Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Open Your Heart: Life Lesson in Expanding and Contracting

The theme in the yoga studio this week seems to be expansion and contraction. Sunday, we practised intense hip openers with Robin, openers which pushed me right to my edge. (I was not quite sure that I'd be able to walk home. I did.)  On Monday, Colin spoke of how objects, people, life can expand so far that they disintegrate. We begin to contract in order to restore balance, but, if that contraction isn't tempered with control, we are in danger of becoming so compact, so closed, dense as it where, that we shut down.  Nothing reaches us.  No light can shine.

It seems to me that this is what's occurring in our fibre world right now. A few days ago, I wrote about the hazards of championing a specific style of spinning as the one true way to spin a particular type of yarn. Yesterday, I stumbled across a forum discussion about spinning where people had descended to personal attacks against other posters, all in the name of defending their pet techniques.  (Ironically, the group's name ends with "Love.") Essentially, everyone was fighting about not only how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but what dance those angels might be doing.  It was silly and fascinating and I thought that many of those people might not fare well when faced with a real crisis.

I think that these battles-and they happen everywhere, in fibre arts, in business, in religion, in yoga-are simply attempts to balance the over abundance of information which threatens to overwhelm us all the time, in every aspect of life.  The Truth May Be Out There, but how do we find a semblance of truth when every statement, every cause, every belief, every random thought that runs through someone's head can be posted on the infinite internet? Far too often, in an attempt to find a manageable system, we choose one cause or idea. We attach it to ourselves and ourselves to it.  We contract, and in doing so, we become so small that we have no space for differences. We've lost our light.

Restoring balance becomes important when we're faced with more serious issues. When you are handed a cancer diagnosis, your world tends to contract and expand at wild rates which never seem under your control.  Focus shifts to that one thing-cancer. Dealing with that can be overwhelming, all-consuming, which is understandable, because you must draw your attention to healing.  At the same time, the information you're given in order to make your best choices is massive.  You learn too much, too fast, until you feel as if you'll explode.

In the Renew for Cancer programme, as in all classes at Bodhi Tree Yoga, we work at coming back to balance.  At a time when you can feel as if life is out of control, an hour in a safe space, focusing on breath and movement, in bringing attention only to the Now, can do wonderful things for healing.  That hour becomes yours; there is some direction, but you choose your options.  You are doing something for yourself, rather than having something done to you. You learn to open. As you open, you sense that balance is there and you just may see that there is light glimmering among the shadows. And the light, however it shines, is beautiful.

I came across this image on Facebook today.  It's posted for sharing, so I thought I would present it here.  In a world that seems to move too quickly, where expansion and contraction fluctuate out of our control, finding the space to restore balance can bring us beauty.  Namaste.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Do Your Worsted: Some Theories About Making String

Yoga people take note: I’m about to dive down into the Rabbit Hole of the spinning world in this post, so although I will eventually link my journey back to yoga and meditation here, you may want to take a little down time or, at least, get comfortable while you watch me jump.  The Rabbit Hole of which I’m writing is a subject which can trigger great discussion and controversy among spinners.  That subject is Worsted Spinning and How to Do It.

When I began spinning, back when the Earth was cooling, I had few teachers near me and no internet, so my practice was developed through experimentation and the wonderful world of print medium.  I absorbed as much information as I could from people I met.  The rest of my information was gathered from books and magazines.  Time and time again, I turned to writers, known authorities on spinning techniques, most of whom I never met and a few I would be lucky to learn from as the years passed.  These people include Paula Simmons, Mabel Ross, Peter Teal, Allen Fannin, Alden Amos, Patricia Baines, Jane Fournier, Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, Ted Carson and many, many more.  Armed with advice from these spinners, I spun and spun, and through trial and error, learned to make the yarns I wanted.

Now, I would say that I’m pretty much of a “Woollen Spinner Gal” and a process-oriented one, at that.  From time to time, I do like to spin worsted yarns, especially when I need warp yarns for weaving, when I require a strong, lustrous yarn or when I’m spinning a fibre with a lovely, long staple.  Back in the day, I discovered the Short Draw technique, wherein the spinner keeps twist out of her fibre supply until her fibres are drafted.  When used with a combed fibre preparation, this drafting technique produces a dense, smooth, lustrous yarn (in comparison to woollen spun yarn). 

Way back when, if you used a short draw with combed fibres, kept the twist out of the drafting zone and compressed the air out of the yarn, you produced worsted spun yarn.  If you used a long draw (which allows twist into the fibres as you draft) with carded fibres, your yarn was said to be “woollen spun.”  There was a huge range of possibilities between those two points and it was left to the spinner to decide what technique she should use to spin the yarns she needed.  Some authorities promoted particular styles, but perhaps because I was working from print material and had a lot of time to experiment until the next issue of SpinOff magazine arrived at my door, with its updates on what new information was available to order, I never felt that there was one correct way to spin worsted.  I certainly never believed that, if I didn't follow Authority So and So, I would be “spinning it wrong.”  (Unless you were following Allen Fannin, who was well known for his strong views about, well, everything.)

And so it was that I adapted Short Backward Drafting as my default style for spinning worsted yarns.  SBD, in which I use my right hand to hold and pull back on the fibres and my left hand near the orifice to guide and smooth the twist in the yarn, is physically more comfortable for me.  I find that I can control my drafting length more effectively in SBD because I use my body as a natural stop. (When my left hand reaches my solar plexus, it marks the stopping point of my drafting length.) The pinching and drafting forward action of Short Forward Draft hurts my thumb and index fingers.  No matter how I position my body, my arm, neck and shoulder strain when I use SFD, so ergonomically, this is not the technique for me.  I also find that using Short Forward Draft invariably causes more inconsistency than using Short Backward Draft; as I draft forward, I hesitate slightly at the end of the draft and that hesitation produces a tiny slub, which perhaps only I notice, in my singles. This may be due to the fact that SFD is uncomfortable or it may simply be because I’m exhibiting Observer Bias, but no matter how much I practice, Short Forward Draft doesn’t work well for my worsted spinning.

This is perfectly fine, according to my “ancient” (i.e., late 1960’s, 1970’s) texts.  In fact, back in the day, most of my books promoted Short Backwards Draft as the most efficient way to spin worsted and worsted-type yarns.  Nola and Jane Fournier comment that Short Backward Draft is “least likely to produce lumps and bumps (p. 203/4, In Sheep’s Clothing),” while well-known spinners such as Peter Teal and Patricia Baines recommend Short Backward Draft for worsted spinning.  Others, such as Paula Shull and Alden Amos, write of using a Short Draw technique without specifying back or forward.  For a really interesting perspective on the subject of worsted/woollen and everything in between, look up what Rita Buchanan has to say.

Sometime, fairly late in my spinning career, I began to notice a shift.  I’m not sure of its origin—I suspect, but don’t know, that this shift developed with the internet and our now almost instant access to information.  Not only is information easily accessible, what is available often seems to be of equal value; the person who has been spinning for five minutes can post about her discoveries as easily as someone who has been exploring spinning for a lifetime.  People often don't back up their findings with references to outside authorities or explain why they work the way they do. Observations are posted as fact. Many people don’t allow for the effects of Observer Bias—if they've discovered something, it must be so.  In the spinning world, this has led to the promotion of Short Forward Draft as the preferred method for obtaining a “true” worsted yarn.

This shift wouldn't concern me, usually.  Short Forward Draw is a good option for worsted spinning for many, many spinners.  Fashions come and go in everything and if my preferred worsted spinning style dates me as out of style, well, I’m usually there anyway.  What does worry me is the common belief that Short Forward Draft is the traditional way to spin worsted.  Some knowledgeable spinners are promoting it as the best and only way to spin true worsted yarns—if you can’t or won’t use forward draw, you’re “doing it wrong.”  I’ve even been told that spinners should not be taught and not allowed to use Short Backward Draw because it is not possible to produce true worsted yarns using that technique.

Here’s the thing (I did promise to get back to yoga): in yoga, we speak of Right Knowledge and Wrong Knowledge.  In very simple terms, Right Knowledge occurs when we know something to be fact because we have experimented and tested it for ourselves.  Wrong Knowledge is something we know to be true, but which is actually incorrect.  “The world is flat,” is an example of Wrong Knowledge—no matter how many people believed this to be true, our facts were misguided.  Currently, we know that the Earth is round and that’s an example of Right Knowledge.  It is for now, at least, although future experimentation can change Right Knowledge into Wrong Knowledge in the blink of an eye.  We are more likely to come to Right Knowledge if we explore and test ideas and theories for ourselves.

So, here’s a challenge for you:  no matter what you believe about how worsted yarns are best spun, do some testing for yourself.  Challenge your notions about drafting techniques and try as many methods for spinning worsted yarns as you can imagine. See what works best for you.  Read up on what opposing sides have to say about why they spin the way they do.  Question Authority. 

To start you off, I’ll give you a heads-up on some of the people who either have promoted Short Backward Draft for worsted spinning or simply speak of using either short draw technique for worsted yarns.  Those people include Alden Amos, Enid Anderson, Patricia Baines, Abby Franquemont, Amelia Garripoli, Paula Shull and Nola and Jane Fournier.  Note that I’m not giving you precise references, although I do have specific works and page citations at hand.  Nor am I claiming that these people still hold to the views I found in their written works or that they are claiming to have found “the best” way to spin worsted yarns.  In the interest of fairness, although not balance, here are the names of some well-known spinners who promote the Short Forward Draw for worsted spinning: Beth Smith, Judith MacKenzie McCuin, Lee Juven, Jacey Boggs. 

Read, explore, discover for yourself.  Keep Observer Bias in mind. Trust no one. That includes me.

It's all just string and there are many ways to spin it!


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Whoops! I Did It Again: Yoga and the Art of Computer Crashing

There are a few phrases you never want to hear from a computer tech guy:

  • "This one has me thinking."
  • "I've seen this before. Once."
  • "If your hard drive has failed, this computer is probably worth saving."

That was last Friday for me, when I somehow managed to change everything on my laptop into a link. (Yes, yes, I did-Kevin, the computer guy, said so.)  I did this just as I was preparing for my Yoga and Meditation for Fibre Artists workshop on Saturday.  Nothing I tried helped and, after a failed system restore attempt, Kevin was handed a sorry hunk of metal and a puzzle to ponder for a few days.  He called me today to say everything was fine and, indeed, it seems to be, all programmes restored and running, although I wasn't thrilled to hear Kevin tell me that he's still not sure what spectacular thing I did to put my baby in intensive care.  Go big or go home, is the saying.  I prefer not to apply it to computers.

What does this have to do with yoga and meditation?  Well, apart from appreciating the timing of the crash, there was something else I noticed.  There was a time when a problem like this would have sent me straight up to the ceiling and back again, then running about the house shrieking madly in anger and frustration.  I can't say I was pleased that I couldn't access the material I needed for the workshop, nor was I happy about the hefty repair bill; however, instead of losing my shit over something beyond my control, I managed to see the humour in the problem and to put things into perspective.  I've experienced far worse events. My life wasn't in that laptop, although it felt that way for a while.  Everything was backed up, on paper, on flash drive, on disc. (Good girl, Ms. DD!) Kevin fixed things up nicely and if it cost me a tidy sum to have him do that, well, it couldn't be helped.  

The experience gave me the lead for my workshop-7 fibre devotees and 1 brave, good sport husband (Yeah, Jeremy!)-heard about my computer crash and how we can apply yoga and meditation to our lives. (Everything went well during the workshop; people seemed to be pleased with what they discovered.) You see, it's not that yoga and meditation change your life in huge increments, or even in any noticeable way at all. What can happen though, is that attention to your practice can promote teeny, tiny changes, in your posture, your moods, your ability to manage daily events.  When you do experience negative thoughts and emotions over unpleasant occurrences, you may find that those thoughts and feelings dissipate more quickly than they would before you began a yoga practice.  It's likely that others will notice changes in you before you do; however, you may discover one day that yoga smooths out the rough edges, levelling out the highs and lows that cause suffering over even the most trivial matters.

Yoga and meditation can keep you calm during a crash.  It can't repair that computer for you.  For that, I thank Kevin, at The Computer Clinic.



Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Way We Do Those Things We Do: Why I Practice

This past Saturday, I had my first soap-making adventures with Michele, Jenny and Carla, fellow string players and lovely people.  Later, a non-believer (for lack of a better description) asked me why I do all this strange stuff, by which she meant yoga, arts, and fibre work?  I've been asked this question many times—people are puzzled why anyone would choose to spend hours making string and other things which are readily and cheaply available everywhere in our culture.  I'm not the Earth Mother type they expect to be practising the “home arts.”  My edges can be rather sharp; there is not much warm fuzziness attached to me.  (Fuzziness, yes, but warmth?  Not so much.)  To say I'm disinterested in tending to home is an understatement.  I no longer cook or bake, although I did when the children lived here, and I clean only when the dust bunnies threaten to take over the house.  My interest in yoga and meditation is more understandable.  Yoga/meditation is “weird;” I like to travel the less walked path a bit, so others can understand my devotion to these matters.

Most of the time, my response to such questions is vague and jocular:  I do what I do because I do, as do you.  This time, though, something shifted and I thought the question deserved a deeper response, one that mellowed before it left my brain.  The fact is, I practise because I must. 

Although it surprises many people, I am an introvert, a dominant right-brained introvert, to be more precise.  (It’s true.  As Sheldon says, “My mother had me tested.”)  I grew up the oldest child in a noisy, boisterous family in which there was neither space nor quiet.  During the time I lived at home, my anxiety levels kept me up near the ceiling, which may explain my fondness for spiders, bats and hanging upside down in the yoga studio.

I've been looking for space, quiet and peace ever since I left.  By accident, I discovered that there’s a lot of comfort for introverts in fibre and that the introspection which can come with yoga is perfect for those of us who find the world too much with us.  The fact is, I'm looking for whatever keeps me grounded, whether that be wearing flat shoes, sitting in meditative concentration or spending countless hours at spindle and wheel.  Practice keeps me in touch with the Earth.  It settles my ever too close to the surface emotions and calms my unruly mind.  It reminds me to breathe.

Practice keeps me grounded in practical matters, too.  Because of my fibre work, I know that the lovely fabrics we are told are natural are probably not. (Bamboo fabric, for example, is likely rayon, and can be as processed and chemical laden as any synthetic fibre. Cotton, unless it’s organic, comes from an industry which is among the worst offenders for pollution, water waste and poor labour practices.  Don't get me started on corn.)  Because of my fibre work, I have a clearer understanding of how much goes into those consumer goods we take for granted.

 Remember this?  It took me several hours to spin a bit of cotton fluff:

Eight hours labour and four dollars’ worth of material later, I had a lovely knitted wash cloth, the kind you buy by the pack for a few dollars in Dollarama:

This cloth is much nicer in life.  It's easy to knit: 39 stitches; Row 1 is knitted; Row 2 is K1, P1.  Repeat until you have a square and then finish with a crocheted chain to hang.  For those who want the spinning stats: I spun cotton sliver 2 Z threads, firmly plied those 2 together S and cabled the 4 threads Z, overtwisting the yarn.  Singles were 30 wpi; cabled yarn is 13 wpi.

Except that it isn't.  This simple thing represents a lot more to me than any store bought cloth.  It reminds me what care and attention can bring to mundane things.  It prompts me to consider my choices and their potential effects on others in whatever I do.  It brings gratitude for the people who do the work that keeps me in a very comfortable lifestyle.  It will do well with my presently curing handmade soap. This simple thing is my “Namaste” to all Beings.

Does that answer your question?


(Hey, Vera! All good thoughts go with you.) 

Friday, 12 July 2013

Somebody's Watching Me: Unravelling the Sutras (Yes, It Really Is All About Knitting)

Okay, I admit it-I'm dazed and confused.  (This is news, you ask?)  I've been struggling with the Yoga Sutras (as interpreted by Edwin Bryant) for a while now and I'm not sure I'm progressing along the path to understanding.  This succinct manual for the practice of yoga as systematised by Patanjali is intended as a guide to lead yogis through eight levels/limbs of yoga, in an attempt to reach the final level, "samadhi," variously interpreted by different schools of yoga as single-pointed consciousness, awareness of one's Self, a union of self and the True Self/Universal Consciousness/God/Whatever Else You May Call It.  In the yoga sutras, the effort is in separating the One Who Watches from The One Who Is Being Watched.

Heady stuff, no?  This is what happens when you leap down the Rabbit Hole of yoga philosophy-you jump, you fall and chaos reigns.  The problem stems from the attempt to talk about things which escape word and thought; the moment we begin to think about these matters, we become Ego/self, the thing that is being watched. We are one step further away from Purusha, the Self, the Observer (for Fringe fans) to which we wish to return. No matter who or what you think you are, You are Not That.

Sometimes, the background obscures What Is.

Think of it this way: as a knitter, you may make a scarf.  This scarf is a product of materials outside of us (yarns and needles). It is also the result of your accumulated knowledge, the knowledge of other knitters, your personal tastes and skills.  That lovely scarf contains a bit of you and every knitter who has gone before, as well as every knitter yet to be, but, in knitting the scarf, you are not the scarf itself, no matter how immersed you become in the process of knitting or how attached you become to the item.  Beyond the knitted item, beyond all the conditions required to make that knitted item, there is The Knitter, You, who simply observes the knitting and the scarf, without judgement or attachment. The scarf completed, you put needles and yarn aside and you are done.  Your work is finished and you rest, but You The Knitter remains.  The Knitter is not lost when you stop knitting.

Most of the time, we live and work with our knitting ego, not The Knitter.  Ego judges the knitting, makes choices which affect our work and those who share with us.  Ego is pleased, unhappy, neutral about our results.  We get glimpses of The Knitter in those moments when we stop thinking about our knitting, when we simply "know" what to do next and the scarf feels as though it's knitting itself.  (The instant we become aware of this "Knitting Bliss," it's gone and we are back to working with our Knitting Ego.)  Beyond it all, we are aware of our Inner Knitter, who watches, at peace.  We can't choose to be The Knitter; we can choose only to take the steps which might lead to Her discovery.

Those moments of Knitted Bliss come with long hours of practice.  I have yet to meet a new knitter who was aware of her Inner Knitter.  Most of those early steps are casting on and ripping out, two steps forward, three back to the beginning.  Gradually, with time and dedication, the new knitter moves to two steps forward, one step back.  She is making progress.  Slowly, she feels more connected with her knitting and with other knitters.  Eventually, if she chooses to go down that road, she will understand that there is Something about knitting that is content just to knit.  It no longer matter what she knits or how she knits it. She is knitting; however, she knits, The Knitter Abides.

If Patanjali's Sutras are the stitch patterns in yoga, we can think of Bryant's analysis as being akin to June Hemmons Hiatt's Principles of Knitting, the tome that explains it all. (I love that "sutra" translates as "thread" or "to stitch.")  Sometimes, words are like boulders in our path.  At other times, we need those words to act as guides.

I may be a wee bit closer to understanding the essence of the sutras.  I may be full of it and have things ass-backwards.  As I struggle, Purusha/Self/The Knitter watches.  And she knows.

Change the background and That Is begins to manifest.


Thursday, 11 July 2013

Bird on a Wire: Finding Balance

Pigeon Pose: Public Domain Image from Google

I tend to throw myself into my interests.  When I learned to weave, and then to spin, the pursuit of string consumed me.  I'd work my full time job, come home, grab a bite to eat and then sit down at my loom or wheel from 7 p.m. to midnight, every night.  My weekends were devoted to the discovery of yarns and cloth; I spent years in this practice, until my first child arrived and my priorities shifted.

I took a similar approach to yoga.  When I first came to yoga, shortly after I became enchanted with string, I changed my fibre practice to accommodate yoga classes.  Instead of heading straight home after work, I'd hop off the bus and go to a yoga class first.  I developed a routine: work, yoga, home, fibre.

Flinging oneself headlong into one's pursuits has its benefits.  If learning something really does require daily practice and 10,000 hours of study, then focused attention will move you along the path. Single-mindedness can bring awareness, attention to detail and new possibilities to explore.  Taking an interest certainly provides many hours of enjoyment, for you, at least, if not for your less-than-captivated family and friends, who may not appreciate the finer points of double-woven fabric on a back strap loom or the precise movements required to move into Downward Dog.  Then again, people always know where to find you--you're in the fibre room, surrounded by fleece; you're in the yoga studio, practising.

Devotion to a practice, any practice, can have its downside.  I was reminded of this today as I find myself exhausted after attending eight yoga classes since Sunday.  I could hardly get out of bed and have spent most of the day napping.  (Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, the two glasses of wine I had at a local restaurant last night may have contributed to my fatigue.  "Wild Child" is my middle name.)  Worse yet, I forgot a dear friend's birthday on Tuesday, because I was, you guessed it, at yoga.  Because of yoga, I haven't shared a meal with Mr. DD since Saturday.  The house is a mess.  (Well, it's usually a mess, but this time, the dust bunnies are stalking me, which is never a good sign.)  Might as well blame yoga for that, too.

It occurred to me that, if one of the goals in yoga is seeking balance, then I just might be doing it wrong. Perhaps, my yoga practice includes being mindful of other activities and other people, especially those I love. Perhaps, cramming in as much time at the yoga studio as I can is not always the best approach for a yoga practitioner in training. Perhaps, it's time to walk the wire a little more mindfully.

So, no yoga poses for me tonight, at least not away from home. It's 28C here, with a Humidex measurement of 39C, too hot for me to be walking to class, let alone practising asanas.  Instead, the dear friend and I went out for tea soda at my local coffee shop. I'll spend the evening sitting in the backyard, reading the Yoga Sutras, with a bit of Pigeon Pose thrown in for good measure. Saturday is marked for a soap making session with another friend. I feel my mood lifting, shifting, as balance is restored.


Saturday, 6 July 2013

A Sticky Situation: Warding Off Hungry Ghosts

There's a lovely thread currently running in one of the local Ravelry groups, involving lovely, lovely people and some exceptionally lovely spindles.  Everyone is enthusiastic about their spinning, about finding the right tools to do the jobs required, about discovering the joy of working with beautiful, well-crafted objects.  I'm having a tough time resisting the call to collect more tools.  I need to resist-a few new spindles came home with me from Fibre Week and I'm at the point where I should be thinning the herd, not expanding it.  Beauty calls, though, and it's taking much of my will to resist its siren song.

My Hungry Ghost tends to manifest in my spinning.  I'm not tempted by fancy houses, or clothes (that's quite clear!).  I've never owned a car (which is not as noble a gesture as you might think, since I have an excellent, live in chauffeur); I don't travel that well, so I never want to stray far from home. If you gather from this description that I might be in the running for the Poster Child of Non-Consumerism, you'd be off-base; I may not be haunted by hunger for the usual Western measures of success, but I'm haunted nonetheless.  My Hungry Ghost is howling now and I need some way to calm Her.

One of the requirements for Level 1 of the Master Spinner Programme is stick spinning. Students must spin a 10 yard sample skein of wool, using only a "twisty stick," which consists of a dowel with a cup hook in one end.  The twisty stick is a step up from thigh spinning, which uses no tools other than your body.  A bit of fibre is rolled up or down the thigh to elongate, twist and strengthen it, more fibre is added, elongated, twisted, until you have a useful amount of yarn.

This style of spinning is painstakingly slow.  You might think that little yarn can be produced this way.  Not so-many cultures, including those of the Pacific Northwest Coast in Canada, used thigh spinning and other forms of simple spinning to produce stunningly beautiful Dancing Blankets, and other ceremonial or practical objects.  Compared to modern tools and the speed at which hand spinners can produce yarn today, thigh spinning or stick spinning is primarily viewed now as an historical curiosity, something we do to remind ourselves just how slow yarn production once was.  We honour our ancestors by sampling bits of string on a stick.

It's the slow pace of stick spinning that I turn to for help in quietening my Hungry Ghost.  I take a handful of Corriedale locks, attach fibres to fibres.  I twist and pull and twist and pull until thread forms, mere centimetres of string, which I wind around the stick for storage.  I pull and twist more fibres. The twist runs along the path to my fibre hand, strengthening the connection between hand and spindle.  As I work, the Hungry Ghost watches, looking for an excuse to complain again, but the flowing rhythm of the fibres soothes her and she begins to settle as I meditate on the powerful act of making string.

Our ancestors would be likely astonished at my use of stick spinning as an act of meditation. Then again, perhaps they wouldn't.  Perhaps, as they spun together, in work, in rest, in community, they, too, felt the connection between hand and heart, between body and spirit, between themselves and all that is.

My Hungry Ghost is quieter, now.  Still, I turn the stick, pull and twist the fibres and set my mind to the task of making yarn.  The Ghost remains nearby, but for a moment, She is not quite so Hungry.

I found this stick in the park a few years ago.  She suits stick spinning very well.


Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Cotton Spinning at Home: A Meditation on String

There’s a click and a whir, sometimes a clatter as I pull too tightly, a band jumps and a mousetrap releases, bringing the process to a halt.  When my touch is light, no grasping, no clinging, when the rhythm flows, that thin line forms smoothly, twisting, twisting, from point to my fingers.  A slight flick and the line moves, past the point, to be held securely until it is needed again.  Back and forth, up and down, my hand guides the line and the line guides me, until I feel my breath soften, my heart open and I am calm again.

I am spinning cotton fibres on my charkha.  It’s a hot summer day and I am sitting on my front step, watching the thread form, sitting in awareness of my task and the world around me.  A sparrow hops over, head cocked, paying close attention to the being doing that strange thing.  I greet her.  She watches and then flits away, on to more exciting things. Back and forth goes my left hand, right hand turning the wheel, up and down, as fibres pull from the mass and form a sturdy thread.  I am spinning cotton.

Mohandas Gandhi knew the power of charkha, using that simple tool to turn the world’s attention to his country people’s plight.  Day after day, he, his wife and their followers sat at charkha, spinning and spinning, taking thread to loom to weave the khadi cloth that became a symbol of liberation.  When day’s work was done, Gandhi moved back to charkha for meditation practice.  That click and whir soothed his soul, healed his body and calmed his mind.

I sit, too.  There are no great plans of liberation, no cloth to weave, no goal for the thread that glides through my fingers, although ideas will surely come.  If I cling, to my fibres, to an outcome, if my attention drifts away from the moment, the line snaps and things fall apart.  The clatter of non-attention snaps me back to my task and I must begin again.

I am spinning cotton. My charkha practice is simply That and I am That, held gently to the wheel and its history by the string that shapes from the cloud of cotton fibres held softly, lightly in my left hand, as my right hand turns the wheel, as the fibres slip and a thin line forms smoothly.  All is well.


Monday, 1 July 2013

Ghost Busters: Dealing with Hungry Ghosts and Avoiding a Zombie Apocalypse

My teaching is over for the summer and it's time to return my attention to yoga studies.  I'm a student again and it feels good.  (I'm always a student, but sometimes, I wear a teacher's hat.)  I've been spinning and reading and thinking about yoga matters; I'm all over the map today.  So, all over the map is where I'll go-for some reason, I've been thinking about Hungry Ghosts, how they affect me and how I can move away from being one.

The Hungry Ghost is a Buddhist concept which, in Western terms, is often used to illustrate an insatiable appetite for possessions and worldly pursuits.  Hungry Ghosts are described as having huge stomachs, long narrow necks, tiny mouths and grasping hands.  No matter how much nourishment they obtain, it is never enough.  They consume and consume and consume, never soothing their appetites.  Because they are consumed by consuming, they constantly look ahead for the next thing which might satiate those voracious appetites. The result is that they miss the opportunities they have Now.

I was fascinated by the Hungry Ghost image from the moment I first heard of it. The parallels to our capitalistic, consumer-driven culture seemed obvious and I could see how such Ghosts exists in many, many people.  More importantly, I recognized that Hungry Ghost in me and began to study it.

Some years after my Hungry Ghost manifested itself, Colin mentioned a book in one of his yoga classes.  That book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, shook my world.  I discovered that, not only could we become possessed by objects we purchase, we can become consumed by our intellectual and spiritual pursuits.  The search for our deeper spiritual self can become just another adventure in shopping around, another possession to add to our collection, if we look for a reward or specific result to our seeking.

Our society is run by Hungry Ghosts.  We are encouraged to always want more, to be in search of the next big thing, to stuff ourselves with food, haunt the clothing racks, build big, big houses, drive big, big cars, to grasp, to cling.  We look down on those without money; if we have money, it's never enough.  Anything without monetary value, anything given away must be worthless.  If you need something, but don't have the coins to buy it or if you choose to hand over the goods without taking the coins, you must be doing something wrong.

Our Hungry Ghosts can become Zombies, attempting to nourish themselves by destroying others.  Zombie Ghosts bring a lot of pain, to the people around them and to themselves. They climb up the ladder on the backs of others, consuming everything around them as they go.  Zombie Ghosts may reach the top of that ladder, only to wonder why the view from the summit is not high enough.  Worse yet, they find themselves isolated and lonely and still not satisfied.  At that point, the only way out is down, which can be a very bumpy ride.

I am as deeply consumed by my Ghost as the next person.  (Just ask me about haunting the vendors at Fibre Week!)  I want things and sometimes, I get things, and then I want more.  I'm especially driven by spiritual spirits-the ghosts which push me towards a deeper Self.  I read and I study and I practice.  I still don't get It, so I look for more.  This led to a rude awakening several years ago, when the things I thought would protect me, the practices I'd followed since I was a girl, were of no help when my world came crashing down. The resulting mindful slap upside my head forced me to rethink everything I'd ever wanted or believed to be true.

If you're chased by a Holy Ghost, or have become one, in your material or spiritual world, there's no need to beat yourself up or cast aside the things and practices which are dear to you.  But, sometimes, if it seems that  what you're doing and how you're doing it are not working, if the stuff you have or the things you seek are not giving you satisfaction, you may want to glance over your shoulder.  There may be a Hungry Ghost hovering nearby.  Take the time to examine how you might truly soothe her, before she becomes a Zombie.