Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hearing The Still Small Voice

In an email exchange with a friend the topic of "intuition" came up. It ties in deeply with the things I have been trying to capture in my studio lately (eek, capture, that sounds a bit like I'm chasing a fly around the house). As part of a project on "seeking authentic voice" I have been turning my attention to "listening" and patience during my studio time. I have had mixed success with both. Given I'm not a particularly patient person (who, moi, as Miss Piggy would say) I expected patience and listening to happen right away! I learned these are skills that, well, get this, take patience to develop. (Duh, as Homer Simpson would say) Where do these guys come from??

But when my friend talked about intuition, I began to revisit the "listening" aspect of practice. Gasp, I learned I'm not the greatest listener! I recognized that cultivation of that "still small voice" requires the willingness to just sit and be with the canvas in the same way you would be with a friend who is telling you some story from their life, something important and arresting. If the voice is still and small, it requires quiet and attention, right? Otherwise in my busyness, my need to get on with things, get something done, exert my wants, I drown out that voice.

I think we have to be willing, willing to do what needs to be done to hear this voice, willing to clear a space for it, willing to be available, willing to explore and be quirky and creative in that exploration, and ultimately, willing to receive. I think of myself as this little short wave radio set, just tuning in to see what's out there. And then of course having faith once I find a channel that's not all static, to believe that this is a channel that I am supposed to be listening to. John Daidoo Loori talks alot about this receptive state in his wonderful book, "The Zen of Creativity"

Here's what Jisho Perry of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives has to say on listening for that still small voice:
"Most of the time we are not quiet enough to hear anything other

than the noisy demands of our greeds, angers, worries,

fears, frustrations and the "busyness" of our everyday lives.

Our culture encourages a constant input of noise: the music

in elevators, or while waiting on the phone, car radios, car

phones, television, radios, headsets to wear while exercising.

We have a difficult task to find a quiet time when there is

not a major input of external noise. Even when we have

established a time in our day for meditation, when we can

listen to the silence, it is usually anything but silent. It still

takes time to let go of the internal noises we generate for

ourselves. If we establish a regular practice of meditation we

create a situation where the noise and busy mental

processes can settle."

So I am heading into the studio with my headset on and my magic decoder ring. I'll send you a picture. I am really going for it. I will strap a pair of those old rabbit ears onto my head. You know those ones we used to put on the TV. Remember those. And when the reception was particularly difficult we'd put some tinfoil on the round tips at the ends. Pass the tinfoil, please.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Vipassana Adventures

Last night I decided it was time to meet some new Dharma friends so I headed off in the direction of the local Vipassana group. I have felt pulled in the direction of some of the Bon teachings and other Tibetan traditions since leaving the Zen Sangha I sat with but there are limited choices on this small island. Last night I put on my adventurer's hat and went to see what was up.

And what did I find? A lovely physical setting at the beautiful Stowel Lake Farm and a warm and welcoming Sangha and teacher. The Gatehouse was shrouded in fog. A small Thai looking Buddha statue sat beside the teaching chair in the large timber frame room.

I loved the Dharma talk that made all us humans sound just a little crazy in how we conduct our lives. It went like this: We don't like discomfort or pain or what we deem negative situations. We love things that are pleasant and make us happy. Even though we know everything is constantly moving and changing we spend a lot of our energy trying to make everything pleasant for ourselves. No bad stuff please, just straight up, heading for happy, bountiful, feel good, positive all the time.

This is not news to most practitioners but how hard do we really look at it when we're in the midst of it? Sometimes what we know and what we do are 2 different things. And she pointed out that we use a lot of energy doing this. We create a lot of internal stress running this little program of bring in the good, throw out the bad. Truly being with what is, even if it is not pleasant uses a lot less energy. This is not to say we never take action, but it's the constant vying for control of our world, trying to make everything comfortable and perfect that is the problem, the energy sink hole.

She read a few passages from Andrew Olendzki's new book, "Unlimiting Mind". I liked his description of equating grasping with the ego. When we are simply with what's happening, enjoying a sunset, being out in nature, there is no ego, just presence. The moment we want something to be a certain way, to have a certain thing, ego arises. It is the "I" that wants.

It was a lovely little 40 minute sit with a focus on attending to the sensations of the body and environment rounded out with an inspiring Dharma talk. With the limited sitting groups on the island, this might just be a good place to hang my hat for a while. Am I cheating on my true spiritual inclinations (grounds for divorce??) Am I going with the easy choice? Time will tell if I get tangled in my own spiritual web. But I have to say I love keeping company with Dharma friends and there is a great energy from sitting with a group. And in the grand scheme of things, it's all Dharma.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fallen Giants And Heading Off Into The Wilderness

This giant fir tree decided to give up standing a couple of Friday's ago. A massive, ancient beast, it had been listing for a long time, speaking of its future collapse. With all the rain, several snow falls and the help of a little wind it made it's final descent and is now lying 3/4 of the way across the pond. A neighbour who heard the big bang (of the tree variety) has kindly offered to help when things dry up a little. This is life in the country. Trees grow, trees die. People get out their heavy equipment and chain saws. The ebb & flow of life. Doing the next thing that needs to be done. And when you stand next to a giant like this you get a sense of your place in the universe.

Besides stalking fallen giants (no slaying involved), I've been thinking about art, making art again and wrestling with that process. Why do I wrestle? How can I stop wrestling? These are questions that I'm chewing on. Over at Art It I found a Robert Motherwell quote that rings true for me: "I begin a painting with a series of mistakes." I get that. I paint that. Sometimes the mistakes evolve into keepers and sometimes they get another coat of gesso.

I am chasing down (read obsessed by) the idea of "authentic voice" and to this end I am reading "Creative Authenticity 16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision" by Ian Roberts. There is a lot of great material in this tiny volume. Here is quote by Ken Wilber that Roberts finds holds true in his studio:" Following our path is in effect a kind of going off the path, through open country. There is a certain early stage when we are left to camp out in the wilderness, alone, with few supporting voices. " (That's me out in the wilderness with my friend the fallen tree, well maybe not the wilderness, strictly speaking.)

A little further along Roberts says: "so much of what we do while we paint is a reflection of our character and shows us, for better or worse, and if we choose to see, our true nature. Not taking time to lay in a strong and meaningful foundation may be something that manifests in other areas. Art can be a remarkable feedback mechanism for our life." So with awareness, our art is our mirror reflecting back what we "do", our habitual ways of approaching life. So not only do we develop our art form by spending time working in the studio but we have the opportunity to become acquainted with our true nature. Pretty good package deal wouldn't you say?

Friday, January 21, 2011

What Is Happening On The Inside?

"The real issue for most people is not what is happening outside, but what is happening inside of us. How we experience a situation depends on how we view it -- how we interpret what is happening, how we describe the situation to ourselves. Our experiences of happiness and suffering don't come from other people or other things, but from our own minds.

When we look back over the day or our lives, we may not feel so good about what has happened in the past. It could have been our attitude, or what we said to somebody, or how we acted.

To help us “clean up” emotionally and resolve uncomfortable or harmful feelings, we need a purification practice so that we can learn to forgive ourselves and dissolve the negative emotions and karma we have created.

In the Tibetan Bรถn tradition, there are several purification methods and skills that anyone can learn and practice. Geshe YongDong will introduce and share some of these methods which include using the breath, mantras, meditation, visualization and hand mudras." from Sherab Chamma Ling Centre on Vancouver Island.

This is a good reminder of how things actually work. We see the world through our particular "karmic" glasses. It reminds me of a quote attributed to the Buddha, "With our minds we create the world." It reminds me of how responsible I am for what I encounter, "of how I see the world".

And I like that there are practices that can help me "clean up" emotionally, things that are perhaps beyond my mundane understanding. I like the slightly esoteric. A little spiritual scrub up! And an important distinction for me is that while I realize I am responsible for my actions it is evident that I am not in control, a big difference.

So if we pursue a spiritual path it is as RM Jiyu Kennet said, "we are standing against the world," that is against the conventional outward looking nature of modern human life. We are as Geshe Yong Dong says in the above quote, concerning ourselves with what is going on on the inside. We bring sanity to ourselves and hopefully kindness and compassion to the world. Care to join me for a scrub?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Painting & Thieves

If you stop by here regularly you'll know I haven't posted any new art for a while. Life has somehow intervened to give me lots of time to digest and percolate. Here's a new piece 12"x24" and you can see I continue to be in love with old sewing pattern pieces.

Nothing to do with the painting but this morning I was thinking about a lovely oil blend called "Thieves Oil" and the story that goes with it. This all came to me courtesy of "Everyone is Vegan" when we uncovered some mold during reno work in our new home. The mold was not toxic and was dry but still I discovered this beautiful oil that you can use in many ways.

The story goes that during the plague thieves went about stealing from the dead and dying. They covered their faces with clothes steeped in an herbal solution. When they were caught they were offered amnesty (perhaps they might have been able to keep a limb or two??) in return for the secret of why they didn't get infected with the plague. The resulting formula is "Thieves oil", a blend of cloves, lemon, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus, and rosemary. I found a bottle made by someone on the island here but I know Young Living sells it as well or you could blend it yourself. It is purported to kill mold and mildew, bed bugs, can be used internally to tame intestinal critters and it smells wonderful, a little like Christmas. I have actually used it in some raw treats and it tastes divine.

But all this thinking about thieves made me ask myself, "what thieves do I harbour?" What thieves steal my equanimity, my kindness, my energy. If in fact our natural state is that of Buddha nature what thief has stolen mine? Do you think I should phone the local authorities? Excuse me officer, I just realized my Buddha Nature is missing. I've looked all over the house and it is definitely not on the premises. Not such a good idea? Perhaps I should just begin the search myself.

When I take a little look for what might steal my equanimity, I see my busy mind whizzing by, looking to the future, thinking of all the things I need to do. My worrying mind tags along with any number of crazy suggestions of things that I should be concerning myself with. The mind running after an endless stream of thoughts, a thief by any description.

And my kindness which thief ran away with that in hand? I think that kindness is stolen by grumpiness, by self obsession, by seeing me as the centre of the universe as opposed to looking outward into the landscape of "how can I be helpful?" how can I contribute to someone's happiness today? Forming up a little band of thieves with our self centredness, is envy and greed. Robbers to be sure.

And my right effort, that momentum and energy that helps me attend to what needs to be done; which thief ran away with that in his pocket. I know I can spot this trickster running down the road. Doubt keeps me from my work. Doubt runs off with the joy and energy generated by doing the next thing that needs to be done. Catch him quick before he causes to much trouble.

Now I know there are a few more thieves in the neighbourhood. Perhaps you have seen them at your place? Perhaps you have heard them snuffling around in dark corners or fleeing in the night? And if you see them, you can taunt them, by telling them I have their oil.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Buddhist Pep Talks for January

Is it just me or is January a challenging month? After riding the updraft of the holiday season, visiting with family and friends, I always get a little melancholy in January. It's kind of classic, isn't it? There is the excitement of looking forward to the new year, writing about it in my journal and contemplating it and then it's here. And then comes the question what to do with it? The evenings are dark and quiet, the sweet treats have been put away in favour of a cleanse.

So I am thinking of what little Buddhist pep talk to give myself. So here are the things I have been reminding myself of: "Impermanence., I whisper, remember impermanence. It's the opposite of those little labels in the back of shirts that read "permanent press". While something may seem as solid as Arnold Schwarzenegger, they too shall pass. And observation moment to moment shows me the truth of this. I don't need to say to much else to little self on this subject, she seems to get this one.

Another thing I like to tell the little self is" self, you have a choice. You can spin a long strand of spidery thoughts or you can choose to see that cobweb as ethereal, spun silver, or you could just blow that cobweb away . You get to choose how you use your mind. Pop that tire out of the rut."

That melancholy that settles over me so snugly is simply the movement of the emotions. "Self, are you listening? You can be pulled down a long dark road by the chain of feelings or you can refuse to get on the bus. Just like at the department store of thought, you get to pick. Are you buying this one or not? " We are drawn to the arising of feelings, sometimes by a ferocious pull, perhaps from beyond this lifetime. Habit, karma? And yet one thing I remind the inward peeping little self, is that it can be a razor's edge, not pushing away what arises but not indulging it. We need to spend a little time on this tightrope to find our balance. "And did you throw out those rose tinted glasses, like I told you to?"

And so the feelings and thoughts about the time of year and how I feel come and go. I watch them like some personal little youtube video. There I am riding the horse. There I am falling off. There I am wishing I had a cup of coffee. And so it goes and it is really all just fine. I am grateful to be in the position to do this, to watch and learn and contemplate. And to keep company with my amazing companion, the Dharma.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Intention, Meditation & Art

I have been thinking about art a lot lately (in a prelude to diving in). I am still in holiday/ visiting mode (my daughter is here until Tuesday) and boxes are finally unpacking themselves in a realization that this is home. I am still in the getting settled mode and the artists making up excuses mode. But there you have it. I have this terrible linear bend to me (can you be linear and bent at the same time? I smell a koan). I like to create order. Renos done, now boxes need unpacking and another layer of uncluttering is taking place. I find myself asking "I packed this because?" The heart breathes a little sigh at this sense of "doing the next thing that needs to be done."

But all the while I have been thinking about authentic voice and how to explore it in the studio. In my post of Dec 28th I talked about hearing the call to authentic voice and seeing this as the new year's most important work. My past methods of approaching authentic self in my art usually involved struggle and frustration and a lot of self judgement. It is my intention to try another tack (even though I am not a sailor) I will lean into the winds of more open exploration and play this year and see where that takes me. Intention, I hear tell is an important word.

A while back I picked up a second hand copy of "True perception, The Path of Dharma Art" by Chogyam Trungpa. I started wandering through its pages and wanted to share a quote that seemed helpful as I begin the new year and new mind habits of approaching my art. Here's what he has to say:

"When we talk about art, we are talking about a form of some kind that we could work on. So it is like the practice of meditation. But what is that form, and how does meditation go along with it?.... Absolutely nobody can become a good craftsman or a good artist without relating with the practice of meditation.... I'm talking about the sitting practice of meditation.... But what do we mean by the sitting practice of meditation? For instance, Beethoven, El Greco, or my most favorite person in music, Mozart -- I think they all sat. They actually sat in the sense that their minds became blank before they did what they were doing. Otherwise they couldn't possibly do it. Just coming out of the market and plopping down at the dining-room table and writing a play -- that's impossible. Some kind of mind-less-ness in the Buddhist sense has to take place. From that basic ground, the sense of being, openness, or isness begins to develop."
Chogyam Trungpa

So there it is kids, Beethoven didn't come running in from the market and plop himself down and write the moonlight sonata. So we won't be wandering in straight from Costco or Patterson's Grocery or the laundry room and expecting to make contact with that energy that taps into both our own deepest selves and the collective voice that's out there for us to draw on. It takes a sacred, contemplative, nurturing approach, an approach that listens to our own crazy stirrings. So I invite you to join me. Find your space, the ratty old sweater you love and just sink into that Mozart space.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Movement of the Year

2010 was about transitions for me. Change and movement were key words as we said good-bye to the home we'd lived in for 13 years and the city we'd lived in for 30 years. We were homeless for a time, living in a friends basement suite for a couple of weeks, taking to the road like gypsies(as our daughter told her friends). And finally landing on a new island, orienting ourselves and moving from a temporary home to one we decided to buy. Accompanied along the way by the ups and downs of doubt and joy, adventure, wonder and discomfort and the unknown. Life: the mixed bag we put our hand into and never quite know what we'll pull out.

Here's a little photo journey through the year.

Moving day January 2010

Last wistful look out the front window

Gypsy Life begins
Making Friends in Taos, NM
And how could you not take route 66, given the opportunity??
Found my way back to the coast (just south or Santa Barbara)

Finally landing on Salt Spring Island April 2010, home to many gentle sheep & artists
Sharing the joys of country life - ah the clothes line! Aug 2010
September brings a new home, Buddha discovers a Zendo
Winter in the country sometimes means no power! November 2010
Toss in a little reno work for added craziness & stir!