Post #2070: A death, a visit to the past, a meditation.

Sometimes when we meditate, the ghosts come knocking. This morning at the zen-do was one of those sits.

A friend from years past – Mike Low – died over the weekend, hiking the Cerise Creek trail outside of Pemberton. When he didn’t arrive at a friends for dinner on Saturday night, the RCMP were called and on Sunday search and rescue found his body in a crevasse. It’s been in the papers here, of course, though hiker deaths are not infrequent on the west coast so it would be easy to miss. I had glossed over the story about it yesterday morning, not realizing that I was reading about someone I knew until much later.

I hadn’t seen him in ten years – and it had been a full twenty years since we were anything approximating good friends. But there was a time during which he was a very good friend to me, and so his passing stings – because he was one of the good guys, the ones who *shouldn’t* die as young as 49. The fact that he no longer exists in the form that I might run into on the street is troubling – even though it’s very likely I would have never bumped into him again – so different were our social circles.

This morning during my sit, the memory of how he supported me when I was twenty and flailing – once driving me from Victoria to Port McNeil where I was starting a job, once taking me aside to counsel that my intelligence should probably get going to college instead of just dissipating in coffee shops and bars – came to me strongly. And with that slideshow, came all the other ghosts of that time in my life: the person I was, the moments I shared with others, that crew you see in the photo above (Mike is the furthest left in the photo – leaning backwards) who pretty much epitomize 1993 for me. And though everyone in that photo is still alive except Mike – the moment in which this snapshot was taken (late after a party at a bar called Rumors) is a ghost. It became one the second after the image was taken – that moment passed on, for the next one, and the one after that.

Twenty-two years (and millions of moments) later – I am looking at a snapshot of myself and others who no longer exist. Those selves *existed* but the present incarnations of them (right this second) exist.

And so I feel a tug at my heart for Mike’s passing, but more than that – what came sailing through during my practice this morning – was a gentle grief for all of who we were together many millions of moments ago. And who I was, at twenty-one – flailing, brash, unafraid of the world – replaced by the person I am now (who I also like quite a lot, really, if that old me had to pass on to become me now, it’s all for the best)…..

I’ve been reading Brad Warner’s book There is no God and He is Always With You  in which he talks about this relationship between death and meditation – the moment by moment nature of being and non-being – and this came back to me in part this morning:

One of my favourite stoner rock bands, Om, has a song called “Meditation is the practice of Death.” It’s an interesting phrase. It sounds sort of morbid. Or else it sounds like it’s implying that meditation prepares one for death the way practicing bass prepares one for playing bass onstage.

But there’s another way to interpret that phrase that neither sounds morbid nor implies that we are preparing ourselves for something that will occur in the future. Meditation is how we practice death as it occurs in the midst of life. It’s how we see for ourselves our own annihilation and what it really means. It’s how we learn that annihilation isn’t some scary thing that happens at the end of life. Annihilation occurs all the time, faster than we can even be aware of it.

We imagine that we are a single being and that we exist across a series of moments. But that’s not really what happens. There is no real different between the moment in which we exist and we who exist within it. “Each moment is the universe,” is how Katagiri said it. It makes no sense to fear annihilation when we experience it every moment. Annihilation is nothing to fear. Annihilation is the meaning of life.

And so it goes. We sit. The ghosts come to speak to us. And then we let them go.

Peace to you Mike – the world is less without the fact of you in it.


Mike and Pagan – circa 1993.


Post #2067: A small realization after morning coffee

Sometimes I find myself spun by anxiety. Am I good enough? Fun enough? Doing the right thing? Am I a good enough partner or friend? Do I live my life in the right way?

Today I am feeling that. Like I am not any good, even though I can look at my life with an objective eye and see that yes, I have made and been granted a very good life, full of brilliant people and material comfort – and that my own self and choices must have something to do with that. But anxiety isn’t objective, it just comes and goes, no matter how much I try to control for the factors which trigger it.

But then I also remember that no matter how I feel about these things – I just am. Am here. Am me. Am an expression of the life of this planet. And the feelings that bounce around inside are both real and unreal, can be set down and picked up again – and are hollow in the context of my knees touching the meditation mat, my butt perched on the bench as I let the space around me grow larger than my feeling. This moment, I think, this moment, with every out-breath I enumerate each second in which I am alive and just being. Alive and no one. Alive and everything.


Post #2066: In which I realize I will always want to be learning.

Last week, I crossed the stage and officially (in front of an audience) received my Master in Liberal Studies. So I am done with that – after four years of night classes and the occasional weekend seminar – I now have a degree to hang on my office wall, and if I choose, I can put more letters after my name (but I would never do that because in my work environment it’s considered pretentious unless one has a PhD and that PhD is job-related). Bill Nye the Science Guy also got a degree at my ceremony – and honorary doctorate in Science – which turned the event into a bit of a celebrity watch fest. I’m not sure the purpose of giving honorary degrees to people who already have several (he has six), and have no connection to the institution at all – but I suppose there is some bit of politics in it that I don’t understand.

In any case, I am 42 and have just finished my second university degree – and I have to admit that watching the doctoral students cross the stage, I was a bit jealous of their red robes and floppy caps – envious of their accomplishment and their new titles of Dr. Though I never felt this way during my undergrad, or while working on my master’s, I was suddenly taken with the idea of doing a PhD.

Fortunately, that idea was fleeting, when I realized two days later that not only am I already enrolled in more study, but that I would like any additional learning beyond that to be really much more hands on and applied.

For one thing, I’ve been accepted for precepts study in my Zen tradition – a process that will take a year or more to complete. And for another thing, I am really very drawn to textile and art techniques, and am already hungry for time in which to pursue those interests. Another formal degree is always a possibility I suppose, but for the next two (or more) years, I have other things to do with my educational time. In addition to the precepts study which starts next month, I’ve enrolled in an eight-week beginner weaving course for January – and Maiwa has so many amazing textile courses that I would love to fit into my life.

What this does highlight for me – the thinking about the PhD and all – is that I am quite happy with the idea that I will always be learning, enrolled in some form of education, and following my interests in both formal and informal ways. A degree is just one way of expressing educational attainment – and not the most appropriate one for what I want to learn and where I am right now. The desire to learn, however, has an ongoing place in my life – and I am so glad to set the master’s program aside and move onto a new course of study!



Post #2064: Slow fashion and slow food – another way of saying elite consumer?

While thinking about the slow fashion/clothing movement a couple of weeks ago, I watched the documentary “The True Cost” (available on Netflix) which is about the textile industry and the transition to clothing as disposable consumer items over the last three decades – its really a catalog of environmental catastrophe and labour abuses worldwide and I think that everyone who has every bought a $5 t-shirt and thought yes! what a deal – should watch it. Actually, everyone who wears any mass produced clothing should watch it – just to be informed about what it really does cost all of us to have an endless parade of cheap garments.

Part of that documentary, however, focused on the switch to fair trade products and companies such as People Tree which has environmental and ethical sourcing policies for its clothing – and makes beautiful and fashionable things. I immediately went to their website after watching the documentary to see what they had on offer for dresses – and I loved them! I wanted to buy several right away… because they are great, and not *too* expensive, and with the halo of “doing good” it almost seems like one ought to buy some more things to support this venture – right?

Well – from my perspective on making and slow fashion, my reasons for it – no. And its something I struggle with all the time – because like everyone, I want new things for my wardrobe – but I don’t need nearly the amount of clothing that an endless procession of new things would generate. Whether I purchase ethical, or not, I am still faced with the issue of too much stuff. Too much for me, and too much for the planet to bear – even with the most ethical sourcing policies possible.

And while I see a place for fair trade/local making when it comes to garments, food, and other items – I am afraid that too often “slow” as in slow food and slow fashion, is just another way of saying elite. This is really exemplified in food writing – as pointed out in an article in The Atlantic a couple of years ago – which details the celebration of gluttony by many writers who also espouse “slow food” as an ethic. It’s a real nice bit of hypocrisy to, on the one hand celebrate less overall consumption for everyone, while also stuffing oneself to the point of near-illness. I don’t think the point is lost here when it comes to fair trade shopping either. Too often, people who feel that they can afford to shop fair trade (people like me, for example, a middle class income earner), still purchase far above their actual level of need. And when they are done with those clothes, because they are middle class, they probably donate them to thrift rather than sell them – contributing then to the problem of global over-supply of goods which then destroy local textile markets in the global South. That is, over-consumption is a problem, whether we are talking about $5 t-shirts or $200 dresses. And while the lowest income folks are most definitely consuming the most mass-produced goods, they are still consuming way less goods overall than most of us who have greater disposable incomes (or who are wealthy).

While I believe that systemic change is necessary in order to grapple with the real problem of too much resource use on a finite planet (ie – capitalism is a terrible way or organizing ourselves for sustainability) – on an individual level, I still want to find a way out of this trap of wanting, and having, and discarding. When I started making clothes a few years ago, it was really motivated by a bunch of different impulses – making, body image, learning, creativity – but as I have worked with textiles, I have come to think a lot about the process of the garment industry – both textile making and ready-mades – and how that applies to me.

Garment-making is physically challenging work, and often very dusty, bringing one into contact with chemically treated fabrics and threads. The recognition of this alone has helped me to pare way back on my purchase of ready-made clothing. And when I stick to making my own clothing, I tend to acquire a lot less clothes overall. In a given year I might make two skirts, two dresses, one sweater, maybe a blouse, and some accessory items. This is still quite a lot of stuff (it adds up when I look at what is in my closet from five years of making clothing) – but nowhere near what I would consume in an Old Navy during a sale (I still purchase jeans, underwear and tank tops ready made – and $100 in a place like Old Navy gets one crazy amount of stuff).

But even then, I don’t feel like I’m really doing my part to combat over-consumption – as the act of making, alone, accounts for a huge amount of consumer action. The community of knitters, sewists, and other makers is just as prone to excessive consumption as any other social group – although everyone trumpets their ability to “use every last scrap” a lot of people are very proud of their yarn and fabric stashes – some of which take up storage lockers and whole rooms in a home. Although I purchase a lot of yarn and fabric through thrift stores and de-stashes – I still do my fair amount of new purchase as well. And I did just re-do my sewing room from top to bottom which involved a lot of money spent on Ikea furniture. As makers, we often find ourselves caught in the conundrum of spending resources in order to conserve resources – which in the end cancel each other out. It really points us back to the base problem of living in a system which values growth over life – and its very difficult to get off that wheel individually and collectively.

This post isn’t going to end with an answer, or even an avowal that I will do better. I will try to do better, as I move away from ready-mades, thus limiting the amount of new garments which come into my life on an annual basis. But I see, all the time, that I am still consuming way more than I need, most North American consumers are. Whether we espouse slow and local, or ready-made – the real trick is in living with less — way less.


Post #2061: Silence is the easy part

Returning from meditation retreat on a Monday morning, the workplace conversation goes something like this:

Co-worker: So, what did you do this weekend?
Me: Spent it at a meditation retreat, you know, meditating.
Co-worker: Really?
Me: Yup
Co-worker: Wow, you must be really relaxed now then!
Me: Um, not really
Co-worker: Or…. well-rested?
Me: Nope, not that either
Co-worker: Oh. Was it a silent retreat?
Me: Yes, for the most part we are in silence
Co-worker: That sounds challenging!
Me: No – not really. In my experience, silence is easy – sitting still and concentrating for long stretches of time, that’s hard.
Co-worker: So why do you do this again?
Me: Good question…..

But the answer really, the one that sounds too corny to give to a co-worker, is this: I practice meditation because I am pretty sure that by doing so, I am developing a tool (not to mention the neuro-pathways) that will help me to face life’s suffering with more grace. Because my goal is “lighter and lighter” despite the heaviness of time and living. And because this life demands us to be fully present, but our culture discourages it.

I think it’s probably best if I just don’t let on though. No one wants to hear this at 9 am on a Monday morning. It’s easier to just not talk about it all sometimes.

(Speaking of relaxation, I badly need to get back to Breitenbush Hot Springs – silent pool pictured above).





Post #2056: Somehow just being….

All the things I want to do, and all the things I have to do – aren’t exactly lining up these days. Partly it’s that slump thing I wrote about recently, but partly it’s because I feel so inspired to knit and sew and go for long walks in the mountains – and my days and even my weekends aren’t allowing for as much of that as I would like.

But at the same time – I feel like my wants are crazy big at the moment even though I have (almost, literally) everything in my life that I want – and that anyone could ever want.

And here I find myself smack dab in the middle of the Second Noble Truth. Again. Desire and craving for something else, until the something else comes along for enough time to get bored of it – and then desire and craving for another thing, and another. “There is the origin of suffering…. attachment to desire. Desire should be let go of.”’

Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden – their needs were met, and yet still they were tempted into the one novel experience left to them. They bit into that apple, and thus all of human history is suffering – and the apple stands in for desire forever more.

My desires are not lustrous, nor far-fetched. I can attain all the things that I want, and yet I am held back by the desire to have more time, more energy, more leisure  – and then rushing from one project to the next as though the only point is to finish in order to start anew. It makes me restless just thinking about it.

Can I step back for one second and just be? Just be here at my desk making my earnings, or just be kneeling on my meditation mat in the mornings, or just be sewing the seam-bindings onto my new dress. Just be one of those things at a time.

That’s the practice, I suppose. Counting the breaths in one place at a time.


Post #2055: Autumn Zen

In the Zen tradition that I am involved with, there is a custom of intensified meditation and contemplative practice in the fall – known as Fall Practice Period – which opens this Friday. Beginning with a two-day non-residential meditation retreat (where we go to the Zen-do and meditate all day and into the evening, but return home to sleep), we craft the following six weeks around a self-designed program with the goal of deepening our commitment to zazen (meditation), sangha (community), and dharma (the teachings and philosophy of the Buddha). At the end of this time is a seven-day silent residential retreat with the head teacher, and then a closing ceremony.

For my period of practice, I have made the following intentions known to my teachers -as a way of holding my own intention out and asking for support:

  • increased daily meditation length
  • increased attendance at the Zen-do – although I can’t make many of the Sundays, I have committed to weekday early mornings and volunteered to help open the meditation hall if others are unavailable to do so
  • limiting intake of alcohol (not that I drink a lot – but you know how it is….)
  • attention to healthy life practice (food/exercise)
  • gratitude practice

I have also decided to undertake a craft project as a mindfulness practice – and since I already do a lot of handwork, I have chosen something that I don’t do a lot of – embroidery. As I bought the book and the materials for this project sometime ago, it also fits the criteria of using up items that I already have:


This bag by Naoko Shimoda features the artwork of Heather Moore – for a piece that I think will make a good focus in October. I am going to try to prep the piece tomorrow so that I can focus on the hand-stitching starting next week.

The dress pictured above, is a nearly finished garment for meditation – the Cappuccino Dress which I wrote about here. I have some finishing work to do still – including seamwork, sleeve cuffs and hemming. I used a French seam where the dress allowed for it, and I am thinking of ribbon-finishing the other seams as an added touch. This is a way I think garments should be in essence – very simple in appearance, but with attention paid to the details that (mostly) only the wearer would notice. I’m going to the fabric store today at lunch to see if I can find some seam tape – otherwise it’ll be zig-zagged by tomorrow and ready for wear once I hem it.

And of course, all of regular life will continue during this time – work, the band practices, the family visits, a trip to Las Vegas (more on that later) – it’s not as though I am suspending it all to go sit on a mountaintop. Rather, I hope to bring a greater attention and ease to the work I undertake during this time. We’ll see how it goes!


Post #2043: When we build trails.

One of the things that Brian and I did last weekend at the cabin was some trail building. Trail restoring, really – we are working with a long-disused ATV trail (and probably, logging road from the forties though it’s hard to tell that now) – and clearing it bit by bit up and around a moose pond on the crown land behind our place. It’s a short walk up, but pretty steep, and the way is littered with the deadfall of the pine-beetle forest that it winds through. On one hand, it feels like we are making a trail in a dying place – with all the pine infested and black from standing rot; on the other, there is all sorts of regeneration going on – spruce, fir, understory plants once choked by the poor pine replants that happened in the years after the original old growth was cut.  (This was once a healthy fir forest, as evidenced by the few big old guys that remain). As we make our way up the hill, we test each rotting pine to see if we can simply push it over, away from the trail – to ensure we won’t be removing it from the trail next season. It’s incredibly satisfying to push a twenty-foot tree to the ground, if a little unsettling to confront the dying cycle of the forest at the same time.

Because the forest is so rickety, and because our cabin is located in an area prone to heavy winds – things are falling down all the time. In fact, it’s a hazard to be in the woods when they start to sway and from the porch on our cabin we can hear all manner of things fall – large and small – on most afternoons when the thermals pick up. Mornings are pretty calm though, not to mention cool, so it’s a safe bet for getting out with our saw, machete, and trail tape. We are doing a significant marking job up there because I want to snowshoe the area, and once a few inches fall it starts to get pretty impossible to tell what’s going on otherwise.

Trail-building is an endless exercise – with the satisfaction of bringing order to a place, laid alongside the frustration of having to clear the same ground over and over. Just when you get one section done, a tree falls over, or a branch shatters across the clearing – and there is more sawing and lifting to bring it back to rights so as to proceed. We have no illusions about the permanence of this trail, it had almost disappeared in spots before we found it – the connection to the road where the ATVs used to come up is severed by trees which have fallen across it. (We hope no one bothers to come up with a chainsaw – but it seems to have been forgotten sometime ago.) We also want to expand on an old animal/hunter (?) trail around the moose pond so that it becomes possible to snowshoe up and around the pond without getting lost.

As we worked together and talked about our task last week, it occurred to me how much trail-building and maintenance is like meditation practice – the foundation is often laid before us in the form of an old road or animal track – but it is up to us to walk it repeatedly in order to wear it into place. Even as we do that work – walking the pathway over and over – things fall into our way all the time. We get tripped up by a bad emotional reaction, a death in the family, the loss of a job, our own ego struggles – like the dead trees that fall – we must clear them, set them to the side, even allow them to be guides along the way – so that we can progress to the next point in our walk where we are confronted by some more debris that needs tending.

But like meditation, there is no endpoint. There are some views along the way, perhaps a rest by a shaded pond in the deep of the forest, but the trail is never finished – which is both a source of inspiration and the overwhelm of the infinite nature of such ventures. It’s mostly quiet though, and so the very nature of the work is restorative to the soul and the surround, even as the path can be a bit of a slog sometimes.

This was a new thing for us together and I love that we have found this practice up above our land – Brian and I – moving forward along an overgrown trail and learning about our own capacities as we go.



Post #2040: Into the cloud?

I am writing this blog post from the middle device you see in the picture above – my new Chome Book flip – a 10-inch mini-laptop that also doubles as a tablet. It’s a bit of an experiment in two things for me really

  1. Will I use a tablet and,
  2. Am I willing to move entirely into the cloud for my next laptop purchase a year or two down the road.

I have always been a diehard Apple user – and my last four computers have been some variety of Apple laptop. I am currently running a 15-inch MacAir which I love for it’s light weight and metal case. It’s both durable and portable and I’ve been running it for the last two years with no problems (and I expect it to last me quite awhile longer).

But over the same period of time I’ve started to put more and more of my material into cloud services for easy access. I no longer use native apps on my laptop, and have pretty much exclusively moved to Google Drive apps for creating documents and storing files. While I wouldn’t put anything sensitive into the cloud – most of what I do doesn’t fall into that category – web coding, paper writing, random bits of research of interest to no one but me. This habit means that no matter whether I am at work, on my phone, on the road in an airport, or anywhere else – using any device – I can always access the stuff I am currently working on. It also means that I am always 100% backed up without any effort on my part.

It is this tendency that has lead me to question whether I need the traditional laptop anymore at all – or whether Internet connectivity has finally reached the ubiquitous state in my life, that I can rely it entirely for access to my documents. So the mini Chrome Book was inexpensive (less than $300 Cdn) and gives me the ability to test that theory. It also gives me a portable e-reader and all-round device that is larger than my phone, but smaller than my laptop (which I rarely carry around due to its size). This Asus Chrome Book flip has the same metal case that I love on my Mac Air, and has a durable feel to it – meaning I’m not afraid to throw it in my purse without an extra case around it.

For storage purposes (the device comes with 16 G built in) I will purchase a mini-SD card that will allow a larger download of music and some file storage for when my connectivity isn’t great or I don’t feel like using my data plan hotspot off my phone.

So I am playing this morning, by writing this on the bus as I head into work – and then publishing it via my phone/data connection in a truly mobile fashion.

I definitely have some kinks to work out still – like photo storage options – but so far, so good. I plan to take only this device with me to the cabin this week and test its full range rather than relying on my laptop at all.


Post #2038: The big lessons in life…..

I feel like I’m ready to give up on people in general. Not the people I love, not the people who support me and love me back for my intrinsic self. But I’m feeling exhausted by pretty much everyone else – and I have at least a couple of relationships in which I’ve started to feel pretty much used. I have to check this feeling because I have some social anxiety issues that pop up every once and awhile which can cause me to interpret things in unintended ways – but after months of a certain kind of treatment, I’m pretty sure I’ve detected a pattern that leaves me pretty sad and unable to keep reaching out with invitations to certain folks.

Fortunately, loss is something that comes up frequently in my meditation practice – something that comes up frequently in dharma teachings really, but my own losses are sharp sticks which I bump up against often and I’m working with them. Not exactly letting go, but living with – and I find that accepting my past deep losses more fully, instead of wishing they weren’t mine or had never happened, allows me to more quickly recognize and step away from the pain of the smaller slings and arrows that are a part of daily relations. Not only that, but the gratitude for those who have been with me on my life path for many years, my oldest friends and my current partner, grows each time I see clearly the relationships which are not characterized by a mutual trust and respect.

I don’t feel the need to be dramatic, to sever ties with words or actions which I cannot take back,  I am comfortable with the unfolding of things as they are. But it does help to realize when actions are fruitless so one doesn’t waste their energy in pursuit.

The photograph above was taken this morning on my way into work – I’ve never noticed the words on this hoarding before – but they seem appropriate to how I’m feeling right now. I’m not too afraid to let go of what isn’t working for me, not scared enough to accept poor treatment in ways that I used to just let it go. It’s these words that I’m sitting with today.