Sunday, August 29, 2010
I have just returned from a weekend fundraiser for Tibetan earthquake victims slightly sleep deprived and my face warm from spending most of the last 2 days outside. We were treated to teachings by 8 generous Tibetan teachers, tasty meals of dahl and soups prepared by the Tibetan community and a local Sangha.
We were an eclectic gathering of tie dyed 10 yr olds, roly poly babies, many heads of flowing grey locks (both genders) and willowy teenaged girls with fashionably wrapped scarves. We sat meditation under an outdoor canopy at 6 in the morning as the sun rose and the chant master intoned his deep, throaty song. We ate oatmeal in the sunshine and buttered our toast with slippery questions about how to fit issues of the environment, investing and politics into a Dharma framework.
And as the ceremony opened on Saturday I dedicated the merit of the weekend to my mother who died a year ago today. I became acquainted with the concept of "dedicating merit" in the Zen Sangha I belonged to. My understanding of "merit" is undoubtedly incomplete but I will take a stab at explaining it. Perhaps you have something to add?
The idea stems from the fact that certain actions "accumulate merit"; things such as acts of kindness and compassion, sitting meditation, giving alms to monks. Many positive actions, large and small are considered to accumulate merit and often merit from meditation sessions is dedicated to all sentient beings. I can remember at Sangha, people often requested the merit of a meditation evening be dedicated to a sick or dying friend, someone undergoing surgery or someone suffering in some way. We even had a merit board where you could tack up a little dedication for a loved one or friend.
There is a wonderful generous sense in dedicating merit. And it's not one of those things that when you give it away, you have lost it. I think merit increases in volume, like an expanding, rising loaf of bread, as it is shared with those in need.
So it seemed auspicious to be in the presence of numerous lamas and a gathering of dedicated Dharma practitioners on the first anniversary of my mother's death, a meaningful way to remember her. It was through my involvement with the Dharma that I finally found a way to make peace with my mother, with the encouragement of my teacher to never give up on her. Through my mother's willingness to meet both me and the Dharma at a deep level I think she made some great discoveries about her life in her last year on earth. And the two of us learned to do a dance that allowed her to die in peace with me holding her hand. Yetta Leslie 1915-2009. If you feel so inclined, you can read the post I wrote the day after she died here.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Here's a little shot of some of the work I did at The Altered Image workshop I took a couple of weeks ago. When I wrote the initial post about the workshop I talked about how much I liked the instructor's (Tony Bounsall) suggestion that we look on our work as creative compost and then as a lover of metaphor I stretched this to include all of our life's material as creative compost.
Our wonderful blogging friend 108 Zen Books ran with the compost analogy in a fun series of 5 posts which you should definitely add to your life/garden manual. A couple of days ago I noticed the weather in the garden take a distinct turn in the direction of fall, the air cooled, the sun's intensity waned even though it remained bright. The quality of the light changed in a way I can't quite pinpoint and a feeling of quiet and order settled over everything. Clouds roll around forming, disintegrating and reforming, the weather changes a myriad times each day. The manic intense energy of summer has headed off to another hemisphere.
I have been doing some seed saving: kale, parsley, mustard greens, foxglove, lettuce, onion, nasturtium, cilantro, radish. And this morning I decided it was time to remove the lavender of it's dried stalks. As I rubbed the tiny flower heads off onto a piece of newsprint, it's intoxicating scent filled the air and I thought "harvest". We have been talking about compost in terms of our practice, our training, living our lives, whatever you choose to call it. How about the harvest? Where does that figure into the picture.
We could talk about karma and that we harvest what we sow. Trite perhaps but seemlngly true enough. It is like the story that the grandfather tells the small child about the 2 wolves that live inside us, the angry one and the kind one. When the child asks which one will win, the wise grandfather reminds her that it is the one we feed that grows. So it is with harvest, I think. The seeds we nurture and cultivate, watering and tending, giving them our attention, those are the seeds that will grow in our hearts. The choice is always ours. It is easy to fall back into the dark tangled weed patch of unconscious habit but at some point we stumble out, hat askew, morning glory twined around our left ear. You get the picture. Such is the gardener's life.
When I think of harvest I am reminded of something my Zen teacher used to say to me when I told a story of where I was astonished that something had gone so well . She would say, " those are the fruits of your training." And so I think that about the harvest, that if we are diligent and train and work with our "stuff" in earnest then gradually, often without notice, change comes about. Slowly, surely, we advance in the direction of the little rows of compassion and , the patch of letting go and a basket full of all acceptance. This is the work of a life time, many lifetimes, if you will. If we can remember that this is the most important work we will do in our lives, then there will be something to harvest. And being human, of course sometimes we forget, get blown over in a ferocious storm and fall into the thistle patch, but that's okay. We just get back up, pick out the prickles and gather up the hoe again.
All this harvest talk makes me think of ripe tomatoes and fat squash but it also make me think of a line from Daishin Morgan's little book "Buddha Recognizes Buddha". He says "training and enlightenment are not separate". And so the spiritual garden is like this: we are always planting and weeding and watering and harvesting. It's all going on at the same time. And all the while if we are good organic gardeners we keep adding to the compost heap, because it will feed the garden and make our harvest rich and strong and luscious. Hey, is that a hay seed I see behind your ear?
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Here's a photo of me building a little gate for some wee folk who make their home up on Mt Erskine. All manner of offering have been left by their door so I couldn't just walk by without making some contribution. Let's say I built them a peace arch. This is an offering so that they may live in harmony with all the little folk in their lives and all the creatures they encounter.
In fact this is an auspicious wish for any of us, large or small. Last week when I was in Victoria I had the great pleasure of having coffee with a group of folks who are part of a little Sangha I belong to. It's not a traditional Sangha but a delightful one. We have a fearless organizer and over the years we have attended all manner of Buddhist events together, gathered for potlucks and watched Buddhist movies. Conversation ranges all over the planet in an enthusiastic, harmonious sort of way.
Just before we flew off on our various errands the topic of politics came up. My answer was, "I don't do that anymore." We went back and forth a bit with someone pointing out that politics brings social change. My feelings were that it's too divisive, it's not where I choose to put my energy anymore. It creates us and other and somehow that never seems helpful. If our intention as we go out into the world is "to do no harm" , to be helpful, working from a place of opposition doesn't seem helpful to me. Go ahead, call me Pollyanna but I think that true change comes from people "walking a mile in someone's shoes (even if the fit isn't so great)", from getting to know the "other, from the "other" getting to know us and somehow over time, change can happen. Without that softening of positions and stories, it is hard to make any real headway, whatever your cause. If you win the battle and leave field full of bodies behind you, what have you won?
Someone in the group commented that they'd heard Buffy Ste. Marie at a rally and after someone gave a rather fierce political entreaty. She came on stage and said something like, "after all these years, I think the best idea is to invite them to dinner." It's not unlike Gandhi's comment about the British when told of some action they were about to engage in. "I would like to invite them for tea and biscuits," (and he did, offering them several rounds of biscuits).
It seems important to me that we follow through on our intentions to be compassionate and helpful. And yes it is difficult but I look to people like the Dalai Lama and his position toward China when I think of difficult situations. What better role model could we ask for?
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Last weekend I attended a delicious altered image workshop on Denman Island. Temperatures soared into mid 30's and the lazy little island was parched to summer perfection. The sun beat down and not a wisp of wind crossed the waters. Tall summer grasses bleached golden hugged the roadsides. We ate our meals at a little cafe where in the evenings I sat barefoot in the comfy lawn furniture sipping a glass of wine as a large unseen gaggle of geese laughed in the field across the road. Children swung in hammocks and played in the grass, occasionally popping by their parent's table for a bite of dinner. Our bed and breakfast was run by Ricky the dog and his delightful owners who fed us with freshly baked cornmeal muffins and fresh fruit salad on a property called "Hilltop Magic". They were magicians by trade. Need I say more.
A turn of the century farmhouse that is home to the Denman Art Centre housed the workshop of 8 enthusiastic artists and our generous and knowledgeable teacher, Tony Bounsall. We scrubbed at wet processed photo's with bleach and tools and covered them in clear gesso and weldbond and then recoloured them for exciting and interesting effects. At morning break the thoughtful Linda Weech made us a deep, rich cup of Karma coffee to see us through until lunch. We cured our gel medium image transfers on the old house's porch and filled the late afternoon air with the smell of citra solv as we burnished away at our photocopied image transfers.
It was an info filled weekend with enough time to try out all our little experiments. I love that Tony started the weekend encouraging us to think of the weekend as a time to make "creative compost". It was a freeing invitation. And when anyone felt less than happy with one of their creations they laughingly referred to it as "compost".
It is a wonderful idea that as we live/work we are creating compost. What we do now feeds and nourishes what we will do in the future. Our art, our lives are living dynamic, organic organisms. We are always planting the seeds for the future and feeding it with our actions, our thoughts, our words. If we are harsh and pour poison onto our lives and creations, how will they grow? Will they be tall and strong and resilient, or will they be sickly specimens with shallow roots. It is always our choice. Go forth into the garden of your life, never afraid to create a little vigorous compost!
Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.
And now for something completely different (okay so I swiped that line from Monty Python) and have attached it to this little canned video I created over at Animoto to amuse myself. And of course amusement is fine if in fact it doesn't become your sole purpose in life or a means to escape your life. It can be simply a small dollop of pleasure, like a lick of ice cream as it traces its way down your throat. I think perhaps this one is a small frivolous smidge of raspberry sorbet. Enjoy!
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand that darkness;
Within darkness there is light, but do not look for that light.
Light and darkness are a pair, like the foot before
and the foot behind, in walking. Each thing has its own intrinsic value
and is related to everything else in function and position.