Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Beautiful Day: Small Thoughts in a Big Land

It's a breezy, sunny day, although thick grey-blue clouds are building over the mountains to the south.  Disarmingly tame quail walk about our campsite, bobbing their silly fascinator heads and singing songs unfamiliar to me.  I'm hanging out here with Morris while Mr. DD and young Ms. DD run errands.

I've spent the morning sipping coffee, sketching memories of our trip out here, knitting socks and listening to local CBC radio.  If I was a braver person, that's all I'd do, but the existence of small devices to keep me "in touch" with the digital world sing a siren song that I can't  don't resist. These tools aren't all bad, of course: we have no cellphone, so my iPad provides a way to make plans with the children and friends in the area. I do remember past camping trips where there was nothing but us, a tent and the forest.  We all survived somehow, although I don't miss tenting one bit.

Our little camper is my art studio on wheels.  I sit in the loft bedroom (actually, the place where the mattress sits over the truck box in the fifth wheel).  I used to dream of a time when we'd travel about while I pursued my artistic interests in various parts of the country.  Now, we're doing just that, despite or perhaps because of some serious setbacks in getting to this point.  It's a wonderful, privileged life and I am grateful for it.

Outside, the quail go walkabout and sing.  It's a beautiful day.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Landslide: Camping in Kelowna

We set out on our annual road trip last week, heading to British Columbia to visit children. We had the nicest weather on the drive out that we've ever had, although there is still a lot of snow on lower ground through the mountains near Calgary. Our first night, in Kinbrook Park, we parked by the marsh end of the lake and saw red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds, a huge owl and a magnificent pheasant the size of a peacock. (Auto-correct insists we saw a peasant the size of a pea, but I assure you, it was a large bird with a blazing red head, not a wee humble rural folk hiding in the brush.)

There were no bear sightings, but there are many deer and antelope about along with three young elk at the side of the road near Golden.  That's where the landslide was supposed to be. I was rather excited, but the highway was pristine, although there were signs of a recent slide. We think of mountains, rock and stone as fixed. Those who travel or live there know otherwise. When the mountains speak, we do well to listen.

This morning, we hiked up  to the first level of Knox Mountain, which is a good walk for prairie people, let alone a 7 year old prairie dog named Morris. We made it up and back, went for a last coffee with young Mr. DD before he headed back to Kamloops and work. Young Ms. DD and her father hit the bookstore before we dropped her home and drove back just ahead of the rain.

A long nap for all of us, some spinning for me, and we're ready to head out again.


Monday, 12 May 2014

Bang the Drum: On Being the Best Which is Yet to Be

                           "Ginger Baker is/was the best drummer in the world."

Depending upon your perspective, your response to that statement will be one of several things:
Beware of Mr. Baker (2012) Poster
Image from

  • "That's so true!"
  • "She's full of shit!"
  • "Why would she say that?"
  • "Who is Ginger Baker?"
For the record, Ginger Baker is generally thought of as one of the most brilliant drummers of the 1960's. If you've heard of him, you will likely think of his time with bands like Cream, and Blind Faith, as well as his work with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce.  Baker was the first person to draw my attention to the art and craft of drumming. Until I heard him, I thought drums were what you played when you couldn't play another instrument, rather like playing tambourine or cowbell. (In my defense, before any drummers' heads explode, I was really, really, gosh-darn young when I thought this. The tambourine and cowbell players will have to fend for themselves.)  Little did I know.  A friend's older sister introduced Baker's work to me through the Cream and Blind Faith albums.  That was that-much as I loved groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, from then on, it was the more driven music of Baker and Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Pink Floyd, and later, Johnny Rotten, The Sex Pistols and The Clash who called to me.

Even way back then, I can remember fierce, heated arguments with friends as to what group or musician was "The Best."  We'd rant for hours, making the case for this one and that and, of course, never coming to resolution. How could we?  "The Best" of anything is always subjective, affected by your experiences, knowledge and interests.  If you grew up listening to different music, if you're not part of the Western World, of a different culture, time or age, "The Best" drummer in the world will be someone else. More likely, you don't care about the matter at all.  If you don't, does that detract from the drummer's talent?  I doubt that anyone would argue that it did.

We are continually caught up in defining "The Best" and in attempts to be "The Best." Most of the time, when asked what being "The Best" means, we have little understanding that the best of things are always just out of reach.  When we want to be "The Best of It All," whatever It is, or worse yet, we think we already are, we are simply caught in striving, chasing a goal that can never be attained, setting ourselves up for frustration and suffering. 

Does being Best make you a better person?  I assure you it does not. If you doubt me, there is a documentary on Netflix, Beware of Mr. Baker, in which Ginger Baker repeatedly proves that this is not the case. Baker is still alive (much to my astonishment), but most of his drumming ability is gone, which is why I began by making the statement that he is/was the best drummer.  Do his current limits diminish his past achievements?  I don't think so.  

Making the claim that you are Best or striving to be so is not the same as Doing your Best. Being the Best means you are defining yourself around your current or past abilities, placing yourself in an adversarial, comparative position against others. If you believe you must be or are Best, you will never be satisfied with what you are right now, for there will always be a better drummer, a better spinner, knitter, or yoga practitioner than you. In the meantime, the people who are Doing their Best, working to practice to the highest standards they are able to achieve for themselves right now will be progressing in leaps and bounds, enjoying the moment and cherishing their small (but many) victories when they appear. Ginger Baker understands that-his most violent reactions to anything in Beware of Mr. Baker (and there are many) come when people try to define him or music: "Don't put music in boxes!" he shouts. "Especially not my music!"  For Baker, drumming was what he had to do, what he was, but not because he set out to be Best.  

I had a lesson in the difference between Being Best and Doing Best in Colin's Level 1/2 yoga class this morning, when Colin asked us to use our sensory organs rather than our muscles to feel our way into the pose Parighasana. For my own safety, I had to turn inward and focus only on what I could do this morning, relaxing into the pose as we moved through each challenge and coming out of it when the process went a little too far. As a result, I was the Best Student in the Room, hands down, absolutely and completely.  I truly was.

The thing is, so was everyone else.  There wasn't one student in the class who didn't challenge herself, test her limits and feel her way as deeply into Parighasana as she could. What we achieved was remarkable, not because of how any one of us could move physically, but because we were all focused on doing our personal best.  I didn't feel an atom of competition in the class, which in itself can be a rare thing, because although it's not encouraged, yoga classes can become competitive when striving enters the practice. That didn't happen.  We moved as our best selves, into our bodies and united as a class full of people doing their best.

Doing Our Best was wonderful, uplifting and expansive.  It was a good morning, spent simply, exploring, working mindfully, with effort and non-effort. I am grateful for that.




Friday, 9 May 2014

Cry, Baby: Barbara Walker and the Treatment of Women


Three weeks ago, in Nigeria, more than 200 school girls were taken from their school, kidnapped by a group of masked men, who have since threatened to sell the girls, including a 9 year old, as slaves and child brides.  (By the way, I abhor the term, “child bride.”  The correct term is “sex slave.”)  This is not an uncommon event in Nigeria and in many other places around the world; every day,women, young and old, are emotionally abused, kidnapped, raped, sold, beaten, and killed, usually by men, often by those who claim to work for the glory of whatever god they worship. 

I will not name the group responsible for this current atrocity, for to do so is to feed its power, to give these men a significance and identity not afforded to the girls they have taken, girls whose names most of us have never heard, girls who,until recently,were not as important as the male owner of a basketball team when he was called out for racist remarks he thought he was making in private, or whatever celebrities on the circuit are up to at the moment.  Now, the focus has shifted somewhat.  The Western world has decided to pay attention to the girls, offering moral and tactical support to help these children return to their families.  There are reports that the kidnappers might be willing to trade the girls for prisoners or ransom.  As an example of just how low we have sunk in devaluing human lives, a report in the local paper quotes someone who has “previously brokered face-to-face “peace” talks with this group" as saying this: “. . .it is possible to detect a conciliatory tone in this statement from  S-he is not saying he is going to kill the girls (LeaderPost, May 9, 2014, emphasis mine).”  Big of him.

How did we come to this?  At what point and why did men learn to hate women so deeply?  How did women, life-givers to all humans, become the targets for such rage? 

Barbara Walker thinks she knows.  I am speaking of that Barbara Walker, she of knitting fame, known to knitters young and old for her Knitting Treasuries.  Barbara wrote the bibles of knitting; when she finished that work to her satisfaction, she went on to write many books on the history of goddess religions and matriarchal systems.  In one of these books, The Crone: Woman of Age, Wisdom, and Power,  Ms. Walker traces the current madness of men back to a time thousands of years ago, when men began the suppression of matriarchy, replacing it with a system of violence and greed, a system in which anyone who is not Us is The Other, someone or something to be destroyed.  These characteristics, Walker claims, are traits of the patriarchal societies in which we now live. 

Patriarchal systems (most notably, the Christian church) actively suppressed female wisdom, punishing those women who were sought out as the keepers of wisdom, healers in their community, responsible for familial lineage.  Women were punished unto death for daring to seek education (sound familiar?); Walker cites a figure of over nine million people, virtually all of them women, killed in the witch hunt frenzy (The Crone, “The Crone Turns Witch,” pp. 125 to 146).  The suppression of women has a long, long history.  Current events are a continuation of tradition.

The Crone was published in 1985.  There's a good chance you've never heard of this book, let alone read it, even if you know Barbara Walker and her gifts to the fibre world.  Walker is an example of what she writes-we think of her as that lady who wrote those knitting books, not the strong, powerful force of intellect and champion of women’s rights she has always been.  She’s a scholar-you may not agree with her thesis, but she has the documentation to support her claims.  I consider myself to be a strong feminist, but there are sections in her book that made me go, “Whoa!”  Mr. DD read it and was fascinated; it’s a text anyone who desires some understanding of the world’s current treatment of women should  seek out and read.

The question remains: what can we do to help?  Raising our voices against this violence is a start and, by “speaking out,” I don’t mean liking pages or signing on line petitions.  Raising our voices means demanding change, face to face, with politicians, our neighbours, each other.  It means marching and active protesting.

In the long term, we will need a massive shift in our view of current patriarchal systems and our perspectives and treatment of women in these systems, which operate in every part of the globe, including here.  I’ll leave it to Barbara Walker to summarize the benefits of a shift away from the male back to the female:

If the self-seeking powerlust of mature men were made subject to the “intuitive” judgment of mature women, instead of the other way round, surely human life and society could be improved. The earth might become a safer, kinder, healthier place. People might care more for the welfare of future generations. Instead of trying to escape inevitable death in futile fantasies, they might enrich life by honest work on their legacy to their posterity.
Women, who have suffered so much at the hands of patriarchal mythmakers, need no longer pretend not to understand their motives.  God can’t, but woman can call man to account for his gynocidal, genocidal behavior.She had better do it soon, for he is already counting down to doomsday. (The Crone, p. 178)


Monday, 5 May 2014

Just Another Day: Regina Weavers' and Spinners' Mini-Retreat

We ventured out on Saturday morning in single digit temperatures and snow, yes, snow. While it's not unusual to have weather like this at the beginning of May (and we escaped the dumping Calgary took), the Winter-Which-Refuses-to-End has worn down many people.  It's hard to accept what's happening and live in the moment.  Sometimes, you need a bit of distraction and fun.  For me, that fun came in the form of the Regina Weavers' and Spinners' Guild Mini-Retreat.

I taught two workshops for retreat participants-Yoga/Meditation for Fibre Artists and Tapestry Weaving a Cellphone Bag.  It's been a while since I've taught either class, so I was a bit rusty.  I had a plan for both, timed to the minute, but the plan went out the window as soon as we started, as plans often do.  The classes were relaxed, casual, guided by participants' interests; as usual, I suspect I learned more than my students.

I focused on mindfulness meditation in the morning workshop. It's always a surprise to a newcomer to meditation when you inform them that the "zoning out" they often do while spinning, weaving, knitting in front of the television is not meditation.  In fact, it's likely not even concentration, which is usually what we're doing when we say we're meditating.  I always refer to Jon Kabat-Zinn's comment, "Meditation is not what you think," which I believe is the best non-description of meditation written in a very long while. If you consider the experience we often have when using fibre arts to relax-one in which we multitask while our hands act independently of our minds and our minds are all over the place-we can see that experience is a long way from mindfulness, in which we bring our full attention to the task at hand.  If our default mode is zoning out, then we can think of meditation as zoning in. We focus on what we are doing Now and only that. As the saying goes, "When you eat, just eat."  When spinning, you just spin.

If you can sort out the difference between zoning out and zoning in, you can consider the idea that what one does in meditation is not meditation itself.  "Meditation is very simple, but not so easy," is another famous aphorism.  Bringing oneself to a state of meditation requires devoted practice and it's likely that most of us won't get anywhere near a meditative state in our lifetimes.  You may get glimpses of that state along the way, but, of course, once you realize you're having the experience, it's gone.  So, what we are actually doing in most meditation classes is learning to concentrate.  Once we train our minds to single-pointed attentiveness (and again, that's far easier said than done), we are more receptive to approaching that meditative state.

Just as many meditation traditions use candle flames, icons, beads or other objects as concentration tools, so can spinners use their craft as a tool for concentration.  (I'll stay with the spinning practice here, although any tool can be used for meditation concentration.) Because we love spinning and are familiar with the process, spinning can be used to illustrate both attachment and aversion-attachment to the spinning habits we love, aversion when something changes to draw us out of our default practices. We can move out of multitasking and focus on the essence of spinning.  At the same time, we can practice separating ourselves from the results-"Am I doing this right? Is the yarn good enough?"  We begin to move into a state of detachment/non-attachment.

If you're a practical person, meditation/concentration will make you a better spinner, for how can it not? When we bring full awareness to the task at hand, when we use all our senses to not only see, but feel and hear and smell and even, perhaps, taste the yarn forming with the whirl of spindle or wheel through our guidance, we begin to notice subtleties not apparent while our hands are on auto-pilot, our eyes are on the images on that screen and our minds are rushing to a thousand other things of past and future.  Becoming a better anything by meditation is not the goal, but sometimes, it's a nice bonus.

I learned more than a few things this past weekend.  Plans go out the window.  Meditation is much more difficult to explain (and understand) than asana. Two hours is not nearly enough time to explore building a yoga/meditation practice. Then again, plans don't need to be written in stone; it's a good thing to practice teaching on the fly. Two hours is enough to give people a bit of tapas, a taste of possibilities. A steady practice of meditation/concentration will often give you glimpses of how the world has changed for you when you least expect to see them.  I had packed my camera and my iPad for the retreat. I had intended to take photographs to post and show the work students had done and how the day went for participants.  It wasn't until I arrived home that I realized I had not taken a single photo all day.  I was far too busy-teaching, visiting, eating, and, yes, shopping.  I was living in and enjoying each moment.  As a result, I had a very fine day.

You had to be there.


This is all I've got, folks: my purchases from the vendors-a Tabachek Compact Tibetan spindle from Golden Willow and two lovely batts from The Wacky Windmill, carded Polwarth, silk, bamboo and Firestar to spin.