Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

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!)