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.


Post #2037: On the hundred and first day

Today was day one-hundred-and-one for me – that is – days in a row that I have meditated. I have a timer on my phone that I use when I sit down to meditate, and that also keeps track of the number of days I meditate for thirty  minutes or longer. The time setting is my doing as thirty minutes feels like a minimum amount to me and something I can always fit into my schedule, though mostly these days I sit for forty-five minutes – and in retreat or at the zen-dō, much longer.

I’m not sure that there’s anything in my life that I have done unfailingly for a streak of a hundred days or more – not even flossing my teeth – so on one level it seems like a big deal to me. On another level, I know meditators who have sat every day for the last twenty years or more – and in that context, one hundred days is nothing. In a month I will be coming up on two years of practicing meditation – another milestone that is both large and small.

As usual, there was nothing particularly special about my meditation this morning – forty-five minutes of attempting to focus on my breath, and my breath alone. My mind played across all the things I am working on, delved into the problem of other people’s expectations, did some self-justifying routines about recent decisions I have made – and got pulled back in to become the breath over and over, for a few seconds at a time.

It’s not magic, this practice. And I don’t have the kind of mind that produces visions or revelatory voices – so mostly it doesn’t even feel insightful. And yet it provokes my curiosity endlessly  – glimpses of the mind in its settled state, seconds in which the mind and body integrate to create the relaxation of holism, the occasional glance over the precipice of no-self, and deep feelings of universal love that wash up at the most unexpected moments. This morning practice that I do tints every other aspect of my days as though through a filter which slows down time and reaction instead of refracting light and colour.

And so I am certain that these hundred days will be followed by another hundred, and another. I feel quite sure that this is a lifelong practice, no longer just an experiment to see what it is like. I could be wrong about that of course, but in my current thrall I can’t imagine not getting up and taking my place on the cushion each morning – never sure of what the next breath will bring.



Post #2017: Taking refuge in sangha

My meditation tracker tells me that today marks fifty days in a row that I have sat in meditation – and I can attest that there was no cheating either: I sat in meditation for twenty to sixty minutes first thing in the morning on all of those days – which far surpasses my previous record of nineteen days in a row last summer. I’m not sure how much it matters except that it indicates to me that morning meditation has become such a central part of my daily routine that I do not even skip it on Saturdays anymore (which I frequently used to) – like coffee, it gets my day headed in the right direction. Which isn’t to say that it’s always glorious, or insightful, or restful – but it’s available to me to drop into like a comfortable seat, and who doesn’t want that in their life?

Yesterday I went to the Mountain Rain Zendo for the first time in about a week and a half. Sadly, I couldn’t be there for the half-day retreat, but showed up for the AGM in the afternoon. Being new to this community and practice center, it was important to me that I attend the meeting, if only to understand better the day-to-day operation of the society and its community. I have been a part of many organizations in my life, and have also sat on the boards of non-profits and unions – and far from that being enriching or enjoyable, all that experience has made me somewhat gun shy of joining anything, ever again. Here I am reminded of the time I was encouraged to run for the board of a local media co-operative, and once elected discovered that as a society Director I was at least partially responsible for finding $50,000 in operating funds that the organization was short. Had I known how dire the situation was beforehand, I would have never run for the board (and thus, I learned to pay attention to the financials of things).

But when I sat on the meditation bench at the zendo yesterday, joining a circle of others there to discuss the concrete matters of the organization, I felt myself brimming with strong and positive feelings. Partly I think it’s because I’ve missed going to the Sunday meditation and service, but also because I’ve gotten to know many of the people there over the past several months and it was nice to sit down with them in community discussion. Since the first (very rainy) day last December when I entered the storefront space on Wall Street – I have felt welcomed and encouraged by the people I have met there, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that during that same time, I have developed a much stronger daily practice.

Yesterday we broke into small groups for conversation about the current state of the organization and where we would like to see it go. During the first part of that, I gave my reflections on the zendo as a newcomer – how I had found it to be supportive of my practice and how impressed I was by its self-sustaining nature. One of the other group participants asked me why I thought that was so – and I was honest when I said that I thought that it is because we have so many people who come from various community and social justice background and are open in sharing their own personal stories, knowledge and time. Our teachers are the anchors, but over the months of attending I see how many people shoulder the organization together – with a much higher rate of people participating than I ever saw in my activist and non-profit work (most of which was characterized by a lot of people needing to speak at every meeting but not taking much actual responsibility for getting things done).

I have had a lot of things fall apart for me in communities and I am aware that things always look bright in the beginning – so I’m wary of my own first impressions here. But the material signs are so far good – financial solvency, a physical space that is well taken care of, competent people who take care of one thing or another as their skills permit, an ethics policy designed to deal with harassment and abuse. And the practice of careful listening that we work with each week in tea circle, most obviously carries through to other types of discussions and meetings – with much given for the work that people undertake. It’s because of this that I joined the community council yesterday – the body which takes care of some of the more practical aspects of community life (leases, donations, membership, registrations and more). This may be premature, but I feel drawn to giving my skills to this community so that in some way I can help it to continue being this bright spot in my life and the lives of others.

In Buddhist service we often chant the refuges (sometimes in Pali, sometimes in English) in which we affirm our home and safety in the Buddha (or symbol of enlightenment), the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community). When I first began going to services, I would simply read from the text and follow along, but lately I’ve noticed that some of the vows, the chants, the offerings have started to resonate inside me, long after the service is over. The notion of taking refuge and the places in which we find them is one of those things that keeps rattling around inside me, and each time I drop into my meditation seat at the zendo I feel at home in the companionship of silence. That is a true refuge, each and every time I seek it and I am so incredibly grateful for it.

* The above photo was taken in 2007 at Storm Bay, BC in a little meditation spot at the top of a hill overlooking the water. I discovered it while reorganizing some photo files and thought it appropriate for this post…..