Monday, June 23, 2014

The Value of the Open Road

reworked piece from last post 24"x24"
There is something about road trips. You are in this compartment like thing, hurtling down a concrete path, the world continually coming at you.  It's kind of like a mini version of life in a strange way.  Here we are, travelers just passing through, why not enjoy the ride?  For some reason as the big prairie sky flattened our strip of highway that analogy parked itself in my brain.

We covered a lot of ground in 10 days for island dwellers. We camped in the mountains, played a Tibetan drum by a green lake, ate out with friends at a place called The High Level Diner, drank strong, dark coffee in Nelson, wandered the only desert in Canada and popped cherries into our mouths straight from the tree.

Life is surprising if you let it be.  Often when I return home I feel a little lost, like "what do I do here again?"  Sometimes I feel like a period at the end of a sentence that wants to keep on going.  But this time was different. I noticed how quiet my piece of earth is; no sounds of air brakes or trains or the hum of refrigeration units.  There was the joy of garden and paint, the air warm like a tepid bath, a deer browsing the weeds in the lawn, a tiny bunny feeding, the quail having a dust bath in the flower bed.

reworked 12"x24"
I must say that at least once while looking at wonderful art on my trip I asked myself "why do I paint?" And I asked this not in the nicest of ways. You know how we can be to ourselves, like the meanest of sisters.  But once I got home an art conversation with a dear friend welcomed me and there was an air of excitement in getting to work.

Our conversation was about simplicity and complexity and how I love work that is simple and spare  but that isn't what comes out of me when I paint.  I realized that I spit out the word "complexity" as if it is an insult.  I don't seek complexity in my work but it finds me.  Her wise comment was something like, "isn't that neat how the painting is so honest?"  News flash: it's not about what I want but it's about something less defined, more ethereal, it's about what's in me that wants to be said.  It's not about someone else's painting I love with my name on it. The painting process bypasses the thinking mind which can be maddening to control freaks who think they know what they want.  You can argue with the canvas and paint if you like.  But be prepared to be frustrated. I speak from experience (the frustrated part, I mean).  So it was freeing to finally be open to what came out on to the canvas without wanting it to be some particular way, to embrace complexity even.  There was an energy to that openness that doesn't come from wanting something in particular.

So the value of hurtling down the highway, heading always towards home in a round about way, is that if you are lucky home will look completely different than you imagined when you get there.  If you're lucky you will have a friend waiting there with some wise words.

Oh yeah and that's the thing that we love about the open road.  It's open.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Full Contact Sudoku & Other Family Games

36"x36" mixed media with cold wax
I'm not going to mention any names or anything but I really think someone should send me a tee shirt that says, "I survived sudoku".  I mean full contact sudoku, where I am pinned in a corner by a nonagenarian with a sharp pencil and hard pink eraser, annoyance cranking up to about  7 on my richter scale.  Now this is what I call good practice.  Not that I ever had any illusions about my proximity to enlightenment, but you know that saying, "if you think you're enlightened, go spend some time with your family" (blood related or otherwise). In this particular scenario I managed to dial down the richter scale and  have fun learning about sudoku which I had previously regarded as a close relative to arsenic.

I didn't just whip over the provinicial border into all-beef-Alberta to get some coconut bacon (though that is always a good excuse for a road trip).  I did it so I could find  the specific places where my practice needs some serious tweaking (oh, and spend some time with the fam)  I remember being at a retreat where a mother of 2 small children said something like, "I get up every morning with the best of intentions, but in a few minutes I hear myself saying things I feel bad about." Her comment came to mind this week,  because I arrived for a family visit all starry eyed with good intentions to take on the family pain and mishigas (which means craziness in Yiddish) with skill and compassion. It didn't take long to find myself wondering why I agreed to this trip and when can I leave.  I learned how quickly  good intentions can turn to ethereal puffs of dust and how short the lit fuse of patience can be.

12"x24" mixed media with cold wax
When I had a peek into the internal combustion engine of emotion I could see that my annoyance was really "wishing things were other than they were" It was me saying to myself, "I don't like this, it should stop." Apparently the perpetrators of sudoku and other petty crimes didn't see it quite that way.  They carried on without notice while I wondered, "do I have to listen to this story again?  How do I escape this relative's angry rant?  Why do I feel like an inconvenience because I prefer lunch that has never had a face?

I could see the urge to take things personally, rather than accept them at face value. "Are you insinuating I'm weird when you ask about my chia seed and hemp milk breakfast?" You might be, but I don't know that for sure and I only aggravate myself with this assumption.  It's a story of my own making, based on what I think you think, based on your tone of voice, the look on your face and our past history.  The petri dish of misunderstandings.  Everything in this pot is simmering below the surface. Why can't I simply process the question without an emotional charge?  Truth is, sometimes a question feels like just a question and sometimes it feels like an innuendo.  To see that was helpful.  To see that my irritation was based in my thoughts often formed at lightning speed, concocted out of my own defensiveness and self protection was humbling.

And so I learned that I needed breaks and walks to renew my intentions to be kind, compassionate and open hearted. I needed to toss some of that compassion  in my own general direction.  The stuff that felt annoying was simply a collision of their pain and my pain, of their habits and my differing ones. When our habits coincided we were all fine. What irritates me might not irritate you.  Sometimes I could quickly catch myself and reorient and renew my intention to be kind, maybe even curious. "What is that person really saying, what is that all about?  Why are they only interested in the past?  Why do strangers frighten them?  Why does my strange food bother them?  Can I just listen with an open heart without needing to respond?  Can I simply enjoy this person's company? Can I simply enjoy this moment?  Can I simply be with what is?

And so the teaching and the practice continued; in fits and starts, me rushing into the jousting ring in full armour or completely naked, getting poked and running for cover, sometimes laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing, sometimes grumbling to myself like a disgruntled 5 year old.  In the end I can say I learned that it's about renewing my intention each time I get pushed off course, of cutting myself some slack, of cutting others some slack and sometimes having a good laugh about the absurdity of the whole human predicament.  It is about remembering to look at the sky or listen to the raucous call of a magpie or simply appreciate the dharma practice of being in a family.

PS, I bought 2 sudoku books, and one of them is for me which is solid proof that if you are open, you never know what will happen.