Thursday, December 18, 2014

Merry Christmas!

I'm on holiday! 

So this is my last entry of 2014. 

I want to thank everyone who has supported me this year by buying a copy of Wise At Any Age, ordering a custom pair of shoes, working with me to design a logo and offering words of encouragement and appreciation on my Facebook Page and this here blog. 

My exhibition is on in Calgary until 31 December and I'll be at Oolong teahouse this Sunday so please do drop-in for the 'Meet the Artists' event! 

Thank you again! 

Entries will resume as usual on Tuesdays and Thursday come January. 

May you have an incredible holiday season full of love, joy and appreciation. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

No Time To Lose - A Book Review!

It's been a while since I've done a book review and in light of my exhibition of dharma-inspired artwork at the Oolong Tea House in Calgary this month I thought it would be suitable to review a bit of dharma* that has hugely influenced my life. 

My first forays into Buddhism began when I started seeing my psychologist. As someone involved in the Shambhala community she had a lovely balance of psychological expertise and common sense in Buddhist packaging. In many of our sessions she referred to Pema Chodron and told me that a lot of what I said and how I thought fit with her teachings. Eventually I caved and bought a Pema book: Start Where You Are. 

Reading Pema made me realise that I was a Buddhist, through and through. Her teaching style is clear and easily understood even without extensive knowledge of Buddhism. It really is common sense and she presents it in such an accessible way that I was soon hooked. 

I moved on to read The Places That Scare You and When Things Fall Apart and then I purchased this book:

I was fully prepared for more of the same, so imagine my surprise as I began reading and realised this book was not Pema's usual pithy instructions, but a commentary on a famous Buddhist text written in 700A.D.: The Way of the Bodhisattva. 

This was dharma - deep, profound teachings on Buddhism and how to be an effective, authentic, genuine human being. 

At the time I'd only been meditating for a few months. My grasp of Buddhism was weak although I was already aware of an unwavering enthusiasm I had for it. Here was a practice that asks us to work with our own minds, empowers us to be our own greatest teacher and teaches that the most difficult moments in our lives are the best for having a lasting transformative effect. 

But 'The Way of the Bodhisattva' is not exactly beginners Buddhism text. 

My first reading of it was a bit of a slog. I struggled through it but stoically stuck to it because at the time Pema's books were acting as a life-line. As long as I had a book of Pema's to read I felt like I could control my anxiety, keep an even keel and maintain a sense of sanity I desperately needed. 

Looking back I'm both proud of and amused by my efforts. I was seeking comfort in her writing and instead I was confronted with a scholarly text composed twelve centuries ago that asked me to do the work. 

This didn't phase me. In fact, as soon as I finished reading it I flipped back to the introduction and began again. I wanted to understand the words because I had found comfort in reading them - but not for the reasons I'd found comfort in reading Pema's other writing. 

There was something about how applicable The Way of the Bodhisattva was to my own life at that time, even though it was over a thousand years old and had been composed for a very different audience. I think this must have been my first glimpse of having an understanding of the four noble truths: 
Life is suffering. Suffering is due to attachment. Attachment can be over come. There is a path to do this. 

I began to see them beyond the simplistic Western view of 'Life's a Bitch' and understood that they were pointing at the fundamental ambiguity of being human: Life changes, inevitably, constantly, and this terrifies us. It has always terrified us. As human beings we really don't like the idea that we and everyone we know are impermanent so we scramble for something to hold onto in an attempt to feel better about the fact that we'll get sick, grow old and die. 

The Way of the Bodhisattva is teaching us how to live well by flipping our habitual patterns on their head. Rather than scrambling for ground, it's asking us to experiment with what might happen if we opened up to, accepted, and embraced this groundlessness. 

What would our lives be like if we didn't resist our experience? What would life be like if happiness was more than getting what we want and not getting what we don't want? What would life be like if we let go of an idea of how it 'should' be? 

I'm now reading No Time To Lose for the fourth time. It's been years since my third reading of it and my practice has deepened significantly since then. Now as I read it there is a familiarity with the language I lacked upon my first, second and even third reading. 

I've come to really value re-visiting teachings because with each new experience I have the way I work with my mind and the way I live in the world transforms, so each time I come back to dharma I've read or listened to before I get something different from it. I'm excited to see what I get out of this commentary now, after over a year of daily meditation, completing the first five levels of the Shambhala training and daily consumption of Buddhist talks and books. 

Even if you're not a Buddhist, this text in particular does hold some incredibly profound and pithy instructions. I recommend it very highly. Regardless of what your understanding of Buddhism is, it offers so much to make us see how every situation is workable and everything we experience has value. 

*Dharma is the word for the traditional Buddhist teachings/text. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014


24X36in acrylic on canvas
Exhibiting at the Oolong Teahouse in Calgary December 1 - 31
I've been studying Buddhism for seven years now - ever since I discovered the very eloquent and clear teachings of Pema Chodron. In the last year and a half my practice has become significantly deeper as I've taken my understanding of the various techniques and actually started applying them in my life. 

As my dear spiritual companion described it, "It's like I've been tilling the soil and now things are starting to grow." 

The growing experience is so astounding to me because I'll have heard a teachings dozens of times before it clicks. But when it clicks the experience is transformative. It's the difference between intellectually 'getting it' because it makes sense versus having an actual lived experience of something. A moment when the words I've read or listened to match my personal experience of the world. 

Avalokiteshvara is the bodhisattva of compassion and known by many different names depending on the lineage. But the essence is always the same - to love fully and compassionately. 

I'm a huge advocate of this and can honestly say that my experience has shown again and again that it is much better for everyone involved to show love and kindness than anger or aggression. In fact, I've often felt like I'm just not an aggressive person so all these teachings about working with aggression didn't really apply to me. 

But here's one of those moments when I have listened to a teaching and heard it differently: 

I was listening to a talk by Khandro Rinpoche. She was talking about this sense of compassion and embracing basic goodness and being kind. She began to describe our emotional turmoil as aggression and made a list: "Anger is aggression. Fear is aggression. Sadness is aggression." 

I considered what she was saying and it was like feeling puzzle pieces of so many teachings before sliding into place in my mind. I suddenly realised that when the teachings are talking about working with our aggression they don't mean 'don't be angry' or 'work with your anger' - they mean aggression is a fundamental resistance to our experience. 

In short, resistance to the fundamental ambiguity of being human is aggressive. 

It can manifest as anxiety, fear, sadness, depression - but it's all based on wanting to get away from what is, rather than embracing and working with whatever arises. 

Suddenly I realised I'm incredibly aggressive! My anxiety has always communicated my resistance, my shutting down around an experience. And now I can see it, I can work with it. Having had this realisation the way I'm working with my mind now has shifted significantly. 

Avalokiteshvara reminds us to be gentle with ourselves as well as with others. We can only have compassion for others if we have it for ourselves because it's based on understanding shared human experience. 

My understanding shifted considerably as I realised that I was no less aggressive than anyone else. That the term 'aggression' is not being used in relation to anger or rage but in relation to this resistance we all have to the unpredictability of life. 

How liberating. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The power of an open mind

The first time I published my Manjushri piece I wrote about the power of questioning and how this piece was an exploration of that. 

(I also spelled it with the more traditional Tibetan spelling but apparently you can spell it with out without the 'h' - Fun fact!) 

But I digress. 

The Dharma is something to be constantly explored, applied and revisited. As Chogyam Trungpa said, "Live life as an experiment." 

To me this means adjust your hypothesis, try things again, change the control group, never assume and always, always be willing to change your mind. A flexible mind is one that knows nothing can be pinned down. 

A print of this piece is currently being exhibited at Oolong Tea House in Calgary, along with most of the rest of my Dharma series. The original is hanging on my bedroom wall (But available for purchase, if anyone is interested) and therefore the object of regular contemplation for me. 

I continually visit the final line of text in the piece, along with the strong imagery representing the importance of cutting through the ideas we think we have of the world. 

When we look at things as being just one way it causes a lot of grief. An example I like to use for this is eating in our favourite restaurant. 

Say there's a restaurant that we love, that we've gone to dozens, possibly even a hundred times. We enjoy it immensely but one day we go and we get food poisoning. Suddenly we write the restaurant off. We can't go back because we had a single bad experience. Regardless of the high percentage of great experiences, because we had a single negative one, and because that negative experience was our last experience, we may never return again. 

But the restaurant was never 'perfect' to begin with. It couldn't have been. Because it wasn't everyone's favourite restaurant and because not everyone might like the food they serve. Regardless of food poisoning, some people just might hate the cuisine so much they'd never consider it to be a nice place to eat. 

The value we put on things is a projection of our mind based on experience and understanding of the world. But when we think we 'know' something (or someone) we put a box around it. We stop being able to see it from different angles, different points of view. 

Using a restaurant is a rather safe example and one I feel confident in using to communicate my thoughts on the subject, but this applies to everything. No human being, no ideology, political structure, religion - is ever just one way. 

When we can see this it liberates us because it means we're getting closer to seeing things as they are and letting the fluidity of the world we live in touch us. It means we're able to experience the richness and fullness of life. 

To purchase a print or the original piece visit: 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Prints! The art formally known as an original.

While my Dharma series is on exhibit at the Oolong Tea House in Calgary I don't want those not in snowy Canadia to miss out. If you'd like to order a print of any of these pieces you can do so through my website:

I promise to do my damndest to get them delivered to you in time for Christmas!

You can click on the images to be taken straight to them on my website:

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Art prints? What a great gift idea!

It's happening right now! You can pop down to Oolong to take a look at my Dharma series along with Lyn's contemplative photography! 

If you don't happen to live in Calgary you can always buy a print of one of the pieces through my website: