Sunday, October 18, 2009

Doing Work, Creating Art and Breathing

I was immersed in art/work practice today, spending the morning glazing my jizo (see link for more information about this Japanese Bodhisattva) and spending the afternoon working on my rakusu, the symbol of jukai (lay ordination).

My jizo survived his first firing, and somehow I managed to get a little bit of my vision of a Bodhisattva into the clay, much more so than in my first attempt. Although I'm trying very hard to just let each one exist on its own, without my judgments, I seesaw back and forth from feeling artistic pride (Wow! I made this!) and an art critic's scorn (A third grader would have done a better job.).

We met in Susan Spencer's studio in Sebastopol, which is an art lover's paradise. Her garden is filled with ceramic figurines of all colors, shapes and sizes, from the whimsical to the spiritual. The ceramic studio has a big work table, and shelves lined with paint brushes, sponges, cutting tools and all kinds of miscellaneous implements. It's hard to resist the call to create when you're standing in that room.

Today we applied glazes, which is both easier (since the surfaces to paint were large and fairly clearly delineated) and at the same time a leap of faith (since I have no idea what it's going to look like when it comes out of the kiln the second time). Sangha member Debi was also with me, finishing the glazing on her feline jizo, a black cat Bodhisattva with wings and gold eyes.

I love colors. It's funny, because there was a long period in my life when I dressed only in black. Everything I owned was black - black bike messenger bag, black piano, black car. But at some point a few years ago, when the world got a little brighter for me, colors came back into my life. So choosing the glazing paints was heaven - sky blue, emerald green, rose pink. My jizo's robe is textured, so I used a sponge to wash some of the color off, leaving indentations of color beneath the ridges of clay. At the end, I covered the entire figure with a clear glaze, which dries white, completely masking all the work I had just done. Again, trust comes into play - the colors should reappear after firing. That's what I've been told.

I had a wonderful time getting paint all over my shirt, cradling the jizo in my arms while I applied the brush, feeling the weight and roughness and "I am that" -ness of it all.

And then, on to the next adventure. At sewing class, there were only four of us, due to a house blessing held this afternoon at sangha member Deborah's, so our teacher Connie Ayers was able to give lots of one-on-one attention. We practiced stitching, ironing, cutting, and marking.

But then I got to move on to the real deal, the cloth for my actual rakusu. I ironed the face cloth, for the front piece of the rakusu, and then Connie helped me apply the pattern and mark lines. On to cutting - which made me nervous, because that can be screwed up, but I made it through without destroying anything. The next simple step, ironing the folds on five pieces of cloth, I managed to bungle, doing it the opposite of what I was instructed. Thankfully, though, it was salvageable - just more ironing. The final step was to pin the first five segments, which again took some doing, but I survived with help from Connie.

Now this week I have to take the big plunge - make my first stitches on those pieces of cloth. This whole sewing thing is fascinating for me. I am so surprised how pleasurable it is. Once again, as with the clay, there is that sense of work and of art. I am making something with my own hands.

I am a word person. I make my living sitting at a computer, writing news stories and designing pages, which are sent to the printer electronically. At home, I spend hours in front of the screen, doing my own writing, blogging, emailing. I exist in an environment of ideas and papers, metaphors and keyboards.

To sit down at a table and pick up a lump of clay and roll it in my hands, to wield a paint brush, to thread a needle, to iron and tie knots and draw lines - this is opening me up. It's like the breath in zazen, a reminder that I have a body as well as a mind.

Just breathe.

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading about our wonderful glazing time together - you left your little zipped up thing again - does this mean you will return?

    I wrote this today before reading your entries - this is my first blog ever - unlike you I am not a word person but I am a wanabe one. susan

    here goes my entry

    It is June of 2002. I am celebrating my 70th birthday. My five children and I are gathered in the peace garden of green gulch farm zen center. My teacher, zen priest darlene cohen has designed a birthday ritual for us. she holds a rainbow wand in her hand; multicolored streamers flow from its tip. she waves it in the air blessing us, blessing this day, blessing our being together

    my daughter speaks words from the depth of her heart. she speaks of the changes I have made. she speaks of how she admires me; how she respects my zen practice.

    I see a man approaching and I cringe. "oh no, not now", I think, "please don't interrupt this moment", but he does. He whispers something in darlene's ear. "now she won't hear what ellie is saying" locks into my lizard brain and I become distracted.

    Weeks later darlene and I discuss this moment. she says: "oh yes, I was distracted too but the moment the man left I was totally present to what was happening. This was living, breathing, zen teaching. writing this I feel the cool ocean air off muir beach; I am aware of sunlight streaming in and out of clouds, I am grateful for the warmth and love of my children. the seven year ago moment is now; it is timeless. In the words of dogen, a 13th century poet, mystic and zen master, it is being time.