my VCFA mfa work_
October 2012, I started my MFA studies at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I know it will prove to be one of the most profound experiences of my life. I'll try to share some of my adventure on these pages with you.

semester 1 > pkt1, pkt2, pkt3, pkt4, pkt5
semester 2 <
semester 3 <

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my painted rock <

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1st semester_october 2012-april 2013 :: packet 1_

the office project ::

my office before

Places That Scare You...reading: The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times - Pema Chödrön

:: excerpts I found interesting:

We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.

- Chitta = "mind", "heart", or "attitude"
- Bodhi = "awake", "enlightened", "completely open"

Bodhichitta also equated, in part, with compassion—our ability to feel the pain that we share with others. Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves form this pain because it scares us. We
put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices, and strategies, barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt.
An analogy for bodhichitta is the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we're arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.

A human being is a part of the whole called by us "the universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest—a kind
of optical delusion of consciousness. The delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves
from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. — Albert Einstein

It's not the "whole of nature" I struggle with. It's other humans. We have such a huge capacity for creativity yet so many people expect so little of themselves (while expecting so much from others on their behalf). It's so easy to go about our daily lives doing things which take away from the natural order of the universe, walking blindly to a potential abyss, like cattle.

The first of the three lords of materialism is called the lord of form. It represents how we look to externals to give us solid ground. We can begin to pay attention to our methods of escape.
[Discusses the use of "shopping therapy", turning to food, drugs, sex, and other methods of coping.]

When I'm frustrated or hurt, I just turn inward and retreat to my personal space. I do use "shopping therapy" when I get frustrated with my financial situation. As if buying that couch or TV will help. Not.

The second of the three lords of materialism is the lord of speech. This lord represents how we use beliefs of all kinds to give us the illusion of certainty about the nature of reality.

Yeah, this is me. Sometimes I oversimplify and assume I fully understand the background of another person, or their motives, and form rigid opinions or make generalized statements. I often find myself retracting and apologizing. This is a genetic trait (I'm convinced) and everyone in my family does this. I'm probably less so than the rest of my family due to years of management training and exposure to so many types of people.

The third lord, the lord of mind, uses the most subtle and seductive strategy of all. The lord of mind comes into play when we attempt to avoid uneasiness by seeking special states of mind.

I have friends who do this. It concerns me. I fear for their mental health. I don't think this applies to me personally. I am too open emotionally, to a fault sometimes when it comes to diplomacy and word crafting in my professional world. I can be too direct and open and some folks find this off putting. I'm fine with someone doing this with me. It helps me understand their position better without guessing what their real agenda is. I think this is carryover from my newspaper days. There was no time for politics.

Everything is in process.

I love this statement! I must print this out and tape it to my monitor, next to my other mantra. I must remind myself of this every day. I know it to be true, but I have so little patience, I often forget it.

That we take ourselves so seriously, that we are so absurdly important in our own minds, is a problem for us. We feel justified in denigrating ourselves or in feeling that we are more clever than other people. Self-importance hurts us, limiting us to the narrow world of our likes and dislikes. We end up bored to death with ourselves and our world. We end up never satisfied.

Crap! I could have stopped reading at this point. This defines a lot about me. How did I get this way? I didn't start out like this. I was the outside observer, listening to the definitions given by others.
Somewhere it changed.

When we train in awakening bodhichitta, we are nurturing the flexibility of our mind. In the most ordinary terms, egolessness is a flexible identity. It manifests as inquisitiveness, as adaptability, as
humor, as playfulness. It is our capacity to relax with not knowing, not figuring everything out, with not being at all sure about who we are— or who anyone else is either.

I have gotten better about this. I thank perimenopause.
Because we mistakenly take what is always changing to be permanent, we suffer.

In repeating our quest for instant gratification, pursuing addictions of all kinds—some seemingly benign, some obviously lethal—we continue to reinforce old patterns of suffering. We strengthen
dysfunctional patterns.

This is me when I'm around my family, or if things aren't going as planned at work (after I invested so much time researching, planning, and analyzing).

Maitri = the complete acceptance of ourselves as we are, a simple, direct relationship with the way we are.

This feels like someone giving me (and everyone else) permission to remain where we are and not seek improvement or further enlightenment. Maybe I read too much into it.

Only when we relate with ourselves without moralizing, without harshness, without deception, can we let go of harmful patterns. Without maitri, renunciation of old habits becomes abusive.
I don't fully grasp this, but feel that I should. The book said "this is an important point."

There are certain advanced techniques in which you intentionally churn up emotions by thinking of people or situations that make you angry or lustful or afraid. The practice is to let the thoughts
go and connect directly with the energy, asking yourself, "Who am I without these thoughts?"

What we do with meditation practice is simpler than that, but I consider it equally daring. When emotional distress arises uninvited, we let the story line go and abide with the energy.

"Who am I without these thoughts?"
Provocative concept.

The warrior = nurturing open-mindedness and courage

Pema doesn't watch the same movies I do where the warrior demonstrates more primal characteristics.

The 4 limitless qualities—loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity

There is but one person on this planet who will never receive loving-kindness from me. She will receive compassion from me and I'm working on the equanimity with her.

Choosing to cultivate love rather than anger just might be what it takes to save the planet from extinction.

OK. You've got my attention.

We wish not only that the outer manifestations of suffering will decrease but also that all of us could stop acting and thinking in ways that escalate ignorance and confusion.

Can I have an "Amen!"

The best way to serve ourselves is to love and care for others. These are powerful tools for dissolving the barriers that perpetuate not just our own unhappiness, but the suffering of all

OK, I believe you. I promise to work on it.

Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior's world. We
can do this even at the most difficult moments. Everything we see, hear, taste, and smell has the power to strengthen and uplift us. As Longchenpa says, the quality of joy is like finding cool,
refreshing shade.

I need to look for the shade more.

When we encounter any pleasure or tenderness in our life, we cherish that and rejoice. Then we make the wish that others could also experience this delight or this relief. In a nutshell, when
life is pleasant, think of others. When life is a burden, think of others. If this is the only training we ever remember to do, it will benefit us tremendously and everyone else as well. It's a way of
bringing whatever we encounter onto the path of awakening bodhichitta.

I do this often when I wake up to birds outside my window or seeing geese fly overhead or the first snowfall. Stuff like that makes me wish such pleasure for everyone. What I don't do is think of others when I'm suffering. My Mom is probably the only one who hears ALL of my suffering. With other stuff I choose friends who would understand my context. Often, I keep it internally and wait for things to work themselves out or for me to feel better about.

It's easy to continue, even after years of practice, to harden into a position of anger and indignation. However, if we can contact the vulnerability and rawness of resentment or rage or whatever it is, a bigger perspective can emerge. In the moment that we choose to abide with the energy instead of acting it out or repressing it, we are training in equanimity, in thinking bigger than right and wrong. This is how all the four limitless qualities evolve from limited to limitless: we practice catching our mind hardening into fixed views and do our best to soften. Through softening, the barriers come down.

I obviously need to practice this more.

With unfailing kindness, your life always presents you what you need to learn. Whether you stay home or work in an office or what ever, the next teacher is going to pop right up. —Charlotte Joko Beck

This I completely believe. I also believe the universe provides you whatever you need when you need it. (Not to be confused with when you want it.)

When we identify ourselves as the helper, it means we see others as helpless.

Wow. I wonder if I do this. No, I don't go out of my way to help people just because I think they need it (except if someone is about to drop something or get hit by a car). I wait for it to be asked for. But I do think there are a lot of helpless folks floating around.

Idiot compassion: This is when we avoid conflict and protect our good image by being kind when we should say a definite "no." Compassion doesn't imply only trying to be good.

Haha! She said "idiot compassion"!
Ask my students. I have no problem saying "no" when it is in their best interest, even if they don't agree with me at the time.

If we wish to alleviate injustice and suffering, we have to do it with an unprejudiced mind.

Laziness: The first kind of laziness, comfort orientation, is based on our tendency to avoid inconvenience...In this way we lose touch with the texture of life. We trust the quick "upper" and become accustomed to automatic results. This particular brand of laziness can make us aggressive. We become outraged at inconvenience.

Outraged is such a strong word.

Few of us are satisfied with retreating from the world and just working on ourselves. We want our training to manifest and to be of benefit. The bodhisattva-warrior, therefore, makes a vow to wake up not just for himself but for the welfare of all beings.
6 traditional activities of bodhisattva compassionate living training (aka 6 paramitas): - generosity, discipline, patience, enthusiasm, meditation, and prajna (unconditional wisdom)

[Being comfortable with uncertainty]
We get into a raft on this shore, where we're struggling with notions of right and wrong, busy solidifying the illusion of ground by constantly seeking predictability. And we're traveling across the river to the other side, where we are liberated from the narrow-mindedness and dualistic thinking that characterize ego-clinging.

I need to build my raft.

The essence of generosity is letting go. Pain is always a sign that we are holding on to something— usually ourselves. When we feel unhappy, when we feel inadequate, we get stingy; we hold on

Wow. This describes my brothers to a tee. I don't get this way with material things, but I do with living things. A baby bunny, my pets, a friendship, family members,...the VCFA residency gang (it's going to kill me to leave it in 2 years).

Prajna = seeing things without "shoulds" or "should nots."
When we practice discipline with flexibility, we become less moralistic and more tolerant.

Six activities of the bodhisattva warrior:
- Generosity—giving as a path of learning to let go
- Discipline—training in not causing harm in a way that is daring and inflexible
- Patience—training in abiding with the restlessness of our energy and letting things evolve at
their own speed
- Joyful enthusiasm—letting go of our perfectionism and connecting with the living quality of
every moment
- Meditation—training in coming back to being right here with gentleness and precision
- Prajna—cultivating an open, inquiring mind

With these six activities of the bodhisattva, we learn ow to travel to the other shore, and we do our best to take everyone we can find along with us.

- this mantra contains the entire teachings of abiding in prajnaparamita, abiding in the fearless state

We might assume that as we train in bodhichitta, our habitual patterns will start to unwind—that day by day, month by month, we'll be more open-minded, more flexible, more of a warrior. But
what actually happens with ongoing practice is that our patterns intensify. In vajrayana Buddhism this is called "heightened neurosis." It's not something we do on purpose. It just happens. We catch the scent of groundlessness, and despite our wishes to remain steady, open, and flexible, we hold on tightly in very habitual ways.

Then what's the point in practicing?

The most straightforward advice on awakening bodhichitta is this:
practice not causing harm to anyone—yourself or others—and every day, do what you can to be helpful.

Gotcha. I think I can do that (most of the time).

To do this:
1. not setting up the target for the arrow,
2. connecting with the heart,
3. seeing obstacles as teachers, and
4. regarding all that occurs as a dream.

Actually, a lunatic is far less crazy than a sane person who harms us, for that so-called sane person has the potential to realize in acting aggressively he is sowing seeds of his own confusion and
dissatisfaction. His present aggression is strengthening future, more-intense habits of aggression. He is creating his own soap opera. This kind of life is painful and lonely. The one who harms us is under the influence of patterns that could continue to produce suffering forever.

By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what's happening, we begin to access our inner strength. Yet it seems reasonable to want some kind of relief. If we can make the
situation right or wrong, if we can pin it down in any way, then we are on familiar ground. But something has shaken up our habitual patterns and frequently they no longer work. Staying with volatile energy gradually becomes more comfortable than acting it out or repressing it. This openended tender place is called bodhichitta. Staying with it is what heals. It allows us to let go of our
self-importance. It's how the warrior learns to love.

I still have to work on comprehending this concept. The staying with the energy, vs. acting it out or repressing it is what I still struggle with. I kind of get it, but not sure how to "stay with it."

The in-between state—where moment by moment the warrior finds himself learning to let go—is the perfect training ground. It really doesn't matter if we feel depressed about that or inspired.
There is absolutely no way to do this just right. That's why compassion and maitri, along with courage, are vital: they give us the resources to be genuine about where we are, but at the same
time to know that we are always in transition, that the only time is now, and that the future is completely unpredictable and open.

As we continue to train, we evolve beyond the little me who continually seeks zones of comfort. We gradually discover that we are big enough to hold something that is neither lie nor truth,
neither pure nor impure, neither bad nor good. But first we have to appreciate the richness of the groundless state and hang in there.

This is a big one and I want to continue to keep working on this idea of letting go and being comfortable with being groundless.

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Places That Scare You...reading: Thinking in Systems : A Primer- Donella H. Meadows (editied by Diana Wright)

:: excerpts I found interesting:

So what is a system: A system is a set of things—people, cells, molecules, or whatever—interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behavior over time.

Political leaders don't cause recessions or economic booms. Ups and downs are inherent in the structure of the market economy.

How liberating! I don't have to blame individuals, I can blame systems!

Because of feedback delays within complex systems, by the time the problem becomes apparent it may be unnecessarily difficult to solve.
— A stitch in time saves nine.

According to the competitive exclusion principle, if a reinforcing feedback loop rewards the winner of a competition with the means to win further competitions, the result will be the elimination of all but a few competitors.
—For he that hath, to him shall be given; and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath (Mark 4:25)
—The rich get richer and the poor get poorer

Do the rich know this fact?

It's easy to point to external factors (vs. internal) for cause and blame.

The behavior of a system cannot be known by just knowing the elements of which the system is made.

Look Beyond the Players to the Rules of the Game You think that because you understand "one" that you must therefore understand "two" because one and one make two. But you forget that you must also understand "and." —Sufi teaching story

This is my favorite saying so far. I have to find a way to illustrate this.

A system can change elements but still behave the same (i.e., a football team can get new players, but it's still football).

Stock = the memory of the history of changing flows within the system A stock takes time to change because flows take time to flow.
system flows

Systems thinkers see the world as a collection of stocks along with the mechanisms for regulating the levels in the stocks by manipulating flows. They see the world as a collection of "feedback

A feedback loop is a closed chain of causal connections from a stock, through a set of decisions or rules or physical laws or actions that are dependent on the level of the stock, and back again
through a flow to change the stock.

Balancing feedback loops are equilibrating or goal-seeking structures in systems and are both sources of stability and sources of resistance to change (i.e., ice tea or hot tea balancing to zero
discrepancy = room temperature).

Reinforcing loops are found wherever a system element has the ability to reproduce itself or to grow as a constant fraction of itself. Those elements include populations and economies.

This stuff is fascinating to think about. I've barely cracked the book. Finished chapter one: Systems Basics. The closing of this chapter was good:

...continued in Packet #2

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art making:

:: looking at Self-Organizing Systems (at my house)


Acrylic on 185# paper - an aerial view of my neighborhood - about a 2 mile radius;
I took liberties with colors. The lighter greens are the forested and highest elevations.

grid 1 closeup

zoomed in (sorry, bad lighting)

grid 2

A closer aerial view of my neighborhood - about 1 mile radius;
I was able to work with larger shapes and this allows me to push the pigment around more and use some glazing.

Two follow up images are submitted with packet 2.


Below are 3 studies with a meditation phrase I re-discovered thorugh my office-cleaning:

still 1

still 2

still 3

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