Saturday, May 29, 2010

Finding A Bigger Container

I have added 2 bits of text to this piece since I last posted it and referred to it as unfinished. A friend tried to convince me it was done but there wasn't that sense of completeness that I feel when a piece is done. It needed those little black and white marks that we identify as words, but sometimes they are just pattern for me, line and mark. And yet I have chosen them for both (a little cut out from an old Tricycle mag) their meaning and their identity as visual pattern.

And in reading a little book called "Buddha Recognizes Buddha" by Daishin Morgan, a Soto Zen monk in the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, I realized I didn't need to separate finished and unfinished, words as meaning or as pattern, that this separation is an artificial construct of the mind. It causes me to see things in a limited, non expansive way. These opposites that we create with our thinking are really products of our mind rather than anything tangible or real. We use them to describe and order our world, us human control freaks!

My mind did an expanding acid trip kind of thing as it's grey jelly like tentacles glommed onto Daishin Morgan's suggestion that things don't exist in duality. Sure I've heard this before, but somehow it found a soft spot in this hard old noggen to sink into, so I want to try and share it with you. If it seems like just so many words, well, that's okay too!

So the meaning and visual identity of the box of text in my picture can exist together. The fact that at one point my painting may seem finished to one person and unfinished to another person, or I may have different hits on it when I look at it at different times, all this can be held in a larger container . No problem, doesn't mean I won't do something about either of these things, that's not the point. Is it the western mind or simply the human mind that seeks to carve things up into little bits so it can be digested by our limited sense of logic. We get uncomforatable around things we can't know in our head, things that seem to big for our tiny cranial spaces.

I am squatting at a friends place in Victoria (as I was teased by another friend). Delightful friends offered us their place in Victoria as they buzzed down south for a wedding. So we popped into town to have a cracked windshield repaired and hang out. Last night as I chose a little bedtime reading I noticed "Buddha Recognizes Buddha" on the dresser. I'd already seen a little excerpt from the book in BuddhaDharma magazine and then a copy on another Dharma friend's table when I picked up the key for my squat (do squats have keys?). Okay I figured, it's time to open up this book for a little look.

Judgmental mind was prepared not to like it. I sat this tradition (OBC) for 4 years and have moved in a slightly different direction, as I listened to my heart. So I could feel the tug to put it all in the little package of been there, done that, it falls short. However as I read the first chapter, then the second I found myself melting into the kindness it exuded. Is that a strange thing to say about a book? I could feel the kindness of the words and the writer. The other thing I sensed was that Morgan was showing us how huge a container the Dharma really is. I saw it as a beautiful basket that didn't exclude anything, the mundane, all our troubles and fears, our faith and joy and a sense of something greater all had room to roll around and brush up against each other in this basket. Is there room for my laundry in there?

In his first chapter called "undivided existence" Morgan says, "I used to think enlightenment was something that would come when I was good enough or had done enough training, but such a view kept me from awakening to its presence... Our real nature is enlightened... However we can live in ignorance of it so awakening is necessary. Training is to live as an expression of enlightenment -- it is not a means of acquiring enlightenment."

How kind is this to point out that we are not lacking? Is this not an empowering notion? Now call me crazy but I perk up and see my potential when someone points out that we all have Buddha nature. Call me a sinner and I'll probably live up to your expectations. At the same time Morgan sets this idea apart from the delusion that we are perfect and don't need to train which has been proposed by some. We don't need to discuss the pitfalls of that viewpoint. He goes on to remind us that if we are angry, that's it right now. We need to be with it and experience it and keep our eyes open to see where that anger points us. Is it a call to action? Is it pointing out our attachment to our point of view? Examine it deeply enough and it will tell us what the next step is or isn't.

So after Morgan kindly reminds us that training and enlightenment are not separate (this idea initially courtesy of Dogen, the big Soto Zen cheese) he reminds us how to work with it: "Sometimes fears and desires affect my choices, but fears and desires are no longer the evil they appeared to be before. They still have the same effect as always, but the difference is that now they are part of training and enlightenment, rather than an outside enemy." These things are "the way itself" Morgan points out. I will read on with gusto and heartily recommend this little book. It can probably be had via The Throssel Hole (OBC) website.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Your Wild & Precious Life

Here's a partial shot of a mixed media piece I posted a while back. I am adding some text to it but it's not finished yet. I thought it was, but then you know how it goes. What at first seems finished sometimes tells a different story on second or third glance. Life is like that, art is like that. It's a process, an ongoing one, always open to fine tuning. I was working on something else. Ideas were flying in every direction. A few of them hit this canvas. I'll post it again when the ideas have dried.

I was working in a looser way today, without the editor-me popping in every few minutes to say how she likes it. She is so annoying. Yet I am used to her bossy little visits (the devil you know) but I must say it was nice that she'd taken today off. Perhaps she will go awol. It was a pleasant morning. I was just doing what I wanted with no thought past that. Time passed, ideas flowed in and out. There was an intuitive sense of playing with stuff to see what worked, but no one suggesting I'd better be careful or I'd ruin the canvas. No soup nazi minding the alphabet paint soup.

There is another piece that's been hiding in the closet that needed something and today it became apparent. Ah for patience and a deep closet. I have succumbed to the idea of text, an idea I love but haven't used that much. It's all over me now like a half read newspaper. But the line I will use is "What will you do with this one wild and precious life?" It's a line from a Mary Oliver poem.

I found it in the strangest place and it burned a place in my brain like some printing plate. We were looking at house and kept bumping into Buddhist paraphernalia, Buddha statues, pictures of Tibetan teachers, a meditation cushion here, some dharma books there. And plunk over an art table was this lovely question: "What will you do with your one wild and precious life?" Sadly the house did not work out but I got to keep this lovely question to ponder, to add to my art and to share with you.

Gradually I am figuring out what to do with my one wild and precious life: live within touching distance of the natural world, make art, make friends, study the Dharma. It's taken a while and a few good swift kicks in the butt by life. But since I still have the boot mark, its never too far from my mind. And how about you, what's up with your one wild and precious life ?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Re-treating & Scooping Away At Infinity

Here is a work in progress, a 16"x20"Buddha. The final touches to the painting were pre-empted by a 4 day meditation retreat I attended with friend, a retreat where one day at lunch a French man read us Pablo Neruda poetry as we sat on a sun drenched patio. The poems included stunning word treats such as "scooping away at infinity" and "an appointment with joy".

Another woman went for a walk down a grassy ditched road and was kissed by the most beautiful cow she had ever seen. Are you getting the idea that it was a slightly magical affair? Would you expect any less of a retreat held in the crazy wisdom lineage of Chogyam Trungpa ? The retreat was led by Tami Simon in the body centred Vajrayana tradition of Reggie Ray. Through reading, listening to CD's and hearing Ray talk in Victoria in January I was curious enough about their way of working with the body to get myself down to the beautiful Stowell Lake for the Wed- Sunday retreat.

The setting at the bucolic farm was enough to make you feel as if you had entered some heavenly abode before even a whisper of Dharma had been uttered. Stowell Lake Farm is a magical mix of lush perennial beds, a secret garden, organic veggie plots, and fields of voluptuous grasses. Pleasing patches of tamed lawn are dotted with sturdy cedar buildings. The gentle sounds of sheep bleating in the fields and children playing in the distance were punctuated by birdsong and warmed by the delicious May sun. The lovely fields played host to the mindful footsteps of our walking meditation and offered a stunning end to Friday's session where we sat in the cool air as the landscape darkened. Over the days as our senses woke up, the landscape became even more vibrantly beautiful.

And if our eyes and ears were not filled with enough objects of delight we were treated to a kaleidoscope of wonderful tastes, mostly vegan and organic, all whipped up by the charming and inspired retreat cooks, Evelyn and David. We feasted on Thai Green Curry and enormous salads with silky dressings, polenta and tomato sauce and roasted yams with mushroom gravy and veggie pate and delicious soups. People were clamouring for the cookbook of retreat recipes Evelyn will be putting out this fall.

Tami Simon, who spends her days interviewing spiritual teachers and thinkers for her company "Sounds True" has followed her passion and become a teacher in this "crazy wisdom" tradition. She is clearly someone who lives and breathes the Dharma. She shares it in an authentic voice with a personal style laced with transparency, humour and intensity that was humbling and heart warming and refreshing. She doesn't hesitate to share all her own "neurotic episodes" as she refers to them, weaving together a flowing robe of Dharma.

Her format was interesting, offering a day where people could chat and get to know each other, then plunging us into silence and then pulling us out by the scruffs of our sweaty necks and tossing us into a social evening that she called "Dance like a Buddha". I think for a lot of us the silence is comfortable and allows the deeper descent into your "own stuff". But the social time brought us face to face with our vulnerabilities, insecurities and projections as we manouvered the slightly awkward sidewalks of social interactions with strangers. While I came for the silence and inner exploration I was impressed by how the "talking times" stretched me and contained its own intense Dharma. People were not at all as I imagined them. Even the most coiffed and perfectly attired showed their humanness in lunchtime chats. I saw the movie screen of my own projection and judgement dissolve as I listened to people talk. Those silent hours were filled with subtle (and not so subtle) mind chatter.

Much of the 4 days was dedicated to the body work which is the hallmark of this tradition. The body is explored and mined like an archeological dig. We are the anthropologists of our own hidden tensions stored in dark, buried places. Can we find them, can we breathe life and awareness into them? Can altering the terrain of the body, unearthing it's secret somatic messages alter what goes on in the mind? Does your sitting posture affect your discursive mind? What is the interplay in this field of body/mind that we inhabit? What is locked in the body that hurts and escapes our conscious awareness? Can we heal our lives by working in this way? Can we enter gateways of awareness through the body that are not available to us in any other way? These were our weekend's work and exploratory map.

So we navigated our way through each day from sitting to lying to walking, exploring abdominal breathing, cellular breathing, earth breathing and other body centred techniques for opening to an empty, boundless state. There is a slightly esoteric bend to some of the work, while some is simple and straight forward. It is about the willingness to abandon belief and enter an exploratory state. And as in any meditation practice it takes time and concentration.

Tami started the weekend by talking about taking "the leap"; that is what this tradition is about. She encouraged us to be "fearless" in all aspects of our life, reminding us that this fearlessness is what gives our lives texture and interest and makes us truly alive. Her "through line", as she called it, for the weekend consisted of 5 points. This 5 point roadmap is a perfect little reminder for living our whole lives. 1. Relax 2. Don't Judge (yourself or others, or situations) 3. Be curious 4. Be kind (to ourselves & others) 5. Offer everything up.

I was deeply touched by her talk on "indomitable or fierce trust". Trust that everything that has happened to you or will happen to you is just what you need. Nothing is wrong if it comes to you. She said that in fact we are breaking our vow to awakening when we think something is "wrong" in our life.

We got huge goody bags of Dharma to take home with us. We can open them and play with the treasures and treats we received any time we like, any time of day, in any situation. Little roadmaps and guides will show us the way to the biggest party which is a rich and vibrant life filled with courage and authenticity. Each bag contained a ticket inviting us to take a leap from the plane of life without a parachute. It's okay to jump, Tami reminded us, there's no ground to hit.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Taming The Crones

"Our ability to know, our sense perceptions, the seeds of our past karma, and the phenomenal world all come together to create life’s show." These words called to me from my inbox in the form of a Tricycle Daily Dharma piece on "grasping" by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche. I've had my occasion to grasp lately, maybe a grasp-fest or two. Looking for a home to buy offers lots of opportunities for grasping, a well explored opportunity in my case. And I noticed the sticky fingers reaching out from my mind as I waited to hear if I might place my art in a local venue.

But the place I have really been wrestling with the grasping mind is in the studio. After a long while out of the studio it seemed I needed some limbering up, some yoga for the right side of my brain. Or maybe I just needed a whack on the side of the head (there's a book on creativity with this title!) Maybe I needed to give myself permission to make a mess and create some horrible paint creatures, things to fling out the window (Natalie Goldberg talks about this in relation to writing - giving yourself permission to write something awful, no one has to see it).

After a month of seeing inspiring art I assumed I would arrive home full of ideas that would simply leap onto canvas in inspired ways. Ah, another road filled with the land mines of expectation. I'm still picking out the shrapnel. It seemed when I put all these beautiful things into my brain, it choked and sputtered and seized up. Did I put the wrong oil in at the brain station?

When I stood in front of the great art it made me feel large and inspired. But when I got home and picked up a paint brush, all these great works brought out the vulnerable little self that never feels good enough. So the whole creative process got tangled up in wanting things to look a certain way, mainly better. And Alice what Wonderland did you just wander in from? My sticky fingers were growing longer, reaching out toward some imagined outcome. And grumbling mind was waiting to take over when these magically perfect paintings didn't appear, fully formed on the easel. The ground for lots of frustration and subsequent avoiding of the studio. Who wants to go in there and meet those ugly, grumpy, little demons?

And then on Monday after doing the laundry, watering the garden, sitting in the meadow, making some raw crackers I headed into the studio late in the day. I turned on some music and gagged all the nagging little crones in my head. And I just painted. I had already painted the ground based on a painting I'd seen while sitting. I knew what was needed next but I was afraid. I was afraid to mess up the lovely ground. I was afraid of the hard work. I was afraid I'd get it wrong. But I picked up the long handled brush with the skinny bristles and started to work. And as often happens when I step into the stream of it all, a peaceful settling takes place and I just work, devoting myself to the details. And that is the lesson for me. Just like the commercial for over priced running shoes says I need to " just do it". (Do they own these words?) But before I start I need to send the little crones on an outing, perhaps a picnic in the meadow? I work best without their company.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What the Heart Longs For

I am living in a place that requires no window coverings. There is no one to see in and plenty for me to see out. At night when I turn out all the lights the indigo sky is awash with stars. If I happen to wake up in the night the moon might be shining in the window like an oversized street light or a barge lit up like a cruise ship might startle my half awake self.

And if the day is clear and bright I might wake at 5:30 to a magical orange glow over the islands held in a brilliant blue sky. If the day starts overcast like today, I might not wake until 7 to find a white, grey sky so quiet and peaceful not even the birds think to disturb the silence.

In this place I live as if I am just another one of earth's creatures. My life revolves around the weather and the rising and setting of the sun. On a sunny day I notice the vibrant energy that tugs me from my bed. An overcast day is a quieter affair, more given to silence and sitting than bounding energy. A sunny day means laundry and garden watering. A rainy day or sunset is a good time to bury myself in a book or paint.

I am finding it hard to stay in the house during the day. Something in me is starved to be outside, greedily gulping in fresh air and spring greenery at every chance. I am following this craving. Today I dragged two folding chairs out to the meadow by the garden. Then I rounded up a bale of hay for a table and presto a perfect lunch spot. I am plotting perfect evening dinners in the meadow. Imagine guests surprise to find a bale of hay table laid with dinner and tealights. I need to find a checkered table cloth. Here's the beginning of a story line!

What does all this have to do with the Dharma? I think it is about living in the flow of life, doing what your heart is longing for. I think that simplifying life allows us to see what our heart longs for. Or is it that our heart longs for a simpler life? Simplifying life allows us to feel what makes us sad and see what makes our heart soar. We can't separate the two, our sad and happy parts. They come wrapped in the same little package.

I think we can simplify our lives no matter where we live. For me, being a slightly dense sort, I need to be banged on the head by the rising sun and moon. I need to sit in the middle of a meadow to get that I am the same as a deer or a turkey buzzard. I am just part of this great whole, fortunate enough to be spending some time on this beautiful blue planet. I am learning to find joy in everything and nothing all at the same time. And it is uproariously joyful. And if you're passing this way, there is a chair waiting in the meadow for you.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cleansing The Body & Mind

On the recommendation of a naturopath I saw recently I decided to do a little Spring cleanse. Spring is a great time for this and traditionally in many cultures it has been a time for cleansing with the appearance of vibrant Spring greens and perhaps in older cultures a lack of stored food (that's eating locally!).

First I had to find 10 days that didn't involve any social commitments that revolved around food. (I couldn't see myself going to dinner with friends and having a glass of water!). That was seeing the truth of the situation. Maybe some folks could do this but I knew I'd feel kind miserable and deprived.

The fast has been an interesting process to watch and not just in the body. The more interesting process is in the mind. I got to see how important food is to me on many levels. It is an activity that occupies. So when you are not preparing food, there is a little vacant spot in your day. And you get to see your psychological attachment to food. I already know I love all the wonderful tastes of food and that I sometimes look for comfort in food. And I was reminded of this many times during a day. I love an almond milk latte at the little cafe in the village as a treat. So without them I found how much I depend on these little treats and tastes as contributors to my mood, how they are something I look forward to, and without them there was a little hole in the blanket of the day.

The fast started with 3 days of fresh lemon juice sweetened with a little maple syrup. Day 1 & 2 were fine but by day 3 the mind was looking forward to the next 2 days which consisted of freshly prepared juices. This will be so much better, the mind thought, more variety, delicious tastes. By the second day of juice the mind was longing for the next 2 days which consisted of any raw fruit and veg, plus juice. And the first bite of orange was delicious on day 6, and the blended raw carrot, avocado soup hit the spot with its savory spicing. But by the time the dinner salad rolled around the mind was thinking how wonderful it would be when I could have some nuts and seeds, maybe a little oil or some salt to make a tastier salad dressing.

I had a front row seat for the endless antics of that little monkey mind projecting itself into the future, always looking for the next thing, always imagining something better, planning and scheming how to mow the grass that definitely would be greener just over the hill.

So I have had a taste of the smorgasbord of my longings and attachments and an opportunity to see the role of food in my life and its connection to happiness. I have a refreshed understanding of the role food plays in my life, how I think about it, anticipate it, look forward to it, get pleasure from it. And all that being said the detox diet was fine and like many things once you resolve to do it, your mind knows (like a small child) that no amount of whining will change the agenda. In a way its a good exercise in building inner resolve and discipline, not to mention that your constantly worked digestive tract gets a little vacation. And now I wonder what's for dinner tonight?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mind As Enemy, Mind As Friend

A few nights ago we drove into town to see an art opening by Lady X, a mysterious 70 yr old woman whose paintings sell out immediately. I was curious to see this show. And as I wandered the exhibit I enquired of the gallery owner if Lady X might be hiding in the crowd. I imagined how much fun that could be for her.

But the salient experience of the night was not so much the art, but the feelings that were following me that evening. There was the awkwardness of not knowing a soul. You've been there, I know you have.

It was early evening and overcast, the countryside quiet. And not that I was given to wild evenings of revelry and socializing in the city, I found myself feeling lonely. And with the feeling of loneliness I noticed the thoughts that supported it: worries about will I make friends here in this new place, maybe my art isn't good enough, will we find a home we love. The mind projecting itself into the future, on a little jet stream of worry and doubt. In truth these thoughts have been percolating in the background for a while now.

Yet as we chatted about them on the way in to town they somehow lost their grip. Monsters hate the light of day. I could see them as just thoughts, with all their unreality, the mind doing it's reflexive thing. Certain habitual thoughts seem to arise as the Buddhist saying goes "when all conditions ripen": the time of day, the grey sky, the quietness of roadways. I could remind myself that this beautiful green landscape was what we'd been longing for when we lived in the city.

Life here is simply minus the city activities of nipping out on an errand or two. The hum of the TV doesn't fill the evening. Without these things life is quieter, simpler. It takes time for the gear shift to click in. But it's good to notice the arising of these thoughts and feelings that create subtle undercurrents. It keeps them from getting up to their subversive little tricks of masquerading as the truth. What's that bumper sticker? "Don't believe everything you think."

In all of this I was reminded of a quote from a book I am reading, "The Wise Heart" by Jack Kornfield. "Who is your enemy? Mind is your enemy. Who is your friend? Mind is your friend. Learn the ways of the mind. Tend the mind with care." -The Buddha

And which of those grey haired women was "Lady X"? My mind has several theories, including me as Lady Why.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Dial 1-800 Simplicity

Gradually the tasks of moving and setting up house are getting taken care of. The list of things to do gets shorter and there is studio time. But if I am not vigilant I do what a lot of artists do: wash the dishes, water the garden, make a phone call. It is easy for time to get sucked up into the vacuum cleaner of the mundane.

But I notice there is a choice in all of this time sucking.. The dust bunny of stalling floats freely here. If I am truthful I am avoiding the uncomfortable encounter with the blank canvas. The ansty, discomfort of the unknown. What will I do? How will it turn out? There is a discomfort in beginnings, along with the possibility. And yet when I get there hours can pass bearly noticed. Still I sense the resistance.

This little 6x6" piece "Buddha's Call" held both fun and frustration, not an uncommon mix for me. When I'd finally completed the painting part, it was time to have a little fun with the old sewing patterns that I picked up the other day. I love to play with the words. So this little Buddha sports "Dial 1-800 Simplicity". And isn't that the easiest way to get our simplicity. Just call and have it sent to the house. Or maybe we could just buy a magazine with ads full of things to make our lives simpler. Easier than buying less, doing less, easier than just sitting.

A few more sewing words found their playful way onto the canvas. The Buddha sports inter and facing on where else but his face? The enso implores us to imagine, create and learn in tiny letters. And the lower left corner reminds us that things are "subject to change". And of course being a fan of the Buddha I have given him "View 1".