Thursday, August 13, 2009

Refining Our Lives

I have reinvented "Bubblegum Buddha". In her first incarnation she had no face or detailing. She was simply an ethereal emanation of a Buddha. I liked her then and I like her now. She has been a resident in my studio for a while and lately I have been reinventing, retouching, adding to some older paintings.

Isn't this a lot like what we do to ourselves? Isn't that the refining our practice, taking the base metal of ourselves and turning it to something precious that shines? As time goes on things call out for attention and/or change and we attend to them as seems appropriate. Not that we are always wiser, but if we pay attention and do the best we can, that's all life really asks for I think. The older faceless Buddha seemed clumsier, this one more delicate and detailed.

So it feels like some stage of life, some point on the path where I am pausing to look back and adjust the work I had previously done. I feel a little more skillful in adding the detail to my paintings. And this seems to be the result that "confidence comes with doing, with practice." The more I paint, the clearer it becomes what needs some tweeking in previous work. So in life. Perhaps the eye becomes clearer, the hand more skillful?

I think I can carry over this lesson into other parts of my life. It reminds me that in Malcolm Gladwell's most recent book, "Outliers" he talks about the 10,000 hour rule. Basically that's how long it takes to develop competency at any craft or activity.

The Dharma lesson that has been arriving at my doorstep recently has to do with my relation to others, mainly friends and neighbours. I have noticed myself becoming irritated in several instances lately and wondering "why can't I be more understanding, more compassionate". As we get ready to put our house on the market I feel irritated at the new tenant next door who has filled the front yard with large plastic toys and hangs towels and mats up and down the stair railing close to our windows. A friend tells me a story that's troubling her over and over again, in great detail. In my mind I know it is my self centred view that makes me feel irritated in these situations. I am thinking about me and mine. I am not thinking about them. I see myself as the centre of the universe and it causes me to suffer.

I am clear that it is not helpful for me or my friend to hear the same story of her problem over and over. I recognize her agitated telling of her story as a fine example of what our minds do. I listen and empathize for a bit and offer the suggestions that most of where we go is speculation and not so helpful. We move on to other subjects. I also realize that I need to hold the neighbours in some space in my heart other than "annoyance" and so I work with this. Only then will I be open to a possible solution to the problem.

So while these things may seem small and petty they are the heart of the Dharma practice for me. ....Working with what comes to you. Working with these small things I chip away at my habitual tendencies and work to free myself from another layer of greed, hate and delusion. The following quote by Chogyam Trungpa seems particularly apt for me this week: "Compassion automatically invites you to relate with people because you no longer regard people as a drain on your energy."


  1. Hi Carole,

    I've felt this refining going on in my writing lately - not on here, but my poetry. Going back and tweaking, or tossing out what needs to be tossed out in old work.

    " I have noticed myself becoming irritated in several instances lately and wondering "why can't I be more understanding, more compassionate"." Yep, this comes up for me at times as well. But it's a reminder to accept where you are at in the moment - not terribly compassionate - or also a reminder that compassion has many forms, including sometimes saying "This isn't helping either of us, and especially you." I've been refining my sense of compassion over the past few years, after some incidents where people close to me said things that didn't feel compassionate at the time, but turned out to be more compassionate than any soft, kind sounding words could have been.

  2. I always take pleasure in reading your posts. There is always something touching my soul. Thank you:)

  3. As always you speak from the heart, to the heart! :) I love the last quote here - "compassion invites" - The full quote will go on a post-it note on the kitchen cabinet :) Thanks! C

  4. "I am clear that it is not helpful for me or my friend to hear the same story of her problem over and over."

    It may not be helpful to you, but I believe that it is helpful for her. Pardon the generalization, but sometimes talking is all that some know how to do about a problem.

    When I was slightly younger, I spent time with a cousin who was barely 5 years old. She would ask every so often (about a minute apart) how old I was. Talk about being annoyed! But I answered as I could with whatever patience I had at the time. It was only recently that I realized (with the help of a friend) that it was her way of connecting with me in the only way that she knew.

    When I got older, the methods I used to connect seemed to have gotten more subtle. The desire that others connect at my level would require me to ignore that my cousin is adorable and young. Yet for all my subtlety I did ignore it; a la "STOP ASKING ME FOR MY AGE! Ask something new!" And she ignored me right back.

    I'm getting harder questions now from her. Subtle questions and they're not always the same, but for a variety of reasons it takes less patience to answer them. Mainly because she's still asking about me.

    Personally I believe that your friend is asking about you. Except her question isn't punctuated by a question mark. She's asking what you would do, possibly waiting to hear an idea that strikes a chord with her. And if you can't think of something new, it wouldn't be unusual to question her sanity.

  5. I came across your blog because of your references to stage of life moments. I just wanted to let you know I enjoyed it. We're always looking for more people to participate in the conversation and share wisdom and advice with the world.