Saturday, November 14, 2009

Karen Meets Ted - Not Just Another Story

Here's a new little 8"x10" done on a wooden cradled panel. It has a textured background created with something I bought in Toronto a few years back called sludge or something equally appetizing. It's interesting as it's made from waste products that come from production of other paints & mediums (yum!) I liked the idea that we're using this stuff instead of dumping it into the water system or a landfill. To create the enso I tried a little experiment with some tar gel mixed with ultramarine blue acrylic to give it a resin like look. Hope this doesn't sound more like a toxic waste site than a painting!

I had some pieces of old sewing patterns kicking around the studio that I have been itching to use, and well, this seemed to be the time and place for them. Here's the part where zen meets canvas, or board as the case may be... It's about letting go of thinking and being drawn to what feels right for the piece ... walking the critic to the door ... letting go of questions like what would be good here? Just trusting and following.

The piece called out for the line drawing of the Buddha (I have no idea why, like so many other things in life.) And the bits of text... something I love but am not always brave enough to add. The text often gets left behind in some second guessing or when doubt rears it's familiar two headed little self. I seem to be in an exploring mood these days with one painting not looking at all like the last. Ah, the schizophrenia of creation. Is that Sybils signature on the back?

On the Dharma front it seems to be cloudy with a hint of compassion, maybe a 60% chance of compassion today. Perhaps it's the season for compassion, days are getting shorter, all things Christmassy are making their appearance? First there were the monks who worked so tirelessly on the mandala of compassion at the Art Gallery here in Victoria.

Earlier in the week continuing on this theme, I heard about Karen Armstrong's "Charter of Compassion". Then later in the week a friend emailed me a link to the site. If you don't know Karen Armstrong I highly recommend her book "The Spiral Staircase" which chronicles her journey from young Catholic nun to a secular life. Recently she was given a TED award and with it, the recipient gets a wish. Armstrong wished for help in creating a charter of compassion for the world. She sums compassion up as the "golden rule", do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It's about taking ourselves from the centre of the universe and putting others there. She talks about how the spiritual life is really about "what you do everyday". If our practice isn't translated into how we treat the clerk at the dry cleaner's or how we behave when someone runs over our toe with their grocery cart then what is the value of our practice? And of course we don't always get it right, but it's about working on it.

Recently there was a good reminder about working with compassion in Tricycle's Daily Dharma. It talked about treating our enemies in the same way we might treat those dear to us. And to me that's a really important nitty-gritty reminder about compassion. As a concept compassion is nice to think about. We can read, we can sit, we feel inspired by the idea of compassion, We feel all warm and cozy but then bingo, someone rear-ends us in traffic.

It's easy to be nice to someone when someone is nice to you or when the day is going our way. The real test of practice is when strangers or people you're not so fond of behave badly. Someone insults us or criticizes us. What do we do then? Are we like the rat in the experiment? Do we bite? Can we count to 10 and let it go? Can we say something firmly but with kindness? There's the cutting edge of practice.

I feel encouraged by people like Karen Armstrong to work on building the compassion muscle, to get out there and lift a slightly heavier bar bell of compassion than I might normally choose. I am encouraged that the charter is out there to remind all of us about compassion. I am reminded of the Dalai Lama whose people have suffered so many losses. He says so simply and directly, "my religion is kindness."


  1. Love the new painting! I've been reviewing my pallette, and thinking gray, too, lately.

    It's wonderful to have a compassion reminder! I feel like more often than not, I'm on the receiving end of compassion, and I wish I could turn that around. Sometimes I get tired of all the buddha-philosophizing and my mind shuts down screaming, no more!— I just want to live my life without thinking about buddha lessons. So off I go into non-buddhist circles until I remember the only place I really feel understood and "heard" is with Buddhas! Then they are everywhere.

  2. I love the richness of this painting! Very interesting - it pulls me in to look around and find all the little tid bits!
    60% chance of compassion - made me chuckle.

  3. Thanks Kris, I had to pop over and have a look at your grays and I love the strength and confidence your new piece exudes.

    It's true, sometimes you feel over-dharmaed. Like you want to stick your fingers in your ears and go la-la-la-la-la. To me it's kind of like too much talking. After a while it ceases to serve it's good and functional purpose and I just need some silence, some time to just be and do.

    But you are right, in the end I love the company of my friends who are practicing. Even if we are not talking Dharma it feels like home. They seem not so inclined to be out there chasing material pleasures as a source of personal happiness.

  4. What spoke to me in your post today was "It's about letting go of thinking and being drawn to what feels right... Just trusting and following." Just creating! Just letting it be what it is... like life :) C

  5. Thanks Leslie. I am so inspired by your site. I keep popping in to see if you've got a new post!

    And thanks Christine for always finding a tidbit in my ramblings!

  6. Wow. A new thoughtful and inspiring blog to read AND a new painting to own! Ya gotta love it!

  7. Hello.. I am glad I found your blog-- I love what you have written about Buddhism in your 'about me' section. In your painting you mentioned 'enso'-- if you go to my blog posts you will see that I wrote a post on enso several weeks ago that you may find interesting.

  8. hello to you all where I am taking a soggy break on Salt Spring Island. Thanks for the kind comments.

    Donna I am anxious to check out your enso post. I love your site and art. Will post you as a link when I get back to civilization.

    And Thanks to Kathleen for your kind comments and purchase on etsy. Soon the Buddha will be flying toward you.

    And Laura, yes that reminds me of a course I took called "Awakening Joy" where they talked about having a gratitude journal or emailing with a friend about what we are grateful for each day. It does somehow change our orientation to life when we make ourselves conscious of what we are grateful for.

  9. I clicked to enlarge and was shaken by the beauty and free movement of your tar gel ultramarine blue 'enso'!
    Mary Ann

  10. I came from Line's blog. thank you for this peaceful reminder.

    It seems more and more that the practice of compassion rises on its own nature, as other things spin off, away...

    I read once a Spiritual man said, If someone hurts you give that person a place of honor in your garden.

    There is much to learn to achieve peace on earth, but its close in more and more of our desire.

  11. sweet deep wisdom. this is why we call it practice...we get to try again and again every time our toe is run over, or our child is in a bad mood and tests us to still be loving even when we want to yell back, or the urge to react angrily when a driver cuts us off with a round of unkind (at the very least) verbiage...we get to step inside of that person's experience for a moment and remember...oh yes...this person is hurting too...and love them instead of responding with anger. Not EASY...but that's why we practice.