Saturday, 21 November 2015

Unorthodox Buddhist

 A Very Limited Explanation
 I am Buddhist, although I am neither religious nor spiritual.  The teachings of Buddhism allow for a secular form, an embracing of the philosophy without the religion.  If considering philosophy alone, I could also wear the label Existentialist and Epicurean, for a start and probably end up like an old time suitcase covered in stickers from every place it has been.  I am no friend of religion but philosophy is a passion.  To illustrate how my secular Buddhism differs from a religion I can offer this comparison.  In order to be a Christian one must believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.  It is assumed that if one does so, one also follows his teaching though just how to interpret that teaching can be problematic.  Buddhism was originally a teaching without a divine teacher.  It grew out of and alongside Hinduism so some of the religious assumptions flowed from there, but the teaching of Buddhism was how to free oneself from the endless cycle of death and rebirth and instead finally reach the state of nirvana which is not near the state of California though some might think so.  The path to freeing oneself, to living a life that would allow for enlightenment, was what the Buddha taught.  It turns out that the way to do this allows for a world view, a philosophy of living, a practice, that suits me.  I particularly like the word practice, as it implies that I am not likely to get it right so readily, but that the practice, or the journey, is what matters. 

You could find many a Buddhist monk who would tell you that I am doing it wrong.  This is where being secular comes in handy.  I am not interested in their more orthodox opinions. Buddhims,  as it became a religion, had to branch off into different schools of thought, different ways of doing, just as most other religions have.   Ways of living are always entwined in their situations, the culture and the habits of the people who are doing the living.  Buddhism made it's way west and adapted, sometimes with the insistence that certain ways of doing things were still required and other times with more flexibility.  Buddhism also became popular as an add on.  People remained Christian but tacked on or borrowed from Buddhism.  It mingled a bit with yoga, which also became popular in the west, and allowed for a God who could be better understood or communicated with by the addition of eastern practices and beliefs.  I'm looking at you chakras.

Wherever religions and philosophies go they are adapted by the people they encounter.  Some, like myself who prefer philosophy, found something of interest and practical application in a secular form of Buddhism.  I have no interest in rituals, idols, pantheons of gods or one god, no interest or belief in an afterlife.  I am interested in this life.  It's the only one I have empirical evidence that I am ever going to experience so I want to do it well.  Having said that, Buddhist philosophy will definitely take you down a road where you must question whether or not there really is a self at all to experience this life, and thus it is sometimes accused of being a nihilist perspective.  I think that is to misunderstand it.  The point of discovering no-self, is to realise that we can get attached to things that are less permanent or solid than we think they are.  Who are you right now?  Is that the same you that you were yesterday, a week ago, three years ago?  Consider this at a cellular level as well as one focused on your character and personality. 

Meditation: How Not to Do It
So when people think of Buddhism or yoga they think of meditation.  Yes, I do practice that but I have to admit I do not do it well.  I like to mentally challenge the Buddhas and point out that perhaps this is because I am not attached to meditating.  They are probably not paying any attention to me, being busy with bliss in Nirvana.  I am not good at doing what I am told or doing something the way I am told to do it.  This is a large part of why I am not in the military.  You do not want your country's safety dependent on me.  I will ponder, I will question, I will do it my way. I am also not terribly interested in teachers and gurus.  Tell me you are an expert in something and I will immediately doubt you.  I was one of those children who lived to please authority and adults.  I grew up to be someone who questions most authority.  (There are some exceptions.  My doctor knows more than I do about medicine in general, though I know more than he does about M.E. and he has told me so)  The Buddhist experts, insist on regular meditation, done a certain way.  I do very few things regularly.  Off the top of my head, I'd say you can predict that on a daily basis I will empty my bladder, brush my teeth and drink some coffee. It is hard to say exactly when I will do those things. 

Away from my bladder and back to meditating....

 The goal of meditation is to push aside all the thinking and quiet the brain.  There are only two things that have ever done that for me easily and one was gardening which I can no longer pursue.  The other one is painting.  When I am painting I am inside it and I am no longer in my own body.  It's this very experience of being inside the painting as I create it which causes me to eventually have to stop at some point, step away from it and set it up some where so I can look at it for awhile and decide what it needs next.  When you are inside something it is difficult to separate yourself from it; you are being it.  This is why we do not see ourselves the way others do.  We are too busy being ourselves.  I write to work with, control, play with or simply release all of the thoughts in my head.  I paint to escape them.

I keep attempting sitting meditation but getting up early and meditating every morning while sitting on a cushion before I do anything else just has not happened in my life in any way that could be called regular.  I keep telling myself it's a goal to meditate every morning but then I keep asking myself why.  Meditation practitioners swear it changes you, and I suspect it's a bit like that runner high that dedicated joggers get and about which I also ask, why should I chase that.   If I had a meditation teacher I'd want to spend our sessions arguing whether or not it is a form of attachment to do things one's own way or to follow the teachings of another.  The teacher would say I am attached to my own opinions and desires and I would say he is attached to his one way of meditating.  This is why I am a bad Buddhist.

As a writer, I rely on my busy brain.  When lying or sitting still and letting my mind relax the best ideas come to me and the whole point of the practice of meditation is to let them go.  Overcoming the urge to jump up and make notes is very difficult.  I am not even certain that I find the benefits of meditation substantial enough to compensate for the loss of these thoughts I want to save.  Ah, attachment.  The cause of all suffering, according to Buddha.  In this case, I'd say my attachment is not a problem but the damn meditating is.  You can see why I make an irritating student.

Sometimes it Goes Like This
I sit struggling to relax my body and empty my mind, to not be distracted by a cat who wants attention, a plant I know that needs watering, or hangnail I want to clip off; I remember that I am practicing compassion. Compassion for myself as a non-perfect being is just as important as compassion for others.  I've heard it said that we cannot love others until we love ourselves and I'm skeptical about that.  I think many of us find it harder to be kind to ourselves and are much harder on ourselves than we are on others. I certainly know I am.  Sitting on my cushion I am observing myself being quite humanly imperfect and I remind myself to accept that.  I wiggle a bit and scratch my nose and catch myself thinking about something I want to write.  Then follows the thought that I am not supposed to do any of those things.  I take a deep breath and sink back into the meditation.  I do this as frequently as I need to.  This is why meditation is often called a practice.  

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Navel Gazing and Other Things

I am probably a highly sensitive person.  That should really be put in capitals it is now a way of describing someone who is, well, highly sensitive and while it's not particularly a scientific diagnoses because mental health is as much art as it is science, and diagnosing someone with a condition involves some subjectiveness as opposed to saying yes, this blood test and this cell count show that you have X.  When I was a teacher I was always very interested in personality traits, in finding how to best meet the needs of different types or to work with types different from your own.  I found this interesting as a parent too, having the task of raising a child who had some unique challenges.  Now, I mainly have only myself and my cat to ponder.  While she is thriving now, Matty was suffering in her previous situation and had lost a drastic amount of weight and fur.  That seems pretty sensitive to me.

Digression: It's somewhat contentious but the oft used Myers-Briggs personality test, based on the work of Carl Jung, organises people into sixteen  Introvert/Extrovert types and I have consistently tested as INFJ over the years.   HSPs are more likely to be introverts but not all introverts are HSPs.

My own weight is stable and hair intact, thankfully, but I am one of those people inclined to gain weight when under stress.  I am a stress eater and I believe it is because I find I can sort of numb myself with food, both my body and my mind.  I am prone to generalised anxiety which is fortunately not as debilitating as it is for some people though I do take medication for it to allow me to function.  I also meditate and use lots of self talk strategies.  I was born this way, anxious my whole life as my mother clearly describes, in my responses to the world as a baby and a child.  The world is a very stimulating place and I am easily overstimulated in many ways.  Sometimes I didn't realise it, because there were situations that were considered normal, which I  just had to get on with and I found ways of coping.  Also, although I score highly on a test for HSPs (Highly Sensitive Persons) not every option on the list is a trigger for me and some are more so than others. All HSPs are their own personal mix.  I do not mind crowds most of the time and as most of you know, I can get up on a stage and perform.  I find I can feel lost in a crowd and I like that, but I dislike a crowd that I am expected to interact with, such as a large gathering of people or party.   If I am on a stage I can somehow mentally turn the audience into one person and in some situations the darkness and lighting are such that the audience is close to invisible.

 I dislike noise and even music I really enjoy can be too much at some times.  On the other hand I might turn it up loudly and dance around the room and the noise of children busily playing has never bothered me.  I have no tolerance for screaming randomly though.   Sudden loud noises such as an accelerating motorcycle or the Snowbirds (Canada's air demonstration squadron) who come to the Comox Valley a few times each year to practice, can make me want to curl up in a ball or make me fighting angry.  They literally trigger the fight or flight response in me.  Bright colours in abundance, while I may enjoy them periodically, make me feel tired after awhile.  That is a newer discovery which was difficult to figure out because I do like colour.  There are many qualifiers to my love of colour, as any of my blog readers know by now and I have an increasing passion for taupe and grey.  I always did like mud.

I am also very sensitive to the emotions of others and have always described myself as a sponge.  The nastiest thing I ever said to my ex husband when we were approaching divorce was that he was like a Dementor from Harry Potter and he sucked all the joy out of a room.  It could be argued that he did, but I was also definitely extremely sensitive to his moods. 

The flip side of all this sensitivity is that I have a very rich inner life, a strong response and connection to artistic and creative things, and I am very empathetic.  I prefer to define myself by these positives but understanding that being extra sensitive is just a way that some people are and I am one of those people, that is is just another way to be and not wrong or defective, is part of my journey of healing after a toxic relationship.

Just like any introvert, I am doing most of this healing alone, in a quiet place, me and my highly sensitive cat.  Somewhat anxiously but coping, I face a couple of weeks of appointments, obligations and the need to call a plumber.  I hate making phone calls.  Much deep breathing is required here, but I will do it all and cross it all off the list.  Already I am looking forward to it all being over.

                                       Matty in the Morning Sun

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Mediocrity Is Elevated With Lipstick

Since I am a glass half full sort of person, and tend to annoy people by looking on the bright side, I like to believe that two thirds of the time I am doing okay.  Okay is defined as not totally crashed.  Previously I described my days as either good, bad or mediocre, nicely organising my life in thirds.  Being the Pollyanna that I am, I have decided to consign mediocre into the realm of good or at least not bad.

The state of my bed, the dishes and whether or not I had the energy to shower are all consistently tied to how where the day falls on the good-mediocre-bad scale.  What always helps is a good hair day and a dab of lipstick.

Lipstick is my new toy.  I am now the proud owner of five different shades from the Revlon Super Lustrous bullet line, three of which I purchased all for the sale price of one due to a fortuitous coupon.  I used to avoid lipstick or stick to plae shades because I never liked my lips and didn't think them a feature I wanted to enhance.  Now, I don't care.  Sure they are not going to win the Ideal Lips of the Year award, but once I stopped caring about that I noticed that I liked that little bit of colour on my face and what it did to make me look healthy, awake and make me feel pretty. 

While part of me likes the idea of one signature lip colour, I am currently having fun with these ones and would not be able to choose only one.  If you can survive you poor quality photos (still struggling with the camera even after resetting it) I will inflict upon you an excess of selfies to demonstrate the different lip colours.

Rose and Shine is nearly a nude on me.  I can apply it straight from the tube and liberally like a lip balm.

                                          Rose and Shine

Mauvy Nights and Plumalicious are nearly identical, with the latter being just slightly deeper.  It's a colour that has been my go to for decades when in it's lightest form.  They are each applied straight from the tube in these photos below.

                                               Mauvy Nights


Rum Raisin was my first attempt at finding my red.  It's a bit warm but I think it still works for me and the warmth makes it more subtle than a cool red is.  I apply this one straight from the tube as well.

                                                 Rum Raisin

My most recent experiment, stepping out of my comfort zone is Wine With Everything which reads a a very true red on me. It's the only one of the bunch that requires lip liner.  I use a clear wax liner called No Bleeding Lip, given to me by my mother who thought the name of it was cheekily hilarious.

Wine With Everything

I find I like this true red best when I am wearing blue or grey, which I generally am quite often.  Being so intensely pigmented it is the one that stays on longest too and there are still traces of it after I eat or drink.  In the above photo I blotted it with tissue after applying.

Do you have a favourite?  I took all of these photos within a few minutes of each other and am wearing one coat of mascara and a bit of chocolate brown eye pencil.   Lately I really love the minimal eye, focus on the lip look.

More than anything, I find that a good haircut and a bit of makeup goes a long way to making me feel good about myself even on the plethora of mediocre days.   This is what I look like even if I am sitting on the sofa writing all day and nobody will see me.  I do it for myself and it makes a difference.

Saturday, 7 November 2015


Nothing new here, I've just been struggling lately with a pretty equal division of good days, bad days and mediocre days and not being able to do much on either the mediocre or the bad ones.  This means the good days tend to require much of me in the way of shopping, cooking, dishes, laundry, paper work and assorted business in which I am usually behind, and a once a week lunch with my parents.  Toss in a couple of birthday celebrations, appointments and the hiring of  new cleaning help and that's pretty much been my life for the past month.  It feels quite overwhelming but if I'm good at anything it's just plugging along.  I'm not quite as good at dealing with guilt and anything which is not getting my full attention or whatever degree of attention I believe it should tends to weigh on me.  Learning not to let this happen is a work in progress.  I'm getting there but it's probably two steps forward and one back.   What fun would life be if it weren't a journey, a learning process, an experience of discovery?  In all honesty, I like who I am, but I will never ever live up to all of my own expectations.  I've got the bar set too high.   I know this, but that doesn't make it something I can instantly internalise and act on. 

Not only am I not getting all the 'shoulds' dealt with, I'm not getting all the 'wants' done either.  I try to remind myself that it's a journey without a destination.  I just keep going, do my best with each step and consider each place I arrive at the place I want to be. 

Being the muller-over that I am, (if there is a better word for that I have lost it) I tend to arrive at epiphanies which seem like I just woke up one morning and understood.  Although I know it's not actually true, it seems as though I just woke up one morning and realised I was in a bad marriage and needed out.  That was five years ago and in those five years I've been on an extensive personal journey (I am cringing at the clichés here) trying to find myself again.  Of course I was never really lost and yesterday I woke up knowing exactly who I am.  Or maybe it was the day before.  In reality it has of course been a process and this blog has only been part of that process for the past year and a half. 

It's a bit of an odd concept to think that there are people reading this.  A blog audience is mainly invisible and I don't think I have fully grasped that this is as public a space as it is.  Or rather, I imagine it as an empty public space, as though I am standing in the middle of the town square talking but everyone is at home.  The people who take the time to leave me comments and whose blogs I also try to read, give me some sense of an audience but it never feels totally solid and I think I have failed at what I set out to do.  I started this blog wondering if I could write for a specific audience but without any sort of monetary incentive I don't think I can.  It doesn't seem to be in me to have an actual theme to this blog or to remain with it consistently.  If it's other purpose was to help me on my journey, what am I to do now that I feel I've mainly arrived?

Having just woken up and understood who I am, or found myself, or reclaimed myself or whatever we want to call it (I am as yet quite undecided) I now feel immensely satisfied and incredibly dull.  I love my life but it is a quiet one, looking much the same from day to day and I have little inclination to document it.  If I can fit it in, if I have the mental and/or physical stamina, my main desire is to spend my time painting, reading or writing.  Sometimes I want to share what I am working on and sometimes I do not.  The frequency at which that might happen is probably not high, and I am doubtful about the interest of what appears to be a group of followers/readers numbering anywhere from 25-100.  Yes, it's a small-time blog that's certain.

My interest in clothing has waned significantly and although the idea of anyone following me for style guidance is laughable, I believe a good portion of my readers were here to watch that journey.  I am happy to post pictures of my mistakes, terrible poses and smirking or grimacing face.  Ironically, I have finally figured out what was wrong with my camera and gotten the settings sorted out but have really lost the desire to photograph what I am wearing.  Not only that, I've lost any desire to wear something that might interest anyone.

Yes, that's what I said.  The games are over.  I played, I learned, and I went full circle.  At one time I thought that I had to represent who I am with my clothes, that I had to get it right, that I had to present myself to others accurately so that they would know me.  Of course that's not easy if you've lost track of who you are anyhow or if, like me, you are a mixed bag of tricks.  Am I artsy or bookish?  Am I outgoing or reclusive?  Do I like colours or neutrals?  Skirts or jeans?  I am a mixture of all of those things but I don't feel that I have any obligation to represent them in what I wear.   I also do not have to impress anyone in order to get a job, keep a job, maintain a reputation or attract a mate.  None of those things are relevant to my life. 

Here are the things I've found crucial to my personal style and if you'd been asked to describe my style looking at me twenty-five years ago it would be nearly identical.

Muted colours in small doses-esp in the purple-burgundy, blue and green range
A good haircut
Say yes to lipstick
Mostly neutral colours -almost no black
Natural fibres
Low-mid heels, granny boots, combat boots, mary-janes, brogues
Light weight sweaters, long sleeved tees, very soft buttoned blouses
Earrings, watch, two rings
Body skimming, no cinched waist, waist suggested
Skirts/dresses are loved but not worn daily
Hats-did I mention hats?
Scarves-no jumbo blankets

Are you curious to know what was different twenty-five years ago?  Mainly it was that I wore pencil skirts where I now prefer flared skirts and I had more black and bright colours in my wardrobe.  I suppose, there were probably also a few shoulder pads given the time period.  I was also more likely to tuck shirts in and belt my waist.  It was smaller then and I was comfortable like that.  Yes, I wore scarves then.  Nobody else did.  Or at least nobody I knew other than my mother.  I still have one that I bought in 1980-something.  It's just cotton, navy blue, and I still wear it.

Full circle.  That's great right?  Good news, that I've got it all figured out!  The only problem is, I am no longer sure what this blog is about.  I doubt that will stop me from continuing to post, but it doesn't really bring me any closer to audience awareness.  In those moments when I do remember you are there, dear reader, I am not really sure who you are, but I am quite sure who I am.