Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thirty years!!!

Tomorrow is my birthday. Yup. Me. That nerd there holding a blueberry wearing a raspberry as a hat (it's delicious, I totally recommend it).

I think there's an expectation of how people should feel for certain birthdays. Like your eighteenth is supposed to be about being legal so you should be excited to go get totally wasted - so much so that you might not even remember your birthday.

I have a friend who's never drunk in her life. I remember how baffled people were on her eighteenth because she just wasn't interested. She was excited to be able to vote and to be an adult, officially, but she wasn't interested in the legality of alcohol.

Twenty is another big one just because you're not a teenager anymore. And by twenty-one there's no age limit for drinking anywhere - or at least not in North America anymore.

Twenty-five is only kind of cool. The cost of car insurance goes down and you can rent a car too! But it's not particularly significant.

And then there's thirty. 

What can I say about thirty? I know a lot of people feel dread at this birthday. Or at the very least they think they should feel dread.

I'm thrilled. I'm giddy. I'm over the moon!

Because we seem to live in a world where all the experience you may have doesn't actually count under a certain age. And thirty seems to be the age when you finally get credit for your experience and what you've learned and achieved. Like, because you made it to thirty and haven't killed yourself in some unfortunate or silly accident, you must be pretty reliable and mature. Or something.

I don't know.

I know that looking back on my life, it's amazing. I'm proud of it. And may there be thirty more years to come, and more. Because every birthday that happens is another year I'm alive and that's pretty damn amazing.

So far in my life I've been to twelve different countries, I established a not-for-profit organisation that's still running today - along with the longest running Drag King troupe in Canada. I've learned sign language, taught myself to be a designer and changed my career in under a year, published a book, and held three successful art exhibitions that I organised myself.

So here's to getting old, because I want the smile lines. I want the grey hairs and I want that furrow in my brow from enjoying the sun. I want all the bumps and bruises and scrapes and scars.

Because life is amazing. And growing old sure beats the alternative. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Glimpses of Mahayana - Book review

As promised, here's my review of 'Glimpses of Mahayana." 

Generally I take about a month to read most books about Dharma. This allows me time to digest what I'm reading and apply teachings to my life as I go, but my enthusiasm for the subject generally means I want to read a bit almost every day. Occasionally I'll read a Dharma book that's more academic or has really non-conceptual teachings that require a lot more time to digest - like anything on the Heart Sutra, for example - and I'll chew on these for several months. 

This book, however, I powered through. I just couldn't get enough. I think I finished it in five days and will happily pick it up and read it again and again and again. Because this book has really good, really pointed stuff in it that's so easy to apply right here, right now. 

I found myself writing very enthusiastically in the margins, filling it up with "Yes! Totally" or "Just like that teaching by..." or "This happened to me when..." 

It's like the ultimate practitioner toolkit - the very basics and how to use them to work with your life all the time. It really highlights the difference between intellectually understanding the teachings and having a lived, felt experience of them - knowing them in your bones through application. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Everyday Zen - Book review!

This is one of the most pithy books I've ever read. But then, it's written by a Zen teacher so I suppose that's to be expected. 

What do I mean by pithy? Well, I found myself saying "YES! That! So much that!" to most of it - and writing a lot of pointed lines down in my journal or on my arm. Writing dharma on my arm is something I've been doing for about three years now. It's like ultimate reminders of practice tools. I feel like there's something about the physical act of putting it on my skin that helps me become saturated with dharma so I don't have any excuses when something is up for me. 

But I digress. 

This book is all about practice - not practice as in knowing how to do a particular technique but the actual application of teachings in our lives in any given moment so there can be real transformation. It's not for the faint of heart. It's not for anyone looking to transcend the difficulties of their life or use meditation to 'feel good.' 

This is a very cutting book that really asks you to work with your own mind. 

Some pithiness from this book:

"Enlightenment is not something you achieve." 

"No matter what the work is, it should be done with effort and total attention to what's in front of our nose." 

"When you sit, don't expect to be noble." 

"Life is the way it is." 

"If we understand that each moment of our life is the teacher, we can't avoid practice." 

"There's nothing wrong with our self-centred thoughts except that we identify with them." 

"Trusting in things being as they are is the secret of life." 

"There is no special time or place for great realisation." 

"We can't love something we need." 

"All I  can be is who I am right now; I can experience that and work with it. That's all I can do." 

"Always the practice effort is to see what life requires us to give as opposed to what we personally want to give - which is not easy." 

"It isn't important that we are upset; what is important is our ability to observe the upset."

"The quality of our practice is always reflected in the quality of our life." 

"...searching outside ourselves is not the way." 

"All of practice is to return ourselves to pure experiencing." 

"Love expects nothing." 

"If life were not impermanent it wouldn't be the wonder that it is." 

"Expect nothing from life and you will enjoy it." 

"Any aspect of ourselves that is not observed will remain muddy, confusing, mysterious." 

"We only know our lives when we experience them directly." 

"To look outside of ourselves for true peace and satisfaction is hopeless." 

"When we are attached to the way we think we should be or the way we thing anyone else should be, we can have very little appreciation of life as it is." 

"So our practice is about making fear conscious, instead of running around inside our cell of fear, trying to make it look better and feel better." 

"Life is not a problem." 

"In times of confusion or depression the worst thing we can do is try to be some other way." 

"Sadly enough, some of us die without ever having lived because we're so obsessed with trying to avoid being hurt." 

"The strength in our practice, and the ability to communicate our practice to others, lies in being ourselves." 

"If I feel completely muddled, it isn't that there's a problem that I have to find some way to solve; I just don't know who I am in connection to that problem." 

"Freedom is the willingness to risk being vulnerable to life." 

"True commitment and true love have no 'ifs'."

"What we expect we rarely get." 

"The more we are aware of our expectations, the more we see that our urge is to manipulate life rather than live it just as it is." 

If even just one of these lines resonates with you or sparks your curiosity, please read this book. Really, really. And then I recommend moving onto 'Glimpses of Mahayana' - which is another superbly pithy, pointed book. I've just realised I've never written a review of it and I feel I should. Next blog post... I promise. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dharma art - progress

After completing my last Dharma piece I decided I wanted to continue with the trees. I love trees, I really, really do, and have always struggled to capture their detail and beauty when I've tried drawing them. In fact, I generally dislike the trees I draw. I just feel they're flat and lacking in everything I admire and love about a tree, especially an old gnarled tree with years of regrowth and the odd disease that adds character and depth to the bark and twisting branches. 
I decided to do the last piece while I was sitting in meditation. I've recently started sitting for a half hour each time, at least twice a day. So I was sitting there, following the breath, labelling thoughts as thoughts, that whole thing - and suddenly I just saw this Bodhi tree in my mind and I saw all the lines of the detail. 

Now, you may have noticed that my art doesn't generally entail a lot of intricate detail. I really admire art that does and have often wanted to create something with such fine lines - but I've found it comes across as forced and then I lose the pleasure for what I'm doing. 
Until now. 

I feel like I could draw the lines of trees forever. It's almost addictive. Like, I'm creating the character and richness of the surface of something that's been standing for decades, possibly even hundreds or potentially thousands of years. 

I met a 3,000 year old tree in Japan. It was impressive and humbling. It makes me think of the wonderful teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh about seeing the entire universe in a tree. Without the sun, there is no tree. Without the clouds there is no rain, so there is no tree. Without the earth, the minerals in it, there is no tree. 

It's a beautiful example of interconnectedness, interdependence. Very suitable for my Dharma series. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bodhicitta - Dharma Series

"Your Mind is Not a Problem"
11.7X11.7in ink & gouache on bristol board

Lately the focus of my Dharma study has been Bodhicitta. I first encountered the word through - surprise, surprise - reading and listening to Pema Chodron. It’s one of those very difficult to translate words because there isn’t exactly a direct translation available. 

Instead teachers point at different words which capture the essence of what Bodhicitta is all about. Pema herself describes it in so many different ways. 

Bodhicitta is awareness of our compassionate nature. Or Bodhicitta is the ability we have to be big enough for our world and our experience. Bodhicitta is our awakened mind. Bodhicitta is our Buddha nature - the nature of all beings to see the world free of reference points. Bodhicitta is recognizeng interconnectedness, or as Thich Naht Hanh says, ‘interbeing’. 

Our ability to awaken Bodhicitta is our ability to show up for ourselves and for others. In order to do this we work with our own mind, with gentleness and dedication. The more we can see our mind, the more we can sit with our experience, and the most honestly we show up for ourselves, the more we are able to open up to others. 

Our minds may seem like the enemy, at times, which is why gentleness is so important. I’ve recently realised I experience anxiety at its worst when I’m being impatient with myself. The more harsh I am about what I’m feeling, the more challenging working with my mind becomes and the more intense my emotions. But when I’m kind to myself, when I see my mind as workable rather than something that needs fixing, the whole experience softens. My heart opens up and I genuinely feel big enough for my life. 

I didn’t come up with the text for this piece. The person who did is incredibly wise and I am so appreciative of the ways she reminds me to be gentle. The moment she said these words I knew they were the ones that would accompany this piece. 

Your mind is not a problem to fix. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

So many little projects

Leather project
I've been working on a lot of little projects these past few weeks. I seem to suddenly be getting an influx of freelance and custom work, which is always fun. I do find these requests come in waves.

I'm really enjoying this particular wave as there is such a variety of projects for me to work on.

One of the requests has allowed me to use up some of the scrap leather from all my mask making. I've also done a new pair of custom shoes, which is always good fun for me. And I have some more freelance design work, including a logo design and a promotional rack card.
Sketch for custom shoe design

In and around these projects I continue to research agents and submit manuscripts. I'm also on the hunt for someone who knows how to design apps and might want to partner with me on a few ideas.

Oh all this creative energy!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Make things happen

I seem to have an abundance of energy at the moment. I already know that I have a pretty high output but I swear I somehow managed three days worth of To Do list accomplishments in one on Easter Monday. And it wasn't frantic either - it was a very relaxed, productive day spotted with regular bouts of lolling in the sun reading 'Good Omens' or 'Everyday Zen'.

There was no anxious energy underlying my productivity. It was just pure flow.

And it's continued on this week. I've been filling my evenings with projects and tasks and ticking things off to do lists left, right and centre.

One thing I've started doing again is submitting manuscripts to agents. This is always an interesting task as most agents prefer to be the only person you've sent a manuscript to. They take six to eight weeks to get back to you, so it's a waiting game once a manuscript is submitted.

I have five completed ones and three nearly complete. This gives me a bit more to work with. I can find eight suitable agents to submit to, check the dates, and then wait. I can space submissions a week apart to give some regularity to the task. I intend to do this and intend to carry on submitting until I am picked up because ultimately, in all the things I do and dream about and dabble with I always come back to the fact that since I can remember, since I could hold a pencil and form a letter, since I could put down into words the things that filled my childhood imagination, I have known in my bones that I am a writer first, foremost and with the greatest conviction.

All this meditating I've been doing (I'm sitting for a half hour both morning and night these days) is really focusing my mind in so many new ways. I feel very energised by it but also incredibly calm. I have a clear purpose:
I do what I do to engage people in their own sense of curiosity and wonder. 
I do what I do to encourage people to try new things, to be adventurous in their choices and to see their world and their life in a bigger way.

I write, I create art, I keep this blog, I have a full-time design job - and behind all of these things my big all encompassing 'why' is engrained in my every action. I'm really looking at this sense of purpose and how it drives us. When we know our purpose we can sort out the how and the what afterwards. I'm really enjoying this way of looking at my life and my intentions and actions.

So far it's resulted in some pretty incredible practical and creative output. Long may it last...

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

London Journal - Stomping around Shoreditch

I love going to Shoreditch. There's always so much street art to be found. Usually I wander about aimlessly, collecting photos of pieces down the various streets I take, but on my last visit to the area I discovered the jackpot along a single street, Hanbury.

I could hardly walk four steps without spotting another fantastic piece of art across the side of a building or on a gate or door.
Bottle lid silhouette. 

I feel like the tagging done over this lion actually really works somehow.
Urban jungle...

One of my favourite street artists!
Don't know who it is but I love their work. 

Stunning level of detail. 

Banksy inspired on the right?
I don't think it's an actual Banksy. 


These were very small and hardly noticeable. 

Also small and easily missed. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Awe and Wonder - Contemplation

"Don't underestimate the things in your life that will bring you happiness." 
-Pema Chodron

I want to talk about woo. Woo isn’t exactly a ‘real word’ and yet I’ve encountered it in many conversations and even in blogs written by medical professionals, so there does seem to be a growing universality to its use. 

Woo could also be known as ‘airy fairy’ stuff or ‘hippie clap-trap’ or anything along those lines. Practitioners of woo tend to come across as flakey. And woo itself is entirely at odds with science and practicality. 

As a Buddhist I encounter a lot of people who spout woo and I know that a lot of what I study and share is taken as woo. But there is a distinct difference between woo and awe, or woo and wonder, or woo and delight. 

Woo has always come across as fake to me. It’s generally quite harmless but it’s childish in a make-believe way. In the way little children will tell lies so outrageous that adults just laugh. Like ‘I saw a tiny dragon down by the river…actually it was a huge dragon. Oh, and there were two of them!’

In kids it’s cute. In adults it becomes a bit concerning. 

Buddhism is not woo. On the surface it can come across as such and I know it often does. Things like Karma and reincarnation are not properly understood by a lot of people, including Buddhist practitioners. Karma is simplified into some dualistic system or punishment and reward and all about ‘energy’ in a woo way. 

The actual teachings on Karma are in-line with physics - cause and effect. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Inertia. Karma is science. 

And reincarnation is not some mystical idea when the teachings on it are really examined. Again, reincarnation is more science. Energy cannot be created nor destroyed. Our bodies have a lot of energy, our consciousness has a lot of energy. If energy cannot be created nor destroyed then we’ve all already lived forever. 

I’ve never felt that Buddhism and science were at odds with one another and, in fact, the more I study both the more interwoven I find them to be. Because awe, wonder and amazement are crucial elements to scientific discovery. 

Neil Degrass-Tyson is trending right now and has been for several years - and he is full of wonder. I don’t know what, if any, spiritual leanings he has but he definitely sees the universe in a bigger, fuller way than most of us. He says things that match entirely with Buddhist teachings I’ve read. 

Same wisdom, different package. 
“When was the last time you caught a snowflake on your tongue?” he asked a six (and three quarters) year old boy. 

“A few weeks ago.” 

He turned to an adult in the audience and asked the same question. 

“I can’t remember.” 

I caught a snowflake on my tongue the last time it snowed in London. I stood outside and let them land on my face and I enjoyed every freezing touch of it. Because snow is magical. 

I’m about to turn 30 and I’m delighted by seemingly simple things. This comes from appreciation of the world around me, of my interdependence with it, and of the absolute magic to be found in the setting sun or the way a flower blooms or the buzzing of a bee or indeed, the falling of snow. And this is not woo or something flakey. This is appreciation I have for the wonder of life. 

And wonder is not just in the beautiful things we see like a sun-set or sun-rise. Wonder is in seeing the difficult stuff and appreciating it as part of the richness of being human. 

A person who can see the wonder in the most difficult of situations isn’t naive but awake to the fullness of their experience. They can appreciate that something like grief is an expression of love or the energy that accompanies anger. To have wonder is to see the benefit that comes from not rejecting any of our experience. 

And I totally recommend watching this video because what Neil has to say about the meaning of life is totally and utterly spot on.