Saturday, December 31, 2011

Letting Go Of The Old, Leaning Into The New

A new ritual added itself to my New Year's Eve this year.  The fine, crisp afternoon was perfect for the bonfire I'd been conjuring in my mind.  I cut up some  scraps of paper and took a couple of pens down to the pond where I've been piling branches.  After we'd built up a lovely little chimney of flame and sipped on something mulled we turned our minds to what we'd like to let go of on this last day of the year.  What habit, what attribute, what way of holding ourselves against life could we live happily without in 2012?

In the not too distant past I might have prepared a phone book sized list of things I needed to shed.   But  these days my "Buddha's brain" is a slightly kinder place.  I have given up my status as a self improvement project.

As I warmed by the fire and admired the hazy orb of moon, my mind poked around in the dark basement of memory for the give-aways .  Into the fire with fear, ditto for my lack of faith in myself on a number of fronts.  Into the fire with hesitancy, doubt, with timidity and a final flourish of firey sparks for what holds me back.

Fire, that primeval Mister Clean, so fittingly medieval on the last day of the year.  No dancing, no char rubbed on the face, simply a little tossing of bits of paper to remind us of one ending and one beginning and our intentions for both.  Let go of the old, lean into the new.  Burn down the old shack of musty habits.

I always spend some of New Year's eve contemplating the past year and thinking about the new year.  Refections, intentions, whatever you want to call them, they are worthy of a visit every now and then , worthy of the flashlight of awareness.   You can get really organized and pull your thoughts together as they do over at A Liberated Life or The Uncaged Life.   But if you're like me, you might be a bit more free form, just wandering back over the path that carried you through the year and then letting your heart pull you toward where you belong in the new year.

My intentions are crowding around the parts of my life that have to do with my art, health and spiritual practice. They are keeping company with words like openness, bravery, faith, passion and gusto.  That seems like a hopeful first course.

I wish you the best of what 2012 has to offer, filled with the joy of simple pleasures and an appetite for this precious life.   May you savour every bite, the sweet and the savoury, the slightly bitter and even the tough bits.  It is my great pleasure to travel this leg of the journey with you.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Flavour of These Days

There is  something indulgent about the holiday season, all the tastes and smells and sights that give pleasure.  I am good with this season of celebration as long as it sidesteps the madness of the consumer driven holiday.  I don't want to know about angry shoppers or maxed out credit cards or .....  Call me the Christmas ostrich but I am sticking my head in the sand to holiday madness, to desire run rampant.

Today a walk in the foggy rainforest, salal glistening in the rain but we, the walkers, protected by the forest canopy.  The dreamy feeling of walking through the forest of hulking green giants in the fog.  Christmas chocolate in the pocket, just in case.  Smoke from the chimney at dusk when we return home.  The reflection of Christmas lights in the window.

I am savouring  a slate wiped clean of commitments and plans by the holidays.  A day for leisurely cooking and baking of plant based treats.  Blogging friend, David Ashton at Snow Branches often reminds us about extending our compassion to the animal world by declining to eat them.  For me I am more conscious of it at this time of year seeing how simple and delicious it is to eat a plant based diet.  Vegan shortbread made with "Earth Balance" and panela sugar, my mother's old carrot pudding recipe (read plum pudding but less rich) made vegan by using canola oil and EB, kale chips (recipe here) a holiday main dish created by my nutritionist daughter that includes nuts and white beans, and many other treats.  The joy of spending time in the kitchen together creating and laughing,

Tenzin Palmo in her book "Reflections on a Mountain Lake" responds to a question regarding vegetarianism & Buddhism by saying: "These days, more and more lamas are becoming vegetarian, especially the younger ones, partly for health reasons and partly because they recognize the hypocrisy of talking about universal compassion and then sitting down to a steak or a chicken dinner."

the modern family enjoys the holidays!

As we spend the evenings together we have been enjoying a few movies on the computer.  I was introduced to "Dr Who" via the Christmas special which reminded me a lot of the old children's story "The Lion, The Witch And the Wardrobe."  We watched a Christmas episode of "Supernatural", a favourite show of my daughter's which gave me nightmares in which I was accused of being a witch at a border crossing.  I pleaded I was not a "dark witch".

The solstice sock monkey

As a new year draws near the following thoughts from Tenzin Palmo form a strong part of my resolve for my myself. "It is not enough to hold vast views.  If there is no correspondence between these views and our conduct, we are in danger.  Guru Padmasambhava once said to King Trisong Detsen, "Your view must be as vast as the sky, but your conduct must be as finely sifted as barley flour."

I hope your holidays are filled with simple joys and the opportunity to contemplate the year that is slipping through our fingers and look forward with gusto to the one tiptoeing up the path.

Friday, December 23, 2011

New Loves, Old Habits, & Gingerbread Cookies

You always knew this about me but I am going to say it out loud now.  I am a little slow.  In many ways, but especially technologically speaking.  I just discovered tumblr.  Roll your eyes now and get it over with.  Yawn a little perhaps.  There, now you've recovered.  I know it is so last decade.  But there you have it, I belong to the cybersnail family, a slowly evolving form of life in this brave new world.

It happened like this. I fell the other day and gave my knee a good bang.  And some good Dharma unravelled.  Down the same old roads of anger and fear and worry.  Boringly intense.  And such a quick flash fire.  Old habits didn't require much stirring to surface, just a bang on the knee.  I could watch and see what I was doing, knowing full well that the stories were not helpful, and yet.....  I followed them like a hungry puppy.

Next morning, lying in bed, chewing over the sore knee (that sounds physically awkward and animal like, don't you think?), I was looking at a couple of tumblr sites.  My daughter came to console the grumpy mom, look at my knee and had me signed on to tumblr and reblogging art that I loved in an instant.  Suddenly the mood had changed and I was smitten.  How quickly we can make that turn.  Or how long we can wallow, given the appropriate circumstances.  Ah, for wise and kind companions.

While my new love, tumblr and I are quite happy together, I am reminded for the gazillionth time of how we have a choice of the stories we tell ourselves.  We can run the poor me video, with it's hungry ghost sound track or we can simply be with what is and even find things that engage our imaginations and hearts.

So I am in this euphoric state of new love, as I was when I first started blogging. (The knee is recovering with the help of traumeel and arnica).  I have disappeared down the tumblr hole and am blown away in the same way I was when I discovered the blog world.  I am amazed at the human imagination, it's wide span and the depth of it's incredible talent.  The art and design out there warms my heart and feeds my soul.  So check out my new tumblr site to see what is catching my eye.  As well as art there is an endless well of great design sites, craft sites, architecture, whatever your pleasure.  I am especially enjoying a site called "Unconsumption"  Visit tumblr, be inspired.  Oh, sorry, the rest of you are already there.

And for a little extra treat, check out the music video posted on Ox herding today.  It's strangely pleasing  and ethereal video called "The Dog Days Are Over" by Florence + The Machine.

These are my holiday treats for you!  All wrapped up in  cellophany cyber gift wrap.  Add coffee and shortbread or tea and ginger cookies and enjoy!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Painting Into The Unknown

I am book obsessed lately, not with all books, but with one in particular.  "No More Secondhand Art" is becoming a dear friend to me lately.  Perhaps more than a friend...  It comes to bed with me most nights, follows me around the house, keeping me company if I sit down for a little rest during the day, languishing lazily with me in front of the fire in the evening.  I like to think we are enjoying each other's company.  My pen wanders hungrily through it's pages, picking it's paper brains.  I have abandoned all prissy concern for bookishness and leave the tender little volume haphazardly propped open like a small tent.  It is constantly whispering the contents of my mind into my ear.  How does it do this?  It speaks so deeply to how I regard art; every adjective, every verb showing how the bodies of art and spiritual practice fit so beautifully together.

The mind I have come to inhabit in this life time is quick.  I say that not in a pride-full way but as an observation.  It is simply a characteristic of my mind.  And it has been my observation that this quickness does not always serve me well.  This quickness is jumpy and often darts several steps ahead to conclusions that are far from accurate.  This quickness skims speedily along the surface, often missing the depth of perception that slower, more measured minds wind themselves around quite naturally.  With this quickness, comes the quickness to judge.  And of course, measuring and assessing of things in this life has it's place, but judgment has this dirty little connotation, don't you think?  It wanders recklessly through my life leaving it's shrapnel deeply embedded.

In creating art, I have come to learn that judgment engenders a lot of frustration and paralysis. It's like a pesky virus that once it has infected the mind,  is difficult to kick out.   "No More Secondhand Art" has several virus busters for us judgmental types (which includes most of us humans to one degree or another).  The section I am really rolling around on my palette right now (cheap pun intended) is one on approaching the unknown.  It reminds me a little of how the Buddhist teacher Dzigar Kongrtrul works.  He talks about working past all points of like and dislike, until the mind lets go of all that.

Here' how London talks about beginning an artistic encounter (the blank page/canvas) : "Our usual response to any real sense of not knowing is to shrink back from the encounter"  Don't we do this in so many ways in our life, all the time?? He goes on to say, "As a consequence we are likely to fall back upon tried ways and disengage with the actual circumstances we find ourselves in, and rerun past scenarios."  I'm thinking here of the depth of habit, the strong pull of those neural pathways.  And London goes on to tell us what street corner this dumps us out on, all confused and grumpy: "The failure to make contact with the reality we are in causes us in turn to feel out of our element and disempowered. In this dispirited state we certainly do not feel in the mood for creative play or adventures of the imagination."  Man he has nailed this one for me!

I think I have been wandering around in this dispirited place for a long time without clearly knowing how to get out, or not having the patience to explore the corridors that lead out.  London has given me permission to wander around and know that it's okay.  I can just wander around, paint brush in hand exploring the delicate crevices of my own judgment until finally judgment gets tired and bored and the space of "not knowing" quietly sneaks in.  I am seeing that it takes a long bit of time of just mucking about to leave the halls of judgment and just be there with my experience of paint and canvas.  And that's okay.  It may take you minutes to get there, it takes me a long time.  London points out that one experience is no better than the other (thanks Peter, I'm so used to judging my judgmental nature as bad (sheesh that's twisted)).

London goes on to talk about how to "use" the facility of "not knowing" wisely.  "Instead of allowing not knowing to paralyze forward progress, we can see not knowing as a frame of mind that occurs at the boundary line between all that is known and all that is yet to be known... This is the fruitful departing edge for all that leads to discovery."  I love how he can encourage me to come willingly to the edge of what usually provokes fear.  This is the place "where newness enters" he reminds us.

He makes a number of  comments that have been helpful for me in actually looking forward to plunging into the deep pool of the unknown.  Here's a few:

"when all is empty, all is ready"
"trust, not assurance glides us past what we know"
"fear is the symptom that great things are being confronted, the boundaries we take to be safe, good and real."
"it's the pregnant silence around which the world turns"
"it's the zero point from which new things spring"

So are you ready to join me in the place of "not knowing" or do you already slip into this place with ease?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

And What Is The Purpose of Art?

Zen & Now 24"x30" Mixed Media on Canvas
My daughter asked me how the "hundred layer painting" was doing a while back.  When she was home in the early fall she had observed me creating painting after painting on the same canvas.  Nothing seemed to hit the mark for me.  I kept thinking something "nicer" might be just around the corner, something that pleased me more, and so I worked on, painting over, rubbing off.  The heavy canvas never protested.  It stood stoically, quietly accepting image after image.  Some days I told myself it was about process, learning to let go, to not be attached to outcomes.  Some days I told myself I was a fool and a liar.  But every morning I got up and worked again.  I was like Sisyphus, rolling a painting uphill.

It was interesting to work day after day and have nothing to show for it.   It was good for a goal oriented monkey like me.  I could feel frustration rise, disappointment crest and disappear.  I could feel hope tugging at the corners of my mouth as something promising looked to be materializing. But then, no, false alarm, a wet rag in hand, I watched tears of water rolling down the fresh paint. And the ever onward, marching soldiers of thought kept me company, sometimes dour and mean spirited and sometimes upward looking and encouraging.

In a strange way it was like a puzzle that needed solving.  I was wrestling with abstract composition on this landscape shaped canvas.  In the end I never really felt like I solved the puzzle but was reasonably happy to stop where I did.  No knives came out, no canvases were flung into far corners of the garden.

I am always just as interested in what the mind is doing, as in what the paint is doing.  For me the way I work, how that process shakes down is like a little home movie.   How can I  reach down into the inner landscape and excavate something, something raw and real, thats the little koan that calls to my curious self.  To understand the "how" in some way seems important to me, like I might crack some code.  Or is it always a matter of groping around in the dark?  Always down a different corridor, bumping into different walls?

I am reading a fabulous book right now called "No More Secondhand Art" subtitled "Awakening The Artist Within" by Peter London.  His premise is that in the modern world we create art for the wrong reasons.  But here, I will let him speak for himself, instead of stand in danger of misrepresenting him:  "The making and teaching of much art today is a fraudulent affair, devoid of large, deep purposes.  Art today seems primarily in the service of decoration, innovation, or self-expression.  At the same time, we seem to have lost contact with the earlier, more profound functions of art, which have always had to do with personal and collective empowerment, personal growth, communion with this world, and the search for what lies beneath and above this world."  His premise is that this was the original function of art and that somehow we have become lost, that we have mistaken the product (beauty) with the intent and aim of the art.  For me, this resonates so deeply.  Yes, this is what I am trying to do but somewhere along the way I get confused and think it's about making "the pretty thing."  Someone has now put a finger on why this isn't working for me.

London suggests this is what we need to do: " In order for us to engage in image making with the fullness of power that this primary act of creation has to offer, we must remove the barrier that otherwise keeps us at a harmless distance from any authentic creative encounter.  The barrier may be characterized as a densely woven thicket of everything we have ever been told about art.  If we are to engage in the act of creation directly and fully, we must set aside all that is secondhand news and bear witness to our direct encounter with the world as if for the first time."

And for fear that I might type his whole book into this blog post, I will end with his comment on the function of art, "... first it is to become personally enlightened, wise, and whole.  Then and as a consequence of the former function, the purpose of this wisdom, the purpose of art, is to make the community enlightened wise and whole.... If art is much more than beauty and novelty, if it is truly to be a source of renewal, a celebration of life, a means of awakening we have to start rethinking the whole creative enterprise."  And really the aim of art and spiritual practice, well it sounds like pretty much the same thing when I read London's words.  Art, practice, meditation,  really we're traveling the same parallel roads, don't you think?  Paint brush, meditation cushion, walk, sit, run a brush across a canvas....

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Can Of Pain

Can of Pain Can Be Bought At The Pharmasave Price
Don't you love it?  A can of pain!  A large can of pain at that...  Tea and sugar and coffee come in small cans, but pain, it's always the giant sized one.  Why is that?  This photo opp was too good to pass by, honestly.  And you know how I love a cheap joke.  Loaf of pain, anyone?  White, whole wheat, gluten free perhaps?  How do you like your pain?  With butter, goat cheese? It has such a lovely rich feel then.   Sometimes we just slather it on.  Or perhaps sweetened with a little jam.   There are some of us who like our pain dry and crusty.  Is that our Puritan heritage peeking out?  We like to choke on it a little as it goes down.  But I digress foolishly.  What other way is there to digress, really?

I have had a number of occasions lately to ponder suffering, which in some sense is different from pain.  Pain is inevitable in this human life, suffering is optional, right?  Suffering, it's what we add on to the pain.  Do we all agree on that?  Twisted ankle = pain.  Ain't it awful = suffering.

And so it was suffering I pondered the other day as I brushed on my favourite chartreuse paint, rubbing it deep into the textured crannies of the canvas.  I was worrying about something, the usual.  We have our go-to's of suffering, don't you think?

Over and over this little nub, I went in my mind, rubbing and scratching at it.  I was so tired of myself and my way of chewing on this little bristle of fear by mid morning, that I knew I needed to do something different before my head exploded.  I was tired of being both victim and perpetrator.  A Dharma teacher had told me to comfort my fear, to befriend to it like I might a small child.  I was having a hard time doing this.  This child and I were just not feeling the love.

I thought, "so if I can't be friends with this furry little beast, maybe I could just spend a little time with it, quality time.  I had observed that what I do with my fear on a regular basis, is that I push it away.  I want to fix it, I want to banish it from the planet.  I want it to eat my dust.  Then everything will be okay, right?

But there it is running behind me.  Always this is the scene, me running, fear in hot pursuit.  We are both so friggin tired, I thought.  I've had enough.  Fear, how about you?  I have worn out so many pairs of fear drenched sneakers, it's ridiculous.  So I just stayed still.  Fear got up close and personal.  It had fangs and whiskers.  It was smelly.  And there I was feeling it's qualities, noticing it's ripples and roughness, it's warts and bad breath.  And I didn't self destruct.  I felt squirmy at first.  And then the longer I stayed, the quieter I got.  I got to feel my own strength for the staying.  It felt strangely good, like muscles waking up, flexing, seeing it was possible to just be still with fear.  Ha, fear I can be with your bad breath.  And then after a bit, it moved on without me.  No sneakers required.

Another visitation of "pain" came one day in the weekly qi gong class I take.  I realized at one point what a "struggler" I am, how this is a mode I go into when I am learning something new, doing something unknown.  Assumption number one of the struggler is: "this is going to be hard".  This thought is followed by physical tensing and tightening and the holding of breath.  "Remember to breathe" our qi gong teacher reminds us regularly.  (Apparently I am not the only struggler in the building.)  So first there is the thought,  followed by a body state that supports a depletion of energy and potential failure.  And off goes the little line of dominoes....  A way of being that makes new things seem daunting and unwelcome, a way of being that encourages a retreat, a shrinking from life.  Could this be anything but painful?  Could this be suffering come to life?

And that lovely little book "The Buddha's Brain" reminds us that the neuroplasticity of the brain allows us to change our response when we become aware of it's unhelpful nature.  We can choose to do things differently.  Sometimes we need to look those little demons in the eye a whole bunch of times before it occurs to us that we have a choice.  Sometimes we need to get so tired of ourselves that we are motivated to  get out there on the neural pathways with a big shovel and do a little path realignment .

So I ask you, how big is your can of pain?  And how do you usually serve it up?  And have you found any ways to take the lid off this can?  A bientot, mon ami.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wandering Down Memory Lane (My 7 Links)

Winter In The Pacific Northwest

I was invited by the lovely Donna Iona Drozda of Following The Moon to be part of ‘My 7 Links’ project. Of course I felt pleased to have been chosen, but once pride left the building, sloth and torpor moved in while I considered the work involved. But then I thought it might be fun to look back over my blog posts, so off I trundled into the deep woods of blog posts past.
The idea is to go back to your own posts and find one to fit each of the 7 categories, then ‘choose’ 5 more bloggers to do the same, and so on, and so on.
The project is described as a way of “uniting bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint venture.

The following are the 7 categories:

Most beautiful post

Most popular post

Most controversial post

Most helpful post

Most “surprisingly successful” post

Most neglected post

and finally….the post that makes them most proud  

So here goes:

  1. Most Beautiful:  Blush.  Here's the deal.  In western culture we suffer from the cult of "not good enough" and so it feels odd to call something we have created "beautiful".  But here's to changing habits and creating new neural pathways.  I like this post because it felt lyrical.
     It's about a magical retreat I went to here on Salt Spring where someone kissed a cow and French man read Pablo Neruda poetry to me.

    Most Popular: goes to the post with the most comments.  That's scientific right?  The numbers never lie?  It's a post called "A Malpractice Suit" from Aug 5th of this year about the realization that sometimes I use the Dharma to beat myself up with!  Apparently my twisted-ness attracted some attention.

    Most Controversial:  My blog is not exactly a snake pit of controversy but maybe someone out there might be offended by Brad Warner singing "Buddha Was A Good Ol' Boy"  It's a little post I wrote about seeing Warner speak in Victoria and finding he is a lot less controversial in person than he is in his books and blog posts.  Anyway enjoy his little ditty here.  He may get you humming.

    Most Helpful Post:  I picked a post called "Enjoy Your Difficulties" because, well, it's not that easy to do, so I figured we could all use a little help in this department.  It's from March of 2009 so a lot of current readers of this blog probably wouldn't have read it and they might get a kick out of seeing me as a blog toddler.

    Most Surprisingly Successful Post:  Well I'm always surprised when they're successful and how do you judge that anyway?  Again I picked a post with a larger number of comments than usual.  You vote with your comments, right?  It's called "Hearing The Still Small Voice"  from Jan 2011

    Most neglected post: Well when I first started blogging, that could cover quite a few posts! but I chose "What Do You Expect?" from Jan 12, 2009, not to long after I started posting.  It's about our many expectations, subtle and not so subtle.

    Post the made me most proud:  Well I'd have to say it's the one I wrote about being with my mother when she died.  I posted it the day after she died.  It's called "Quickly The Body Passes Away" from Aug 30, 2009

    And the blogs I love and visit regularly that I invite to join me in this little project are as follows & with a little post script saying if this seems like it's not your cuppa or you're up to your eyeballs in other projects, not to worry:

    Mystic Meandering

    Lynne Hoppe

    Art It

    108 Zen Books

    Michelle Meister

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Three Questions

Pyramid Lake, Jasper, Alberta
"Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?" Did you ever wake up asking yourself this question?  Maybe not in those exact words but you know what I mean.  Ajahn Brahm, an upside down Therevaden  monk,  has cleverly anticipated our question and written a book to help us find the culprit.  How can you not love this title?   I'm a total sucker for a sense of humour especially if there's a handful of  wisdom thrown in to seal the deal  .  And he's a good listen here, with a generous truckload of Dharma talks.

In one of the stories from the book, an emperor after much study, found he only had to ask  3 questions to receive all the wise guidance he needed.

Here are the questions.  Don't cheat.  Answer first.  Read second.  Find out your batting average.  Remember Babe Ruth.

1 When is the most important time?
2 Who is the most important person?
3 What is the most important thing to do?

That's right, according to Ajahn Brahm, answer these questions correctly and you can never go wrong in any situation.

Let's compare notes.  You probably guessed that the answer we're looking for in number 1 is "now".  You're a good test taker.  Now if we could just remember this in each moment, especially the dung loaded ones!

Question 2.  I got this one wrong.  The interesting answer is, "the person you're with" which includes you!  Ajahn Brahm reminds us, "Communication and love, can only be shared when the one you are with, no matter who they are, is the most important person in the world for you, at that time.  They feel it.  They know it.  They respond."  He points out that when we are the only one around then we are the most important person we're with!  " Do you ever say, "Good morning, me.  have a nice day!" he asks.

And question # 3, did you get this one?  Nada.  I was really stumped.  One answer, for all situations?  What is the most important thing to do?  "to care" he says,which he describes as bringing together "careful and caring.  The answer illustrates that it is where we are coming from that is the most important thing."

Now we can go out into the world armed with 3 things and not be dangerous.  We have some new tools in the spiritual toolbox, especially helpful when the next truckload of dung is delivered.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Falling Deeply & Bathing The Brain

I am the one with the lovely grey coat and the blue accessories
Here is one the beings I had the good fortune to meet at the bottom of my driveway as I headed out for a little stroll in the woods last week.  Is it synchronistic that Eeyore appears to remind me of my eeyoreness?

I have been slipping effortlessly through the time and space of this planet, riding ferry boats, delivering people to train stations, sharing water with the rain, listening to wise people talk.  Right now I am sitting in a high-ceilinged coffee shop in a seaside town, watching cars glide through a foggy intersection. A lick of butterscotch light flashes methodically atop a stop sign.

We are the only customers in this deliciously "Dwellish" space. A stark chandelier in the front window reflects off the white concrete floor.  A coffee coloured beauty busies herself loading the dishwasher.  I have recently slurped down a dinner of angel hair pasta with bocconcini, garlic and tomato.  Have I traveled to a Deva realm?  I mean angel hair, really!

It is undeniably fall here.  Red and yellow maple leaves have pasted themselves artfully to wet sidewalks.  Earlier in the evening an icy shaving of moon hung over a finger of land reaching out into the sea.  Sleek snow geese covered the sky with sound as sips of rich red wine slid down my throat.

All this delicious fallness offered a smoldering contrast to a recent talk by Stephen Lewis on the aids pandemic ravaging many African countries,  reminding me how fortunate I am to have been born into my auspicious life circumstances, how little we have to whine about in the developed world, although mostly that doesn't stop us.  His stories clawed at our very skin.  Here is a man who is not afraid to feel deeply, to experience horror, the indifference of  the government and corporate world and still work tirelessly and with passion.  Here is a Bodhisattva who is truly alive.

On Wednesday night we navigated our way through streets overflowing with Vancouver hockey fans to find a talk given by the Thai Forest monk, Ajahn Sona.  His talk was titled, "Cool Mind, Warm Heart, Green Life".  Again I was reminded of the contrasts of this world.  An orange robed man who never eats after noon spoke in a neighbourhood of million dollar condos, across the street from a grocery store that flies in $200 loaves of bread from France.

Ajahn Sona poured many wise words on to our thirsty souls.  He reminded us how emotions like anger cloud our minds, twisting our view of any situation like a fun house mirror.  Words and actions from a "heated mind" are most often sources of regret.  He had some interesting things to say about the green life, how easy it is to become strident in activism over the environment.  So much is lost in this stance, including the cool mind and the warm heart which are essential gear in all situations.  He asked us to look at our emotions surrounding environmental issues.  Do we become angry, depressed, throw ourselves into despair, avoid thinking about it because it seems overwhelming?  Always an opportunity to practice and with our clear minds, find appropriate action.

My travels included a free art demo and a trip to my favourite spiritual bookstore.  I am looking forward to this rainy season to develop some new art skills and spend some time just mucking about in the studio.  I am reminded by a book I have been reading called "Buddha's Brain" to spend some time really letting the good things I experience sink in, perhaps changing a little of the neural landscape.  I invite you to do the same.  What are the good things you might like to bathe your brain in??

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are vs Who You Are

work in progress
It is obvious that a thought about your mother is not your mother ( I borrowed this line from a wonderful Dharma talk by Howard Cohn).  But somehow it is less obvious to us that "who we think we are", is not who we are.  In a way this is related the "the straight jacket of insecurity" that I wrote about here because who we think we are is mostly less than we really are.  Cohn talks about this "personality view" that we have of ourselves and how it tends to be slightly (or not so slightly) on the mean side.

Think about it for a minute.  Think about how you normally see yourself.  Do you see yourself as a clutz, a poor public speaker, slightly lazy, not very focused, depressed?  Chances are the picture we generally snap of ourselves tends to be on the negative side.  It encompasses things others have said to us, what we've implied from looks and comments, our judgements of ourselves when things don't go the way we want and a multitude of things.

We are in fact much more than we could ever see from our vantage point.  We are like shadows standing in our own light.  We encompass both wholesome and unwholesome qualities which create a much larger picture than we ever focus on.

Since our "personality view" is likely flawed, and small, like a tight, slightly wart covered halloween costume, maybe we should just give it up, let it go.  Since we like to wrap things in little packages and have been doing this forever and a lifetime, it may not fly off instantly into the stratosphere.  But maybe, just maybe we should lighten up a bit and give it a little help.  Perhaps every time we think we know who we are and how we operate, maybe we could just let that float away like a kid's lost balloon.  Maybe after we have filled up the stratosphere with lost balloons about ourselves we will be free to be whoever we authentically are in the moment.

It's not about getting newer and shinier balloons, that say we're stellar, it's about letting our real self just be, that interesting, quirky, human self.  We don't need to be anyone.  We don't need to be any way.  What our soul really longs for is to be free,  free from who we think we are.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Muck Raking

Taken at the Japanese Garden in Seattle
I was muck raking yesterday.  No, really I was.  Not the gossipy, wrong speech kind of muck raking.  I had a big 3 pronged claw-like rake and I was pulling old snags (and young ones) from our pond.

The pond is ridiculously large and has been neglected for a long time.  One of our summer projects was to get out as much debris as we could while the water level of the pond was low.  But summer has morphed into fall and projects have stretched out like stale bubblegum and the rains have started.

This morning as I sat in meditation  thoughts bubbled up, some less pleasant than others .  This led the mind to snag onto thoughts about muck-raking.  As I dragged things out of the pond yesterday, the odour of all that rotting stuff was pretty pungent, (not unlike some of the thoughts that were bubbling up to the surface as I sat.)

I was reminded of a neighbour's comment when I suggested I might use some of the submerged leaves and muck on my garden beds.  As a master gardener with extensive gardening knowledge she said it might not be a good idea as the material was probably "anaerobic" (without oxygen).  I guess theory being, it might actually suffocate the soil.  Muck, lack of oxygen, I could feel my mind-pond gasping for air.  It reminded me that in this cerebral pond, instead of diving for cover and rejecting those thoughts I  categorize as unpleasant, I could simply provide some space and air, to simply let them bubble up and be.  I didn't need to do anything with them.  They could come to the surface of my mind-pond, let off their little stink and be gone (for now anyway).

After a number of days of muck-raking (down at the pond) yesterday I admired our work.  The shore, while still muddy was free from all the broken twigs and this year's fallen leaves.  Lots of the large, partially submerged branches had been pulled out so that the pond no longer looks like some crazy pot of dirty soup (at least at the south end).  The water suckers sprouting up from the alder trees were trimmed and some alders removed completely.  It was a pleasing, more orderly sight.

All this work reminded me of my own mind-pond.  It takes concerted effort to change the mental landscape.  It seems to me there are two kinds of mind-pond work.  We work with both inner and outer tributaries of the pond. We need to let those slightly stinky, submerged thoughts rise and pop like bubbles.   With this, we are injecting much needed oxygen, working with the outflow, cleaning the pond.  The there's the purification of the pond, the streaming in (or raining down) of clean mind-water, an important step that is often overlooked.  We can choose our thoughts.  We can choose to pour wholesome, helpful thoughts into our minds.  We can remind ourselves to be grateful for everything, to pour lovingkindess into ourselves to alkalize both our mind and bodies, instead of  continuing with our somewhat sour, acidic thoughts.

Both ponds, the one across the meadow and the one I carry with me are still in need of reparation.  There is still muck-raking to do, snags to snafoo, smelly stuff, prone to rot and suffocate the environment to be liberated.  So the process continues, the skillful, concerted effort of pond cleaning.

And like so many things in this life, (eating, washing the dishes) it's time to start all over again when we're done!  But we can do this muck-raking with joy and enthusiasm, knowing it is our work.  We are making this earthly environment better by our efforts.  And you will be glad that we are still at the point in our virtual life that there is no "sniff" function on blogger yet.  Now back to the muck raking

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Pride of Insecurity

I am thinking about insecurity this morning.  I have been thinking about it for a few days, remembering a teaching by one of the Zen monks from the OBC on how that feeling of "not good enough", a lack of self confidence is really a form of pride.  At first that seemed odd and confusing to me but then I got it.  We hold back, protect ourselves, lack confidence in our "little", ego bound selves because somehow we think we are better, should be better than we fear we are.  This whole little dance is really us wrapped up in the straightjacket of ego.  If we hold back and hide from life we can live in our little fantasy of who we are.  We don't have to face the uncomfortable fact that we are not superman or superwoman.

Something inside of me has decided I am tired of living in the straightjacket.  I think perhaps I am ready to walk up to the desk and check myself out of this padded cell joint I've been hanging out in.  Something inside of me is finally bored with my fantasy of who I should be, who I want to be.  There is a famous and wonderful quote about this (but I forget who said it), something to the effect that when it becomes to painful to be bound up, we break out of our chrysalis and become free.  And we become a butterfly in our willingness, our courage to really live this life, to strike out, to fall flat, to experience our shortcomings and carry on.  And in a strange way, we savour the taste of failure, simply because it is a taste, a bold taste that activates our tastebuds.  We forsake blandness. We are alive, fully alive.  Jon Kabbat-Zin uses the phrase full-catastrophe living.   Zorba the Greek showed us the truth of this way of living long before there was a name for it.

And thinking about insecurity, my western mind twirls over the balance bar and wonders about self-confidence.  Not that ego based, puffed up, I'm so great kind of self-confidence.  I'm thinking of a different type of self-confidence, that unshakable, centered confidence. It's like mushrooms, there are the delicious edible ones and then there are their dangerously poisonous look-a-likes.  Real self confidence grows on a whole different terrain than the ego based one.  The forest floor of our being is host to many weird and wonderful life-forms.

Here's what Tibetan teacher, Tarthang Tulku has to say about real self-confidence: "Once we go through a true process of self-discovery, no one can take away our self-confidence; the inspiration comes from within and we know without needing to be told."

So here's the invitation to join me, in an exploration of the inner and outer forest of our beings.  Fasten on your boots, sharpen up your tastebuds and prepare to pick me up off the forest floor a gazillion times.  I will do the same for you.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Be Silently Drawn

"Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love.  It will not lead you astray" -Rumi

I am using a tiny imaginary wood burning tool to etch these delicate words into my brain before heading into the quiet  heart of fall.  As I sat, nestled in the small nook of a cedar tree the other day, listening to the ravens discuss their fall plans I considered mine.  The cool, still air of fall is one of my favourite things.  Renewal, new work, pumpkin soup; these are the offerings of this new season that I am looking forward to.

I will surface like a diver from the pool of summer that was filled with gardening and visitors and a little travel.  Summer has such energy.  I am tired of it now.  I welcome the quiet, focused energy of fall.  There is a different kind of doing that comes with fall.  A few visitors have noted that fall feels like the real beginning of the new year.

And while my summer was filled with many things, my studio mostly lay silent and closed.  I am taking the approach that things have been percolating below the surface, rather than going down the rabbit hole of regret and self recrimination.  As the weather dampens and the lion's share of weeding and reshaping an old garden are behind me, the garden no longer calls me out of bed in the morning.

So "the strange pull of what I love" calls to me now.  I will follow it, without assumption as much as I can.  I want to sit in front of a canvas with no expectation, with no judgement, with a simple silent presence.  I want to fall quietly into the underground cave of exploration and creation.  I want to move through that space in such a way that hope and fear do not stick to me.  This is my fall destination. It will not take many steps, no planes or trains, but I hope to travel miles from where I am now.  In my little carry on case I will pack some carefully folded trust and wrinkle free faith; trust in a benevolent universe and faith in my ability to learn from it.  Where will "the strange pull of what you love" take you this fall?

Friday, September 2, 2011

An Invitation: Make Your Weekend A Pilgrimage

Moonlighting Monks Mixed Media (sold)
I am thinking about travel today.  The idea of starting out on a physical journey is strong for me right now for a couple of reasons.  The weather is fine, families have returned home from summer vacations and this is the time of year I have often traveled.  So I feel the call of places other than home.  In a way it is the echo of what I have done in the past, a kind of easy to see karmic call, the urge to repeat what one has done in the past (sobering when one thinks of the less wholesome inclinations one has!)  I am remembering to just breath that in and experience what that restlessness feels like in my body.

And I am thinking about travel in general because a young traveler who has my heart has put on her traveling shoes.  My daughter, not knowing exactly what comes next in her life, has bravely sold much of what she owns and taken to the road.  She had a starting point, but no destination.  This encompasses true bravery in my mind:  an opening into the unknown, an act of faith, a trust in the universe and in a hero's sense the journey of the self toward the Self.

A while back I borrowed a book from a friend called: "The Art of Pilgrimage subtitled "The Seeker's Guide to Making Travel Sacred" by Phil Cousineau.  His premise is that any journey can be a sacred pilgrimage if we choose (and perhaps sometimes even if we don't make this conscious choice, it happens anyway).  Cousineau says, "Pilgrimage is often regarded as the universal quest for the self. Though the form of the path changes from culture to culture, through different epochs of history, one element remains the same: the renewal of the soul.....  For the wandering poet, Basho, pilgrimage was a journey that embodied the essentials of Zen, a simple journey in which the path was the goal, yet also a spiritual metaphor for the well lived life."

And even for those of us who are not leaving our homes behind we can be inspired by Thoreau who made his daily life at Walden a pilgrimage, Cousineau reminds us.  The essence of his journey was walking, spending time in nature and seeing deeply, being present.  He was apparently inspired by an inscription from King Tching Thang's bathtub which read: " Renew Thyself completely each day, do it again and again and forever again."

And as a final thought about travel here's a quote from Roshi Joan Halifax's book "A Fruitful Darkness":  "Everybody has a geography itself that can be used for change.  That is why we travel to far off places.  Whether we know it ourselves or not, we need to renew ourselves in territories that are fresh and wild.  We need to come home through the body of alien lands.  For some these journeys of change are taken intentionally and mindfully.  They are pilgrimages, occasions when the Earth heals us directly.  Pilgrimage has been for me and for many others, a form of inquiry in action."

So where will your heart travel this long weekend?  How will you renew your soul at this cross roads of summer and fall?  What will you truly see?  I wish you safe, happy and fruitful travels.

Last night I wandered through the woods, carrying a jar of freshly made baba ganoush, following a delightful hand drawn map to find the back gate of neighbours, where we sat in the dwindling light enjoying a glass of wine.  I think my adventures will lead me up a mountain to a monastery this weekend to find a new supply of incense.  I hope to remain mindful so that my steps are pilgrimages into the unknown, mysterious adventures sewn together into the slightly tattered tapestry of my life.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Squirrel Nutkin Chews On The Dharma

Here's a photo of Squirrel Nutkin chewing on the Dharma.  You remember that Beatrix Potter tale from your childhood, don't you? No?  Well let me refresh your memory.  It goes like this.  The heroine goes on retreat to a lovely idyllic spot, almost as nice as heaven, in a rural, pastoral sort of way.

Silently she is stalked by her own mind.  Fur starts to fly and she finds she is more than a little nutty.  But enter stage right, the bright fairy of mindfulness.  She leads said heroine over to a majestic tree with wide branches and deep roots that holds all the nuttiness with great love and kindness.  When the sun shines, squirrel nutkin notices that these hard little nuts are all transparent.  At this point our heroine treks over to the Dharma kitchen to chew on some delicious lemon poppyseed cake with strawberry-blueberry sauce, savouring it deeply and realizing it is not all that different from the nuts on the tree.

So that is the fairy tale version of my 7 day silent retreat.  If you prefer a description in more worldy terms I can say that this comment by Charlotte Joko Beck is very apt: "With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn.  Whether you stay home or work in an office or whatever, the next teacher is going to pop right up."

I met some demons along the way, predictable, familiar demons, the ones that have to do with fear and personal health.  My retreat demons took me on a ferry ride to see my doctor and naturopath.  There were twists and turns in a little drama that had someone suggesting I might have shingles on my eye which needed medical attention.  My Dharma journey veered right out of the retreat grounds proving the path is everywhere and anywhere.  In the end I got to stare fear in the eye (no foolish pun intended).  I didn't have shingles and got to see the folly of so much worry and fear.  I learned a bit of steadiness and finally got how much nightmares need staring in the eye.  Hmm, maybe this eye thing was on to something??

We had the wonderful Dharma guidance of Gil Fronsdal who was filled with gentleness and humour and the ability to transmit the Dharma in a precise and steady way.  He had some great memorable lines and stories.  When I shed some tears he said he knew a woman who cried for 7 days on a retreat.  I also loved this line in reference to our need for acceptance, an issue I met along the way:  "They'll criticize you when you don't talk enough, they'll criticize you when you talk too much and they'll criticize you when you talk just the right amount." - The Buddha

He invited us, one morning, to look at the underlying attitude we have to life, the one that hovers just below the surface, the one we hardly notice.  As I sat there in stillness I could see my attitude of fear, of resistance, of holding back.  It was enough to make you weep (which I did).  This was a 2 kleenex box retreat!.

In an evening Dharma talk he told a longish story about Japanese soldiers in the Philipines who stayed in the forest long after the war was over.  When they were discovered, high Japanese officials were sent in to go tell them the war was over and thank them for their service.  Just before they boarded the boat home, they were told the war had been over for 25 years.  Gil suggested we do the same for our fears, our anxieties, our habitual tendencies that no longer serve us well.

The retreat offered detailed instruction on mindfulness and concentration practice and lots of time to practice it in the company of other dedicated practitioners.  It was a wonderful opportunity to meet demons, chew on  things, see through other things and sink deep into the spiritual being who is having this human experience.

Friday, August 12, 2011

"Choose A Nice Road"

Care- Full Buddha 12"x 24"
"When an artist or sculptor creates a picture or a statue of Buddha sitting upon a lotus flower, it is not just to express his reverence towards the Buddha.  The artist must above all want to show the Buddha's state of mind as he sits: The state of complete peace, complete bliss." - Thich Nhat Hanh from "A Guide to Walking Meditation" Yes, this is it, it is to show what is possible for all of us.  I needed to be reminded of why I am drawn to do these paintings.  It often doesn't make that much sense to me because my real love is abstract work. I am not really a figurative painter.  So secret revealed by Thich Nhat Hanh!

 I pulled out this little book for 2 reasons, one because I have been following the progress of the "Open Mind, Open Heart" Retreat at UBC in Vancouver and secondly because I head off on a 7 day  meditation retreat of my own tomorrow.  As walking meditation will follow most sitting periods it was really nice to read Thay's simple and enticing words on walking meditation.  He says things like, " If I had the Buddha's eyes and could see through everything, I could discern the marks of worry and sorrow you leave in your footprints after you pass, like the scientist who can detect tiny living beings in a drop of pond water with a microscope.  Walk so that your footprints bear only the marks of peaceful joy and complete freedom. "

And perhaps I can entice you to join me in a little walking meditation this week.  Perhaps these words of Thay's will call to you: " Choose a nice road for your practice, along the shore of a river, in a park, on the flat roof of a building, in the woods, or along a bamboo fence.  Such places are ideal, but they are not essential.  I know there are people who practice walking meditation in reformation camps, even in small prison cells."

Twice this week I have been reminded by spiritual teacher's talks that practice should not only lead us to joy and ease but joy and ease should be present when we sit in meditation, when we practice.  The reminder is a call to give up effort which drains energy and aim for ease.  This is such a good reminder for me as I head into retreat.  Sometimes I have the feeling I need to "work" hard to be present, that what comes up will be painful and difficult, demons of all manner, but here is the reminder to relax into it.  Thich Nhat Hanh reminded participants to embrace their pain, but also that they can change the channel on habitual thinking, that releasing tension in the body will ease physical pain.  So it is with these thoughts that I head off on my week's retreat.   Happy walking and writing and painting.  I look forward to seeing what you've been up to when I return!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Treasures of the Self

Another little shot of the Zen garden in progress
In a comment on my last post, Dharma blogger extraordinaire 108zenbooks said something like "even in the harshness, I feel your gentleness".  This got me thinking.  Since that post was about the heavy club of judgment we often wield, I wondered about the flip side of that stick; appreciation. My own gentleness, hmm, appreciate that??

While we are often quick to cite our shortcomings and could easily whip off a long list of them in a blink, we don't often give much attention to our strengths or positive qualities.  Have you ever been at a workshop where people are asked to name their positive qualities or strengths?  Things get very uncomfortable and quiet.

To cite the bleeding obvious, as Basil from Fawlty Towers might say, I am not talking about ego here.  But you knew that, even if you've never seen Fawlty Towers (poor you!).  We are not puffing ourselves up here like peacocks, filling ourselves with false confidence, but contemplating the unique qualities  and gifts we came here with.  Because we are individuals, with our particular karma, we carry with us unique gifts.  Lynette's comments reminded me that one of my qualities is indeed gentleness.  I often see this as some sort of shortcoming and that would be judgmental fairy waving it's dark little wand.  And I think each personality trait (can I call it that?) has it's flip side.  Tenacity can also manifest as stubborness.  Gentleness can morph into timidity.

But I think as part of our practice we need to develop an inner confidence, one that we develop based on clarity and intuitive knowing of our relative self.  This is where our practice begins.  Without loving and appreciating our little self, we can never hope to move outside of it and experience the dropping of boundaries and seeing the bigger picture of "no self". We need to appreciate and value this "little self" first.  It can only be an aid to our practice because it takes courage to do this work, to travel this path, to know that we are fine just the way we are and we can do better.

Bill Plotkin, from the Environmental Buddhist site says, "Each of us is born with a treasure, an essence, a seed of quiescent potential, secreted for safekeeping in the center of our being. This treasure, personal quality, power, talent, or gift (or set of such qualities) is ours to develop, embody, and offer to our communities through acts of service -- our contribution to a more diverse, vital, and evolved world. Our personal destiny is to become that treasure through our actions..."

What are your gifts that you came here to explore and share?

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Malpractice Suit

Here's the beginning of my Japanese style garden

"We can make the light of mindfulness a searchlight for encroaching evil that we imagine dwells within us; this is what the habit-mind often does.  Or we can make this mindfulness the light of lovingkindness, gentle and hospitable.  Experience can be known and met warmly.  Dwelling in the glow of relaxed, loving acceptance, the chill is warmed, the strain unwrenched, the grasping released." -  from Insight Dialogue by Gregory Kramer

When I read this the other night it reminded me of something I've been doing a lot of lately.  "Mindfulness", just being aware of what is, has been getting tangled up with judgment.  Now judgment being a strong contender in the ring, it tends to go quite a few rounds and bashes me upside the head good many times before I stop wobbling around. So instead of dispassionately seeing what my mind habitually gets up to, I have been holding what I observe, against myself.  "Oh, there's fear, (not again, I'm so tired of this) and there's timidity (I need to stop being like that.) and the commentary continues.  Instead of using practice to grow wisdom, my practice can easily become just another measuring stick that I hold up for myself.  "Officer, arrest that woman for malpractice."

A little close up ( you need a break from all that reading)

The mind is a crafty conniver.  It can rework anything into it's favourite flavour, even if the flavour is nasty, and chewy and bitter.  The Dalai Lama was surprised to hear that Westerners often feel "not good enough".  And apparently we will use just about anything, including our Dharma practice, to fulfill this prophecy.  But noticing what we're up to is the point at which we kick judgment out of the ring on a technicality.  He was never invited to this event in the first place.  Maybe we don't actually kick him out, he just slinks away like a monster in a nightmare, when we turn to look at him.

And so this is  where my practice has been lately.  It's a strange little macrame hanger that I've been using to tighten the noose.
Here's me wondering if I should have bought a houseboat instead

And the antidote is to lighten up a little, to back off on the intensity, to relax the body and remember that the point of practice is not to "fix" anything.  The point of practice is to learn how to just be, to grow in wisdom and compassion and kindness and that starts with our inner life.  Maybe we need to ask ourselves first, "am I kinder to myself than I was 5 years ago, more compassionate, less angry?  Because if we can't offer that to ourselves, chances are we can't offer it to anyone else.  "Self, are you listening?"  "I knew you were."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Thinking About Hope (and a little art)

Here's a new little 8"x8" Buddha called "Buddha In The Sky With Diamonds".  I would have been more short winded if the Beatles had treated Lucy with more brevity.  That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.  I have been sneaking a little more painting time this week, stealing time from the garden (a thief with paint & garden dirt on their jeans).  I have been so inspired by the wonderful art blogs out there (Lynne Hoppe, Michele Meister and on and on) that the studio is calling louder than the neighbours roosters.   And this weekend we took in some live art.  First we went to a "Art Off The Fence" on Pender Island with some friends.  The weather was stellar, there was great art and the location was stunning.  Here's a little peek.

When I typed the file name I realized I called it Art Offence.  I am guilty of a few of these!

And as a small diversion, we decided to capture Mt. Baker for Canada. It seemed so close, officer, we thought it must be ours.  So we raised the flag, passed go and took a "get out of jail free" card.

We also took in The Sooke Fine Arts Show which was totally amazing.  The quality of the work was incredible.  I was totally smitten by the encaustic monk done by Marlowe Jaxen.  It sounds a bit like the monk had terminal illness, but all you artists know what I'm talking about.

And of course there was Dharma chat with Dharma friends.  The topic flying around my old Sangha these days is one surrounding "hope".  In conventional terms we think of "hope" as something positive, something we should cultivate, right?  At first sniff, hope smells quite pleasant but when you breath a little more deeply you catch the scent of something slightly off.  The Oxford dictionary defines hope as "expectation combined with desire."  Hmm, from a Buddhist point of view, we're not starting with the best recipe ingredients, are we?  Hope implies something we want in the future.  It may be something perfectly wonderful, like world peace or a new subaru station wagon.  And baked into that hope are the seeds of suffering, if we don't get what we want.

Pema Chodron says something like, "we bounce back and forth between hope and fear", this is the common human state.  When we hope we may also feel afraid that we won't get what we hope for.  And then there is the disappointment when we don't get what we hope for, which inevitably happens if we're filling our shopping baskets with a list of hopes.  And after a while we feel the bruise of all this bouncing back and forth.  In fact we may feel like a human bruise.

This does not negate that in this everyday life we need to have plans and aspirations.  And of course our lives are filled with the activity needed to bring these things to fruition.  But what we're really aiming for is to accept what happens along the way.  We plan to go on holiday but then mom gets sick.  We aspire to be a better parent and then we goof up.

We want to be mindful of where we're aiming ourselves and take the necessary actions. We don't want to stand there like Dorothy with our eyes closed, clicking our heels together, hoping that we'll get to Kansas.  Hope may not be our best strategy.  I hope you know what I mean.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Working With Body Tension & Karmic Stuff

This is a close up shot of a piece I am slowly working on (perhaps I am inspired to slowness by the slugs that have all but decimated our garden).  It seems there are never enough hours in the day for both gardening and artwork, but I've said that before, haven't I?  I am not whining, really.  I promise.  Although occasionally I do have a little wine.

But I must confess I always turn a little green when I see the concerted efforts of those working away in their studios everyday.  Ah... (she gives a wistful sigh which goes well with her green complexion). An osteopath told me sighing is good for releasing tension.  Try it.

But I have made my choices about how to spend my time.  I was talking about "choices" in terms of money with a friend the other day, but it is the same for time.  If we attempt to live with awareness we choose where we spend our time and our $$.  There is only so much of both to go around.  I keep telling myself this is the year of the house and next year I will have more art time.  I may be deluded, time will confirm or make a fool of me.  How do you deal with this?

But there is always lots of Dharma up on the radar, no matter what I do, even if I'm not here writing about it.  I have been sitting twice a day in preparation for a week long retreat in August.  I'm in training, like a marathon runner (well maybe a slightly slacker marathon runner, the bald guy at the back of the pack).  My body needs this extra sitting, my mind needs this.

As I sit a little longer and more often I have been noticing all the subtle ways and places I hold tension and how good it feels to find those spots and let them go.  I am seeing strongly, how the mind doesn't settle with ease if there is no ease in the body, how the body tenses when the mind starts reciting the list of things to do.  I think this can't be repeated too often. The mind/ body, which practice shows us, are really a single unit, has somehow in our modern world been divided  into two separate things (did I miss a divorce in People magazine?). Where did this separation come from?  "I think therefore I am?"  Did this leave the body out of the equation of being?

This relaxing of the body has become a big part of my sitting.  I have been doing a form of qi gong meditation for part of the time when I sit, which is really just concentrating or focusing on the hara (the area just below the navel).  In doing this I am reminded so much of how we don't make anything happen.  We focus and then when the qi or energy becomes strong enough it moves.  WE are not doing.  We are simply being.

Another part of my practice, as always, involves chipping away at my "karmic" or habitual stuff, the stuff we come here with, the personal stuff that we each have.  This is such an important part of practice for me, to work with your personal stuff in a way that helps loosen it and if we're lucky release.  Sometimes we have to go about this in different ways.  And mostly it is hard even to see our own patterns and foibles; easy to see that of others. And the karmic stuff of others is their business, not ours.  But that's another topic entirely.

I have been chipping away at  my mountain of stuff (can I sell this stuff anywhere, maybe on ebay?)  I have got the loader and the backhoe out and I am surveying "my stuff" from a totally different angle, using some Shamanic journeying, (okay so no bulldozers were involved).  It's the same stuff (sigh), just seeing it from a different angle.  It lends new perspectives and new tools for the chipping away process.  It is this chipping away and releasing of our karmic patterns that will ultimately help us to see more clearly and release us from suffering.

Many monks when they have their "kenshos" or awakening experiences have past life rememberings.  Shamanic journeying can help us relate to some of what is unseen in a similar way.  Although again we must be careful not to "want" too much, or delude ourselves.  As always on the path, we must proceed with caution and attend to what niggles.

And so I have been working away at those inclinations to retreat, working with fear, approaching it in different ways (like training a wild animal?), by doing some body work, by being willing to see what catches me, in a non judgmental way.  I am learning to be comfortable in my own skin.  In my Shamanic work it has been expressed as "hiding" which is just another way to say we feel uncomfortable exposing and being who we are.  While some might see this as navel gazing, I believe it is an essential part of the inner journey.  I don't think we can blast through it all by our will and simply extended sitting.  What are your practices for working with your "personal" stuff?  And have you had any success selling it on ebay?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Break For Freedom

It looks like we're going on a little poetry road trip.  Summer is a good time for road trips, don't you think? Someone mentioned David Whyte in yesterday's comments, another one of those lovely poets that aims straight for the heart and seldom misses. "Poetry," says Whyte on his website comments "is a break for freedom."   Now that's my kind of road trip.

Loaves and Fishes

This is not
the age of information.

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time
of loaves 
and fishes.

People are hungry
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

  -- David Whyte

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lost & Found

Poems are finding me.  I don't know how they do that.  But they are searching me out, tracking me down and imploring me to post them.  It seems innocent enough so I have agreed to cooperate.  No prisoners, no hostages, only poems.

 Last night I posted a poem on my face book page which I think I will repost here for those who don't do face book (I know there is at least one of you out there!)

But here is the poem that found me tonight.

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you 
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, 
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, 
Must ask permission to know it and be known. 
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers, 
I have made this place around you. 
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here. 
No two trees are the same to Raven. 
No two branches are the same to Wren. 
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, 
You are surely lost. Stand Still. The forest knows 
Where you are. You must let it find you. 
—“Lost” by David Wagoner

And here is the poem that found me last night:

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
-Antonio Machado

Have any poems found you lately?