Thursday, October 30, 2014

Happy Hallowe'en!

Tomorrow is Hallowe'en!

As a Canadian this holiday is a significant on in my social calendar. If I were in Canada I would most definitely be attending a party - possibly two - and decorating wherever I lived with all the fake cobwebs and Jack o'Lanterns I could afford.

This year I've got a few commitments that came up so my day will be less about the holiday and more about collecting people from the airport, feeding them and seeing off a dear friend at their leaving do.

I will almost definitely be wearing one of these:


Sketch...

Cut out...

Mould...

Paint...

Add details...



Finished!



Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I Am Mountain

I came across a review of an app called 'Mountain' several weeks back. The general idea is that it generates a mindfulness reminder in the form of a mountain that sits on your phone or tablet. The reviewer seemed a bit confused by the whole concept but I thought I'd give it a whirl given that I'm an enthusiastic Buddhist practitioner, so new tools are always fun to have at hand. Practice in the digital age! 

I downloaded the app and went through the series of questions given to me to determine what shape my mountain would take. 

There are several fun things right away about this app which really entertained me. For example, as it's loading when you first open it the words 'patience' are on the screen. I love this. So much. It reminds me of a practice I do when I'm waiting for something. I call it my 'waiting practice' - to keep things simple.  

I focus on my breath while I'm waiting, wherever I'm waiting. For the doctor, in a queue, for the train to arrive at the station - these are all fabulous chances to just be. 

It was a real challenge for me when I started because the compulsion to look at my phone was so strong. I hadn't realised how much I turned to it for entertainment or distraction. Or how much I used it to feel 'busy' when I had nothing else to do or something was taking longer than I'd expected. 
I still feel the compulsion but it's much easier to just sit with that and experience it. Examine it like, "Oh, that's what's going on now" instead of acting on it. 

Anyway - this app starts with 'patience' instead of telling us to wait, and that's pretty cool and a very good indication of what's to come. 

My mountain...

After the first time it loads you are never asked questions again. You get your mountain and it rotates slowly on the screen. There are clouds and stars come out at night. Sometimes it rains and sometimes it snows. The trees change colour and occasionally there's something random imbedded in it - but the mountain remains largely the same. 

I showed it to a colleague and was promptly met with the question, "But what are you supposed to DO with it?" 

Well - nothing. It's not about doing. It's an app about being. And I find it extremely effective. For example, one morning I was eating my breakfast and trying to read a book. My mind was all over the place though and I couldn't seem to concentrate on the words. So I thought, "I'll check out my mountain for a bit." 

I loaded it up - patiently - and sat eating my breakfast and just watching the mountain slowly turn. My brain almost instantly calmed down. It was just focused on my mountain. The clouds got thick and it began to snow, which was actually really exciting because I'd seen rain on the mountain before but not snow! 


And then some words popped up on the screen. I AM BEAUTY. That was great. Just - something else to contemplate in my day and in that moment as I sat there with my liquid breakfast in hand. 

I have to say - this is probably one of the coolest apps on my phone and a brilliant example of functional design. The creator has managed to successfully capture the essence of mindfulness practice in a digital format.




Thursday, October 23, 2014

Art, art, art... - Berlin journal

My time in Berlin was largely spent in museums. We went to the Pergamon, the Altes, the Neues, Topography of Terror, Deutsches Historisches museum and the Gemaldegalerie. Never mind that the city itself is a historic lesson as bullet riddled buildings and statues as well as chunks of the Wall are to be found in every area. 

I absorbed so much while I was there and am still processing a lot of it. The museums are immense and the collections varied. I could share so much of the art I found there but have selected a few of the things which stopped my mind. 


A bust of Athena.
This was stunning to look at and I marvelled at it for quite a while. 

I looked at this in passing at first. My travel companion,
a history master specializing in Greek history, then explained to me that
this was a representation of the perfect male form according to the Greeks.
This set the first impossible standard of beauty.
Throughout the rest of my time in Berlin I saw how this form influenced so many statues
and sculptures throughout the city. 

This is a ceiling made of wood.
I could have lain on the floor and stared at it for hours. 

I first discovered Carlo Crivelli at the National Gallery, London.
I love the intensity of his paintings - the hyper realism and expressiveness of the people in them.
I also love finding the strange little additions he included in his work.
Can you find the pickle? 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The value of questioning


Last year, nearly exactly a year ago, actually - I attended a retreat in New York to see Pema Chodron teach. She has been one of the greatest influences of my practice and I appreciate her teachings so much.

Also teaching with her was Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel. The talk she gave at the retreat resonated with me in a profound way and changed and continues to change my life significantly.

She has written a book called The Power of an Open Question and has a blog where she invites people to post questions to her. I wrote her a question about a month ago and upon my return from Berlin there was an email from her secretary letting me know that Elizabeth has composed a response (She doesn't believe in answers as answers imply that you 'know' something. I have tested this and totally agree. Questions allow us to remain open, answers lead to closed minds).

Well, the response is published on her site now!

I'm absolutely over the moon to have someone I so admire engage in communication with me. Her response is wonderfully articulate and you can read it here: http://www.elizabethmattisnamgyel.com/logic-love/

If you haven't time to read it one of the key things that I love about her response (because she has given me words I was struggling to find on my own but had a very strong felt sense of) is:
"To say that someone does not deserve compassion lacks the humility and understanding that we actually don’t know anything or anyone in a determinate way. We don’t see the fullness and complexity of any situation. To think that someone is limited to the idea you have of him\her is not in accord with the way things are. It is extremely myopic and narrow."

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Street Art - Berlin journal!

 Berlin was mind-blowing, mind-stopping, mind-expanding. I was travelling with one of my dearest friends who also happened to be a history major and general history nerd, which was great for expanding my mind.

My appreciation of art and history is rather indiscriminate. I know what I like and if I like it I will absorb it, gaze at it, just be in awe with it.

I appreciate a broad range of styles and mediums so Berlin is a perfect cornucopia of art for someone like me.

I've long been a follower of street art, especially since moving to London where I encounter Stik and Banksy on a regular basis. Going to Berlin was like going to the Florence of street art. The city is peppered with it, especially the East side and obviously, the East Side Gallery - an expanse of the wall left standing which has some of the most iconic street art every made on display.

This was at the start of the East Side gallery - a more modern contribution.
I love this particular classic style of street art. Vivid colours, bold shapes and lines, a bit surreal.
Like something from an album cover. 

I find this more detailed work is always lovely to encounter if only because it's so rarely seen. 

My mum is a big Pink Floyd fan. I loved the Wall tribute to their classic album artwork.
I mean, come on, it's The Wall illustrated on THE Wall. 

Leaning against history...

This was across the road from the East Side Gallery.
Gorgeous Art Nouveau inspired work. 

Wandering down to a food market the buildings along the way were peppered with artwork.
I particularly liked this one. Reminds me of the many lions sculpted into the older buildings of Berlin. 

Old meets new...

This is, by far, one of my favourite pieces of street art I've ever found.
It was on a building near where I stayed in Berlin. I could have sat and marvelled at it for hours. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Enjoy the Ride - Kait's Mixtape


"No matter what happens, we value it to wake up." 


This song has been on my OCD playlist for well over a year. It's on my Buddhist playlist too. There's a lot about it that I love but this line in particular is something I like to contemplate. 

I used to spend a lot of time 'chasing shadows' - trying to find answers and make things fit into my idea of the world or how I wanted my life to turn out. The first time this was really properly challenged was with the demise of my first long-term relationship.

My whole life had been planned out, entirely, and when that ended it felt very much like the future had become a blank canvas. This terrified me, initially, but then I began to see it as an opportunity. 

The second time the rug got pulled out from under me was another failed relationship and this time I had to really stop and think. I hadn't pinned my future on the success of the relationship but I'd also felt like I'd done everything 'right' and still ended up with someone fundamentally wrong for me.

This just led me to deepen my practice, to search more and more for answers or to understand life, the universe and everything. And that's when I realised I was trying way too hard. 

The thing about having the rug pulled out is that the more often it happens the more we realise there was never any rug to begin with. We are constantly in free fall because of the very chaotic nature of life. The future is unwritten and every experience we have is rich with opportunity. 

The meaning of life is not to find an answer but to question, explore and be open to all possibilities. When we try to pin it down we're trying to make static that which is constantly changing and impossible to define. Things are much, much bigger than the limited ideas we have about them.

In short, we can just enjoy the ride instead of trying to figure out why there is one. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

All This and Heaven Too - Kait's Mixtape



A very dear friend of mine once said, "That's the thing about love, it comes in so many different flavours."

I remember when I used to measure love - used to see it as how much I could have for a person or thing. One thing meditation definitely does is change this perspective - especially Metta practice (Maitri). Love stops being something quantifiable because that implies that love is limited.

True, genuine, unhindered compassionate love is as limitless as the universe. 

And it's not easy to explain this without it coming out a bit funny. It sounds hippy-dippy cheesy when I try to explain to someone the very transformative experience of tapping into this sense of unbridled compassion.

I can use all the cliches - it's without conditions, no matter what. It does not excuse poor behaviour or cruel actions but has a sense of tenderness towards the confusion that leads to one human being causing pain to another intentionally or otherwise. It's embracing the fact that no one does anything because they want to feel worse and people aren't just one thing. No one is inherently 'bad' or 'evil'.

No one.

I say this emphatically even though it's not something I can explain. All I can say is my practice has taught me that I cannot and am unwilling to write off another human being. It doesn't mean I have to like everyone (You can love someone without liking them, ask any parent ever) and it doesn't mean I have to keep people who have done me harm or intend to do me harm in my life. It doesn't make me blind to the atrocious behaviour of some people on the planet. If anything, this kind of love makes me more aware of it and more able to be there for those who are at the hands of such treatment.

It mean my heart is open to possibilities and I feel more genuine in the world. This is because I know I am just as capable of acting unwisely, causing pain or harm to another consciously or unconsciously.

But regardless of what I write here, I don't think my words will ever truly capture what I'm pointing at. It doesn't mean I'll stop trying to explain it, to put something so ineffable down on paper or in a blog, but as the lyrics I chose say, nothing I could possibly write would ever be worth this feeling. You have to test it for yourself to know it.