faded images: where we go when we’re gone


Lessons from surviving 2017: Don’t take anything seriously. Simply because there is no end of surprises to upend expectations and desires.

IMG_2185I hope you’ve all had a restful holiday and a gentle transition into 2018. Well. Hardly gentle today if you are in the Northern hemisphere with its snow, rain, and now that bomb cyclone! Over here, north of the 49th, we’re enjoying a balmy -30°C with sunshine and the occasional welp from Dog1 tripping over Dog2 as they race around the house.

It’s a nice time of year. Not the least because I decided to end 2017 with a dedicated swing at the Room of Doom. Have I mentioned it before? Ah. The RoD is a 10′ x 10′ supposed bedroom that, over the last 14 years, has been the dumping ground – or as they say in current mindfulness-ese, holding the space – of four generations’household Stuff.

IMG_2958 I never thought of myself as a hoarder. I prefer the label of a judicious collector of objects with potential re-sale. This is based on the eternal truth that as soon as I send a box of my fake jewelry to some charity, I discover a need for it (GrandestKid loveslovesloves fake jewelry!) or that it’s the latest in Hipster crazes, like milk glass.

But no more. I have need of a spare bedroom – or two – so famdamily can visit in comfort. Because, after all, who are we without family – dammed or otherwise. So yes. As much as it terrified me to let go of the contents of these boxes, I informed The Kid that she needed to help me unpack these four generations’ boxes and discern stuff from junk.

I honestly thought she’d be more… well…objective. So. Who would have thought that metal camel chewing on a bell was a prized possession? Or the old decrepit Polaroid camera. Or the whiskey tumblers etched in gold with a ship’s water markings. All this time, I’d been hoarding the black velvet paintings of bucolic Burmese landscapes for her.

And then, as the memories were shared, the room filled with people from long ago. Ringing the bell hanging off the camel’s snout DSC_0050had been her duty when visiting her grandparents, my parents; I could see them setting the table. The etched whiskey tumblers, a gift from my parents’ best friend – a ship captain, a frequent visitor in Rangoon where he sailed past our house as he navigated into the harbour; I could hear his laugh. The milk glass is being stored for future dispersal but the cranberry glass decanter goes (horrors…this generation has no appreciation for sherry glasses or decanters!).

It was easier than I anticipated, this letting go of so many things that are now rendered meaningless as memories have been scraped of their emotional colours. And, the gift of having a room for The GrandestKid and The Kid with her PlusOne is a reasonable tradeoff.

As part of our holiday celebrations, we saw the movie Coco, a powerful parable of death as a fading away when there’s no one to remember us, the stories of us. A fitting companion to our time of remembering who we are to each other and revitalizing our histories. And most of all, keeping those memories alive through our living stories and dedication to each other.

hand-wash stones cold

DSC_0158 It’s the mantra of this season around the community: Tough winter. Lose everything?

I would hope so. Losing everything is the practice, isn’t it? Youth, good health, eternal life – these we know we are meant to lose. Ah but, let go? No. That’s a whole different matter. I’d rather die than let go and that has all the makings of a terrific TV drama. The sad thing is it’s my life drama. Dying is easy¹; letting go requires getting dirty.

A tough winter helps with letting go. So do two hooligan pups weighing in at 90 lbs apiece and loving the untrammelled joy of tearing through the dry bed garden. The results showed as the snow did its own letting go: a magnolia with top-kill, the Japanese maple looking gouged out and gnawed, the pebbles of the dry bed strewn hither and yon.

Determined to face this year’s disasters with equanimity, I dug deep beyond my typical tendency to overwhelm. This year would be different. I am, after all, a seasoned practitioner. So I sat in the Japanese garden by the upheaval of landscape material, stones, and cedar chips stuck to dollops of dog shit and cried. Crying is a normal function of a deep-felt embodied equanimity. Truly. In that moment of sensorily experiencing a vibrant mixture of soil, dirt, and poop, it is a statement of abject honesty which is the first part of equanimity.

The second is to start with what is at hand. Yes, even if it is dog poop. But if you’re really squeamish, do it first. Then pick up each rock, pebble, stone and wash off the debris of winter. Some things need a bit of help to let go of their accretions because they can’t quite do it for themselves. Sometimes we need to be the one driving that wedge between comfortably covered in useless material and frighteningly adrift in a cold wash of freedom.

And so I progressed from the Japanese garden to the walkway of the south garden.



Then onto the veggie and rose gardens where there was much more letting go to be done. It’s easier to let go of weeds but making the decision to tear out the vegetable boxes and all the paraphernalia that went with it was a bizarre series of discussions that eventually amounted to confronting my attachment to “being fair” to a pile of rotting wood. Pruning back the overgrown rose bushes drove the point home quite literally. There is no logic to attachment, only a misperception of what we think we’re nurturing.


rose garden








In the end all the procrastinating, crying, and debating culminated in a rather nice new layout.

veggie boxes


Yes, it’s been a tough winter. And we didn’t lose much but we let go of everything.


¹Ram Dass (2010). Dying is absolutely safe. Retrieved from http://www.ramdass.org/dying-is-absolutely-safe/


slumming in the garden of messy delights

Each year I work away at one more hindrance by setting the intention to let it be.  Whatever “it” is, I leave it to be what it is going to be.  Well, more accurately, I set the intention to leave it to be.  What typically happens is that as “it” becomes more and more its own self, my need to cull, cut, contort, and otherwise connive it to be what I want it be asserts itself.  And nowhere it that more apparent than in my garden.

I’ve defined a new psychological disorder; if delusions are inexhaustible, so too are shrinkolexical categorizations of the impenetrable.  Gardener’s Obsession Circumscribed to Dirt – GOCD.  It is diagnosed by an uncontrollable urge to punctuate clusters of flowering plants with spaces of dirt.  It can be chronic or acute.  Typically, it is a low-level dysfunctionality (sort of like a dysthymia of gardening illusions) but can surge into a full-blown acute case in the months of July and August.  The more serious cases are found in August if one has a case of GOCD – vegetative type.

As you know I’ve spent two years away from my garden during its most formative and needy periods of development.  This might well give rise to another disorder – some sort of parental neglect of blooming potential or something.  Anyway, having left for the wilds of Santa Fe every March and August, I seem to have developed a slight tolerance for letting go of the garden I had planned to have and an acceptance of the one I do have – not unlike being a real parent of a real child.  No longer do I yearn (too much) for a neatly established garden with swathes of dark earth or mulch caressing the growth edges of Ox-Eye Daisies, Campanula, Pasque Flowers, Bleeding Hearts, and Bee Balm.  I am at one with the Azaleas with their twiggy branches and have left the Nishiki to skirmish with the kiwi vine for canopy space.  The Irises seem quite content with the Lupines and the Clematis are holding out against the Sandcherries.   Even the dreaded Peonies have re-asserted themselves quietly in the side beds.

This year, with no travel plans on the near or far horizon, I ironically find myself confronting my GOCD full on.  Where I thought there would be time to edit the garden beds, I find only time to edit out the unnecessary from the narrative of my lifeline.  And the most unnecessary at this moment is the illusion that anything can be picture perfect.  So, I am embracing my garden in its gardenness and slumming in the messy delight of its tangled growth.  Strangely, that messy English Garden I coveted for so many years seems to have manifested.  Perhaps it has only if you tilt your head a smidgen to the right which allows the echinacea to block the view of the weedy grass between the spirea and the honeysuckle.  But it is there.

Deeply embedded in the foliage and flowers, it is there.

letting go of holding on

From the Bodhidharma Anthology by Jeffrey Broughton: Entering the path through practice – seeking nothing.

The sutra says: “Seeking is all suffering; seeking nothing is joy.”

I love the twists and turns of this third practice.  Seek nothing.  This is joy.  Yet joy is one of the worldly winds that blow up the dust storms!  Gotcha!

And yet.  And yet…

Much of our path has likely been laid down by seeking and joy in the finding.  Now here’s the part we forget: it’s also tamped down by the letting go and the losing.

Broughton footnotes a story about Merit and Darkness who are sisters.  They travel together and it is not possible to invite one in without the other.  Nor is it possible to drive one away without the other leaving too.  While I like this fable, it only addresses the extremes of our clinging and aversion.  To stretch the metaphor, we can’t shine the light on one segment of our path without casting others into darkness.  Practice requires attention not only to our clinging to the lit path and aversion to the dark beyond but also to the edge where light meets dark.  This is liminal ground where transformation occurs; its presence in awareness is constantly negotiated by our open-heartedness.

In my own practice, I try (oh, I try and try) to stay with the transitions between light and dark, earth and air, heaven and hell.  The extreme manifestations are no-brainers to meet and resolve.  It’s the sliding away and into from one to the other and back again that calls for a deeper commitment.  This is where a rigid holding on to what is, what it must become, what it cannot emerge as results in suffering.

This practice of not seeking, wishing for nothing, is a practice of unhooking from a specific outcome, untying the knot that keeps us chained to the shifting winds of fortune.  It is in the merging and emerging of lightness and darkness.

occupy letting go

Sometimes it’s all about letting go.  And letting go comes in various forms.

It can be a powerful draping backwards into a river.




It can be a resolute stance of acceptance, a realization of being constructed by so many disparate experiences.

It can be as simple as noticing that something has turned a corner.  It can be as complex as convincing oneself that any consequence which follows an action can be borne with equanimity.

Letting go is an adventure in fear, trust, and inclusiveness.

You may not have noticed my practice of letting go last week.  Likely you might have noticed a gap in the posts.  Perhaps you thought, Oh she’s deep into the thesis!  Or, she’s probably off saving the world from Heffalumps.  Or you might even have thought, she’s won the Lotto 649 and abandoned the life of ne’er-read-well author/artiste.  I’m not to sure about the saving the world part and my bank account is pretty firm about the Lotto 649 part.  As for the depth of the thesis, I’m happy to report that the mind-numbing psychologese part is written and now I get to play with the “What Would Buddha Do” part.

But letting go.  That was pretty dominant in the two weeks past if only as a realization that I can be releasing my death grip on all manner of fixations, metaphors of Self, and craven desires and what is apparent to the eye or ear could be as simple as a “yes” or “no.”

I practiced this noticing on our (now) annual trip to NYC where we met up with friends, one of whom was running the NYC Marathon.  In the days before the race, we toured around the city and as Chaplains we felt it was important to head down to Occupy Wall Street to bear witness to the beginnings of this very powerful shift in societal awareness – as confusing as the process may seem at times.  Personally, I still don’t quite know what I feel about it all but I was intent on bringing myself to that place of discomfort and watch the “yes” and “no” surface over and over again.  Since the beginning of the Occupy movement, I’ve felt a huge level of discomfort, edging on the hyper-vigilance you might feel if you think you’re being blamed for enjoying unearned assets.  I’m beginning to hate those websites that tell you’re part of the 1% or the 99%.  (I’m neither unless you consider a global or restricted range as a measure of income.)  I dislike now feeling the need to justify what I have, what I bought, what I pictures I upload to Facebook, what trips I take, and what  my groceries cost.

I would like a sign I can hoist over my new car (the old one dates back to 1999 and has 290, 000 km on it):

Refugee kid made good
because she married a hard-working Southerner
who would sooner die from fatigue
than take a vacation.

So standing there on the edge of OWS taking pictures, I felt like a sleazy tourist and probably took on a 100% defensive posture.  I tried to strike up a conversation with two men who had a terrific sign but my request for permission to photograph the sign earned me a dismissive grunt – sleazy tourist.  For a moment, I thought of walking away, going around the corner where the unemployed grandmother sat knitting mitts and scarves for the residents of OWS, where the gas-masked, person-pillar draped in black performed eschatological street art, down towards the drumming that called out to all the hearts that beat.  But I didn’t.  I took the picture and thanked them.

In case you can’t read it, it says:

This is not a protest;
this is an AFFIRMATION
of the vitality and idealism
erupting underneath the present
American nightmare.

I told them I wanted to post this for all the Occupy sites because it captures the essence of this shift, this letting go of how we have lived our lives and how we want to continue to live our lives.  To do this, I have to climb out of the minds of those two people.  I have to let go, release what I think they thought of me and my digital camera.  I have to add myself to the % who don’t give a damn about being judged, appraised, counted in or counted out.

Letting go is an affirmation that we can occupy this moment, this self, this being completely, without hesitation or reservation.