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....