Bits of zen flotsam & jetsam from the daily practice of a zen fool with shards of modern Buddhist art from my studio. Sometimes cranky, sometimes inspiring, mostly entertaining.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Squirrel Nutkin Chews On The Dharma
Here's a photo of Squirrel Nutkin chewing on the Dharma. You remember that Beatrix Potter tale from your childhood, don't you? No? Well let me refresh your memory. It goes like this. The heroine goes on retreat to a lovely idyllic spot, almost as nice as heaven, in a rural, pastoral sort of way.
Silently she is stalked by her own mind. Fur starts to fly and she finds she is more than a little nutty. But enter stage right, the bright fairy of mindfulness. She leads said heroine over to a majestic tree with wide branches and deep roots that holds all the nuttiness with great love and kindness. When the sun shines, squirrel nutkin notices that these hard little nuts are all transparent. At this point our heroine treks over to the Dharma kitchen to chew on some delicious lemon poppyseed cake with strawberry-blueberry sauce, savouring it deeply and realizing it is not all that different from the nuts on the tree.
So that is the fairy tale version of my 7 day silent retreat. If you prefer a description in more worldy terms I can say that this comment by Charlotte Joko Beck is very apt: "With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn. Whether you stay home or work in an office or whatever, the next teacher is going to pop right up."
I met some demons along the way, predictable, familiar demons, the ones that have to do with fear and personal health. My retreat demons took me on a ferry ride to see my doctor and naturopath. There were twists and turns in a little drama that had someone suggesting I might have shingles on my eye which needed medical attention. My Dharma journey veered right out of the retreat grounds proving the path is everywhere and anywhere. In the end I got to stare fear in the eye (no foolish pun intended). I didn't have shingles and got to see the folly of so much worry and fear. I learned a bit of steadiness and finally got how much nightmares need staring in the eye. Hmm, maybe this eye thing was on to something??
We had the wonderful Dharma guidance of Gil Fronsdal who was filled with gentleness and humour and the ability to transmit the Dharma in a precise and steady way. He had some great memorable lines and stories. When I shed some tears he said he knew a woman who cried for 7 days on a retreat. I also loved this line in reference to our need for acceptance, an issue I met along the way: "They'll criticize you when you don't talk enough, they'll criticize you when you talk too much and they'll criticize you when you talk just the right amount." - The Buddha
He invited us, one morning, to look at the underlying attitude we have to life, the one that hovers just below the surface, the one we hardly notice. As I sat there in stillness I could see my attitude of fear, of resistance, of holding back. It was enough to make you weep (which I did). This was a 2 kleenex box retreat!.
In an evening Dharma talk he told a longish story about Japanese soldiers in the Philipines who stayed in the forest long after the war was over. When they were discovered, high Japanese officials were sent in to go tell them the war was over and thank them for their service. Just before they boarded the boat home, they were told the war had been over for 25 years. Gil suggested we do the same for our fears, our anxieties, our habitual tendencies that no longer serve us well.
The retreat offered detailed instruction on mindfulness and concentration practice and lots of time to practice it in the company of other dedicated practitioners. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet demons, chew on things, see through other things and sink deep into the spiritual being who is having this human experience.
Buddhism & Art...if I had to pick two words that give an overview of what I get up to in this world those would be my choices. Buddhism is the ground upon which I rest all else. I like to think it brings me some sanity. It helps me think in some logical way about what I am doing and look at it as deeply as possible. What did I just do? Why ? What's that all about? ...To try and look at my life without sliding over things or fooling myself...To be present for life, not rejecting or preferring one experience over another. Buddhist practice makes my life full and rich, sometimes filled with joy and sometimes with a deep experience of the suffering present in this world.
After all those words does it seem odd to say that it is the simplicity of Zen that appeals to me? This inclination to simplicity pulls me to try and integrate my practice and work, to paint Buddhas, to observe my process as I work.
I am drawn to mixed media, integrating script and words with images and colour.