Post #3066: To office or not to office

This week has presented a bit of an odd situation in that I was told that I may no longer have access to an office.

For the last (nearly) year, I have been working from home three days per week and in an office in Nanaimo one or two days a week days per week. Going into the office makes my days long because it involves a ferry, but it also ensures that I see people during the work week. My actual work team is in Ottawa (and spread around to other places too) and some days (like yesterday), I’m in phone meetings for most of the day anyways. All my work can be done remotely as I do web planning, information architecture and so on. My work team doesn’t really care where I sit because I’m on a phone/chat with them regardless of my physical location.

So, I’m trying to decide whether or not I should fight to keep this office space which is a something I’m sure I could win, or should I just let it go since there seems to be some reticence to allow me to keep “squatting” there. Technically I do not have a right to office space in Nanaimo, as I do not fit within that part of the organization. Things changed with my work reporting and now I must reapply for the space with new managerial signatures, or I could just keep using the space as I do until it’s eventually cut off and deal with that if it happens.

I’m not sure that going into the office really does much for me even socially as I don’t share work with anyone in that office, and I’ve had days when I go in and no one’s really around anyway. Also, when I work from home, I can do things like bake a loaf of bread or throw a load of laundry in – which gives me a much better work/life flow. Productivity for me (I have come to learn) does not depend on location, but on mental state – so that’s not really a consideration.

At the root, this is about identity. If I am part of an organization, what does it mean if I no longer have a physical space in that organization? Is it easier for them to let me go? Do I have less stature in the eyes of my colleagues? Also, as the president of my union local, is it weird that I no longer work in an office building?

What I’m considering at this point is holding off on the formal paperwork and simply moving to less time in the office overall to see what that feels like. This week, because I have a cold, I only went in one day. Next week I have required travel in the middle of the week to somewhere else so I probably won’t go in at all. Perhaps the week after I’ll work from home the whole week. And I’m also aware that building will be undergoing refit in the next few months which means that I will work from home exclusively to avoid the noise and mess.

I used to believe that I was not the kind of person who could work from home, but I’ve found in the last year that this isn’t true and that there are lots of advantages to this arrangement. I’ve got good work hygiene in that I do get dressed properly every day; have a separate work space that is not inside my home; keep regular work hours that I stick to. And when I am working from home, I start and end my days much earlier which works for my counterparts in other time zones.

So far, so good. But what if? What if? What if not being in an office makes me more vulnerable to layoff? What if I get isolated from my work group? What if I can’t control my work future the way I want to? When I explore this a bit more I see that what I want is something I can’t have – a way to predict the future, some kind of control that is elusive no matter where I sit.

I also have to acknowledge that this is true – I’m pretty sure this isn’t my last position inside my organization. I have no desire to move on just yet, but with eleven years to go until I collect my pension, I suspect there is at least one more change of position ahead. I can’t know that of course, but given my past eighteen years of employment – there’s a good chance that will be so. There’s even some chance that whatever I do next will be at least part of the time in Vancouver, not Nanaimo at all! So I don’t know how much any of it matters in the end, as long as I keep contributing, keep working, keep showing up on the phone for every meeting – I expect where I sit is less of an issue than I am making it.

 

Post #3065: A weekend of practice

Let me start off by telling you that things last week were a bit crappy. I have a lot of work stress right now and that was compounded by 3 days of union-related meetings which made me feel frantic and behind at every step. On top of that, I was disrespectful to someone in a meeting because I had lost my patience with them – which is not how I want to be as a meeting chair – and so that resulted in an apology to everyone at the meeting. (I always figure it’s better to apologize right away and meaningfully rather than dig in.)

So yeah, I’ve been pretty stressed lately about work – and last week didn’t help – and then I was even more stressed because I had to leave my little paradise of an island to go to the city for a weekend meditation retreat. Can you imagine this? Stressed and then getting more stressed about meditation!

Glad to say that my misgivings about the trip were relieved the moment I walked in the door to receive a big, smiling hug from one of my teachers! It’s been three years since I started sitting with Mountain Rain and if nothing else, I can always count on feeling right at home when I show up. That was what I needed, a feeling of being where I belonged without a lot expected of me. (A lot of my stress right now is due to overwork which is all about what I let people expect of me – I need to lessen those expectations because I’m not getting rewarded for doing *everything all the time*)

So, I sat for the weekend with my fellow meditators and it was good. I had meetings with my teachers, I did some tonglen practice focused on equanimity, I felt each step in walking meditation as a grounding and an ease of being supported by the earth – and in addition to the time sitting, I rose early both days for a long walk, and brought simple healthy food to keep me going without having to dip into restaurants or shops at all. I ate mindfully, without distractions, kept phone and internet use at a minimum, and didn’t even read any books! In this way it was the most intensive effort I have ever made at a non-residential retreat – though I can’t say it was any effort because it was what my body and mind were deeply craving – some time to be quiet and alone.

By the end of the weekend the bad feeling in my gut and the tension in my neck had abated, and though I’m not fooled into thinking that the stress is all gone – I feel like I’ve got some new strategies to work with the internal resistance I have been feeling around some projects. I am feeling a bit low and quiet today – processing everything after a long evening of travel that involved traffic jams and late ferries – but also filled with the deep gratitude for my zen community, those people who show up and sit so that we may all experience our full human condition together. Without them, I would just be sitting alone; in a retreat or meditation hall I am part of a large and supportive body and after weeks of feeling under appreciated at work and in my union – I really did need that positive contact.

When I rose this morning I didn’t meditate as normal for I was a bit behind my schedule – and instead I took time to sit outside and eat my simple breakfast while watching the birds flit around the yard. It’s still grey here, but not too cold – and eating outside always feels like a picnic doesn’t it? I had forgotten that until the weekend when I ate my breakfast outside on a different bench both days (one day on the beach, one day on the UBC campus). I think this will be my practice for the next little while – as much as the weather and my schedule allows it – to eat outside in the mornings without distractions other than birds and the occasional insect.

Suzuki Roshi says that to find still mind in stillness is the easy part – it’s finding still mind in choppy waters that’s the real mastery of zen practice. This work is long and subtle – but each time I encounter a rough patch I become aware that whatever I am doing, it is working. I am more aware of my mind states, I am calmer in the face of difficulty – but at the same time, I also recognize how very far I have to go before I can navigate without tipping the kayak every once and awhile.

 

 

Post # 3064: Continuity

A few months ago, a struggling friend asked his facebook contacts for general advice on how to get through a difficult time. One of my friends responded to him thusly:

Build another thing. Think about who will use it when you are gone.

This line has come back to me almost weekly since – a piece of spontaneous poetry that speaks the human condition so plainly. The drive to create, to make new, to build – and the fact that we have so little time in which to do it before we turn it into the hands of those who follow. As someone who is a builder of things (textile things), I understand entirely, the continuity that making engenders – the connection to the past and the future which is made in the moment of throwing the shuttle or placing the stitch. And of course, I am highly aware that there may be no one to pass these things along to because we do not live in a world where we think too hard about who is coming next and what will be their inheritance. So many of the made “things” of this world do not even last a single lifetime, plastics becoming the stomach lining of birds and whales instead, houses even – built only for the use of a single family one time before they are plowed under for the next incarnation. This is the breaking of the line between then, now and the future – the refuse that piles up and doesn’t break down into anything reusable.

The chair above this post is about 150 years old. I purchased it on Craigslist for $75 and spent a ridiculous sum of money having it reupholstered because I loved its shape and the hand carved wood. When we peeled back the upholstery at the refinishing place, it was clear that it had been redone at least twice since the original fabric when onto it – making this the fourth recovering in its lifetime. I expect it won’t need to be done for another 40 or 50 years given the wear that a chair like this gets – which means the next time it gets a new coat I will likely have passed on. The chair is really sturdy, though perhaps it will need to be glued at some point to keep its joints together – but still, someone is using it long after the maker’s death, and will be using it beyond my own temporary hold. Though I am not the builder, I am a caretaker of this thing that will be used by another when I am gone.

If we could hold this perspective on our world with each purchase, with each thing we build – how different this all would be. What is this thing I am making? Will it last? Does it have use beyond this moment? Who will use it and how? When we are done with its use, can it be returned to the ground with little impact?

And so, this little poem to help us remember:

build
another thing.
Think about

who

will use it when
you are gone.

 

Post #3063: Learning on two looms

I had a bit of a weaving breakthrough this weekend.

It turns out that some shuttles (the thing with the weft thread in it) are more easily thrown than others. Also, it turns out that sometimes standing is better than sitting. On my 4-shaft J-made loom, these details made all the difference and I’ve completed two different fabrics in the last two days.
But let me back up a bit here. The photo up top – that’s fabric being made on my Ashford Knitter’s Loom. I got that loom for my birthday – it is 20 inches wide and capable of making cloth just shy of that width in plain weave (that is, the equivalent of a 2-shaft loom) The very first thing I made on it was some rather grumpy (to me) fabric out of some yarn that I didn’t feel like using for anything else. Because the yarns were so unbalanced (that is, totally different fibres and weights), the weave was uneven. Initially I was really unhappy about this — so unhappy that I didn’t take pictures of it or anything and I wadded it up in the bottom of my loom bag. Then last weekend I had a need for a small mat for the zendo and I remembered the rough fabric that I had thrown away from me on completing.

Turns out, the rough weave was less upsetting to me five weeks after the fact, and after cutting, seaming and finishing I had this:

As in, a totally usable piece of fabric that works as a rough weave and for its intended purpose.

After making the first rough fabric, I had started warping some tea towel fabric in orange and natural cotton and then abandoned it in the dining room partway done. It sat there for about six weeks until last weekend, while getting ready for easter festivities, I decided to finish threading and tying it up so I could move the loom out of the way and set my table. After my guests departed on Monday I was left with a fully warped loom, and so I wound some bobbins up for one of my boat shuttles.

I had not been successful up until this point at learning to “throw” the shuttle on my J-Made 4-shaft loom, and so I was surprised when a little way into weaving on the rigid heddle I was throwing pretty easily – after only a few hours of practice it was relatively smooth (and would have been smoother if my warp was a bit more uniform). This weaving thing suddenly seemed possible.

So I pondered if my throwing problem on the J-made was the shuttle and went up to the studio to take a look. I first tried with my newfound throwing skills using the small open bottomed shuttle that I had on the loom…. but no dice. Even with my improved technique I could not get the shuttle to fly. So I switched off to a close bottomed shuttle and lo! Things became much easier.

And so I spent the last few days weaving off two warps on two different looms. Yesterday morning I finished my first set of tea towels:

Tonight I will finish the orange tea towels. And then I will start the process all over.

What I am really trying to write about here is how we learn things, how the lessons come from picking things up, putting them down, and picking them up again. There was a time in my life when I refused to try things I didn’t already know how to do because I was afraid of looking stupid. That changed when I was a little past thirty and I decided to learn about sewing. There are things that I made in that learning time that I still use today and I expect that will be true about these early weaving attempts as well.

I am thankful that I got over that insecurity that stopped me so many times when I was younger, but even now I feel it when I struggle with mastering new skills. I do walk away sometimes, or I pick up different tools for awhile and play with those instead. What this last week has reminded me is that 1) even ugly things are useful and often beautiful, 2) learning time is allowed, and 3) coming from a different angle often helps break down the lessons.

So I have two sets of tea towels. Tea towels with issues, no doubt, but usable objects in their own right. I look forward to two more projects going onto the looms: a nine yard warp for many more tea towels on the J-made and a small floor mat made with “found” yarn on the knitters loom. More lessons ahead!

Post #3062: Dinner for 20 x 2

This past weekend, Brian and I hosted another fairly epic 3-day party which involved two full dinners (tapas-style on Saturday, sit-down on Sunday) for 18-24 people. The photos above are of both of those menu spreads and I decided to share here my menus for both dinners and some thoughts about planning for large gatherings.

First, the thoughts: Brian and I have been hosting parties together for almost ten years now, and before that we were both hosts as single people and in other relationships – as broke young adults, and now as comfortable middle-aged people. Bottom-line, we have a lot of experience. Hosting twenty-plus people for a whole weekend is not for amateurs – nor is it for single people who have friends who don’t pitch in and lend a hand.

I have both a partner and friends who are willing to make the party – which is what makes this type of gathering a possibility. Do not believe those Pinterest boards that try to convince you that dinner for twenty is easy if you just do one step a day for five days – it’s a lot of work no matter what menu you plan, and you need some kind of helpers if you are going to get through it without being grumpy.

But! I have a few ideas about things that work:

  • Everyone wants to bring something. You can tell them no, but they will bring something anyway – so direct that energy. Otherwise you have ten loaves of bread or a flotilla of plastic tupperware bearing hummus. This doesn’t mean you have to potluck it, but there are so many small things one might need – like toothpicks, or napkins, a pound of coffee for breakfast (if you are overnighting it), etc. Also, wine.
  • Further to this, if people offer to make food and a bit of potluck is tolerable (I don’t do potluck for sit-down dinners, but that’s me), it’s okay to provide them with a recipe to use or improvise on so you can ensure that things go together on the table.
  • If you are planning a party that goes all weekend and requires many people to be fed, plan the first dinner so as to result in leftovers for next day’s lunch. We did a tapas dinner on our first night of the weekend and made double the amount of chicken wings. There was tons of salads and cheese leftover as well. That plus some fresh bread – it’s really all people want or need in between two large dinners (and drinks).
  • One moderately fancy thing means that everything else on the table is elevated. In the case of Sunday’s sit-down dinner, that was an asparagus/ricotta/phyllo tart. Homemade flatbreads did the trick for Saturday’s tapas. Not everything has to be fancy.
  • On the sit-down dinner front –  plan a mix of foods served warm and at room temperature. The main course should be hot, but everything else can be a mix. The Easter dinner menu below proved to be an excellent combination in terms of getting things out of the kitchen and onto the table at appropriate temperatures.
  • It goes without saying – but do what you can in advance. I had bread dough on the rise from earlier in the week, salad dressing in the fridge by Wednesday, and a whole day of advance prep on Friday. The more organized you are the better you will feel.
  • Do accommodate food intolerance and allergies from the ground up. Do not plan whatever meal you intended and then make a single side dish that your xxx-intolerant person can eat – it’s rude and cross contamination can happen in a kitchen if you aren’t careful. If you are hosting, you are hosting, and that means not making people sick. In the case of this dinner party I had to plan for tomato, garlic/onion free meals, and vegetarian guests. (All garlic & onions in the recipes below was omitted except in the meatballs)
  • More people in the kitchen during the meal prep is not helpful. Best combination is one reliable worker on kitchen tasks (my friend Jon performed this role) and one free ranger who is making sure that things outside the kitchen stay organized and tidy (that was Brian on Sunday). Otherwise, everyone else should stay out of the way.
  • Where your friends can really shine is after the meal! Immediate clean-up afterwards makes everything feel organized, and helps to create a feeling of being attended to. Lucky me, I didn’t even have to organize this on the weekend – Brian and friends just swooped right in and did it while I have was having deep post-dinner conversations. Blessed!

Menu #1: Buffet style, Tapas for 24
All recipes below were doubled or tripled, except the meatballs. Meats and hot dishes were made by me, the veggie sides were brought by guests.

Leftovers note: I have the lentils and carrot salad leftover in my fridge at the moment, and intend to heat those in some chicken stock and then blend to make soup with for the week.

Menu #2: Site-down, Easter dinner for 18
All food made by myself, with help on the roasting of meats by Brian. I made two dishes of everything and set two tables separately.

  • White and whole wheat breads made from the No-knead bread recipe and the Healthy Artisan Breads in 5-minutes a day book respectively.
  • Herbed butter (yes, you can make your own butter easily with a stand mixer)
  • Herbed ricotta, asparagus, phyllo tart x 2
  • Sage and Butternut Squash risotto x 1.5 | This is an Instantpot recipe. In general, I do not recommend risotto for a large dinner party unless you have a pressure cooker. It takes too much attention otherwise.
  • Spinach, walnut, apple salad with blue cheese dressing
  • 1 large ham from the pigs raised at Singing Lands Ranch, warmed in the oven
  • Beer can chicken x 2 – cooked on the bbq
  • Dessert was provided by Jill who brought us meringue nests with lemon curd topped with berries (I wish I had a photo of that!)

Leftovers note: The chicken carcasses were turned into stock in the Instantpost immediately following dinner. The remaining spinach, toasted walnuts, and blue cheese dressing were turned into an incredible pasta dinner last night with the addition of some rotini and bacon (we picked the few apples in the salad out before we turned it into pasta sauce).

This is the third weekend-long party we have thrown since moving here eleven months ago – and definitely a successful one in that there was much good conversation and laughter, and also that I have very few leftovers in my fridge.

And now I return to my semi-monastic life of work, gardening, and meditation as Brian returned to the city today and I’m on my own until Friday. So quiet. So filled up from a weekend of love and attention.

Post #3060: Every day sitting

Brian cleaned up the shrubs in front of the zendo yesterday and now I have to decide what to plant – I had been thinking of a Katsura tree, but a friend online told me that they aren’t drought tolerant and now I have to decide whether to risk it or not. Our spot on the island is a wet one, but in high summer it can get pretty dried out.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my sitting practice has gotten more regular again, for the first time since last June when we moved. While I have sat lots since moving (3-5 times per week plus retreats) – it has not been a daily practice. In the last 33 days (yes, I keep track), I have managed to re-establish daily practice even with travel to the cities and a hectic schedule – which just goes to show that daily practice isn’t about how busy I am, but how dedicated I am to doing it.

If you don’t meditate, you might wonder – is there really a difference between sitting five times per week and every day? While to a seasoned practitioner of meditation (twenty years or more), perhaps there is no difference – in my nascent state (of only three years), I deeply feel the difference.

And I suppose that makes sense – zen isn’t something that we just practice when we feel like it, it’s something we try to embody in all our dealings every day – and as the core of the practice is zazen (sitting meditation) – it makes sense that sitting every day helps us to work with zen principles in every day life too. That means accepting and letting go of anxieties, being with impermanence and change rather than resisting, cultivating equanimity – and so on.

In one of Brad Warner’s books on zen he tells the reader at the outset “if you don’t have a daily practice, don’t bother reading any more of this book as it’s a waste of your time” – that’s my paraphrase because I can’t find the quote right now – but it pretty much sums up the feeling that you can’t really do zen without practice.

Another way of saying that is we can’t intellectualize our way to enlightenment.

For me, this is not dogmatic or about what I “should” do – but based in the fact that every day that I sit, my grounding points are strenghtened for that day. Morning practice in particular helps me step into a the day with awareness about my starting block. Am I more tired than normal? Grumpy? Giddy? Anticipating a heavy work day?

When I come to myself in silence for even a brief period – it brings the day into focus, my reactivity, what I am bringing to my work and my life off the cushion.

Which is not to say that I have some kind of horrible time when I don’t meditate for a day, but I’m just not as well integrated on the inside, and it’s noticeable. If several days in a row go by without practice, that’s when I notice a lot more difficulty – my old anxiety flares right back up, and I am quicker to anger and criticsm.

There are many reasons that I told myself my daily practice dropped off, but mainly it’s because I allowed it to happen in the flurry of uprooting and resettling. I take this return of solid zazen as a sign that I have actually landed back in my life and am settling on Gabriola for real. And now that I have regrouped in one place again, I see how free I am to leave it and take my daily exercise of silence with me, wherever I go – even if it means practicing on a crowded city bus on the way to work (as I had to early last week).

We are ten months here and I am just finding my seat again – and what a lovely little zendo to explore this in!

Post #3059: Introducing the tiny zendo

I was away from home for two weeks doing all the things (friends, jukai, work, training) in both nearby cities (Victoria then Vancouver). It was a wonderful break after being alone for much of the time this winter (not lonely though) – and I think in the two weeks of travel I saw pretty much all of my closest friends and was more than grateful for the many nice meals and visits (and all of that time spent with Brian as we travelled and stayed together in Van).   Though I returned home last Wednesday, it’s taken me a few days to come back to ground and reintegrate into my home life. Being “on the road” and at the city condo is fun and all – but for a homebody like me, it’s also a little unsettling. I am a person who creates a bit of a fortress wherever I live – from the days when I only rented a room in a house, up until now with our half acre and home – I tend to surround myself with the things of my life and then spend a lot of time in that space. It’s not the comfort of material things that I seek in doing that, but a sense of personal space and the arrangement of it that’s most important.

One of the things that happened while we were away, was some work on the outdoors of our property – including work on a little outbuilding that was here when we moved in. This 9×9 “shed” was dank and full of detritus when we moved into the house – it smelled so foul (from some rotting carpet in the loft) that the dog wouldn’t even go into it. But even so, we quickly realized that it was way too overbuilt to be a simple shed – with power (four outlets, two overhead lights), insulation, two windows, and a poured concrete foundation – it had all the makings of a usable studio building or guest cabin. Last summer Brian and I cleaned it out and he threw a coat of white paint over everything to freshen it up in time for friends to stay in it during our summer party – but otherwise it needed some finishing work.

Because we already have studio space (and lots of it for both of us), we decided that this would be our tiny zendo, or meditation hall – and also double as guest space when needed. While away in March, we hired someone to come in and put up some shiplap to finish the walls and the loft, and on our return this past weekend we whitewashed those walls and bought flooring and a new light fixture. Yesterday, Brian installed the fixture and finished putting in the flooring and I nailed in the finishing strips along the edges (minus one, I ran out of material) – and voila! It’s a tiny zendo!

There are a last few additions still to come, including a shelf, and a wall heater, and some loft finishing including a piece of carpet and a ladder that hooks on for stability. Plus, I plan to landscape the outside a bit more and bang together a rack for shoes by the front door – but I’ve got a sitting space that feels light and airy, and a pleasure to be in. It’s *such* a great space that even Brian might be tempted to meditate there with me – he’s feeling mighty happy with how it turned out also.

I haven’t had a chance to sit in it yet, though I plan to do so tonight after returning home from work. I have returned to a rock solid daily practice for the first time since moving, and am reminded of the unmatchable benefits of sitting every day. So if you come visit me, and would like a sit while you are over – I will always affirm that desire – for sitting together strengthens all of our intentions. More cushions will soon be on order to accommodate guests.

Post 3058: Five things

These last few weeks have been full of things to do and I’ve had to seriously prioritize in order to get all the required things done. These are five things I am trying to do every day regardless of what the schedule and the to-do list look like:

  • Meditate
  • Two or three sun salutations
  • Sing one song
  • Put some stitches in something (knitting or sewing, crochet, weaving – whatever)
  • Walk a minimum of 8000 steps

Bonus: Read five pages of a book.

 

Post #3057: Works in progress

Going into this year, I had three main things that I wanted to get through. I have now completed two of these objectives – getting elected as president to my union local (which happened on schedule), and finding some job stability in my current position (which happened much earlier in the year than expected). My third “major project” of 2017 is to be completing the work for my lay ordination which will take place later this month during a Jukai ceremony, and where I formally take Buddhist vows.

That work is 1) completing my rakusu, 2) sewing the pouch that holds the rakusu, and 3) completing a lineage project in which I describe my path and influences – my personal lineage. The photo above is my work on the lineage piece – I plan to trim and machine stitch those pieces of printed canvas together, and then write my lineage story along the path of the labyrinth. Basically, it’s just a canvas to write on – and then if I have time I’ll add some colour embellishment to the border areas. At the moment, my biggest challenge is writing the actual lineage piece, and I’m wondering about visualizing it with scraps of fabric in addition to writing. I need to set aside time for the writing piece and aim to do it in one single flow (with editing afterwards) – which is the only way I will get it done. Getting less literal about things would help also.

I’ve been sick recently, which has put me in a low mood. I’m starting to come out of it, though not as fast as I would like – and I’ve got tons of piled up work and projects just begging for attention (including house and yard work – it is spring after all, right?) Having some focused project work in preparation for my ceremony is helping to stay level with my current priorities – and also keep me attentive to the fact that I am still recovering from a cold. More soon…..