A couple of weeks ago I attended the last retreat of this year’s Term Student program at my zen center. Since I shared the mandala from the last one, I thought I would also share this one, too.

These are always interesting to draw because there is no forethought put into it. The instruction is to draw something that represents what you have learned in the past 3 months. And then you just draw what bubbles up to the surface.

My vow for this term was to read the Heart Sutra everyday. The Heart Sutra is something that is chanted when our group meditates together,  and it is kind of awesome. I feel very drawn to it and thought I would read it everyday and just see what I could learn from it, without having any prior agenda.

It turns out I learned a lot

The person in the middle is me (obviously). I have my hand over my heart. On my right is the suffering I go through sometimes: depression, sadness, heartbreak, etc. On the left is the good stuff: love, happiness, joy. Above me is (supposed to be) Kanzeon, the Bodhisattva of compassion. On the ground below me are all of the things that have helped me learn and grow as a person. Books, my sketchbook, people/relationships. Something that is missing that I should have put there is a bottle of vitamins to represent the concept of  taking care of myself.

So here is what I learned: I learned about self-compassion. I learned that it is OK to suffer. I learned not to turn away from suffering, but to fully embrace it. And in that suffering I should have compassion for myself. I can be the one to comfort myself when I am suffering, I have that power.

For some reason this has been a huge lesson for me. I have talked about this idea before, this idea of learning to love myself. But there has always been something missing. I feel like I have now found the missing piece. Self compassion is the  missing piece.

I think in the past I have glossed over the suffering. Or I beat myself up for feeling bad. I think it’s because in our culture there is this idea that we are always supposed to be positive and happy. I think I’ve talked about this before too. Sometimes I just don’t have it in me to be positive, no matter how hard I “try.” Sometimes things just completely suck. Sometimes I am just sad. Sometimes I am reminded of something that makes me cry. Sometimes I am in a lot of physical pain. Sometimes things don’t go my way. Sometimes life is suffering. You know what: THIS IS NORMAL. This is a normal part of life. And when I am experiencing these moments of suffering I can actually give myself compassion, just like I would have compassion for a friend or loved one.

This has been a huge revelation for me. And I think it is changing my life. It is certainly changing my outlook on life. Those moments of suffering are happening a little less than they were. And when they do happen I can help myself by feeling compassion for myself, instead of beating myself up (which has been my standard m.o. most of my life) for not being “happy enough.”

So what does this have to do with the Heart Sutra? I’m still not exactly sure. I think I am still learning that lesson. To be quite honest, the words of the Heart Sutra don’t exactly make a lot of sense to me and those moments when they do make sense they freak me out because I think it is talking about the idea of no-self, which kind of freaks me out. But I am still drawn to it and I want to learn more about it.  But, a serendipitous thing that I did learn these past few months: I learned that Avalokiteshvara (who is mentioned in the sutra) is the male embodiment of the Bodhisattva of compassion. I didn’t know this at the beginning of the three months. As Buddhism moved through China the Bodhisattva became female and the name became Guanyin, which translates to Kanzeon in Japanese. Kanzeon is the Bodhisattva at the top of my mandala, guiding my through this lesson of self-compassion. I started this thinking about how she could guide me and it looks like she did.


Side-note: If you are reading this and are interested in learning about self compassion, I can recommend Kristen Neff’s book: Self Compassion: The Proven Power of being Kind to Yourself. I mentioned in this blog post that I went to a workshop about compassion fatigue and this was one of the books recommended by the speaker.

A pinhole adventure to a secret location 

Travel and Other Adventures

Yesterday the Mr and I went on a impromptu adventure with my brother-in-law. Originally we were going to go to the zoo but his brother called us in the morning and invited us to go hiking with him.

I decided to (finally) pick up a camera. Two, actually. My zero 2000 pinhole camera and my Olympus Trip. It had been a very long time since I used either one and thought I should give them both some love. The Trip I loaded with a roll of Fuji Superia and offered it up for a film swap on the Double Exposure and Film Swap Group.

I’ve only used the Trip once about a year ago, and it was a very rainy day so I was a bit distracted by the rain at the time. This time I really got a chance to enjoy it. What a fantastic little camera! I kind of love that you don’t really have to worry about focusing, aside from choosing a general idea of how far away the subject is. I also love that there is a little window that you can see through the viewfinder that shows what “distance graphic” you are on. It’s such an easy and fun little camera! I want to try shooting some street photography with it.

While we were at my brother-in-law’s house I was admiring his small collection of vintage cameras he had displayed on the shelf. He mentioned that he was going to sell all of them and offered to give me one as a Christmas present. I chose this really cool little Brownie Reflex! It’s awesome!  nice and compact. I even have some 127 film to load into it. I kind of also think this might make an interesting street photography camera, as well.

When we opened the camera up we found an ancient roll of exposed b&w film. I think I will develop it myself. I will have to resort to using my plastic reel though (ugh).

We ended up going to a super secret location and hiked to a waterfall. I have been told not to disclose the location of this place because it is a secret swimming/fishing hole.

It was really quite awesome though. There were two waterfalls, a bigger one and a smaller one. Here are a few photos I took on the scene. They really don’t do the place justice. Hopefully my pinhole shots are better.

apples and purses


The past couple of days I’ve been kind of obsessed interested in pencil sketching. I checked out the Winter 2015 edition of Drawing Magazine and found that they have beginner exercises so I tried the one for this issue – Featherstroke. The idea is to layer the shading until you get the effect you are going for.  I’m really having a lot of fun with it! Here is an apple and my purse.

The issue also features artists who use colored pencils and now I have a renewed interested in using colored pencils. I used them when I first started drawing and loved the convenience but switched to watercolor. I love the look of watercolor but it frustrates me because it is hard to have any control at all. I am thinking I may go back to colored pencils.

You can see more sketches at Gotta Sketch That Itch.

Running Playlist L – N

Health and Fitness

What are your favorite running songs?

Here are a few of mine.

  1. Let Forever Be. The Chemical Brothers
  2. Magic. B.o.B.
  3. Me Gustas Tu. Manu Chao
  4. The Middle. Jimmy Eat World
  5. Mr. Mastodon Farm. Cake
  6. My Body. Young The Giant
  7. Need You Now. Cut Copy
  8. Never Listen To Me. The Thermals
  9. Not Like Any Other Feeling. The Thermals

Other parts of the list:

“The way to stop the war is to stop hating the enemy. It starts with seeing our opinions of ourselves and of others as simply our take on reality and not making them a reason to increase the negativity on the planet…
…It’s up to us to sort out what is opinion and what is fact then we can see intelligently. The more clearly we can see, the more powerful our speech and actions will be. The less our speech and actions are clouded by opinion, the more they will communicate, not only to the people polluting the rivers, but also to those who are going to put pressure on the people who are polluting the rivers.”
– Pema Chödrön . When Things Fall Apart; Heart Advice For Difficult Times.

I bought When Things Fall Apart about 6 years ago, when my stepdad died and never read it. It’s just been collecting dust on my bookshelf. A few weeks ago I attended a workshop for work and one of the speakers talked about the concept of self compassion and how it can help us as library workers in dealing with compassion fatigue (or Secondary Traumatic Stress). One of the books recommended was this one, so I thought I’d pick it up since I had it handy.

I am really glad I did. And I wish I’d picked it up a lot sooner. The name of the book put me off, I think. I think I felt like I had to be in a really bad place in order to read it, but, as it turns out, the book has a lot of practical advice for just everyday living. It is a classic American Buddisim text and very jargony, so I am not sure if non-buddhists would get much out of it, though I think if you are interested in learning about Buddhism from a practical standpoint this might be a good book to read. I have a lot of non-Buddhist friends who have read this and liked it though, so.

Anyway, I like it and recommend it. I just read this from the book a few minutes ago and feel like it is very timely, considering the circumstances of the world.

More on what I am learning about self-compassion in a later blog post.

they are just opinions