Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Get Over Your Self: Some Thoughts on Avoiding Trouble in Yoga

Scandals are rocking the yoga world these days.  Bikram Choudhury stares at us from the cover of Vanity Fair magazine; he faces five rape charges, directly related to his practice, among other accusations of corruption, deceit and appalling behaviour.  Colin posted a link to a commentary on the scandal, this one by Carol Horton.  In it, Horton writes of her reaction to the Bikram mess-among other things, she began to doubt her asana practice and wondered if, instead, she should take up a practice of "sitting meditation combined with some alternative physical workout."

That statement caught my attention.  Although Horton makes many good points in her article, she misses the mark here, because meditation is no guarantee of escaping the dark side of yoga practice.  In a full yoga practice, meditation and asana are linked, two sides of the same coin.  If you think meditation will save you from bad behaviour, I am here to tell you that it will not.  Meditation practice can help bring more clarity to your actions, help you to remain present in the moment, to act rather than react.  What it won't do is magically shift lifetime habits into new, "better" behaviours.  That, my dears, is up to each one of us and it requires long, difficult, devoted practice, conscious effort and a desire to change. Meditation is one way to change, but I promise, it will not protect you from ugliness, in the yoga world or elsewhere.

Yoga and meditation focus on the Self/self.  We use our bodies to move into poses which challenge us and focus our attention.  Meditation works in similar fashion.  Meditation can shift our bodies into physical stillness (and don't forget that asana can and should be used as meditation practice) and allow our minds to settle.  Both practices move us inward, which is simultaneously a blessing and a danger.  Although, ideally, we can use our practice to move outward into the world, and to develop empathy and compassion for all beings, our current culture promotes self-indulgence, something yoga/meditation practice can feed if we mistake our self (this human form and mind) for the larger Self, whatever that may mean to you.  

You see it everywhere: endless "selfies" of yoga practitioners doing complex poses, yogis posting pictures of the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the mats they use for practice. While I don't believe that posting a few photos now and again does any harm-who doesn't want to celebrate a first or a well-aligned headstand or tell someone of a potentially helpful discovery?-getting into the habit of snapping pictures every time one stands in Tadasana can lead to the kind of thinking that will get us into trouble.  If you start to believe that your asana or other habits are important to the larger world, it's very easy to move into the mindset of "It is all about Me!" That's a dangerous path; no good can come of it.  Sooner or later, it won't be about Me and that fall off the mountain to the valley is a tough one.

One way to avoid sliding into self-indulgence in our practice is to throw a bit of karma yoga into the mix.  Move your mind and your practice outward.  Do a little good in the world. Don't just give to charitable organizations (although that's a good idea); personalize your action. Give that street person the money she asks for; give her a little more than you think is reasonable and do it without judgement or assumptions as to how she might use it. Do a small favour for a friend or a stranger.  Shovel a sidewalk, just because it needs shovelling. Knit a few extra hats and pairs of mittens and give them away, without wondering whether your gift is appreciated or scorned. Start with one small thing per day-pick up a piece of trash in the park and carry it until you find a bin.  If that's all you do, you are still making a difference.

Do good things just because and do them quietly, without fuss, without drawing attention to the deed.  As soon as you publicize a good deed it moves into self promotion.  We all like to be acknowledged for a job well done; remaining quiet about your actions is the hardest part of karma practice and the most important component of it. (Trust me, I am the living example of the difficulty in remaining quiet about anything!) What you may discover is that, like everything else, the more you practice karma yoga, the easier it becomes.  

Now is the perfect time to spice up your practice with karma yoga.  The Winter Solstice and our practice of welcoming back the slow return of the Light is the season for new beginnings.  We acknowledge that by giving more to others, by making New Year's resolutions.  Resolve to bring some Karma/Action into your yoga.  Start today and keep going.  You may discover that it's good for what ails you.  If it's good for us, it just might be a small part of the remedy for what ails the larger yoga world.

Happy Holidays to Family, Friends, All My Fellow Yoga Practitioners, Fibre Artists and Sentient Beings.  May you be happy.  May you be well.


Thursday, 19 December 2013

You Can Leave Your Hat On: A Last Minute Hat to Crochet and My Gift Pattern to You

I finished my holiday knitting earlier in the week.  Once the planned items are complete, it's become a tradition for me to crochet a few hats to have on hand for the inevitable unexpected gift giving.  I began making these hats a few years ago when Mr. DD, who never suited any of the hats I knit, admired a crocheted cap that was kicking around the house. (Of course he did-my crocheting skills are rudimentary, to put it mildly.)  Since he is a kind man and someone I wish to keep around, while I maintain my reputation as someone without fear of string, I decided to duplicate the simple hat he so admired.

I began by following several patterns by various skilled designers, but true to form, I could never make them work to suit me. This was not a problem with the patterns; rather, the issues are my unusual crocheting style-I have been told several times that I "crochet wrong."-my inability to get correct gauge using anything approaching recommended hook sizes and my stubborn distaste for following anyone else's directions, no matter how reasonable this might be.  Eventually, I sorted out my own pattern, which I give to you here, as my holiday gift.  It's written true to my fashion; that is, directions and recommendations are sparse, because I agree with Elizabeth Zimmerman's decree that we are all capable of being "thinking knitters," or in this case, "thinking crocheters." Although I designed and tested this specific pattern, I owe much to many, many crochet designers who have built better patterns before this one.

The basic hat is quick to crochet.  I can make one in a few hours and have it fulled and dried by suppertime, ready to wrap.  With all that spare time you have between now and next week, you can easily knock off a few of these.  (You're welcome!)

I have to carefully count the increase rounds; however, the rhythm of the stitches is established quite quickly and once you are past the increases, this is a rather mindless project, good for carrying to fibre nights and working while sipping wine.  Make it your own-change colours, work it in thick yarns, thin yarns, novelty yarns, whatever your heart desires. (Make them in a soft, organic cotton yarn and they are perfect "chemo caps.")


You Can Leave Your Hat On: A Last Minute Gift Pattern

This is a crocheted top down hat, worked in the round, and is easy enough for the beginner crocheter to work.  The circumference and length is adjustable, simply by increasing the number of increase rounds for the hat body and the total number of rounds worked.  Try it on as you go; I prefer to make my hats slightly larger than required and then full them in the washing machine to fit.  If you plan to full them, be sure your yarn is 100% wool or similar natural fibre such as alpaca and be sure to do a test swatch to determine shrinkage.

Yarn:  Any worsted weight wool yarn which will give you an approximate gauge of 4 Single Crochet (SC) stitches per inch, although the pattern will adapt to any yarn—just change your hook and the number of increase rounds accordingly.  Depending on the size and length required, each hat uses at least 1—100 gram skein; buy sufficient yarn in the same dyelot to ensure success.

Hook:  Hook size will depend on your yarn.  I crochet loosely, so I use an average size of 4.00 mm.  The hat shown was crocheted from a gift yarn, 100% wool yarn, brand unknown.  I have made this hat in Noro Kureyon, Brown Sheep Wool and Shepherd’s Pride Wool yarns; follow the suggested hook size for your chosen yarn.

Gauge:  Approximately 4 SC per inch.  The more closely you work the stitches, the warmer the hat, but the more difficult it will be to full.

Size:  Adjustable, depending on yarn and hook size.  78 stitches will give you a Women’s Small;  84 stitches will give you a Women’s Medium/Men’s Small; 90 stitches will give you a Large size hat, perfect for fulling.

You will also need one safety pin marker to mark the beginning of your rounds, one blunt tapestry needle for darning in ends and scissors to trim ends.

Hat Body:  Make a slip knot and chain 2.
Round 1: SC 6 times in 2nd chain from hook (6 stitches).
Round 2:  SC twice in each st (12).  Place a marker at the beginning of your round and move it as your fabric grows.
Round 3: *SC twice in next st, SCin next st.  Repeat from * 5 times (18).
Round 4: *SC twice in next st, SC in each of next 2 sts.  Repeat from *5 times (24).
Round 5: *SC twice in next st, SC in each of next 3 sts.  Repeat from *5 times (30).
Round 6: *SC twice in next st, SC in each of next 4 sts.  Repeat from *5 times (36).
Round 7:  *SC twice in next st, SC in each of next 5 sts.  Repeat from *5 times (42).
Round 8:  *SC twice in next st, SC in each of next 6 sts.  Repeat from *5 times (48).
Round 9:  *SC twice in next st, SC in each of next 7 sts.   Repeat from *5 times (54).
Round 10:  *SC twice in next st, SC in each of next 8 sts.  Repeat from *5 times (60).

Because you are an intelligent crocheter, you will see how the increases work: for each required increase round, work one more stitch between each (SC twice).  Every increase round will add another 6 stitches; continue until you have reached the desired circumference of your hat.  How do you determine this?  Try it on, of course.

Once you have completed your increase rounds, continue working one SC in every stitch of the previous round until your hat is the required length (approximately 11 inches in the hat shown, allowing for a double fold up brim).  Break your yarn, fasten off the remaining stitch and darn in all yarn ends.  If you’re a brave beginner, you can finish your hat with a round of Crab Stitch.  I leave it to you to look up instructions for that trim. 

Handwash your hat in hot water and a no rinse wool wash product.  Roll the hat in a towel to remove excess moisture and dry flat, blocking to shape.  If you own a Styrofoam head form or a bowl of the appropriate hat size, let your hat dry over that; it will look more professional. 

I full my hats in a hot/cold cycle in my top loading washing machine.  I then run it through my dryer for a few minutes before placing the hat on a form and allowing the hat to dry completely.  The length of your fulling cycle and drying times will depend on your washing machine and dryer.  Please do a test fulling with a swatch made from your yarn to ensure success.

© Deborah Behm
December, 2013

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Well, Lookee Here: A Pleasant Surprise on a Wintery Day

I'm on my way to fame.  Well, one of my sweaters is on its way or will at least have its fifteen minutes, which is close enough.  This photo of a sweater I spun and knit from Sally Fox's organic cotton rovings, many years ago, is featured in the latest issue of SpinOff magazine.  Kate Larson, knitter extraordinaire and author of this article on Sally Fox and her cottons, contacted me recently about the sweater, which she had seen on line while researching her article.  Apparently, I was among the earliest crop of hand spinners to work with Sally's cottons.  Kate asked if I would please send the sweater to the US for a photo shoot and, of course, I said, "Yes!"

Long before "organic" became a current buzzword, Sally Fox was on the cutting edge of re-introducing naturally coloured cottons to the world. (Actually, she is the cutting edge!) Despite being harassed and driven out of business by industrial growers of white cotton, which requires enormous quantities of water and pesticides to grow, Sally has persevered over many decades to ensure that these beautiful fibres remain available to us.  It is an honour to be mentioned in any article about this amazing pioneer.  (Read more about Fox Fibre here.)


Friday, 6 December 2013

Woolly Bully: Why I Love Working with the Wool

Simply put: because I can knit something that looks like this:

And transform them into these:

These are my test pair of felted clogs.  I could probably count on one hand the number of times I've used someone else's patterns, but sometimes, another knitter's patterns are so beautifully designed, so masterfully written, that I'd be foolish to attempt to reinvent the wheel.  This Fiber Trends pattern is one such masterpiece.  It's simple to knit, but requires the knitter's full attention to track the rows.  The felting process is a leap of faith; you may knit for Women's Size Medium, exactly as planned, but there's no guarantee that you'll get there.  This pair required four trips through the washing machine with various additives, etc. before it felted close to the size I require.  Test #2 is on the needles.

That's another thing about knitting: even though I used someone else's pattern and the recommended commercial wool yarn, I'm able to customize the blank slippers to produce something unique.  (In this case, I embroidered random stitches using my handspun yarns.) There is exactly one pair of these slippers in the world.  All it took to get there was yarn, needles, basic knit and purl, hot water and soap and a bit of improvisation.  What more could I ask?


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Talk, Talk: A Scattered Post About Nothing in Particular

The festivities in this city around Grey Cup are winding down and I'm preparing for another adventure, so my thoughts are a bit unfocused at the moment.  Rather than attempting to bend my mind to my will, I've decided to go with whatever comes my way, although I've tried a few tricks to keep things in check, including scrubbing the house from top to bottom and knitting, knitting, knitting.

The themes of the week at the yoga studio are gratitude, symmetry and feet; in honour of that, I gave myself a pedicure this morning and finished the third set of Sarah's Soxy Legwarmers. They fit the theme quite nicely-two to a set, more or less the same (perfect symmetry is not necessarily the goal), they're for the feet and I'm grateful to have them done:

One of these pairs is for me, although I'm not sure which one.  I gave away all the other sets and now the yarn I favour for knitting these, Noro Bonbori, has been discontinued and is difficult to find. It's time to find a substitute.

The past week, we had lows of -25C to -30C, which felt much colder with the windchill.  In typical prairie fashion, the weather warmed to 3C on Sunday, but it's back down to -12C today, with a windchill of -20C, which is colder than normal, even for us.  This means that it's officially Excellent Winter Knitting Weather and the push is on to get busy with those intended holiday gifts.

Others cope with the cold differently.  Morris loves to play in the snow.  He insists on helping Mr. DD with the shovel, by chasing it, biting at it and jumping through the snow piles. What Morrie does not like is walking in cold weather.  Soon after his arrival at our home, some seven years ago, he informed us in no uncertain terms that he is far too dignified a dog to be caught out in public wearing boots and a coat.  As a result of this declaration, he spends much of his winter curled up on his couch, exploring new and decorative ways to burrow into his cozy blanket:

Morris, the Invisible!

He's convinced that we can't see him.  If there's any shake, rattle or possibility of food, he performs a modern miracle and reappears from his den:

He makes me laugh.  I'm grateful for that and for all things that come to me as I walk this planet.  I'm off on a new journey for the next few days. I hope to be back posting soon.  Until then, take care.


Monday, 18 November 2013

How to Change a Life: The Pain of Human Experience

I've spent the past five days in a workshop on pain and pain management, given by Neil Pearson, a yoga therapist based in Penticton, B.C.  Neil's insights and approaches to pain are life changing, not only in terms of what he teaches about pain, but how his message applies to every aspect of the human experience.

The brain's systems are complex pathways of information in which all experience is translated into messages for various systems in the body. The systems are integrated; everything that happens in the body affects the pathways and messages sent to and by the brain back into the system.  How we interpret and react to those messages trains the entire system, breath, body, brain, mind and spirit.

In the case of pain, we believe that the degree of pain is an indicator of the severity of a problem in the body, which is simply not true-Neil's example was a paper cut, a relatively harmless injury which can produce fairly severe amounts of pain. (Pain is actually one of the warning systems used to protect us.)  If we react to pain in non-productive ways, we can train the brain to increase the signals to our bodies and intensify the pain, extending it out to other places in the body.  We can also train the brain to numb the body so that we are no longer able to correctly interpret the data we need to live our lives fully.  (Think of "checking out.")  "Pain is pain" for the brain; it doesn't matter to the system whether the initial reaction came from physical or emotional experience.  Physical pain is always attached to emotion.  Emotional experiences can cause physical pain.

All of this is good news, because the brain is so adaptable.  The brain loves to learn; if we find the ways we need to teach ourselves to manage our human condition, whatever that may be now, we open ourselves up to rich, productive experiences with a potential for joy, no matter what is happening in our physical or emotional bodies.

This workshop was just the tip of the iceberg for me in terms of understanding and managing pain, which, of course, is part of the human condition-we all have pain.  I won't begin to advise how to manage that pain. For that, you need to head over to Neil's website, Life is Now. What I will ask you to consider how we can begin to approach pain differently. In Neil's words, we need:

  • Planning
  • Practice
  • Persistence
  • Patience

If you're a knitter, or a spinner, or a weaver, or you'd like to be, you know that the first thing you need to do in order to learn something new is to recognize that you want to learn something new.  In other words, we need to acknowledge that we want to learn to knit before we can learn to knit.  After that, we need some sort of plan to learn that new skill-perhaps we buy a stitch dictionary, sign up for a class, gather some yarn and needles. Once we've done that, we can proceed to practise casting on, forming the knit stitch, combining it with the purl stitch, finding just the right combination of knits and purls to give us the pattern we want.  We will have many false starts.  We will discover that what worked for someone else does not work for us.  If we are determined to learn to knit, we will keep practising, persisting in our efforts to learn what best suits us.  This takes time and patience, but we know that, in the long run, the combination of all these things will give us new skills which not only allow us to follow basic knitting techniques, but also provide us with opportunities to extend those new skills into more complex experiences, such as learning to knit garments, or using knitting as an art medium. 

How we adapt in one area will teach us methods for adapting in other aspects of our lives, which is why I find fibre arts so effective in building a meditation practice or in calming the breath, body, mind and spirit.  If you have learned to knit or spin, you quite literally have at hand the skills you need to manage other aspects of your life, including pain.  

As Neil says, "Pain is a troublesome human experience, much like love," and much like love, we need to learn not only how to manage it, but also how to listen to what it can teach us.


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

ABC/Poetry in Motion: Building a Practice

Yoga teacher training this weekend was all about the alphabet.  Saturday focused on anatomy, the foundation of sound, safe asana practice.  (I missed the session, for reasons which couldn't be avoided; sometimes the body will not do what the mind wants.)  On Sunday, we turned our attention to sequencing poses and began working on pranayama.  

Understanding anatomy in yoga is similar to learning the basic stitches in knitting. Although human anatomy is far more complex and intricate than the foundations of knit and purl stitches, when we master the basics of either, we can develop a feel for what the body or the fabric requires.  Learning the ABC's of anything helps us to ensure that what we do is structurally sound.

One of the things which stayed with me from Sunday was Colin's statement that Iyengar yoga is difficult to sequence because it provides you with the alphabet and expects you to create poetry.  Other styles of yoga range from rigidly scripted to "do what feels good." Each has its charms.  Just as some people love a well-structured sentence in a detailed work of non-fiction or the complexity of a lace knitting chart and others prefer spoken word performances at open mic sessions, every yoga practitioner will be drawn to a certain practice (which, by the way, may not be the practice you need). 

The equivalent to poetry for me is free-form knitting, in which one picks up needles, yarn and sets off, without a plan or a goal, other than to work with string and see what happens. Most of the time, the work is flawed (especially if you follow the rule of no frogging). Sometimes it's a total disaster.  Once in a while, you get a fine piece of fabric.  Best of all, whatever you produce is a "one off; " since you don't keep records and rely on intuition, the work becomes a "string poem," never to be duplicated.  Like good poetry, it captures the essence of its materials (in word or yarn) in specific moments of inspiration.

The current free-form work in progress, in various hand spun yarns, with its source of inspiration.  Right now,  the piece is headed towards disaster, but I'm not ready to declare defeat.  

None of these things-poetry, free-form fabric or a well-balanced yoga practice-comes easily. Each requires study, effort, practise, practise and more practise, all of it punched up with a good measure of frustration. We can also be inspired by the work of others-for me this includesWilliam Butler Yeats's poetry, Mizzie Morawez's fibre art and this little book, which I found in Kelowna: Awakening the Spine by Vanda Scaravelli. It's a blend of story telling, photography and personal yoga practice, a fine illustration of how one's yoga practice can move beyond asana into poetry, a blend of body, breath and life force taken to a level of art.

We must know the rules in order to break the rules-get it right and our work will flow. Our energy will be directed to suit our needs.  We may never achieve a practice that is acknowledged as "art," but with effort, focus and stillness will come.  Best of all, we will have the pleasure of the journey.  And that will be the finest poetry of all.


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Man, I Feel Like a Woman: Ringing the Changes

I'm an old school Iyengar person.  When I began practising, poses were done in a certain way, as precisely as possible.  Every pose was deemed suitable for either sex-unless you were experiencing "female problems," as people so quaintly put it.  One of the cardinal rules of yoga was that the practitioner should "square the hips" in poses such as Triangle, Side Angle, Warrior and many, many more.  I was young; I trusted my teachers and I wanted to perfect the poses, so I did as I was told.  Apart from the occasional ache from overdoing things, I had no serious problems practising this way.

Flash forward a few years.  I'm older, with a couple of grown children, some issues from past surgeries, the usual challenges which come with the years.  As a yoga teacher in training, I want to do my best, so I'm in the studio a lot.  I recognize that I can't practise the way I did in my early years and I know when to back off on a pose.  I never "push through pain."  So, it came as a great surprise to me when a decades-old physical problem began to bother me again in the past few months.

Simply put, I was literally experiencing a pain in the butt.  (Yes, I do appreciate the irony.) The pain radiated from my left butt cheek down my left leg, and is most likely caused by problems with my SI joint.  I've been sleeping on floors, in chairs and on hospital beds the past few weeks, so I was sure this was the cause of the flare up.  I was also convinced that the way to fix it was to do more yoga asana and stretching.  While some poses brought a temporary solution, the pain increased until I've had to take painkillers once in a while in order to sleep at night.  I don't like taking painkillers.

Yesterday, I went to class, mentioned to Colin about the issues I was having and that I probably shouldn't practice lunges, or any poses which involved a lot of hip movement. Colin nodded.  Class started and he began telling us that we would be experimenting with Triangle Pose.  My heart sank. Things got worse when he called me up to the front to demonstrate the pose; I was so tentative that I nearly forgot how one moved into the pose and I couldn't resist asking if I was okay to do it.  Colin assured me that I was.

I should have known better than to question Colin about building asana.  (I do know better.) As I moved, in what I thought was true Iyengar fashion, I automatically squared my hips. At that point, Colin stopped me. "Let your hips move with the feet," he instructed.  (How shocking!)  Round went my hips, following the angle of my right foot as I moved to the right side.

Somehow, magically (not), my body moved without pain.  As I allowed my hips to revolve and then adjusted my torso to move upward, I felt a sense of freedom.  The pain in my butt eased.  There was none of the pinching I usually feel around my rhomboid muscle into my shoulder blade every time I attempt Triangle.  We used a strap to guide the shoulder and torso into place and I was amazed at the range of motion available to me.  Later, practising at home in order to remember the movements, I discovered that I could bring my bottom hand nearly to my ankle.  (This isn't a goal; however, we always practise these poses using blocks.  It's been years since I could move this far.)

After class, Colin told me about an article he read which discusses the damage yoga can do by not considering the differences between men's and women's bodies.  You can read that article by William Broad: Women's Flexibility is a Liability (In Yoga).  (Update: Since I wrote this post, there have been several rebuttals to Broad's article, including one by "Shari," and another response by Paul Grilley.)

In a well-rounded practice, we take what we learn on the mat and apply it to our lives.  My lesson from that practice was the importance of flexibility in all things.  When we insist on a rigid view of the world, when we bow to convention or insist that there is only one way to practise, whether that practice be in yoga, spiritual concerns, politics, or more mundane matters such as spinning and knitting, we run the risk of causing physical and/or emotional harm to ourselves and others. At the very least, our rigidity closes us at times when we most need to be receptive. When we learn to move past our fear of change and into the possibility of the "Happy Mistake," we begin to grow into openness.

The next time you think (or are told) that "This is the way it's done!," try something else. Sometimes, you have to challenge your habitual practice. Sometimes, you need to be a pain in the butt in order to rid yourself of one.

I took this photograph in Cuba.  Apparently, it goes by the unelegant name of "Bombax."  If you've seen it in bud, you'll know that it is a excellent representation of the union between Shiva and Shakti!


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Strange Brew: A Good Day to Dye

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
2 Witch: Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog (Wm. Shakespeare):

Well, not quite.  That's a cauldron, all right, but there's only one witch (me!).  No snakes in the pot, nor eye of newt or a frog's toe, although this is a kind of frogging, in that I'm overdyeing a knitting project.  The "wool" is angora (insert inappropriate "bunny boiler" joke here, if it strikes you) not bat and the tongue remains firmly planted in Morris's mouth. (He's using it quite vigorously, scolding because his dad is not home and he's not allowed in the kitchen near the dyepots.  This seems terribly unfair to him because his arch-nemesis, Mick, has joined me.) The dye is cochineal; I'm perking up a walnut-dyed cowl, which our weather tells me will soon be needed.

The Witch's Cat, Mickey, is assisting and although he is the World's Most Beautiful Cat-Sorry, Ali and Lex!-he hates to have his picture taken almost as much as I do.  Here he is, stealing the show from the afterbath remnants of a pomegranate skin/cochineal pot. (If anyone loves eating pomegranates and is looking for a use for the skins, I'll be happy to take them.  They dye a screamingly bright yellow with an alum mordant-yes, yellow.  Try it out for yourself.)

The fleece is Gotland lamb's wool; the top/roving is BFL and the yarn is hand spun Merino/silk previously dyed with dried marigold blossoms.

This is a closer view of the marigold/cochineal/pomegranate dyed yarn.  I'm very pleased with both the spinning and the dyeing.  The colour is not accurate; the skein is more brick red than the photo shows, but it's cold outside and I'm not standing out on the deck in freezing weather to take a photograph this morning. The colour is more accurate in the first photograph of the "cauldron:"

While the pot simmers, I'm untangling a skein of yarn attached to another project, which I can't show you because, if it works out, it's a holiday gift.  I created the mess while at my godmother's bedside and it's taking a bit to straighten it again, but undoing the knots bit by bit requires thought and contemplation, something needed this day, and every day, if the truth be told.  There's another writing project about spinning and knitting at hand, a fresh cup of coffee brewing, warmth in my house and in my heart as I think of my loved ones.

(For Delia M., May 28, 1919-October 23, 2013.  Safe journey, my beloved.  You are the kindest, most open-hearted person I know.  It was an honour.)

Monday, 21 October 2013

Plain Blue Socks

In stillness
By your bed
I knit.
Hands busy, I wait
For your breath, small, quick.
I count the spaces between
The life stitched together,
A fragile thread that clings
When spirit longs to go.
The fabric slides through my fingers
As breath by breath, you slip away.

Still, I knit
Now, counting, shaping, turning
Quiet memories, yarns, simple stories bound together
In and out
I knit with the breath.

Such small things, though bound with love,
Cannot keep you warm
In this journey, in the steps you take along this path.
This offering is for another.
For you, I only watch and wait
In, out, breath by breath.

Still, Now, by your bed
I sit and knit.
Busy hands still,
I knit to stitch my heart together.
This one done, comes another
In, out, breath ceases.
Now begins, again, once more.
(M.E. 2013) 


Sunday, 20 October 2013

Magical Mystery Tour: Meditation on the Yoga Sutras

For Kendra K: From Google Images


I had an interesting day yesterday, interesting in that it involved several shifts in focus and persona.  The day began with Breath and Meditation class, moved through a visit with the Regina Weavers and Spinners Guild at the Farmers' Market, on to six hours of Yoga Teacher Training.  The biggest shift occurred when I became a hockey wife after class and headed to a bar for a steak supper.  It was a long, full, good day.

"So what?" you ask, and you are right-there's nothing special about going from one thing to another in the course of a day. Unless, that is, you have just spent six hours studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and your favourite section of those sutras is Chapter III, the Pada on Mystic Powers.  

I've said that I don't pretend to understand much about the Sutras.  I know a bit more because of our class lecture and discussion.  I've puzzled over whether Mystic Powers are real or allegorical and I admit the possibility of both, which seems more likely now that we've done some group study.  I realize Now that I don't need to search for strange mystic powers-my entire day proved that, like everyone else, I already possess them. In one day, I transformed from a teacher into a community member/friend into a student into a wife, sister, aunt, drinking wine in a bar with a bunch of old-time hockey players.  I was and am all those things sequentially and at once and Now the day begins again.  Who knows what I'll be today?

How much more magical can a gal get?


Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Plenty of Nothing: Abundance

The Thanksgiving holiday is a time to celebrate all we are given and to be grateful for what we have, so, in keeping with that spirit, this week's theme for Saturday morning's meditation practice is "Abundance."  The Oxford English Dictionary (Yes, I still have and use such a creature!) defines abundance as: Quantity more than enough, plenty, affluence, wealth, rich.

We think of abundance in terms of money and possessions, but it's that last term, "rich" or "richness" that I'd like to explore.  While we often think of "richness" as it applies to valuable possessions, richness can also mean "deep and full."  One can be wealthy and still believe that her resources are not abundant.  In a consumer driven culture, this is the default mode and I have the room full of tools, yarns, fleeces and fibres to attest to that.  I am constantly reminding myself that I have more than enough.  (In fact, my S.T.A.S.H. has probably crossed over into the category of "wretched excess.")  In fact, if we look closely, there is some sort of abundance for everyone, although circumstances may make it difficult to find.

Claiming that everyone has abundance is not meant to trivialize unfortunate experiences.  There are many, many people who live in poverty, with limited or no access to decent food, shelter and clothing, good health, peace and prosperity.  Suggesting that people are provided for abundantly is neither correct nor just.  When I say that abundance is a condition of the human spirit and the heart, the shining light that people extend out to the rest of the world, even in the hardest times and conditions, I'm speaking of people's ability to find beauty and time for self-expression with few resources, where "souls" are rich, even when bodies exist in poverty.  I'm talking about moments like this:

The resourcefulness and indomitable nature of the people in this village built on garbage is humbling.  The beautiful sounds of crude instruments created from landfill make me appreciate all that I have and to realize that whatever is available to me is always enough.  I live in a world of wonder and great fortune.  There is Abundance, everywhere, in each moment.  When we practice living in and appreciating abundance, wherever we are and whatever we do, we are walking the yogic path.




Sunday, 13 October 2013

Money Changes Everything: Fibre, Yoga and The Coin of the Realm

Just before I went away, someone posted on a fibre forum, lamenting the price of quality spindles.  The cost of purchasing such spindles was prohibitive for her and she was sorry that she was unable to "fully participate in the craft she loved," because she had to use cheaper tools.  People sympathized with her, made suggestions as to how she could obtain good spindles for less money.  Someone offered to supply her with a brand name spindle. Everyone was kind and helpful.

I read the posts and waited, then, well into the discussion, I pointed out that people had been spinning for millennia, that some of the most beautiful yarn and thread has been and is produced on crude spindles, fashioned on the spot from items at hand and that nothing prevents any one of us from doing the same. Others agreed, explaining how to make a spindle for under $5 and the original poster was grateful. Although she still wanted those fancy spindles, she appreciated that they were not necessary for her practice.

Patanjali's Sutras are probably not something the average yoga client picks up for her commuter reading; however, every serious yoga student, teacher, practitioner I've met pays at least lip service to the significance of the Sutras in yoga history, even if they haven't read them.  It's a difficult work, layered and rich, and, since I don't read Sanskrit, I know I'm missing much of its original intent. What repeated readings have given me is the clear instruction that the ability to perfect asana is not the primary goal of yoga. Samadhi, or "Perfect Concentration," is and to get there, the yogi needs the power of mind and meditation, not the body. Apart from brief mention of having a comfortable seat when one meditates, the Sutras emphasize that practice is hard, continual work. Those who wish to attain Samadhi will likely require many, many life times to do so, but this lofty goal is something any devoted practitioner can achieve, with sincere effort and practice.

So, given that the Sutras emphasize that the asana in yoga are intended to develop the body in order to prepare the mind for meditation and that one should expect to experience adversity in order to get there, how have we come a point where nearly everything we hear, read, do and know about yoga focuses on the body?  When did the shift/disconnect occur? Why is it that, with an entire section in the Sutras delving into the mystical powers attainable through yogic practice, we are far more interested in what yoga can do for our physical forms? What makes us think that we can become yogis through asana, while disregarding meditative practice?  And even though the Sutras mention that one should find a comfortable seat in meditation, how did that come to mean that our practice requires a room of its own, the soft natural daylight or warm glow of candlelight in a pleasantly appointed studio?  How did it happen that we believe we need shiny, pretty things-including a nice, comfy studio-in order to be able to practice properly? Are those who cannot afford the fancy yoga gear, the cost of classes or whose location prevents access to such things unable to "fully participate in the craft they love?"

Part of this perspective, perhaps all of it, stems from the Western belief that money improves everything. Our practice, whether it is fibre arts, yoga or golfing, will be better served if we have the best tools, the best clothing, the nicest environment.  It's true that what occurs in the mind is reflected in the body, but somehow, many of us have transformed this to mean that our surface appearance is the prime indicator of our state of spiritual and mental well-being. If we look good, well, we must be doing something right. That may be true, but it could also be that our insistence on matter over mind is an attempt to shore up a poor self-image.

I love working with beautiful tools.  Precisely balanced wheels and spindles, hand made by expert craftspeople can make my spinning go more smoothly.  It's more fun to knit when my needles don't catch in the yarns.  Colour glides across the paper when I use a fine brush and quality paints.  I also love practicing in warm, inviting studios, where the floors are smooth and clean and the props are plentiful.  I'm happy to pay, and pay well, when I can, in order to spoil myself. All these things make life easier; but they're privileges, not requirements.  Not one of them make me a "better" spinner, knitter, painter, yoga practitioner.

My yoga practice began in a crowded university classroom, on a dirty floor at a time when yoga mats were unheard of.  I've had splinters in my butt from yoga classes in a park bandstand; I've chased bugs away from my mat in another park this summer.  I've meditated on cold concrete floors, in dingy, damp basements with no windows.  I've practiced stilling the mind while flat on my back in a hospital bed.  It's all yoga.

I recognize and fully support the fact that everyone is entitled to decent compensation for the work she does. I do not believe that someone should be paid less for doing work they love or work that is socially oriented. (In fact, if you want to get into it with me, just tell me that I should knit you something for free or at cost, because I'm doing it all the time, anyway!) Modern yogis have mortgages, bills and family just like the rest of us, so if you're looking to practice in a fully equipped studio, be prepared to contribute to the cost of maintaining that.  Just don't fall into the trap of believing that this is the only way to have a "real" practice. (There are those who would argue that comfort in yoga is not particularly good for you.  For an extreme example, look up the practices of the Kapalika yogis. Think of them the next time you're uncomfortable sitting in meditation.)  If you truly cannot afford to practice in a studio, then practice anyway, as best you can.  Be aware that there are always options-could you afford classes if you gave up that $5/day coffee and muffin combo?  (Yes, you can.)  Can you trade services for practice?  (Yes, you often can.)  Can you find a place to plant that rear end for 10 minutes in order to let the mind settle?  (Oh, yes, you most certainly can.)

Just remember: the song says, "Money changes everything."  There's nothing in there about money and improvement.

It costs nothing to let the heart sing in appreciation of beauty.


Friday, 11 October 2013

Do the Wrong Thing: Always Question Authority

You know the phrase, "There are no Spinning/Knitting/Weaving Police!"?  Apparently, there are.  Lots of them, everywhere, ready to scold you if you don't do things the "Right" (i.e. Their) way. I've run across several of them, just in the last few days-people who insist that there is one true method to practicing one's art or, conversely, one technique that is absolutely forbidden.

I find this amusing-what will happen if I don't follow your direction?  Will my looms, spindles and wheels fall apart?  Will you come and confiscate my yarns?  Or, perhaps, everything I've done and may do will be sucked into the vast vortex of "U R Doin' It Rong!" and I'll be sucked along with it.

I've been practicing fibre arts for a long, long time, long enough to know that, there are rules to everything, that it's a good idea to know those rules, that sometimes rules can prevent catastrophe, though I have yet to hear of "Death by Pre-drafting Before Spinning."  Could happen, I suppose.  Don't see how, but I'm open to the possibility. (On the other hand, those life rules you are given?  It's often a really good idea to follow them.  "Always check your safety equipment before bungee jumping." comes to mind.  Notice that I didn't say, "Never bungee jump."  I wouldn't, but that's just me.)

The thing is, I learn the "rules" in order to break them. Yes, sometimes I make a mess-my yarn is too dense, warp frays and breaks, the tapestry design is really, really bad.  More often than not though, time, practice and experimentation have led me to the "Happy Accident," that moment when all elements of material, technique and experiment coalesce and you discover:
"That bit there? It was an accident.  It was the best mistake... .It's my favourite piece; it's just great." (Kate Bush)    
The next time you are told Never or Always, listen carefully, respond thoughtfully, test thoroughly and then Do As You Please.

Explore.  Follow your own path. Have fun and don't be afraid to do the wrong thing.

Unless, of course, fun for you means jumping from a high, high place while you're attached to a large rubber band.  In that case, you might want to follow the rules.

No, she doesn't have anything to do with the theme, although there's a potential yarn colourway in her markings, I think.  I spotted her in Kelowna and thought she was beautiful.


Thursday, 10 October 2013

Home for a Rest: Gratitude

I returned home from Kelowna, tired and happy.  The weather was cold but good for walking (which I did, for hours and hours and hours).  The kids are all right-excellent, in fact.  Master DD works in the forest, taking coordinates and making maps; Ms. DD rents a lovely house, quite large, which is good, because she has, um, several cats. (Not to complain: it was caring for abused and homeless cats that brought Ms. DD the good karma which led to her current living quarters.) I bonded with this guy, Cruikshank, who is technically not her cat.  He's the landlady's boy and he lives outside, although he's discovering that food and indoor shelter are not bad things.  He's huge, but one of the other cats beats on him, despite the fact that Cruikshank could squash him like a bug:

No one told him what guitar strings used to be made of!

There is beauty everywhere and it touches my heart, from Ms. DD's backyard:

That gorgeous terror in the background is Lex, the beautiful bully of the household.

To stunning autumn colours:

To the view from the harbour on a cloudy day:

When I wasn't walking about, I knit and wrote and gave myself permission to draw and paint badly, because if one can't risk doing things badly, why do them at all?

On the left, socks knit from commercial yarn; on the right, the indestructible hand spun hiking socks.

The wind it blows. . . .

I think we need a bigger boat!

Aerial Viewpoint

Woven throughout the wonders I see here is sadness, too.  There are more and more people living on the street in the downtown core. With their possessions jammed into shopping carts, they huddle in doorways and sleep in bushes.  It's inexcusable in a country with such wealth and abundance to see signs like this:

People help where they can, with open hearts. The core of many of the problems is a vicious cycle of mental illness and poverty, problems not solved only by individual assistance.  These problems require a larger, kinder view on the part of governments and the powerful.  In the midst of our great good fortune, we need to remember that We are all One, that there is no "Other," that circumstance has much to do with where we are now. 

I am grateful for what I have.  It's more than enough.  I wish you all great good fortune.

(Happy Birthday to Kathy R and my sister, Nancy!)

Monday, 30 September 2013

Unplugged: A Journey

I'm heading out tomorrow, flying to Kelowna for a visit with Ms. and Master DD, a visit long overdue. Although we chat on the phone every week and keep in touch via Facebook, we haven't been together in over 4 months.  (I've been telling people it's 6-it feels longer than it's actually been.)

Saturday's meditation session theme was "Space."  We chatted-well, I chatted-about our perceptions of Self as "This Subject" and "That Object" and how Subject/Object might be connected, entangled, united.  We explored our hands, asking "Who" was the Explorer? We took a journey into our bodies, on the mats, then expanded into the space around us, the streets outside, our city, our Earth.  We travelled through Space and Time to that which is "No Space," what we cannot name. We returned to our bodies on the mats and finished with an exploration of whether Subject/Object had been changed in any way.  I don't know the answers and they don't matter, anyway (thanks, Heather!), but it was a trip.

After that, I attended a Bodha class in which I explored how to fall over in space, then headed to Teacher Training at the new studio. It was fitting that, on the first day of training in this gorgeous, open room, Colin announced that we were to explore a different kind of space. While he and Sarah met with each student individually in a nearby coffee shop, the rest of us spent the day writing class scenarios and teaching each other. The opportunity and space to practice like this brought us together in a way that hadn't happened yet in teacher training.  Until that day, the group had been friendly, supportive, but something shifted during this session.  We critiqued one another in kindness.  People who rarely voiced opinions stepped up and took leadership roles. We chatted; we wrote; we questioned.  By the end of the day, everyone was tired, but for me, at least, the space between My Self and The Other Students had closed and I felt as if this collection of diverse people had become "A Group."  Judging by the comments from fellow yoga practitioners, others felt this, too.

Now, I'm packed for an exploration of a different kind of space, in a new, but familiar place where I've made several connections outside the family unit. When I travel, I usually haul my laptop along so that I can write and blog and perhaps do a little work while I'm away. This time, I've decided to approach things differently. Half my suitcase is filled with knitting, spinning, and drawing supplies-activities that I can do physically, rather than reading or writing about them. This time, the computer stays home.  If I wish to write, I have a notebook and pens. If I want to record something, my reliable old camera will be in my purse.  I don't own a cell phone and my daughter doesn't have a landline phone, so the world will have to get along without me for the next 10 days. It will be tough, I'm sure, but somehow everyone will cope without my deep thoughts and wise words. Think of it as a gift of Space. 


Thursday, 26 September 2013

Leaves are Fallin' All Around: Ramble On

Being present, I noticed. . .leaves, swirling vibrant colours as they fall softly, noisily to the ground. (M.E.)

It's a chilly autumn day.  I'm warm, cozy inside my house, working, drinking coffee, snuggling with the cat, as the clouds hang overhead and a gentle rain mists the yard.  I'm planning my trip to visit children next week, packing spindles, art supplies, deciding which knitting projects will tag along, writing memos to myself not to forget to write memos. I'm organizing my practice for meditation class and prepping for teacher training on Saturday. My stomach is rumbling, telling me that it's lunch time and I'd better make that salad.  I'm typing this blog.  I'm here.  I'm present.

It's a beautiful day.

(Happy Birthday to my sister, Liz!)

Monday, 23 September 2013

Second Verse, Same as the First: String Symphony

I wrote a brilliant post this morning, about tapestry and meditation, their similarities and why I practice.  It was likely one of the best posts I've ever written, but the Universe must have been jealous or at least, thinking, "She uses too many words, that one."  Somehow, the video I wanted to use to illustrate my point was replaced by one of an adorable dog playing on a rug.  Cute as it was, it wasn't about string.  Then the entire post went blank and wouldn't return. I took this as a sign, although I'm not sure of what.

So, let's try this once more, with feeling.  Here, courtesy of tapestry weaver, Rebecca Mezoff, who calls this, "The Sound of Tapestry Bobbins," is a lovely film about tapestry weaving and why we do it:

Jilly Edwards: How to Weave From an Original Design

(Just in case I had any doubts that Universal Forces aren't working in my favour today, the YouTube video won't imbed.  Click on the above link to get where you need to go.)


Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Beyonce Bounce: Restoring Balance

I had a terrible, horrible, no good day last week, one that knocked me flat on my butt for a bit.  After crying and ranting through the worst of it (mindfully, of course), I realized that balance would come again, if I simply waited and watched.

It took a few days.  I could feel the shift when I attended Fibre Night, which is held in the warehouse/nightclub district of our city.  Mr. DD dropped me off and expressed some concern about the location.  He claimed he was looking out for my safety, but I know it was because he was worried that I was actually headed to the clubs, drawn to the glimmer of mirror balls and disco dancing, which I'm sure haven't changed much since the last time I was in a club, which was sometime after the Earth cooled, but before the dinosaurs departed.

Even if he actually was exercising caution on my behalf, there was no cause for alarm, because, well, would you mess with a room full of women carrying caseloads of shiny, pointy things like this (and who know how to use them in oh, so many ways)?:

It was far more likely that the clubbers would be flocking to join us, especially after Michelle's stirring rendition of "Patricia the Stripper," the choral version of which is, I understand, in the works for our next meeting.  I was sure that one of us would have to stop what she was doing in order to act as bouncer for crowd control and admissions. Thankfully, this didn't happen, but only because the doors to our building were locked from the inside.

I left the gathering at the fantastically late hour of 9 pm and went home, heading off to bed after a wee nip of wine.  I woke up the next morning feeling rather unwell, but since no one, not even me, gets a hangover from a glass and a half of organic white wine, I must have had a touch of flu, brought on by my impossibly wild goings on the night before.  I rallied by noon and had a walk and a chat over lunch with Joan, a lovely, kind friend whose perspective always leaves me refreshed and restored.  I could feel things levelling out by late afternoon, but balance was not quite there.  So, I waited, knowing that lifelines show up when you least expect them.

Sure enough, the final slide of the scale came last night when I clicked on a link posted by a group called, "Completely Pointless and Arbitrary," because how could I not?  Besides, I am hip and cutting edge, always open to new discoveries, even if they come in the form of an already 2 year old blog post from The Bloggess, who bills herself as "Like Mother Theresa, Only Better," and who is one of the funniest women on the planet (The Bloggess, not Mother Theresa, although I'm sure she had a fine sense of humour, too).  It was through this post that I was introduced to Beyonce, the giant metal chicken and his (yes, his) adventures. (Put down your beverage and click on the link.)

Beyonce is not quite as inappropriate as the seat cushion bearing the Buddha's smiling face (on both sides) which I came across a few years back and which gave new meaning to the saying, "If you meet the Buddha, kill him."  A giant metal chicken ringing one's front doorbell is clearly better placed than the ceramic Buddha statue in my fibre room, innocently given to me by a friend on my birthday a while ago, after I admired it in, of all places, a thrift shop in Olds, Alberta, neither one of us understanding the symbolism of this particular statue, which is "fertility."  By the time this statue came to me, all concerns about my fertility were long passed, but Buddha works in mysterious ways.  Since he took up residency in the fibre room, I swear that its contents are becoming fruitful and multiplying; every time I step through the doorway, there are more books, more papers and more fibres.  It's reached the point where I have to clear a spot for my meditation cushion, at which point, I often say, "Never mind," and do my practice flat on my back, spread out on the couch, because, as skilled meditators know, you can meditate anywhere, any time, even while you're snoring.

What any of this really has to do with fibre and meditation, I'll never know, but I do know this:  I'm feeling much better now.

Balance-I haz it.

(This one is for all those special ladies.  And Beyonce.  Him, not Her, although I'm sure she's just dandy.)

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Living on a Knife Edge: Meditation

Meditation is not what you think. (Jon Kabat-Zinn)
You're in a room full of people, at the beginning of a workshop.  It's a spacious, inviting place; the windows are covered, but it's warm, cozy.  You're chatting with others, who are chatting back while they check phones for messages, make calls, text instructions to children, partners, employees.  Many of them tweet, "I am here!  I am here!"

The instructor arrives.  She smiles, greets people quietly, settles herself on a cushion near the front of the room.  "Ten minutes," she says.  She sits.  The buzz in the room dims a bit, but there's still lots of chatter. She waits and then announces, "Five minutes. That's the time you have.  Be prepared."  People take their seats. They're still chatting, texting. Then, the announcement: "You have 2 minutes to finish your business. Say what you need to say, send your messages and then, that's it.  All personal devices are to be turned off and placed in that room."  She points to a door.  "That door will be locked for the next six hours. Under no circumstances, will it be opened before the end of the session." Looks of incredulity go around the room. She's kidding, right?  No, she's not.  You surrender your device, look around and then you notice-there are no clocks in the room.

Welcome to a meditation intensive practice.  The teacher explains that, for the duration, you will be practicing a variety of meditation exercises and most of those will be done in silence. You'll be sitting, moving, flat out on the floor, if necessary.  What you won't be doing is allowing your awareness to drift out of the room.  When it does, your task is to bring it back.You'll be asked to stay present, to bring your full attention to what is happening here, now, without judgment.  You'll be delighted, you'll be bored, frustrated and angry.  You'll be Here.

The session starts off easily, with the fairly common practice of eating a single grape in full appreciation. You eat that grape as slowly as you can, savouring each bit of flesh and liquid. It's a wonderful experience, but it's gone now and the teacher hasn't called time, yet. You sit. You begin to notice that your butt aches and that leg has gone to sleep and something else hurts, but, damn it, you're meditating and you're not going to move. You rely on tension, not strength and ease, to hold you in place, so the aches and pains get worse. Mercifully, the teacher calls time. You can barely move your legs. She asks you to guess the time and, for some, it seems like an hour.  It's been 15 minutes.  Five hours and forty-five minutes to go.

"Meditation is not relaxation spelled differently." (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

It's one practice after another, sitting, standing, reclining, eyes open, eyes closed, watching thoughts come and go.  You do a moving meditation with your arms raised and it goes on for an eternity. Everything hurts. You take a peek-that elderly woman with the hand tremors sitting in front of you? She moves mindfully, as if there's no tomorrow.  She's kicking your butt.

The short break at mid-point is completed in silence; you've now moved into a time of no talk.  Several of you ask the teacher to return your devices.  She gently but firmly refuses. Some of you leave the room and you don't come back.  At the end of the day, you're exhausted, pushed to your limits by doing, well, Nothing. You reclaim your smart phone, madly texting friends about the experience you've just had or what you thought you had. You head home.  For the first time in years, you sleep soundly through the night. You're awake all night, unable to settle. You don't know what to think.

Many yoga practitioners believe that they meet their edges on the mat, in intensive asana practice, in the power of feeling the body move.  But, what if we, like others forever "doing," are simply finding one more way to feed our need for constant adrenalin rushes? Suppose this continual movement on the mat (with a brief moment of settling into Savasana, where we can cope with stillness if we relate it to a corpse) is more of the same, akin to what is found in the constant chatter of voices, machinery, of movement around us, where we think we'll be cut off from the world if we stop texting or tweeting or posting for a moment?  What if our edge actually sits at the fear of being silent and still? Can we rest on the knife edge, balancing in stillness, enjoying the experience?  Or will touching that edge cut us to the core?


Google Public Domain Images

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Lightnin' Bolt: Playing In Energy Fields

I've been reading about medical intuitives, people who claim to be able to instinctively diagnosis potential medical problems and diseases before they manifest themselves in the body or are picked up by medical machinery. Medical intuitives maintain that they can instinctively "read" a person's energy field to accurately predict ailments or they can read the events which led to a person's problems, without knowing anything about that person. Medical intuitives believe that "biography is biology," that all we do and experience from the moment of our conception affects us physically.  They base this on the fact that everything, including humans, is composed of energy, that we are all shifting particles, constantly exchanging those particles and their energy with one another.  If that is true, they say, then every interaction affects us on the cellular level, leaving its impression, which can be neutral, good or bad.  Intuitives possess or develop the ability to read and translate these cellular impressions.  Many claim that we all have this ability, but we remain unaware or indifferent or hostile to it.

While I'm not convinced of the truth of these claims, I am a healthy skeptic. After all, scientific research affirms that we are composed of measurable energy which, although it appears to be solid, is composed of constantly moving matter. History records stories of mystical healers with great, unexplained powers. I've met people who, although they do not have medical degrees, have remarkable abilities in assessing medical issues and helping people to heal.  I've experienced the benefits of such "alternative medicines" and their practitioners.

So, let's suppose, for just a moment, that some of these claims about energy transference are true.  What if everything we do and say has the potential to affect others, either in a positive or negative way, not only emotionally, but physically as well?  What practical applications might this have in our approach to life and our fellow travellers?

For example, many people knit for charity; for some knitters, making hats, mittens, socks, blankets, etc. is the practice they love most.  This is admirable work, something I seldom do. I appreciate the efforts that knitters put into this work and I support it.  Over the years, however, I've met some knitters who do this work grudgingly, who complain that no one appreciates their efforts.  They use poor quality materials because the recipients won't want to or aren't able to care for the items anyway or won't know the difference.  Some of these people are upset when their work is rejected; they label the intended recipient "ungrateful." While it's not my place to question these knitters' intentions, I've often wondered if part of the reason the items were rejected was because the "giftees" sensed somehow that the work was performed out of duty, rather than compassion and love.  If we allow the possibility that energy transfers to all we do, is it possible that the recipient sensed the negative energy in the item itself and rejected it instinctively on that basis?  (Ah, you say, they obviously sensed the negativity of the giver when she presented the articles.  In many cases, that's true; however, what they are sensing is negative energy emanating from the knitter. In some cases, the work was rejected and the recipients had no idea who the knitter was.)

True or not, at the very least, we should consider that doing our work grudgingly or with disdain may build negative energy in ourselves.  I've made things I'd rather not and I was never satisfied with them. Add up the hours I spent doing something I didn't like, the guilt I felt about not liking it, plus the dissatisfaction I felt when the work was finished-that's a lot of hours and negative energy poured into a project.  Whether or not that negativity will affect me or anyone else on a cellular level, was whatever I did worth the energy I put into it?

I've noticed the same habits creeping into my yoga practice now and again.  Teacher training requires a certain number of logged practice hours.  As the year progresses, I sometimes rush to a class so that I can get my attendance noted.  I watch the clock and gripe inwardly about every effort.  This means that I'm not only not present for the class, but, if the intuitive theory of energy transfer is correct,  I could be building negative energy, rather than positive, thus adding to any problems when I am hoping to alleviate them. Again, even if this is not true, what's the point of practice if your mind turns it into a burden?

So, as I always do with each new yoga session, I've set myself an intention to bring a more light-hearted, positive approach to my practice.  Rather than think of yoga as "doing the work I need to do to get where I'm going," I will pay less attention to how many hours it takes to make a yoga teacher and more to experiencing joy in those hours.  (I'd be lying if I said I'll pay no attention to building those hours.)  If the intuitives are right, I'll be bringing positive, healing energy to my body and mind.  If their theories don't fly, at least I'll be making practice more fun. Fun is good.

I'd end all this by saying, "May lightning strike me if . . . ," but I think not.  After all, you just never know. . . .


Public Domain Photo from Google Images


Thursday, 5 September 2013

What a Lovely Afternoon: Spinning, Sprinkler Attacks and Shooting the Breeze in the Park

I met with another yoga teacher trainee today, in a park in the middle of our downtown core. We sat on the grass, drinking green tea which Jess had brought along when she rode her bike over, eating sushi from a nearby restaurant. We chatted about teacher training, about our lives, about this and that. I spun some of the Blue Faced Leicester that I dyed last week, on the new "Pocket" Tibetan spindle that arrived yesterday from Texas Jeans.  Jess is a thoughtful, intelligent young woman with some great insights into yoga philosophy. (She's also one of the "bendiest" people I know. I am in awe.)  Later on, another yoga instructor sat with us, on her way to help with renovations at the new studio.  I'll be taking her Level 2 class starting next week, so it was nice to chat and get to know her on a more personal level.

The visit and sit was just what I needed, an antidote to other events.  I wandered home, feeling relaxed and renewed, looking forward to the start of classes next week, ready to face whatever comes in the next while.

Sometimes, I find myself quick to complain, not so quick to praise, especially when life refuses to behave as I think it should.  So, "Thank you, Jess (and Megan, too)," for being just the thing I needed today.  You are treasures.

Oh, and that Sprinkler Attack?  We received a sudden wake up call when the sprinklers in the park started up in the middle of our chat.  I shrieked, not because I was worried about getting wet.  Nope, all I could think of was, "My new spindle!  Water will ruin it!"  There's a lesson about non-attachment there, somewhere.  It did beat being whacked by a monk with a stick.


The newest addition to the family: Have spindle, will travel!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Sing a Song of Socks: Another Meditation on String

Life continues its ups and downs.  I've finished dyeing yarns, a gift for someone dear to me. At the same time, I've been sitting with and watching the process of some other loved soul as she slips away, moving to a place where there will be no need of anything, the other dying we all come to eventually. The whirlwinds around me leave me irritated, sad and angry.  I can't settle, even when I get a piece of really good news.  I'm mean as a snake, ready to bite the heads off chickens and I'm upset that I'm upset.

All this fuss leaves me asking, "What am I doing, teaching a meditation class?"  I know a few inspired meditators.  I'm not one of them, certainly not someone who should be giving advice on how to sit and be in the moment.  Then again, Jon Kabat-Zinn points out that the point of mindfulness, of accepting experiences, is to accept all experiences. They are what they are, neither good nor bad.  It is our minds which shape the stories which feed our perspectives.  If we can learn to acknowledge and accept the experiences, watching whatever comes to us without adding layers to "problems" by building stories around them, we will come to know that whatever it is we are going through will change.  The more we practice, the more the mind will settle.  We may all experience pain, but we don't have to suffer from it.

Of course, it's one thing to know this intellectually, quite another to practice. I have my tools.  Some people focus on candle flames, while others follow the breath.  I spin or knit, turning my attention time and time again to the effort applied with sticks and string, all the while working at allowing the anger and sadness to ebb and flow, letting it be what it is and how it is Now, without scolding myself for feelings stirred by those experiences.  It's never easy and I'm not often successful, which is why I meditate, why I do what I do, over and over and over again.

And so, I'm knitting socks.  Unlike the socks which inspired Neruda in the poem below, these are no "soft rabbit socks."  They're socks from overspun and plied 3 ply Romney/Corriedale wool, with a 6 ply cable of the same yarn for heels and toes, spun on a Tabachek Tibetan spindle.  They're walker's socks, for a woman who wears sturdy boots, who walks the pavement and the dirt roads, in the rain and the snow, who walks out her sorrow on the prairies, in forests and in mountains and who finds comfort in those places, in the stillness of breezes and the changes in solid rock, in shifting waves of grain fields as they move from green to autumn gold. They're socks for me, neither pretty, nor inspiring, socks with purpose and intent. They are sturdy and they will be good socks.

As I knit, bringing attention to stitch and shape, I feel myself settle for a bit, for a moment. It's in that moment, gone before I'm fully aware of it, that I glimpse the meaning of Patanjali's Sutra: yogas citta-vrtti-nirodha (Yoga stops the whirling mind.). It's in that stillness that I understand what inspired Pablo Neruda to write an ode to such a simple thing, the gift of a pair of hand knit socks.  In that instant, I can smile, be happy, as I sit at the centre of the current storm, knowing the winds will calm.


An Excerpt from Ode to My Socks by Pablo Neruda

Mara Mori brought me
a pair of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder's hands,
two socks as soft as rabbits. . . .

my feet were honored in this way
by these heavenly socks.
They were so handsome for the first time
my feet seemed to me unacceptable
like two decrepit firemen,
firemen unworthy of that woven fire,
of those glowing socks.

Nevertheless, I resisted the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere as schoolboys
keep fireflies,
as learned men collect
sacred texts,
I resisted the mad impulse to put them
in a golden cage and each day give them
birdseed and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers in the jungle
who hand over the very rare green deer
to the spit and eat it with remorse,
I stretched out my feet and pulled on
the magnificent socks and then my shoes.

The moral of my ode is this:
beauty is twice beauty
and what is good is doubly good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool in winter.