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?


  1. love the buddha eye and cheek. i think we separate mind/body sometimes in order to talk about them. Talking is a linear process and it is hard to get the total essence unless maybe metaphors are used. which you are so good st.

    when my mind is glum or talking too much i practice yoga and almost always rise up a new woman...until the next time.

    your retreat sounds interesting. weekend, week, month.?

  2. Funny you should ask. I've managed to sell most of my accumulated karma to others; the rest I've "re-gifted" out. ;-)

    My way of dealing with the personal "stuff" (and what isn't "personal stuff")is to treat like acid reflux. It's not the "stuff" but what I was engaged in that got me there. I like what you've said about taking a different perspective. That beginner's mind can be so powerful in unlocking the "freeze pane" I get into. Thanks!

  3. Suki - yes, we do separate to simplify, but then it so easy to forget and take it for real. It's true about words being hard to use to convey some things. I was just reading something from my old Zen teacher where she quotes Tozan Ryokai (The Most Excellent Mirror Samadhi) who says exactly that "words inaccurate may be".

    Yoga, yes to working with the body!

    Genju - ha, regifting, thanks for the tip and remember not to open anything I send you! And yes to reflect on the circumstances that trigger our stuff (I think that's what you mean).

  4. Thank you for this post.

    I have a question about placing one's attention in the Hara....How is it done? do you try to make the breath go there? I've always wanted to, but never quite could, understand how to practice this.

    Palm to palm,


  5. Hello Al & welcome. Now here's my understanding of it. It's like placing your attention there, the same way you might place your attention at the tip of your nose if you were going to sense your breath. It takes some practice. We learned this from our qi gong teacher and he had us start first at the middle dan tien (placing the attention there (which is mid-chest below the breast bone.) And after some time, maybe a few sessions of this depending on the person, you could feel the energy drop to the lower dan tien or hara. It was quite surprising and it did work without us willing it or imagining it in any way. And then there are other places the energy will move to as you sit, basically unblocking key energy points in the body until the qi flows smoothly. Does that make sense??

  6. As I have just finished a post on my Zen gardens- one can see that I have the same sort of dilemma- how to divide my time between my studio and my gardens-- there are days when I think I must be crazy to spend so much time outside-- that I would rather be in my studio-- and I have to admit that some of the clean up and weeding and pruning-- those are not very glamorous ways to spend one's time-- but there must be some sort of meditative pay off in weeding-- and of course the results-- beautiful Zen gardens- but still there is the dilemma as I have so much to do in the studio- balance is the key I think.

  7. I do love the garden work, whatever it is. For me it is creating beauty and order which always warm my heart. And I, strangely have always loved weeding (until my hands get too sore!). It is sort of meditative as you say.

    And yes balance is important. And for me it is about being good with what I choose to do right now, not feeling torn, not feeling like oh, I should be in the studio, when I'm in the garden and vice versa! Believe me I have gone there and its the way to ruin a perfectly nice day.

  8. Interesting post that you obviously put a lot of thought into. I agree with your reply to 'Layers' or Donna,that balance is important.
    As for disposing of excess things, as much as I could use the money, I've never tired to sell them, I usually them give away or unfortunately, hang on to them.

  9. Oh I love your work and your words Zen :) The yellow is just soo golden and makes you stop and watch more carefully !
    It is very true what you say about 'art time ' and how the days are too short.... Even when you spend the whole day in the studio , the day is too short , let me assure you :) ( sigh sigh ) .... and maybe the garden work is no difference then the painting....? It is just another art form !
    To me it looks like you have just the right balance..........

  10. I found you over at Lynne's blog and I'm glad that I did. I see so many similarities in what you write about and how I feel about things. I, too, am a Taurus. I wonder if that is where the similarities start, however, I am much older so there has to be some generational gap there. Although, we are still all human beings...all one. I, too, love weeding and can do it all the time. I love how you say that it is "creating beauty and order which always warms your heart". I love things to be in order and especially the garden. It just looks "right" to me to be weeded and in place. I'm happy to have found you and will be back to read more past posts as well as future. Nice to meet you.

  11. Eva- yes, it is all about balance isn't it. Wobbling back and forth between the 2 positions.

    Michele - Thanks for your kind comments. You know what an admirer of your work I am.

    Teri- Welcome. I will step over to your blog for a little visit. Don't you just love Lynne's blog?! It is such an inspiration. I think maybe we, Tauruses? have a particular love of beauty, so we need those weeds out! I bet we're in the same age range! That red hair tricks people!

  12. so pulled in by the colors Carole...beautiful!

  13. Learning to be comfortable in my own skin seems to be a full time job - don't have many tricks - mainly just occasionally catching negative thoughts as they arise, giving them a pat on the head and sending them on their way. Not much luck selling my "stuff" - can't even figure out why I bought it in the first place....

    Beautiful paintings, as always! I just figured out that they are hi res and if you click on them you can click again to enlarge them. Duh!