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…..

Post #3056: Sitting on the edge of winter.

I am going to fess up here (because I know I seem so normal and well-adjusted all the time) and let you all know that I am having some serious apocalypse anxiety these days. I think it’s been building steadily for a couple of weeks – starting with a strong compulsion to make all the things in the studio – and as of yesterday I am officially checking in on my food stores and thinking about getting the cistern piping fixed in case we need to draw water off it sometime in the near future. Right. So now would be the time to remind myself that I am not a prepper and pull myself back a little from the edge. What the hell is going on?

I suspect it is something like the effect of a ferry trip that Brian and I took on Friday on our way back home.  It was a pretty unremarkable ride – Vancouver to Nanaimo – the ship was about 3/4s full and left approximately on time….. But as we sat on the forward deck, we noticed that there was an awful lot of movement around us on that particular day. Overwhelmingly so. Everyone around us seemed slightly agitated, the children’s playroom was full of crying toddlers, and no one was really settled into their seats for the whole ride. Without really noticing why at first, we felt stressed by the other passengers, commenting to each other as we returned to the car that it all seemed like *too much*. It was only on some reflection that we realized that the ferry had been bucking and bouncing quite a bit on the ride, as it was a windy and choppy day, and while we didn’t feel phased by the boat’s movement, it was likely that the amplified feeling on the ferry were the result of the general unease being shared by many of the passengers.

It is probably also much like a day on the float plane three months ago when a nervous passenger got on and started loudly proclaiming that he was nervous and scared and sure the plane was going to crash. He continued this patter throughout the entire twenty minute ride (on a beautiful and sunny morning, with no real turbulence to speak of) until we touched down in Vancouver, at which point I was thoroughly annoyed. I pride myself on being an unflappable flier on small planes – I have flown to all corners of this province in small craft, and I don’t worry, get nervous, or ever get sick – but on this particular day I found myself stressed with the possibility of disaster at every bounce and bump.

Which is to say – I am living in a world in which the panic levels have risen with the election down south, the wars in the middle east, and the potential for war everywhere else; where the hands on the doomsday clock have been moved thirty seconds closer to midnight; where my social media feed screams of the end every single day. I have watched old anarchist friends recently become anti-Muslim racists, I am aware that my old political models no longer work. And as it turns out, no matter the trauma of my past life life, no matter the balm of my present security or meditation practice – I am not immune to the transmission of fear. I am not outside of the organism that wants to fight or flee.

So here I am on an island in the dark sea. My power went out last night after I wrote most of this post – so this morning’s breakfast and coffee were cooked in the silence of the forest while the woodstove creaks and groans with dry arbutus wood. My computer battery is still up which means I’ve got another couple of hours to wait out Hydro and the restoration of power. I remind myself that even if we are preparing for a big ecological/political/economic showdown, there is no need for the panic part of things – my island is a fortress and I’m getting lots of practice at living without power. I’m getting lots of practice at meditating in darkness as the dawn breaks through.

Post #3055: Wanting to do and be.

I would call it a problem but I don’t think it is one really. I suppose issue fits – so I can say, my biggest issue (conundrum?) in life is that I want to do everything and I have a hard time getting it all done.

By everything I mean (at the moment), I want to be writing, weaving, working, trade unioning, meditating, restoring my loom, working out, going for walks, doing yoga, sewing, knitting, making art, being in community, gardening, cooking food, working, playing music, writing songs, and reading – every single day. And it’s just not possible to do everything – not when 8 hours are already taken up with work, and another 8 with sleeping. That leaves just 6 hours when you subtract life stuff, or maybe only 5 – and it’s just not enough.

These past few days I’ve been experiencing the desire for voracious reading. Of the book a day kind – over the weekend I read both Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel) and Birdie (Tracey Lindberg), and then started The Curve of Time (M. Wylie Blanchett) which I’m now halfway through. I’ve got a few more books on the stack (including Barkskins by Annie Proulx), and have gone ahead  and ordered several more. I’m not sure what it is that has spurred on this re-emergence of significant book interest – except perhaps a very deep need for escapism at this particular juncture, and also a tug that I’ve been feeling towards writing again.

Which is what brings me back to my everything interests which is not a problem unless I think it is one, and that only happens when I am not fully present in the task I am currently doing. It’s this lack of presence in the moment, the forward planning of life that leaves us with the bad feeling of “too busy” or “not enough time” because really, you can only do one thing at a time and in that, there is no being too busy. You are just doing what you are doing in that moment. The problem for me starts when I am writing, but then I think – I would rather be weaving. Or I’m restoring my loom, and I long to sew instead. As none of these activities are requirements in my life, there is no need to feel hemmed in by them, as if they are crowding each other out – for each of them can be done in turn, as long as I stay present to the finish of each thing before turning to the next. Even work deadlines, which bear more importance, are not that fixed as I’ve bought enough good will in my career that I can let a few slip – not to mention the fact that feeling hurried doesn’t help me achieve them anyways.

And so, as long as I am comfortable with long finish times, and can move from one thing to the next without flitting (that is, staying with each thing long enough to truly sink into it), then I can do all the things.

At a zen shuso ceremony I participated in a couple of years ago a student approached the teacher and asked: “There are so many things in my life, I have this commitment and that, I want to do so many things but I feel so busy. What should I give up?” to which the teacher answered “Give up feeling that you are busy.”

And that is why it’s not a problem, or an issue, or even a conundrum. It’s just a state of mind that allows the generalist in my to run free.

Post #3054: Life at low tide

I was a having a perfect little romantic walk along the beach at low tide yesterday afternoon, when we passed a neighbour with her reactive dog barely under control. Not a minute later, and that dog shot up the beach and jumped on our beautiful old dog, biting her and then running off again. We scurried up the beach together to get away because I was afraid the attacking dog would come back at us, so riled up it was, but we managed to get up to the road and home without further event. That’s when I realized that Charlotte was bleeding – only a little – but still, it made everything seem much worse. Fortunately I have many supporters on the Internet and even some on my little island – and with friendly online hand-holding and some firm instructions about cleaning the wound from my neighbour – I got everything cleaned up and still managed to get in the studio for a couple of hours last night.

Two realizations I had as a result of this:

  • At another time in my life, this incident would have sent me into paroxysms of anxiety and trauma. I would have felt isolated and scared (with Brian away), and sat inside those feelings quite willfully (not intentionally, but refusal to let go of a feeling is a powerful addiction). Yesterday, I got home with fairly little anxiety – some worry, but of a normal level – asked people in my community for help, got it, and then went on with things. I think that change comes from a variety of places, including aging, but I would pinpoint my daily meditation practice as the thing which has most helped me get less reactive over the last few years. One of my teachers told me early on that it wasn’t that meditating would change your immediate emotional reactions, but it definitely impacted how long you held onto the feelings afterwards – this came back to me last night when I realized that I quite effortlessly dropped the negative feelings once the attack had ended.
  • Like any abrupt or traumatic event, I am reminded that no matter what moment we are currently having, it can change in a nanosecond, and without warning. Which is why we can never get too smug about where we are, or how things are for us. It’s just luck that something hasn’t occurred to take it away yet (or luck that we were born into it in the first place) – nothing to be proud of, nothing to take for granted.

The dog and I are both fine this morning, she’s a bit more tired than normal but pretty much seems to be herself. I expect she’s sore from being jumped on, but the site where she bled doesn’t seem to be causing her any real pain, even when I run my hand over it. I’ll just keep it clean today with alcohol and watch for infection at this point.

My plan for today was to get back to blogging with a Dillardesque reflection on low tides and what they bring (birds! seaweeds! interesting rock formations normally under water!) but instead, it’s something else. It’s the real thing – the fact that life everywhere is changing at each moment, and if you don’t pay attention you miss so much of the unfolding, each second that is about to change the course of your life entirely.

Post #3053: Restoration, self and loom.

Is it ironic that I took a mental health day on mental health awareness day? Because that’s what I did yesterday – I took a day off work to deal with my anxiety, imposter syndrome, and the general antipathy that I am feeling towards both my work and my co-workers at the moment. I won’t go into why I’m feeling stressed about workplace issues – because we’ve all been there and the specifics matter much less than the fact of having to sell our labour to survive in the first place.

Anyhow. I spent my day off as follows: morning meditation, long walk on the beach, studio time, 2-hour yoga class, errands, awesome healthy dinner, and more studio time. Pretty great, eh? Well yes, but the work anxiety plagued me all day and I periodically checked in on my email as a result. Turns out, I am missed when I’m not around and today I have double the number of items to follow up on. Which is why I get paid what I get paid, the buck so often stops with me.

My studio time yesterday was spent mostly on the loom. On Tuesday I was at a furniture restoration place to drop off a chair, and I picked up the miracle product: Howard’s Feed N Wax which is a wipe-on, wipe-off beeswax product that smells like oranges – and I could hardly wait to take it to the wood of my 44-year old loom. I’ve got the breast beam and the castle done and you can see here the difference between the waxed (right) and unwaxed (left) parts:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wax on Wax off…..

Even more striking are the shaft bars that I polished and strung with new texsolv heddles (you can see them in the foreground hanging in front of the old bars and string heddles behind):

Texsolv replaces string

Texsolv replaces string!

img_20170125_204421638As I’m working on the loom, I’ve got the distinct impression that it was built sturdily but in its many decades of being moved around (the former owner moved it across the country and back 3 times), it hasn’t been put back together quite right and so there are some places that need tightening, and I might end up putting a screw or two in to straighten things up. This is one of the benefits of cleaning and waxing the whole thing at the outset – it’s giving me a real chance to look at each part carefully. I’m glad it’s taken me over a year to get to this job, for I didn’t know enough when I bought the loom, and would have done a half-assed job of fixing it up had I just brought it home and got started.

In the evening, I started winding another warp, getting about 2/3rds of the way through it (and finishing the colour stripes which are the time consuming part). This is for my hubble-photo inspired  tea towels which will be of a very plain weave – and will be woven on Little-J (my small loom). I have to admit that the more I weave on the small loom, the less I like it – it’s a table loom with treadle conversion and thus very light weight and wobbly – not to mention clacky (loud). I expect that the countermarch, when ready to go, will make a much more satisfying weaving experience – but I’m glad I’ve had the small one to work with in the meantime. I’ve learned a lot in the last few months, and Little-J was a lot less overwhelming to get started with.

I forsee that the Little J will get sold in the future, as I narrow down my needs and options. I now realize that it’s too small for most things I want to do (20 inches), but weaving on the 45-inch countermarch is going to be a bit of a reality check on what width of fabric I really want to make and my talent at shuttle throwing!

This weekend I’ve got to focus on making bags for an event next weekend, so I’m not sure if I’ll get my loom threaded for the tea towels – but I sure hope so – because there’s something nice about always having a weaving project set up and ready to go. Bit by bit, I’ve got myself a weaving studio happening here — not to mention a great beach to take walks on when I need a reality check….. now, if I could only ditch the work thing.

 

Post #3052: Recognizing the countermarch!

I have to confess something here and now:

When I bought my floor loom last February I had no idea what I was buying. I mean, I thought I did, but really I didn’t.

For months now, I have been circling this loom and trying to figure it out. I’ve moved it twice but never gotten it set up to weave on – partly because I want to replace all the cordage, but also because I just wasn’t *getting it*. I thought it was a standard jack loom because that’s all I really knew about, and I reasoned that it looked so different from other looms because it was hand built in Nova Scotia in 1973 (by a draft dodger and his wife) which made it unique. I figured that I had the treadles on upside down which is why they did not hang properly – I thought once I replaced the cords and tied it up, I’d get a warp on no problem and it would all fall into place….

It turns out that all of that was wrong.

Since November when I started weaving again after getting the J-made up and running, I’ve been consumed by weaving websites and discussion forums and books. It was while perusing some forum a couple of weeks ago that I found a picture of what looked almost identical to my loom…… The Glimakra Standard – and it was upon poking around some more that I realized that my loom is not a jack loom at all — but a countermarch!

While jack and countermarch looms have many things in common, they do not operate in the same way when it comes to tying them up. The weaving process is the same, but the set up process is not. No wonder I was confounded!

Now that I know what I have, I’m feeling a lot more confident about getting it up and running over the next few months. It is a beautiful piece of work, this loom – likely made of maple, with hand-forged metal fittings — a good cleaning will bring it right back again, not to mention replacing all the old string heddles and the clothesline cord before even attempting to warp and balance it for weaving on. Countermarch looms are supposed to have easy treadling and be fairly quiet – once you stop swearing while attempting to tie them up that is! So I’m eager to compare it to the little loom I’ve been working on for the last few months.

I’ve taken a bunch of photographs and created a gallery of the details here because one thing I’ve found is that there are not tons of countermarch resources on the Internet, and my pictures might help someone else ID their loom later on.  Bit by bit, I’m going to figure this one out!

#3051: A miniature rant

I have unfollowed an awful lot of people on FB lately. And not because they are right wing, you know? But because they are ludicrously angry about every single thing. I can’t take it anymore – I really can’t. I want to engage politically but I am beyond done with the non-stop infighting, macho posturing and angry lecturing. So I’m disengaging with that – using social media to be social – and taking my politics back to the world at large as I prepare to run for president of my union local next month and work on local community projects. My time is not well spent being talked down to or shouted at.

Fact is, each one of us has only so much energy and so much influence. It’s important to direct that wisely.