Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Dharma of Swine Flu

If you know me, you will know I'm not a big consumer of news.  So the first I'd heard about swine flu was when a couple of friends visited my art show on Saturday.  And then I saw some news of Sunday (more swine flu) and when I stopped by my mother's on Monday, BBC World News was chewing away on swine flu.  

And there it was the Dharma, oinking in my face.  You see I am booked to do "The Make It Show" in Vancouver this coming weekend.  Which means crowds.  Three days of crowds.  Three days of crowds of mobile young people.  Several cases of swine flu have been identified in the lower mainland.  So I needed to think about this.  Actually it wasn't a case of need.  I woke up this morning and the first thought was, "I don't think I should do the Make It Show."  You see I had cancer surgery just over a year ago and since then my immune system (and shall we say body/mind) has been in a state of shock.  I spent a lot of last year bouncing back and forth between one flu and another.  I became somewhat of a mini version of Howard Hughes, opening doors with my scarf, passing on dinner at my mother's care home.  With the help of some serious mega vitamin treatments and some herbs I am doing much better, but.....  

I had to give some serious thought to going to this event.  Would it be fun?  Would I worry?   The weekend itself would be a tiring 2 1/2 days of show, something I knew but was prepared to do.  Was it worth it?  In monetary terms?  In health terms?  Since being sick I have learned to look at things a little differently.  Some things just seem to matter less.  In the end I decided that it was not worth putting myself in harms way for "some money".  I have pre paid $250ish to be part of the show.  I had to be able to say to myself I am okay with loosing that money.  Though it ouches that thrifty part of me (who likes to watch $250 go for nothing?).  I felt I could let it go.  If I got sick and died for $250 how would I feel then???  Oh, you say I'd be dead and it wouldn't matter.  True enough.  Bad choice.  Do not pass go.  Straight to you next life as a small dog!  I had to say that in the past I might be pretty attached to that cash.  But life threatening diseases have a way of lending perspective, encouraging gratitude and equanimity.

I had to look at whether this was a fear based decision.  Carole, are you just running and hiding under the bed?  And my answer was no, that I was using common sense.  I did have the flu in March.  I am more vulnerable than some.  It is not fear based to admit the truth about yourself.  I feel pretty clear about that.  I am not sitting by the TV quivering in my boots.  I am going to the Theatre, out to dinner, to my mother's care home.  True all this swine hype is pretty revved up by the media for the sake of getting people to tune in to the news all day long.  True the media loves nothing better than a good tragedy.  We are in such early stages of it all.  It may well blow over into nothingness but at this stage so much is unknown.  It's not like I plan to lock myself in the house but to put myself in a potentially harmful environment when I don't have to seems unnecessary.  I don't need to go.  I don't need the money.

So I could feel all the discomfort of having to decide, of going back and forth and second guessing myself.  Really all is unknown.  There are no right or wrong answers.  I could feel a sense of embarrassment  about having to backtrack and tell a bunch of people I have changed my plans.  Maybe they'll think I'm a wimp.  But would pride be any reason to go ahead with this?  

I cringe about saying in these pages that I have had cancer.  I have hinted at my "health opportunity" as a friend calls it.  It is strange and if you've never been there, there is something mildly (or perhaps not so mildly) shameful about having to say you've had cancer.  Somehow it seems like some admission of failure, some inadequacy, something for the marked and pitiful few.  But there it is.  It just is.  Is it like coming out of the closet if you're gay???  Or telling people you're bi-polar or schizophrenic?  Maybe I understand the feelings that course through those souls a little better now.

So here I am.  I am fine.  I am good with my choice.  I am disappointed that the young woman who runs the "Make It" Show could not find anything exceptional about my situation to offer me more than routine cancellation policy (1/2 off her fall show).  And yet I am willing to let that one go.  Everyone does what seems good to them.  Ironically she is doing a silent auction for "The Cancer Foundation".

So there it is the Dharma of contemplating our choices a little more deeply, not being so attached to all the things that are out there: our plans, our money, our pride.  It is an opportunity to let go.  It is an opportunity to work with the three poisons of greed (wanting money & outcomes), hate (wanting the show organizer to offer some compensation), delusion (thinking I am healthier than I really am).

I am sitting with that sense of unrest that arises when we have to change our plans, the disappointment of looking at the things that are ready and waiting to go to the show.  And I can be good with my decision.  As Ajhan Chah says,  "let go a little, have a little peace, let go a lot, get a lot of peace, let go completely, have complete peace."

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Dharma Is Waving At You

I have been hijacked by the real world and become a faint shadow to the blog-osphere.  This implies that somehow the world in which we are commun-icating here is something less than real?  Which leads to the next question, what is reality anyway?  Oh, oh, I'm not going down that rabbit hole, Alice.

But I think you get my gist.  I have been preoccupied with the Bricks and Mortar, flesh & bones world of creating art, finishing work, organizing work, etc, meeting other artists and folks interested in art.  And sometimes I have been composing blog entries in my head but my fingers have not quite gotten to the keyboard.

We went to the Opera for the first time on Saturday and as always there was the Dharma, standing right in the middle of it all, waving at me.  Wherever you go, there it is!  It was the Magic Flute  and so many times during the wonderful pre Opera talk that we attended and during the show I wished I'd had a pen to jot down "that's Dharma".   So I forget many of the specific references but unbeknowningly Mozart was definitely speaking the Dharma which reminded me that all enduring art speaks some kind of truth and of course what else is the Dharma but an expression of eternal truth.  How could they not coincide?!

You could see how some of the characters in the story were simply aspects of the self, our poisons (greed, hate, delusion) our confusions and delusions.  And really what else is the search for love, which is the main tale in the Magic Flute, but our search for wholeness and happiness and harmony, uniting aspects of the self.  There was the symbol of 3 which apparently was supposed to represent the Free Masons, but is an archetypal symbol in both Christian and Buddhist religions.  There was so much more but I won't bore you with details.  It was a great evening of  story and music and  people watching, that reminded me of how delicious people are to watch in their wonderful variety and quirkiness, the delight of people dressed in their varied finery.  I could have been happy just to watch the Opera goers all evening.

And in two days of Open Studio I got to watch myself and as a young Dharma friend expressed so well "move back and forth between hope and fear".    I might not necessarily call it fear but I could see all the expectations of how it "should go" and the disappointment when these expectations were not meant.  Mornings were quiet, afternoons busier.  I had some wonderful Dharma chats with friends.  One friend who has been doing some very hard spiritual work talked about how painful it was.  And then we could talk about "the suffering that leads to the end of suffering" which is the hard stuff but you are doing your work and and then there's the suffering that leads to more suffering when we're just falling in the hole.  Another friend I hadn't seen in a long time and struggles with addiction issues talked about how strong the draw is to these things and how hard it is to get unstuck.  She has done some hard work lately too and said she could see her own "willfulness" more clearly now.

I met some delightful fellow artists and one particular treat was to find a woman whose work I love and have admired visiting my studio.  So while the weekend was perhaps quieter than I'd hoped for it was rich with Dharma and connections.  And as my friend the monk always reminds me "we can never really please the little self".  I reminded myself that we never really see the big picture, that our expectations are formed out of a pretty limited world view.  And in the evening as I read my bedtime bits of the Dhammapada I was reminded of this in Easwaran's commentary," ... to make progress we become eager for opportunities to go against self-will, especially in personal relationships. There is no other way to gain detachment from the self-centred conditioning that burdens every human being.  The Buddha calls this "swimming against the current", the concerted, deliberate effort to dissolve self interest in the desire to serve a larger whole, when eons of conditioning has programmed us to serve ourselves first."  I am sure these opportunities await us all today out in the world somewhere.  May you find them, rise to them and savour them!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fairfield Artist's Tour

Here's a little peek at some of the set up I had for my in home Christmas show.  I had some fun shots with people in them but didn't feel good about posting people's pictures without their permission so alas all you get to see is the empty dining room.  Set up will be a little different this time.

I have somehow managed to end up in a space where I am not feeling rushed or stressed (how did that happen??!) and just chugging along getting things done.  Maybe it's when you have so many things on the go, you just give it up after a while.  It's kind of like the really intense Zen retreats where they are trying to push you to experience the unreality of self by intense periods of sitting and lack of sleep.   At a certain point it just all dissolves.  I am theorizing now about where the stress went!  Just to keep things interesting this week I threw in a doctor's appointment, a haircut, a dentist's appointment and  a long ago planned evening at the Opera (this Saturday night) a first for me.  Oh and some friends will spend Sunday night here before flying to England on Monday.

Somehow I have managed to keep reminding myself that a lot of things just aren't that important, remembering the comments of the Zen master to his disciple.  I have also tried to focus on enjoying the process of getting ready!  This morning as I was sitting it came to me that it was important to not push away the stressed out, fearful part of me, that part of compassion (which we always seem to think should be directed toward others) was to embrace it all, the stressed out me (if that's what comes up), the settled me.  It's so easy to want to reject all that we deem unpleasant, undesirable but if we can be a big enough container (this is a term Joko Beck uses) we can hold it all, the good the bad and the ugly (oh, oh I might need to get out cowboy boots to do that).

So if you're in the neighbourhood, drop by and say hello.  Here's the link to the  website  http://www.galendavison.com/fast_2009.htm#L   for the tour so you can find me.  There are lots of wonderful artists in the neighbourhood and it's a lovely walk through the cherry tree lined streets of this old neighbourhood right now.  Many of the houses are a similar vintage to mine (1914) when there was a mini building boom in the area.  Lots of "Art's & Crafts" style homes and lots of variety.  The gardens are looking quite splendid in their Spring finery.  The local shopping street in the Cook Street Village is filled with places to linger and find treats: the 4 coffee shops (Cafe Fantastico on McKenzie has the best coffee),  Bubby Rose's Bakery is filled with delicious lunch goodies and bakery treats.  Then there's Ethiopian Food, Thai Food and Sushi in the old house on Mckenzie St.  One Fish, Two Fish (an offspring of Red Fish Blue Fish) has set up a cart next to the old Dry cleaner's and serves some tasty treats.  Then there's pizza across the street and a you can finish off the day with a glass of something at the Beagle if you are so inclined.  I've heard rumours that the weather is supposed to be quite Spring like (the other day it was snowing cherry blossoms in a gust of wind!)  I opened the front door and in they came.

So stop by if you can.  Otherwise I will try and snap a few photos without faces so I can post them for all to enjoy.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Zen Vacation

I am thinking about stress.  It is on my mind for a couple of reasons: one I am watching myself getting ready for two upcoming art shows.  On the good days I can say everything will get done and I can work away patiently doing what needs to be done.  On other days I notice the impatience and sense of hurry that I impose on myself.  It is definitely good training to watch me and adjust my course when I am blown against the rocks of fretting and rushing.  

The other thing that got me thinking about stress was a spot on the TV news the other night.  I'm not a big TV news watcher but happened to see a piece where a tour company declared bankruptcy, leaving travelers stranded.  The mother of a young woman commented that her daughter had taken a holiday to Mexico to get away from stress and now the holiday was causing stress.  

It got me thinking.  It's the old story of looking outside of ourselves for the solution to our problems.  And there in her statement of the problem was the answer.  Studying the Dharma we learn that the  solutions to any problems aren't out there.  Don't get me wrong I am not saying bah, humbug, holidays are bad, stay in your cave and eat rice.  Sometimes a change of scenery can offer us the space we need to see more clearly.  And doing something fun and spending time in beautiful places is good for the soul.  But where are we coming from when we do that?  What is our intention?  I love the title of Jon Kabat-Zin's book "Wherever you go, there you are" which kind of sums it up for me.  If I go on vacation to "escape" my problems, to "escape"myself or my "situation" the fix is either temporary or illusive. 

Dealing with stress is about changing the landscape allright.  It does require some travel but we're talking about the internal landscape now, the hills and valleys of habitual tendencies, the patterns of behaviour that have carved the mountains and gullys of our stress.  To really deal with our stress we need to look at what causes it and how we respond to our perceived stressors.  Is it the boss, is it my financial situation, my too busy schedule, the noisy neighbours?  Whatever it is I need to look at it and evaluate.  The old AA  serenity prayer, "God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the ones I can and the wisdom to know the difference."  That's a good starting place.  Is there action we need to take or reaction we need to desist from?  Are there things we just need to let go of?   I am reminded of the story of the man who is listing his troubles to the Zen master.  And the master just continues to say, "it isn't important," to each thing on the list.   How much of what stresses us is really important?  Now the tricky part here is to know that this doesn't stand against taking appropriate action when necessary.   We don't just say "it isn't important to everything as another form of escape.  Always after well considered contemplation and moving from that place in our heart, that says "this is good to do".  There are things in this world that are "good" to do.  They may be bringing up a difficult situation with a loved one, quitting a job, leaving a relationship.  You have all the answers somewhere inside you.

So by all means have a delightful vacation, now or in the summer or whenever, but don't mistake it as something that will alleviate "stress".   That work is best done from the inside out.  That will make your vacation even more joyful!    So take a vacation from stress by training in the Dharma, by reading some inspiring Dharma books, by sitting regularly in meditation, by contemplating the details of your life, by making changes in the small things you do that no longer work for you.  Start your holiday today.  Your life will thank you for it!    A bow and a bon voyage to you!

Shadow Shot

Here's a shadow shot.  Actually it was taken last Saturday but well, you know how it goes, it's only getting posted today.  There is a lovely little shop on one of the shopping streets here in town and the young woman who owns it pays great attention to detail.  She was arranging this flower in the window when we walked by.  I love the whole aesthetic of the shop which is very spare and simple, just a couple of racks, her cash desk and the window display.   There is a lovely Zen elegance to it all and it was even sporting a shadow just waiting to be shot!  Check out the other shadow shots at Hey Harriet's blog.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Day 100 - A Ferry Ride With The Buddha

Well  this is it the 100th day of Dharma. How did that happen?  That might be my cue to talk about impermanence but I don't think I will.  A hundred days can pass and we hardly remember what happened between then and now, such is the fleeting nature of life. I love this quote attributed to the Buddha, "This life of separateness may be compared to a dream, a phantasm, a bubble, a shadow, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning."  So how important are all those little things that go on in between then and now.  I'm thinking about the things we fret about; mostly gone without a trace.  That's instructive for how to live our lives, don't you think?

But that's not really what I want to talk about right now.  My bedtime reading has been the Dhammapada for the last little while (I'm still on the intro!).  Last night I was reading about "Turning the Wheel of the Dharma" and it felt like it had some significance in terms of my 100 Days of Dharma.  That's what we're doing here aren't we, turning the wheel of the Dharma, thinking about our lives in terms of the Dharma, considering the teachings of the Buddha and then adjusting our daily course according to what we find and what it seems good to do.

After his enlightenment when the Buddha was questioned about who he was he answered "I am awake" (budh, from the sanskrit root, to wake up).  When he started teaching he said:  "I have found the deathless, the unconditioned: I have seen life as it is."  And really isn't that what we're aiming for, the truth, the end of suffering when we practice.  To see our lives like the movies or dramas they are and watch them, unattached, with joy and amusement and sometimes with a great big hanky.  That is the aim I think, to be passionately involved in life and at the same time know that it's all okay.  Haven't we simply been inspired by figures like the Buddha to believe that it is possible to attain this state.  They say that he was pictured as a ferryman asking the question, "Anyone for the other shore?"  Man I'm interested in one of those tickets! 

And what's the fare?  Well it's not cheap.  And the seats?  Best in the house.  The meditation cushion.  Such an important thing to remember, that the key to practice, to attainment is sitting, the foundation of all our work with the Dharma.  How did the Buddha attain Nirvana, not from talking or reading, or wandering, or thinking but through disciplined  sitting.  He sat through all the assaults of Mara, through desire and doubt.  Without the sitting we won't make much progress and even with the sitting it is a lifetime process.  So I am thinking about the important things today and sitting is one of them.  And I think part of why I decided to write 100 Days of Dharma is for the discipline, which is the same as getting to the cushion, doing what needs to be done, over and over and over.  Building that muscle to do it whether we feel like it or not, whether we are tired, or depressed, or grumpy, or sick, or ecstatically joyful, or filled with unrest.

And why do we study the Dharma?  Why do I sit?  Well I think we always start with the wish to free ourselves from suffering.  And as time goes on, whether consciously or unconsciously we are adding to the compassion in the world, we are sending off little threads of wisdom and compassion without even knowing it, kind of like little human prayer flags.  We contribute to the world in a positive way.  Just by looking at what we do and making choices, active informed choices about how to live our lives.  And perhaps as time goes on our presence becomes a little calmer, more grounded and just our energy contributes in a positive way to the world.  This is what we are doing I think, one person at a time, one day at a time, one breath at a time.

So while 100 Days of Dharma have passed, I will continue to write about life and the Dharma as things come up that seem important to me.  It has been interesting to see that I was never really stumped for a topic, that something always presented itself, though I often wondered if it would.  Maybe I'd run dry like an old well and just cough and choke and sputter out some letters of the alphabet and embarrass myself in public (maybe I have and I am too dense to notice!)  So it has been a real privilege to share a 100 Days of Dharma with you and I expect we will continue to visit as we all have purchased a lifetime ticket to the other shore.  May your journey be a good one, filled with joy and sorrow and passion and gusto.

Bows to you all.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Day 99 and counting

I've been playing with photoshop (I use the term play loosely), creating some new business cards, and a little ad sheet for the art tour.  I am remembering how to transform and sharpen things, to work with layers (see there's Dharma in photoshop).  This lovely little Buddha is simply a photo taken somewhere in our travels that I have altered a bit in photoshop and turned a lovely shade of orange.

This is the 99th Day of 100 Days of Dharma kids (remember that song, 99 bottles of beer on the wall?) What does that have to do with anything you ask?  Well nothing really except that I think it's a human tendency to get a bit giddy as we near the finish line.  Or maybe we put on the pressure.  OMG it's the second last day I need to say something important, profound, sum it all up.  Another human tendency too don't you think?

It's all about how we use our minds.  Ask any athlete.  When skill becomes fairly equal among athletes, it's the use of the mind that  is one of the determining factors in successful outcomes.  Doubt, fear, focus, determination, so many things are dependent on how we use our minds

So I guess if I were to start thinking about what aspects of the Dharma have been most important to me, the skillful use of the mind would be a big one.   It covers so much ground.  Right view or understanding is all about how we use our minds.  Are we using faulty logic and coming to wrong conclusions about life.  Instead of seeing life's difficulties as opportunities, do they make us feel bitter and cynical?  And the mind can be a powerful perveyor of doubt and fear?  Do we run with these stories and find ourselves down the rabbit hole or do we notice where we're going and decline Alice's invitation.  

The mind is a powerful tool if we learn how to work with it.  My friend the monk quotes her teacher as saying, "the mind makes a good servant but not a very good master".   So while we use our minds, it is our hearts that provide direction (or our Buddha nature, or whatever you like to call it).  I learn so much from watching my own mind, what it gets up to, the silly games it plays.  And then I can remember (when I'm mindful) to have compassion for others because I know how hard it is to behave in ways that make sense.

Patience is another really important aspect of the Dharma for me.  I am  not particularly patient by nature.  Like everyone else I have my ideas of how things should be and I want them to be that way yesterday.  I want the no fuss, no muss version that they are always trying to sell me on TV.  But as time goes on I learn that "patience is the reward of patience" (this quote is attributed to St. Augustine).  Sitting teaches me patience.  And observing life from the perspective of the Dharma teaches me patience.  I have learned to see that things arrive in their own good time, not when I want them to.  This has been a really valuable lesson for me.  It's not on my timelines (whatever IT is).  I understand things after 100 times of getting it wrong, if that's what it takes.  There's not a lot that I can "make" happen.  I can do my part and then let the rest go, because ultimately, I have learned a bigger picture is playing itself out.  Of course I don't always remember this on the spot, but eventually with some patience I get to that place.

And learning to listen to the "still, small voice within" that has been an important and mysterious part of the Dharma for me.  Learning "how" to do that .... it's not always easy but as time goes on I see that it is the only way to really arrive at a decision about anything important.  Call it your intuition, your sixth sense, or listening to your heart, somehow we all have that wisdom inside us that ultimately knows the truth, the right action.  We just have to learn how to access it and not second guess ourselves.  It takes practice and faith....

And there is another important aspect of the Dharma, faith.  In an early blog I think I mentioned that in my 20's I was very clear that I had no concept of faith.  Faith meant believing something without logical cause and that didn't make any sense to me, at least on a thinking level.  I'm sure I made intuitive decisions.  I just didn't think of them as being based on faith.  To me faith and trust now mean believing that this is a friendly universe we live in, though sometimes it might not seem that way.  To have faith means that when things happen that I would not choose, I now believe that something larger is working itself out, that I don't necessarily need to know or figureout.  I have faith that truth triumphs over evil every time.

And mostly I feel grateful just to have found the Dharma, to be fortunate enough to have heard the teachings and have the time to spend learning and practicing and contemplating it.  This is my great good fortune.   I wish you much good fortune.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Body As Teacher

This large enso hangs over the big old river rock fireplace in my living room.  It brightens a room that has dark wood wains-cotting 3/4 of the way up the wall.  My daughter started work on the canvas before she left home and the half finished canvas sat around  looking sad for a long time.  One day I finished the background with different shades of orange and red and painted the big enso on it.  That was several years ago now. I like that it has a tiny drip coming down from the right hand corner.  I cheated!  I did not do the enso  in a single stroke as a true Zen painter would.

I am getting ready for a couple of art shows right now, The Fairfield Artist's Studio Tour on April 25-26 in my home and The Make It show in Vancouver on the May 1st weekend.  My habitual tendency is to get very focused on what needs to be done (but not in a good way)  ... I start thinking about and listing the things that need to be done.  And then I think well if I can just get this out of the way....  And it seems with that very statement I am transported into a state of grim determination.  I am no longer standing contemplatively in front of a canvas working out the next step.  I have become the demanding boss shouting out orders to myself, what about those business cards and the poster and you need a sign for the corner of the street and how about some stands to hang paintings on at the show, and, and, and.  Sheesh, I really can be Mrs. No Fun.   

I become a list nazi (remember the soup nazi from Seinfeld?) and before I can say enough already, my body often reminds me that this is no way to behave.  My body is a great teacher but I have not always been a very willing student.  In fact I think that if my body didn't rebel I'd probably just keep doing the same old thing, running on adrelalin and grim determination.  But somehow we always get what we need from somewhere.

Here's how the scenario usually plays itself out:  my mind starts cranking out a full menu of stress laden entrees which my body finds quite unpalatable.  My body responds by getting stress poisoning (a lot like food poisoning).  I then have no choice but to  slow down and spend time in the present moment.  The more I abuse, the bigger the reminder.  And I have had some big ones.  So nowadays I am pretty good with small warnings.  Okay, I get it, thanks for the reminder, I'm taking the stress ragu off the menu right now.  So today my little mantra is everything will get done and things are fine just as they are.  No need to be Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen.  I used to say "I need a vacation from myself"  but I never did find a travel agent offering that package.

I know I make it sound like the mind and body are separate and of course they're not.  What I am really talking about is the awareness that goes back and forth between our thoughts and feelings and the sensations in our body.  We are like this chemical soup of hormones which is instantly and constantly conversing.  It's kind of like karma, nothing is unaccounted for.  

Does your body talk to you, with aches and pains and strangely mysterious symptoms?  Have you learned it's language?  Do you know what it's trying to tell  you?  Just like we get to know our minds we can get to know our bodies.  Who is a pain in the neck?  What gives you a headache?  Listening to my body reminds me of what works in my life and what is destructive.  It is a matter of seeing and  adjusting course (to use a sailing analogy), forgetting and then returning to my intention, just as we do when we sit.  As time goes on I like to think we get quicker at seeing what we're up to and quicker at stumbling back to the path.  I like to think as time goes on we spend more time making wholesome choices, that require less correction.   Some say that our body is our temple.  Mine is one with creaky stairs and rattling windows.  It's fairly high maintenance in the world of places to live, but it's what I've got to work with this time around and it's a pretty powerful teacher.  Obviously built to specifications, just ask the architect.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Art As Spiritual Practice

"I believe that each one of us has a riddle to solve, the riddle of what it means to be human."  Frederick Franck

For some reason I've been thinking about Frederrick Franck for the last couple of days so I took that as a suggestion for today's blog.  Do you know Franck?  A truly amazing character, a doctor, (if I recall correctly) an artist, a writer and a Zen practitioner.   I own his book:  "The Zen of Seeing:  Seeing/Drawing as meditation."  It is a gorgeous piece of art as well as being full of Dharma.  He hand printed the book and filled it with his tender, delicate sketches.

Franck who died at the age of 96 in 2006 taught courses (and the book I have is like sitting in on his class) on seeing/drawing as a spiritual act.  He talks about how when you sit down to draw you must actually see deeply, that the drawing experience is an opportunity to experience the miracle of what is around us.  

Even if drawing doesn't interest you, when you read Franck, you will want to give it a try.  You may tenderly trace the lines of your toes or a lady bug or a weed in the garden.  You see, he says it isn't about the skill or talent that we believe an artist needs to come here with, it's about the ability to truly see, to slow down and see.  And we each (as we know) have our own quirky way of seeing things.  This accounts for the uniqueness of what we will create.  This is the gift we bring to the world on many levels, (yes I am looking at you when I say that!)

Franck didn't call himself a Buddhist and I like that.  There is something in me that hates labels, that rebels against that drawing and quartering (pardon the bad pun) of things, packaging them up as a known commodity.  In a wonderful article written in the summer 2006 issue of Tricycle (egads I have torn it out of the magazine and keep it in an art file) Franck says Suzuki Roshi told him "Zen is not a religion.  It is the profoundly religious ingredient in the world religions."    He also quotes Suzuki as saying "When you ask, What is Zen?  you are asking, Who am I?  And when you ask Who am I you are asking What is it to be human?"

I love the distinction Franck makes between "looking" and "seeing".  He says:  "Looking and seeing both begin with sense perception, but there the similarity ends.  When I "look" at the world and label its phenomena, I make immediate choices, instant appraisals.  I like or I dislike.  I accept or I reject......  The purpose of looking is to survive, to cope, to manipulate, to discern what enhances or diminishes the "me".   When I see I am suddenly all eyes.  I forget the ME, and am liberated from it and dive into the reality of what confronts me....  It is in order to see, ... more deeply that I draw....  I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen..... I discover that among the ten thousand things there is no ordinary thing."  Got you sharpening your pencil yet?

"The  Zen of Seeing" is filled with wonderful stories of Franck's travels and quotes and Dharma, always Dharma.  He was a wise and talented man.  At the end of her interview with him for the Tricycle piece, writer, Tracy Cochran asks him (and this is the same year he died)  What is really important in the end?  Franck's reply:  "Awakening the heart, without a doubt."  What more is there to say?      p[']]]o0lppppp  Bunny the cat just walked across the keyboard and typed that last comment which provided me with great entertainment.  I guess there was more to say!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Reading The Dharma

Well tonight is the night.  I have been thinking about sharing some of my favourite Buddhist reads with you since I started my 100 Days of Dharma and here I am heading up to closing time and I still haven't done it.  hmmm there's a lot of things in life that seem to end up that way.  There's no order to my list (no David Letterman top 10 countdown or anything).  I will probably get up and comb the book shelves a bit to look for old favourites.  And undoubtedly I will forget a few, maybe some that have wandered off with my daughter over the years or fallen down the back of the shelf.

Excuse the fuzziness of tonight's Buddha.  Fuzzy is good in teddy bears, not so much in photos.   He is a recent addition to the Buddha family and looks like I need to call the photographer back for round two.  This fellow is 24"x24" and is patiently awaiting a cedar box frame which will finish him off quite nicely, I think.  He's in shades of reds and oranges, with some yellow highlighting.

And now the envelope please.  One of the really well thumbed Dharma books around the house is Joko Beck's "Everyday Zen".  I have always loved her for her down to earth pragmatic way of writing about the Dharma.  I just opened the book and found a great Dogen quote that in a way sums up the focus of Beck's book (not to be confused with Beck's beer) "To look for the Buddha Dharma outside of yourself is like putting the devil on top of yourself."  Much later I discovered Ezra Bayda (a student of Beck's).  I like his "Being Zen", again very down to earth, applied Dharma.

I have always bought everything Pema Chodron writes.  Her Dharma is right down there in all the messy trenches of life.  You won't find her floating around in her head.  She is clear, easy to read and full of wisdom.  Here's a random line from opening "Start Where You Are" by Chodron, "It's all raw material for waking up.  You can use numbness, mushiness, and self pity even, -- it doesn't matter what it is -- as long as  you can go deeper, underneath the story line."

Another early favourite of mine was "Peace Is Every Step" by Thich Nhat Hanh, subtitled "The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life".  It is the simplicity and directness that makes Nhat Hanh such a treasure.  Each piece is quite short in this book and I can remember reading bits to my daughter when she was younger, maybe 10 or so.  One I remember is called the Tangerine meditation where he talks about experiencing the mist that sprays off the orange and its wonderful fragrance.  Another piece is called "Washing Dishes."  He reminds us to experience life, rather than let it slip through our soapy  or orange stained fingers.

I love a little book called "Zen Gardening" by Veronica Ray.  It is one of my favourites, probably because I love both things in the title.  But more than that, I love Ray's description of where she finds the Dharma in her garden and her superb writing.  This book is a little know gem.  It's tiny, it's beautiful and it's wise.  Here, I'll let her speak: "Living Zen doesn't mean nothing again will ever happen to or around you.  People will continue doing things that you would never do to them or anyone else.  Accidents, earthquakes and bombings will forever pepper our lives with anguish and sorrow.  Cruelty and ignorance will continue to plague us.  The only question is "how will we respond to them?"

Not that long ago I discovered Tarthang Tulku.  "Skillful Means" was the first one I read and then "Gesture of Balance" which is longer and more complete, I think.  There is something so amazingly positive about his way of seeing the world that I love.  He is like a fresh, light breeze whispering the Dharma.  I also love the way he gives a feel for the mystery of life and the Dharma.  A random page opening finds this quote, "So begin by listening to your heart, to your feelings and thoughts and inner dialogue.  Pay attention to everything that is happening around you."  A friend of mine tells a funny story about the New York Times reviewing one of his books years ago and referring to him as Mr. Tulku.  We were amused by that and always refer to him as Mr Tulku now.

I love to cook and I love metaphor so the idea of Dogen's "Instructions to the Cook" appeals to me, yet the text is not very accessible.  Enter two books, one Uchiyama's "How To Cook Your Life" which is a commentary on Dogen's original and the Bernie Glassman's (with Rick Fields) spin off called not too surprisingly "Instructions to the Cook" and is based on his personal experience with the applied Dharma as it relates to Dogen's text.  It's a great little read about establishing Greyston Bakery and community.  He explores ideas like, "Recognzie your faults as your best ingredients."

Don't groan but I have always liked Eckhart Tolle.  Okay, go ahead groan if you must.  I've always thought of Tolle as Buddhism without the Buddha.  I have friend who can get very angry about this because she says he's not acknowledging his sources.  I like him, his strange elfin like quality and honestly, I think so much of the practical aspects of Buddhism are just common sense.  And the Buddha wasn't a Buddhist either.  Tolle has brought a lot of wonderful ideas to people who might never have found them had they been wrapped in a different package.  I'm not sure I would buy any of the spin off books he's written but I think "Power of Now" and "A New Earth" are worth the read.

Well we're in the home stretch.  I will mention three more books that I  like.  One is "Touching Enlightenment " by Reginald Ray.  I like his integration of the body into practice, something I don't find in many places.  He is wise and leans to the slightly shamanic and mystical which has some appeal to me.  I also own a set of his CD's which I like called "Meditating With The Body".  A recent addition to my library is "Feeding Your Demons" by Tsultrim Allione, an amazing woman teacher out of Colorado.  You can find her on the web at "Tara Mandala" (they also sell some pretty kick-ass herbs there).  The book is subtitled "Ancient Wisdom For Resolving Inner Conflict".  It is based on an ancient Tibetan practice called chod which encourages us to make friends with our dark spots, as opposed to fighting them, an interesting and life affirming approach I think.  Trying to rid ourselves of our darkness  only increases its power somehow.   And last but not least is a small book by Jon Kabat Zinn called "Arriving at your own Door".  It is bite sized excerpts from "Coming To Our Senses" by Kabat Zinn.  It makes a perfect gift which is how I came to have it.  A good friend brought it to me when I was in hospital recovering from an unpleasant bit of surgery.  It is uplifting in a short and sweet kind of way, perfect for any slightly addled state.

So there you have it, some of my favourite buddhist reads.  Have I forgotten any?  What's on your shelf?  

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Dharma of PhotoShop

I'm not gonna write about frustration today, nope I'm not.  I'm not going to tell you about spending hours with photoshop trying to figure out #**!! how to manage image size.  You don't want to hear about any of that.  What I can tell you is that no injuries were incurred by any piece of hardware or software, nothing was dangled out the window by its cord, no rude emails were dashed off to Adobe Systems(okay maybe composed in my mind), no clumps of hair were removed from either my own head or that of the cat.  All in all I think I behaved rather well for a cranky, self diagnosed, technophobe.  

So where does frustration fit in to the Dharma?  I am wondering about it now.  Before I just was frustration, after the fact I can wonder about it.  I guess it's about impatience which I have heard said is really just a form of anger.  And anger reduced is just one of the 3 poisons (hatred).  When you stop and think about it impatience is an aggressive kind of energy.  Frustration turned outward might result in some unpleasant words spoken.  Frustration turned inward might be some disparaging self-talk.

And I think desire figures into frustration because there is an element of wanting implied.  I am frustrated because things are not working out as I'd hoped or planned.  Often it goes with "I want this to work out easily and I want it to work out now!"  It's about expectation in a way too, isn't it?  Because if I didn't expect it to be easy, well I wouldn't be surprised and irritated when it wasn't!  And do I detect an element of laziness in frustration, perhaps lurking quietly in a back pocket.  I am frustrated because I am having to put in more time and effort than I wanted to.  Ah, there is that word want again.

And what does frustration make us do?  Do we give up?  Does it put us off our plans?  Does it make us feel bad?  Or do we go damn it, I'm gonna figure this out?  Or where's that cheesecake?  Or bottle of whiskey?  Or do we say, "it's my mother's fault I'm not good at this!"  It all depends on our habitual tendencies I suspect and our karmic packages.  These things are our raw materials that figure into our reactions and let us know where our work is.

So when we meet frustration standing in the isle, arms crossed, looking a lot like a grumpy version of Mr. Clean what do we do?  Do we melt into a puddle or explode and burn up like a small human meteor (both damaging to the carpet)? This gets me thinking about skillful means.  Maybe it's about knowing when to stop, when to take a break, when to call an expert or a friend.  Or maybe for me, it's about learning to persevere, to regroup and learn to go through the manual (I'm the kind of person that only reads the instructions after the fact when all the buttons have been pushed and the warranty has been invalidated by my foolish actions).  I think the more we learn about ourselves, the more we see in each instance, what we need to do.  We're kind of like our own built in instruction booklet, don't you think?  But mostly we're so busy looking for the easy way out or for someone else to tell us what to do (preferably an expert), or maybe we'd like a generalization that will fit all circumstances.  And while we're busy looking in all those places we fail to read ourselves very well and see what we really need to do in this moment, in these particular circumstances.

So it's a good thing I didn't bore you with a big long winded story about my frustration because well, you would only have found the experience very frustrating.  And then what would you do?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Having A Light Touch

I'm cheating again!  This picture is part of yesterday's piece.  These two leaves are image transfers of the original Bodhi leaf  that my friend got from India.  I am taking pleasure lately, in capturing portions of larger paintings and of course it makes up for the fact that nothing new came out of the easy bake oven in the studio today.  (Remember those little ovens and those little pans and cute little boxes of cake mix, ah, such fun!) 

It was a gorgeous Spring day (with cloud promised for later in the week) so a walk in the country was in order.  Then a little art marketing.  I've heard it said that artists spend as much time working the business end as they do painting.  Today I wrote a wee bio (which I detest doing).  Somehow they feel pretentious to me (and if you haven't noticed I can have a hard time being serious)  I always remember Miss Piggy's famous line, "who, Moi, pretentious?"  Anyway the Fairfield Artists Studio Tour (FAST) kindly put late ol' me onto their website.  So as things have unfolded I will open my doors and participate in that event.  So if you are in Victoria, mark your calendar for April 25th-26th and drop by and say hello.

It's interesting to me how things go.  My Zen teacher always says, "a no is as good as a yes."  And for me this is becoming a real guide in how to approach things.  It came up a few times as I sat in meditation and in conversations that it might be good to do some brick and mortar marketing things.  So even though the timing was a bit off, I followed the studio tour lead.  If things don't work out I will just let that one go, I thought to myself.  But as I went along doors opened and though it seems a bit of a rush everything points to it being a good thing to do.  The next part of it to remember is not let the cranky, perfectionist part of me get in there and make me crazy!  The Dharma will be in approaching it all (at least that will be the plan) with a light touch, just doing, not fretting (which worked well for my last minute Christmas Open House).

It is so easy to wind yourself up like a little spring bound propeller, thinking of all the things that need to be done.  But in truth it is just a matter of using your energy wisely, not wasting it on fretting (don't I know that one well!).  So this evening I will fill out the application for the "Make It" show in Vancouver and remember that a lot of the work I do for the studio tour will transfer right over to that event.  And again if it works out, it will be a fun experiment, a test of the craft show market. 

It is all good Dharma, remembering to keep balanced and focused and just do what needs to be done.  And there in lies the work of the heart which is there in everything we do when we are willing to look.  My aim will be to keep my intention in mind as time goes on, to have fun, enjoy the process, to practice touching lightly and letting go.  And sometimes that's easy to do when things are going well but how about when you're dragging your tubs of stuff to a venue in the pouring rain, or the hot water tank bursts before guests arrive, or you wake up with a scratchy throat.  How graceful are we then?  It is easy to be nice when people are nice to you, but a real test of the metal when they hiss and snarl.  Then what?  Do we sharpen our own claws?

So those are some of my thoughts as today.  Not to let that mind get racing, not to get so immersed in what I'm doing or have my eyes set so far down the road that I  hardly notice the lovely souls standing in front of me, not to  have my mouth so firmly fixed with grim, work ethic determination, that I forget to have fun.  And oh yes, no claw sharpening!

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Dharma of Doing Something Different

I am excited about this picture I am posting tonight. One, it is finally finished and two it was a commission.  A friend, a very trusting friend had a Bodhi leaf that someone brought  him from India.  He wanted to preserve it and gave it to me, asking that I incorporate it into a piece of art.  That was in December!  It took some contemplating before I finally felt good about the composition.  He left it all up to me, no colour or composition preferences.  Sometimes you can get a long leash to hang yourself with --- or a lot of trust from a kind friend.  Anyway here it is (I hope he's not peeking!) and I'm pretty pleased.  

The leaf at the very top is his original Bodhi leaf which was quite dry and crispy  when I got it (think Frito Lay Bodhi chips or Old Dutch, if you're Canadian!).  After a lot of research I rejected resin which is a pretty toxic brew and settled on a less toxic alternative called if you will, "tar gel".  A young woman at the local Opus art supply store was extremely helpful as I sorted through all the medium options and this one worked like a charm, actually softening and plasti-coating the leaf.

But that's not today's Dharma, it's just me rambling.  But I did learn something today, as I do almost everyday (sometimes the lessons aren't so welcome) but today's was good.  In December I took my first real dip into the online universe, setting up an Etsy shop and later in the month a blog.  I committed to my 100 days of Dharma, also put on an in-home art show and sale and popped a couple of my pieces into local shops for the Christmas season.  In essence I lit a little fire under my tentative little butt, the butt that can always think of zillion reasons why this or that is not going to work, a butt that sabotages and tires itself out thinking before it even gets out of the starting gate.  Do you know how that works?  Do you get up to that too?  I think so many of us are afraid to fail that we never even try.  We are guilty of living in some state of pale grey, the unlived, ghostly (or should that be ghastly?) life.  I'm not pointing fingers.  I just suspect I'm not alone in this.  My Zen teacher has a saying that a Swami she studied with used to sum this up.  He would say, "when you know one mango, you know them all."  

But that's not the lesson I learned today.  That's December's lesson.  Today I realized that the novelty value and work that had kept me busy, engaged and feeling alive for a good while was flagging a bit.  I could see myself starting to do what we humans do.  I was scanning the landscape, perhaps feeling a little bored.  While I've made lots of good contacts, had some sales on-line and been inspired by all the creative souls out there, I realized I needed to expand my horizons a bit.  So instead of grumbling I starting casting about.  That word reminds me of a fisherman throwing his line out into the pond which is kind of what I felt like I was doing. "I'll check out the local art scene.  I'll check out some shows."  It just felt like time to do something different.  Not that there was anything wrong with what I had done but  some internal pedometer was telling me to keep moving.  Some of the ideas of what to do came to me by way of an energetic artist named Matt LeBlanc that I met on the Boundless Gallery site.

The really interesting thing for me was the amount of energy generated by just the act of throwing that line out into the pond, of doing something different.  Now in the past I might have grumbled and given up on the online scene and felt depressed.   It would have been like my ol' pick-up truck coasted  to a halt with a flat tire at the end of a dead end road.  This time when the truck stopped I pulled out the ol' fishing pole and sauntered down to the pond.  The sun was shining and I was having a great time.  It really is about changing habitual tendencies.  I found that trying something new generates new energy.  So this morning I signed on to write for a new art blog called artINK.  I think I've snagged a last minute spot at "Make It", a show for artists and crafters at the Round House in Vancouver's Yaletown on the May 1st-3rd weekend.  And if time and energy allow I found out I can  join in the Fairfield Artist's Studio Tour on April 25-26th even though I'm too late to appear in the event's guide.   I'm still contemplating that one.  

But what I really learned was about moving energy, that  just adding a new ingredient or two to the pot livens up the soup in an invigorating kind of way.  Now you might have known this already and really at my age I ought to have too but..... well old habits being what they are.....  some of us are just slow learners.  So just a small turn in how we see things and how we sidle up next to them can make all the difference.  It might not be anything big, but it seems to me an essential part of feeling alive.  Sometimes all it takes is getting up  an hour earlier than usual and going for a bike ride or for coffee at 7 am to a place you've never been before.  Maybe it means organizing a dinner party, if it's something you'd never do.  It's about stepping out a bit, changing a routine, taking a risk.  You don't have to go sky diving or bungey jumping or join a nudist colony (although any of these things could work for you).

So that's what I know today.  And why is that the Dharma?  Well because in it's most basic sense the Dharma is about getting to know ourselves intimately, about building our awareness of what's around us, including what we do.  It's about changing habitual tendencies as the basis for altering our own karma, learning to be in the world in more wholesome ways that cause less suffering for ourselves and others and egads, even promote some joy.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday's Mud Bath

Yesterday was a day when you could wear a Spring coat and feel the sun on your back.  We met friends at a little Italian place tucked away in the corner of a downtown plaza and  feasted on grilled vege and pasta and then took to the streets.  We wandered and chatted and passed a Saturday afternoon in the most pleasant of ways.  When they headed for home to rescue their dog from standing cross legged by the door we browsed in a favourite book store and I ended the afternoon by snagging a "just like new" copy of "The Dhammapada" translated by Eknath Easwaran. 

Here is a quote from the beginning commentary that felt appropriate for today:  "Nothing in it (the world) happens by chance -- not because events are predestined, but because everything is connected by cause and effect.  Thoughts are included in this view, for they both cause things to happen and are aroused by things that happen.  What we think has consequences for the world around us, for it conditions how we act."

I am thinking about this quote not only because it is a very good basic description of karma but it is a good thing for me to consider in light of how the day went.  It started off fine, with a sit and some household chores, a nice walk on the ocean path with my partner.  The sun was shining and the path filled with Sunday strollers and their 4 legged friends (egads there was even a ginger cat on a leash!)  One of us was feeling grumbly (and I won't mention names) and that's where the conversation headed.  By the time we got home I was feeling grumbly too, perhaps doubly grumbly as my efforts to cheer fell flat.

Now that should have been the occasion to regroup or let go but it seems that dark little cloud of a mood gathered.  It didn't really take much to send me into a funk, thinking of all the things that weren't turning out as I'd like.  And it was interesting to watch the momentum of the darkening energy.  It seemed larger than warranted like it had some origin somewhere deeper that was waiting to surface.  And I find it's a tricky thing.  It is unpleasant so what do you do? Are you pushing it away at this point or are you letting it go?  Is it possible to just let go or do you have to wait for it to run it's course and pass of it's own accord.  Was I hanging on to the misery just because that's what I do sometimes?  Is it an a habitual tendency of mine?  Is it the little self just engaging in a some drama to stave off boredom?

In the end the quote from the Dhammapada reminded me to be careful about how I use my mind, to be more vigilant.  My grumpy thoughts "were aroused" by things that happened, as the Dhammapada pointed out, but then my subsequent thoughts "could cause things to happen", a little domino effect.  It reminded me that feeling grumpy was really a kind of sloppy, lazy response to someone else's grumpy thoughts.

Both of us fell into wrong view by allowing our mood to be determined by situations that were happening out there in the world.  You know those little things that influence your mood.  Our real estate plans were not turning out as we'd hoped, house fix up's and work projects not progressing as quickly or smoothly as hoped for.  There's always something, if you want to see it that way.  Or you could say, as the Dhammapada points out "nothing happens just by chance" and a bigger picture is playing itself out.  Perhaps the timing is not right for what "I want" right now or perhaps this is an opportunity to learn a little more about perseverance.  Maybe it is an opportunity to practice acceptance of what is rather than insisting that the universe comply with my desires.  Here is one of the big causes of suffering, the gap between what is and what we want.  Now of course this never means that we should collapse ourselves into inaction but it does offer us an opportunity to look at what we're  doing and contemplate our next options.   So as I head off to find a cup of tea I will think about this line from the verse on the elephant from the Dhammapada: "Be vigilant, guard your mind against negative thoughts. Pull yourself out of bad ways as an elephant raises itself out of the mud."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Peeling The Zen Onion

This week I had a really nice phone conversation with a "Dharma" friend I haven't seen in a while.  I will put a moustache and dark glasses on her to protect her identity and keep me from getting into trouble with the people I love.  She had been on holiday with her partner and made the interesting comment that their last holiday together had been a "renewal"  and this most recent holiday had been a "retreat".    She was hinting at the deep and difficult terrain we can get into on retreat (and with those closest to us).  It's like you go off for a sunny hike in the mountains and the storm comes in.  You get soaked, almost freeze, the stove doesn't work, the tent leaks, your boots rub your feet raw.  It is not the imagined trip you had in mind.  And yet, and yet....

She did not go into the details and yet I could feel deeply what she was talking about.  It's about the little dances we do with those closest to us.  And then finally one day we see what we're up to.  Maybe we've done the weird thing, the dysfunctional thing for the 999th time and the light finally goes on.  It is the rubbing up against another, sometimes until we are both rubbed raw, bleeding, scratched, and skinned.  It takes as long as it takes, my Zen teacher would say and then we wake up.  The first step is the seeing and the next step is saying I don't want to do this anymore.  I'm done with that.  And then there we are standing in the wilderness.  We don't know what to do.  The old response doesn't work but we don't have a new one yet.

My friend came to an understanding of how deep the habitual karmic pattern of her behaviour was.  She said she could see it reverberating through previous lifetimes.  In a strange but not fully understood way she perceived the origin of the deeply rutted groove of her behaviour.  When I talked to her, she and her partner were still working through their "stuff, exploring the shrapnel of their "retreat" experience.  It was the beginning of a new and deeper relationship with each other, one where another layer of pain and separation has been peeled off.  It's kind of like peeling an onion, this work of the heart.  We keep peeling and getting closer to the centre, to the truth, to our essential self, to our Buddha nature.  We get to see the first noble truth, the truth of suffering.  We get a first hand view of how we cause suffering for ourselves and others through our deeply habitual and often unconscious behaviour.

Do we ever get that pungent, "makes you cry", onion peeled all the way down to the centre, to the point of emptiness?  I don't know, but it seems worth the work.  And if I were a smart ass I might say something like, when life gives you onions, get out the cheese and toast and make onion soup.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Faith, Trust And Children

Quite a while ago and at the urging of my Zen teacher I gave up "wanting" certain things for my daughter.  She is grown (a whole 26 and has been living at the other end of the country for the last 4 years).  Her mother thinks she is underemployed and has scads of potential that she isn't using.  But in truth this isn't any of her mother's business.  I only get one life to live for myself and that's my own.  The news flash is everyone else gets to live their own life as they see it.

In the past this wanting has created a kind of unspoken tension.  All my questions and suggestions imply that she is somehow not doing the right thing or that she is broken and needs fixing.  Not a particularly helpful or supportive message to be sending out to someone you love.  Yet that's what we do sometimes in the name of love, in wanting to help, in thinking we know best.  We get confused and have a hard time seeing these close personal relationships very clearly.   It often takes a little bit (or a lot) of pain before the picture comes into focus in the view finder.  Confusion and attachment can make a bitter brew that choke our relationships and cause suffering all round.

After a painful kind of visit last summer and a lot of work I began to let  go of my expectations and desires for her.  She has a full and busy life and we came to accept that it is okay to talk to her every two weeks.  We could accept that she is not a big phone chatter and doesn't feel the need to check in and talk about all the details of her life.   And there seems to be  less implied pressure in the new improved phone conversations.  I like to think that the lack of grasping, of needing her to be a certain way can be felt across the miles and makes for pleasanter conversation. 

The really interesting thing to me is that she called this morning to ask me to read a covering letter and resume she is using to apply for a new job.  Finally time and circumstances have taken their course (that all my prodding could not make happen) and she has had enough of her current job as a cook.  I am not  promoting magical thinking but it is interesting how when we let go of some attachment, the energy can change and circumstances may change in surprising ways.  And through all the hard work I've put in around this issue, I am truly okay with whatever happens.  

So I could tell her that it was a really good resume and cover letter that she'd written and that I'd hire her even if she wasn't my daughter!  She then pointed out a couple of things that might be good to add and I agreed and offered a little input.  Then she went on her way to put in her 11th hour application.

As my friend the monk pointed out my daughter is employed, looks after herself, has lots of friends and is happily making a life for herself.  Sure she has her own karmic little package, but we all do.  And that is up to her.  So I offered my input when asked for it and wished her luck with her application.  I look forward to hearing the next chapter and know whatever it is that happens, the universe is as it should be, and something greater is always working itself out.  The ability to rest in that place is the true meaning of faith and trust.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Deep, Rich & Messy (are we talking chocolate cake here?)

The art here is part of a larger work (like the one posted yesterday).  I am getting a lot of miles from this and having a lot of fun because I don't usually work large enough to capture portions of a painting and have them stand alone.  It's kind of like a puzzle.  In the end I will post the large work.  In the mean time I have a few more "parts" to show before I bare the whole thing.  

And I am heading into the final leg of the 1oo Days of Dharma.  It's interesting to watch.  When I first started I had a gazillion topics I wanted to cover.  Ideas were easy to come by and as the days went on I wondered sometimes, what will I write about today.  But when I sat down something always seemed to materialize. The process has strengthened the muscles of faith and trust.

When I stop and think about it the process of writing 100 Days of Dharma parallels how things go for us in many places in life.  First we start out enthusiastically and then as time goes on the honeymoon wears off, we get a little bored, our minds wander and we look for new stuff.  If we're not careful we can live our whole lives in this way, never touching anything very deeply, always skimming along the surface, flitting like paper thin butterflies.  It can become an habitual pattern, that at some level is unsatisfying but comfortable.  Now this doesn't mean that we simply flip over and do the opposite.  That would be a mistake too.  This is where our contemplative practice comes in, sitting down at the end of the day and looking at what's gone on, "what niggles" as my Zen teacher would say.  

We can look and see what our tricky little selves are up to.  Are we wandering, are we avoiding, are we  speeding about, never devoting enough care to the details of our lives, do we run around like headless poultry?  Are we hanging out with our good friends sloth and torpor?  Or is it just not necessary in a particular situation to go any deeper.  Perhaps a little skim across the surface shows us where we do need to go and it is wholly appropriate to move on.  Only we can know in any given instance, whether it is a relationship, a job, a conversation, some chore around the house.  But if we never look, we will never know.

The other part of the process of writing 100 Days of Dharma that parallels life has to do with moving past our pre-conceived ideas, our likes, our dislikes, the comfortable, the easy.  It's about committing to something no matter what and just seeing it through.  Our minds are always throwing up resistance, that's what they do.  It is part of right effort to just pat the resistance on the head, say not now, and carry on.  This act of moving past resistance is common to athletes and artists and creative types of all sorts.  Sometimes the best work doesn't come until you have written a thousand pages of purple prose or painted a hundred pedestrian landscapes.  Sometimes it has to come from a place that is way past where you thought you could go.  And as with all aspects of the Dharma, it's about getting to know ourselves, experimenting with what might work and adjusting our course.  It's about living the examined life, the deep, rich, messy life that comes to us while we're grasping after the easy and the comfortable things that we think will make us happy.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Painting The Buddha

This Buddha is part of a large piece (30x40") which has 3 Buddhas in it and is probably the largest piece I've done.  The piece starts with squares of colour and pattern, an abstract painting really, and then the outline of three Buddhas rest on the background.  It took a long time to complete with lots of staring at it and reworking and leaving it rest for periods of time.  At one point the colour was completely different and the Buddhas were simple coloured silhouettes.  It was in fact a totally different painting.  But it wasn't quite right.  It was flat and tentative.  In the end I am happy with the piece.  It is alway a feeling rather than any sense of logic that dictates what it is good to do next and when a piece is actually done.   My work in the studio teaches me a lot about how to live the rest of my life.  I learn about patience and perseverance and riding out difficult emotions. 

It's a bit of a puzzle sometimes in deciding what to do with a piece, like the experiment of life.  I often know something doesn't work but can't quite figure out then and there how to make it work.  It can feel frustrating, accompanied by the sense that maybe this time I might just have to chuck it in the end.  But somehow, if I pay attention and keep going  it always seems to come out the other end.  I like some end results better than others, but mostly  things are reworked until I have that sense of completion and a sense that they are as they should be.  It makes for a long process sometimes.  There are days when I am on a roll and things go well and there are days when nothing seems to work, things get glued on upside down and all the paint needs to be wiped off and reworked the following day!  I have learned to just be with the days that don't work, for the most part.  There are days when things move so slowly that my feet seem stuck in molasses.  I have learned that I am mostly slow and meticulous and my process is long and windy for the most part.  

Today it was dark and rainy and I wasn't feeling very motivated.  There was an unidentified darkness hanging around.  I didn't like the look of what I was working on and really didn't want to get started.  But I finally did anyway.  I suspended judgement and just worked, quietly and attentively.  And surprisingly by the end of the painting day I was pleased with what had emerged.  It was so interesting to watch the resistance.  Lunch took a long time, then I looked at a magazine.  I knew I was working in an "uninspired" sort of space but still I persevered and as the Dharma would have it, this feeling, this state passed and I felt the strength and energy of not giving in to my old friends "sloth and torpor"  

There is so much Dharma in anything we do, in the process, how we work, how we approach our work, how we use our minds, and the emotions that rise and fall, like tiny gusts of wind or huge tropical storms of angst and pain.  Just energy passing through really.  But there we are liking the energy that feels "good" and labeling as "undesirable" the darker energy.  In the end if we can suspend judgement it is all just energy.  From my painting I learn to just stick with it and not judge.  I get to see how I never really know where I'm going or how things will turn out.  It is not necessarily dependent on my state of mind or feelings at the beginning of the task.  I may start out feeling a little low and have a great studio day and vice versa.  It reminds me that my job is just to do what has to be done,  and not trouble myself with the rest, with thinking about or anticipating the results.

I am reminded of my friends comment, that as she looks for a job and a place to live, she moves between hope and fear, back and forth.  But it doesn't really matter.  If we can manage to stay detached from these states and not believe the little stories that swirl in our hearts and minds then it is all okay.  If we can remember not to prefer hope over fear, we are truly enlightened.  That is our work really.  And as my teacher would say, it is all good.