Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Friday, 19 December 2014

Open Your Hearts, Part 3: I'm Looking Through You - Social Responsibility in Governments and Corporations

Google Public Domain Image

Over the years, there's been a shift in social perspective, away from the expectation that governments can and should provide for those who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances involving their health, employment or living situations. Corporations are given tax breaks while service costs are shifted onto the middle class and working poor. Despite all evidence to the contrary, there is an expectation that private resources will provide whatever is needed. There is often another undercurrent of belief running through this narrative - an assumption that the poor and the suffering must somehow have brought their circumstances upon themselves.

When our local governments hold Housing Summits in which they tackle homelessness by redefining the parameters of what constitutes affordable housing and claim success because there are or will be a handful of living spaces available for purchase under $150, 000, when American Walmart executives believe that it's perfectly acceptable to hold food drives for their own employees while refusing to pay living wages or provide benefits or decent working conditions, something is terribly wrong in the system.

In my last posts, I've written about ways in which each one of us can help others with small acts of kindness. Such individual acts do not absolve governments or corporations from social responsibility. Even if every person with means was able to provide for those less fortunate, our governments and the businesses which rely on the fruits of our labours have a duty to give back to the community.

Businesses exist to make profits. There's nothing wrong with that; it's what businesses do. When businesses and corporations claim status as citizens while mistreating employees and laying off people to add to already huge shareholder profits and executive bonuses, it's past time for some push back. Here's where our individual actions can come into play.

Corporations speak in dollars, so the advice to "Shop Local," and support small, personal, family run businesses is sound, but there is more that we can do. We can call out corporations who disguise advertising in the form of donations and we can insist that our governments fund the services we need, rather than hiring consultants to study problems yet again. We can pressure these institutions directly, in writing. We can lay out our cases to the media. We can protest on the ground. We can educate ourselves on the actual costs of corporate and government models for P3 partnerships and use that education to question those who provide us with statistics which don't ring true. We can continue to call for clean air, for clean water, for the preservation of our planet. We can demand that every being is respected, regardless of their gender, race, culture, spiritual beliefs or social circumstances. We can and we must let our voices be heard.

I believe that these three segments of society - individuals, government and business - bear responsibility for the support of the entire social system. When we shift the weight of social responsibility from one or two of these segments onto a single support, the entire system is in danger of collapsing. Balance requires cooperation among all three.

There is no new insight here. I am simply restating what has been discussed for decades, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't continue repeating the message. We may think that our voices will never be heard, but that's the nature of Karma Yoga. We do these things because they are necessary. While we hope that our words and our actions will bring positive results, it is our only reasoned, moral, conscious action that is required. At the very least, we can practice "Doing No Harm." It's a start.


Thursday, 18 December 2014

Open Your Hearts, Part 2: Just a Little Tenderness

We often think of charity or philanthropy as existing only in the big picture. Media call attention to the grand gesture - someone donates a large sum to a worthy cause or knits 4000 hats for the homeless and the press is right there. A corporation provides matching funds to a food bank drive and its logo is plastered all over the promotional material. Once in a while, someone runs a story of the small act of kindness, such as the recent story of a local man who bought a cup of coffee for someone suffering in the cold, but it's easy to form the impression that only acts of largesse are worthy of attention or have an effect. Direct acts of generosity are most often presented as exceptional, rather than things which all of us can do. We seldom consider that, if everyone did one small act of kindness every day, those efforts just might grow into something larger. Better yet, they may help us connect on a personal level.

Unlike big fundraisers, where those who donate may never personally cross paths with the people they are funding, personal acts of kindness always require engagement with the people they affect. Working in a soup kitchen means you see the effects of poverty and homelessness up close. Buying a coffee and a sandwich for a street person requires you to make the purchase and hand it to the recipient and, perhaps, engage in the exchange of a few pleasantries. The act of giving a $5 bill (the scene I witnessed yesterday) may mean that you have directly provided a meal for someone who desperately needs it.

It's not that we should abandon our larger charitable efforts. Food Banks need those sums of cash and food donations. Corporations should give back to those who provide company profits and to those who are not fortunate enough to reap the benefits of free enterprise. If you don't have those big things to give, never think that your heart-felt act of kindness has no effect. Every gesture counts in building the human connection.

As well as donating what extra cash we have on hand to worthy causes, we can begin to think outside those charity boxes. This past spring, young Ms. DD took a turn at helping to walk a homeless couple's dogs while the woman was in hospital and the husband wanted to sit with his wife while she healed. (That one made my heart sing. I'm one proud, proud mother. She'll not be happy I've told you about this, as she'd rather not be mentioned in my blog. I'm making an exception.) It takes little effort to tuck some chocolate or a granola bar into your bag and offer it to that person sitting on the street; knitters and crocheters can do the same with hats and scarves. Ask someone if he would like a meal, buy it and bring it to him. Not everyone wants your help, so always be prepared to accept the refusal of your offer with the same kindness with which it was given. If you can do nothing else, a warm greeting and a sincere smile as you pass by can do wonders in acknowledging the humanity that we all share.


Google Public Domain Images

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Open Your Hearts: A Brief Tale About a Different RAK

Image from Google Public Domain

There’s a shopping centre near my home. It’s a typical neighbourhood mall, with a gas station, restaurant, doctor’s office, grocery store and a liquor outlet. Every day I pass by or through it, there’s a line of men, always men, on the sidewalks outside. They ask for change or busk for coins. The days that I stop in the liquor outlet, there is often a line of some of these same men inside.  Like the rest of us, they’re buying what comfort and cheer they can afford, something to take the edge off or dull the experiences of their daily lives or simply to make the day seem a little bit better.

These buskers and beggars stand in the sun and the rain and the cold, day in and day out, never bothering people with more than a quick request, but they annoy many of us who would rather not be bothered with these people at all. We sometimes assume that there is something different, something better that these men could be doing with their time, that the money we give them will be wasted on drink or drugs or cigarettes. Such thoughts may not be charitable, but they’re human, a way to protect ourselves, to convince our egos that we would never be in such a position, asking for money in the streets and parking lots of a booming city.

This morning as I headed into the grocery store, I passed a young man at the entrance. His head hung down and his hand shook as he held out a stained paper coffee cup. He said nothing, made no eye contact, but in the time it took me to enter the store, several people muttered disapprovingly at his presence so close to the doors. One woman did something different; she tucked a five dollar bill into his cup. She smiled as the young man thanked her and blessed her and wished her a “Merry Christmas!” Then, she, too, carried on with her routine.

I either give or don’t give money to people.  I make an effort not to question what they might do with the few coins I drop into their cups. A gift is a gift and their spending choices are not my business, but, oh so very humanly, I sometimes catch myself assuming that whatever I hand them will soon find its way into the tills at those nearby liquor stores. This was my first thought when the woman gave her gift. I was instantly ashamed of that thought and worked at replacing it with a more generous hope for the young man and all like him as I bought the day’s groceries.

When I left with my purchases, the young man was nowhere to be seen.  It flashed across my mind that I knew where he had headed and then the thought was gone. As I walked towards home, I turned a corner and there he was, sitting on a bench, eating from a box full of chicken and chips. He’d used his money to buy food; the shaking I’d witnessed was likely from cold and hunger. My heart sunk a bit at the carelessness of my assumptions.

Just as I realized my error, the woman with the five dollar bill came past me. The young man recognized her and smiled. “Thank you,” he whispered. The woman said nothing; she simply bowed her head, smiling again as she nodded. In that moment, I was witness to the human connection we acknowledge every time we bow to each other in our yoga/meditation classes, as we chant “Namaste,” a connection we so often find difficult to put into practice as we go about our busy, busy lives. For an instant the open-hearted woman and the young man were One.

As I headed for home, my eyes began to water. It must have been from the cold and wind.


Sunday, 14 December 2014

Sanctuary: Random Acts of Knitting Sightings

A friend and I spotted these lovely things when we were out for walk today. Someone's been busy!

Sir John A. got into the act:


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Violette: A Last Minute Gift for You and Yours

The stockings are hung; the tree is beautifully decorated; the solstice log nestles in the fireplace, waiting to warm celebrants. Each handmade gift is finished and lovingly wrapped, ready to hand round to family and friends. You’re done your holiday gift-making! Congratulations.

Shortly before the Big Day, you remember that your niece is visiting from overseas. A last minute gift exchange name draw happens. Somehow, in all the rush, you managed to leave your sister off the shopping list. What on earth to do?

This simple headband knits up in about 3 to 4 hours and its retro style is sure to please any recipient. This version, with its vintage ceramic button, is decidedly feminine, but if you omit the button and the finishing trim, it will suit anyone. The stitch pattern resembles a tiny cable - it’s actually a member of the family of travelling stitches and is a great introduction to working stitches out of order. The twisted stitches make the band slightly thicker and warmer than traditional K2P2 rib stitch. Apart from the twisted stitches, the band is knitted in basic K2, P2 ribbing, so it is easy enough for an Advanced Beginner.

I knit this band in a firmly spun and plied hand spun Merino, with approximately 15 twists per inch in the singles, 5 in the 2 ply yarn. The angle of twist is 30 degrees; wraps per inch are approximately 17 to 18. This firm yarn is soft, but shows the twisted stitches nicely. Substitute any similar commercial or hand spun sport weight yarn of your choice.


Violette: The Pattern

Approximately 50 grams of sport weight yarn.  I used about 22 grams of a 100 metre/44 gram skein.

1 pair of 3 mm straight needles or size needed to match gauge.

Tapestry needle, scissors, and vintage button (optional).

Gauge: 8 sts per inch/2.5 cm. over twisted rib pattern before blocking.  (Multiple of 4 stitches + 2)

Size before blocking is approximately 2.75 inches/7 cm. wide x 18.5 inches/46 cm. long. The band blocks to about 4 inches/10 cm. but will draw in again when worn. You can widen the band by increasing in multiples of 4.

Right Twist: Knit into the front of the second knit stitch on left hand needle, knit into the first stitch on LH needle as usual, drop both stitches from LH needle after working.

Left Twist: Knit into the back of the second knit stitch on left hand needle, knit into the first stitch on LH needle as usual, drop both stitches from LH needle after working.

Cast on 22 stitches, leaving a long tail for sewing.

Row 1 (Right Side): K2, P2

Row 2 (Wrong Side): P2, K2

Repeat Rows 1 and 2 twice more for a total of 5 rows.

Row 7 (RS): *RT, P2*across row, ending with a RT

Rows 8 to 12: Work in rib pattern (as in Rows 1 and 2)

Row 13 (RS): *LT, P2* across row, ending with a LT

Rows 14 to 18: Work in rib pattern. There are 5 plain K2P2 rib rows between each pattern row.

Repeat from Row 7 to 18 until you are approximately 1 inch/2 cm. short of the required length when the band is stretched around your head (approximately 17 to 18 inches/42 to 44 cm.). You want the band to be snug around your ears and head. The band will relax after washing. End by working a pattern row.

Starting on the WS, work in pattern for 6 rows, binding off on Row 7 and leaving another long yarn tail after fastening off last stitch. Wash and block the band before sewing.

Using mattress stitch and one long end of yarn, stitch the Cast On and Bound Off edges of the band together from the right side, matching knits to knits and purls to purls. Secure yarn end.

Finishing for Violette: (You may omit this cinching.) Thread the tapestry needle with the other long end of yarn. Run this yarn through the tops of the knit stitches on both sides of the seam. Pull the yarn up firmly to cinch up the middle of the band. Secure yarn ends and sew on button.

For an even faster, more casual style, work the band on 14 to 18 stitches in a heavier yarn.

©Deborah Behm
December 2014

Friday, 28 November 2014

So Bad It's Good: Beginners' Mind and a Sense of Play

The wind is howling round. There's a heavy snowfall warning which is expected to last until tonight. The plans to walk over to the yoga studio for a noon hour class were put aside in favour of playing at home. I prepared a few small canvases and splashed around more acrylic paint. When I finished, the estimated 30 minutes of swinging brushes was actually over two hours of total absorption in the process of investigating acrylic paint. Time had become focused; hours vanished. This. This is what has been missing.

One of the art professors at our local arts centre used to say that painting with acrylics is like "painting with snot." (She taught acrylic painting classes.) Ugh. After a few days of mucking about with these plastic based paints, I'm beginning to see what she meant. Watercolours run and flow whether you want them to or not, a quality which means there's uncertainty about the process. Acrylic paints, even if you thin them to watercolour consistency, tend to stay put. Every mark you make stays as it is, so it matters which brushes you use and how you use them. It's difficult to work without a plan and some of us are not fond of plans. On the other hand, it's easy to cover an error or have a change of heart with acrylics because their opacity covers many flaws. These paintings have many flaws.

The point of painting is not to produce work that is good. The point of painting is to paint, just that and nothing more. My paintings are not unique or dramatic or thought-provoking. The subjects are common place. My lack of experience means I'll do poorly,which frees me to simply enjoy the process. It's working pretty well that way, so far. (My go-to failure used to be dancing. I was spectacularly bad at dancing, but I took classes, anyway, much to my teacher's confusion. I don't think I'll ever be as bad at anything as I was at dancing. One has to have limits.)

Years ago, another art teacher, the most difficult, challenging instructor I have ever had, refused to allow me into his Figure Drawing classes. I was more than a little pissed off at that and told him so, because when I decide to study a subject, I tend to research and explore that thing in depth, sometimes to obsession and I wanted into his classes to further that. His only response was, "Don't let me or anyone else tell you how to draw bodies." Other artist friends advised me not to go to art school because "it would suck the life out of me." I didn't understand what they were telling me and was hurt by their comments. Now, I suspect these artist teachers were helping me to recognize the importance of staying in Beginner's Mind and out of Knowing.

We've all heard that term, "Beginner's Mind." Yoga teachers, artists, teachers in general, tend to talk up the idea of Beginner's Mind, often at the same time they are pushing you/us to get better, to change, to improve. The drive to improve is not a bad thing; I'm very grateful for the many things which have been improving for me in the past few years, whether this happened by chance, circumstance or hard work.  At the same time, if we're always reaching for that next best thing, if we struggle to get past the beginning stage of anything, we'll miss Here, Right Now. That's too bad, because Here, Right Now is very interesting. Exploring the moment with an open, beginner's mind allows us to see that we're Special Nothings, being Nothing Special, Ambient Beings in a world full of universes. If we're absorbed in a practice of not knowing, that time we spend fully engaged will fly by and expand simultaneously, just as time expanded and stood still for me this morning. It's an exciting experience. We might as well enjoy it when and while we can.

If I could wield my tray of snotty plastic paints and paint the image of our Special Nothingness what a great work that would be. Or not. I'll never know. In honour of that practice and those teachers, I don't plan to do too much more research into acrylic painting, because I'm afraid I'll lose that edge, the sense of uncertainty which come with doing something unfamiliar. Sometimes, not good enough is just - good enough.


Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Painted Love: A Riff While Waiting for the Next One (For Matthew)

"It's not the job of the artist, the writer, the musician to play nice, be positive, make pretty or sing praises. She may do all those things or none, but the real job of the artist, the writer, the musician is to draw out those images, those words, those notes which tell a Truth. The job of the artist, the writer, the musician is to hold up the mirror and show the world what Is as she sees it."

I'm restless. Winter has swirled in with driving full force, dripping snow and dipping temperatures. I'm between teaching jobs and between tapestries. Truth be told, I never know if there's another paying gig or another piece of weaving in me - each last one feels like The Last One. I've tossed my net out into the Universe. Now, I wait.

There is a tapestry waiting for my attention. The loom is warped; the cartoon is in place. I've spun the yarns. I'm not ready to begin weaving, yet. This latest idea is intense and she's not pretty. She's inspired by my experiences with the Renew for Cancer classes I teach, but she refuses to play along with conventions about "fighting cancer," "being a warrior," and other ideas which have served out their time. She's personal and she may never see the light of day, although something keeps whispering, "Let her out."

Last night, on "Checkup Panel," on CBC National NewsDr. Danielle Martin called for an end to the "militarization" of cancer. She suggested that, instead of talking about "battling cancer," we begin to think of "living with cancer." The 3 medical experts on the panel presented thoughtful, realistic approaches to the treatment of cancer. They cited statistics and dispelled myths. They spoke truth to what I witness in every Renew class: many of us are not interested in fighting anything, especially not our own bodies. We'd much rather focus on healing, on learning to live with life as it is presented to us, whether that involves cancer or any other lesson which every one of us will encounter as we walk along our paths. We're tired of being told how to look, how to live and how to feel. We're looking for a way to just Be. It's this discussion to which the tapestry in waiting speaks. She won't be an easy weave, if she's woven at all.

When you're caught in a struggle, adjusting to the end of something and waiting for the birth of the next thing, it's easy to become frustrated. The rocks on your path may appear as one great, impenetrable wall, rather than individual challenges to be surmounted. When I've had enough of stillness, of waiting to discover whether I need to go over, around or through the rocks, I turn to other forms of creativity.

Today, it was painting. I chose acrylic painting, because I haven't a clue how to do it. (Google was my friend.) I had old tubes of paints, a few brushes and a number of small canvases tucked away for travelling. I hauled them out, cleared off my weaving table and played. I slopped paint, tossed water on my canvases, rubbed out spots with towels and made a mess. The result of an afternoon's work was two tiny paintings. They're nothing to champion, but that's what makes them important. They're pure play, unattached to outcome and I know this is the process that will eventually tell me how to proceed in my latest struggles.

Years ago I designated my fibre room off limits to negative thoughts and behaviours; it can be a challenge to stay with that, but it's an important rule to follow. Thoughts come and I allow them to flow, but I don't chase them. They aren't the way through the rocks. The way through the rocks is to release my usual perspectives, to shift my focus until a bit of light flashes through the cracks and shines the way to an opening for a clearer path. When that happens, I'll know how to proceed, whether it's with the new tapestry or new work.

If you're a creative being (and who among us isn't?) who finds herself in a crisis, personal or artistic, I suggest trying something you're not very good at doing, then do it. The way through a crisis is not to sit and weep at the wall of rocks. At least, it isn't for me. The way through that wall of rocks is to sit, wait and then use the rocks to build something new. Ugly, pretty, good, bad - the words are judgmental. The work itself is not. We're glorious messes of humanity. Go make a mess.


"Winter Light" 12.5 cm x 17.5 cm

"Galaxies" 7.5 cm x 7.5 cm