Saturday 25th February 2017

by chel

 The peace we need in our lives is not a rock, it’s a river. It isn’t rigid, it flows. The “right thing to do” may look different in different situations.

What’s going on around here:

In my head…
It’s been so long since I wrote one of these I don’t even know where to begin.

I guess a (not-so) quick update?

….

Me: back in school for Buddhism, still swimming every day, making art almost every afternoon.

I’m actually making more art now than I think I ever have – I don’t know why the big shift, but I feel more invested in the process of making art and less invested in the outcome, so it’s taken the stress out of it. I have been trying to get to this stage for years- just feeling like art in any form is worth doing, no matter the outcome, so I’m working very hard on maintaining the momentum by creating something every day.

Right now my focus is almost exclusively painting. Watercolors on paper and canvas, acrylic on canvas, and collages of painted bits of paper. I haven’t art journaled or scrapbooked in months, and although I am still really interested in art journaling, I have no desire to do it at the moment. I am actually not documenting life in any way- not even taking photos- and it feels okay. It feels more important to just focus on painting for the moment.

As far as the Buddhism thing, I do my classes and reading at night after dinner. I find that it’s the best time to focus, and although I often go to bed with a million ideas and “what if?”s in my head, I tend to remember more.

During the day when I’m in my studio, I listen to Dharma talks, which are little talks on Buddhism and philosophy and psychology and meditation and things like that. A few people asked me what Dharma talks are: they are basically like TED talks or really interesting podcasts, with a bit of Buddhism thrown in. Because Buddhism emphasizes education (the tradition is still considered oral, even though there’s a ton of written information) and it’s considered really excellent karma to pass on the tradition, there are a TON of Dharma talks available online. Thousands. It’s pretty amazing what’s out there if you look.

As far as my daily schedule, it’s this: I get the random stuff done around here in the mornings, swim in the early afternoons, and then paint after lunch until dinner, and after dinner do school stuff.

I’d REALLY like to get my mornings under control- I waste a lot of time in mornings trying to wake up and focus and get stuff done. I will openly admit to spending a lot of time in mornings looking at art-related stuff (mostly art supplies) online. I think there’s a time for that, but not at the expense of other things I’d rather be doing but can’t stir up the energy or focus to do. It’s kind of like I spend the mornings gearing up to get my butt in the pool. I’m hoping to shift into doing some coursework in the morning, too.

I’m strongly considering signing up with Sravasti Abbey (a super cool Buddhist abbey here in the US- the minute I saw their website I knew I had found something amazing) for their four year (!!!) series of education focused more on the practice and path of Buddhism instead of being an academic overview. I’m wanting to do something like that and I love the Abbey and their Dharma talks, but of course I’m a tiny bit hesitant because I feel a bit stretched for time as it is.

Also, there are a few minor idealogical differences (if they are even that? I’m too much of a newbie to know.) I am really, really open to all views of Buddhism as I enter in to this and I definitely defer to those who have studied this path longer. And I’m not remotely interested in debating the ins and outs of my (possibly incorrect) beliefs with this amazing group who have literally dedicated their lives to it. I’m not interested in being the person who always raises their hand or has some sort of “But…!!!” reaction to everything.

But I don’t want to either “fake” my way through the courses (writing what is “right” and “correct” vs. what I actually think in the personal refections), nor do I want to bend my own process in the quest to be a “good” student of Buddhism. Does that make sense?

There are just some beliefs and perspectives I have that have arisen from personal experience (things I’ve come to know independent of Buddhism- my *own* form of enlightment and awareness) and I strongly believe that it’s important to honor those things. I mean, if the animal compassion thing were not such a big part of Buddism, I still would believe with my whole heart that humane treatment of animals was the right thing, just becaase it’s something fundamental to me. You know what I mean?

For example, the nuns at the Abbey refer to reincarnation quite a bit, which is part and parcel for Buddhism, but I’m still wishy washy on how to translate it into my own life.

I mean, I believe in karma. And I love the idea of the Five Aggregates, which is the Buddhist response to the pre-Buddhist belief that there is an unchanging, fixed self that resides deep inside us and calls the shots and controls our body and is apart from suffering. I’m actually ideologically open to the idea of reincarnation (I absolutely love the Buddha’s view of the Cosmos, and I love studying it, and reincarnation is an essential part of that…) but I feel like right now my whole view of reincarnation is better served by thinking of every *day* as a new cycle of life, rather than thinking in a scale of thousand of literal lifetimes. I believe in Samsara (cycle of birth and death) but I like to engage in it as an every day thing rather as thinking of it as a cycle of lifetimes.

Also, the nuns at the Abbey are pretty firmly in the “the human body is impermanent (and quite vile if you really look at it close enough), so don’t get attached to it or upset when it changes and ages” camp which is absolutely the truth and it resonates with me- the impermanence of things is something I struggled with for years (I hate change!) but something that ultimately proved itself to be true time and time again. And the body is pretty much the BEST example of that you can find- it changes every single minute! One day it feels great, later that day its tired and run down, then its energized again.  All change, all the time.

But after 42 years of Spina Bifida and taking care of this particular body (and trust me, spending my fair share of not appreciating it and being angry with it), I’ve come to have respect for it. I do find something beautiful about the way the human body works every moment of every day. The way the body grows, and then grows old. The way it heals and the way it sometimes doesn’t. As I’ve gotten older, and gone from not understanding my body at all to sort of knowing it inside and out, I actually started to wonder if I was “matched” to this body because I actually have the disposition to care for it the way it requires. And that’s perhaps a wonky approach, Buddhism-wise. But it’s important to me.

On the other hand, I certainly don’t think the human form is something to glorify and worship and even covet. I mean out of everything in nature, the human body is not one of my top favorite forms or processes. I do think the human body and the systems inside it are pretty damn cool, just as I would feel about any organic thing in the universe. I don’t disavow my human body because it’s getting older and can be pretty gross at times. All living things are gross, but they are also beautiful. My personal approach is to respect and admire all things (like human bodies) without turning it into worship or reverence. I think there is a “middle path” (which is the Buddhist approach to everything- finding that middle sweet spot- not too much, not too little- which changes every moment) regarding the opinion of the human body.

So I have a few “quirky” ideas about things, but I don’t want to grandstand about them. I’m not interested in creating a fuss or disrespecting these teachers who know this stuff in and out- I just want a place to learn and maybe find a little bit of community. I’m probably thinking *way* too much into this and just need to go ahead and sign up and see how it goes. I’m sure I’m not the first student who has her own little view of certain aspects of Buddhism.

My main concern actually isn’t the ideology, but the sincere time commitment. I don’t want to half-ass it. It isn’t a lot- several hours a week, and a lot of the coursework is watching their Dharma talks (which I already do…) so it seems like exactly what I am looking for: a way to really immerse myself in the practice and see how it goes. I just want to go into it willing and ready to give it whatever it requires.

….

Tom is recovering from a fairly serious back injury – he is scheduled for his third round of injections in his back and is hoping these will finally get him over the worst parts of the pain.  After the second round of injections (two weeks ago…) he was able to get back to the gym and is ready to start physical therapy. He had to put off testing for his black belt in karate In December because of the back problems, which was a little devastating, but he’s eager to get back.

The back thing was one of those things were you think you just pulled a muscle and then a week later you wake up and realize “this isn’t going away, and in fact it’s getting worse” so you have to really be assertive about it. Tom turned 50 a few weeks ago which he’s not pleased about (especially since this is the short window in the year when I am EIGHT years younger than him  in May when I turn 43 it goes back to being seven years.) And as you get older, you have to be a lot more aggressive with health and well-being if you want some quality of life- you really do have to take everything seriously and make sure it’s not something more than it is. Like, one day you are healthy, and the next you have a heart problem or blood sugar issues that came out of nowhere.

It’s kind of scary- I have always been vigilant about my health (I really had no choice) but a few years ago a lot of the non-issue stuff (like dry skin) became this HUGE important thing that required a lot of attention and care. And the shift takes a while to get used to. It’s almost like at this stage in life you go through a second growth spurt- when you were in your teens, you had to change the way you took care of yourself. It’s the same now.

In some ways it’s not all terrible because you can develop this appreciation for your body and all its systems as you get older and learn how to really pay attention to it. I am finally settling into my own skin, and it’s an amazing feeling for me. I mean, my body has been carrying me around for 42 years now, and I am learning to really appreciate it. I spent a lot of time in my teens and early 20’s in a battle with it, and not remotely grateful for it (I sometimes joke that my main job in life is as the owner/operator of a franchise of Spina Bifida) and then it started to shift for me in my 30’s. Now that I’m 42 and I’ve swam all these years… I found the thing that sustains me. Karate is Tom’s swimming, and I know he wants to get back. Hopefully soon.

….

Grace is in 5th grade- she still LOVES writing and reading, she does art and sports for fun, she thinks nerd/geek culture is super cool, she’s developed an interest in science (especially making weird chemical concoctions which lead to putty/slime- there is SO much slime and putty around this house.) She’s developed an interest in sci-fi, including Dr. Who (?!!?!?!) and Tom watches it with her. It’s kind of ironic since I knew someone in college who was an obsessive Dr. Who fan and I really couldn’t get into it (in fact, I will admit that his dedication likely made me averse to it), so now that Grace and Tom watch it it’s sort of an interesting full-circle moment for me. Now when I study at night, I hear “EXTERMINATE EXTERMINATE” from the other room. Daleks and Dharma, *strange* match.

(They were both THRILLED when a Dalek showed up in the new Lego Batman movie.)

The new thing is the socialization- now that Grace and her friends all have phones and chat/interact online outside of school, there’s a lot of coming over here and going over there with her friends and sleepovers and all of that. Its kind of awesome because she organizes her own hangouts and we just have to clarify with other parents and get her there/get ready for kids to come here. I know some people love love love tiny babies and toddlers and things (I liked toddlerhood, to be honest…) but there’s also a LOT of wonderful things about having an older child. I really like that she’s a participating member of the family, and we can talk about all sorts of things. I really think as a parent there are a lot of amazing and wonderful things about every age she’s been. If you’re a parent of a young child who worries about what might be lost as they get older (like I was, so many people told me “enjoy every moment and don’t take it for granted because it goes by so fast and you will always miss it”, etc.), take heart- for every little “cute” habit they lose, they gain *so* much. As much as I miss the little short-haired toddler sort of lumbering around, babbling, dismantling things, and doing insanely adorable things all the time, I genuinely enjoy the young adult that I share my life with just as much. In my opinion and experience, a child has something to fiercely love and admire at all ages.

….

The cats and the birds and the gecko and the butterflies are all doing their thing. It’s a little community they have going, fascinating to observe and think about and be part of. I know I say this a lot, but the ability to live with animals (especially the cats because they are so strong-willed and have their own habits and routines around here) is one of the most amazing parts of my life. It feels like such a privilege. They are completely different, but we all connect and interact and live together under one roof. I mean, how cool is that, to co-exist?

….

Okay, this is long. As usual. I am going to continue a few more of the “Around Here” topics in another post.

Hope you have an amazing, restful (or exciting) and joyful weekend.

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hello!
I'm Chel (pronounced "shell", short for "Michele").

I'm an artist, graduate student (Buddhist Studies), writer, gardener, art historian, long-distance swimmer, crochet-er, movie watcher, animal lover, and avid reader.

Random facts: I have an eleven year old daughter named Gracie and a husband named Tom. I grew up in New York (Long Island, to be specific), went to college/grad school in Atlanta (Emory University) in the 1990's, and now I live in Southwest Florida. I'm incredibly shy but I adore my friends and family. I've been a vegetarian for almost 30 years and I love animals of all kinds- we have four rescue cats, three parrots, and an elderly gecko and we raise butterflies. I swim five miles every day- rain, shine, storm, or travel. I was born with Spina Bifida, and swimming keeps me healthy and sane. When I'm not in the pool, I'm in my art studio, with a hot cup of tea.

If you'd like to know more, click here

contact me at:
lists@gingerblue.com



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