Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How Simple Are You?

Have I posted a picture of my repainted Zendo (which is really code for a living room with no furniture)?  We lightened it up a while ago from a browny, pink colour to a soft green, a testament to how a paint colour can change a room.  But really all this chat stand in for the fact that I don't have any artwork to post.  However I can report that the little outbuilding that will become, at least my summer studio, is almost clean, after removing several vaccum loads of sawdust from it.  Now all that's left is the wall washing and moving in.  I am not convinced the roof holds water, so I  will move in a tentative kind of way.  The old workshop lends a new meaning to "living roof" with it's several inches of moss on cedar shakes.  We'll see.

Meanwhile I have time to post as I twisted my ankle in an act of over zealous gardening around the studio building.  Is this my body restoring some balance to my life?  "If you won't sit down, I'll sit you down."  But then sometimes a twisted ankle is just a twisted ankle.

And so I got to watch myself feeling a bit bummed out about this enforced couch potatoing I've done today. I get to see my busy, agenda setting self, sidelined.  It's not a bad thing to be reminded of your tendency to want to barrel through things, your impatience for a finished product.  It's a good thing to look at habits that are not altogether wholesome and be reminded there are other ways.

 I gathered drawing things and dharma talks and some Shamanic journey things I've been reading but in truth I ended up doing a lot of dozing and not that much else, a couple of small sketches, a half slept through dharma talk on creativity by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche that you can find here.  But by this evening I am letting go of all the expectations of how things "should" go.

On Friday we went to hear Jim Merkel, author of "Radical Simplicity" speak and I must admit all the talk of downsizing and living on $5000 a year made me feel squirmy, guilty and uncomfortable at first.  Oh no I've moved to the country, I need to drive everywhere.  Oh no we wanted a smaller house, but couldn't find one we liked.  After judgmental mind quieted down I realized we do a lot of things Jim recommends to improve your ecological footprint.  We are mostly vegan, we grow our own veg (make that, we're trying to grow our own veg, it's been a bad yr on the coast, no radishes, can you imagine??)  We don't go into town everyday and mostly do a bunch of errands,  and there's not much shopping to lure you in here.  One of the reasons for coming here.  Errands done in 1/2 an hour. Other things that contribute to a simpler life  here are the lack of places to eat out and  a choice to not hook up to TV, that visual crack box.

After feeling guilty about renos that were done mostly to please my aesthetic sense, I realized there are more things we can do to reduce our ecological footprint, mostly small things that constitute thinking before we buy things.  Do I need that soft tie for my tomato plants?   No, I can rip small pieces of an old tea towel to do the same job.  I can make sure we pick more blackberries for the freezer this summer, dry some apple rings.  Do I really need that new sweater?

I like his reminder that when you are buying something, you might consider the life blood of the person that went into to making it (and in "Your Money or Life" style, think about your own life energy that it took to supply the $$ to buy it).  This idea reminded me a lot of the Buddhist idea of interdependence which Thich Nhat Hanh is so famous for describing.  When you look at a slice of bread on your plate, think of all the people it took to make it, the person that planted, cared for and harvested the wheat, the person who took it to the flour mill, the people that ground the grain into flour, the people who baked the bread, the people that transported it to the grocery store, the clerk who stocked the shelf, the cashier who rang it up and popped it in your bag.  It took all these folks to get this simple slice of bread to your plate. We don't often think of this or feel grateful for their part in our slice of bread.

So that's where the Dharma went this week for me.  How about you?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Solstice

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

Surface in progress above!  I think I need to join gardener's anonymous.  No time for anything but the great outdoors which is wholly appropriate in this northern clime!  Been working on a Japanese (style) garden out front and scrubbing the very dirty cedar siding with citra-solv.  Pictures at some point I'm sure.

But encouraging you to embrace the deliciousness of summer today and onward.  Eat strawberries, light an evening candle, eat your dinner outside.

And here is another sign of summer trotting around the woods, small spotted fawns, filled with curiousity about life.

Happy solstice!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Spiritual Electrician, Adding a Higher Amp Service

If metta were a cloud would it look like this? Would your metta cloud be pink?  Metta, if you're not familiar with it, is the practice of generating loving kindness, offering well wishes and blessings to ourselves and others.  Two weekends ago I sat a metta retreat for the first time.

It is a wonderfully nourishing practice, very different from traditional meditation, different in that you are using words and images in your meditation.  Our Dharma teacher described it at one point as "rewiring" our systems.  We become spiritual electricians, installing a higher amp service.  We  engage ourselves in the work of planting seeds of generosity and kindness in minds that habitually subsist on a diet of leaner and meaner fare.

We started by creating a set of 3 to 5 wishes for ourselves. There are standard ones such as:  May I be happy.  May I be well.  May I be peaceful.  It was suggested that we  personalize the wishes so that they would really speak to what resonated for us.

I chose:  May I be healthy and at ease.  May I be peaceful and content.  May I love myself completely.  May I be kind.

We were to repeat the phrases but also to try and feel what it was like to experience them in a visceral, body way.  How does it feel to be truly peaceful and content?  We were reminded that generating these wishes for ourselves was not selfish or self centred but that everyone benefits from each of us experiencing these blessings.  They ripple out into the world through us in many ways, tangible and ethereal.

Next we chose a loved one to offer these wishes to, then a neutral person and then a person we found difficult.  It is of course easy to send warm wishes to a loved one, no stretching required.  And choosing a neutral person was interesting.  I often have fairly instant reactions to people, based on their appearance and behaviour ( ie this person is so sweet, this clerk is grumpy), so surprisingly it was a bit hard to find a neutral person. Finally after combing the local shops I found a new sales clerk at the local hardware store.

I had no trouble choosing a difficult person!  I decided to generate the wishes for both of us together and then the person who had been the loved one decided they should be part of it, so off we went in our little metta mobile (kind of like a smart car, but a kind one instead).  There was a lightness to it, so the mind didn't seem to bawk at wishing my difficult person well.

We were invited at another point to create wishes for all sentient beings and radiate those, feeling what it was like to send our blessings out to the unknown, to send them out on a large scale.

It was a delicious, sun filled day at Stowel Lake Farm.  Red winged black birds wobbled on old bullrush stalks around the pond, waiting to swoop for the next bug.  A giant cat named Gorilla wandered into the meditation hall to soak up all the metta rays.  We were reminded to drink it all in, to appreciate the beauty when outside doing our walking meditation.  We were reminded to savour the wonderful meals and think about all the people it had taken to bring this food to our table.

There was a delicious expansive feeling to the weekend, as if you could feel your heart growing larger.  And it was truly a rewiring of the habitual focus on what is wrong in the world.  The energetic shift was amazing and after a weekend the phrases became burned into the brain for retrieval. These minds need training if they are going to behave any differently than they normally do.  For the most part they run wild, generating thoughts that are often not particularly helpful, worries, fears, desires, dramas. These metta phrases have become a nice thing to fall back on when I need a little reorienting or when I find myself in a difficult situation, just pull out a metta phrase or two.

So I invite you.  Hop in your own little metta mobile and go out for a spin.  I don't think the roads can get to crowded.  What metta wishes will you put in your tank?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Being A Bigger Container

The mixed media piece to the left is something a little different for me as I explore the creative ether, exploring being present and combining with what the materials suggest and what comes to me.  Waiting and watching for what resonates.  There is Dharma in there.  But then there is Dharma in everything if we're willing to look, don't you think?  This piece combines images and words, something I am strongly drawn to.  I love words and how we can mix them together so I have tossed my little Dharma poem into the mix.

Do you see Pippi there soaring upwards?  This is the brave heart, the strong core of inner strength (RM Jiyu from the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives called it our Iron Being).  I see this in Pippi Longstockings who is a bit of a personal hero to me.  We all need heros to inspire us, don't you think, the vision to draw us onward?  And we all need to cultivate that inner confidence.  Chogyam Trungpa used to talk about "having a strong back and a tender heart."

And of course there is the inevitable cloud that comes to us in this human realm.  Dukkha anyone?  I've got some lovely latte coloured dukkha in the cloud.

And the Dharma in it is about how we relate to dukkha.  I was having a dukkha day yesterday.  Feeling like I was being revisited by a cold I had a few weeks ago.  A grey cloud followed me around colouring everything.  This is an old pattern of relating to unwellness for me: aversion.  I did the best I could, but there was a kind of skirmish going on between me and my dukkha.  And at the end of the day as I lay in bed, it came to me that it was all okay, that I could embrace everything,, even the darkness.  I could be tender toward my feeling unwell AND toward my aversion to feeling unwell.   Joko Beck calls it "being a bigger container."

And my painting is about this really, the experience of holding it all.  I don't know if you can read the words.  Upper left in the cloud, it says "Rain Wept Buckets On Her New Dress"  "A Mushroom Cloud of Tears"  There it is Dukkha, or unsatisfactoriness, the stuff we don't want.  And then there is our attachment  to what we want (or want to push away) that causes suffering, our wanting things to be a certain way, the second noble truth .  Next line of text is about this: "Played The Umbilical Chord of Desire".

And text in the lower right: "Still She noticed she could fly in the thin air of joy" which of course is about our letting go which we can't do by our own will, but happens if we lay the fertile ground and cultivate it through our spiritual practice: the fruits of practice.

I did a Metta Retreat last weekend at the divinely beautiful Stowel Lake Farm.  I will share that next time around.  Until then may the peace of holding both your strength and frailties be with you.  Is that the "force", Luke?