Thursday, May 7, 2015

Time to take a breather...

I first began this blog back in 2008 as a way to promote the animation I was working on. It quickly became a way for me to share my other creative projects and in many ways has been a wonderful tool for inspiration. As I used it to share my art I started to realise that what paid the bills wasn't necessarily what fed my soul and that nothing but my own limited ideas would keep me from living a life I love.

The life I love consists of a vast amount of creative energy, loads of curiosity and wonder, and great enthusiasm for whatever might come up. 

Over the years this blog has evolved as my attitude to my own life has evolved. Through this blog I've shared my work, my contemplations, the things I've been reading, the music I've been listening to...with great joy and simply for the sake of it.

It has become a solid part of my life and it was only recently that it occurred to me that maybe, just perhaps, it's no longer needed.

As my regular readers will know I always have a number of projects going on at any given time. I'm a polymath so I'm always learning something new, playing with a new material, planning another event or trip - always.

The thing is, I reach maximum capacity and every so often I need to assess everything I'm doing and planning and plotting out to see what is ready to be left behind.

Late last year I was accepted as a student by Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel. My Buddhist practice has always been pretty full-on but it's definitely intensified and with that so has my self-awareness and therefore, awareness of my purpose and function in life.

I love to teach. Not in the sense that I think I know anything and have something to pass along but in that I love to help people connect with their own curiosity and wonder. I love to teach and have a great passion for it in everything I do. It's why I started the Dharma series, it's why I wrote 'Wise at any Age' and it's why I've written any of the manuscripts I've written.

I also love to learn, which is why I asked to be Elizabeth's student. Because I never want to stop learning and sharing what I discover from that.

So I've been thinking about this passion and drive I have and realising that there are so many different ways I can express it. And one of the things that's come to me is having a Podcast. A weekly recording that's there to inspire, to engage, to encourage.

I've been mulling this over for some months now, along with other ideas, and I'm fully aware that this is a rather large undertaking. It's a big project, no matter how you look at it. And it will feed other projects, just as 'She Smiled the Widest Smile' has done for so many years.

So in a few weeks I'm beginning something new and in the mean time, at least for now, this will be it for 'She Smiled the Widest Smile.'

My next big thing is 'Everything is Workable.' 

I hope you'll enjoy my newest adventure. You can check it out when it launches - just keep your eye on www.vast-skythinking.com 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Custom shoes!

Oh hey! Here are some custom shoes I did for a client recently. :) 

They're called 'Mermaid' - suitably. 

To order your own custom pair or to order a pair for a friend or family member, visit my website. 





Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thirty years!!!


Tomorrow is my birthday. Yup. Me. That nerd there holding a blueberry wearing a raspberry as a hat (it's delicious, I totally recommend it).

I think there's an expectation of how people should feel for certain birthdays. Like your eighteenth is supposed to be about being legal so you should be excited to go get totally wasted - so much so that you might not even remember your birthday.

I have a friend who's never drunk in her life. I remember how baffled people were on her eighteenth because she just wasn't interested. She was excited to be able to vote and to be an adult, officially, but she wasn't interested in the legality of alcohol.

Twenty is another big one just because you're not a teenager anymore. And by twenty-one there's no age limit for drinking anywhere - or at least not in North America anymore.

Twenty-five is only kind of cool. The cost of car insurance goes down and you can rent a car too! But it's not particularly significant.

And then there's thirty. 

What can I say about thirty? I know a lot of people feel dread at this birthday. Or at the very least they think they should feel dread.

I'm thrilled. I'm giddy. I'm over the moon!

Because we seem to live in a world where all the experience you may have doesn't actually count under a certain age. And thirty seems to be the age when you finally get credit for your experience and what you've learned and achieved. Like, because you made it to thirty and haven't killed yourself in some unfortunate or silly accident, you must be pretty reliable and mature. Or something.

I don't know.

I know that looking back on my life, it's amazing. I'm proud of it. And may there be thirty more years to come, and more. Because every birthday that happens is another year I'm alive and that's pretty damn amazing.

So far in my life I've been to twelve different countries, I established a not-for-profit organisation that's still running today - along with the longest running Drag King troupe in Canada. I've learned sign language, taught myself to be a designer and changed my career in under a year, published a book, and held three successful art exhibitions that I organised myself.

So here's to getting old, because I want the smile lines. I want the grey hairs and I want that furrow in my brow from enjoying the sun. I want all the bumps and bruises and scrapes and scars.

Because life is amazing. And growing old sure beats the alternative. 



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Glimpses of Mahayana - Book review


As promised, here's my review of 'Glimpses of Mahayana." 

Generally I take about a month to read most books about Dharma. This allows me time to digest what I'm reading and apply teachings to my life as I go, but my enthusiasm for the subject generally means I want to read a bit almost every day. Occasionally I'll read a Dharma book that's more academic or has really non-conceptual teachings that require a lot more time to digest - like anything on the Heart Sutra, for example - and I'll chew on these for several months. 

This book, however, I powered through. I just couldn't get enough. I think I finished it in five days and will happily pick it up and read it again and again and again. Because this book has really good, really pointed stuff in it that's so easy to apply right here, right now. 

I found myself writing very enthusiastically in the margins, filling it up with "Yes! Totally" or "Just like that teaching by..." or "This happened to me when..." 

It's like the ultimate practitioner toolkit - the very basics and how to use them to work with your life all the time. It really highlights the difference between intellectually understanding the teachings and having a lived, felt experience of them - knowing them in your bones through application. 


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Everyday Zen - Book review!


This is one of the most pithy books I've ever read. But then, it's written by a Zen teacher so I suppose that's to be expected. 

What do I mean by pithy? Well, I found myself saying "YES! That! So much that!" to most of it - and writing a lot of pointed lines down in my journal or on my arm. Writing dharma on my arm is something I've been doing for about three years now. It's like ultimate reminders of practice tools. I feel like there's something about the physical act of putting it on my skin that helps me become saturated with dharma so I don't have any excuses when something is up for me. 

But I digress. 

This book is all about practice - not practice as in knowing how to do a particular technique but the actual application of teachings in our lives in any given moment so there can be real transformation. It's not for the faint of heart. It's not for anyone looking to transcend the difficulties of their life or use meditation to 'feel good.' 

This is a very cutting book that really asks you to work with your own mind. 

Some pithiness from this book:

"Enlightenment is not something you achieve." 

"No matter what the work is, it should be done with effort and total attention to what's in front of our nose." 

"When you sit, don't expect to be noble." 

"Life is the way it is." 

"If we understand that each moment of our life is the teacher, we can't avoid practice." 

"There's nothing wrong with our self-centred thoughts except that we identify with them." 

"Trusting in things being as they are is the secret of life." 

"There is no special time or place for great realisation." 

"We can't love something we need." 

"All I  can be is who I am right now; I can experience that and work with it. That's all I can do." 

"Always the practice effort is to see what life requires us to give as opposed to what we personally want to give - which is not easy." 

"It isn't important that we are upset; what is important is our ability to observe the upset."

"The quality of our practice is always reflected in the quality of our life." 

"...searching outside ourselves is not the way." 

"All of practice is to return ourselves to pure experiencing." 

"Love expects nothing." 

"If life were not impermanent it wouldn't be the wonder that it is." 

"Expect nothing from life and you will enjoy it." 

"Any aspect of ourselves that is not observed will remain muddy, confusing, mysterious." 

"We only know our lives when we experience them directly." 

"To look outside of ourselves for true peace and satisfaction is hopeless." 

"When we are attached to the way we think we should be or the way we thing anyone else should be, we can have very little appreciation of life as it is." 

"So our practice is about making fear conscious, instead of running around inside our cell of fear, trying to make it look better and feel better." 

"Life is not a problem." 

"In times of confusion or depression the worst thing we can do is try to be some other way." 

"Sadly enough, some of us die without ever having lived because we're so obsessed with trying to avoid being hurt." 

"The strength in our practice, and the ability to communicate our practice to others, lies in being ourselves." 

"If I feel completely muddled, it isn't that there's a problem that I have to find some way to solve; I just don't know who I am in connection to that problem." 

"Freedom is the willingness to risk being vulnerable to life." 

"True commitment and true love have no 'ifs'."

"What we expect we rarely get." 

"The more we are aware of our expectations, the more we see that our urge is to manipulate life rather than live it just as it is." 

If even just one of these lines resonates with you or sparks your curiosity, please read this book. Really, really. And then I recommend moving onto 'Glimpses of Mahayana' - which is another superbly pithy, pointed book. I've just realised I've never written a review of it and I feel I should. Next blog post... I promise. 




Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dharma art - progress

After completing my last Dharma piece I decided I wanted to continue with the trees. I love trees, I really, really do, and have always struggled to capture their detail and beauty when I've tried drawing them. In fact, I generally dislike the trees I draw. I just feel they're flat and lacking in everything I admire and love about a tree, especially an old gnarled tree with years of regrowth and the odd disease that adds character and depth to the bark and twisting branches. 
I decided to do the last piece while I was sitting in meditation. I've recently started sitting for a half hour each time, at least twice a day. So I was sitting there, following the breath, labelling thoughts as thoughts, that whole thing - and suddenly I just saw this Bodhi tree in my mind and I saw all the lines of the detail. 

Now, you may have noticed that my art doesn't generally entail a lot of intricate detail. I really admire art that does and have often wanted to create something with such fine lines - but I've found it comes across as forced and then I lose the pleasure for what I'm doing. 
Until now. 

I feel like I could draw the lines of trees forever. It's almost addictive. Like, I'm creating the character and richness of the surface of something that's been standing for decades, possibly even hundreds or potentially thousands of years. 

I met a 3,000 year old tree in Japan. It was impressive and humbling. It makes me think of the wonderful teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh about seeing the entire universe in a tree. Without the sun, there is no tree. Without the clouds there is no rain, so there is no tree. Without the earth, the minerals in it, there is no tree. 

It's a beautiful example of interconnectedness, interdependence. Very suitable for my Dharma series. 


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bodhicitta - Dharma Series

"Your Mind is Not a Problem"
11.7X11.7in ink & gouache on bristol board


Lately the focus of my Dharma study has been Bodhicitta. I first encountered the word through - surprise, surprise - reading and listening to Pema Chodron. It’s one of those very difficult to translate words because there isn’t exactly a direct translation available. 

Instead teachers point at different words which capture the essence of what Bodhicitta is all about. Pema herself describes it in so many different ways. 

Bodhicitta is awareness of our compassionate nature. Or Bodhicitta is the ability we have to be big enough for our world and our experience. Bodhicitta is our awakened mind. Bodhicitta is our Buddha nature - the nature of all beings to see the world free of reference points. Bodhicitta is recognizeng interconnectedness, or as Thich Naht Hanh says, ‘interbeing’. 

Our ability to awaken Bodhicitta is our ability to show up for ourselves and for others. In order to do this we work with our own mind, with gentleness and dedication. The more we can see our mind, the more we can sit with our experience, and the most honestly we show up for ourselves, the more we are able to open up to others. 

Our minds may seem like the enemy, at times, which is why gentleness is so important. I’ve recently realised I experience anxiety at its worst when I’m being impatient with myself. The more harsh I am about what I’m feeling, the more challenging working with my mind becomes and the more intense my emotions. But when I’m kind to myself, when I see my mind as workable rather than something that needs fixing, the whole experience softens. My heart opens up and I genuinely feel big enough for my life. 

I didn’t come up with the text for this piece. The person who did is incredibly wise and I am so appreciative of the ways she reminds me to be gentle. The moment she said these words I knew they were the ones that would accompany this piece. 


Your mind is not a problem to fix.