Friday, July 30, 2010

Green Tara On Wisdom & Compassion

I have been inspired by Lynne Hoppe who has been creating these amazing faces on old book pages and sharing them on her blog. They are amazing. You really ought to pop over there and have a look. So although I find the format a little on the small side I just had to try one. Here's a little monk on a page of an old book called "Something Special".

We have been spending some time over at the Duck Creek Gallery where the Tibetan Lama Tenzin Tsundu is creating a Green Tara sand mandala. Each day he starts with a meditation, some chanting and a little Dharma talk. The room is filled with wonderful energy and smiling faces. Yesterday, Dorje the dog joined us and today 6 month old Sophia sat wide eyed for the chanting.

Today Lama asked "how will we use this precious life?" What will we devote our time and attention to? He reminded us that this is an important subject of contemplation. He showed us the lotus flowers that Tara was holding, one for compassion and one for wisdom. These are the two important ingredients that guide us in our lives. We need wisdom to see clearly, to help us cut through our delusion and attachments, to help us see the importance of compassion, to see how to be compassionate in our smallest action.

If we just sit on our mat, do a little meditation, say a few prayers, what is the value of that, Lama asked. Our practice needs to be out there in our lives. We develop wisdom through our meditation and then we take it out into the world in the form of compassion.

As an act of letting go, of manifesting impermanence, as well as dispersing blessings, Lama will take the sand from the mandala down to the ocean on Sunday. His work of exquisite detail and beauty, a weeks work will be swept into a pile of mixed sand and swept up in the ocean waves. Could you do this with something of great beauty that you had poured yourself into every day, all day long for a week?

If you live on Vancouver Island or nearby there are a couple of interesting opportunites to offer support for Tibetan Earthquake victims and in return receive teachings from a wide range of Tibetan teachers and feast on Tibetan treats. Momos and Dharma anyone?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Art Appetizers By Frederick Franck

I have been inspired by my friend merci 33 over at her blog to squint and peer forward into the dark corners of my studio. She has invited willing artists to envision where they might want to go with their work. It made me realize I needed to throw things into the art/life blender and whiz them up a bit, to stir.things up at a deeper level and to increase some technical skills. You've heard about the first class, the one I took with Mr. Collage, Nick Bantock.

The second class was with the gentle and talented, island painter, Stefanie Denz. She had such a gentle way of coaxing the best out of each of us in the class, of recognizing our style and playing to that. And she spoke in the wonderful language of someone who lives and breathes art. An eraser became a tool of wisdom. And she waxed eloquently about not talking down to our viewers by showing them everything. "We are painting for the people who want to look, who want to see. We want to make it interesting and exciting for them." We were immersed in her quiet world of enormous art books and a vocabulary of colour, shape and space.

If we'd had cigarettes and absinthe we might have imagined we were part of some heady turn of the century Paris art salon. But this being Salt Spring I munched on salad with hemp seeds and smoked tofu and sipped herbal tea which I was in danger of dipping my paint brush into. The hours skitted by like a single breath and the brush of an eye lash.

In the end there was a single thread that tied both workshops together. It was about "awareness". For the slightly brooding Bantock we were connecting with something deeply intuitive and we needed to focus on that inner sense. In class #2 I realized how subtle and unflinching our attention must be to be true to any subject we want to draw or paint, how what our mind imagines we see, is often very different from what we find when we look at an object and truly see it. Stefanie offered some wonderful reminders about our art, that apply to life: "Viewers will believe anything if it is done with intention and awareness."

The tentative line, the fuzzy edges, the absently created background; all the places where we are unsure of, that wetry to skim over and hope will be okay, the viewer sees them all. Perhaps he/she doesn't know why, but work that contains places where we express our unsureness or laziness contribute to an unsatisfying viewing experience. EEk. There we are, artists, standing without our clothes. Some are more astute at reading the terrain of our naked selves and others just get the feeling that perhaps one of our hips are higher than the other or our mind is on the fight we had with our kids this morning. Our attention is requested every moment, over and over, if we are going to create art that speaks of who we really are and touches the heart strings of another quivering being.

So I was inspired to drag out my Frederick Franck books, for he manages to layer the language of art and the dharma into a delicious and nourishing sandwich. Let me end with a little appetizer whipped up by Franck: "Looking & seeing both start with sense perception, but there the similarity ends. When I "look at the world and label its phenomena, I make immediate choices, instant appraisals, I like or I dislike, I accept or reject what I look at, according to its usefulness to the "Me". This me that I imagine myself to be, and that I try to impose on others. The purpose of "looking" is to survive, to cope...... When on the other hand, I see, suddenly I am all eyes, I forget this "Me", am liberated from it and dive into the reality of what confronts me, become part of it, participate in it. I no longer label, no longer choose. (choosing is the sickness of the mind, says a sixth-century Chinese sage.)." from "The Zen of Seeing"

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How To Make Art

I am thinking some more about the process of making art. I have returned to a favourite book of mine "The Zen of Creativity, Cultivating Your Artistic Life" by John Daido Loori.

I'd just like offer up one of the many underlined paragraphs in a much thumbed chapter called "Enlarging the Universe". Here's what Loori has to say about process: "Before engaging the creative process it is helpful to understand some of the basic elements that are functioning in it.

The first of these elements is the muse, a sense of inspiration that initiates the process of creation. The second is the hara, a place within us that is still and grounded. Then there is chi, the energy contained both in us and in the subject. Out of chi emerges resonance, a feeling of recognition between the artist and subject. Finally, there is the act of expression itself, where the expression is allowed to flow unhindered from the artist to the creation. The artist steps out of the way and lets the art happen by itself."

Go forth and create!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Art As Spiritual Experience

I have spent the last two days at an art/collage workshop with Nick Bantock, a lovely, sensitive soul who plumbs the depth of his experience in an effort to offer serious practice and direction to artists. He has spent years developing his process, pacing his studio, conducting dialogues with himself and approaching his personal truth with pastel, paint and bits of paper. It would appear that it has been a richly textured journey and he has emerged as a wise and generous guide who shares his gifts with compassion and a twinkle in his eye.

Bantock spent the weekend encouraging us to go deeper, sounding a lot like a Zen monk at many of the twists and turns along the way, playing "Born to Be Wild" and The Clash to try and stupify our inner control freaks and coax out our Johnny Rotten. He reminded us that art doesn't come from the head, it comes from somewhere deep inside. It's about a gut feeling. Our authentic, intuitive self will lead the way, if we let it. It's the old "the mind makes a good servant but not a very good master" idea. Ultimately we are not in control. Sound like the Dharma? You bet.

And he reminded us that the art that truly engages and hooks the viewer speaks from a deep inner core that is at once personal and universal. If we can be deeply authentic in our creations it will speak to others. Look at the art you love, the art that speaks across the chasms of time and culture, what is the binding thread? Someone has reached deep into their gut and scooped out a little bit of their insides for us? How could we not be touched by such offerings?

Bantock skillfully led us through a progression of exercises that showed us how to disengage the mind. Create your own country. What's the population, the weather, the landscape? When we went round the circle we could see how we were skimming the surface; boring, nice,predictable, yawn. He suggested we go for detail, quirky ones. He suggested perhaps we needed some shadows to flesh out the landscape, a trickster or two. He showed us what we were up to, surfing the flat, slick, surface of our little kingdoms. We were awakening to the invitation to go deeper, to find the poignant, touching places in our countries, the ones that speak to the vulnerabilities and joys of being human.

He pulled the final trick from his shock of grey hair when he cunningly cut us loose to create our own works from scratch. I got caught on the "making pretty art" hook. Too much conscious design going on here, too polite, Bantock observed. It doesn't reflect the person I see in front of me. I got it. I understood it in my head. My poor little ego was writhing and smarting but that was fine. I didn't come here for the good housekeeping seal of approval. If I wanted an easy-bake oven I would have ordered one on ebay. Bantock moved in with his scalpel and chalk dust. It was just what the surgeon ordered. If he told me my work was lovely and fine, would I be motivated to stretch? I would go home and keep on doing what I'm doing.

So I have a delicious invitation with my name on it, that I will open tomorrow and the day after, and the day after that. It is an invitation to go deeper; an invitation to open the cage that holds the golden bird of a deeper, more authentic self. Sit a while, have a cup of tea. Breath deeply from the hara. Have patience and faith. Oh, and don't forget the paint and the brush, and perhaps a few bits of paper.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Dharma of Physiotherapy

Like me this painting has been around for a while. And it's been reinvented, which is perhaps what we do with ourselves. It's 11x14 and called "Behind The Veil". There is a lot we hide from behind our veils, in our comfy cocoons of controlled experiences, our stories of who we are, our invented selves, don't you think?

Last night I was doing some exercises for my mildly frozen shoulder, as the physio refers to it. The exercises he suggests consist of stretching my sore arm past what's comfortable, experiencing some pain and using the good arm to help move the sore arm past where it usually goes.

As I did the exercise I could see that I tensed up when things started to get painful. I was in effect bracing myself against the pain. And then I thought, why don't I just regard it as sensation, rather than pain (which of course has a negative connotation). Oh and if you don't mind, stop holding your breath and gritting your teeth!

As I just breathed and observed the sensation I felt my body relax. Not pain, simply sensation, the stretch the pull, the tightness, a little numbness, an ache in the bicep. A dose of awareness.

And low and behold, the stiff arm moved back past where it normally went. I just experienced the detail of the movement. I continued to do the exercise and as I did it I thought about how it applied to so much more in my life; how I hold myself against things I don't like, how I regard certain things as pain and stop there without really experiencing them, how I resist what I regard as unpleasant.

I could see how the picking and choosing of experiences, qualifying them and judging, weighing and measuring them sucked them of their true nature. To walk directly into what is without naming it, that offers true possibility. I could see how relaxing, changed the whole experience, allowed me to be with what was.

And so the Physio in his matter of fact way was in fact offering some Dharma. Experience some pain (if you want to call it that). Move past what you deem as comfortable. Stretch yourself. Use your strengths to help you with what hurts. And if you keep on doing this, consistently, it can bring healing. I am reminded again of how much teaching there is in the body.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

So Long And Thanks For The Fish

The scent of cilantro from the garden lingers on my hands as I type this. I can see 6 lovely little boats anchored off the small island to the north as I sit on the deck, ocean spread out in front of me like a wide screen TV. The air is like a tepid bath, a welcome note in this so far coolish summer.

Now you might think things were quite perfect here in lotus land but that would belie the fact that a small trail of Dukkha seems to be following me around. I won't go into details but it involves my usual dharma ornaments of late, housing and art.

The days have been filled with disruptions that seem to throw me off my game every morning. I have a plan, life intervenes and I never get to my plan. It's like some strange witches brew poured into the morning coffee. The fridge doesn't work and all the food in it is going bad. No one returns phone calls. And more that I won't mention. There is a feeling tone to it all that oozes anxiety and dissatisfaction. And in the trail of slightly off cue steps I find my expectations that things should work out smoothly, lying on the floor like a smothered cat. The little details should get taken care of in a timely manner, I expect that. Ah, expectations, the mother of disappointment. And the cloudy cataract that they cast over everything.

And as the week pulls itself forward, one set of strange twists and turns works out in our favour and then a surprising email arrives that seems like a rude little punch in the stomach. And then I get to watch all the old vulnerabilities come up, washed in tears. I can see the wounded ego. I can see that anger is just hurt, spewing fire. And in a strange way I know it's all okay. I trust that there is a bigger picture. I know that the person who has dealt my ego a big blow is confused and hurting. I have to remember not to lash out. Can I navigate the inevitable with grace?

And so the days go by filled with teaching. I see the opportunity to not go down the same old path. I breath in the hurt and just experience it. I know there is some reason somewhere for this chain of events that I don't quite understand. I remember to forge a new response weakening the old neural pathways the old habitual ones that are quick to feel not good enough, to indulge in despair. "wrong way" I hold up the sign on that neural pathway. Time to try a different off ramp.

And so I can say that life is strange, that adversity is really opportunity in wolves clothing. And while we are inclined to like the days where things work out seemingly in our favour I ask the question "who really knows what good or bad is?" I simply know what is.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Dharma Jewelery & Zen Confections

Here is the little sister enso of the one I posted last time. The first part of the fun is creating the textured ground and then the deliciously goopy resin-like enso paint gets dripped on like cake icing. mmmm, I'm getting hungry. I'll have a large slice of enso with a double scoop of sukkha, a lovely Zen confection. But my foolish streak is getting tangled with my sweet tooth and if I'm not careful I might need a chiropractic adjustment (of the spiritual kind, of course).

As the days pass and life goes on, the little box cars of disappointment and sadness that have been passing over the terrain are trailing off in the distance. Disappointing house news. Several days pass. A pleasant phone call comes in. An art opening takes place. The garden needs water. Canada Day Fireworks. We pop into an eco-builder's open house. Each activity, like a delicate sheet of tissue paper adds an ethereal cloudy layer to what went before. The brilliant present fades into the foggy past. It is always that way, I think. The more difficult the situation, the more story we give it, the more extended the fade out process. If we can find our way to just let things be, their dream like quality makes itself known to us. If we keep tearing up and pulling off the layers of tissue, we prolong the process, contributing to our own suffering.

And while the intensity of experience fades with time, it is different than pushing it away. We're not beating off our sadness with ice cream or new shoes. We're just letting impermanence run its course. So while we're not indulging in comestibles or new wardrobe items Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche recommends the following jewellery: "Difficulties are like the ornaments of a good practitioner. Dharma is not practiced perfectly amidst pleasant circumstances."

What are your ornaments?