Samye Ling Buddhist Monastery

There is a slightly different format to this blog post – a bit more personal than usual. I have been wanting to write about this trip but a typical blog post just didn’t feel right – hope you enjoy! Big thanks to Greg for most of the photographs!

The date is April the 16th 2018 and I’m somewhere between Lockerbie and the middle of nowhere. Sunlight is streaming through the windows of my boyfriend’s car, an unusually sunny day for April I note as a breeze floats through the open window. After a roughly four hour drive on countless motorways and a short-lived disagreement about why the sat-nav decided to take us on some shady unnamed roads, we finally pull on to the B723. We’re headed to Kagyu Samye Ling, a Buddhist Monastery situated beside the village of Eskdalemuir. Having visited once for a school project when I was 15 I had decided that now would be a great time to return as my art has become focused on meditation and zen, and what better place to find inner zen than meditating with monks?

Having booked this trip 4 months ahead of time I guess I am also acutely aware that I was very seriously ill this time last year. It was almost as if I had anticipated my need to escape the cocoon of comfort zone I knew I would wrap myself in. My anxiety had sky-rocketed the week before with memories rushing back and I almost pulled out of the trip altogether, but now gazing at the sun kissed rolling hills as far as the eye could see, I am very pleased that I didn’t.

Japanese Breakfast has been playing on repeat for the last 40 minutes through the car – ‘dreaming baby took that corkscrewed highway/lightless miles/of big rigs…’ The soothing chords are dulled as I turn the volume down, vaguely aware we’ve been driving for about 20 minutes in the middle of nowhere. Greg asks me if I’m sure this is the right road and I reply I am, even though we haven’t seen any signs of human life and only the odd sheep here and there. I watch as the signal bars on my phone gradually drop to zero. Finally as I had predicted in my scrawled sketchbook route, we pass Sibbaldbie and eventually Boreland – both small clusters of houses that I’m surprised have collective names at all.

After what seems like an eternity we drive into Eskdalemuir which looks incredibly eerie despite the sunshine – consisting mostly of a church and a massive graveyard. Finally we’re on the B709 and around 10 minutes later we arrive at Samye Ling.

Stepping out of the car to stretch we both remark on how quiet it is. The only sounds are the wind on the prayer flags, bird song and the quiet roar of the River Esk. We leave the car in the car park and walk through the peace gardens to find reception. A monk in a burgundy robe appearing from the temple greets us and shows us to our room. We have to take our shoes off as we enter the building. The first thing I notice is the cleanliness of the accommodation. It is definitely cleaner than most hotels I have stayed in and has a lovely calm ambience. Our room is situated near the temple and the floors of the hallways are beige stone and wood, large and spacious. Our room is simple but comfortable, as is the en suite. The monk excitedly tells us that there is a tea room in our hallway for our personal use and we can have a cup of tea any time we like. We are given wifi codes which don’t work and I am presented with the delightful juxtaposition of a monk puzzling over his smartphone settings. I don’t mind anyway, I didn’t come here for wifi. He informs us the next meditation session is in an hour and we are welcome to attend.

I am excited about the prospect of meditating in a temple setting but I want to take advantage of the glorious weather. I grab my camera and we stroll around the temple and gardens, taking in the sights as we take turns taking photographs. An hour passes and we make our way to the temple making sure to leave our shoes outside.

The temple is quiet with only the occasional shuffling of feet. Incense fills the air as I take a seat on one of the meditation cushions and settle into the red and gold light shining from the altar. Monks and guests file in, each kissing the floor in front of the image of Buddha as they enter. From somewhere outside a gong reverberates and the meditation begins. A lineage prayer is recited in this incredible goose-bump inducing chorus – we both remain silent, listening. Another gong is then sounded to signal the beginning of the silent hour long meditation. My mind is incredibly busy at first, but once I settle in to my breathing it becomes easier. There is an incredible atmosphere in the temple, almost like simmering shared energy. I am aware of my back hurting more than usual as I am sitting in the half-lotus position but try to concentrate on my breathing. Then all too quickly it is over. We finish up with another lineage prayer and head to supper.

We respectfully wait until the monks have their food before serving ourselves. A delightful scent of homemade vegetable soup and rice fills the air – a surprisingly delicious combination. All of the food is grown in the monastery gardens by monks and volunteers – organic, untouched, delicious.

After supper I want to draw so we head out for a wander while it is still light. I sit by the river Esk sketching for a while before moving to the prayer wheels and the peace gardens. It begins to get dark, cold and starts to rain so we retire to our room. I realise that we must be one of the few people staying at this time of year, as the retreat accommodation building is eerily quiet and dark – almost like having an entire hotel to ourselves. I take a long shower and as night descends we take advantage of the tea room the monk told us about earlier in the day. I boil the kettle, choose a mug with gold patterning and proceed to make a cup of ginger and lemon tea. Padding around the entire hallway barefoot we come across a lounge/library for residents, empty because we are about the only ones in the place. We take a seat and talk about life for an hour in the quiet. I reflect on how incredibly peaceful it is here. Before going to bed I turn the lights off and stare out of the window. I have never seen a night so black. We are far from any street lights to pollute the sky and are situated in-between rolling hills – the only light is a small candle lit down by the river. Sleep comes quickly and deeply.

My alarm sounds – it is 6:30am. We didn’t quite make it for the 6am Tara prayers but I wasn’t going to miss breakfast at 7am. Padding down to breakfast in my socks, I notice the whole forecourt of the temple is like a mirror – it is raining pretty hard. After eggs on toast we head to the temple for the 8am morning meditation session. The energy feels strong in the room again but different. I start meditating and I am immediately aware of the pain in my back from the lotus position. I start concentrating on my chakras as I do every time I meditate – I usually get a variation of crown, heart and third eye – violet, green and indigo respectively. I focus on the sound of the rain steadily falling on the temple roof and the scent of incense which is incredibly peaceful. Something changes. I no longer feel the pain in my back from sitting in the lotus position. I begin to see an orb in front of my vision at my third eye. Bright white in the centre and cycling through all of the chakra colours – like a crystal in sunlight. I get excited at seeing this and it immediately disappears. So I continue to focus on the rain and the incense and it appears again. Time seems to go incredibly quickly during this meditation and when the gong sounds signalling the end of the session I find I don’t want to leave.

Regardless, we head to the reception to pay and collect our room key. The monks are incredibly trusting and relaxed about the whole affair of paying even though we’ve already stayed a night. After this we head to the Tibetan Tea Rooms situated just across from the temple. The room is warm and cosy in bright red and yellow paint. We order two peppermint teas and sit down to relax. By chance one of my favourite songs by Lhasa De Sela (Is Anything Wrong?) starts playing – I find the lyrics quite fitting to the Buddhist ideas – ‘People outside/they know just what to do/They look at me /and they think that I know too…’

 

After nursing the peppermint tea for a couple of hours the rain still hasn’t let up. It is lunch anyway so we head to the dining room for a big feed. The monks consider lunch the main meal of the day, and there was a lot of it – chickpea curry, naan, veg, salad and homemade ginger cake for dessert. All organic, vegetarian and delicious. We head back to the room for a nap afterwards as I am so full. I start reading ‘Restoring the Balance’ by Choje Akong Tulku Rinpoche – one of the founders of Samye Ling. It is incredible, very accessible and I vow to buy myself a copy. We realise that the rain has stopped and wrap up to do some more walking. We head down to the River Esk again which is almost overflowing from all the rainwater. The air is cold but my determination to sketch overrides the temperature and we spend a few hours walking about the peace gardens and tying a piece of cloth onto the Clootie tree.

 

Eventually 5pm rolls around and I am excited to meditate again. I see glimpses of the crystal orb but not as strong as it was during the morning. The temperature in the temple is cold and I find that distracts me from achieving a deep meditative state. Someone in the temple also seems to have developed a cough so I keep being brought out of my trance. After supper of tomato soup we head to the Chenrezig Prayers. We are given the translation by another guest who is clearly more adept that us and I give my best shot at Tibetan chanting – a lot more difficult than it sounds. Equal emphasis is put on all of the syllables in the words, meaning the rhythm is difficult to get used to.

We return to the temple later on at night – around half past 9. The temple is open until 10 and although the monk had told me it was fine to take photographs I did not want to be disrespectful by taking photographs when people were meditating. It is quite eerie being in the temple alone and we make sure to bow to Buddha when we enter and leave.

We head back to the room and have another cup of tea before falling into another peaceful slumber.

6:30am and I wake with birdsong. My body seems to have gotten used to waking this early and I hurriedly get dressed for breakfast, eager for honey on wholemeal toast. It is still raining although not as heavily. We sit down for our last meditation session at 8am and I find it peaceful. I don’t feel as cold and I have a comfortable meditation. I see my chakras clearly but the orb doesn’t reappear. It is now my own meditation goal to see that crystal orb again. I don’t know if it symbolised my chakras aligning themselves or what but it was spectacular.

We pack and leave Samye Ling with a heavy heart, although it will stay in my mind for a long time. The monk we met on the first day gives us a hearty farewell as we get in the car. I couldn’t help but imagine he was away for another cup of tea. Back on the B723 now wise to the tricks of the sat-nav, we drive incredibly slowly through thick fog – ginger, lemon and honey still lingering on my tastebuds. Emerging on the other side in Lockerbie we are back in the land of fast food, smartphone wifi and traffic noise.

I could have almost sworn we had entered a time slip for a few days…

 

 

Exhibition: A Legacy of Art and Design in Dundee

‘A Legacy of Art and Design in Dundee’ focuses on celebrating 15 years of the William Sangster Phillips postgraduate bursaries which I was lucky enough to receive for my MFA course. I am showing two pieces of work in this exhibition – one pyrography and an etched mirror piece. The show runs from the 14th of April to the 23rd of June and I would highly recommend taking the time to go and see it if you are in the area. The variety of work is incredible and there is something for everyone – film, painting and everything in-between. The exhibition is taking place in the Lamb gallery in the Tower Building (main Dundee University building). I was unable to attend the opening of this exhibition because I was on a study trip! Huge blog post upcoming at the weekend (it was pretty amazing)…

 

Weeks 22-24: Essay and Philosophy Hand In

Last time I updated I was in the middle of writing my second and final Humanities essay. I’m happy to say now that I have handed this essay in :) I did rather enjoy reading about Death and Photography as a subject but there was no denying the fact I was happy when I finally was able to hit that submit button. It’s strange to think that is the last full length essay/dissertation I will hand in for this course!

After the essay was submitted I could finally work on what I was going to present as my philosophy module hand-in. I already had the stacks of acrylic etched and my initial idea was to stand them up and shine a light through all three stacks. This just didn’t feel right however so I had a little play about with how I wanted to present them. I borrowed a plinth which I had painted white and started to explore the options for presenting. Initially I wanted to use the white surface of the plinth but this presented a few problems – 1) the surface was quite rough and didn’t allow the smooth edges of the acrylic to sit right and so they were falling over every couple of seconds and 2) it just looked too plain. I then remembered the large etched piece of mirror acrylic I was working on and figured that might solve both of these problems. It also allowed for the light to reflect both in and onto the wall, giving another layer to the piece. I extended the etching by turning it into a hand drawing onto the plinth, giving the illusion of expansion of the shadows. In the end I like the way it turned out, I think it really captures Freud’s concepts of the consciousness model in a non-literal sense while still leaving enough room for ambiguity. 

We are on our Easter break at the moment which has been nice to get a bit of breathing space before we start back on the week beginning the 23rd. Here are some images of what I’ve been up to the past few weeks!

 

Weeks 19, 20 + 21: Etching and Writing

This semester is mainly taken up with writing essays which unfortunately has taken most of my time away from making physical work at the moment. Even though I enjoy writing I prefer actually making, but I am definitely taking my time over this essay and trying to make it the best it can be. It is due at the end of this month so I would quite like to get it finished soon so I can focus on my philosophy practical work which is due April 4th.

Last month I submitted my philosophy work proposal which consisted of making a piece of work inspired by Sigmund Freud’s model of consciousness and the Ego. I proposed a piece of work created by stacking many layers of acrylic to create an almost 3D suspended drawing. I have just recently acquired some acrylic and I have been having lots of fun experimenting with a type of infinity mirror effect that is produced. I can’t wait to etch onto these once the writing is done!

In terms of my regular studio work I have been investing a lot of time into mirrored acrylic. There is something really nice about the reflection element of the surface that I have only briefly considered in my work before. I have also cut some wood to start constructing frames to hold my acrylic – my least favourite part of the whole process but I am hoping to get on top of it now because I seem to be making a lot of work! My studio space has stayed relatively the same but I have added a lot more drawings inspired by my second reiki session (which was as equally amazing as the first). I have finally removed all of semester one work from my space so it is all new work up on the walls now. In terms of reading I have been really getting into the work of Rudolph Steiner who saw art as a spiritual activity, it really slots in with the whole meditative trance drawings I have been making.

Hopefully next time I update the trials of writing will be over and I will have a lot more exciting work to show you – until then here are some progress pics:

 

Week 17 + 18: Philosophy and Colour

Hello everyone, I guess this is my first proper update since the Christmas break. I had a lovely relaxing which I feel was needed as the first semester was really intense, although in the best possible way. Towards the end of the break I started getting a bit restless (as I tend to do if I haven’t created work in a while). I began experimenting with different drawing techniques, one of which was pyrography. This involves using a pyrography tool to burn images into whichever surface you choose, I started with paper. I had a tutorial with Norman Shaw (who I am a massive fan of) and we talked about the properties of burning. There is something quite transformative both figuratively and metaphorically about burning, seeing as it is used in thousands of cleansing rituals all across the globe. The physical act of burning as well is different to anything I have tried before – the smell of the paper burning is actually surprisingly nice.   

So apart from these pyrography tests I felt a bit stuck a few weeks ago. I wasn’t really sure where to go with my work, so I started thinking about the concept of meditation and automatic drawing. That got me thinking about the concept of trance, and how it has been used in rituals to create a link to the unconscious. This led me on to think about energy fields, the concept of chakras and finally Reiki. This energy healing technique has been on my radar for some time but I always made excuses not to experience it. I thought that this would be the perfect time to try something new and maybe gain some inspiration.

The story of my first Reiki experience is quite a long one so I will try to shorten it for ease of reading. I ended up selecting a Reiki healer in Dundee that was reasonably priced and went into the session with no preconceived ideas of what to expect or feel. In short: it felt incredible. I felt all sorts of sensations from heat to vibration and saw many different visions and colours. I felt like my system was rebooted and refreshed. I went home that night and I felt as if I had all of this abundant energy in me so I tried to capture this energy in pencil sketches (see below). I like the combination of the soft and hard areas in these sketches and the feel like a natural extension of the automatic drawing work I have been doing.

After having another tutorial with Norman I started switching my pyrography to birch plywood and used the grain of the wood to guide my pyrography. As I was so inspired by colours I saw during my Reiki session I finally decided it is time to add colour back into my work. I think the last time my work had colour in was maybe 2015 and that was photography. The last time I made a drawing with colour in it was definitely 2013 – I think this change is lovely, it is signifying a new stage in both my life and my work. I decided on the colours that I saw during my experience which were mainly indigo and violet. I cannot describe how good it feels to be using colour again after so many years. It feels like a definite release from the monochrome work I have been making for the past couple of years.

In regards to our second module – Philosophies of Imagination – I am thoroughly enjoying it even though I’m finding it quite challenging. We have to create a piece separate from our studio work to show alongside a 1500 word artist statement/work proposal. I am really happy we have this separate project to work on as I don’t want to give up working with acrylic and lights. Now I have discovered my love of colour again I am also excited at the prospect of coloured acrylic and lights and the stacking of numerous etched acrylic panels. We have been studying a range of topics including Heidegger and animals, the sympathetic imagination and fetishism and the imagination. All of which have been interesting but I am definitely focusing my work on the subject of the last part of the module which is the unconscious, especially in Freud’s writing. Psychology is just a subject I have always been fascinated by and it always creeps into my work somehow.

Also as a last little update I joined Generator Projects which is an artist’s collective here in Dundee and am currently exhibiting one of my pyrography drawings in their member’s show (see below) which is a nice addition to the start of the semester.

So that’s everything that is happening so far this semester. I will have an update in a fortnight’s time on how things are going, and hopefully a studio space update as well! See you then… 

 

Weeks 11-16: 2018 Quick New Year Update

Hi WordPress, it’s been a while. I have been very busy but I figured I should post a small update on what has been happening since I last wrote.

There wasn’t much to share last semester once I had finished my sculpture, it was the last large piece of work that I made before concentrating on the humanities module essay. I don’t mind writing, but I tend to procrastinate sometimes (especially with blog posts!). I managed to shut myself in the library and write away so I was quite pleased I overcame my apathetic tendencies.

After the essay hand in our course had a small get together called ‘Winter Tales’. We displayed some work and had some drinks and festivities so it was a pleasant break from all the essay writing.

Then we had our studio work assessment which involved presenting our work in the studio to the head of our course and a few lecturers. I usually hate anything involving public speaking so I was really proud of how well I did. I think my meditation has been helping as I tried to channel the nerves into excitement and it seemed to pay off and I appeared to come across well. I ended up with a great mark for both my essay and studio work.

Still getting back in to the swing of things with this semester, so expect a very in depth update at the end of next week (weeks 17 and 18). I have some great progress that I will divulge soon… see you next week!

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Studio as it looked for assessment. Finished large ink drawing included.

Weeks 9+10: Drawing and Making

These last few weeks there has been a real emphasis on drawing and making for me. I am still feeling very energised in my studio work and I am continuing to have many ideas and inspiration for creating work.

As I said last week I have been focusing on automatic drawing and meditation. The main drawing I have been working on is a large (bigger than A0) pen and ink continuous line automatic drawing. It is nice to be able to go back to it every so often and I have it up on my studio wall at the moment.

I’ve been to see a few exhibitions, one in the Art Bus that comes to the university every year and one in Perth Museum and Art Gallery. We went to see the Louise Bourgeois exhibition that was on there. It was the first time I had seen her work and it was amazing to see it in real life after looking at her work in books for so long. One of her spider works were there and it was great to see the scale.

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During week 9 I decided to start working on a large wire drawing in the seminar space. I haven’t worked with wire before but I have ha a piece up on my studio wall from when we first moved in and that it was kick-started the idea. I bought some cheap garden wire from the shop and began bending and manipulating it the same way I would with the lines of a drawing. It was quite easy to twist together and I liked the idea of the piece being suspended in mid air. I finished it off in week 10 with some cellophane shapes inserted into the wire to give depth and texture. I also like the addition of blue, we were talking at the Louise Bourgeois exhibition about how colour choice is important. Blue exudes calmness which is how I feel when I make these drawings so I wanted to choose blue for the wire. It was also the colour I picked up on right at the start of the semester because of its links with the sea. I experimented with light on it and I loved the extra dimension the shadow gives to the piece.

Throughout these two weeks I have also continued to work on my essay which the main bulk of is finished and I just need to rearrange some of the structure now. I finally stopped procrastinating at the end of last week’s update and shut myself in the library until I managed to write. I’ve figured that the library seems to be the best place for me to focus when I am procrastinating, so I guess Hermoine was right!

It is almost assessment time (essay deadline December 1st and studio work deadline 4th) so in the next few weeks I’ll mostly be working on small drawings, maybe trying to build a frame or two but nothing big. See you for the next update!