing compassion." His Holiness the Dalaï Lama

It reminded me that this arising of compassion is so natural when we see suffering in the world. If we remember not to turn away, if we can step outside our own small worries, we cannot help but feel the tug to help. You can see this as people everywhere watch the news and respond by opening their hearts and wallets. In situations like this people go to amazing and creative places to offer food and supplies, and prayers.

It is interesting to watch because not only does it help those in need and trauma but it brings people together, it knits us into a tighter community with a common cause. We become a giant, slightly rumpled sweater of humanity offering warmth and comfort to those in need. And in our helping, our hearts open, our spirits are lifted and we experience our "Buddha nature". We feel generous and alive and connected to our human family. And as the Dalai Lama points out we experience compassion.

A fellow Vancouver Islander and Etsian, Sarah over at Kooandpoppet, donated 50% of her sales for a period, from her cute and quirky little handmade creatures, to Haiti. Great idea! So this coming week I will do the same over at my Etsy shop. Also locally, in Victoria, there will be Multi faith prayers and donations at Christ Church Cathedral on Monday at 4:30 pm. And an email arrived today from a friend about a group called Shelter Box. Check this out. 11 plastic tubs make a temporary hospital. One box provides shelter for 10 people.

And so again the question arises for me, do we have the strength to open our hearts and be touched deeply by what comes to us. Can we look inside and ask "what is it good to do", rather than flip the channel or turn away and feel overwhelmed. I think this is what it means to live the Dharma.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Who Is That Tapping On My Cocoon?

Impermanence is very busy at my house. Impermanence is definitely pushing its way around at this address as furniture moves on to new homes, scads of papers get torn and recycled, boxes fill with belongings and give-aways.

This evening's round of drawer cleaning produced my mother's birth certificate, my parent's marriage certificate and both of their cremation certificates. And there it was, in a bottom drawer, the tangible leftovers of a life, some letters and papers, bits of pressed, inked fibre. A little sad, a little tug at the heart. And then the practical matters: snip up the plastic cards with scissors, tuck mementos into a folder.

And it seems in this state of getting ready to move I am more conscious of this movement, the flow of impermanence as it reaches its tentacles into all the nooks and crannies of the house and our lives. It is good to just be carried along with it. But I notice how sometimes I hang on to a rock on the shore or grab for a strand of seaweed, trying to slow down the swooshing of impermanence all around me.

And while my homeless friend has an intimate relationship with impermanence, what she has really taught me a lot about this week, is about listening to that "still, small voice" that each one of us has inside, that voice that can provide the direction, the voice we have such a hard time hearing with our doubting-thomas socks pulled up around our ears.

You see when I finally found her a potential place to park off the street, she didn't do a happy dance. She sat with it, consulted her pendulum and decided no, that wasn't the right option for her at this time. It was hard for me to imagine that she would not grasp at the first opportunity. But there she sat in all her dignity and composure, with a sense that she needed to follow some other options. She was so grateful for the offer and said all she really needed, the important part, was our support. She felt cared for and loved and supported by those of us who had come forward to offer help and that was what really mattered. And so we parted ways that day both feeling unattached to the outcomes and really enjoying each others loving presence. We agreed that we would talk next, when we needed to, that we each knew how to find the other.

Her fine example reminded me to slow down from the frantic busyness of getting things done and listen for "what is it good to do next?" I wish that someone so wise and full of teachings will come into your life. I wish that they will present you with interesting puzzles and predicaments and little hurdles to jump over as you run through the days of your life. I suspect they will come disguised in some interesting form, perhaps a bird with a broken wing, a lonely neighbour, a broken hearted co-worker. Will you hear it as your call to action, as a place to breathe life into the Dharma or will it be just another sad, depressing or slightly annoying event tapping at your cocoon.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Have A Soft Heart & A Strong Back

Here's a picture of my soon not -to-be entry way. It is a time of coming and going, of endings and new beginnings, a time of letting go of old stuff to make space for the new. It is a time of finding a new way of being in the world.

There is a lot to train with these days. And my friend living precariously in her non running camper van is head teacher. I am learning a lot about non attachment and patience as the days unfold. I am working to find a solution to get her off the public street but so far there's a lot of work and not much in the results department.

And I am learning how little our society provides for "the have nots" I am learning how those of us who have are so comfortable inside our warm little cocoons, how we don't want anything to come in and disturb us. We might offer a suggestion, forward on an email, throw $10 in a street person's hat but that's as far as we usually venture out of the cocoon. I am not pointing any fingers here. I live inside my own cozy little cocoon. "Be willing to be disturbed by the truth." I can't remember now who said this but it floated by on the flat screen of my mind today. It is an eye opener. I get a glimpse of how unwanted and unconnected and alone these folks must feel. It truly breaks your heart.

Another phrase that came up for me today was: "Have a soft heart and a strong back." These are words from Trungpa Rinpoche. It was a good reminder as I continued to let my friend's situation touch me . I needed to remember to not fill up on a diet of worry. I needed to remember not to flail about in a frenzy and waste my energy. I needed to remember to exercise my strong back. Part of this was to follow all the leads, to check in on her and do what needed to be done.

Many phone calls filled up the day and furniture and trinkets left the house as our downsizing continued. There was even a bowl of Thai green curry at a local noodle shop and a good laugh to be had amongst it all. We posted a single bed for free on a local site and a lovely young couple with 3 kids came to claim it. When they had left my partner went to sweep up the dust bunnies that have natural homes under all beds. These bunnies looked like the jack rabbits of dust bunnies looming largely in the far corner. Well it turned out that the dust bunnies were in fact a dead bird,probably a sparrow brought in by the long gone, Bunny the cat (who left here in May)! We laughed at the thought that the young couple may have seen the bird. "Did you see that Susan, those people had a dead bird under there bed, eeww! And they didn't even have a cat!"

And so life goes on, with dead birds, and hopes for a place for my friend, and a scouting trip tomorrow for a new place for us to live; the varied tapestry that makes up a day and weaves together a life. And always the Dharma is there working behind the scene, delivering perspective and sanity to a sometimes crazy world.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

About helping and attachment

Here is the continuing saga... In my head I knew I shouldn't be attached to how the story of my friend without a home played out. I meet with a group of friends every Wednesday morning and I had great hopes that someone there would have something to offer that might help this woman, a place to park her vehicle off the street, a temporary shelter where she could exchange work or care for housing, some sort of lead. But at the end of the morning it seemed no one could think of an option that might work. Maybe someone might even have a lead on the little chinook camper that she was determined was the only replacement for her wrecked camper. I felt my heart sink and saw all the signs of disappointment and attachment to results when the morning ended. A common scenario I think, we know some spiritual truth in our heads, but it plays out differently in our lives. Theory and practice sit at different ends of the highway. There it is reminding us of our work, the suffering we cause ourselves through our wanting, even if what we want is wholesome and/or altruistic.

I made some phone calls to people in the helping professions that I know and followed a few threads. I could still feel that agitation of wanting, the wanting to resolve the problem, of wanting to get it taken care of. None of my leads produced a definitive answer but each one seemed to lead in the direction of a solution. I could see the inclination to impatience. Where are those return phone calls?!

In the afternoon I went to visit my friend in her motorhome. She wasn't there. And for some reason that made me feel like she was okay, that life was going on for her, that I didn't need to rescue her. I left her a note and later she called back to thank me for my concern and offers and to remind me that I had already done some things for her, that all she really needed was for me to be there for her, that I didn't need to rescue her.

And so I relaxed into what else had to be done in my life right now which consists of finding homes for the pieces of furniture and other "stuff" that I don't need or want to take with me when I move and finding a place to move to when March 1st rolls around. I no longer felt the stress of one more thing that needed to be done.

And so tomorrow will open with a few options that I can follow up for her, now without that insistent attachment to the outcome. Because she has trust and faith in the universe that she was able to convey to me I can relax into whatever comes up. It doesn't mean I won't follow all the leads that come up. It just means I won't be stressed out or feel need tugging on my coat sleeve. What a gift she has offered me. Who is helping who?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Life is As Much A Mystery As Anything

Maybe you can see the words on the wrapping in the picture here. They are simply line after line printed with the words thank-you. Today was a really weird day for me but one that I feel strangely thankful for.

In the morning as I sat in meditation I became aware of how I run my energy when I feel uncomfortable. I want to get out there and do stuff, make things happen. I want to declutter and pack and send emails. I had this picture of myself like Edvard Munsch's "Scream" kind of running off in a thousand directions all at once trying to make things right.

I could hear myself telling the story that after I got my studio cleaned I'd feel better. And then I realized the fallacy of that story. No, after I clean the studio, there will be one more thing to do before I can feel settled, and one more thing. The little self is like that. So I could see where the work lay. It was in finding the peace amidst the chaos or just being with that uncomfortable physical sense of rush and hurry that manifests itself in these situations, where the body speeds up, tenses up.

Later in the afternoon there were some loud knocks on the front door. It was a woman I had come to know through my mother, one of the few people who ever had true spiritual conversations with my mother. She lives in a camper van, moving from street to street each night, sometimes parking at the Walmart lot. She is in her 60's and has a slightly blind dog. She is a deeply spiritual woman, and unusual. She came because, she said, something told her to come see me. She and I have also had a few deeply spiritual discussions in the past. Today we talked a while about my mother and then she told me her story. Her van, her home, had been in an accident on New Year's Eve and no longer ran. She had it towed to a street and was now living there, waiting for a small insurance settlement to be concluded. Her dilemma revolved around needing some off street parking, some place to live, some more money from the insurance company although she did not actually say this in so many words. I put the pieces together as the afternoon progressed. She simply said she had got the feeling that she should come and see me and that somehow I might play a piece in the puzzle.

And so there I was in the middle of my own personal chaos of needing to find somewhere to live, of paring down and packing up 12 years of stuff and , knowing in my heart I could not invite this very intense human being to enter into my space and stay with me, and yet wishing I could do this. I have come from this less than authentic place before in my life and am sadly wiser for it. To offer generosity that does not come from the heart is a true recipe for disaster. And to her credit she knew this and could articulate it. I wavered back and forth between my own feelings of "why can't I be more generous" and the feeling that there was a way for me to help her that would present itself, something that would work for us both. Her openness and non attachment allowed me the space to do this. Her way of being in the world made it possible for me to not beat myself up for feeling ungenerous.

She needed to get back to her dog and so I offered her a ride which she accepted. I offered food which she declined but she asked to stop at the grocery store. She declined my offer to buy her groceries. We arrived back at her van where my heart strings were so tugged to see her living circumstances. As we chatted about how I might help, her insurance adjuster arrived to visit her. It seems she had touched him too and he had managed to offer a little more money than originally put forward. As we chatted with him we found she could have some more time. (As soon as she signs the releases papers and she takes the cheque they will take her vehicle away from her. It is considered a write off) Maybe one of the things she needed me to do was be there when the adjuster came. Who knows.

So as I left she reminded me that any help had to come with the right intention. When I got home my partner too felt humbled that he had been worrying about our situation of having a month and a half to find new housing and with adequate funds. Here was a woman who wasn't quite sure when I pulled round the corner if her truck with her precious dog in it would still be there.

So she has reminded me to look deeply inside for my leads on what to do next. She lived on Salt Spring for 8 years and could tell us all kinds of things about it, the most important being to listen to our hearts when we choose were to live. So I followed up one lead on a place she might go tonight. And I have a couple of others in mind for tomorrow. I feel strongly that I want to play some role in helping her sort things out.

I am reminded that every day is an adventure. And it feels like there is a reason that this person has appeared here and now. Life is as much a mystery as it is anything. This morning I woke up from a dream in which I had found a home. Maybe I have.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Dharma of Moving House

Recycling is good, right? I mean I have posted these little Buddha boxes before, so technically I am recycling my art again. But you've seen that before in this neck of the woods. If this were a blue box, it would be full.

As I get ready to move I am cleaning my studio, ruthlessly going through things. Studio = chaos central right now, as if some foolish person (that would be me) picked every bin and tub and box up and let it go overhead. There are random bits of art shrapnel everywhere, a mini materials explosion has clearly taken place. I amuse myself by reading little bits of paper I have cut out:"show us how you did it with snapshots" reads one from vintage magazine, "Make a poster that shows how to protect your heart." says a cut out from a 50's school health book.

There is an edginess, an uncomfortableness to this process of purging. Sometimes I loose my way in the sorting and feel overwhelmed. I wander, I pace, I waste time. A little trip for a cup of tea or a walk make for skillful means to help me regain my composure. Sometimes I just work past the edginess and come out the other side, like a gopher with a front door and a back entry. It's like all of practice really, watching what we do and working with it honestly.

But it is all good, this purging and cleaning. Moving house has lots of good Dharma in it. I am practicing letting go on a very concrete level, letting go of gathered stuff, the oh-I'll-use-that-someday-stuff. Do we try to make ourselves feel more secure and solid by surrounding ourselves with things? Do we create our selves by the stuff we gather? Your stuff is different than my stuff, right?

So right now I am divesting myself of a lot of things. My mantra has become "keep only what you love or use on a daily basis". It is a good exercise. Sometimes I put things in the "let it go" box only to reclaim it later. It's kind of funny to watch. In the colliding realm where the inner and outer worlds are connected this purging of stuff feels like a directed effort to lighten up, to blur the edges of the self.

So closet and cupboard cleaning are the salient projects these days as March rushes towards me. There is something freeing in parting with stuff. A lot of it has accumulated in an unconscious sort of way over the 12 years we've lived here. Some of it has come my way from my mother. I ask myself how many tea cups and saucers that I never use, do I really need? (Is that a koan?) Do they make my mother seem any closer, held more dearly in my memory. I have never been particularly sentimental about stuff. Tea cups and needle point are set up in the dining room for sorting through.

In a strange way we become the custodians of our stuff. We need space and drawers to hold our stuff, houses to protect our stuff. And these days it seems we need lots of plastic tubs to put our stuff in. We have people come in and make sure our stuff is okay when we go away. We need to protect our stuff from others, especially those who have less stuff than we do.

I am also finding that all this moving stuff is an opportunity to embrace a little courage. I could retreat into fearfulness or worry (which happens sometimes) or I can lean into it and enjoy the adventure of going out and looking for a new place to live. Yesterday we took the ferry as foot passengers and met our realtor. We roamed hopefully over a number of properties. It was fun in a hopeful sort of way and we consumed large gulps of information. I could see how easy it is to get thrown off one's game as we looked at places. We had to continually refocus on what it was we really wanted. We could see the inclination to take what's not quite right in the rush to "solve the problem" of finding a place to live. Holding onto our vision but remaining open is the middle path we're aiming to travel here. And the steering on this stretch of the highway can get a little wonky.

So courage and letting go were the lessons of yesterday and today courtesy of the SOLD sign on the front lawn. If this were an episode of Sesame Street, it would be brought to you by the letter S and I'd be flapping about like Big Bird, but the whole process hasn't made me quite that crazy yet.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Comfort Soup

I confess. I am a "feelings" junkie. I live in a thick bubbling soup of feelings. I am not so much a thinker but a feeler. This rich stew of feelings is like a pot of winter evening soup, roiling and boiling. Ingredients rise to the top and surface at random, a small fluffy dumpling of delight, one moment, the pungent scent of fear, next, perhaps, a hard lump of sadness later.

As the sun disappeared this evening, the soup sent up little tendrils of melancholy for no apparent reason. Sometimes there is a reason, as in someone turned up the heat on the pot, but sometimes feelings just arise. Is there some deep human sense of melancholy associated with the falling of night or the depth of winter? Or is it something more karmic, peculiar to this body/mind in this lifetime, or perhaps carried over from other lifetimes if you care to tug on that green bean.

I can remember my Zen teacher once saying to me "that feelings were not a good measure of things". If the soup gets too hot, it can burn your mouth. Like our thoughts, feelings are cycling through, ebbing and flowing and not a solid ground on which to rest our choices. They are impermanence manifest in the heart. A favourite bumper sticker of mine is "don't believe everything you think." Ditto for feelings too.

As I write theses words it seems important to distinguish "feelings" from that deeper sense of "knowing" that comes from inside, that may seem illogical or irrational but carries intuitive information that is a good basis for choices. I am learning to work with this. It can be very difficult to discern this "knowing" and only through experimenting with it, it seems to me, do we get an actual sense of it. I remember a number of us asking our teacher with such urgency, "how will I know the still small voice?" "how can I distinguish it from my imaginings and my longings?" Have faith and patience she would say and you will become acquainted with it.

And so as I sit here on this wintery, evening, the furnace has come on and there is a soft yellow glow to the light coming from the dining room. I think there is a tasty bowl of soup being created in the kitchen, filled with wonderful comforting things like cabbage and tomato and onion and potatoes. Comfort is bubbling to the top.

Monday, January 4, 2010

In the Circus of Fear, What Colour Are Your Tights?

There is so much happening in the small space between my ears right now. I'm trying to coax it out onto the page in some recognizable, sensible form, but I think it's more likely to spill out in a tangled ball, like something the cat dragged out of the knitting bag. I'd prefer it to be eloquent and wise but as the Rolling Stones once pointed out "you don't always get what you want."

I have had the great pleasure over the holidays of visiting and spending time on a lot of new blogs; art blogs and Buddhist blogs. I have found lots of sharing of wonderful new inspiring art book and some looking forward and setting of intentions for the year to come. Lots to savour and digest.

Even though the calendar has flipped over to the new year and the party ice has melted in the sink I am spending a few more days in holiday mode. Our daughter is here from out of town until Wednesday so regular programming has not yet returned to this channel. It's an interesting time of year, watching the pre-holiday energy build, reach it's peak and then end. A little year end symphony. The consensus on a lot of blogs is that it's nice to be back to our inspiring work of making art and looking forward.

Today I am aware of a slightly melancholy sense of it all. I always feel a little sad when the Christmas tree leaves the building which happened here on Saturday. In the past I would push those feelings away because sad was an uncomfortable feeling, but now I am okay with that slightly bittersweet sense of it. I usually like the sense of returning to the serene post tree-in-the-house-look but this year there is a slightly edgy feeling as I take inventory of all the things that have to be packed up for moving. I will not be making the house beautiful and returning to my work. I will be going through things and deciding what to keep and what to give away. I am feeling the uncomfortable pulsing of impermanence. Adventure I remind myself, think adventure, not trepidation. Or perhaps don't think at all!

And today we got up in the dark and rain and made the ferry trip over to Salt Spring Island to look for a new place to live. We returned in the dark and rain, at the other end of the day, no house in our eco-friendly shopping bag. I could feel a little mist of worry and fear settle on me as we pulled into the driveway. I got to see the inclination to want to have things solved and settled. The human inclination, I think. I sat with that nubbly, wavy, uncomfortable sense for a bit. I did my stint on the tight rope of fear where the trick is to stay with it, but not indulge it, to let it pass without falling off (no net in this circus). The clown on the edge of the stage kept shouting at me to keep my eye on the ball and have faith. I looked at him a bit crossly and told him he had the wrong act.

So I feel that edgy sense of danger and opportunity in the new year more poignantly this year than others. I will need to sit a lot and pack a lot and keep my rope walking tights nearby. And in deference to right speech I promise not to shout at the clown next time.