Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

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.