Who am I writing for?

I’m afraid I have to ask you to be patient… if you’re waiting for the patience post.

As part of my effort to make this blog as useful, informative, fun, and vibrant as possible, I’m taking a 4-week Blog Triage class with Alyson Stanfield and Cynthia Morris. (Click on their names to check out their blogs and see what good role models I’ve chosen!)

The first homework assignment is to describe my audience — who do I want to have reading my blog? In other words, who are you in my imagination and intention?

Well, maybe I have to start with who I am:

I move between being a creative artist (with my own imagery, experimentation with techniques, shows and other events, etc) and a researcher / writer / aspiring “expert” / spokesperson for an underappreciated sacred cultural tradition….

Since the cultural tradition is an expression of Buddhism, it’s also linked to spirituality, philosophy, and personal growth — subjects about which I often have thoughts and questions. And I invite others to question along with me.

And then there’s my life as an international nomad… which seems to fascinate others while exhausting me. Writing positively about this helps ground me and keeps the joy of movement awake in me.

So who are you, my readers, then?

You are:

  • textile artists and color lovers
  • Buddhist practitioners and Asian culture enthusiasts
  • travelers of Tibet and India touched by the art and devotion there

You are also:

  • collectors of Himalayan art interested in contemporary trends
  • collectors of textile art interested in traditional methods and new ways of applying them
  • art lovers ready to commission your first piece.. or your tenth
  • home dwellers who seek to surround yourselves in beauty
  • admirers of finely handcrafted work
  • academics researching Tibetan culture
  • people who enjoy questioning your assumptions, opening new possibilities, looking from new angles, and examining yourselves
  • armchair travelers or adventurers experienced in expat life
  • past and future visitors to the Rubin Museum of Art, the Newark Museum, the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, LACMA, the Pacific Asia Museum, Musée Guimet, and the Tibet House and other Himalayan art collections

You live all over the world. You are curious, inquisitive, and responsive. And you just LOVE to engage in conversation about beauty, growth, art, craft, fabrics, thangkas, colors, creativity, possibilities, practices for awakening, … and Tibetan art history. (Hint, hint. That means you make comments. See the comments link below? Yes, right there. That’s it.)

You’re creative, courageous, and interesting… and I just love talking with you!

Don’t see yourself here? Tell me then. Who are you?

Thank you for being part of my community.

photo from Clemson University Newsroom, March 2008

photo from Clemson University Newsroom, March 2008

In an ironic twist of fate, I had my patience tested yesterday. See, I’ve been meaning to start a series of posts on the questions people ask me about my work… and my responses to them.

As people spend time with my work, at some point they invariably make some comment about patience. An admiring, “Wow, what patience you have!” Or a self-deprecating, “I could never do what you do. I don’t have the patience.”

So yesterday I set out to write a post about patience. Added incentive was provided by my new commitment to spend twenty minutes every day writing (and that doesn’t count e-mail!)

I set my timer. I wrote. It was good. I liked what I was writing. It came easily, was fresh, funny, honest… I was pleased. Okay, just save the draft for a final proofread later, and …


I don’t know what was up with WordPress yesterday, but “Save Draft” resulted in “revert to what was on the page before you started writing,” i.e. the title! My post was gone.

Well, as I had written, I’m actually not a very patient person. (“Ask my husband. Ask my parents,” I wrote.)

Given that, I think I handled the experience pretty well. I even laughed. A poet recently told me about how important it is to learn not to fall in love with your own work. Maybe I liked my post a bit too much. I’ll write it again soon, but differently I’m sure. For now, it’s like one of those Tibetan sand mandalas that gets swept into the river at its most beautiful. Bye bye post! See you around! In your next unique incarnation…

Lotus by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo, 2009

Lotus by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo, 2009

I’m trying out Twitter. Not sure what will come of it but curious enough to give it a go.

Now, it seems to me that if I want people to “follow” me, I should give them some reason to do so. I just don’t think many people are interested in what I’m eating for breakfast. Who knows?

SO… here’s my idea:

I’m going to start two regular tweets.

Weekly Thangka will give a link each week to a thangka that I find on the web. I’ll try to uncover some unusual pieces with good photos and/or descriptions and, of course, will emphasize textile forms as much as possible. Contributions are welcome. Let me know what you find.

Thangka Tidbits will be occasional bits of information about thangkas. How they’re made, what they’re composed of, history, functions, etc., etc. I’ll share what I know and what I learn along the way, in small tweet-size chunks (less than 140 characters). I hope it will be interesting and useful. It’s an experiment!

Follow me on Twitter to see how what arises. Starting soon…

I’ve been traveling and was unable to keep up with writing while on the road. Kudos to those of you who are better at it than I am!

This blog and my website are not visible in China, by the way.

To start back into the rhythm of writing… well, of typing at least, for now, I’ll share with you some words that inspired me this morning.

From the May 2009 issue of Shambhala Sun, reprinted from Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche:

At any given moment, you can choose to follow the chain of thoughts, emotions, and sensations that reinforce a perception of yourself as vulnerable and limited — or you can remember that you true nature is pure, unconditioned, and incapable of being harmed. You can remain in the sleep of ignorance or remember that you are and always have been awake. Either way, you’re still expressing the unlimited nature of your true being. Ignorance, vulnerability, fear, anger, and desire are expressions of the infinite potential of your buddhanature. There’s nothing inherently wrong or right with making such choices. The fruit of Buddhist practice is simply the recognition that these and other mental afflictions are nothing more or less than choices available to us because our real nature is infinite in scope.

We choose ignorance because we can. We choose awareness because we can. Samsara and nirvana are simply different points of view based on the choices we make in how to examine and understand our experience. There’s nothing magical about nirvana and nothing bad or wrong about samsara. If you’re determined to think of yourself as limited, fearful, vulnerable, or scarred by past experience, know only that you have chosen to do so. The opportunity to experience yourself differently is always available.

Tomorrow, I’m screening Creating Buddhas at UC Irvine. In the coming days, look for posts on questions I’m often asked at screenings.

Our screening of Creating Buddhas at the Pacific Asia Museum in January accompanied an exhibition of thankas by master artist Pema Namdol Thaye.  I was struck by two things Pema said during his opening talk, and they’ve stayed with me over these past weeks.

He described how he approaches painting a deity.

First, he talked about the importance of understanding something of the deity you’re creating, having a sense of his nature, his essence. In effect, having a relationship with this deity. On the basis of this relationship, before beginning a project, Pema asks the deity for permission to present it on canvas. Of course, deities are compassionate, he noted. They never say no!

The second comment that struck me seems relevant to much more than artistic creation:  Pema shared that when he paints, the primary painting is done in his mind. (He actually said in his “brain.”) That’s the first painting, the original. Then he simply creates a duplicate on the canvas. That’s the secondary painting, a copy.  Or perhaps better stated, the painting on canvas is a natural outgrowth of the original image in his mind.

Pema said that the painting is complete in his mind before he starts to mix paints or touch brush to canvas. This reminds me of the relationship of intention to manifestation — of anything in our lives. What we paint in our minds materializes in our lives, naturally. Pema provided me a good metaphor to keep in mind in approaching all activity. And a good thought to take with me to Christine Kane‘s Unstoppable Power of Intention retreat next week.

Having replaced my header with one of my non-traditional images, I found Ken McLeod’s timely reflection on tradition.

View the original post on Ken’s blog here.

another view of tradition

A tradition is an accumulation through time of inspired works, created by people who do not have tradition on their minds. If they have anything on their minds, it is their own uniqueness: the ways they do not fit in, not the ways they do.
— Clive James

In Buddhism (and elsewhere), much is made of preserving tradition. I’ve long felt that there was  problem with this notion, namely, the things one tends to preserve are dead, perhaps to be eaten later, or only to be viewed in a jar of formaldehyde, or after being subjected to a process that preserves form, shape, and perhaps color but certainly not the thing itself.

This quotation, from Clive James’ book Cultural Amnesia, is a delightful reminder that tradition is only a concept applied to a certain phenomenon. The phenomenon itself is created by people doing “untraditional” things — writing, painting, or teaching in ways that generate new energy, new responses, new possibilities.

Recently, an old colleague of mine called to describe how a group of people at a center had asked him to translate a text for their practice, and then had turned around and changed some of the words and phrasings in his translation to more “traditional” vocabulary. The translator here has long and deep experience and has come to understand how the “traditional” vocabulary leads people astray or limits their understanding of their practice (not just the text, but their practice). Against stupidity, even the gods struggle in vain.

In our culture, we try new things, find what works, and discard what doesn’t. We go down wrong paths, we get into trouble, but we learn, through experimentation and innovation. When they limit themselves only to what is tried and true, most people in this culture grow restless and impatient, unless they die of stasis and boredom first.

Posted by Ken at 1:11 PM

Every screening of Creating Buddhas is a wonderful opportunity to connect with curious, appreciative people and to share something about a world and an art form I love to talk about. But last Saturday’s screening at the Drikung Kyobpa Choling Tibetan Meditation Center in Escondido, California was extraordinary. A couple of surprise guests helped me to see how valuable and important this film is.

Two Tibetans — Lekshay, a fabric thangka maker and good friend of my teacher Dorjee Wangdu, and Tenzin, son of Namsa Chenmo, personal tailor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Both have lived in San Diego for a number of years. Though I didn’t recognize him at first, Lekshay was a frequent visitor to the tsemkhang (sewing workshop) during my apprenticeship. As we talked on Saturday, the memories moved closer. His daughter had found the Creating Buddhas on YouTube and had told her father who recognized my name. So they responded enthusiastically to the center’s invitation for a screening.

I was a bit anxious sharing the film with Tibetans. I had had a similar feeling a week before as thangka painter, Pema Namdol Thaye, watched in Pasadena. I’m carrying on their tradition. I come from outside the culture. Will they think I’m presumptuous? Will they disagree with my statements? Will they object to the ways I’ve evolved my technique?

After the film, my doubts dissolved. During the question-and-answer session, Lekshay and Tenzin expressed gratitude and appreciation for the film, for Isadora’s production of it, and for my continuing production of fabric thangkas in the west. They spoke of their own limited capacity (and that of Tenzin’s father, Namsa Chenmo) to communicate in English, to present their cultural tradition effectively, and they thanked Isadora and me for doing it. They, and I, were almost moved to tears.

Sometimes I think that making silk thangkas is just too impractical. Sometimes I think of giving it up. At some of those times, a feeling of responsibility keeps me going. I feel I have a responsibility to continue, though I’m not sure to whom or to what. Last Saturday, that sense of responsibility was reinforced. Lekshay has not made thangkas for some years. Working to make a living doesn’t leave enough time. Life in the west doesn’t support this kind of work… I have always known I enjoyed favorable circumstances. Saturday I gained a renewed appreciation for just how precious my situation is. I can continue to make silk thangkas. I can teach. I can write. Not everyone can. Perhaps Lekshay and I will be able to collaborate in the future, to exhibit our work together.

This week I’m grateful for the film, for Isadora’s confidence and perseverance, for Tibetan culture, for smiles… and for YouTube.