Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Taste of Attachment

Another enso. Another day. More Thoughts.

"Not knowing how to work with thought means one is controlled by thoughts. Knowing how to work with thought means that thought is brought into awareness and used either for positive purposes and virtuous action or is liberated into its empty essence. This is how thought is utilized in the path. In the same way, we can bring delusion, suffering, and any experience whatsoever into the path. But to do so we must understand that the essence of all that arises is empty. When we do, then every moment of life is free and all experience is spiritual practice: all sound is mantra, all form is pure emptiness, and all suffering is a teaching. This is what is meant by “transforming into the path.” - Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

Teaching, suffering, attachments, lots of thoughts all mixed together in a gooey stew. This was today's meal. And when it was served up we got to chew on some hard bits and some bitter tastes we didn't much care for but there you have it, life stew 101.

You need all the tastes, salty, sour, sweet, bitter and pungent to create a really memorable dish. Today's meal was made up of the news that the owners of this lovely property are not ready to sell it. While we understand, we were filled with sadness and disappointment. We got to see how attached we'd become, how we rested our hopes on a few spoken sentences. And how this imbued meaning, these thoughts created suffering. Simple story. And the work was to not deny our disappointment but to spend some time with these weighty feelings, shed a few tears and not run with a story. Not to call ourselves foolish for harbouring hope, not to incriminate others for speaking words that fostered hope, but simply to know this is a common human dance. If we were wiser beings we might have been completely open to whatever came along. But being lesser mortals we drifted in and out of sadness and disappointment

But nothing is ever wasted if you learn from it. We learned how quickly hope can build and how little is needed to fuel it. And we learned that it's all okay. No one did anything wrong. It is an opportunity now to move in a different direction. My old Dharma teacher always said, "a no is as good as a yes". It is an opportunity to look up and have faith and trust that things work themselves out, that there is a bigger picture that we don't see.

And as we ate our dinner we remembered to have gratitude for these folks who have generously shared their beautiful home with us. It was a wonderful, magical welcome to the island. We look forward to the next step into the great unknown. May life bring you what you need.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Precious Human Life Meets Summer

Here's a new piece, 20"x 24". It's called Andy's Buddhas. I know you can guess why. Each little Buddha is wearing a verse from the Dhamapada and the bottom block of green has the words from "This Precious Life" by 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 thoughts 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

Yesterday as I was hanging the laundry (a favourite meditation of mine) I felt this deep sense of being home, of true joy. I am generally a slightly grumbly type but this place just fills me with gratitude. Everything about it seems just right for me. There is privacy and quiet and a beautiful rural quality to the place. I can hang out in the garden. I can water the plants in my pyjamas with my hair standing in ways that would frighten small children. I can spend endless hours messing around with art materials. I have found placement for my art in several venues and the natives here seem uncannily friendly when you go into town.

I realized as I counted my blessings that these were all outward manifestations that could change at any time and that true equanimity comes from being okay with whatever comes up. This in fact deepens the gratitude and joy for me, knowing how special and fleeting such things can be. Appreciating and enjoying the small pleasures of life does not stand against knowing that our true essence lies somewhere deeper. The most "spiritual" beings I have met are filled with laughter and joy. They are also filled with faith and trust in what presents itself. My old Dharma teacher recently gave a talk on the Rolling Stones line: "You don't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might get what you need." Who knew the Rolling Stones were Dharma teachers?

So while the weather isn't overly cooperative in this part of the world we are enjoying the pleasures of summer. Yesterday we wandered a bit in the local Saturday market, picked a huge bowl of strawberries from the patch down by the pond. And following the lead of merci 33 I decided to sleep outside under the full moon. No matter I needed long underwear and a wool sweater. And I slept under the covered part of the deck so when the rain started at 3 in the morning I simply rolled over. The night air was filled with the sounds of frogs and the occasional hooting of owls. Yet at 3 in the morning silence had the upper hand. The moon moved in and out of the clouds and skirting along the tops of the fir trees.

What will you do to welcome this delicious, delicate, fleeting season?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Simplicity 5364

Here's a little mixed media piece I just finished. I love working with vintage sewing patterns these days (although nothing gets sewed which in my case is probably quite fortunate). There's something about the translucent look of the paper when it melts into the canvas or panel. I love the lettering and images for no particular reason that I understand. And I do seem to be obsessed with these tar gel ensos lately too. This piece is called Simplicity 5364, a little nod to the pattern title from whence this Buddha came.

I heard a little gem of simplicity at a day long meditation retreat I attended on Sunday. It was suggested that when working with "right speech" from the eightfold path, rather than thinking of it as a rule, we could use it to look at our intentions. Why did I just say that? Why did I criticize or speak sharply or whatever it is that happens to fly out of our mouths. Examining our speech in this way is an opportunity to go deeper. Often we might find our words were motivated by fear. Maybe it's fear that we might not get what we want. Anger might cover up our hurt, some tender spot that's been poked by someone. Does some circumstance make us feel small or vulnerable or unconsidered?

I like the idea of considering what motivated my "wrong speech" because it gives me the opportunity to get to know myself a little better. Often that wrong speech just pops out and then we go on to justify what we've said (or done). But if we stop and do a little archeological dig, we might find that just a certain look on someone's face can trigger insecurity in us which then might prompt us to say something less than friendly. We are filled with these Pavlovian responses that murmur along like little underground streams. Our awareness can help us unearth these little streams, even dry them up in some cases. But if we know where the streams are at least we won't drown in them. Okay someone turn the hose on me, enough streaming (and without video, oi!)

I have been enjoying the simplicity of just painting and gardening. The more time I spend in the studio, the more I seem to settle into it, the more I want to get back in there, (kind of like sitting meditation, don't you think?). I have a few more new pieces to post (gasp!) and 7 pieces found their way to Starfish Gallery in Ganges today. If you're in the neighbourhood, pop in for a look.

And the garden.... As well as simplicity, it is a source of sheer joy for me. I could just go out there in the morning with my coffee and stay for the day. As the day wears on and I tire I tend to get closer to the ground. It's quite funny to watch. Eventually I am down there at eye level with the cilantro and the slugs, happily doing a little hand weeding. Who is that woman crawling through the garden? But I am tired and happy. There are the pleasing rows of freshly watered plants, the bursts of orange california poppies and the divine scent of a yellow honeysuckle, a smell so large it fills the entire garden in the evening.

I will end with a lovely garden quote that has a very dharmaesque quality. It's from a little book I love called "Zen Gardening" by Veronica Ray. "The principle value of a private garden is not to give the possessor vegetable and fruit... but to teach him patience and philosophy, the higher virtues, -- hope deferred and expectations blighted." - Charles Dudley Warner.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Prescription For Pain

This image is a portion of the mixed media piece "Quan Yin". I recently added some text to it. If you look closely you will see om mani padme hum in tiny letters and then the larger text "She who hears the cries of the world". The prayer for all sentient beings appears in the upper right of the piece (not shown here).

On the topic of compassion, this evening I listened to a recorded webcast by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche called Turning Pain Into The Path. His talk, from the Dzogchen perspective offered fairly simple (not easy), straightforward suggestions for approaching our lives. First he talked about how mostly we try to escape our own pain and that of others. If we have a problem, in the hopes of feeling better, we might say, oh, look at John over there, his problems are worse. Mine are not so bad. But Rinpoche points out that all we are doing is replacing one thought with another. We haven't really addressed the basic problem. Our pain will pop up again. It exists. Attempts to pretend it doesn't simply don't work.

His solution to our pain is to be with it, to acknowledge it, to care for it. Mostly we just want it to be over and use our energy to push it away. He offers a prescription, 3 pills: stillness, silence, and spaciousness. These are the things we want to apply to our own pain and that of others. We want to surround our pain with these medications (or is that meditations), just to sit with them, to care for them. Normally if we have a problem we feel agitated and restless. We want to do something, say something. We want to eat something, have a drink, go to a movie. The chatter in our heads can drive us crazy. Or if it's someone else who has the problem we want to solve it for them, offer advice rather than support. "Think of your pain as a friend or family member in trouble," Rinpoche suggests. "What would you do that would really feel supportive to them" Ultimately the most helpful thing is to offer them your undivided presence.

Of course surrounding pain with silence and stillness and spaciousness, whether it's physical or emotional pain, whether it's our own anger or a friend's problem, is not easy for us. Rinpoche suggests that is because we are unaccustomed to doing this and because it is so unfamiliar we doubt its ability to be helpful. He suggests that this still place inside of us is who we really are (not our busy chattering egos) and that we can access it by, yes, get this, by being still. He teases that if we have a lot of pain we will need to take a lot of pills. And I don't know about you but I think I am going to swallow a whole bottle of these little pills and still need more. So I am hustling my little Rx down to the spiritual pharmacy. I think I'll take 3 pills and call you in the morning.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dharma Demons & A Trauma To The Head

I have been awol from the blogging world this week. If I had to write a note to the teacher it might look something like this: "Carole has been absent this past week because of a severe trauma to the head. She incurred this while trying to build an iweb site and register a domain name. She is still a bit dizzy and more stunned than usual so please excuse her from gym class."

Anyway the end result of banging my head against the internet is that you can visit and see an online portfolio which may be useful to me for more purposes than knocking myself silly.

I have noticed a couple of Dharma demons who visited me this week. The first one is what I would call an "habitual tendency", a term used by my Zen teacher. Over at Full Contact Enlightenment she links to an article which describes our "emotional signature" (which sounds a lot like habitual tendency). Don't you love that term, emotional signature? So we can say to friends, "Oh yes I signed that little drama we had yesterday with my emotional signature. Do you like the little flourish on the s or the way I always forget to dot the i?" No, not so much?" Anyway check out this piece by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, it is a very interesting read. And looks like he has a book coming out this fall called "Rebel Buddha". I love that title. I don't get too attached to words do I?

But I have digressed. Remember the Dharma demon I referred to a few thousand words back? My partner got sick, either a touch of the flu or food poisoning or something like that, on Monday. Well for me, a little alarm button goes off, all whiny, a fearsome little buzzer that goes something like: oh no, I hope I don't get this. I always catch everything. I don't want to be sick. I hate being sick. I will probably catch this, I always do." says she who has been shell-shocked by a number of illnesses in her adult life. I recognized the little refrain right away and immediately called in the mind to do a little remedial work. " We've got an emotional clean-up in aisle 6. And call out the neural pathway crew to lay in a new groove and put up "don't go there "sign on the old road." The crew did their work rather efficiently and while I imagined feeling a little unwell, the week passed sans stomach upset.

Demon #2 dropped in for a little visit yesterday while we were chatting with a friend about finding a house and property to buy here on the island. Several small, off-handed remarks by the chatee (or was he the chatter?) threw me into spasms of fear. Oh no, what if we can't find a place? What if everything is too expensive? too small? too ugly? Yada yada yada.

I recognized how little it takes to awaken those demons of fear and worry, a classic human habitual tendencies, I think. We bounce back and forth between fear and hope, I once heard Pema Chodron say. And again, once I could see what old monkey (or was that gorilla) mind was up to he collapsed like one of those inflatable clowns (not before he'd bounced around my mental landscape for a bit).

So that was my week, pursued by demons, brutalized by digital thugs. In between I had enough time to have lunch with friends in Victoria and deliver some art to ArtCraft for their summer show. How's your week been?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Heading To The Dump

Photo Fun

Now how much fun is this? I was visiting Alicia Tormey's wonderful art blog where she shared the site. I just had to hustle over there and try it. Is this my 15 minutes of fame or was that 15 seconds? You can dump in photos or artwork and amuse yourself. I'm not sure I like the frame but who am I to argue with a large (fake) public gallery.

What is it they say about fame and gain? Blame & shame, they're all the same. It's all about where we look for our validation? Or if we need validation, maybe that's more to the point. No matter how much we know it, we still catch ourselves looking somewhere for it. Or feeling insecure when it isn't offered. I sent a photo of a commission off today to someone and when they didn't respond with positive comments right away, off when the little alarm buzzer.

Just doing a commissioned piece is good practice or a form of torture, depending on how you stand in front of the canvas. It is either suffering that leads to more suffering or suffering that leads to the end of suffering. Or do I need to suffer at all? Instead of just working away I find myself immediately jumping in to judge it from my imagined viewpoint of the recipient. Note to self: Untie yourself from these twisted little knots. You'll never paint in that contorted position.

And often the artists I admire the most are the ones who do their art for the sheer joy of it or do it for themselves, never caring about whether they sell a scrap of it or not, whether anyone likes it or not. There is a freedom in that position that is reflected in the work. And whether you like their work or not you can admire their inner focus and their lack of regard for the opinion and confirmation of others. I am checking out their position on the map and getting out my spiritual gps gadget to head up that road. And in the meanwhile happy dumping.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Shape of the Day

Here's an oldie that I've added some finishing touches to, a little text and some bits from a vintage sewing pattern, a recent infatuation of mine. It's a little guy 8"x8", using some hand stamping and paint and experimenting with some walnut ink that gives things a kind of aged, tea washed look.

Yesterday a lot of art happened around here. It struck me in the morning that there are a usual number of things I get done during the day and that if I want to get to some of the long suffering tasks on my imaginary list of things I might someday do, I needed to rouse some extra energy and intention. Otherwise the status quo prevails.

I figured it's about being mindful about how I use my time and paying attention to the subtle momentum of habit; the way I move through the day rather unconsciously, drinking my tea, checking email and blogs, wandering here and there, doing this and that. It's amazing where the day goes.

So intention and mindfulness were the fuel that breathed life into 2 new projects and a cluster of old ones. I learned something about directing my energy instead of sliding along on the surface of the day, nothing aggressive or pushy about it, just a little forward momentum and the universe cooperating with me.

On a slightly different note I'd like to share a book with you that I've been reading. Our bodies are always reminding us about impermanence, how things change. The aches and pains, the wrinkles and bumps, nothing could be a more immediate reminder of this. A massage therapist I met on retreat, recommended a book called "Pain Free" by Pete Egoscue, saying it was the most intelligent book on the body she had ever read. His basic premise is in our modern lives, there is much of the body we don't use and conversely we use the rest of it in ways that promote misalignment of the body. He offers simple exercises to help with sore parts. Your sore shoulder may be the result of misaligned hips. Your dizziness could be corrected by a series of exercises that don't even involve your head (remember that thing that thinks its in charge?)

And I am really on a ramble tonight because I'm going to tell you about kombucha tea. I drank it while travelling in the US in March & April and it seemed to be everywhere. It's expensive to buy by the bottle but you can make it yourself. It's made from a fungus like thing (called a scoby which stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts.). It' a fermented entity and you need a "mother" (not your average mother, though). to start a batch.

So I put a note out saying I was looking for a mother (the fermenting variety), on the wonderful Salt Spring Island List Serve (which is like a mini round-up of what's up on the island, lost cats, found goats, free cows, rescued lamas (the furry kind), things for sale, things wanted) And by the kindness of strangers (which still always amazes and humbles me) a young woman offered me a kombucha starter. I met my kombucha connection today, have brewed up my tea and am using a positive attitude to get me to day 7 which will find me sipping delicious, healthy kombucha. A part of me always thinks I won't get it quite right and (in this case I'll kill my mother and poison myself) (hmm sounds like a Shakespeare play). Kombucha's claim to fame is that it's supposed to improve immune system function, detoxify the body and provide healthy bacteria and lactobacilli for the gut. So with any luck my mother will make me some fine tea.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What's Your Story?

"What's your story?" the emergency room doctor asked me. "Everyone has a story," I replied. He nodded and chuckled. My story consisted of a tale of being rear-ended and having some sore parts. (Isn't there a Rudyard Kipling story where a leopard says his spots ache? That was me on Sunday. Having freckles, I have the spots to ache.)

So there you are one moment driving along home with your weekend booty of grocery and art supplies and the woman behind you bends down to scratch her knee and boom, you get a whack on the back of the head. Dharma lesson on changeability. We never know what will happen or when.

I had a whiplash injury many years ago so the first thought was, (after what just happened?) I hope I don't have whiplash. And I could see the propensity to go with this oh, no, fear based dark little drama. And I'll admit to dipping my finger into this dark, enticing little sauce for a taste.

But I remembered something the Dalai Lama said in a piece I read recently. He commented that westerners get so elated when outer experiences are going well and so depressed when things are going badly. And as I looked at what had just happened I decided to try a little experiment. I resolved to navigate this without throwing myself into the deep end of the gloomy swimming hole. How about a little even keel? I asked myself. How about just doing the next thing that needs to be done? No story about how this might turn out and oh no, not my poor body again. How about ditching those habitual gloomy thoughts that stick to me like little prickly burrs in the grass. A little asking for help, a little prayer and an inclination to think everything might just be okay.

So we placed the accident report, found that the local hospital functions as the walk-in clinic and took care of business. I reminded myself not to succumb to my deep seated fear and dislike of hospitals. That's a big one for me. There is a physical and mental positioning that one creates based on fear, expectations and past behaviour. I did not put on that tight fitting black cloak for my walk through the hospital door. I am just doing what needs to be done, I reminded myself. No big deal.

And so here I am a couple of days later, feeling better and on the mend. We got to see the local hospital, meet a local doc and see that it is possible to navigate the unpleasant without adding on a whole lot of extra stuff. So there it is life unfolding and the Dharma showing the way.