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Post #3025: When the dead come calling

This past weekend, we held our housewarming party on Gabriola – and a fine time was had by all (more on that in a future post), but there was one incident that occurred on Saturday morning that has stayed with me and that I want to relay here before any of the details elude me (as memories fade almost as quickly as we make them).

Our housewarming party started on Friday afternoon and went straight through the weekend until Monday morning – with many old friends from my Victoria crew coming together and staying together the entire time. Of course this involved late nights and some staying up drinking. On the very first night, one of my guests left our downstairs cordless phone outside which drained its battery while we slept.

In the morning I saw the phone and brought it into the house, putting it on the kitchen counter with the intention of returning it to its cradle. I left it for a moment while I went upstairs to use the washroom, and a group of friends were standing around  the kitchen chatting. When I came back down, one of my friends said “your phone rang while you were upstairs” – something I hadn’t heard, because the upstairs phone hadn’t run (which in any normal circumstance it would have). Curious about who it was, I took the phone off the counter to see who had called. The first thing I noticed (before I saw the name) was that the phone looked as though it had been answered and the speaker setting was switched on (as indicated by the light). Odd, but dying batteries do weird things…… But even stranger was the fact that the call display showed a name only, no phone number, and it clearly read “Bronwyn Charman” –  the name of our friend who died just over two months ago in Berlin.

You might imagine, I was agog with the discovery, barely able to speak and so I turned the phone display towards three of my friends and said “Look at this – do you see what I see?” Two of them (Mel and Marika) immediately confirmed that they saw the same name on the call display (the other didn’t have his glasses) – but we noted afterwards that I did not prime any of them by telling them what I saw first – I asked them to verify the name cold, without prompting (not out of any design either, I couldn’t speak what I was seeing).

At this point the phone was still active and I was totally confused, so I ran upstairs to the other cordless phone which was sitting in its cradle. On that phone’s display was indicated “Line in Use” as though the line was activated. I sat on the edge of the bed then and said “Hello” into the phone a few times, but the line sounded dead. I picked up the other phone from its cradle and engaged it, and said hello again. After a few tries (I could hear my voice coming through the phone to the dead phone), both phones clicked off.

I immediately scrolled back through the caller display to verify what had happened. The dead phone wouldn’t bring up call display at all (the low battery symbol was flashing) and the other phone that was charged showed no record of the call coming in at all. (Later after I had charged the first phone (that the call came into), I could find no record of the call on that phone either. It was as though no call had come in all morning.)

At this point I was confused, and a bit upset. A few of us started working through possible explanations, wondering how it could have happened in a scientific-rational world but none of the answers we came up with made any sense (see below for more detail on that). It was at that point that a couple of our friends came in from outside where a group of them had been sitting around the patio table (the door between them and us was closed, so they hadn’t heard the commotion inside). We told them what had happened, and Masha asked – how long ago was this? I said – 10-15 minutes….. To which she answered, “Well that makes sense. We were just outside having a conversation about all the people we’ve lost over the last couple of years and how we could invite them all to the party even though they had passed over. We even named them – Bronwyn, Brian, Jesse….. and invited them to join us.”

Yup. That’s right. My friends were outside invoking the dead when our phone rang with the name of our dead friend on call display.

Let’s review a few other facts about this so that it’s clear there is no simple explanation:

  • First off – the phone was pretty much dead and in that state wouldn’t have rung at all. The phone upstairs did not ring even though it was fully charged.
  • The phone had clearly turned itself on, and the speaker was engaged, even though no one had touched it when it rang.
  • Bronwyn died in Berlin just over two months ago, before Brian and I moved, and she never had our phone number on Gabriola Island so it wouldn’t have been programmed into a phone or her computer.
  • I have never received a call from Bronwyn where her name came up on call display – she often phoned from payphones or pay as you go cels, and her number would be all that would come up. Also, she mostly called my cel phone, not our old landline. All this is to say that the phone wouldn’t have had the “memory” of her name from some previous phone call.
  • Her name came up with no phone number. All other calls that have come into that phone in the last few months have come up name first (or Unknown) and then phone number. There was no number attached to this call.
  • The one person I thought might have had a cel phone that came out of her storage locker was on her way to our party also and swore that she didn’t have an old phone from our friend, nor had she called from it.
  • I do not believe that any of friends would pull a prank of this nature, and everyone present was deeply affected by what happened.

Once the initial shock wore off, Kyla said “we better make an offering then,” and she and I put offering items together on the mantle in our living room, and said Buddhist words of loving kindness after a couple minutes of silence during which we focused on her release. Throughout the next day and night, other items were added to the offering, but I don’t believe that she left then or later. I had another moment in the night when I was singing a song that she had sung when we were in our early twenties – and I thought I felt something pass through me, had a bodily experience of what might have been her presence. That – I know – can be chalked up to any number of psychological factors. But the phone call, can not. As much as I would like it to be explained away, I cannot find an answer to this riddle, and I have witnesses to its occurrence.

Phone calls from the dead are a bit of a cliche but there you go – we do not choose the forms that visitations take. If anyone out there has an explanation for how this could have happened (beyond the fact that my group of friends are witches and we carry powerful energies when together) – please suggest away. Otherwise I’m going to have to accept that the friend we are all still grieving has not found her way out of this world just quite yet.


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Post #3024: More apocalypse, less angst.

I am reading a book at the moment called Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene by Roy Scranton– and although it is a hard read (emotionally hard, not hard to get through) – I would suggest that it’s required reading for our times. It’s essay length, but I’m taking my time with it – using it as a meditation more than anything as I navigate the minefields of traumatized people and events on my Facebook feed and in my life.

Because it’s been a crap few months hasn’t it? I mean – it’s been a hell of a time for us humans here on this planet – even those of us who are far away from the violence and the deadly heat waves, the water shortages and the extra-judicial killings by police. Every day seems to bring a reminder that we are doomed, that we are in danger, that anything could happen to us at any time – and that feeds the fear, the fear that is causing US citizens to shoot each other with such ferocity, the fear that brings a young man into a church to behead a priest.

The fear the fear the fear – that I will not live forever, that my family will not live forever, that our culture is doomed, that if I don’t win someone else will, that I won’t have enough, that if my God doesn’t win someone else’s will, that I’m going to die, die, die, just like everyone else before me has died.

I feel Ernest Becker looking over my shoulder as I write these words, wishing that the venerable philosopher had lived at least this long to see the naked manifestation of his writings splashed across every news site and television station. This, he said, is what will destroy us – our fear of death is what brings evil into our world (in a nutshell), giving rise to war and hoarding, anti-environmental policies and short term thinking, and tribal violence. These things seems to be reaching a fever pitch at the moment, don’t they? It seems as if the onslaught just won’t stop.

I’m not going to move into a Pollyanna view here, (even though I strongly believe that humans will survive these current global challenges, that some animal species far from dying out are making population rebounds, and that the so-called western world has a much more developed conception of human rights than ever before in our past. Yes, it’s true that there are a lot of people screaming on the margins, but the human rights agenda has pretty much been consistent in its march forward over the past fifty years. It’s true also that technology gives us a greater capacity for world view than ever before, and has some pretty specific solutions that could ride through some of the climate change catastrophes that are coming.)  because I know that no matter what I say you’re not going to believe me, and also it’s important to recognize that some pretty world altering changes *are* coming down the pipe, and changes or no – we really are all going to die. For real, no one gets out of here alive, which is the root of what we’re so upset about.

So yes, we’re facing some deep suffering on this planet, not to mention the suffering *of* the planet itself – with an eventual death that is inescapable for every living being (including the planet because asteroids! and the sun going into supernova!).

Sometimes there are small things we can do to alleviate the suffering of others, or help our wild places, and we should do those things when we can – but it’s also key that we recognize that there is not much we can do about the really big scary stuff (climate change, Trump, Daesh) out there. And what I’m going to suggest is that we not only work to eliminate our own fear by embracing the fact that we are mostly powerless, but that we stop transmitting it to others with the click of a button. (Scranton, by the way, has a great take on the social media fear spreading we all engage in – and I suggest you read his essay for that alone.) Perhaps it seems like all we are doing is raising awareness – but really – think about it – traumatized people don’t make for good decision makers. People who are afraid don’t make rational choices.

When I started this blog twelve years ago I came up with the (rather catchy if I do say so myself) tagline: More apocalypse, less angst. And although my worldview has shifted and my approach to life has broadened from the narrow activist perspective I once came from, I have continued to use it. When I came up with that line, I was of the opinion that the end of the growth economies would be good for the planet (more apocalypse) and that we should approach that from a spirit of transformation, joy, and problem solving rather than fear (less angst). Each time I have redone this blog interface I have asked myself the question of whether I still ascribe to that philosophy – and the answer is always a resounding yes! I do believe that we need to face the current economic and environmental problems head on, but we need to do it from a place of fearless love, which is pretty much the antithesis of what’s on Google News this morning. My Buddhist learning also suggests that we need to detach from our own individual outcomes (that is – our very lives) in order to do so.

Roy Scranton prescribes just this kind of detachment – the recognition that each new day is the death of the previous day, that we cannot hold on to what is an ever-changing present. And that by trapping ourselves in the ideas of what should be, that is clinging to some previous incarnation of ourselves or our world (yesterday’s version, a fifties version, the view from our childhoods), we impede our ability to act on our actual present. At the end of the first chapter of his essay (which you can read here) he sums up by saying:

The choice is a clear one. We can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less and less prepared for each new disaster as it comes, and more and more desperately invested in a life we can’t sustain. Or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.

(For the record, Ernest Becker says pretty much the same thing in Escape from Evil and Denial of Death but Scranton is a much easier read.)

So I’m going to suggest that before forwarding that terrifying news article, or reminding everyone that climate change is really here now, we meditate on these thoughts before clicking that button. We definitely cannot change everything, but we can stop ourselves from driving fear and trauma into others repeatedly. That’s a possible starting place. And once we take those first steps back from fear, we can observe whatever else comes into our frame as the view widens to include everything that our present moment provides us.


Post #3001: Moving toward moving.

Subsequent to my post last week, we are really doing this thing – and I’m feeling excited about it, after a weekend of looking at houses, and driving around the little island of Gabriola.

Up until this point I have been a bit ambivalent about the move, I have to admit. While the practicalities of the plan spoke volumes to me (get out of debt, live in a quieter place, be closer to family) – the reality of moving, leaving people behind, and having to pack and clean up our life in Vancouver was leaving me a bit torn in two. But after looking around homes, walking on beaches, and really connecting with Brian over the last few days about hopes/dreams/goals – I have come to a place of equanimity with the idea of moving, and true excitement about a new house and community to explore.

It doesn’t hurt that I came into work and received some good news about a new project that I might be tasked to for the next few years – one that would allow me to work from anywhere which means I won’t face having to work out of the Vancouver office for a good long time to come. That piece is still very much up in the air – but it looks like it will land firmly in my favour because I am so specialized for the proposal being made (and in some way have inspired it through my work – more on that in future post if it comes to fruition). Short story is, things are lining up in a way that makes this feel more possible than it did even four days ago.

There are two houses which we have in our sights at the moment, neither of which I am linking to here at the moment. The properties are both comparable in terms of house quality – with one having an incredible view, and the other being steps to the beach – with a large price difference between them. (Views are apparently more expensive than I thought they would be, and waterfront is downright unattainable). What we decide to do will depend on a number of factors, not the least of which is how much we sell our house for – and that we will likely know tomorrow night.

But what all of it – the selling and buying of real estate brings to mind – is how much it is purely psychological drama and nothing else which drives the prices on such choices. Or in other words – we find ourselves asking, how many tens of thousands (or hundred of thousands) extra is a view, or waterfront, or a super-fancy bathroom worth? And that question is only answered emotionally, because the practical *need* of housing (a place to sleep and cook) is served by far less than what is on offer in either place.

As both seller and buyer, I am aware of the heightened emotion that real estate purchases bring on. I remember buying our house on William Street almost seven years ago to the day – and how desperately I felt that I needed that house, the terrible emotional welling that occurred when it appeared that someone might outbid us, and how convinced I became that there was no other possible way forward than to get that, exact house. Likewise, when I sold my home on the Sunshine Coast, I dug my heels in over $5000 in the closing price and felt all sorts of terrible things towards the people who were trying to push the price down to something that would create more ease for them. There is nothing like the power we vest in land ownership to remind one of how in thrall we can be to our emotional states.

I might be speaking for myself only, but I find the energy around real estate to be hyper-charged, and unlike anything else I am aware of (except perhaps sex). And I wonder about that. I have felt more pride at “owning” a piece of land than almost anything else I have done in my life even though I rationally (and spiritually) know that there is no such thing as ownership when it comes to land and its living beings. One could say that its a symbol of hard work, and that’s what causes the frisson of ownership, but to that I would call bullshit also because there has been no hard work (for me) involved in things like the real estate market in Vancouver doubling in value, nor in the fact that I can get a loan from the bank. And while it is true that I have gone to work diligently my whole adult life, I recognize too that being born into the middle class and subsequently being university educated – is also a fluke, not the sign that I am more deserving than other people.

And so it is, that owning property is charged because in our culture we have allowed it to be so – to be somehow defining of adulthood and success – even though it is more likely an accident of where one is born and who they are born to, than anything else.

Back in November I had a very strong feeling during meditation retreat – which I can only describe as an overwhelming desire for merger with the natural world. The image that came to me over and over was the feeling of diving into a summer lake and the momentary sensation of being taken in by that body, fully enveloped by it, and losing the sense of the separation between one body and another. This drive for merger spoke to me of the artificial nature of the separation that we experience. My desire for merger was/is really just a desire for awakening to the true nature of being which is non-separation or wholeness – and the felt-experience on retreat was a glimmer, an inkling of that being state.

And so these feelings around the ownership of property, of land and beings – I have started to wonder if they have such power, because they replace our desire for merger and deep belonging. That is, many peoples of the world have lived easily without the need to *own* land, and with a sense of being a part of the land and its many creatures (that is, a sense of oneness) – is the loss of this oneness then replaced by another strong set of symbols which reside in power through control over/ownership of? Or to be simpler about it, are we so disconnected from the world that we no longer to be a part of it except through possession?

I will say that although I am aware of the feelings, the emotionalism, being present in this round of selling and buying – I am not as taken by them (at the moment) as I have been in the past. But I’m not immune by a long shot! And so I am working at remembering day by day – this desire for merger, and the delusion of ownership – in an effort to better understand and diminish the unpleasant roller-coaster of pride and anger and hope and frustration that arise in the process.



Post 2091: Sitting with discomfort.

If meditation has taught me one thing (or started to anyhow), it’s that sitting with discomfort is possible. And more than that, it’s often desirable. When we sit with discomfort without immediately trying to rectify it, we learn more about the cause, and we stop ourselves from doing more damage in the process of trying to fix it. I think about this a lot, both when I am successful at not responding to a trigger, and when I am not. Especially when I am not.

After two (plus) years of meditating through illness, exhaustion, and occasional distress, I’ve noticed bit by bit, that it’s become easier to be uncomfortable psychically and physically in my everyday life. I don’t mind being caught out in the rain quite as much, I don’t have to scratch every itch, I don’t have to respond to every hurting thing. It makes it easier for me to imagine riding my bike to work in the winter, I don’t care so much about letting go of friendships that have gone sour. Which isn’t to say that none of these things affect me – I am no master of detachment after all! But I am a little less impacted, and when any feeling (good or bad) arises, I am able to mind the state I’m in with greater attention. Not to mention with wider perspective. Which in itself is a kind of relief – this ability to get outside of my own state a little bit and just witness it.

And speaking of meditation – is there anything more zen than a heron? I think not.


Photos taken at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Ladner, BC this past weekend.


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.