Thursday, April 26, 2012

Are You Looking Into The Future From The Back Of The Caboose?

Commissioned piece in progress (waiting for Buddha words)

I have a whole lot of things swirling around in my Dharma brain these days. Some totally unrelated events and thoughts have been funneling themselves into a single decanter, waiting for the particulate to settle.

So here's the list of ingredients that have been spilling into the decanter.  Ingredient # 1. My friend Thelma died, somewhat suddenly causing me to fall into a rather groundless place. I realized in a very real way, that anything can happen at anytime, to anyone (read: that means me!). Mostly we forget this and not without motive. The motive of course is comfort.  And it reminded me that although time is a human construct (in an absolute kind of way) in a relative way, the clock is always ticking. So questions starting asking themselves at the oddest  times. What do I want to do with my time, really ? Is it important to pull one more weed, "Miss-like-it-neat- and tidy"? Is my house too big? Are my aspirations too small? Koans, all of them.

But I am uncomfortable in this groundless place. I have a hard time settling into free fall.  I am not much of a dare devil.  You're more likely to find me clawing for the roots sticking out of the cliff wall  after I've been chased over the edge by a tiger, rather than enjoying the strawberry I just picked.  So of course after a few days of this space travel, I got quite grumpy. And then I was in a double bind. I had this grumpiness to keep me company as I hurtled through groundless space, trying to shake it off.  Can you hear it now, the squawk of the grumpy bird spinning around as falls from it's nest? Cover your cute little ears, it's not a pretty sound! Where's my blankey and my hemp milk latte? (Thelma used to say, "there are a thousand ways to suck your thumb! These are a couple of mine.)
you can see the texture here!

And as I listened to my latest Dharma Darling, Nina Wise, one evening,  she talked about meeting Carlos Castaneda. In their conversation he said something like, "most people sit in the caboose looking back down the track and imagining their future from there.  Me," he said, "I'm sitting in the engine looking out and I have no idea what's going to happen."  Something about this struck me deeply, the bravery, the exhilarating quality, the truth of it. It reminded me that I want to sit up front and look out into the unknown but mostly, when I am pushed up front I have the blankey pulled  up over my head and am peering out with one eye (and of course spilling my latte all over myself). But there it is my aspiration, to ride up front with Carlos.

And the next ingredient that got tossed into the decanter was a post by my friend Lynette, over at 108 Zen Books.  Her post was about our reactions to adversity and of course that resonated in terms of Thelma's death, but her post also addressed an important issue which was "there are some things we can  never know". Yep, back to "we are always wading into the great ocean of the unknown". It's like the old question we all ask at some point in our human life, like when the 14 yr old next door gets leukemia and dies, "why do bad things happen to good people, to innocent people?" And that begs a lot of questions, such as "what is bad?" But her post reminded me that to really feel the breeze touch our faces we must be willing to stand in the wind of the unknown.  And well, I didn't really want to answer how I handled adversity. I suspected the answer "just muddling along" wasn't the one in the Coles notes version of the Dharma.

And the final ingredient appeared as we did our primordial qi gong today in the last class of the Spring session. It somehow came to me, that I don't need to push away the thoughts that scare me. I don't need to say that's impossible to the things that seem impossible. I don't need to say anything. All the mind chatter is just stories from the back of the caboose. It is my intention to sit in the engine and look out front and embrace the scenery that's coming up in front of me. Want to keep me company? I promise not to spill my latte on you.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Freedom: Living Outside Your Cage

Space Travel
It's funny how shards of truth can show up on the shore of your life, glinting like pieces of beach glass. If you've got your eyes trained on the distant horizon, you're likely to miss the shining bits at your feet. During my qi gong class as we went through our movements the instructor travelled around the room to demonstrate. When she stood by me, an old song started playing in my head "oh, oh, what if I do it wrong." I could feel muscles tense. And then the voice of wisdom interrupted the currently playing program with an important message sponsored by the Dharma, "you know it isn't about how you look, it's about keeping your eye on what you're doing." And somehow this simple observation washed over the edges of qi gong practice and poured into the river of my life. This is the thief, the furtive figure of ego that separates me from what I am doing. Whenever I lose touch with the task at hand and do the big shoulder check or look into the mirror of other people's eyes to see how I'm doing, I enter a cage of my own making.  It was an instant lesson in how not  to be free.

Rock Climbing
For many of us (could I say all of us??), this desire for approval is imprinted early in life, feeding behaviour that has us scanning the terrain to see how we're doing, how we're measuring up. Perhaps it is simply a perversion of the human need to be part of the tribe that causes us to check and see if we've been voted off the island for some infraction, some display of foolishness.  But for some reason as I stood in my wu-ji posture I could see how this thought "of not wanting to be wrong" was like a cage. To become free I simply had to turn my focus to what really mattered, pay attention to what I was doing, not imagining what others were thinking. In a lot of ways it's the simple practice of awareness that we learn in meditation.  We simply need to carry it into every crevice of our life to be free.

This is not to encourage myopic vision and discourage an outward orientation to the world. It is not about focusing on the self and not caring about the needs of others. It's simply about paying attention with care to what needs to be done at the moment, not trailing off into stories on the imaginary horizon and dividing our energies. The ability to give up the worry and stories finds its origins in fearlessness and bravery. This is the tradition of the spiritual warrior that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche talked about.

My use of the image of a cage reminds me of  a Zen story about a golden bird locked in a cage. The bird struggles to get out but the door is closed. Turns out in, amidst all the struggling and flapping about, the bird neglects to look down and see that the cage has no bottom.

What cages do you live in? What ones have you set yourself free from, dear lovely birds of the great virtual sky?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Personal Earthquakes and Tsunamis

This past week my personal landscape hosted an internal earthquake. A sweet friend of mine who fearlessly and gracefully navigated some health challenges in the last couple of years, took gravely ill. She had done a round of tests, which came out clean and she mused on how many ways there was to say yippee.  But suddenly everything changed. Her daughters chronicled her progress for friends and family with daily email updates. We kept watch as Thelma hoisted herself from life support and ICU into a world of conversation and condo renovation plans. Each day I opened my paper free envelope to smile and cheer her progress. Wednesday when I greedily tore open my note, hungry for more good news, I found that instead, she had taken a turn for the worse the previous morning and died peacefully in the evening.

Even though we know death is inevitable for all of us, there is a great sense of loss when someone dear to us leaves the world. Wordless tsunamis of grief washed over me during the week. Snuggled right up against the  quivering news of Thelma's death was a week long visit by birding friends which pulled us out into dripping forests to hear the call of wrens, view the totem pole work of woodpeckers and shimmy under giant fallen trees. It was a time to hold both joy and sorrow in the same container. It was a time to say quiet prayers under the canopy of old firs afloat in deep carpets of velvety moss, to wish Thelma auspicious good fortune on her new journey, through her own forest.

On the easel

It is always a surprise to me, how we can, as humans, hold contradictory ideas and feelings in our heart, how one doesn't stand against the other, how sadness and joy can lock fingers.  There is, if we allow it, a gentle back and forth movement like sunlight  peeking through the trees as the wind plays in its branches. My old Zen teacher used to say this: "one thing doesn't stand against the other." It's simply our western minds carving things into black and white.

Thelma's gifts to us were many but mostly I remember her for her gentleness, grace and fearlessness in facing life's difficulties. As a parting gift she tapped me on the shoulder to remind me of the fragility and preciousness of this human life. She lifted the cloud of stupour to remind me to attend to what is important because we never really know what day our next journey will begin. To Thelma, may she return to this lovely blue planet as a beautiful being to enrich the lives of others as she did here, perhaps as an actress or a songstress in some exotic locale with a heart free as a bird, that's how I imagine her. Here's to you Thelma Midori. And to you, dear reader, may your life be filled with gentle beings as sweet as Thelma. And may you constantly savour the preciousness of your life and attend to what your heart longs for.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Just To Be Alive Is A Grand Thing"

an oldie hanging out in the sunroom

"I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable,
racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly 
that just to be alive is a grand thing."
-- Agatha Christie

These days I am feeling that it is a "grand thing to be alive", really it is. Think about it, it really is kind of miraculous.  How did you get here?  Where did you come from? And how does all this apparatus called a body know how to work? And yet I haven't always felt this way.  And I have no particular idea of why I feel this way now but I am grateful that I do. I hope I can remember this when at some time in the future I am "racked with sorrow". 

Perhaps we don't remember this because we are so self centred, focused in on the minutiae of our lives, things like I wish we could get the stairs sanded or how did that mouse get into the basement. But when somehow we take ourselves out of the centre of the snapshot our view changes. I think of the poster I have seen on facebook with man at the top and animals in their descending pyramid. Next to it is another poster with the human placed somewhere in this great web of life, that's where we belong, really.  Who put us in charge anyway? Modern man hasn't been the best steward. I think we should be fired and an ad put out for new custodians of this lovely blue planet. And yet in some strange way it is all just fine. We get what we need, not what we want.  Does that sound new agey? It's not meant at all in that woo woo sort of way. It's meant in the way that actions produce results and reactions which is simply karma. Everything reverberates out into the universe. No exceptions.

But I am filling both our heads with words when really all I wanted to say was this:

the tiny heart bird
inside me
pitches a small song
into the landscape
of life

view from the kitchen
Happy Friday! And here's a small tap with the "ain't it grand to be alive" stick.