Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Impossible Mountain


She is saying something
and it is very powerful
but it is not in any language
that you or I can understand.
And if we could understand
we might go crazy.

She is talking about every single thing that has ever happened.

It is so impossible to hear
that you have to be
an impossible mountain
bursting from an impossible ocean
to hear it.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Material as Reliquary

Detail from Mother/Daughter, 2016.  Embroidery thread and hair on cotton, 14" x 18"

From a recent application:

My artwork is about experience, both public and private, for both myself and the viewer/participant.  Obviously there is my own experience of making the work, which is sometimes at the center of the piece, such as in some of my laborious, handmade works where part of the premise of the piece is its very handmade-ness, the process of making, the meaning of time versus labor, and the appearance of the artist’s hand in the work.  Sometimes I begin with that and then offer it outward by inviting the viewer to become a participant in the labor, to devote some of their own time to the project, to include their hand in the final piece.  And sometimes I step back once the piece has begun and almost obliterate my own presence so that the project can be carried along by experiences of others.  I become a catalyst between the idea and the viewer – the spark that sets the experience in motion but then gets dissolved in the process.
 What this looks like (because I am, after all, a visual artist) varies.  It has looked like a mile-long, handknit road stripe laid on a street in Dallas, TX.  It has looked like a house museum for tourists and locals to interact on the western coast of Newfoundland.  It has been hand-dyed, handspun yarn knit into hats by people of all ages and backgrounds, shared among each other and with homeless women and children in the Bronx.  It has looked like over five kilometers of handknitting installed by a highway in South Korea.  It has looked like a fun house created in a university gallery in South Dakota.
 More recently, I have been experimenting with subtler ways of presenting this idea of how we record our experiences for ourselves and each other.  Most of my work over the past 15 years has been increasingly outward-looking even, as I mentioned, to the point where the artwork is entirely dependent on the participation of the audience and my presence is no longer necessary or visible.  Now I am curious if a similar result can be created via more inward-looking means.
 As I have been stitching down locks and strands of hair that once belonged to Lucy (when she was about eight I think), I have been thinking about how the materials themselves can be the container for the experience.  Lucy's hair is an expression of her life as an eight year old - what she ate, how she slept and played and felt - it's all in there.  To me, it feels sacred to work with such materials: material as reliquary.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Sir


Sir TKV Desikachar passed away yesterday after a long illness.  He was the teacher of my teachers and it is testament to the strength of his teaching that I feel like I knew him too.  Their stories about "Sir," as his students called him, reveal him to be a humble, deeply knowledgable and realized human being.  This morning, I am thinking about how they described him teaching to an almost empty room at at Yoga Journal conference sometime in the 90s.  It made me catch my breath - here, a genuine acharya, offering his profound teaching and everyone was flocking to whomever was the latest superstar at that moment.  Still, as they describe it, he taught his class wholeheartedly.  Perhaps as a good follow-up to that story, my teacher Chase likes to remind us that Mr. Ds definition of avidya (which often is translated as incorrect knowledge or delusion) was "I know."

Chase also said that one of Sir's favorite chants was in English, done to the same svara or melody as "śanti, śanti, śantih."  He would chant, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."  To me, this sums up his wisdom.  One might be tempted to think that it was simple, indeed so simple as to be easily dismissed.  But don't be fooled!  Don't be fooled.

Mr. D....Sir.....

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Surprise, But Not Too Much

Been reading a book titled, A Beautiful Question by Frank Wilczek this summer.  His beautiful question is, quite simply, what is beauty?  Or perhaps, is the universe inherently beautiful? A Nobel-prize winner in quantum physics, he has been studying the relationship between mathematical ideas and the universe for decades and his scientific work has led him to this question.

When I heard a conversation with him on the radio one day, I had one of those moments when I thought that scientists were finally catching up with what people knew back in the day of the Buddha.  We already know this stuff - it is written out quite plainly!  But, you know, western scientists need to figure it out for themselves.  In any case, to me, it all seems right at the intersection of art and yoga: perception and understanding the true nature of reality.  And, it is expressed in every major work of art ever made, across genres and disciplines.  How fascinating to delve deeper into the why and the how of it from another perspective.




One of the things he states early on is (to paraphrase) that mistakes are our best teachers.  Our human eyes and brains are always looking for symmetry and have developed patterns based on seeing relationships between things, remembering them, and expecting them to appear again.  When they do, the met expectation brings a sense of pleasure.  When they do not, we wonder why and inquire - thus expanding our understanding of things.  Unless things are so unexpected that we can not make any sense of them, in which case we just see them as "noise".  As Wilczek says, we like surprise but not too much.

He is quick to point out that what is too much surprise to us, as humans, might be just lovely to another species, which means our universe is more like a multiverse.

See?  It's all quite beautiful!





Monday, August 01, 2016

One Thing Leads to Another

Before I left New York, my Zen teacher casually suggested (is it ever casual?) that I start a sitting group here in Newfoundland.  As I began to make inquiries about potential spaces to do such a thing, I found myself agreeing (eagerly, mind you) to substitute teach yoga classes for a woman who teaches in Corner Brook.  If I picked up her classes, then I could use the studio for free for the sitting group.  Deal!  Of course what I didn't realize is that she teaches a hellava lot of classes each week!  Meanwhile, I had already inquired with another woman who owns the other yoga studio in Corner Brook (yes, there are two now!) and she happily gave over her classes so she could go on vacation.  Perhaps I should have noticed this trend?  In any case, this is how I found myself teaching eleven classes last week and ten this week.  As much as I truly love teaching and especially here where people seem more open to trying new things, I have learned that ten classes/week is too many for me.  A friend in LA teaches more than double that - sometimes seven in a day!  He also drives a BMW...so there you go.



Anyhoo, in between the inhales and exhales, I posted some pictures of my handspun yarn on Facebook and, as a result, received a very large order from a new yarn store opening in Santa Cruz, CA.  The yarn pictured above is but a fraction of what needs to be made.  I am working away on it in the evenings mostly.  I am making a variety of plys and colors to see what the market will bear.  I also convinced her to take a couple of carded batts and handpainted rovings to see if the spinners of Santa Cruz are interested.  Testing the waters, you might say.  

Somehow I am working more here in Gillams than in NYC.  Go figure.


Monday, July 25, 2016

More Things

Yes, 2016.  Cotton thread on cotton canvas. 2" x 3"


Almost every evening...



Homemade ghee.  Sometimes not having everything at your fingertips is a good thing.

Friday, July 22, 2016

These Days

When I arrived, I made a Master To-Do List.  When I gave it a once-over yesterday, I was pleased to see that I have made some progress.  Here are a couple of things going on:

524 yds, Portuguese Merino, 2 ply
I have been participating in the Tour de Fleece this year, having a lovely reunion with my dearest Suzie Pro wheel.  Why oh why did I ever leave her behind?  Beside all the dyeing and spinning up my mother's yarns, I have been working on this skein.  Portuguese Merino is not like Merino Merino.  It is not as fine so it is not as soft - I would put it somewhere between BFL and Shetland.  Like Shetland, it has a kind of inherent integrity that makes spinning it pure delight and knitting with it even more delightful.

Last time I spun it, I made a shawl, which I promptly lost at the Sunnyside Post Office the second time I wore it.  It still causes a pain in my heart to remember it.  I am thinking that I will make that self same shawl with this yarn, just because.  Apparently Portuguese Merino is no longer available through any wholesale suppliers so it may well be my last time working with it.  I'll try not to lose this one!

Yes, that is a space heater in use on July 21st.
My other big, executive decision was to change the so-called Guest Room into my studio.  As I have been unable to convince anyone to come visit me here, the room mostly has been empty except that I use it for my yoga practice.  There is another space in the house that, on the face of it, seems like the best place for a studio - the "dining room" between the kitchen and my bedroom - but that space has never felt comfortable to me.  I don't even like standing in there for very long.  Not sure why...maybe I need to burn some sage or something in there to scare away the ghosts.  Anyway, there do not seem to be any demons or unhappy ghosts in this room, which is technically in the basement but still gets lots of natural light and has tall ceilings.  It also tends to be cooler than the rest of the house, which in this cool July (we have had two frost advisories recently!) means the heat is on.  It is a blank slate and I am excited to see what happens in there next!

A fresh start all around.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Problem Solving

Every Wednesday morning, I participate in an online yoga meditation class led by my yoga mentor, Chase Bossart.  People log on from all over the place and, for a half-hour, Chase leads us through some movement, breathing and a visualization.  It isn't a huge commitment in time or money and I find it to be an interesting compliment to my usual meditation practice.  It provokes all kinds of questions and offers another way to see things.  I highly recommend it!

Every other week, he also hosts a longer class immediately afterwards where we talk about the classes and how they were constructed and we share our experiences (this class is geared to yoga teachers).  This is my favorite part because it is so interesting to learn how other people receive the instructions and how what seems so simple and straightforward actually is quite complex.

This past Wednesday, after some moving and breathing, Chase asked us to picture ourselves on the peak of a mountain with a clear view for miles and miles.  Then we did some more moving and breathing and he asked us to think about an issue that is unresolved in our life, something we have confusion about.  The thought that came to my mind was, "Should we really be using meditation to fix things?"  Personally, I would say no.  It seems quite important that meditation have no goal.  Let's face it, we often accept ourselves as so small.  We eagerly create little boxes and jump right in them!  Why would this be any different with our so-called solutions in meditation?  I feel quite strongly about this point.  In the second class, following the meditation, we had a really interesting conversation about this that was very helpful, especially as I consider ways of offering meditations to my own students and clients.

This morning, I was still reflecting on Wednesday's conversation but thinking about it in terms of art making.  Art that has an expressed goal to solve some problem suffers from the same limitations and for the same reasons - we generally aspire to so little when actually we have the whole universe at hand.  When I look at my publicly engaged projects, the ones that were most successful - some continue to spur dialogue - were the ones that were the most open-ended, where I proceeded without much of a clear idea of exactly where I was headed.  The ones (and I think mainly of one, in particular) that fell flat were the ones where I had an idea and I tried to force the situation to fit that idea.  Even when I framed it as a question, in my head, I already had the answer.

Those kinds of projects interest me less these days I think, in part, because I found my own limitations too confining.  I still love conversation and hearing people's stories.  I definitely still love getting people to try new things that put them back in touch with what it means to make things by hand, but those are not the driving forces behind my work now.  Or perhaps I should say that I am trying to make work that has that same kind of energy and contains all those possibilities without needing to overtly ask the questions out loud.  Problem solving without answers.  Or questions, either.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Contrasts

Sometimes the road less travelled is the Trans-Canada Highway.

Quiet has come to my house.  My mom, who is about as spry as it gets for 89 years old, is a talker.  As soon as she heard me stirring in the morning, she would pop out of her room and start talking.  The conversational flow would continue until we went to bed, unless of course you count when we both went silent while watching the first season of Downton Abbey.  As the last person on Earth who had never watched it, I had my reservations.   Of course, I am totally hooked now.  Between the storyline and the amazing clothes and Maggie Smith's most excellent snide comments, one would have to be semi-conscious half-wit not to be sucked in.  And so I am (sucked in, not a semi-conscious half wit).

But watching Downton Abbey is not daytime work.  No, it is doled out like slices of delicious cake in the evening when the sun sort of goes down.  The list of daytime work is getting longer each day but, while my mother was here, it looked a lot like this:


I showed my mom how to paint fleece with acid dyes.  She has rather a reputation when it comes to painting based on the way she uses as little paint as possible when she works on her canvas boards.  Perhaps as a child of the Depression she has scarcity issues but for whatever reasons, her paintings always look like studies in how to create a picture with as little paint as possible.  As a conceptual framework for an art piece, this is not the worst idea but I am pretty sure that is not her motivation.  In any case, I was quite curious how she would react to pouring dye onto fleece and to the general chaos of the whole endeavor, which is the high point for some of us more wasteful kinds of people.  Turns out she had no problem with color.  Witness above.  The brightest ones are her's.

This daytime work allowed me to put my Downton Abbey time to good use and spin up some of the painted fleece as quickly as possible so that she could take the yarn home with her.





I have two more skeins to go.  Fortunately, there are five more seasons to watch.






Saturday, July 09, 2016

Chase the Hace

Just minutes from the ferry (Wreckhouse)

Have I awakened from a dream or did I just fall asleep?  It feels like one or the other as it seems like I never left this beautiful place.  Yet, it's been a good, long while as evidenced by the amount of effort it has taken to get the house up and running again.  We are almost re-connected with the world (phone is still out) but, given what is going on out there in the world, being out of reach and out of touch might have its merits.  

For the past several days, the most important thing has been getting running water again and taking care of the wood that resulted from cutting down the apple tree in the front yard.  As far as the split pipes were concerned, our generous (and skilled) neighbor did some excellent plumbing work - for the price of a lemon meringue pie.  The apple tree is taking more time to manage as it was "very branchy" or so said another neighbor.  Lots of valuable firewood to be had but it is no small task.

This year, I was coming up alone for the first time ever.  In an act of brave spontaneity, my mother accepted my invitation to join me when I stopped by her place on the first leg of the journey.  I had an extra bunk on the ferry and she needed to get out of her senior housing while some complicated drainage projects were worked on.  A match made in heaven!  Pretty sure she was regretting her decision when we discovered the cracked pressure valves and such.  But things are quite civilized now, as I write this and drink my tea while looking out at the sparkling bay and deep green mountains, a pleasant breeze passing by.  My mother will return next week and then I will be alone.  It is exciting and a little scary.  But mostly exciting.

** Chase the Hace is a fundraiser that the next town over, McIver's is hosting.  It is really called Chase the Ace but in local parlance, it is pronounced Chase the Hace.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Until Next Time, Nashville!

There's more than one way to say good-bye!
One more module to go before we become certified yoga therapists!  Things are getting real.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Body is Willing

Hello.
It is hot in Nashville.  The temperature has been hovering the mid-90s since we arrived for the fifth of six modules of our yoga therapy training.  The training itself is heating up - we are past the halfway mark and the long days build towards a kind of energy that both sustains and exhausts.

At this point, we are spending a lot of time meeting with clients who volunteer to allow us to work with them, referred by the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Vanderbilt University.  We receive a very short description of the person - two or three sentences about who they are, their age and what their problem(s) are.  There has been a fair bit of debate about whether this information is helpful or gets in the way or totally useless.  Each day, three of us meet with our client while being observed by a faculty member and a group of about 6-8 other trainees.  It is a pretty unnatural situation but there really isn't any way around it as it is so useful to get the feedback that everyone offers and, as an observer, to be able to see the many ways that issues can be addressed.  There has been incredible synchronicity between the seemingly random assignment of client with student therapist - somehow most of us have been matched with people who are just right for us.

Yesterday was my day to meet my client for the first time.  It was an amazing experience and a challenging one.  If I had allowed myself to have any kind of expectations beforehand, I quickly tossed them out the window.  I had to be present with the person in front of me and all the theories about this or that tool or practice pretty much went out the window with the expectations.  But we had the most important thing - a real and immediate connection.  The whole experience was beautiful and I can only express deep gratitude to my client for coming in and sharing their story and life and letting me enter it, just a little.  We will meet again on Saturday for a follow-up.

After the client left and we debriefed as a small group and then with the whole group, I could feel a pain begin to rise in my left eyelid.  It is almost comical!  In the moment, I was (mostly) not stressed since my job was (relatively) clear.  Or so I thought.  After the fact, it is also clear that the added piece of being observed and having everyone in the group hear about and analyze my performance (hard to call it anything else) caused me more stress than I thought.

This morning, as my eyelid was about double its normal size, one of the faculty was discussing the role of breathing in our practice and our tradition.  She said that the body might be willing but the breath won't lie.  Meaning that we can force our bodies to do things that take it a little too far or override our sense of what is best for it but that pushing or overriding will always show up in the breath immediately.  It is a true barometer of what is really happening in our system.

I might add a little caveat that the body is willing - for a time - but the chickens will come home to roost eventually.  Perhaps, like many of the clients we have been seeing, the pushing and overriding has been happening so long and has been pushed so hard that the chickens are coming home in a big way that can no longer be ignored.  Or, perhaps like me, they show up immediately.  A little reminder that just because you can't see it or feel it in the moment, things are happening on subtle levels.  Indeed, it is this very fact that gives yoga therapy its power.  We don't know everything of what will happen or even exactly why.  It is lovely that scientists and researchers are starting to confirm what yoga has known for millennia but even with all that, there is still some mystery to it all.

And I say, thank goodness for that.  Swollen eyelid and all.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Everthing is Waiting For You


Everything is Waiting for You


Your great mistake is to act the drama

as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into

the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

  -- David Whyte

     ©2003 Many Rivers Press

Friday, June 17, 2016

Personally Speaking

A few months ago, I was telling my Zen teacher about how the new cat at the Monastery ran towards me and practically leapt into my arms.  He said, "Yeah, you almost want to take it personally."

Ouch!  Man, talk about hitting a girl where it hurts the most.

This is Tika, the Temple cat.  She sometimes leaps into my arms too.  So there!

I was recounting this story to a friend a couple of days ago, who also happens to be a Zen monk, and he said, "It's true.  We take everything so personally.  Like it's all about us!  Nothing is personal.  Not even our breath is personal!"

Not even our breath is personal.  Double ouch!

I know what he said is correct because I actually started to cry a little when he said it.  Still....

Not even our breath is personal.