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Yesterday’s post contained an oversized photo file which corrupted how subscribers received the post. Here is the corrected version Solace at the Sea.
Prior to the solstice I considered strategies to up-level what I feared might all too easily devolve into a wasted and blighted summer. How might I maximize the sun-laced days without concerts, gatherings or travel adventures? I needed something uncomplicated, effortless and gratifying to do within current constrictions.
Among other things which developed out of a brainstorming session, I decided to buy a beach tent. The light-weight structure has its own carrying-case, pops up easily, and can be secured with pegs, pieces of driftwood or stones. Open on two sides it allows me to enjoy the scenery and the surf while shielded from the sun.
Numerous beaches within minutes of my home offer expansive shores and splendid views. Although a few have been contaminated by effluent, ironically that only adds to my enjoyment as it eliminates crowds of swimmers. Undisturbed by public noise I can write, sketch, meditate or nap consoled by the wind, the waves and the expansive blue peace.
Of course, I had little inkling how much I would need the solace my ocean side interludes afford. Danish author Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen, a woman who had her share of betrayals, disappointments and losses) maintained that the cure for anything was salt water, be it sweat, tears or the sea.
I’ll take it. It’s less harmful than wine (though I’ll take some of that, too).
Three eclipses, a global plague and a new comet. Recently someone on a comment thread claimed to be only a ‘plague of frogs’ from completing his 2020 Apocalypse Bingo card.
On June 29, 2020, my brother undertook an ambitious climb in Strathcona Park to conquer three peaks in as many days. He has not returned nor has his body been recovered in spite of extensive efforts to do.
“You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realize, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are.” (Helen Macdonald)
When he was born I was not yet two, first spoke German and could not say Bruder. To everyone’s amusement and worth a note in my baby book I called him mein Buddha.
The great Zen teacher Hakuin wrote: All beings are intrinsically Buddha. Nirvana is right here, before our eyes. This very place is the Lotus Land; this very body, the Buddha.
Eric Whitacre was one of Laurence’s favourite composers.
Schlaf süß, mein lieber Buddha.
Image credit: Copyright 2019 TrueBlueDesigns. All rights reserved. https://www.dailyzen.com/cards/
When little can be done, do little. *
Magic comes from change—even change you don’t choose. *
As part of a recent guided meditation I was instructed to create a mini movie of any problem I wished to address. Then I was to continue watching as the step by step resolution of the problem unfolded on screen.
The problem: Several months after my return from Tokyo I remain largely cut off from easy-going, social interactions I value. I am unable to partake of what was once a vibrant cultural scene in the city. As self-isolation restrictions ease somewhat, I’m not tempted to dine out, travel locally or endure tedious line ups for every mundane transaction. I’m not opting for risks that don’t offer commensurate rewards. Of course I realize that such inconveniences are not as catastrophic as the deprivations experienced by others. However, they chafe all the same.
The circumscribed life I am living mid global pandemic—one I might imagine as appropriate in my late 8th and early 9th decades—is not quite what I’d anticipated in late February as I embarked on what I thought would be two rapturous months studying in Tokyo followed by a summer of leisurely and stimulating idylls.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that the meditation didn’t quite work out as expected either. The mini movie offered no resolution. Before me I saw a pristine white cocoon suspended by silky white threads from a branch. Serene. Elegant. Motionless.
Of course, the symbolism is quite obvious and nothing I didn’t already know. A global pandemic has put my life on hold in a crisis which changes from day to day but also remains static, suspended and mind-numbingly the same.
However, as I considered the imagery I began to wonder whether the recent aborted journey to Tokyo was never meant to be the culmination of my ikebana aspirations as I had planned. Perhaps I had failed to recognize the venture as the caterpillar stage.
Though I did not see a resolution to my state of stasis in the meditation, there’s a well-known outcome to the cocoon stage. A transformed creature emerges from the chrysalis and engages with the world anew. As if to underscore the reminder of change they did not choose, swallow tail butterflies flit among the leaves outside my window. Magic!
Everything changes. Everything appears and disappears. There is perfect tranquility when one transcends both life and extinction. The Buddha
Cocoon Image Credit Megan McCarty https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
Butterfly Image Credit By Calibas at en.wikipedia – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15530204
After sixty days which include the two-week Federal Quarantine Order before self-isolation, I hold two states of mind simultaneously: gratitude to have landed blessedly well and lethargy due to this serene limbo-life. I’ve been forced into a routine I imagined for myself in my 8th or 9th decade—quietly sitting at home albeit minus aches and pains for late-in-life companions.
Even though I have successfully skirted the temptation to avoid pajama days 95 percent of the time and joyfully accomplished a great deal, occasionally as the evening wears on I get an acute case of corona fatigue. Sometimes after days of nothing much to do and nowhere to go except for brief in-out shopping trips to replenish basic groceries and necessities, it all seems tedious.
I’ve completed the large projects I undertook in the first few weeks, and none of the domestic chores ever occupy an entire day.
Though the results look great and cost much less, home-based spa time lacks any luxurious atmosphere or cachet.
Yawn. YouTube and Netflix (even the educational and enriching options) offer little enticement anymore. The same holds true for scholastic pursuits as those mean more sitting in front of a computer. And music via speakers—even good ones—sounds hollow compared to the real deal.
Last week shops, restaurants and services not deemed essential began to open under carefully controlled conditions. Even though I am behind the idea of supporting local businesses to recoup their losses in principle; the reality is I’m not the least bit helpful. I have few needs other than groceries and am not particularly motivated to stand in lines and follow arrows or don a mask to peruse items I don’t need in the off chance of an impulse purchase.
Happily, we are now allowed to expand our “social bubbles.” However, we are advised to use caution, maintain good hygiene habits and continue distancing. Though I’m not fearful of people per se, I’m not particularly eager to engage with those I don’t care about deeply. The risk reward payoff is no temptation.
Last week I visited an aunt and uncle whom I hadn’t seen since February. The week before, I walked with a friend through the gardens of The University of Victoria campus. In both instances I was smacked with the incredible uplifting energy which imbues human connection. The various devices we use to create reasonable facsimiles of such links are somewhat deficient in conveying its essence. It’s not unlike the difference between icing made with hydrogenated oil instead of butter. You still get a dope dose of sugar, but.
Of course, ennui will not help me amuse, motivate or improve myself over the remaining days, weeks, months or years that cocooning through this pandemic and its various levels of fallout might last. I wonder whether pupae fret and chafe in their silken cages.
Realizing I need to regain a Buddha mind, I turn to ikebana which I haven’t touched since my last class in Tokyo two months ago. I choose a container, cut pieces of weeping eucalyptus bark [Eucalyptus sepulcralis, Latin for belonging to a tomb] set them into a kenzan and cover it with beach stones. When I finish my hands are fragrant.
My photos fail to capture the depth or subtleties, the rich harmony of the grays and browns in the bark, container and stones. Removed from its natural state and transformed, the bark conveys dynamic movement upward in spite of its static state. Might that expression be symbolic? Perhaps. The Sogetsu tagline is: The flower becomes me. Perchance by some unconscious, beautiful accident it’s true.
I wish to make clear that I merely describe and reflect on my circumstances after two months in covid confinement. I am fully aware that my bit of boredom and bother are not even close to suffering. At the same time, psychologists underscore the way that all people suffer in various ways through this current crisis, even the ones whose circumstances are favorable or whose natures may find isolation easier to bear.
Alas, as has ever been the case during calamities, through no fault of their own many people have been and will continue to be devastated by this contagion in multiple heartbreaking ways.
All my empathy and compassion for their plight can do nothing to alleviate it.
Over the past 10 days I made use of the self-isolation period to get rid of the murky gray/brown paint on my kitchen walls and trim. I would have preferred to change the countertop for something less ho-hum and not at war with the floor. However, a liter of paint is less costly and doesn’t require the hassles of scheduling sub-trades. The goal was to unify everything by matching the trim and wall colour to the cabinets.
Life began with waking up and loving my mother’s face. ~ George Elliot
I decided to make it a great one and go all out for my birthday this year. Why not?
Most happiness is created–whatever else may be going on. It doesn’t often land on you unexpectedly (though it’s more than wonderful when it does). Since I can’t dine under Michelin stars, I opted for Philippsen stars and planned a splendid meal.
All day the house is full of fantastic smells. Yesterday I baked a lemon cake. This morning I made lemon cream frosting, iced the portion of cake I’d set aside for dessert, and put a sparkler in it.
Resisting a week-long glut of way-way-way too much happiness, I sliced and froze the rest along with 6 additional muffin-sized ones. Who says you can’t make happiness last?
That done I prepped the leek & bacon quiche tarts I plan to have as an appetizer with the 1/2 bottle of Veuve Clicquot I put by. After that I plated a salad of cabbage, Brussels sprouts, radishes and micro greens which I popped into the fridge ready to pull out, dress with a light yuzu, mayo and white balsamic vinegar dressing and serve.
For the main course I enjoyed rolled chicken thighs stuffed with pesto, prosciutto and provolone cheese, breaded in Panko bread crumbs. I finished that with Brussels sprouts caramelized in butter and minced garlic as a side.
For this course I kept a bottle of Meiomi Pinot Noir in reserve in order to stretch the bubbly to the dessert course. Insurance. Just in case.
Gochisosama deshita. There are subtleties within that meaning as well, because gochiso means “luxurious food” or “feast,” even when the meal has been simple. Gratitude is an interesting sentiment. (With my thanks to Edible Communities: Eat Your Words.)
The object of this lesson is to create arrangements suitable for those occasions when people gather around a table, often a dinner table but not always. Normally the arrangement is placed in the center and should suit the size of the table. If people are seated around the table, the maximum height should be about the distance between one’s elbow and fingertips. (Lanky people get more leeway.)
The various elements of the arrangement and the table setting ought to be in harmony and attractive from all angles. However, heavily scented flowers are best avoided. Ideally, if successful, the arrangement should spark conversation. Although, if you’re Japanese or a student of ikebana, you’ll understand that it’s necessary–good manners–to offer comments.
In this instance Sensei wasn’t keen on my choice of container. Still, I saw the opportunity for creating something that was asymmetrical from each point of view with this beautiful ball and its multiple throats.
Each day I was given a packet of branches and flowers ordered for the lesson without any input from me. Though normally quite fragrant, these sweet peas had no scent, and the number of spirea branches used so few as to have no negative affect on the viewer.
In English, Sogetsu School’s tagline reads: The flower becomes me. Google Translate renders the Japanese as Flowers become me. A difference of some significance if one is inclined to dance on the head of a pin.
However, I often wonder whether that’s freighted with cryptic nuances dependent on oblique references to ancient poems.
In English, the flower might turn into me, grow into me, or convert to me. Or it could suit me, fit me, and flatter me. Or does it express me; revealing something of my being and what I am becoming?
The longer I study the art of ikebana, the more frequently I consider these questions.
Part way through my quarantine my friend A and I chat via Skype. I tell her I know that returning a month ahead of schedule without achieving any of the goals I’d set for my Tokyo sojourn was necessary and that I acquiesce to that reality; however, I also feel deep disappointment and loss. Even so, thinking that my loss doesn’t compare to the loss of a loved one or a job due to the virus, I acknowledge that others suffer much more than I do.
A says: There is no hierarchy of loss. A loss is a loss. To think that others have it worse is pointless.
It’s one of the most validating and consoling things anyone has said to me. It’s true. My loss is a loss. Although I won’t be constantly moaning about it, that doesn’t mean that I won’t feel it deeply. A is right. Belittling a loss (whatever it might be) is not helpful.
Shortly after my conversation with A, D asks via email whether I’m “settled in” to the “new routines” yet. Oh no. Every day still contains some level of surprise. I haven’t experienced several weeks of self-isolation, learned the new protocols at every place of business or acclimatized to the “new routines.”
I uprooted from my normal life in Victoria two weeks before isolation was implemented in BC. While concerns in Japan had risen to the point where the government closed schools and cultural venues for the month of March, in Tokyo business carried on much as usual.
The main difference was the absence of tourists during peak season. However, temples, shrines, parks, shops and restaurants were open, although the ones I frequented were doing about one third of their usual business and struggling to hang on. It was relatively easy to keep distances and manage risks as I didn’t have to commute in packed trains.
Then in the midst of that uncertainty as Tokyo’s numbers began to rise day by day, the Olympic Games were postponed. Talk of lockdown became more frequent. As I had no desire to hole up in a 300 square foot apartment only to serve a second quarantine the moment I landed in Canada, I made the wrenching decision to return.
Though I made every effort to use the quarantine period wisely and enjoy it, those conditions are hardly conducive to “settling in.” Then, after my confinement ended mere days ago, I faced the new constrictions governing every action I need to take in order to meet my most basic needs. It’s as if I have returned to a foreign country.
Worse, and perhaps most shocking is the behavior of people. If they pass closer than 2 meters (for all of 2 seconds), they no longer stop to engage in conversation, but hold their breath and scurry past. Sometimes they cringe and draw away. Some even gasp and cry out. Overworked and distressed checkout clerks who must sanitize the conveyor belt between each customer no longer engage in the pleasantries that were once a cheery aspect of Victoria life.
After a few days of that sort of freedom, I’m definitely not settled. While my home is comfortable and comforting, the isolation and changes at every level are additional losses I’ve yet to integrate into the whole. It will take time.
Never mind. Many times I have counted blessings through my tears. I’ve always chosen to do my best and make the best of grim situations. Eventually I adjust. I can do it again. That doesn’t mean it is easy.