The past few days have been like basking in warm sunshine even though it is way below freezing outside. Dzongsar Rinpoche is without doubt a wonderful teacher. And hearing the dharma again after (for me) a long absence feels good. He is teaching about a meditation practice I have spent a lot of time with and continue to want to know better. His perceptions help my understanding of what I have done and want to do with my mind, mind training with the best.
But what fascinates me at times is that, even in the midst of hearing these teachings about how all human beings have within themselves the capacity to become enlightened, about the power of compassion, sometimes (although thankfully less as the teaching continues) I can meet people I haven’t seen in years and just want to run as fast as I can in the other direction.
For the next few days (through Tuesday) I am immersing myself in the teachings of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. He is one of my most favorite teachers, taking on difficult topics with wit and intelligence of exceptional perception. He speaks perfect English and talks directly to the Western mind. Dzongsar hasn’t been to Halifax in eight years and I don’t want to miss a moment of his visit.
I haven’t spent much time with the Buddhist community here in quite a while. Yesterday I was at the centre helping prepare for the visit, tying knots in protection cords and gathering supplies. It felt like a visit to my parents, knowing that much has changed since my last visit and that I will be on my way soon, my way being a path that includes (these days) more time painting than meditation.
So (along with squeezing in teaching drawing, eating and sleeping) these few days will be a delicious treat. I will be savoring the dharma from a great teacher.
A few words about Dzongsar:
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche was born in Bhutan in 1961, and was recognized as the main incarnation of the Khyentse lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He has studied with some of the greatest contemporary masters, particularly H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. In 1989 he established Siddhartha's Intent, with the principal intention of preserving the Buddhist teachings, as well as increasing an awareness and understanding of the many aspects of the Buddhist teaching, beyond the limits of cultures and traditions. Siddhartha's Intent International, headquartered in Vancouver, coordinates international teaching engagements for its primary teacher, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. More information at www.siddharthasintent.org
Communication is often hard in the best of situations. We never REALLY know what is in the mind of another person. With so much new technologies, I am fascinated by the various forms of communication that people choose and how different the quality of communication is on each of these new forms.
When I got my first computer, I emailed Tamar every day. The computer was a hand-me-down from her, an adorable MacPlus that I learned how to navigate and love and later miss when I outgrew it. But after a stretch of emails and no voice, I missed the phone conversations, the sound of her voice. I’ve tried instant messaging. Sometimes it is a blessing, an expediency, a direct form of communicating. But if I don’t know the person well, I feel awkward. And then there is the wait for response and then also (the confusing at times) overlapping of replies.
There is more space around an email than meeting someone face to face. There is the time to think about each sentence, each word, each thought. There is little pressure to respond until you are ready, till the thoughts have emerged in full bloom, gifts of words. But it is a flat form of communication: there is no intonation, no subtleties of voice, no knowing the hesitation behind the words.
The phone is good because you hear a voice along with the words. But still, no face, no expression of a face. For Christmas, Tamar and Dan gave me a video cam for my computer, and iSite gadget that we can now see and talk to each other. A really cool little machine, lets me see who I am talking to and even shows a little view of myself while talking. It has a little time delay, nothing to complain about. Helps keep me in touch with Damian who is growing so fast. Makes living so far away easier. Makes me less of a challenged grandmother. Still, nothing really replaces the reality of face to face communication. Especially on these cold and isolating winter days. We are already planning our next visit.
Radio is special. I love radio. Always have. When the power was out for five days in November I was so relieved to have my windup radio to let me know what was happening, to keep me in touch with the world outside my snowbound home. Sometimes I turn on the radio before getting dressed in the morning, to bring some sound, another person (so to speak) into my house.
My first memories of radio are of when we lived in Richmond, Virginia during The War, those exciting fifteen minute programs that would come on before dinnertime, when all play activities would stop and the neighborhood children would gather around the radio to hear The Green Hornet, or The Lone Ranger. I had a fantasy then that when The War was over there would be no more bad news, just music. No more announcements of so many dead in this battle and so many in that battle. Just music and storytelling programs.
When I was around eleven, my next-door neighbor, Jimmy, was selling chances to win one. I wanted that radio so much I did the Machiavellian thing, I cheated (does the end justify the means?). To win, you had to choose the right name on a sheet of names and the winning name was exposed after Jimmy sold all the squares. I peaked very carefully, lifted ever so gently the cover to the winning square and put it back so that no one would know. The name was Olga, not one I would normally have chosen. So I changed what I had picked previously. I “won” that radio and it gave me so much joy. I never felt guilty. That little white radio belonged to me no matter how I won it. I had my special programs. Every Sunday night I lay on my bed listening to them, looking at that little white radio as if it were talking only to me.
These days, CBC is my friend. People tell me it isn’t what it used to be. But that’s okay with me. It is so much better than anything I had when I was living in New York. I listen to the radio when I am painting. They call it white noise. It helps me not to take my own thoughts too seriously. I once heard that listening to music helps you to learn concentration when reading. I extend that to other activities now. I know all the programming, switch between the various stations in order to hear what I want. (I hop back and forth between Radio One and Radio Two and the French station, depending on the programs.) I rarely watch TV. It doesn’t allow the same level of fantasy mixed with reality, where I can listen and do my own activities. I do love radio.
The outside thermometer read minus 26 degrees centigrade this morning. (Thatï¿½s minus 12 Farenheit.) Cold. But as usual, a very beautiful sunrise through the frost on the windows.
We survived yet another blizzard here in Eastern Canada. Over twenty-four hours of aggressive snow and howling wind. And miraculously the power stayed on! I was prepared, though, with jugs of water everywhere, a powerful rechargeable battery flashlight and a windup radio. Today all is quiet and white. The snowplow came this morning to clear my driveway and I just finished (as much as I can do right now) shoveling my walkway and car. So tomorrow I can go into town to school for an 8:30 am class. Most likely the traffic will be tight so I will allow extra time.
Itï¿½s a good thing I enjoy shoveling snow, living here. This time was especially delightful, the snow being light like confectionerï¿½s sugar. Yum! Good for making snowmen (or is it now snowpersons?).
School was cancelled today, of course, but I didnï¿½t have a class anyway. Itï¿½s nice to be home, to paint and fluff up my nest.
Last week I was in Vancouver to make connections with people and galleries. Vancouver in the middle of its rainy rain season. I thought I prefered the snow I came home to find in piles everywhere, needing to plow out my car from the snow around it (took a half hour at the airport before I could even load my suitcase into it!). But now we are getting battered and pounded with a heavy blizzard: wind and snow and fingers crossed that the power will stay on.
Some pix from the other side of the continent, the rainy side. The beach in the rain and fog:
The trees in Vancouver were so different than what I am used to seeing. These were across the road from the beach:
I went to a concert in a church and was mostly fascinated by the woman's charming hat in front of me:
I came home late Thursday night, driving home from the airport in the remnants of another blizzard. I had missed one (Monday) while I was away. Another, bigger one, is starting just now. It is winter in Nova Scotiaï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½.
Not sure if I will be posting over the next few days. I'm on a busman's holiday. Actually I'm not sure what that really means but I like the sound of it. Actually, I am on a safari exploring unknown territories. Will keep you posted when I can. Stay tuned.
I said recently that I donï¿½t usually rearrange furniture or change the paint on my walls, just put things in their place, pick colors and that's that. But then I realized today that I donï¿½t usually stay in one place this long. Iï¿½ve been here eight years. Thatï¿½s a record for me. Since I left my parental home at seventeen, Iï¿½ve changed residence an average of every three years and that includes nine years on West End Avenue when I was married.
And the strangest thing about all those moves was that (almost) each time I would say (and believe it): ï¿½This is the last time, the last move.ï¿½ And then just a few years later, for some reason that seemed completely reasonable (and was in fact logical), I would pick up everything and move again.
Now, moving a house is difficult enough, especially with all the books I seem to have to have and the grand piano that is also a necessity. And moving children and assorted pets around Manhatten was very difficult. But moving a painting studioï¿½not fun! So eight years here in one house, no wonder Iï¿½ve recently been moving all the furniture around!
Just two weeks ago nothing was happening with my work. There were stacks of paintings lined up like soldiers in my studio, just waiting. Nothing scheduled. Nothing happening. And I thought I might never paint again anyway. Now, as of this afternoon, three large crates of paintings are on their way to the Harbour Gallery in Toronto, I have a three person exhibit, with Wayne Boucher and Susan Feindel, scheduled for March 18 at the Agnes Bugera Gallery in Edmonton, Alberta and an exhibit to open April 28 in Switzerland at the Halde Galerie in Widen, just outside of Zurich.
I love those times when nothing is happening. That blank space where anything is possible. Of course if nothing happens always than nothing more happens and that happens to be not good (considering that I need to have something happen at some point in order to continue working, to be able to buy art supplies, to be able to have people see the work, which is, after all, why I do it). Not having specific deadlines does not affect my working habits. I just keep painting. Now I am glad to clear some space, some physical space, so that I can make more paintings.
Although my house is back to order, more or less, I just found my studio shoes today (the ones that I use in my studio, the ones that look like a Jackson Pollack painting). So much stuff still to sort through and put away. I think it will take months. If I could only bring myself to dedicate another day to cleaning up, maybe I could do it. But Iï¿½d rather paint.
I went to another tango workshop this weekend, this time with Margaret Spore. During lunch on Saturday she explained some of the history of tango and showed us some videos of professional tango dancers. The most fascinating was the one of two men dancing together, frequently changing roles from follower to leader and back again. Typical of classical (textbook) male energy, it seemed like a contest: oh, you can do that, well then, watch what I can do! And back and forth, getting more and more challenging. A dancing duel.
As Margaret explained:
The tango of the poor barrios and brothels of Buenos Aires gave expression to the sexuality, combativeness, melancholy and frustration of those living at the margin of society. A city teeming with too many working men, and a dance which was not considered "polite" for women, led to men often dancing with other men, a tradition that still appears today, though often in an updated version, with men and women learning both parts.
Seeing these men dance together helped me to understand the underlying tensions and complexities that make this dance so fascinating to do. A truly amazing and definitely fearless dance.
After a monthï¿½s hiatus, this week, finally, Iï¿½ve been back in my studio. Thatï¿½s a long time to be away. When I first came home from my travels I wondered if I would ever want to paint again. I was busy rearranging my house, making my nest comfortable. I didnï¿½t feel the necessity to paint. That was a strange feeling. If I define myself as an artist, I should feel the desire to paint every day, no? But actually, I am just someone who loves to paint. A label, even one as romantic as saying I am an artist, can be limiting. Painting is my profession and I am much more than what I ï¿½do.ï¿½ I am what I feel and think and how I react to life. Of course this is all colored by my seeing the world in such a way that makes me then want to paint.
When I first started meditating daily, about twenty-five years ago, I found I couldnï¿½t paint. My mind was blank; the desire was gone. This was unsettling, confusing, not to be able to work. At that point I felt I had to revise how I thought about myself, how I lived with me. After several months (actually nine long months), when I finally was able to work again, the flow of creativity was so much more even, so natural, not forced, not a label, just what it was, the joy of working. I was able to get out of my own way.
Last week, when time opened up, it seemed like the most natural thing to do, paint. And as usual after being away from it, the first day is so exhilarating, almost like the first day ever, almost like falling in love with it all over again.
An interesting thing happens with a break from the routine of working. Somehow it is like my mind learned so much when I wasnï¿½t working. It felt, somehow, that the paintings that I had left unfinished, in various stages of ï¿½not workingï¿½ or ï¿½not successful,ï¿½ were able to talk to me and tell me exactly what to do. The process felt so precise.
One quality I work towards is where I can feel that this painting, this particular one, has to be the way it is. Nothing in it can be any different than what it is. Then it is finished. Sometimes this does happen easily but usually it does not. No matter how I get there, that feeling of the piece being right is indescribable. Visual communication from the painting to me, from me to you.
Last night I was sewing buttons on some jackets I had made for Damian. (They, the jackets, had traveled all the way from here to LA and back because the fastenings that I put on them did not work so I had to redo them.) As I was folding one up to put away, I felt a bulge in the pocket.
One of Damian’s frogs came all the way back here to Nova Scotia with me! I’m sure the frog missed Damian so I am sending him back with the jackets.
According to most of the women I know, men don’t analyze, they just act. “Men want the facts…and we (women) want what’s between them, the interesting air circulating around them.” (From The Dive from Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer.) Maybe this is all true. Men certainly seem to be wired differently. But are we really that different? I do know some women as well as men who do not allow much air into their lives, who just want activity, some men who investigate the interstices of experience, who look and feel into every corner.
I was talking to a (female) friend at lunch recently about men and women friendships, how an infraction of trust, a betrayal is different when it is a female friendship, different than a male lover. In a friendship there is not as much at stake, usually, as in a marriage. There is not that foundation of intimacy that sharing a bed creates. But the same patterns can create a bad friendship as a bad marriage and mutual responsibilities.
She had been questioning her marriage. After a brief separation, she realized that she had been focusing on all the negative aspects, things that she didn’t like about her husband. Looking at what she did like, what she missed about him when they were apart, having a better perspective from the distance of separation, she saw that the good qualities outweighed the bad and also that both of them could plan, schedule into their lives ways to enjoy each other more. Have a friendship beyond the structures of marriage vows.
Until recently, when I have needed someone to talk to, to chew over a problem, a situation, it has always been a female friend I turned to. Possibly just my history, maybe growing up in an era where there was so much separation of boy and girl. Maybe we, boy and girl, are really not so different and maybe my understanding is changing. Certainly the last time I had some good news to share it was not only my children I called (they are usually first on my list) but also a man friend. Lately my male/female (self-created) barriers in friendships seem to be breaking down—and that feels good. After all, we are all people.
Just before leaving LA, Tamar gave me one of her favorite books to read, An Invisible Sign of My Own. Now it is one of my favorites. The author, Aimee Bender, mixes metaphor and action, fantasy and activity in a poetic and immediate manner. I felt right away I could slip into the mind of Mona Gray as she slipped in and out of her experiences, as her imagination blossomed and constructed events before they happened.
The story begins with Mona telling how her mother kicked her out of the house when she was nineteen. Not from lack of love but because it was time. Time to find your own place, time to get a job and make your way. A startling juxtaposition of truth and shock. And although certainly not a straight line from here to there, it worked for Mona, leading me through an amazingly well crafted story with sensitive pacing and memorable, rich characters.
The painful transformation of Mona, with her love of mathematics and numbers, with quirks and obsessive behaviors, of her fears and desires is an enchanting, eloquent, often amusing story. an enriching experience to read. And I loved the ending. Perfect.
Without the structure of school, time seems to have lost any meaning. I can hardly tell what day of the week it is. It doesn’t really matter. And, because I moved my bed (to the other side of the room) before leaving on my last trip West, I am still waking up not being sure where I am—in California, Montreal, my home? And yesterday I moved my computer table to be near the windows overlooking the lake and now I find myself still going to the corner where it was, behind the piano. What creatures of habit we human beings can be!
Routine, schedules all start up again by the end of this week. I think I won’t mind too much this time. At least I know where my classroom is—the same as last semester so my habits will not be disturbed!
Today my youngest child turns 37. The one who lives in Montreal, Aaron. When I called him he said “Where did the time go?” It went through many somersaults and onto roller-coasters, traveled up and down the East Coast into Canada. Changed our lives, built new homes, created a child, my granddaughter Shaya, brought new friends, new thoughts, new insights. And it all goes by so quickly. I’ve seen the little boy who couldn’t keep still, who loved to play, to be silly, make jokes, who loved food from street-vendors, become a man, a responsible, self-sufficient man who knows how to love and be loved.
In many ways it is not easy to be a parent of adult children and see the tunnels they have to crawl through to get to the open air, to see the scratches on their knees and not be able to help, to let them make their own path, to know when to step back and let them fall down if they need to. It is, nevertheless, such a thrill to see them stand on their own, draw their own circles on the ground. It's definitely a privilege.
The tsunami disasters make me think that the earth’s upheavals are an expression of anger towards our uncivilized behaviors, our devastations of her natural resources. As archie, the wise little cockroach (of archie and mehitabal) said:
i once heard the survivors of a colonly of ants that had been partially obliterated by a cow's foot seriously debating the intention of the gods towards their civilization
there is always
something to be thankful
for you would not
think that a cockroach
had much ground
but as the fishing season
opens up I grow
more and more
cheerful at the thought
that nobody ever got
the notion of using
cockroaches for bait
I wonder about the optimism of people whose families, homes, livelihood have been obliterated. Although I have heard that cockroaches can survive any natural disaster, who knows, maybe even cockroaches will be bait next.
Even though it is difficult in this situation, it is, as always, important to see the larger picture, and to work towards making that worthwhile. We are tenants on the planet, staying for such a short while. Perhaps the only real “cheefulness” that can be garnered here is the generosity that is flowing towards the survivors. Human beings, after all, need each other and need to be good to each other in every sense of the word.
To be quite honest, New Year’s usually leaves me blank. New Year’s meaning only to remember to change the last number when dating checks. I went to a few parties years ago and found them stressful, everyone trying so hard to "have a good time," wanting to “make it good,” a special night, make it an emblem for the coming year. So I usually stay home with a good book and fall asleep before midnight, waking up to another day. As Doris McCarthy said (a couple of days ago in CBC radio), “I enjoy my own company. We get along very well. We have a good time together.” But of course, this does not negate the joy of being with people.
And so this year I was invited and went to a party I wanted to go to, with friends I wanted to spend the evening with, play with. It was a warm and friendly party, a good way to bless any evening. As for resolutions, I've made (and broken) them frequently, sometimes daily. But the best one I heard last night was “Don’t be nice, be good!”
I think I have a stronger relationship with birthdays as markers, heralding the new, ushering in the next year that is about to happen. Birthdays are so personal. Nevertheless, there is always anticipation of what the calendar new year will bring. And I do hope that all wishes and dreams come true for you, that the gift of life be enjoyed and flourish with joy for everyone all over this beautiful, mysterious, strange and troubled world we inhabit.