Saturday, November 27, 2010

Technology As Practice

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?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Poking Holes In The Busy Mind

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?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Dharma of Bugs Bunny

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.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bidding For Good

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.....

Friday, November 19, 2010

Nourishing Your Inner Being

"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?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What Makes You Crazy?

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.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thoreau's Dharma

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?

Monday, November 8, 2010

How Do You Work?

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.

And how is it when you work?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Is Your Life A Dream?

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?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Exploring the Spiritual Landscape

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?