Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Sanctuary II: A Walk on the Wild Side

I tromped the park for an hour and a half yesterday, on a gorgeous, windy day.  The path I took was along the wild southern shore of the creek.  These are a few things I saw in the heat of the summer:

I am amazed by the beauty and wonder of the world.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Modern Times: Technology and Meditation Practice

I'm grateful for modern tools, especially when I have projects like this one:

That's 275 grams of a Corriedale batt, purchased at Fibre Week 2011, from Lynne Anderson of Knitopia.  The entire batt fit on the bobbin on my Majacraft Pioneer wheel.  I spun the heavy singles, more than 400 metres, in a few hours.  It would have been a few days' work for me had I used a spindle. 

I washed and dried the yarn on a PVC niddy noddy, something you'll try only once on a traditional wooden niddy noddy:

Although I am grateful for these things, I know that technology can overwhelm us, adding barriers to our experience of life.  If we always listen to our music players when we walk the park, we miss the joyful sounds of birds, children, traffic, reality.  It helps to strike a balance.  Sometimes, we just need to sit.

Here's the thing: in many meditation traditions, sitting on your meditation cushion, simply sitting, being there, is seen as the only way to meditate.  (Walking meditation is sometimes allowed as a secondary practice.)  In the words of Chogyam Trungpa:

It is a very interesting point that nobody has experienced that we can actually sit on a cushion without any purpose, none whatsoever.  It is outrageous.  Nobody would actually ever do that. . . .It's terrible-we would be wasting our time.
Now there's the point-wasting our time.  Maybe that's a good one, wasting our time.  Give time a rest.  Let it be wasted.  Create virgin time, uncontaminated time, time that hasn't been hassled by aggression, passion and speed.  Let us create pure time.  Sit and create pure time.
(The Path is the Goal, p. 9)

(Note: Chogyam Trungpa's life and teachings are interesting, to say the least.  Sometimes we have to separate the words from the speaker!)

Sitting in meditation is a wonderful thing.  It requires nothing more than a space, a cushion, time and you.  So simple-not so easy.

Here's the other thing: this notion of just sitting is foreign to our Western minds (and bodies).  Sometimes, the strangeness of it all leaves us unable to settle enough to find a beginning to our practice.  We need to get ourselves to a studio, to focus on an object, to be mindful of something, at least at first.  We need a support or supports.  Once we steady ourselves, the supports can fall away.  Until then, technology has some handy tools to guide us, in the form of iPod applications.  The apps I use are free, through iTunes and are loaded on my iPod Touch.  They come with a minimum (or no) advertising.

First up is zazen lite.  This app has a simple timer, with a meditation bowl sound (2 choices) to mark the beginning and end of a session.  There is the option of adding a mindfulness bell tone at intervals from 1 to 60 minutes during a session.  (You have to hit "Okay" after the tone, which is annoying.  Sometimes the mindfulness tone gets "stuck," and can only be fixed by ending the session.  Also annoying.)  I've not had problems timing a session or using the mindfulness bell on its own.  For me, this app is a better option than setting a regular alarm or kitchen timer.

The most helpful meditation app I've used is pranayama lite.  Pranayama is breath work; I find it difficult to maintain a regular rhythm without guidance.  This app allows you to follow the breath in various rhythms and patterns.  It has brief, clear instructions, settings for time, a beginner's level with 2 breath patterns and 5 levels of breath timing on each level and includes an automatic log which records each of your sessions.

There is also Insight Timer Lite, another meditation timer app and pocket Meditation Retreat, which has cute graphics and sounds, but which I haven't found helpful.

Although not meditation apps, I also use the free metronome app for my "Heart Like a Wheel" meditation, along with Buddha Board, which works in the same way as a physical Buddha Board does.

Test these tools for yourself.  Let them guide you, but don't allow them to become another set of objects blocking your path.  Use them sparingly.

Then go outside for a walk.  Or sit and just breathe:

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Sunday Morning Coming Down

A customer came into the LYS last week with a lovely scarf.  Several of us wanted to make this object of great beauty, the Intermezzo Scarf, found here.  My problem?  I am not a crocheter.  I admire crochet; I can manoeuvre a hook well enough to trim something.  Hey, I even managed to crochet several hats as Christmas gifts last year, after Mr. DD admired a simple crocheted cap in my presence.  The recipients love me, so they kindly wore the hats, mistakes and all, through the winter.  But that's the extent of my hooking skills.

On top of that, the pattern includes terms like treble crochet and half treble and specifies that one should follow UK terminology.  This set off a debate among the crocheting customers as to the precise number of wraps, chains, etc. one should use when making this scarf.  I was confused.

No matter: armed with the pattern, a size 3 mm hook and a ball of Crazy Zauberball from my stash, I set out on my great crocheting adventure.  So far, the scarf looks like this, which I think is basically correct, although I suspect I haven't done the turning chains properly as the sides seem a bit tight:

I'm consistent, anyway, and will continue along in my learning experiment.  I am learning a number of things, such as I can't read crocheted fabric the way I read knitted cloth, so I'm having trouble spotting problems as I crochet.  I don't seem to get the hang of tensioning my yarn, which makes for uneven shells.  I have to count each stitch. Most importantly, I'm learning that working on this piece keeps me in the moment completely.  If I drift off for a few seconds, I've lost track of my row and my stitches and out comes the work.  It's a vigorous meditation exercise and tiring enough that I have to take a break after about 2 repeats of the pattern.

Today is the finale of the Tour de Fleece 2011.  My contribution this year was a bit skimpy, consisting of 2 skeins of alpaca, a skein of linen/silk/cotton, a tiny skein of chain-plied silk and camel, various odds and ends of spinning I did while teaching, including the yellow alpaca shown on the simple spindle in this photograph:

On a much sadder note, Amy Winehouse died yesterday.  I loved her music.  Her voice was powerful, husky and emotive; her lyrics came from the raw experience of her life.  She touched my heart-I'm sorry she had to leave the planet.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Dog Day Afternoon

It's been another scorching hot day today.  I've set another dyepot and plan to set one for tomorrow, but I thought this would be far more entertaining:

Say "Sprinkler!" to the boy and he runs to the side of the house, waiting for Mr. DD to attach the hose.

If I hadn't been shooting the video, I think I might have joined Morris.  For now, I think I'll just stay in the shade.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Heat Wave!

It may not be hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement today, but I can assure you that it's hot enough to exhaust a dye pot.  This morning, I set out this pot of alpaca, hot water and vinegar, added some Greener Shades dyes and left the whole thing on the barbeque, sans any heat except the sun:

I had to use a pot holder to remove the lid; the dye liquid is clear and those bits of dyed fibre on the ground have been washed with soap and well rinsed, with no dye run off.  I might as well take advantage of the heat while I can.

While I was waiting on the pot, I finished my current Meditation Wrap.  This one is knitted from handspun alpaca which was plied with a commercial lace weight alpaca, then overdyed in the yarn.  The buttons were in my stash and I think they work well on this piece.  They resemble the movement of clock hands and remind me of changes and the passage of time:

Yes, I photographed the thing draped over the dye pot.  It's just too hot to even attempt a proper shoot.  (It's probably too hot to be knitting and finishing alpaca, but, oh well. . . .)

I seem to be stuck in a 123 meditation rhythm.  Every meditation wrap I've made lately has ended up being 48 inches long or 1.23 metres.  That seems to be the amount of yarn I can stand to spin and ply before I lose focus and move to something else.  Such short pieces call for some creative draping to make them wearable.

I didn't get any Tour de Fleece 2011 spinning done today, because I was also preparing for my workshops.  Then again, I tested every one of the 25 spindles I made, so I was spinning something.  This is the first box of spindles and fibre:

The rest of the spindles are waiting for the glue to dry before I pack them.  123 again: assemble, test, glue.  The spindles are crude, made from toy wheels and yoyo's, in which Mr. DD kindly drilled centre holes for me.  There is a shortage of quality wooden wheels around here and the spindles are rough and rather lighter in weight than I'd like.  Some sanding, oil or paint will personalize them, but I'll leave that up to my students.  If Peruvian spinners and other spinners around the globe can work with whittled sticks and wonky whorls, I'm sure my class will be able to coax yarn from these basic tools.

The day has been good, despite the heat.  I've accomplished much; perhaps I'll spend the evening with a cold drink, a good book and, ah yes, a spindle and a bit of fibre.


Saturday, 16 July 2011

Changes Redux: A Meditation on Fibre Preparation

After a long afternoon and evening of washing and rinsing fleece, things are looking much better:

The alpaca is almost clean, and a run through a rainbow dye bath improved a large portion of the fibres:

Washing fibre is hard work, especially when practiced over steaming buckets of water.  Even after washing, most fibre isn't ready to spin: we must decide to tease, flick, card or comb it.  After that comes the spinning and then the making of the yarn into whatever object it must become.  There are many small steps required to gain the finished product.

I'm sure our ancestors would be amazed, if not shocked, that we now do this work for pleasure.  In the days of spinning as necessity, there may have been pride and pleasure taken in the making of string and cloth, but the output required to fulfill family and community needs would have required constant back-breaking labour.  Anthrax, tetanus and other diseases for which there were no treatment posed further risks to the fibre worker.  Fibre preparation was work, part of daily life and not necessarily a time for reflection on the wonder of our capabilities.  (For many people, fibre work as necessity still holds true, but this is not likely to be so in the western world.)

I marvel at the changes time brings. Now, preparing fibre to spin allows me the opportunity to slow life's pace, to appreciate the efforts of everyone before me who held a bit of fibre in her hands and coaxed yarn and cloth out of fleece, plants or insects, who understood, in her bones, that with changes, come great possibilities.

Then again, this may just be the wine talking.  One never knows.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Summer in the City

You know the saying, "My eyes are bigger than my stomach."?  Some days I'm sure that my eyes are bigger than my eyes.  These arrived yesterday, part of a book order that I hope to work through before summer ends:

That's a fair bit of reading on its own, but what really has my attention is this:

It's the new release by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius.  The book has been out for a couple of months and I've been anxious to see it.  I am not disappointed; this picks up where In Sheep's Clothing leaves off. 

I expect The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook to become a fibre worker's classic.  The book is packed with information, including breed history, fleece characteristics, samples spun, knitted and woven.  Turn to any page and you're likely to find something you didn't know, such as, in my case, the definition of "landrace."  It's nicely laid out and beautifully photographed.  Here's a sample of the entry for Blue Faced Leicester:

If you have an interest in protein fibres (silk isn't covered here), buy this book.  You won't regret it.  In addition to the wonderful contents, it will give you a work out-the book weighs a whopping 1.8 kilos/4 pounds!

Morris and Mr. DD headed out to the farm this morning, so I'm taking advantage of their absence and the summer heat to wash Romney and alpaca fleece.  Fibre preparation drives both of them around the bend.  I must admit, the smell wafting off the filthy alpaca is rather pungent:

I need to get this done-I have spindle spinning workshops (see page 14) to teach over the next four weeks and it's a bit much to ask beginners to work with dirty fibres:

I plan to finish another meditation wrap today, this one of hand spun alpaca plied with a commercial lace weight alpaca and over dyed red.  It's warm work for +30C, but I've been sitting on the front step in the shade, knitting away and watching the world move along.

There is also my Tour de Fleece 2011 yarn to consider.  Progress is slow, but I plied my linen/silk/cotton blend and I'm pleased with the texture.  It's a strange, crunchy yarn; I'm waiting for it to tell me what it wants to be:

 I'll end the evening with a glass of wine and some pleasant chatter with Mr. DD.  I chatter, he listens or pretends to listen, which is just fine.  Dragonflies the size of small birds hover across the back yard and there are plenty of brown bats this year, so perhaps this will help with mosquito control.  There's a full moon to enjoy on what promises to be a clear, hot evening.

Summers are short here, so it's important to appreciate what we can.  It's the ordinary beauty in simple, small things that bring me the most joy.  Summer in the city-warm, breezy, bustling with life.  Perfect.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Russians are Coming: Things of Great Beauty

I wandered into the LYS yesterday before my yoga class.  Somehow, this gorgeous spindle found its way into my bag:

It's a brass-tipped IST Russian spindle in purpleheart wood.  It's sitting on a Jim Leslie bowl I bought at Fibre Week 2011.  I'm spinning a cashmere and silk roving that Carole gave me last year.  Above the spindle are, left to right, a Jenkins spindle bowl and two lovely Tabachek bowls, my favourites.  All my efforts don't seem to have any effect on my acquisitive nature, at least as far as spinning tools are concerned.

Russian spindles are wonderful meditation tools.  They're not my favourite style of spindle and I don't use them much.  This means that I must give full attention to my spinning when I work with the Russians.  This one requires a careful finger flick just below the spindle top to get any spin at all.  It doesn't seem to like temporary cops. It behaves differently, depending upon which bowl I use.  When the spindle sits in the Tabacheks, I must keep it upright.  If I don't, the spindle either stops or flies out of the bowl.  I have to tilt the spindle slightly when I'm using the Jenkins.  The spindle will not stay in the Jim Leslie bowl, which has an ebony centre, unless the Russian is tilted at a +45 degree angle towards my body.  I'm not used to using a support spindle at such an angle, but it's proving to be surprisingly comfortable when I sit on the floor and draft the fibres. 

Spinning moves in meditative flow: my left hand draws back with a gentle touch.  Too much pressure and the fibres lock up, impeding my progress. There is no grasping here.  I can only guide the roving on its journey.  If I lose my focus, the yarn becomes too thin. My right hand seeks the perfect spot on the spindle shaft, twirling the spindle in search of the correct amount twist to hold the fresh yarn together, then adding more twist to finish without snapping the string.  Back and forth I go, drafting, twisting, winding on to build the perfect cop which keeps everything in balance. 

I have no plans for the yarn.  It's part of my resolution to use stash fibres in the Tour de Fleece 2011.

Then there's this stuff:

I'm spinning this for the Tour de Fleece and I'm using long draw, but that's where similarities between this and the spindle fibre end.  This fibre is ages old, a linen/silk mix intended for blending.  I decided to use it as is, for one ply of a future art yarn.  I have to pay attention here, too.  If I switch drafting techniques, the fibre sticks and spinning comes to a halt or the yarn snaps.  Using long draw produces a lot of texture which will work for an art yarn, provided I've inserted sufficient twist.  The jury is still out on that.

Mickey watches over all, from his perch on the kitchen table:

No, he shouldn't be there, but he's old and has always been stubborn.  He is what he is and does what he does.  His nickname isn't "Buddha" for nothing.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Happy Birthday, Morris!

No fibre content today-I'm still working on my Tour de Fleece fibres.  Just a big "Happy Birthday!" to Morris, bull terrier extraordinaire, clown dog, and on some days, Evil Incarnate.  Morris is five years old today and a handsome devil he is:

Monday, 4 July 2011

Alive: Navigating an Obstacle Course

It hit 32 degrees Celsius here yesterday, blazing hot for us.  We walked Morris for half an hour, but the pavement was so hot that he was lifting his feet.  Stubborn bully that he is, he refuses to walk on the much cooler grass.  Home we went, and it was a good thing, too, because shortly after our return, we had a thunderstorm.  During that, some near golf ball sized hail fell.  Had they made contact, those would have hurt, notwithstanding Morris's cement block head. 

Bull terriers tend to ignore situations which don't suit them, so Morris's solution to the discomfort of the heat and humidity is to mope on his wool blanket and illustrate the term, "hang dog:"

I spent most of the day spinning for the Tour de Fleece.  I've finished about 150 grams of black alpaca and alpaca/silk roving I bought from Sharon at Golden Willow several years ago:

There are three batches of roving, each one slightly different than the others.  It's been a while since I spun alpaca roving.  It's beautiful, but it has its challenges.  Alpaca is slippery.  It will slide apart if you don't add sufficient twist, but there is a fine line between under twisting and turning the gorgeous fibre into wire with too much twist.  If you approach alpaca spinning as you do wool spinning, you can find yourself in a spot of trouble quite quickly.  Your knowledge of wool can be an obstacle when you sit down to deal with alpaca.

I spun to the rhythm of Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, specifically, the album Ten, which contains  powerful songs with masterful lyrics.  Vedder is a poet who has built beauty from horror.  Listen carefully to Alive, Jeremy and Release.  Eddie knows a thing or two about abuse, neglect and abandonment.  He knows the consequences, but he has learned to manage the troubles in life. He's used those obstacles to change and grow.

As I felt the beat of the music and the movement of my spinning wheel, I reflected on how best to learn from difficult circumstances we face in our work and our relationships.  We have choices with the obstacles in our paths.  We can remain behind them, stuck where we are, spinning our wheels in one place because we don't know how to change.  We can stand beside them, letting the obstacles dictate where we go and how we act.  We can go around them, or if need be, we can break right through them, expanding our wisdom and feeling our strength build as we move on to the next challenge.

Learning to learn from challenges applies whether we are spinning, dealing with a crisis or simply navigating a hot, sticky path on a scorching summer's day.  Now, if I could only convince a certain stubborn someone of that!

Friday, 1 July 2011

I Will Remember You

We returned home from Olds last night, tired but happy.  It was a great week.  I'm still unpacking and sorting, but I'll give you a photo exhibit of some of the action.  We were at this beautiful campus, with flora:

and fauna:

There was knitting:

and weaving:

and spinning, of course.  Lots and lots of spinning:

There was the Saskatchewan contingent at the Spin In:

Some of us were very young:

We could buy a lot of stuff:

There was a Fashion Show with beautiful hand spun, hand knitted lace wedding ring shawls:

and wonderful art pieces:

I worked on my bat cape.  Here, the bats are nearly out of the belfry:

They finally made it, so Judi Dixon took this picture:

We had a wonderful time.  Thanks to all the kind souls who came to the spinning meditation workshops and allowed me the honour of practicing with them.  I'll post more on Fibre Week later, but now, I'm off for a good, long sleep.