Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Thinking About Hope (and a little art)

Here's a new little 8"x8" Buddha called "Buddha In The Sky With Diamonds".  I would have been more short winded if the Beatles had treated Lucy with more brevity.  That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.  I have been sneaking a little more painting time this week, stealing time from the garden (a thief with paint & garden dirt on their jeans).  I have been so inspired by the wonderful art blogs out there (Lynne Hoppe, Michele Meister and on and on) that the studio is calling louder than the neighbours roosters.   And this weekend we took in some live art.  First we went to a "Art Off The Fence" on Pender Island with some friends.  The weather was stellar, there was great art and the location was stunning.  Here's a little peek.

When I typed the file name I realized I called it Art Offence.  I am guilty of a few of these!

And as a small diversion, we decided to capture Mt. Baker for Canada. It seemed so close, officer, we thought it must be ours.  So we raised the flag, passed go and took a "get out of jail free" card.

We also took in The Sooke Fine Arts Show which was totally amazing.  The quality of the work was incredible.  I was totally smitten by the encaustic monk done by Marlowe Jaxen.  It sounds a bit like the monk had terminal illness, but all you artists know what I'm talking about.

And of course there was Dharma chat with Dharma friends.  The topic flying around my old Sangha these days is one surrounding "hope".  In conventional terms we think of "hope" as something positive, something we should cultivate, right?  At first sniff, hope smells quite pleasant but when you breath a little more deeply you catch the scent of something slightly off.  The Oxford dictionary defines hope as "expectation combined with desire."  Hmm, from a Buddhist point of view, we're not starting with the best recipe ingredients, are we?  Hope implies something we want in the future.  It may be something perfectly wonderful, like world peace or a new subaru station wagon.  And baked into that hope are the seeds of suffering, if we don't get what we want.

Pema Chodron says something like, "we bounce back and forth between hope and fear", this is the common human state.  When we hope we may also feel afraid that we won't get what we hope for.  And then there is the disappointment when we don't get what we hope for, which inevitably happens if we're filling our shopping baskets with a list of hopes.  And after a while we feel the bruise of all this bouncing back and forth.  In fact we may feel like a human bruise.

This does not negate that in this everyday life we need to have plans and aspirations.  And of course our lives are filled with the activity needed to bring these things to fruition.  But what we're really aiming for is to accept what happens along the way.  We plan to go on holiday but then mom gets sick.  We aspire to be a better parent and then we goof up.

We want to be mindful of where we're aiming ourselves and take the necessary actions. We don't want to stand there like Dorothy with our eyes closed, clicking our heels together, hoping that we'll get to Kansas.  Hope may not be our best strategy.  I hope you know what I mean.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Working With Body Tension & Karmic Stuff

This is a close up shot of a piece I am slowly working on (perhaps I am inspired to slowness by the slugs that have all but decimated our garden).  It seems there are never enough hours in the day for both gardening and artwork, but I've said that before, haven't I?  I am not whining, really.  I promise.  Although occasionally I do have a little wine.

But I must confess I always turn a little green when I see the concerted efforts of those working away in their studios everyday.  Ah... (she gives a wistful sigh which goes well with her green complexion). An osteopath told me sighing is good for releasing tension.  Try it.

But I have made my choices about how to spend my time.  I was talking about "choices" in terms of money with a friend the other day, but it is the same for time.  If we attempt to live with awareness we choose where we spend our time and our $$.  There is only so much of both to go around.  I keep telling myself this is the year of the house and next year I will have more art time.  I may be deluded, time will confirm or make a fool of me.  How do you deal with this?

But there is always lots of Dharma up on the radar, no matter what I do, even if I'm not here writing about it.  I have been sitting twice a day in preparation for a week long retreat in August.  I'm in training, like a marathon runner (well maybe a slightly slacker marathon runner, the bald guy at the back of the pack).  My body needs this extra sitting, my mind needs this.

As I sit a little longer and more often I have been noticing all the subtle ways and places I hold tension and how good it feels to find those spots and let them go.  I am seeing strongly, how the mind doesn't settle with ease if there is no ease in the body, how the body tenses when the mind starts reciting the list of things to do.  I think this can't be repeated too often. The mind/ body, which practice shows us, are really a single unit, has somehow in our modern world been divided  into two separate things (did I miss a divorce in People magazine?). Where did this separation come from?  "I think therefore I am?"  Did this leave the body out of the equation of being?

This relaxing of the body has become a big part of my sitting.  I have been doing a form of qi gong meditation for part of the time when I sit, which is really just concentrating or focusing on the hara (the area just below the navel).  In doing this I am reminded so much of how we don't make anything happen.  We focus and then when the qi or energy becomes strong enough it moves.  WE are not doing.  We are simply being.

Another part of my practice, as always, involves chipping away at my "karmic" or habitual stuff, the stuff we come here with, the personal stuff that we each have.  This is such an important part of practice for me, to work with your personal stuff in a way that helps loosen it and if we're lucky release.  Sometimes we have to go about this in different ways.  And mostly it is hard even to see our own patterns and foibles; easy to see that of others. And the karmic stuff of others is their business, not ours.  But that's another topic entirely.

I have been chipping away at  my mountain of stuff (can I sell this stuff anywhere, maybe on ebay?)  I have got the loader and the backhoe out and I am surveying "my stuff" from a totally different angle, using some Shamanic journeying, (okay so no bulldozers were involved).  It's the same stuff (sigh), just seeing it from a different angle.  It lends new perspectives and new tools for the chipping away process.  It is this chipping away and releasing of our karmic patterns that will ultimately help us to see more clearly and release us from suffering.

Many monks when they have their "kenshos" or awakening experiences have past life rememberings.  Shamanic journeying can help us relate to some of what is unseen in a similar way.  Although again we must be careful not to "want" too much, or delude ourselves.  As always on the path, we must proceed with caution and attend to what niggles.

And so I have been working away at those inclinations to retreat, working with fear, approaching it in different ways (like training a wild animal?), by doing some body work, by being willing to see what catches me, in a non judgmental way.  I am learning to be comfortable in my own skin.  In my Shamanic work it has been expressed as "hiding" which is just another way to say we feel uncomfortable exposing and being who we are.  While some might see this as navel gazing, I believe it is an essential part of the inner journey.  I don't think we can blast through it all by our will and simply extended sitting.  What are your practices for working with your "personal" stuff?  And have you had any success selling it on ebay?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Break For Freedom

It looks like we're going on a little poetry road trip.  Summer is a good time for road trips, don't you think? Someone mentioned David Whyte in yesterday's comments, another one of those lovely poets that aims straight for the heart and seldom misses. "Poetry," says Whyte on his website comments "is a break for freedom."   Now that's my kind of road trip.

Loaves and Fishes

This is not
the age of information.

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time
of loaves 
and fishes.

People are hungry
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

  -- David Whyte

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lost & Found

Poems are finding me.  I don't know how they do that.  But they are searching me out, tracking me down and imploring me to post them.  It seems innocent enough so I have agreed to cooperate.  No prisoners, no hostages, only poems.

 Last night I posted a poem on my face book page which I think I will repost here for those who don't do face book (I know there is at least one of you out there!)

But here is the poem that found me tonight.

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you 
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, 
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, 
Must ask permission to know it and be known. 
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers, 
I have made this place around you. 
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here. 
No two trees are the same to Raven. 
No two branches are the same to Wren. 
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, 
You are surely lost. Stand Still. The forest knows 
Where you are. You must let it find you. 
—“Lost” by David Wagoner

And here is the poem that found me last night:

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
-Antonio Machado

Have any poems found you lately?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A New Studio & Other Summer Impermanence

Life has been full of summer energy and things.  One of these things is that I have finally scrubbed the last of the sawdust from the ceiling of the old workshop and moved in paint and paper, canvases and all.  It feels good to have a workspace where I can make as much mess as I like. Paint on the floor, no problem it's plywood, paint on the counter, no problem, it's old wood.  Want to bang a nail into the wall to hang something up, just on a whim?  Go for it.  It's kind of like when you were a kid and you got your own room, there is a giddiness to it.  It feels exciting.  I like that it's old and worn and not too precious.

And I have in fact been in there alternating between gardening and painting and working away on another little project.  Here's some more peeks at the studio space and a Buddha in progress.
And the view of the old barn from one of the windows.
  I have been shaking up the spiritual path a bit lately too.  I have felt drawn to the Shamanic Journey work of Sandra Ingerman and have been doing some of that in addition to my more Buddhist centred practice.  Maybe it's living here in the forest, but I feel the call to add something nature based, something that moves into the world of the unseen, into the elemental world of spirit.  I find the two practices complement each other and coexist very nicely.  I love the Bon practice of Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche which is the pre Buddhist practice of the Indigenous people of Tibet and somehow adding the Shamanic work to the Insight meditation work I have been doing feels akin to this. For me the Shamanic journey work is simply another way to approach the "stuff" that we work with on a daily basis, the stuff that can feel stuck and intractable, kind of like turning a package that you are trying to open, upside down and working it from the other side.  One of the personal things I am working with is being comfortable with "being seen" which in many ways is work of the introvert.

Also on the spiritual front I am reading "The Great Heart Way" by Gerry Shishin Wick and Ilia Shinko Perez.  I was impressed with Wick when I saw him on one of the Tricycle online retreats and ordered his book from The Book Depository (my favourite place to order books online).  The subtitle of the book is "How to Heal Your Life and Find Self-fulfillment".  Wick, who is a Zen teacher, looks at the 3 poisons of greed, hate and delusion as expressions of our "shadow self", the parts we have unconsciously rejected.  He approaches the Dharma by having us look at what we have rejected in ourselves and bring it into the light.  In this way we can work to unlock the "stuck" places of anger or greed by going deeply into our personal terrain or is that subterrain?  Why do some situations or people's behaviour trigger our anger?  What is the deep source of our  desire?  This approach intrigues me and feels like it holds potential to approach the Dharma in a very personal way.  Hmmm, have I got a theme going on here?
An old kimono jacket that I bought years ago for $1 has found a home by the cute old wood stove
.  It was almost cool enough to light the stove this morning!
And on Thursday we saw Susan Moon read from her book "This Is Getting Old", a reflection on aging from a Buddhist point of view, pulled together with her lovely sense of humour.  She talks about the typical aging boomer topics of caring for aging parents, physical decline, memory loss, and becoming invisible.  She shared her aim to do it all with grace and humour.

And there was a volunteer stint at the Lavender Festival up the road and qi gong at the Japanese Peace Park in Ganges and an art opening called "100 Mile Furniture".  This is summer!  How's your's?

Monday, July 4, 2011

"The Eye As The Lens Of The Heart"

Last week as I nursed a fat ankle caused by some Samurai gardening,  I pulled out my copy of  "The Zen of Seeing" by Frederick Franck.  It doesn't get any better in my mind than when art and Dharma get mixed together, or should I say merged, because Franck joins the two in such a seamless way that you'd wonder why we ever thought they were two separate things.

His work always makes me think if you weren't inclined to draw but loved the Dharma, Franck could convince you that you must get your pencil out.  And if you love drawing, it is not much of a stretch to nod in agreement as  Franck turns it all into a spiritual experience.

I particularly like how he views Zen (or you can extrapolate his point of view to any spiritual practice, I think).  Listen to him: " This eye is the lens of the heart open to the world, My hand follows its seeing..... There is no split between a man's being, his art and what one might call his "religion" unless there is a split in the man"

And because he calls his book "The Zen of Seeing" Franck feels the need to clarify this thing he calls "Zen".  He starts by offering us a quote from, Dogen, the 13th century Sage who is regarded as the father of Soto Zen: "Whosoever speaks of Zen as if it were a Buddhist sect or school of thought is a devil."  hmmm..

Franck goes on to ask, "What is Zen?"

Here's his answer.
Zen is: being in touch with the inner workings of life.
Zen is: life that knows it is living.
Zen is: this moment speaking as time and as eternity
Zen is seeing into the nature of things, inside and outside of myself.
Zen is: when all living things of the Earth open their eyes wide and look me in the eye....

He goes on to talk about how this experiential approach to reality has been repressed, especially in the west, but that mystics and artists have always been in touch with it.

Oh, and by the way if the advertising world has convinced you in any way that Zen is a kind of soap, a perfume, a pair of jeans, an energy drink, or a style of baby furniture made by Fisher Price, you might want to reconsider that.