For the past two years, I’ve been doing an intensive Buddhist study program through Heartwood Refuge and Retreat Center, and on May 17, I was ordained and authorized as a minister (reverend or acharya) of the Embracing Simplicity Contemplative Order, a dual lineage.
What does that mean? I've spent the last two years trying to learn how to love harder and wider than I ever thought possible. It’s been a silly and difficult and profound time of learning about compassion, joy, and equanimity. It’s changed my approach to work, community action, photography, relationships, life, and death. My teachers, Venerables Pannavati and Pannadipa, have served as models of what selflessness means, through their work in their local community and across the world. And right now, our world needs loving kindness more than ever.
Here’s the thing. Heartwood, like so many other places, is struggling due to the pandemic. Their funding comes primarily from retreats and speaking fees, which are all on hold indefinitely. And I know everything is temporary, but I’d really like Heartwood to be around for a while longer. Venerables Pannavati and Pannadipa are doing such powerful work there to spread peace through the world.
Heartwood is currently participating in a fundraiser that helps nonprofits with State-level and national matching funds. If you would like to celebrate my ordination with me, or celebrate and support love and compassion, you can donate now to help continue the work of these incredible souls. I know so many of us are feeling economic pain right now, but if you have the ability to contribute even a small amount, I’d be ever so grateful. If you give at this link before May 26, your contribution will go farther due to the matching funds program.
(Not a post about wearing masks!)
So here we are in the thick of the pandemic. I hope you are all well and safe, whether you're sheltering in place or required to go out in the world as an essential worker. This experience has been difficult in different ways for all of us. Some are stressed about their finances (lost jobs, closed businesses, and more). Some are worried about their health or the health of a loved one. Others are bored out of their minds, or crawling up the walls wishing they could get away from their housemates or out to see friends. And of course, some are using extra time to learn new things, create, plant gardens, paint, bake, and read. Many of us are feeling a little bit of all of the above.
I've been social distancing since March 7--no travel, no visiting with family or friends, no restaurants, no photoshoots in my studio. Although I've had more time at home than usual, my day job in communications for the Federal government is busier than it's ever been. So I haven't felt like I've had "extra" time. I haven't been diligently applying the Mari Kondo method to every room, closet, and drawer in my home. But I have been on a lot of Zoom video calls to stay connected to family and friends, and I recently learned this magical trick: VIRTUAL BACKGROUNDS.
If you're like me and perhaps want to keep your mess to yourself, you can turn on "virtual backgrounds" in Zoom and hide the real world from the people you connect with virtually.
Virtual backgrounds allow you to go from this:
(Look how tidy my house is!)
So just in case you want to spend some (virtual) time in a KonMari-ed, uncluttered space designed by professional decorators and adorned with photos by yours truly, I've got a fun, free download for you. There are seven backgrounds to choose from, each featuring one or more of my photos hanging on the walls, all free for you to use whenever you need to protect yourself (or your meeting participants) from whatever mess is in your world.
Need help turning on virtual background? Zoom has all the information you need, and lists the system requirements and steps for any device you might be using. But the basics are this: on Zoom desktop, click on the arrow next to the "Stop Video" icon at the bottom left in your meeting screen. Select "Choose Virtual Background..." Then you can upload any of the free virtual backgrounds I created for you. It does work best if you don't have TOO much clutter and distractions in your real-life background—the camera isn't super smart when it comes to figuring out what is YOU and what is the background you need to hide.
Prefer to use the option to "Mirror my video" on your Zoom video calls? Download these virtual backgrounds instead.
Inspired by these photos and want to make the transition from virtual to real world beauty?
Ever wondered what happens when you combine ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide? No, you won't get an explosion, but the ingredients could actually kill you! The chemicals are indeed toxic (if you smell almonds, it may be the last thing you smelll!) but if you work with care, you're in greater danger of staining your clothes than you are of dying. It's all a part of the fun: these are the chemicals you use to treat paper or fabric for creating cyanotypes!
What do you think of when you hear the word "meditation"? Do you picture long-haired hippies aligning their chakras and getting in touch with their chi? Or maybe you have an app where you can listen to a soothing voice that lulls you to sleep (whether or not that was your intent)? For me, meditation is a practice of planting my rear end on a cushion, sitting in silence, and focusing on my breath. Maybe you've heard that meditation helps people feel less stressed, sleep better, or be nicer to everyone around them. Those are all true, sometimes. Here are three other truths.