Thursday, March 24, 2016
An old monk liked to sit in meditation on a large flat rock next to a placid pool. Yet every time he began his devotions in earnest, just as soon as he had crossed his legs and settled down, he would spot an insect struggling helplessly in the water. Time after time, he would lift up his creaky old body and deliver the tiny creature to safety, before settling down again on his rocky seat. So his contemplations went, day after day..
His brother monks, dedicated meditators who also went off daily to sit alone in the rocky ravines and caves of that desolate region, eventually became aware that the old lama hardly ever managed to sit still but actually spent most of his meditation sessions plucking insects out of the tiny pool. Although it certainly seemed fitting to save the life of a helpless sentient being of any kind, large or small, some of the wondered if the old monk's meditations might not be greatly furthered if he sat undisturbed elsewhere. away from such distractions. One day they finally mentioned their concerns to him.
"Wouldn't it be more beneficial to sit elsewhere and meditate deeply, undisturbed all day? That way you could more swiftly gain perfect enlightenment, and then you could free all living beings from the ocean of conditioned existence?" one asked the old man.
"Perhaps you could just meditate by the pool with your eyes closed," another brother suggested.
"How can you develop tranquility and deep, diamondlike concentration if you keep getting up and sitting down a hundred times in each meditation session?" a young scholarly monk demanded, emboldened by the more tactful queries of his senior brethren... And thus it went on.
The venerable old lama listened attentively, saying nothing. When all had had their say, he bowed gratefully and said, "I'm sure my meditations would be more fruitful if I sat unmoved all day, brothers, as you say. But how can an old worthless one like myself, who has vowed again and again to give this lifetime (and all his lives) to serving and liberating others, just sit with closed eyes and hardened heart, praying and intoning the altruistic mantra of Great Compassion, while right before me helpless creatures are drowning?"
To that simple, humble question, none of the assembled monks could find a reply.
I haven't posted a Tibetan Buddhist story in quite some time, but when this one appeared in front of me again a few days ago I decided to paint a quick picture.
Saturday, March 19, 2016
Sometimes when I think I want to draw I'll find myself doing absolutely everything I can think of to put off the moment of starting to work.
I make another cup of tea.
I find a telephone call that must be made, a letter or an email that must be answered.
I sharpen pencils.
I look at the plant on the windowsill and decide that this is just the time to water it, or fertilize it, or prune it.
Maybe it's even time to repot it.
So I hunt for the houseplant book or search online where it says severely that this kind of plant enjoys being pot-bound and should never be repotted.
Then I might turn to the jars of brushes and pens on my drawing table, and find that some of the pens are drying out, so of course those must be sorted out..
Far too often I find a book to read until it's time to do some other practical task - like making dinner.
The drawing has been put off to another day, days that have added up to weeks this winter.
A week or so ago I came across the relatively recent illustrations Inga Moore made for 'The Wind in the Willows'. Her work isn't too easy to find online since she has no web page and tends to be reclusive. I did find a very well written article about her here. According to reviews I've read of it the book has been seriously abridged but I'm thinking of buying a copy for the 100+ illustrations. I can always read the unabridged book we have here while I look at her pictures.
I may just give up sharpening my pencils for good.. or maybe not. The reward of art is in being able to spend time in that world apart from the world we know.
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Spring is generally known as Mud Season here in Halifax. While people on the opposite coast have already welcomed snowdrops and crocuses and are currently spending their mornings dancing through fields of daffodils, we're hauling on our Wellingtons before heading to the park. Guess where Crow has gone? Must be nice to have wings and an open schedule. Goodness knows, he might even be in England in 1903 for all I can tell from this postcard he sent.
Before I climb into my rubber overshoes, I thought I'd mention something about blogs you may or may not already know. Earlier in the week all the content disappeared from a co-blogger's site. Eventually I heard from him that his blog had been hacked and all the posts deleted by some awful person. It wasn't until then I remembered I hadn't backed up my own blog in about two years. Losing everything we've written over the course of years can be a scary prospect and it's not just hackers we need to be concerned with.
Remember that Google owns Blogger and all its content. Occasionally blogs disappear for no reason Google can explain or fix. There have also been situations where Google decided to block a blog for policy violations the blogger may not have made.
Anyway, here's how I backed up Phantsythat and Adventure's Ink to my computer. Now I should mention that I have an Apple mac
You'll see 'Import & back up' at the top
Click on 'Back up content'
Click on 'Save to your computer'
The content backup including all posts, pages and comments (but not pictures) can be saved as an XML file (that appears on Text Edit on my computer).
Okay, if you open the XML file you've created you'll see gibberish (at least I do). What you do next is to highlight the file on your desktop and go to 'open with' in 'finder' (file). In my case I'm offered the choices of opening the XML file in Safari or Opera (it might be different for you depending on the browsers you run) since XML can only be opened online. I opened 'blog-03-13-2016-1.xml' in Safari. It still looks like gibberish but if you keep scrolling down you'll see the text of your blog posts appear. You can save the XML/text edit file in your documents and replace/update as you prefer.
This is simply what I know how to do with a Blogger blog and the instructions about that are standard, but if you use a different service, have a PC, or need clearer information you can always do a search for how to back up your own blog. Considering XML was designed for Windows you might even see a pristine copy of your blog reproduced outside Blogger. While I can't be sure of any of that what I am sure of is that it's good to have a backup copy of all the text I've written over the years and the comments made by my friends.
Crow promised to return when the Spring flowers bloom here - that usually happens some time in May. Perhaps I'll be lucky this year and he'll come home early; I'll keep the fruitcake and the Remy stocked up just in case. He's always full of surprises.
Quote of the week:
“I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process”
– Vincent Van Gogh
Friday, March 11, 2016
Irish poet, philosopher, and theological scholar John O'Donohue (1956-2008) wrote that the Celtic Christian and pre-Christian traditions are closely aligned, both rooted in the natural world.
"Celtic thought contributes magnificently to a philosophy of compassion deriving from its sense that everything belongs in one diverse, living unity. On an ontological level, the exercise of compassion is the transfiguration of dualism: the separation of matter and spirit, masculine and feminine, body and soul, human and divine, person and animal, and person and element. The beauty of the Celtic tradition was that it managed to think and articulate all of these presences together in a profound, intimate unity. So, if compassion is a praxis which tries to bring that unity into explicit activity and presentation, then Celtic philosophy of unity contributes strongly to compassion. The Celtic sense of no separating border between nature and humans allows us to have compassion with animals and with places in nature. For the Celts, nature wasn't a huge expanse of endless matter. Nature was an incredibly elemental and passionately individual presence, and that is why many gods and spirits are actually tied into very explicit places, and to the memory and history and narrative of the places.
"The predominant silence in which the animal world lives is very touching. As children on a farm, we were taught to respect animals. We were told that the dumb animals are blessed. They cannot say what they are feeling and we should have great compassion for them. They were tended to and looked after and people became upset if something happened to them. There was a great sense of solidarity between us and our older brothers and sisters, the animals.
"One of the tragedies in Western religion is the way that we have been so elitist in reserving the spiritual exclusively for the human. That is an awful, barbaric crime. When you subtract the notion of self from a presence, you objectify it and then that presence can be used and abused. It is a sin and blasphemy to say that animals have no spirits and souls. One of the cornerstones of contemplative life is going below the surface of the external and the negativity. The contemplative attends to the roots of wrong and violence. Because the animals live essentially what I call the contemplative life, maybe the most sacred prayer of the world actually happens within animal consciousness. Secondly, sometimes when you look into an animal's eyes, you see incredible pain. I think there are levels of suffering for which humans are not refined enough, and maybe our older, ancient brothers and sisters, the animals, carry some of that for us."
As you know, today is the anniversary of the calamity that struck Japan in 2011. Fukushima prefecture, a primary centre of agriculture, remains too contaminated for its inhabitants to occupy. One man, Naoto Matsumura, returned to look after the abandoned animals. That's his picture at the top and you can find more here.
"Self-compassion is paramount. When you are compassionate with yourself, you trust in your soul, which you let guide your life. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny better than you do."
Friday, March 4, 2016
Rather than painting, drawing and writing blog posts these past few days I've found myself reading books and finding thoughtful passages here and there on the internet. Here's something I think is worth sharing:
From Keeping the Faith Without a Religion by Roger Housden:
"It seems to me that a materialist view of the universe is reductionist. It makes every kind of experience subservient to the laws of matter. It applies the tenets of the known to the mystery of why we are here at all. It chases away not only the old gods and spirits and half heard whispers in the night; it chases away the mystery of life and being itself. For a materialist, there can be no mystery that will not eventually be made clear in the light of reason and critical intelligence.
"Ultimately, what is in danger of being excluded from the cultural conversation is not the old gods, but the quality of imagination that gave birth to them; an imagination that sees and feels humanity to be part of a living, breathing world with an intelligence that we will never fathom; full of qualities that our ancestors gave names to, but that live on as always even as their names have fallen away.
William Wordsworth gives voice to this imaginative faculty in this excerpt from his poem, 'Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey':
And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of the setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of thought,
And rolls through all things."
The beautiful bones of Tintern Abbey (pictured here) rise from the banks of the River Wye on Welsh side of the English-Welsh border. The abbey was founded in 1131 for the White Monks of the Cistercian Order, followers of the Rule of St. Benedict, whose silent and austere way of life was devoted to prayer, scholarship, agricultural labor and self-sufficiency.
Quote of the week:
“Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake”