Sunday, December 11, 2016

On Not Wanting To Be Somewhere Else

Mending Snow Fences 24"x20"
I have just returned from a snowy trek through the woods to visit neighbours, share a glass of wine (not literally, they gave me my own glass), sit in front of their fire, hear about how mindfulness practice has been life changing for someone, which always warms my heart. I spoke of something that has troubled me recently. (Sitting in front of a fire can have that effect on you.) In general it is the koan of "how can you live close by to someone and not know anything much about them?" More specifically I was speaking of  the death of another neighbour's son; people who live a stones throw away, whose lives I know nothing of, just the friendly hello, pat of the dog, only to see an obit in the paper about their son. The great  desperation of depression that caused a young man to take his own life just down the road. What strange lives we lead. What's that saying a joy shared is multiplied, a grief shared in halved. Privacy: the pleasure and plague of the modern world.  Outward smiles, inward tragedy.

Blue Air & Rust 16"x 16"

I listened to a talk this afternoon by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche on "Living With Joy, Dying In Peace." With a sly grin he noted that we westerners don't like to think or talk about death. We see only the loss and sadness in it, something we fear and prefer to ignore. It seemed like a surprising comment, that we see only loss and sadness. "Well of course." And yet he talked about it being a gateway to liberation. I think we must dedicate our lives to practice to get to this gateway.

Squirrel Nutkin's Secret 11"x14"
On the art front I am painting more. Weeds and grass grow less and many outdoor ills are hidden by the relentless downpours and surprise snowfalls. A lovely release into studio life. It feels like time has stretched out at the foot of winter, but that's just one of time's little tricks; speeding up, slowing down, pretending not to exist.

Always I start my studio time by kneeling in front of the wood stove, carefully crumpling paper and arranging kindling, head bowed, match struck. It's a kind of prayer, a prayer to the gods of warmth, a prayer that requires attention lest I end up with smoke and ash instead of fire. Short cuts and scattered attention are trouble makers in the fire department and many others.

The fire teaches me focus and attention. It sets the tone for the attention that needs to be poured into the work.  I am always learning and refining if I pay attention. Otherwise there is just smoke. Ah, the way is never straight forward. Mary Oliver says: "there is little the creatively inclined person can do but to prepare himself, body and spirit, for the labour to come, for his adventures are all unknown."

The Other Side of The Mountain 16"x 20"

Last weekend I attended a weekend retreat with Howie Cohn. His delivery of the Dharma is at once complex and simple, uplifting, gentle and entertaining. He carries with him a haphazard file loaded with quotes and stories. I'm never quite sure how he finds the one he's looking for but he always does. Here's my favourite one from the weekend on self compassion.  He has written a little book called "An Invitation To Meditation" which at first glance looks a little light weight but after just a few pages you find it packs a mighty Dharma punch. I  highly recommend it for lines like this: "Imagine feeling calm and content wherever you are. Imagine feeling that your life is so complete -- right here, right now --that you do not wish to be anywhere else." It would make a perfect gift for anyone on your list that needs a bit of calm and relaxation in their life.

Elves In Their Workshop

Wishing you a wonderful turn of the year and holiday season. May you have the delicious luxury to spend some time contemplating  the year behind you and the one ahead. It is not necessary to offer you the fabled Chinese curse, because in fact we do live in interesting times. Perhaps it is some strange Pollyanna, ostrich like quality that has me believing that Truth always prevails. It takes a circuitous route, but never the less....

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Summer Houseguests, Inspiration & Cake

Some new work, some older work
The last scent of summer has been washed away by some much needed sky water followed by a gentle helping of fog. This meteorological menu has sent me rummaging through saved magazine bits looking for squash and kale recipes. It's fall, there must be sweaters and soup. On Saturday I gathered the last of the zucchini, some sugar pumpkins and a generous bouquet of sunflowers from the roadside stands to welcome fall to my kitchen.

I am trying to remember what I do in a season that is not summer; one where I can't spend most of my day outside. Transitions: they throw us a bit. We pause at their gate but that's not a bad a thing; the pausing. 

Travelling By Hindsight 12"x12"
The days of summer are tiny wisps of memory now. I have no interest in the story of "I went here, I did this." I am more interested in the inner landscape (though the outer offers it's own deliciousness). You don't need to know that I was stung by wasps and the bottom of my purse now harbours an epi pen, that's another story. 

On my excellent inner adventures (with a nod to Bill & Ted) doubt became my summer houseguest and I decided to get to know it a little better. I mean it's not that doubt (the prankster) hasn't always been lurking, it's just that this summer I invited him out of the attic because he's made such hidden trouble up there. He made an overbearing sort of houseguest, you know the kind that talks too much, knows everything and makes you feel awful and worn out by bedtime. He wrecks stuff and leaves a general trail of shrapnel and dirty towels behind him. I wouldn't recommend him on trip advisor (but you know about him already, I'm thinking). One of his most annoying traits is that he masquerades as wisdom and intelligence but really he's just scared things aren't going to work out and that's his cover-up. He is a spoiler, a bit like mold on the wind or maybe more like leprosy, eating away at the strength of the bone.
Night Walk
I tried to just be there with his shenanigans, sensing how they felt. When I could do this whole heartedly, doubt got a bit bored with me as audience and went off looking for more enthusiastic hosts.

I rediscovered the work of David R. Hawkins this summer by a chance encounter and it tied in with my exploration of doubt. I'd read him years ago and at that time I'd hated his levels of consciousness idea. It seemed too much like a rating system. It felt different this time round. He reminds us how powerful our minds are, how we are connected to a greater consciousness and how we're not really in charge of this personal little boat. He encourages us to explore our beliefs and work with ones that don't serve us well. Do I want to believe in doubt or do I want to believe in willingness and love and possibility
First Snow at Berg Lake

So as we dip our toes gingerly into the upcoming season of hibernation I wish you happy travels. I see you wrapped in a cozy sweater, near a toasty fire, sipping something warm, exploring the wealth of human imagination that surrounds us on crisp paper pages or glowing screens (this is a modern fairytale). And if you hunger for the perfect taste of fall, here's an apple cake recipe that even I could execute. Invite your tribe over to ooo and aw over your awesome culinary skills.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

We Are The Stories

studio shot
As I got ready for a visit with a friend I haven't seen in a while the thought crossed my mind that I was looking forward to hearing the story of how her life was right now. And I thought about how I would share the stories of my life, what was blooming and wilting, what I'd neglected or nourished. I looked forward to the walking and talking we were going to do.

And then I realized we humans have always told stories, to our friends, to our children, to our lovers. Really, we are all about the stories. We create them, we live in them, we anticipate them. It does something important for us, it connects us, it helps us understand, it comforts us.  Sitting around fires or wells or tables we have told and continue to tell the story of family, our work, our history, of love and betrayal, of amazing feats and failures. Depending on our inclination we peer into the past and tell those stories. Or we might be inclined to tell the stories of the future as we nurture our aspirations and intentions. We love to read a good story, to watch a good story but it is the interactive stories that build and sustain relationships and help us make sense of our lives.  These are the real meat and potatoes of life (we do offer a vegetarian substitution here, no extra charge).
two on the wall
My friend and I, as we covered the ups and downs of our 7 kilometer walk told each other the stories of now; what was going on what puzzled us, what troubled us, and where we were learning and growing, the funny bits, the awkward bits. We offered each other encouragement and insight as we are want to do, and shared bits of wisdom that had been gifted to us over the years that might be helpful to the other.

It can be in the hearing ourselves tell the story that we make sense of them because often that's what we're trying to do.  It's like EM Forster's comment "how do I know what I think until I see what I say", which is about writing but works equally well for the oral tradition. We connect through the sharing of our stories. We offer our vulnerability to another so that they may share theirs., so they feel less alone. We become visible to one another in all our confused imperfections and our shared humanness.

Though the content may be different, the eternal themes stitch us together. Here are a few we covered as we passed through patches of sun and shade on the road, walked up hill and down, paused to enquire about a neighbour's garden: It can be difficult for us and those around us to effect real change. Things don't always work out the way we expected. People don't do what we think they should.  We don't do what people think we should. People change. Feelings get hurt, soft spots get poked. Wasps sting us. Learning and growth make it all worth while. We are all works in progress.  Our shared stories connect us little human dots.  It warms our heart to know someone cares enough to want to hear our story. We recognize the generosity of our own heart (all of us) as we listen to the other person's story.

It's been so long since I've posted (I kind of feel like I'm writing a letter to a dear friend) There are so many tiny bits of story I want to share. Mostly it's the tidbits that have inspired me that I think might uplift someone else. I have read "The Brain That Changes Itself" and "The Brain's Way of Healing", both about the incredible power and weirdness of neuroplasticity. I love to hear about the science of the mind but always it feels incomplete if it leaves off there. We are so much more than science can ever comprehend. But the books inspired me to take a Feldenkrais class which accesses the some of the hidden potential of the brain. I was smitten by James Doty's "Into The Magic Shop" which is written like a page turner and offers a non Buddhist approach to Eastern practices.

Doubt has been up on my art radar with huge intensity and I've been reluctant to share for a few reasons but it's a worthwhile dissection I think. If I'm fortunate the patient will not survive dissection. It's been an interesting few months but that's another blog post.

in progress
And the last tidbit: On a long drive to the most westerly part of our coast we listened to a recorded retreat by Eckhart Tolle (sorry Lynette) and found such wise simplicity. One thing really resonated. It went something like this: A lot of the time when we complain and grumble about people and situations what we are really saying is "this shouldn't be happening" which is vaguely astounding when you think of it this way. One morning as I listened to my neighbour filling the airwaves with industrial park sounds from his woodworking shop I realized (as I grumbled) that I was saying just that. And it struck me as ridiculous because, it was happening. Tolle reminds us that we have a choice about how we are going to hold that situation.  We can allow it to disturb us and flavour our day with bitterness. We can brace ourselves against it or we can find a way to be with what is. And this has stuck with me as I recognize myself in big and small ways saying "this shouldn't be happening" and reorient myself.  So wishing you days filled with "this should be happening" or at least "this is happening". Be well.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Migrations, Dreams & Habits

new work 16"x20"
I am part of a migration, not one guided by the moon or involving birds or butterflies. No one has fixed a metal band round my leg or tagged my ear as part of a study, but still it's happening out there. I suspect you are aware of it too.  It's a technological migration of sorts, one where I sense small currents quietly causing people to drift from the blog world over to facebook or follow the shifting breezes to instagram. Robyn Gordon's lovely curated collections have migrated from her Art Propelled blog to facebook. Jeane Myer's moved house from her blog, Art It to Instagram and I have joined her there for no other reason than to see her amazing work as she creates and shares it.

There are many other bloggers, that were part of community when I ventured here with my first post in December 2008, that like me, simply post less often. I am not leaving quite yet, but it's more of a second home than a primary residence these days. I sense this is true for blogger friends like Lynette Monteiro of 108Zenbooks and Lynne Hoppe (who is also sharing her work on instagram).  Do I have less to say? Do I think about painting and practice less? Not really. It's just that those thoughts don't make it to these pages so often anymore. The excitement of sharing on a blog has met time and they have wandered off together. The Buddha talked about this (not blogs, facebook and instagram) but change. It's the one thing we can always count on. Change is a constant.

Noticing the virtual migratory patterns did give me cause to think about why and what I post. There are artists that share what materials they're using or simply post the work they've been doing. There are those that write about where their practice is at the moment. It's about connecting, sharing what they know in the spirit of offering help and inspiration to others. When I thought about what I want to share these days, it's the things that excite me most, things that I think others might be interested in discovering too.
Trails 12"x12"

So here's a little goody bag of what I've been exploring lately. There's lucid dreaming with Charlie Morley. Lucid dreaming just seems like such a good thing to me and Morley talks about it with passion and clarity. We sleep 1/3 of our lives so being lucid in our dreams expands the time available to us and offers a connection to our inner life that the conscious mind doesn't. Probably most importantly, if you believe in any intermediate state between this life and the next, it prepares you to navigate that.

We listened to this great series of talks , called Awake in our Bones by Martin Aylward on a short home retreat. They were inspiring and expanding, a great companion to a few days of sitting. He has a fresh and clear way of speaking about life and the dharma.

I am curious about all the new brainwave technology and ended up on a site called iAwake that has lots of little samples to listen to and a freebie if you care to share your email address.
Canyon Rain 6"x6"
I've also been re-reading "Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself" by Joe Dispenza and doing some of his meditations. His work is part of the quantum consciousness movement that focuses on how our thoughts create our world. That belief is part of basic Buddhist thought but Dispenza and others focus on using this to create conditions we might want to find in our lives. I'm not talking about "let's get a new car" but working with more stubborn mind states that might affect our health, how we use our time, our worldview and our happiness. I am finding it particularly helpful in my attitude to my painting. In Buddhist thought we might call it trust or faith. For athletes an aspect of performance is wrapped up in mental attitude. Is it any different for artists?

On January 1st I kidnapped a vintage mason jar from the cupboard and made it in to my gratitude jar. I cut up cute little pieces of paper and find things to be grateful for each evening and pop them in the jar. I find the physical act of having a jar a much more powerful reminder than a journal for recording these tidbits. I am finding that simply turning the mind from grumbling over little things to appreciation is a powerful reorientation for a somewhat aversive mind. Here's a lovely little website on gratitude.

And back in the world of things the wood stove in my studio finally got hooked up so other than some storage and a comfy chair my studio can take a bow and pronounce itself finished. It is amazing to have this space to work in. I can while away the hours, listening to the rain on the metal roof or keep company with the big trees out my windows and the ducks on the pond. I look forward to warmer days when I can throw open the door and windows.

And you, what have you been up to that fills your days with joy and passion?

Friday, January 1, 2016

Incidents, Intention and New Years

On the easel
Time with it's minutes and years is a  completely human construct. Like countries, where no line marks the passing from one to another, so it is with years. Did you see a curtain being drawn on the old year last night, a door closing, a trap door opening? Me neither and yet I love the idea of a new year. It gives us humans the opportunity to contemplate what has passed and in that light, set intentions for the part of our lives that lies ahead. It's kind of a gathering and sorting phase. We look back before we move forward and in some way reflect on what worked and didn't and set our intentions for the future. It's like a magical, internal decluttering process. "Let me give this part of my life to the thrift shop. I'll hang that idea in the back closet. And I'll put that practice in the top drawer."

In a way it really is all about taking time in a larger way to think about our intentions and then see how we might really act on them. Lately I have been working a lot with specific meditations that encourage me to see myself and the world in new ways, to trust in the greater intelligence that we are all part of.

Walking The Fields
As we step into this new year I wanted to share two things that seem important to me right now.  The first one is this quote from Joseph Campbell that a friend sent to me. It seems like such a good, overarching attitude to life:

“Nietzsche was the one who did the job for me. At a certain moment in his life, the idea came to him of what he called ‘the love of your fate.’ Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, ‘This is what I need.’ It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment—not discouragement—you will find the strength is there. Any disaster that you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege! This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow.
"Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true. Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.”
From "A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living"
Path To The Sky
The other piece that seems important to me as I look forward is that whatever wonderful thoughts and inspiring quotes we read, to make any real, positive changes in ourselves (and that's the only place we can effect change) we must "practice" whatever it is. It might be meditation or a gratitude practice but we must "do it" and we need to do it over a period of time for it to change us into who we want to become, whatever that is; kinder, more peaceful, more compassionate, happier, less anxious. So here's a lovely little interview between Rick Hanson and his son that offers us the encouragement to do something that contributes to our own well being.

Wishing you all a 2016 filled with lots of creative adventures, good health, and the practices that will fill your hearts with joy and peace. One of the things that has come up on my radar a lot in the last few days is gratitude practice. I plan to start and attempt to sustain 3 notes of gratitude each day.