Monday, April 25, 2011

XOX Buddha & The Shoe Salesman

Here's a new work, 24"x 24". As time goes on I find I like to work on bigger surfaces. An interesting admission from someone who started their art career on 5"x7" card stock! I was so intimidated by large surfaces but now I find small ones constraining. Another hard left for the guy in the impermanence corner! "All things arise and they pass away," as the the little chant goes that we sometimes do to end our meditation evenings.

I want to share a lovely, at times hilarious Dharma talk that I watched last night here. It's by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and I have to say there is something I totally love about this guy's Dharma and the Bon tradition. There is a wisp of the ethereal in it, a large measure of practicality; it overflows with wisdom and his talks are never without the sweet taste of humour. A great recipe in my mind and the more you listen to him, the more you see how deeply understands the western mind.

The talk I listened to was on creativity, but I would say it applies to all of life, rather than "the arts". He's talking about a creative approach. He talks a lot about the stories we run with, the ones we tell ourselves and others. And it is in fact belly laugh material. At one point he says something like, "I don't know all of your family and friends but I know that one person who gives you trouble. I hear about them all the time. I don't know if you even have other family members other than this one difficult person."

At one point he proposes that what we really need is therapists we go to and all we can tell is the good stories about our life, the happy picnic we remember as a child, the co-worker who we get along with. Hmm, sign me up!

And he reminds us of the impact our habitual negative thoughts have on our whole being. He is encouraging us to lighten up, to nourish ourselves with stories of what is right in our lives; what was right in the past, what was nourishing today, what's delicious on the horizon.

And of course it's not about living in stories, but it's about using our mind in wholesome ways. It is inevitable that we will think thoughts, why not train the mind to give weight to the nourishing ones, instead of the old patterns of worry, fear and depression. If unwholesome thoughts arise as they will, we don't need to energize them. This is our work. It's as RM Jiyu Kennett of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives said, "The mind makes a good servant but not a very good master." And never to negate the value of simply being present with what is, without words or stories. This too is incredibly nourishing.

I will end with a story that he shares. Two shoe salesmen go to Africa and find a huge population of bare footed people. One salesman says, "no, this will never work, no one wears shoes here." The other salesman looks at the same sight and says, "wow, look at the potential here." Which salesman are you? I know what I've been selling myself. Time to change my mind shopping habits.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Suffering & Your Magnificence

I forgot that I'd created this image to go with my BuddhaRocks Violates the Second Precept post, so here it is today. Waste not, want not, better late than never. Hmm what other trite-ism can I wedge in here to prop up my failing memory?

And I actually am going to promise new art with the next post! Yes it's true despite my preoccupation with washing windows and raking up the windfall of at least 10,000 pine cones, I do have a little something new from the studio, but that's another day. On with the show as Bugs Bunny used to say.

It has been a strange week here. Was it the full moon? Ask any emergency room worker and they will tell you about the mayhem of the full moon. And it did feel a bit like a triage unit around here. Confusion over some art placement, a new friend with a cancer diagnosis, a large unexpected bill and a myriad of small sun spots.

It was interesting to watch how I could iron out the first glitch of the week, fold it up neatly and put it in a drawer, but as multiple glitches got tangled in the wringer the mass of unruly laundry seemed to overwhelm. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't quite hang it all out to dry. I couldn't quite wash the stories out of my mind. Okay, enough dirty laundry, already.

A felt sense of unease and unrest followed me around. I felt the restless discomfort of knowing that anything can happen at anytime, a fact we most often avoid or medicate away. Pumpkin muffin, anyone? Would you like coffee with that? When there is no trouble in paradise it feels okay to say, "anything can happen at anytime" but somehow as the waves of dukkha rolled in, I had this sense that I was drowning in them. I felt the need to look over my shoulder to see what was coming. I felt the truth that there was no high ground to run to. And so the week was filled with an edgy restlessness and a strange craving for some Dharmic understanding that would help me let go of it all.

And there was the lesson. I couldn't make it go away. As my friend the Zen monk used to say, "it's not on our timelines." My week was restless and edgy, that was it. And as I quietly washed windows today and took time to just look at the clumps of spring green grass, everything just was. The restlessness abated and everything was okay.

I will end with a quote on suffering from Phillip Moffitt entitled "Suffering is Noble":

Suffering has gained a bad reputation in Western society. We view it as a mistake, something shameful, or a sign of powerlessness and inadequacy. Many, maybe most, people have a conscious or unconscious bias against the idea that their suffering is noble. It is ironic that this attitude prevails when just the opposite is true: Your suffering presents an opportunity for the most relevant, sophisticated, inspiring, and useful inquiry you could conduct in your life. The Buddha called the Truth of Dukkha “noble” precisely because suffering requires that which is most magnificent in you to come forth.

from "Dancing with Life"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 & The Second Precept

Adam from Fly Like A Crow alerted me the other day that a blog called was reposting my blog content without permission or credit and that of several others in the Buddhist blog community (Dangerous Harvest & The Zennist). Turns out this has been going on for at least a year. We write and post, he reposts, no credit, no link, no acknowledgement. Apparently there's a word for it in the blogosphere. It's called "scraping", no bowing involved.

Now there is a strange quality to this action in my mind. For starters, you don't have to be a Buddhist to know that taking something without permission is not particularly ethical. I think if you explained the situation to most 8 yr olds, they would tell you it wasn't the "nice" thing to do. But it has an especially odd aroma to poach Buddhist flavoured writings. We're writing about awareness and considered behaviour and karma, and working with our desires. In fact the second precept in Buddhism, speaks directly to this issue: "Do not take what is not given".

I don't pay a great deal of attention to it but there has been a flurry of news of Sangha Sex Scandals lately, involving teachers and students and there is also a precept that speaks to care in the use of sexuality. So what's the deal? Where there are rules and humans it seems, there will be transgression. Perhaps those who cross the ruled line somehow reason the rules are not for them, their situation is exceptional somehow. Perhaps they avoid thinking about the issue altogether, simply doing what suits them in the moment without reflection. Perhaps their desire for something (sex, adsense dollars) is so strong they can't control their behaviour. I can never know the motivation of others for sure.

There is so much to consider at the point where rules and slippage collide. What about karma, the inevitable consequences of our actions. Am I judging, am I being self righteous in asking what's going on here. In my tiny pea brain, I assume some level of awareness in those involved or interested in studying Buddhist practice or any spiritual path for that matter, so why would you take an action that requires only a little thought to see it's unethical flavour? And when it's pointed out to you, don't you think you might cease and desist (this is cop talk for drop the blog posts) Don't you only have to ask the simple question, "how would I like it, if I was on the receiving end?" This is a simple question that even small children seem to understand.

We all have blind spots, places where we cannot see our actions clearly, where delusion prevails. So if we consider the second precept of "not taking what is not given" we can probably find a place where we cross the line. Did you have a taste from the bulk bin or borrow a newspaper in the hotel hallway? Maybe? Steal a car, rob a bank? Probably not.

So BuddhaRocks has offered us the first part of a great teaching. We have had the opportunity to reflect on the second precept from several angles. Can BuddhaRocks now offer us the opportunity to see someone consider their behaviour and make changes that truly reflect the blog name of both the Buddha and a rock? We're waiting, with palms together.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dharma Porridge, Ingredients: Hurt, Rejection & Self Doubt

Yesterday I arrived home after an all day sit at the intensely beautiful Stowel Lake Farm to find a somewhat unpleasant phone message, at least one I didn't appreciate. I won't go into the details but it revolved around a request to hang some of my work. After several trips and some preparation on my part, the person had changed their mind. Now what came up very quickly was not the work I'd done or the time I'd put in to prepare the pieces but the instant arising of the feelings of rejection.

If you write or display art, you are familiar with some level of rejection but sometimes it's the particular circumstances that bring it up more strongly. In this case, having been here, done this before, I wanted to try another way than feeling angry, rejected, and spiraling down the rabbit hole of doubting my own competence (Alice, are you there?).

Yes those things arose (and what is anger, but hurt?) I know this one well. And so while these things arose and I squirmed and looked for a cookie, a cup of coffee, something to ease the sting, I did stay with the sticky, heavy sense, just hanging out with it. But I did another thing. I asked myself a couple of questions. Why do I feel this way? What would I be like if I didn't feel hurt?

The answers were interesting, helpful and strangely comforting. I answered that if I felt confident about myself and my work, I would not take this change of heart in the person as a personal affront. I would simply see it as her changing her mind (for some reasons that I could actually agree with). I could see this as a simple truth, like if you catch your jacket on a nail and it tears. You might not be happy but you see what happened. Humans being slightly more complicated than nails, I can never really know all the reasons.

What this reminded me of was the old Dharma lesson, that if we pin our feelings, our responses, our state of mind, our self worth, our lives on outside circumstances, we will be blown about like a dandelion seed head. There will always be some little breeze pushing us around. I was reminded (not in an ego sort of way) but in a "be a pillar" sort of way, to have confidence, to not throw myself into a vat of doubt, because someone had simply changed their mind. I know this spinning off into doubt intimately, I own a very large loom, built specifically for this purpose. In fact if I didn't know better, I'd think I invented this particular loom (rhymes with doom and gloom).

It was a wonderful Dharma lesson and I must say I moved in and out of darkness for the evening, this being a long standing habitual response for me; me, oh lover of approval. But this morning I could pick up my art work, have a chat about why it didn't work for the recipient and give her a hug before I left. (She has her own set of troubles). It felt good and it was all over. No karmic residue, no dark cloud following me around. And this is truly why I practice the Dharma. So I can live a slightly saner life, with a little less suffering.

Friday, April 15, 2011

One Thing Doesn't Stand Against Another

I have been painting, not on canvas, not on cradled panels, no paper involved. No Buddhas, no abstract marks, just swaths of green paint, the colour of Martha Stewart's fancy chicken eggs. Painting walls, struggling with the application of eco friendly paint that doesn't quite cover like that old toxic stuff. But it's done now, the zendo painted, from it's deep purply brown that stole light from the room, to a gentle green that calls the forest in at the windows.

I like the feeling of small accomplishments, a room painted, a meal prepared for visiting friends, a feeling somehow of making this place home, cleaning, tidying, bringing order, becoming the caretakers and grateful dwellers of this place.

We have been working to get the inside things done in the hope that the sun will soon shine and call us out to spend whole days in the great outdoors, the dream of pale sun deprived northerners before summer arrives. We burned that last of some old branches, paying attention to the burn ban that took effect today even though the ground still sucks at your boots at the far end of the pond. Other branches will get composted in piles in the woods. Always honest work to do in the country, work that employs muscles and organs and quiets the mind. An opportunity to hear the towhees screech, see an eagle fly overhead, watch a deer loaf in the meadow.

And while all the work and pretty making is fine, it is important to know, I remind myself, that I can never really control life, by creating a facade of order. I can never stop the movement of the shifting and changing nature of life by trying to arrange things in ways that please me. Trees fall, roofs leak, muscles get pulled. And yet this doesn't negate me working to create beauty or enjoying the pleasing look of a pile of brush removed from a grassy knoll. One thing does not stand against the other. In fact knowing that things will change, that things can turn in ways that may not please me, helps me when the inevitable happens. I am not so surprised. I may still be rattled, but I don't ask, why me, why now?

I am reading a wonderful little book on karma called "Kamma and the End of Kamma" (kamma is the Pali for the Sanskrit, karma) by Ajahn Sucitto. Here's a nice little quote from the book as I head off to read some more of it. I am filling it with underlines and undoubtedly I will share more wise bits as the days go on: "... Because I can't hold onto what I want and can't get away from what I don't want, the underlying mood of self is restless and unfulfilled. I keep trying to find the good state... but this one isn't quite it. Thus there is dis-ease. Liberation from this dis-ease and stress is thus synonymous with Awakening out of the dissatisfied self."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Reading The Self

I am having a lovely quiet morning and noticing the 2 stacks of books I have lying on the very deep window sill of my bedroom. I have often thought it would be fun to write a novel that consisted only of people's shopping lists, to do lists and the stacks of books left lying around the house. It would work in terms of characterization, but I'm not sure how action packed it would be. I suppose the "to do" list for each day could provide the action and movement, the climax, denouement and final resolution? Perhaps the difference between the "to do" list and what actually got stroked off at the end of the day would move it forward?

But I digress, as the mind so willingly loves to play and dart about. Here are my 2 stacks of books, piled near the bed, for reference, as books I hope to pick up again, as books partly read, none of these completely abandoned as yet
One stack contains: "No Time To Loose" by Pema Chodron on the bottom, meant for revisitng. On top of this sits David Sedaris', "Holiday On Ice" lent to me by a friend and partly read while I had the flu, hilarious is all I can say. On top of that is "Pipi Longstockings" by Astrid Lindgren, an old favourite of mine, Pipi is kind of my patron saint, in a strange way and I mean to do a post about the dharma of Pipi. Next up is Thich Nhat Hanh's "Peace Is Every Step", an early Dharma book of mine and well thumbed. I used to read the part about how to eat an orange to my daughter when she was young. I think this book is out because there's quite a buzz on the west coast about his August visit to Vancouver. And topping off the pile is "Light Comes Through" by Dzigar Kontrul Rinpoche, a delicious little book read a while back and there for leafing through when the urge strikes. You can never have too many books by your bed!

Pile number two has Jack Kornfield's "A Wise Heart" , revisited not too long ago as the meditation group I am now sitting with is associated with Spirit Rock, which Kornfield is part of. Next up is "True Perception" by Chogyam Trungpa. It's about art, but while there are some gems in it, I have always found him a hard read, so this one has been read in fits and starts, as my mother would have said. Next up is "All About Colour", by Janice Lindsay, a fascinating book about the history and psychology of colour. I read it at intervals. I love it but it is a bit of a dense read for me. Next up is a very old Dharma book of mine, set out because a friend recently mentioned it as the first Dharma book he read (on my recommendation). It's "Open Heart, Clear Mind by Thubten Chodron. And topping the stack is "Creative Authenticity" by Ian Roberts, read once quite greedily when first received and now waiting for a more contemplative pass through.

What's in your reading stack? On your "to do" list, either stroked off or still waiting? Can we know ourselves or others through these tidbits? Is there a self to know, that ever moving changing creature? Perhaps our lists can tell us about our longings, our aspirations, our inclinations or our state of mind at some point in time, like a little snap shot?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dharma Artists & Your Creative Signal

If you hang out here a bit, you might think you've seen this image before and you'd be right. I am asking you to do a little practice based on the words on the canvas. Empty your mind of this form and then it will seem fresh and new, rather than my slightly lame attempt to post art when there is nothing new and fresh out of the easy bake studio. Perhaps a few old, burnt ones; nasty and chewy and bitter (to quote Rudyard Kipling).

It seems for me there are specific things that come up on my Dharma radar for me to chew on (how would an air traffic controller feel about that mixed metaphor??). And lately it's about paying attention to the "still, small voice", the inner knowing, whatever it is you like to call that.

I love the idea that your whole life can be lived from this place. There are a couple of Dharma painters that work in this way and it is something I am aiming that little arrow of self at. Tibetan teacher and artist, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche is one of them. Here's an interesting comment he makes regarding the practice of art:

"I wish to urge students of the dharma who may have forsaken their creative impulse in favor of practice to realize there is no conflict between creativity and meditation. Creativity can be understood, in essence, to be the practice of our own nature and that nature's expression. You may find your way in to the nature through creativity; or you may come out from the nature to express creativity. Both have to be appreciated as the best of our mind's potential." - Kongtrul Rinpoche

His website found here, makes this comment about his chosen manner of painting: Out of all the Western traditions, abstract expressionism caught his attention due to its acceptance of formless technique, which closely mirrors the relaxation of strict discipline found in advanced meditation" There is a great little video of him at work that you can watch on his website.

Through him I discovered Yahne le Toumelin who he has studied with and who also works in abstraction, in this same intuitive way, listeniing to that inner knowing of where to go with a painting and when it feels complete. Turns out Yahne le Toumelin is Mathieu Ricard's mother, who now lives in a monastery in France. You can find her website here and in the description of her it states: " Andre Breton when writing about le Toumelin, as early as 1957 commented : "The success of a work depends on the interior 'state' (assuming the balance to be at the highest degree of tension towards wisdom) of its creator"."

Many artists work in this way, without any reference to Buddhism or spirituality, although it is my belief that all art is spiritual and that all of us have a creative impulse, whether we listen to it or not? If you tune in you will find a station that is uniquely yours with a broadcast signal only you can transmit, one that will energize and enliven you. So grab that headset, a paint brush, a needle and thread, a pen, or maybe a pastry brush and explore.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Turning Our Ears Around & Getting Cling Free

I am doing two things these days. Eek it's Dharma multi tasking! To start with I have turned my ears around. I know, you'd like to see a picture but I'm afraid you're just going to have to take my word for it.

I have turned them around to facilitate listening to that sense of inner knowing. Okay, the gig's up. It's just a metaphorical turning of the ear. I am talking about listening to the body and the heart.

I am taking an energy healing course and last week saw an energy healer. Now if you think this is all crazy, new age stuff, you'd be..., well let's say that would be your belief. Let's get out the spiritual anti-static dryer sheet and all get cling free. If I were being product specific, I might say let's get some spiritual bounce going here.

As I study the energy of the body I am being reminded how much "information" and wisdom is inside of us, stored in the body in ways we don't know and don't address. The head is one way of knowing. And let me add, there is nothing wrong with what the noggin knows, it is just different from what the heart and the body know. And I am learning more about sensing this inner wisdom, about listening and trusting.

And that brings me to the second part of the equation. I am learning to trust, to trust what happens, to know that it makes sense in some larger version of the world, that it is wider than my small, personal vision. As my friend the Buddhist monk said this morning when we chatted, "something greater is at work here." This is the wonderful, sumptuous, mystery of life. Sometimes we feel exasperated by it, but if we can just appreciate the mystery, there is something quite delicious about the unseen, the unknown. It offers us surprise, amazement and gratitude as rewards. When we allow, interesting synchronistic events move into our line of vision.

So what is up on my Dharma radar is all about listening to the inner wisdom and having faith in what happens. In a way the faith is about acceptance. Byron Katie, in a book I'm reading called "A Thousand Names For Joy" talks about not arguing with what is. It doesn't mean we don't take appropriate action when necessary but we don't cling to "how we think things should be".

And of course in all this there is the good ol' Dharma practice of awareness. To listen to the body and the heart takes practice. You need to be quiet and attentive. So in the spirit of my current Dharma passion, I will be quiet now.