Friday, July 24, 2009

The Peaceful Restaurant

A few months ago I started subscribing to Tricycle's Daily Dharma.  It's nice to have a spot of Dharma with my morning tea or coffee.  It always points me in the right direction, reminding me of what's really important in this life.  Some day's tidbits speak more directly to what's going on in my life and training and today's in particular, so I thought I'd pass it along"

"When I meditate, I am always inspired by this poem by Nyoshul Khenpo:

Rest in natural great peace
This exhausted mind
Beaten helpless by karma and neurotic thought,
Like the relentless fury of the pounding waves 
In the infinite ocean of samsara.

Rest in natural great peace.

Above all, be at ease, be as natural and spacious as possible. Slip quietly out of the noose of your habitual anxious self, release all grasping, and relax into your true nature. Think of your ordinary emotional, thought-ridden self as a block of ice or a slab of butter left out in the sun. If you are feeling hard and cold, let this aggression melt away in the sunlight of your meditation. Let peace work on you and enable you to gather your scattered mind into the mindfulness of Calm Abiding, and awaken in you the awareness and insight of Clear Seeing. And you will find all your negativity disarmed, your aggression dissolved, and your confusion evaporating slowly like mist into the vast and stainless sky of your absolute nature."

–Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (HarperSanFrancisco)

Read this Daily Dharma on

This writing really spoke to me because getting ready for some art shows lately I was acutely aware of how I run my energy, how I work in this habitual, nonsensical state or hurry and rush.   "This exhausted mind" reminded me of what I get up to.  I can feel the  agitation, the restlessness, the striving and I am aware of how tiring it is.  I don't get any more done (perhaps less) because I am thinking of all the things I need to do.  It is a longstanding way of being in the world for me.  And I teeter back and forth between the process of catching myself at it and remembering to stop and just be.  Back and forth, back and forth.  I know it is a stress producing state and physically unhealthy for me.  I can feel it in my body, the tension it produces.  Yet strangely I cling to it.  Why I wonder?  What is so enticing about it to some part of me?  Yes it is a habit, a very strong one but I suspect it lends an element of importance to what I'm doing.  And at some level I feel I must rush about to get things done.  I mean don't we believe that if we work faster we will get more things done?  Isn't there some kind of western faulty logic that makes us feel that way?  And yet at a very deep level I know that if I am simply present and relaxed I will get it all done, everything that needs to be done.  Some things may fall away and that's okay.  If I have pointed myself in the direction of the Dharma I can trust that the important things will get taken care of and what doesn't get done will not harm anyone or any thing.  And life will be more pleasant.  I will rest on trust and faith, rather than fear and agitation  I will be present for what my life brings me.  

So that's what I'm working with these days as I prepare for two more summer shows.  Maybe that's why we chose to eat in a lovely little Chinese restaurant the other night on Broadway called "The Peaceful Restaurant".  So I recommend "The Peaceful Restaurant" metaphorically and the real one, where we enjoyed cold buckwheat noodle salad and a spicy garlic eggplant while watching handmade noodles being pulled and banged and twisted.  May you enjoy the fruits of your training at your own peaceful restaurant.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Panhandling for Dharma

I am the little bear doing somersaults on the easel, or at least that's me goofing off.  I'm doing a little big city living in a downtown condo in Vancouver high above the city on the 11th floor of a very swanky condo.  We're doing another home exchange and it's always interesting to move into someone else's living space for a little while.  There is always this period of transition at first, the feeling of being unsettled and not knowing quite what to do, a strange restlessness, a discomfort, but not quite.

It's interesting to see that I felt much more at home in the 2 island exchanges.  There is a constant din of traffic and sirens and car alarms and horns and while I always think I love the light, these floor to ceiling windows make me feel like a goldfish in a bowl.  There is no respite from the visual and auditory stimulation.  And while up front I don't feel overtly bothered by it, I sense a background, subliminal feeling of overload, if that makes any sense.  I couldn't imagine passing all my days here.  And while I know that quiet comes from within, I have a sense that until you are a very advanced practitioner, you need that outer silence as well, to help you connect with the inner silence.

What I love about the big city is the people watching.  There is such diversity, so many different, interesting sorts.  Today I saw an older woman pushing a baby stroller and instead of having a baby in the seat, she had a tame white duck or goose sitting on the canopy of the stroller.  A live goose in downtown Vancouver, I swear.  Standing on the corner waiting for the light to change as if this was quite common place.  As if she might meet another person coming down the street with say a small fox perched on a wagon.  Who am I to say what is normal or odd or how reality should unfold?  And as we strolled down Commercial Street, we notice a rather cool looking guy dressed all in black sitting in front of a closed shop.  Placed about 6 feet in front of him was a small table with some flowers in a pop bottle and a little sign that said: "Last Chance Counseling Service"  If I had a little more nerve I might have gone and asked for some.  He looked a little wise, like he'd been around the block once or twice.  And what was he doing there?  Was he offering a service?  Was he trying to make some money?  

And then there are all the homeless folk, asking for money, trying to sell you a bookmark, or a poem or just lying on the sidewalk with a newspaper for a pillow.  My heart goes out to them.  And I wonder, "what is it good to do?"  I know some people very firmly believe that you shouldn't give them money.  They just spend it on their "habits".  I have such mixed feelings about it.  Sometimes I give.  Sometimes I don't.  But one thing I try and do is offer them something, a smile, a word, a look that says yes I see you.  You exist for me.    A couple of years ago I attended a talk by a young man who had done the street Dharma practice where you go out and live on the street for a couple of days.  He talked about his panhandling experience and how he felt invisible and less than human because people turn away.  We turn away because we're uncomfortable, embarrassed, not interested.  But we forget that there is another human being on the other end of the turning away.  For us, the entitled, it may seem hard to understand how someone can be diminished when we look away.  After that I realized that it is very small offering, but it is always available for me to give, a bit of dignity offered in the willingness to look  you in the eye.

So that's my big city Dharma.  The noise reminds me of how important silence is to me.   And I get to experience a huge range of human diversity here where the sites and sounds are multiplied and magnified.   I can watch us strange and miraculous human entities, each with our own karma playing itself out.  I can offer what small thing I have, a bit of myself.  And I can live for a short time up in the sky, behind glass,  with the city lights twinkling all around me like stars, remembering all the strange things I have seen, which include a small package in an apartment window that contained jasmine scented angel snot (I am not kidding, I saw it with my own eyes) and I'd only had a single glass of wine!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Rest Your Life On The Dharma

Ah, it's a slippery slope and I'm already at the bottom.  You don't want to hear about it.  Another piece of photo art instead of studio art.  As my friend the Buddhist monk and I sometimes chuckle we are "delinquent" types often ready to bend and play with the rules.  And yes I have excuses.  We delinquent types always do.  But I won't bore you with them.  

This delicious rock is from the beautiful Quadra Island and reminded me of an abstract painting lying there on the beach.  How could I not bring it home?  How could I not share it with you?  I could say something like "the Dharma rocks" but you won't catch me saying anything so foolish and age inappropriate as that, even if it does.  

And if I were to use this photo as a jumping off point for writing about the Dharma I would refer back the solid nature of that rock,  how it is such a good solid foundation to rest things on.  And from my earliest encounters with my Zen teacher I found that practice and the Dharma brought sanity to my life and gave me a foundation on which to make wiser, more wholesome choices in my daily life.  Not that I could always do it, not that I could always get it right, but the Dharma helped me point myself in that direction.  Dharma as bow, me as arrow.  As time went on I came to have a first hand understanding  about the suffering that leads to the end of suffering, instead of the suffering that leads to more suffering.  I could work with my life, now that was exciting stuff.

In my previous incarnation as a Dharma dabbler I felt battered about by life, the winds and waves of human interaction and emotions.  It made me crazy sometimes and I didn't understand why.  Why does this happen to me?  What am I doing wrong?  Trekking  the peaks and valleys of daily life just tired me out and puzzled me.  But the Dharma made the crazy, broken puzzle I lived in make sense.  It was a place to rest my longings and frustrations, a place of great logic and wisdom.  Suddenly the fuzzy bits started coming into focus.

I can no longer imagine how I lived my life without the Dharma to help me through the narrow spots, over the rapids, around the sharp broken bottles of life.  How do you work with your anger without the Dharma?  How do you understand the strange things (sometimes unkind things) that people do?  How do you have cancer without the Dharma?  How do you become kinder without the Dharma?  How do you learn to plunge in and savour fleeting chats with strangers without the Dharma?

And here is a wonderful quote from the Dhammapada that reminds me that the Dharma is like a sumptuous piece of cheesecake or chocolate cake, meant to be shared:
The gift of Dharma excels all other gifts.
The flavor of Dharma excels all other flavors
The pleasure of the Dharma excels all other pleasures.
One who has destroyed craving overcomes all sorrow. 
Pass it on.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Sigh, no fresh studio treats today, kids.    Just crusty leftovers, slightly blue, even (which I guess is fine for pictures and some cheeses).  If it were dinner I might call it tilt.   An old Winnipeger taught me the word.  You just tilt the fridge and whatever comes out, well that's dinner.   In this case we have studio tilt.  I was busy putting finishing touches on studio stuff; making tags, and generally trying to create order from chaos for a couple of upcoming shows.  Two birds, no stones.  

So we're looking at a somewhat focus challenged shot taken on the same ferry ride as the "Push" photo of a few days ago.  You can see the reflection of me in my dorky hat which I have succumbed to wearing for extended sun stays. There's a few things going on here that I like.  I am text obsessed and slightly reflection obsessed so it's more about obsession than photography.  And quite unintentionally the shot is out of focus.  But in the end I think that blurry , fogginess is just a perfect part of the statement.  We're talking illusions here, tricks of the mind.  What is real?  What's reflected back to us?  How often does our confusion or fogginess prevent us from seeing the truth?  Who knew a 45 minute ferry ride could offer so much Dharma?

I liked the "surface may be" text.  Seems very zen.  It hints at illusion, don't you think?  Surface may be.  We don't know for sure.  Surface may not be.  It begs the question what's real and what's not?  Is this world a dream?  Do we create our own reality?  It's pretty subjective when you get right down to it.  What we think, what we expect, what we believe all influence (or should I say create) our reality.  If you believe the someone can cast a spell on you and cause your death, this could be your reality.  If you expect you are going to have a bad day,  what happens to you?  Do you set up some kind of energetic domino effect?  How powerful are your thoughts?  How powerful are our emotions?  Do we draw similar energy to us?

I will end with a poetic quote from Dogen:      "To what shall I liken this world
Moonlight, reflected

  In Dewdrops
   Shaken From A Crane's Bill

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What Are Prayers?

Prayer Tree
Mixed Media with recycled prayer flags
8" x 8" matte, image size 3.75" x 4.5"
$25 including shipping in North America

This little piece has bits of recycled prayer flags.  Is this kosher?  I never quite know what to do with my prayer flags when the strings break and they are hanging all crazy.  I know they are sending their little threads of prayers off into the world but at some point the tattered bits need to come down off my city balcony and be replaced by new ones.  So I hit upon using the left over weathered bits in art work.  I mean you can't throw your unused prayers in the garbage, can you.  No, it doesn't seem quite right.  So they go out into the world again in pieces of art.

So tonight when I looked at this piece I wondered to myself.  Self I said, what are prayers?  And the answer came back that prayers are an asking for help.  We are just asking out in the universe, out there into the mysterious unknown.  We might ask for help for someone who is having troubles, or someone who has died, or  help for the world in general or some direction for ourselves.  We can pray for anything really.  My Zen teacher has talked about asking for help.  It was such a foreign concept to most of us when we first heard it.  "What is it good to do?"  is a question she suggested we use if we were having trouble in some situation.  And then she would say that the answer would come to us in various forms.  And that we might not always recognize it when it comes.  One of her suggestions is that we ask for help and then sit quietly for a bit.  If we are not hearing an answer she suggested we ask 3 times.

What we are listening for is the still small voice.  But the answer can come as a chance meeting, a phone call, an article that appears in the paper.  We must be ready and open to hear the answer.  And we must have faith that the answer will come and trust ourselves enough to know when the answer appears.  That always was a favourite question of us students.  "How do we know it's the answer?  How can we tell a real answer from something that we conjured up in our head?"  We didn't really trust that much and our hearing skills were not very good.  We were like people with really bad eye sight and cotton batting stuffed in our ears.  We were "answer challenged" types.  And patiently our teacher would say, "If you listen long enough and get  enough practice, you will know when the answer arrives."  Sometimes I hear my answer when I ask and sit and sometimes it takes a while.  It may arrive several days later when I'm in the shower.  The shower is kind of like an answer magnet for me.

And many of our prayers don't require answers.  We are wishing safety and comfort, safe passage and an absence of suffering for some sentient beings or part of the natural world.  Fascinating research has been done suggesting that people who are prayed for fare better in medical situations, even when they are prayed for by strangers from afar and even when they don't know they are being prayed for.  It kind of boggles the western, logical scientific mind, the whole idea of prayer.  But there it is....  Another one of those things that can't be understood with the head.  It is the heart, the authentic self that really understands... and it understands it in a way that doesn't easily translate into words.  Excuse me I have some listening I have to do.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Are You Pushy?

I am pushing it.  Not the door.  The boundaries of what I said I would do.  I said I would post a piece of art for 30 days and technically the picture hanging just above us is a piece of art.  It's photo art, not something glued or pasted or painted.  Not the usual.  And I didn't take it today.  It reminds me a bit of "miksang" photography where the aim is to see things in a new and fresh way.  I took this on the ferry to Cortes Island a while back.  I had a lot of fun taking  pictures of parts of the slightly tub-like ferry.

The little torn push seemed profound to me somehow.  Isn't that what we do a lot of the time.  We push in subtle (and not so subtle) ways to get what we want, to control our environment.    I noticed the subtlety of my wanting and pushing today in conversation with my partner.  I asked a question and then for some reason I noticed something I probably do quite often.  Just the look on my face, the tone of voice, a certain tightness of presence carried a message about the answer I wanted.  It wasn't a question asked with an open, waiting quality.  There was a quality of wanting.  And as I became aware of it I could let it go and open.  And interestingly, I  could feel myself relax.  I was released from being the answer police, pacing back and forth waiting for the "right" response.  A small example of how we  push to control our world.

We push at our partners.  We want them to please us, make things easy, do what we want.  We push at our children, thinking we know best, they should just do things our way, it would be easier for everyone.   We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to push and mould the world into something that pleases us.  When in fact, as I realized today, this is stress producing behaviour.  Is it Dogen who said "the way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose."  The effort we exert in the pushing not only tires us out and wears us down, but if we really got it, we'd see how futile it is. We  know in our heads  that "we are not in control here" but frequently forget it as we go about our business.  

And as always there is a flip side to push (no it isn't pull).  There are places in our lives where a little push can be a good thing.  I'm thinking of my old friends sloth and torpor.  They need a good push every once in a while.  And how about our training.  Sometimes we need to turn up the heat a bit on that.  I will end with one of my favourite quotes from Dogen: "Train like your hair is on fire."  This has always grabbed me on so many levels, just the image of someone (me) running down the street with their hair on fire, does it get any more urgent than that.  Now I'm thinking of a new personal Zen grooming product, perhaps hair igniter, followed by a spritz of cool mint hair extinguisher.  Ah if it were only that easy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Too busy To Sit?

A Bird In the Bush
Original Mixed Media collage on matte board
8" x 8" matte, image size 3.75" x 4.5"
$25 including shipping in North America

I am feeling rather speedy tonight as the result of all the things I have done today and have to do for two upcoming art shows.  So many little things and then life always intervenes with its own little agendas that interrupt.  An early morning Etsy order, a call from a realtor checking back.  It's interesting how some days just have that kind of energy.  And for me it's always about keeping my eye on the proverbial ball.  It's so easy to create and go over lists in your mind.  But they just make me tired.  I love lists (in their place), but sometimes  they can take on a life of their own and chase you around the house and wear you out before you're even out of bed.  (Who let that list out of it's cage this morning??)

But if I just do the next thing that needs to be done, instead of going "Eeek I have so much to do,"  I am much better off.  For one, I have more energy and my head doesn't feel like it's about to spin off into orbit and become space trash.  All those tasks will all get done -- or not.   And it will all be okay.  No houses will burn down.  No lives will be lost.  In the grand scheme of things, what I have to do is like a speck of dust in the universe.  No big deal.  Now if I can just remember this....

I feel like I'd like to do another sit today and that had been my intention in the morning but here I am late at night.  I think a sit at this time of day could be a head bobbing event (you've seen those little bobble headed hockey players & such).  But the idea of being so busy that I feel the need to sit again reminds me of a Zen story.   A new student asks how long to sit.  The master says start with half an hour.  The student replies that he is far to busy for that and then Zen master tells him to sit for an hour then.  And that's it, isn't it, the busier we are, the more stressed we are, the more time we need to spend slowing down.  It's the antidote, it's the solution to the problem, not another aspect of the problem, it's not just one more thing to do.  It's a whole shift, an opportunity to see things differently.  And "the busies", they're  like a warning signal we can read, but mostly we think we are too busy to bother.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Off To Dreamland Barking Furiously

Off To Dreamland Barking Furiously
Mixed Media on Matte Board
8" x 8' matte, image size 3.75" x 4.5"
$25 including shipping in North America

Okay I write foolish stuff, I might as well have some foolish art to go with it.  I would love to be thought of and remembered as a Zen fool but I think I might have a lot of work to do to get the Zen part right.  I love polka dots - just look at that word - how can you not like it, dots doing what?   Why the polka of course - all over the page.  And then there is the strange little animal ripped and born from bits of brightly coloured paper.  And of course like a cherry on top, just a few random words cut from a vintage Children's story book.  I love nothing better than creating crazy bits of ransom note text.  Maybe I should write a whole blog in this way?  Pure and utter nonsense.  What?  What's that you say?  "I already have a license on the pure and utter nonsense part."  Why thank-you.  Just what I was aiming for.  Oh, oh.  We're on a slippery slope, kids.  I think I better get off the crazy carpet quick.

I found this quote today in an old journal and I loved it, among many others I'd copied down from Ryokan,
 "If you don't write of things deep inside
   Your own heart
 What's the use of churning out so many words?"  

Did he read my blog???  Do his words stand in contrast to what I've written above?  I don't think so.  There is foolishness and lightness and playfulness inside my own heart.  There is in truth nothing I like better than a big, juicy chunk of foolishness.  And it always goes with the Dharma in my mind.  They can sit quite comfortably on the same plate.  Stir fried crazy Dharma hash with tofu.  I think sometimes some practitioners get too serious for their own good, or maybe that's for my good.  They take themselves and their practice too seriously.  Can get a little boring and lifeless.  And of course there is a balance here.  It would never be my intention to be disrespectful.  Some of the most sincere practitioners I know have a great sense of humour.  And watch the Dalai Lama, a lot of laughter goes on there.

And while I might be accused of churning out a lot of words I think a good lot of them come from deep inside my own heart as Ryokan says.  I write about my life because that is the only way I know how to practice.  I wake up with the Dharma peeking at me as I open one sleep smudged eye.  It follows me around, it falls on me, jumps out at me from behind  doors, peers back at me in the mirror.  Sometimes I can accept it with grace and sometimes it stings when it squirts me in the eye .  And so I churn out some words here in my blog, like butter or ice cream and flavour it with tiny sprinkles of heart, and of course on a good day I put a reindeer on top.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Salt & Pepper, Sukkha & Dukkha, A Sprinkle of Each

You Didn't Come For Cocktails
Mixed Media on Matte board
Matte 8" x 8"   Image size 3.75" x 4.5"
$25 includes shipping in North America

I confess this is an old piece.  I did not do it today.  Ah ... the best laid plans of small rodents and  mortals.  If  Sukkha & Dukkha were in the salt and pepper shakers, someone definitely shook a little more Dukkha on my plate than I find tasty, today.  But isn't that it.  We always like things sweet.  But somehow I muddled through.

Hearing that Bunny the cat died definitely shook me.  Sad news and weird timing.  But there it was.  Lately when I hear things like this they remind me of my own mortality in a first hand shaky sort of way that feels uncomfortable.  The unpredictability of life comes and pokes it's nose right in my face to see if I'm listening.  I can't hide, ignore or distract myself .  And the contrast from yesterday somehow added to the sullenness of my mood, the sunny Saturday sitting on a deck with friends toasting a glass of bubbly  to the newly married.   

And when we arrived at my mother's for a little visit this afternoon, she had fallen and grazed herself, yet again.  She was understandably shaky and somewhat agitated that her call button had broken.  Being a bit of a trooper she had declined the ride to the hospital that attending paramedics had wanted to take her on.  We managed to get her a temporary call button for the evening and made sure she had some pain killers for later if she needed them.  This event added another dash of Dukkha to the day.  And yet I wonder, am I supposed to be able to take it all in my stride and just say this is how it is.  I watch myself get out the little list I keep somewhere in my head, that goes, well there's another minus sign for today, grumble, grumble.  So all in all we're working in the negative integer zone (whatever an integer is?)

And so I came home and resisted collapsing into a small heap or melting into a puddle (too cold today for melting).  I got out my paints which is skillful means I think, and did something semi useful, grumbling when I couldn't find an eraser.  And that was today.  And it's okay.  Not everyday includes a glass of bubbly on a sun-drenched patio with good friends.  And if it did, the human mind being what it is, we'd probably find that boring and wanting after a while.  And in strange way, not pushing away what has been served up to me , is embracing what the day has offered up.  It's not licking the plate or asking for a second helping, but it's not dumping a bag of sugar on it or throwing the plate on the floor and shouting about not ordering this.  I didn't run off in search of comfort or distractions.  I didn't add to the dukkha by spinning some story about the future or possible outcomes.  I just muddled along and as the little collage points out, "you didn't come for cocktails."  Neither did I.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Coming & going

Coming & Going
Mixed Media on Matte Board
8" x 8" matte, 3.75"x 4.5" image
$25 including shipping in North America

Today was a beautiful sunny, warm day here, warm enough for sleeveless dresses without goosebumps, not an everyday event in this part of the world.  A perfect day for an wedding on the lawn, a Buddhist wedding no less.  About 70 of us gathered on the lawn of a housing co-op for the wedding of some young friends.  The Buddhist ceremony was presided over by my friend, the Buddhist monk.  It was short and not just sweet, for it touched on the truth and reality of relationships.  It acknowledged that there is sukkha and dukkha.  It didn't go for the hearts and flowers bride magazine approach to marriage and ignore the fact that relationships require work and that they are not always easy. For me it is kind of like the first noble truth.  Buddhism acknowledges the existence of suffering to prepare us for the inevitable event of when suffering pops by for a visit.  In this case bride and groom were reminded of the reality of the work and patience and perseverance required to sustain true relationship.  No basking in diamond ring sound bites and cruise ship honeymoon brochures here.  

Of course there was the joyful aspect of the sharing of love as symbolized by the single candles that bride and groom carried and then used to light a larger candle.  And I loved this line from the ceremony delivered by our monk: " I am witness to the sincerity of their intention to live together in their search for Truth, and to offer the merit of this union for the welfare of all beings."  Later the bride and groom said together: "We are marrying so that we may purify our bodies and minds, and help one another be successful, each in our own way.  We pray that the merits of our relationship shall be used for the benefit of our family and all living beings."  What a great sentiment that their love is not just confined to the couple but to "all living beings."  It speaks to the fact that real love is more than our Western idea of "romantic love".  It was a lovely day that ended with a pot luck meal and some very touching words by their family and close friends.  

That was the coming part of the day, this delightful pair coming together, friends and strangers coming together to witness and celebrate their commitment to each other.  The "going" came to me as an email.  A short note from "Bunny the Cat's" owner to say Bunny passed away last night at 2 am., a note to let us know and to thank us for the love we had extended toward Bunny over the 11 month period she lived with us.  Quite shocking and surprising that just one month after she left us, she is gone from this earth.  We had planned to visit her in a couple of weeks when we will be in Vancouver.  And really it is beyond understanding.  I won't even try.  But just to acknowledge that it is sad and say a little prayer for Bunny and her owner.  And the thing that comes to mind in all of this is that "something greater is working itself out."  Always and in all things.  I say this as sheet lightning spreads across the dark night sky.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Opportunity For Practice

This Rocks
Photograph chroma-life ink on matte photo paper
8" x 10"
$25 including shipping in North America

I wish I had painted this but it was created by a prolific, mysterious artist I know you are familiar with.  An artist with enormous range, creating mountains,oceans and forests but also small, simple things like dandelion puffs and grains of sand.  To call this magical creator mother nature is to anthropomorphize and diminish so I won't go there.  The above piece is a photo of a rock I took on Quadra Island and it looks like a wonderful Asian abstract to me, complete with calligraphy and paint splashes.   I think I just blew my cover here.  I didn't cook this up in the studio today (oh, oh).  But I love it anyway.   Who can beat the palette of the natural world?  Everything blends and fits together seamlessly.

I am thinking of things that fit together less seamlessly, perhaps with tears and holes , and frayed edges and imperfections.  I am thinking of us humans.  It seems this week I have been noticing the small miscommunications and lack of communication that happen between us human folk and cause hard feelings and misunderstandings, ruffled feathers (who wears feathers these days?), stepped on toes.  None of the events really impacted me but it seems I was the recipient of a number of stories of so-and-so did this to me.  A visitor to someone's home forgets to mention how many nights they're staying.  Someone else forgets to make a formal invitation to a person that I know was meant to be invited to a special occassion.  One party is oblivious, the other feels slightly offended.  Someone else is miffed that a friend is using a cancer group to promote a multi-level marketing product.  Another person is offended at an authority figure's perceived prickly, impatient attitude. 

And so it goes.  Nothing provides more opportunity for practice than our human interactions.  We can be rubbed raw from banging into each other in large and small ways.  And always there are two sides to every story.  When we notice behaviour in others that offends us, we have the opportunity to look inside and ask why?  Sometimes we dislike qualities and behaviours in others that mirror our own.  In these cases we get to look at what we do and see where we might do better.  Do we run rough shot over other people's feelings just to get what we want?  Do we assume everyone should accommodate our schedule?  And what can we do when we feel someone has overstepped some boundaries of good taste or behaviour?

Difficult questions.  And always it seems to me such worthy places to practice, to stop and spend some time with it.  Should I let this one go?  Is it worth pursuing?  Each event has a different solution.  When the answer comes from deep inside of us and not out of anger or a wanting to retaliate we are more likely to make sensible choices.  Sometimes we need to simply clarify in a kind way.  And sometimes we need to say no, this is not okay, but without anger or malice.

I find that the ability to deal with miscommunications with compassion and kindness is it's own reward.  No residue of regret remains.  You deal with it and move on.  And each time I can do it, it feels like that skill is being strengthened.  Now that's not to say I always get it right, but I try as best I can to wonder "how would I like to be treated in this situation?"  And because I'm human I make mis-takes just like everybody else.  So if you find me mis-taking, give me a little poke or a wink and nudge or maybe just let me know where I've gone wrong with a pinch of compassion.  This reminds me of a game my daughter and her friends played that employed "good little pinches" as they called them!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What Is Your Work?

A Day's Work
Mixed Media on Matte Board
8" x 8" matted, image size 3.75" x 4.5"
$25 includes shipping in North America

"Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it." the Dhammapada.  I bought a card with a beautiful Buddha and this quote on it when I was on my way to a Meditation retreat quite a few years ago.  It spoke to me because my koan at that time was "what am I supposed to be doing?"

Work has a lot of meanings and connotations.  At it's deepest level we talk about our life's work.  What is it?  For me there are two important aspects to our life's work and they aren't necessarily separate.

There is our spiritual work and if we are fortunate our spiritual work and our work in the world have an obvious connection.  They feel integrated somehow.  But if I had to say what the most important work is that we do in our lifetime here I believe without a doubt it is our spiritual work.  Here's a good example. My mother has known for a long time that not having love shown to her as a child resulted in her being unable to communicate love to others.  At 94, through the work we have done together, she has realized with great shock, the impact this has had on others.  When she talks about it I hear the deep regret in her voice and suggested that just having this realization is such a big accomplishment for a lifetime. I told her that this well could be her life's work.  I think it releases a lot of karma and allows for her to move past that position in her next life.  My friend the Buddhist monk suggests that my mother still has the opportunity to change her behaviour now, in this life time, to act on that realization.  While we are alive it is never too late.

Finding our work in the world can be confusing for a lot of us.  Not that long ago I used to quip "I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up."  Many people confessed that this was also true for them.  But it seems in the last couple of years I have committed to my art and writing.  Rather than doing it half heartedly or citing all the reasons it won't work, I have learned to just do it, to quote a running shoe commercial.  I don't ask questions, or tell myself it's foolish.  I don't get too attached to making a great sum of money from it.  I just follow what it seems good to do, stumbling along the way, getting up, dusting myself off and carrying on.  For the most part I have given up trying to understand it with my head.  These are my passions, what I feel called to do and I don't need to ask the unanswerable question, "why?"

Some people have the good fortune to be born knowing what their work is and the rest of us, it seems, need to spend some time being still enough to receive some insight on the question of what to do and then be willing to hear what comes up.  Step number 3 it seems is to just do it and have faith that we are doing what we are supposed to.  This doesn't mean we can't adjust our course or take input from other places, it just means that like so many things in our life, the direction comes from deep inside, from that "still, small voice" as my Zen teacher calls it.  And sometimes we have to be very quiet to hear it over the din of everyday life and all the adverts and mainstream culture that tugs us in different directions.  What are you hearing?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Love Your Little Paint & Word Kids

Night Sky
Mixed Media on Paper & Matte Board
8" x 8" matte, image size 3.75" x 4.5"
$25 including shipping in North America

This little piece pleases me.  Is that a shocking thing to say?  In our Western world it is regarded as prideful or worse to say you like something that is yours, perhaps especially something that you've created.  When you stop and think about that, it is somewhat weird.  You are permitted to sing the praises of anyone else but yourself.  Now I'm not talking about boasting or feeling superior, but just the simple expression of "liking" something that is yours, in a down to earth matter of fact way.  In a way it is acknowledging our own "Buddha nature", it is a point of honesty and a mature position of self respect.  We should be able to say yes, these are my strengths without puffing our chests out or inciting gasps of surprise from others.  Yet this seems very difficult for most  of us Westerners.  We stutter and stumble and do the "oh gosh" thing.

The Dalai Lama couldn't understand the concept of "self loathing" that exists in almost every Westerner.  It had to be explained to him and it saddened him to tears if I remember correctly.  It is important I think, to extend credit and kindness toward ourselves.  As with so many things we must start in our own little patch of self.  Can we really love anyone else well if we don't love ourselves?   And when I think about what is helpful and encouraging for others, I know that it is love and encouragement and respect, helping them see where they shine and building on that.  So why would that be any different when I interact with myself?   When I think about it, being kind to myself and acknowledging when I feel I have done something well or worthwhile or kind, makes me feel strong and energetic and positive.  I then have  energy to do and be more and radiate it out into the world.

So those were my thoughts as I wrote the first line that said "this little piece pleases me".  It seemed like something worth talking about.  And why do I like this little piece?  I like it because it is simple and sometimes I can get too complex and overwork things.  Sometimes I think more is more and often more just means a fast track to the garbage can!  With this piece I stopped.  It feels vaguely like a brush painting and I like that.  It is abstract and beyond the thinking mind and I like that.  It has circles that please me.  And most of all it has weird ethereal words from an old poetry book.  They hint at things, but what things.  "The sky crawled into me."  Don't you love that line?  and then there is "I made a choice"  And being an existentialist from way back, it is my belief that even the non-choice is a choice.  We have no choice but to choose.  Man I'm getting twisted.  Someone hit me with the shut-up stick.  Good.  Thank-you.  I needed that.  End of story.  Go out there and like yourself and your creations.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Creator & Critic Find Their Seats

Tatami Dream
Mixed media on matte board
8" x 8"  matte, image size 3.75" x 4.5"
$25 includes shipping in North America

This little abstract piece is done in neutral, serene shades I don't often work in.  I love the feel of these subdued colours of nature but find myself most often working in vibrant colours for reasons I don't really understand.  Art is like that.  A lot of the time you are doing things that are really beyond your understanding, working from somewhere deeper and more ethereal and intuitive.  The really difficult thing  is to not stand in judgement of what you have done.  I find my mind so often wants to rush to "I like, I don't like" and as we all know,  judgement it is not a very helpful companion.  In fact it's downright paralyzing and counter productive.  And yet it is such an habitual response, done in the blink of an eye, without a breath or a conscious thought.  It is not malicious, simply reflexive and lacking in wisdom. 

 The funny thing is you'd think I'd learn because some of the things I've wanted to fling out the window at some point, later become the things I like the best.  These are pieces that I often regard as beyond recovery at some point and yet when I keep on working they are transformed.  I push past the chaos and the ennui and come out the other end.  It is such good practice but always feels so hard at the time.  There I am with my little time manager hat on, wondering if I've wasted hours, wanting the problem resolved.  The sense of discomfort at walking into the unknown is palpable.  And there is no guarantee that it will always work out just because I persevere.  There is no formula, no equation that goes (many hours + perseverance + agitation = success). (This is as close as I get to math.)

What I do know about writing and art making is that there is a creative, intuitive aspect that needs to just be let loose, given free reign.  Sometimes it takes a long time for the creative furnace to warm up and sometimes you produce a lot of smoke and a little fizzle.  But you have to have faith and work without question.  Sometimes that furnace heats up and a spark ignites from somewhere beyond.  And that is when you truly connect with some special energy.  It's where all really great art comes from, the place where the spark catches and flames transmute the ordinary into something flaming and miraculous.  Sometimes (and you've heard artists say this) it hardly seems to have anything to do with them.  You can look at what you've created and be as surprised as a stranger and wonder "where did that come from?'

And there is a second part of the process, the evaluative part, where you do stand back and consider and edit the work.  "No it needs something else, no it looks a bit flat or yes it's good, just the way it is."  It might be the honesty to see that the first 5 (or 50)  pages of writing need to be chucked.   So the evaluator self has value and a place in creation but it seems that it's not good to get it mixed up with the creator, who just needs to move and flow and muck about.  This creator is interrupted by the evaluator, editor self.  They are two different parts of the process.  And I find sometimes there needs to be a good deal of space between the two.  There needs to be some distance before you change hats from creator to editor, otherwise the hats get tangled and you start to feel like the two headed monster from Sesame Street.  It's kind of like when your eyes need to adjust after being in the bright light.  If your inner eye is still in creator mode, the focus of the editor's eye is a bit blurry and unreliable.

Art is such good practice in many ways, so much of what operates as the truth in other parts of our life is there is small bite sized pieces waiting for us as we step through the studio door or sit down at the computer.  It is training in its own way, just waiting patiently for us to wake up.  As my Zen teacher always says, "the eternal can wait forever, how long can we wait?"

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Dharma of This & That

Mixed Media on matte board
8" x 8" Black matte, image dimension 3.75" x 4 "
$25 includes shipping in North America

When I created this little piece I was thinking about how words can get in the way, how sometimes, for the most important things they are just inadequate.  I was thinking about how we spill so many of them out without a lot of attention and care.  I was thinking about the large gap between what I say and what you understand.  But that is not  to throw the dictionary, the thesaurus and all conversation out with the proverbial bath water.  Many wonderful words make the crossing from one human to another each day.  We hear the Dharma.  We share support and empathy, inspiration and creative energy through words.  Like everything else in this world there is the yin and yang of language.

The other thing that seemed so noticeable to me today was just the movement of life, how much life can flow by in a day, in it's various forms.  Some days are quiet and almost nothing of note seems to show up on the radar screen.  But today we talked to our daughter who has a new job in a raw food restaurant, a friend is patiently waiting for his daughter to give birth to her 3rd child, Bunny the cat's owner contacted me to say Bunny may be quite ill, possibly with cancer or heart disease.  She is still waiting to find out.  We made a whirlwind tour of some properties on this island where we hope to relocate.  The weather has changed from sun to rain.  We walked along the cool windswept beach and ate dinner in a little oceanside cafe.  

It was so easy to see the flow when so many things pass by.  Impermanence was wildly apparent, the up and down, ebb and flow of it all.  Of course there is the momentary feeling of being pleased for the new job, the sadness of hearing Bunny is sick.  And while I can feel these things, there was a sense of not tripping on them, of not wrapping my sticky little fingers around them and grasping on to what I might identify as good and what I might want to push away as undesirable.

So I could say a silent good for you, for my daughter who has first hand experienced the need to take a step rather than just think about it, and I can have faith that we will find a new home that suits us.   I can say a little prayer for Bunny and Jen and know that everything is just as it should be.  Not necessarily always as I want, but fine just the way it is.  As my Zen teacher would say, "something greater is always working itself out."

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Finding Buddha Nature

Writing Lines
Mixed media on paper & matte board
8"x8" matted in black, image dimensions 3.75"x4.5"
$25 includes shipping in North America

Did you ever have to write lines when you were in school?  You know, things like I will not stick chewing gum on the bottom of the desk or whatever it was they made us write.  I can't remember the why's or the what's, only that occasionally this was something required.  In this little collage the lines being written are "I have Buddha nature" and of course the date is always "today".  I guess they wanted us to write lines so we would remember?  And what could be more important to remember than "I have Buddha nature." 

And what is Buddha nature anyway?  Let me give this a shot without referring to texts and definitions.  I think it refers to our "basic goodness", the fact that within each one of us we have all we need to become enlightened, our suffering, our wisdom, our faith.  No matter how "bad" someone seems (think Hitler, kids!) it is believed that we all have Buddha nature and that it is our confusion and greed and hatred that get in the way and cover up our "Buddha Nature", our potential to be "Buddhas".  We don't have to be different than we are or better than we are, we just have to uncover our "Buddha nature."
If we always remembered that we have Buddha nature it would deal with a lot of what ails us, I think.  Would we dislike ourselves and be so self critical if we always remembered we had Buddha nature?  Would we doubt our actions and second guess ourselves so much if we knew our choices came from our Buddha nature?  Would we find others superior to ourselves or feel defensive about their comments or sideways glances if we were sure of our Buddha nature?   Would we be so easily discouraged if we believed whole heartedly in our Buddha nature.  Would we look for distraction so often if we were conscious of our Buddha nature?

So maybe we should each buy ourselves one of these lovely little "practice books" and write a 100 times every day, "I have Buddha nature."  Do you think it would help?  Do you think it would sink in to that blood and bones level?  Do you think we would wake up with those words on our lips?  Do you think it would become a deep part of us that required no thought, like breathing?

And what would we learn about ourselves if we committed to write "I have Buddha nature" 100 times each day for the rest of our lives.  Would we meet our resistance and cynical self?  Would we meet our friends Sloth and Torpor in a back alley?  Would doubt and second guessing drop in for tea?

I wonder.   Are you up for writing lines?  No?  Does it seem silly and school teacherish or sniff slightly of new agey-ness?   How will you discover your Buddha nature?  Perhaps an essay " What I did to discover my Buddha nature on my summer holidays."   Sounds hopelessly boring?  Now I am counting on you to discover your Buddha nature.  Think of it as an experiment  (as is most of this life).  No test tubes or bunson burners required.  Class dismissed.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

My Lemonade Stand

Salt Spring Island is bulging with artists and open studios.  Every crook & nanny here does art and every nook and cranny is crammed with art.  The Saturday market in Ganges is like Manhattan at rush hour (Okay so I've never been to Manhattan at rush hour or any other time)  but you're getting the picture.  I brought some art with me to the island from my bigger island that I live on and  poked and snooped around, thinking I might find a venue.  My work lay in walking the middle road of checking out possibilities but trying not to be attached to outcomes.  The market, because the traffic is so high, has as many rules as customers.  You have to live here for at least 6 mos and jump through hoops of fire to get a spot.  You can tell the old timers by their singed butts (no this is not really true, well maybe, but I never checked that closely).

But we did spend the morning at the market as customers, after parking far enough away that we had to pack a lunch to get there.  But there are fabulous local treasures and we wouldn't miss it .  We bought some locally made curry spices, some pea shoots and sunflower sprouts and a salad roll stuffed with sprouts from the sprout guy.  We had a shot of wheat grass juice from our friend Jim, at Rawsome Living Foods and tasted his awesome raw homous.  We bought some of his raw granola but snoozed too late to get any raw flax crackers.  We sampled some amazing pasta and pesto from a little shop with a serious Italian chef.  We bought handmade soap in little bargain mystery packs.  It was a quintessential summer market day.  Sun blazing, people everywhere, music and tasty smells wafting over everything.

After that we retired back to our lovely home exchange and I decided to put a sign out by the road and hang my art in the garden.  It was fun and in fact I love doing this.  I arranged my journals on a rustic old saw horse and put out a couple of lovely baskets, one with cards and the other with matted prints.  I put out some original collage work on a little black cafe table and we found some hooks that would hold a number of original canvases on the trellis deck railing.   I put out a lovely little bamboo dish of scrabble tile pendants, poured a cool drink and sat down in the shade.

I watered some plants, did a few on-line chores and then started to wonder where everyone was.  The mind always looking for action began it's chattering.   Len commented on how nice the colours of the paintings looked in the bright sunshine and took some pictures.  My mind on the other hand started to rumble, "not one person has driven down from the road".  I looked at the paintings and decided that was because they really weren't very nice.  And on and on. blah, blah, blah ....  We did our qi gong on the lawn in a the shade of a hawthorn tree.  And as my mind quieted  I caught it by it's tail and yanked away the banana it had been chewing on.  "Okay, that logic, well it defies logic ... How could people decide my art was crappy if they hadn't even seen it?"  I inquired.   Such is the nature of the mind.  It tells us stories that appear to be based on logic but are so fuzzy you can hardly recognize them for their furry coating.

And so we chuckled and said it's kind of like the lemonade stand you had when you were a kid.  You spent a lot of time setting it up in front of your house, making the lemonade and signs, finding chairs and change.  The process and preparation were exciting.  And then there was the sitting and the waiting ... and the minutes ... and the hours went by.  And after a while you got tired of it.  So you drank all the lemonade or gave it away to your friends.  But at the end of the day you were happy and at some point you did it all over again. 

Maybe my lemonade stand was quieter than the sound of  one hand clapping but we passed a lovely summer afternoon in a beautiful garden.  And I was reminded once again not to be too attached to outcomes  and to have faith.  It was an opportunity to think about what might work in the future.  And I was reminded that I had fun getting it set up and it wasn't really a problem unless I made it into one.  Always, we have the choice.  So there was the Dharma as usual waiting to show it's wise little face and offer some teaching, even on a sunny, summer afternoon, proving once again that the Dharma is always waiting patiently to offer us just what we need.  And if you're on Salt Spring Island tomorrow, you just might see my little sign by the red bicycle when you're driving down the road.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Empty Vessel

Empty Vessel in Green
Mono-print on hand stamped acrylic background
8" x  8" black matte, image dimension 3.75 " x 4.5"
$25 includes shipping in North America

Yesterday when we went to the Tibetan Retreat Centre on Mt. Tuam there was a "Transmission Ceremony".  There was some confusion over whether those of us who were only there for the opening were allowed to receive the transmission.  As our group was the last of the afternoon stragglers eating and chatting we were herded into the Shrine Room and assured it was fine.  I went along with the crowd in that way that your mother used to say to you when you were a teenager  "Now if everyone jumped off a bridge would you do that too?"

I recently bought a little used book by Chogyam Trungpa called "Journey Without A Goal".  Great title, yes?  I was curious to read about "transmission" in it as I couldn't fully wrap my pea brain around it.  Hmmm, transmission, sounds like something that happens around large metal towers involving copious quantities of electricity.  

Here's what Trungpa had to say about transmission:  "Transmission is like receiving a spiritual inheritance.  In order to inherit our spiritual discipline, in order to have a good inheritance, we should become worthy vessels."   Those words seemed a good match for this little mono-print of a bowl which of course is a vessel for the purpose of receiving things.  It's a great picture he's created,  students as empty vessels.  There is the Zen story about the professor that is asking so many questions to the master but not really listening to the answers.  When the master pours tea for his guest he keeps pouring until the professor shouts "the cup is full."  The Zen Master in his Zennish way simply nods.  So we can be empty or full vessels but most likely something in between. 

Trungpa  goes on to clarify  the qualities of a vessel that is ready to receive transmission: we should be humble, have the ability to question, be spiritually mature and open to the teachings.  Some hefty requirements there, but no one was checking at the door.  "No sorry you don't look quite ripe.  Or do I catch a whiff of pride here?"  There seemed to be a fairly casual approach to things, unlike my experience of ceremony in the Zen tradition I am familiar with.  I guess in my mind "transmission" is one of those esoteric things we can't really understand with our heads.  It has to do with unseen energies that abound whether we know about them or not.  And in many traditions this "transmission" happens between student and master.

Trungpa also makes the following, very clear comments about the process: "Transmission means the extension of spiritual wakefulness from one person to someone else.  Wakefulness is extended rather than transferred.  The teacher,  or the transmitter extends his own inspiration, rather than giving his own experience away to somebody else and becoming an empty balloon.  The teacher is generating wakefulness and inspiration constantly, without ever being depleted.  So for the student, receiving transmission is like being charged with electricity."  So there I was like a little battery, not quite sure if I was an interloper, guilty of pinching a charge or whether I was just a fortunate recipient of a lovely gift.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I'm In Buddhist Kindergarden

ABC Buddha
Mixed Media on Paper & Matte board
8" x 8" black matte, image dimension 3.75" x 4.5"
$25 includes shipping in North America

Remember those lined writing practice books?  Do they bring back memories?  Good, bad, otherwise?  I love text and images mixed together and there's something so nostalgic about the look of these pages.  And it reminds me of grade school which reminds me of beginner's mind, the idea of being new to it all, practice that is.  And seeing it with fresh unknowing eyes.

Today we had an experience that felt grade schoolish.  I think we felt some of the enthusiasm that small children feel when they go off to school for the first time.  Today we're on Salt Spring Island and we drove up a very rustic pot holed road to what seemed like the top of the world.  It is a Tibetan Retreat Centre in the Kagyu lineage of Kalu Rinpoche that was holding a reopening ceremony after being closed for some years.  It was like the first day of school because we had no idea what the Purification or Fire Ceremony would be, or who Mahakhala is  (the focus of the transmission and retreat that followed).

At the Puja Ceremony we re-experienced what it's like to be a small children.  We couldn't read the chants.  We were unfamiliar with the intonation and we depended on the good will and kindness of others as we manouvered (or should I say bumbled) our way through.  My great good fortune was to sit beside a seasoned practitioner who chanted flawlessy in the most wonderful sing songy voice. Like small children we enjoyed the rhythm of the drums and symbols and chanting.  It was a very basic and rudimentary level that we entered on.  

We liked the homemade noodles we had for lunch and the cake that followed the ceremony.  Like kids we looked around to see what other people were doing and followed suit.  We turned pages, mouthed the words, threw rice, held our hands in prayer and took off our shoes when everyone else did.  People were kind and friendly and the weather was superb.  The views were as if we sat on top of the world.  We were above the turkey vultures that circled out over the arbutus trees and the ocean.  The surrounding islands were like tiny models in the great blue ocean and we delighted in pointing out things we recognized, like little people saying the words we knew.  Dog, cat, moon. ... Look at the ferries and there is Cowichan Bay and San Juan Islands and the Olympic Mountains.

In good childlike fashion I sat down with the black cat in a shrine room and petted a mellow fur friend for a while.  We delighted in finding mother deer and spotted fawns hiding from the heat of day under the raised buildings.  We needed a few toys before we left.  We bought incense and a mala and a little book  we couldn't resist.

It was a wonderful exotic day of chanting we couldn't understand and rituals we were unfamiliar with.  We learned a little about Mahakhala, the protector of monasteries and the Dharma.  Mahakhala is black and associated with black animals (except black cats apparently).  He/she has either 2, 4 or 6 arms and is the wrathful counterpart of Chenrzig or Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.  It was a wonderful day with friends and sun and a wild ride up a mountain side.  No wonder the little Buddha in the picture has a red star.  It was a most excellent day.