Archive for the ‘San Luis Obispo’ Category

Tibetan Buddhist Sand Mandala nonattachment

The Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas first arrived in San Luis Obispo more than a dozen years ago. Since then they have become something of an institution on the Central Coast. No one who observes the creation of these exquisite works of art can fail to appreciate the concentration and devotion that go into them.

The unique process, the unusual materials, the striking composition and the surprise ending make the Buddhist sand mandalas fascinating in every way. And the more you know about the monks, their religion and their mandalas, the more you can appreciate the significance of it all.

What is a Buddhist Sand Mandala?

As part of an ancient tradition, Buddhist monks from Tibet and Northern India (where many Tibetans remain living in exile) travel the globe producing these mandalas for all the world to see. The monks create these designs as a way to raise awareness about their culture, but also as part of a pious meditation.

Using sand of different colors, several disciples spend the better part of a week putting the picture together, roughly one grain of sand at a time. By the end of the week, they have created a spectacular image of an archetypal symbol. Buddhists, Jungians and dreamers of every stripe recognize the mandala, usually a circle inscribed inside of a square inside of a larger circle.

Once the multicolored masterpiece is complete, the monks conduct a quiet, reverent ceremony, with a bit of chanting and mindful reflection. At last, the creators of this ephemeral artwork carry the mandala away and peacefully dump the colored sand into a nearby creek. Meanwhile, onlookers gasp with disbelief and unease as the product of profound punctiliousness is washed away.

What is the meaning of the Mandala?

The symbolism of the mandala is deep and mysterious. An icon of sacred of geometry, the interlocking circles and squares serve as a kind of window into the universe. And others will interpret the cryptic image as a portal into the human soul.

Typically, Buddhist practitioners can use a mandala as a kind of talisman or focal point for their meditation. Gazing into the central circle can help to quiet the mind and bring the disciple in tune with the unblemished Self.

The ornate, abstract imagery gives the eye a place to focus. And spiraling into the middle circle, the practitioner can grow more self-aware on one hand, but also conscious of his/her position at the center of something infinite.

States of Consciousness

Another reading, which I’m very sympathetic to, describes the small circle as the earliest stage of consciousness. This is the condition of bliss before the infant mind has learned to distinguish between subject and object. The child is connected to all things in a state of “unconscious perfection.”

As a person ages, they learn to distinguish between pairs of opposites, something like Adam and Eve after the Fall. Older and more mature, the individual begins to divide the world of experience into different categories, good or bad, right or wrong, and so on. They see things as separate and distinct. The four-sided square represents this state of rational awareness, or “conscious imperfection.”

This state of mind persists through most of adulthood. But with extensive spiritual development, one can expand their consciousness into the larger circle. This expanded circle represents the undifferentiated whole, the field in which all things are connected. The devotee has arrived in the realm of “conscious perfection.”

This version of the mandala resonates for me because it feels consistent with so many other examples from world religions. Consider the parallel, for example, between circle-square-circle and birth-death-rebirth. It is a story as ancient as that of the complacent orphan who is lost, then called on an adventure, and finally returns as a hero.

The levels of metaphor run deep. And throughout the picture of the mandala, the imagery of steps and concentric circles would seem to reinforce that metaphor. And if this isn’t a concept worthy of profound meditation, then I don’t know what is.

Why do they create with sand?

You can find mandalas in many forms, in murals, jewelry and coloring books. But there is clearly something special about a mandala, usually 10 or 12 feet in diameter, that is made entirely of colored sand.

Few things in our world of sight and touch are smaller than a grain of sand. By itself, the grain of sand is infinitesimally insignificant. This makes the process of creation incredibly slow and fastidious. It forces the artist to slow down.

Just as Alcoholics Anonymous invites its members to take life “One step at a time”, the sand mandala requires one to proceed one grain at a time. At this pace, the monk can feel the whole world slowing down. And in doing so, his awareness gradually elevates, to a heightened state of consciousness.

In this state of mind, the concentrating monk might consider the many paradoxes of the human condition. S/he might think about the simultaneous greatness and smallness of all things. Like the Yin-Ying that reveals the coexistence of darkness and light, the sand mandala reveals a special balance of the microscopic and the macroscopic.

A Higher Order

Another metaphor at work here reminds us of just how small we are within the universe. And though this can make us feel terribly trivial and insignificant, we can also see our importance in the big picture. What is the universe after all, but a careful arrangement of tiny, innumerable units?

On their own, each grain of sand seems worthless and unimportant. But they make up everything. And the end result is a whole much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not just a heap of insignificant grains; it’s a beautiful, mesmerizing mandala.

We can find a similar analogy in the ordinary ant colony. Individually, each ant is almost nothing. They would never accomplish anything. But in numbers, the colony takes on a higher intelligence of its own. Through an organization that no single ant could ever comprehend, the colony can literally move mountains.

Why do they destroy the Sand Mandala?

At the end of the week comes what some may consider the highlight of the process. Others might find it painfully anti-climactic. In a bold move, the monks pick up their masterpiece and pour it down the river.

How could they destroy their artwork following so many painstaking days of meticulous construction? After those long hours of putting the mandala together, one grain at a time, they just let the whole thing go.

I can imagine no more perfect embodiment of the Buddhist tenet of non-attachment. The ability to let go of attachments to ideas and objects is central to Buddhist philosophy. The creation of the mandala is all about the process, not the end result. Or as the Taoist proverb says, “The journey is the reward.”

Impermanence

When we take the long view, we see that all things are impermanent. Everything comes and goes, and nothing lasts forever. It is in our nature to resist this law of existence, but resistance is futile. Dumping the naturally-colored sand into the river reminds us that, eventually, all things must return to their source.

Attachment, the Buddhists insist, only leads to suffering. The only thing we can truly count on is the present moment. In other words: be here now.

Further reading

For more engaging stories about Eastern culture and philosophy, check out some of these popular articles.

Mandala: Roadmap of the Mind The Ten Thousand Things of Taoism Bamboo Symbolism and Mythology Buddhist Thangka Paintings: Meaningful and Sublime
Jon and Anna of Bambu BatuBamboo Batu, Bambu Batu, what the heck’s a Batu anyway?

Since Bambu Batu first opened in 2006, a lot of people have come in asking, “What’s a Batu?” Now we also call the shop the House of Bamboo, so a lot of people guess that Batu means House. And a lot of people try to spell it Bamboo Batu.

I’m sorry to point it out, but I’m afraid they’re both wrong. 

What’s in a name?

The phrase Bambu Batu actually comes from Malay, an Indonesian language spoken by nearly 300 million people, hence the exotic spelling. And it’s the name of a very specific variety of bamboo. The botanical name of that species is Dendrocalamus strictus. But in English it’s more commonly referred to as Male Bamboo, Solid Bamboo, Iron Bamboo, or Calcutta Bamboo.

In Malay, the word Batu by itself means rock; so the literal translation of the name would be something like Rock Bamboo or Stony Bamboo. The fact is, this particular variety of bamboo is extremely hard and resilient to cracking. Oftentimes it is also solid, or very nearly solid, rather than being completely hollow like most types of bamboo that we are familiar with.

For all of these reason, Dendrocalamus Strictus is a top choice as a construction material and for building furniture. It also seems like a solid foundation on which to build a business. “And upon this rock I build my house.” Last but not least, the name Bambu Batu just rolls off the tongue so nicely. It’s pretty much impossible to say it without cracking a smile. Go ahead, try it.

Dendrocalamus strictus

What else do we know about this exotic very of bamboo that’s so much fun to pronounce?

Growing to heights of 60 feet or more, with canes up to 5″ in diameter, Bambu Batu is a giant clumper. This giant, tropical timber bamboo is native to southeast Asia and the Indonesian archipelago. It is widespread in India, but can also be found in Central America and Cuba. Young shoots are powdery bluish in color, but gradually turn green and then dark yellow or brown as they mature. It is considered the supreme variety for furniture and construction. 

Second thoughts

For a short time, it was a dream of mine to grow some Bambu Batu in my backyard. While many varieties of bamboo grow commonly throughout California and are widely available in nurseries, Dendrocalamus Strictus remains pretty difficult to come by, even from large online bamboo dealers. I suppose it would be different if I lived in Vietnam or maybe Colombia, but California is not the climate for this species.

Furthermore, despite its impressive size, and the fact that it’s a clumper rather than a runner, Bambu Batu doesn’t seem to be the most desirable strain. This massive bamboo is not nearly as attractive as some other timber varieties, like the Vivax for example. So in the end, I put the idea to rest, and settled for several other species that would be much happier growing on California’s central coast.

By the way, if you’re trying to pick some out for yourself, check out this great article on selecting the Best Bamboo Varieties for your garden. You might also enjoy our in-depth article on Buddha Belly Bamboo, one of the most popular varieties of ornamental bamboo. We even have one about the Best Bamboo varieties for construction.

Finally, if you’re planning to build a House of Bamboo, the Bambu Batu might be your best bet. But if you’re looking to plant a garden, you might want to think twice. And if you’re not in Indonesia, just remember to ask for it by name, Dendrocalamus strictus. 

Featured Image: Bambu Batu owners Jon and Anna, in downtown San Luis Obispo.

Life in the SLO Lane

Over the years, Bambu Batu has earned a pretty solid reputation for creating some of the best bamboo t-shirt designs available anywhere. So we are very proud to introduce the latest jewel in our eco-conscious crown: Life in the SLO Lane.

Anyone who’s ever worn a bamboo t-shirt can assure you that it’s about the softest, most comfortable material known to man. Not only that, but its fast growing and resilient growth habit make it one of the most sustainable resources as well.

And anyone who’s ever spent any time on California’s gorgeous Central Coast can tell you that there’s no place on earth like San Luis Obispo. Often described as the happiest city in America, SLO has a charm and a lifestyle all its own. Situated almost exactly halfway between the sprawling metropolitan areas of LA and the San Francisco Bay, and about 10 minutes from the pristine coast, the little town of 44,000 features many of the cultural opportunities and amenities of the city, without all the hassles of traffic, smog, crime and congestion. Spend a couple days here, and you’ll soon realize just what we mean by the “SLO Life”.

This original t-shirt celebrates our way of life with style and comfort. It comes in several colors—sky blue, brick red, harvest orange, pine green and mustard—and in all sizes for men and women. This unique design is printed locally in small batches, so they’re not on our website yet, but feel free place your order by phone (805-788-0806), or better yet, stop by Bambu Batu and see it for yourself.

Art After Dark in SLO

This week marks the fifth anniversary of what has become something of an institution here at Bambu Batu. Art After Dark in SLO takes place on the first Friday of each month, and shopkeepers and art-lovers alike have come to look forward to this monthly opportunity for mingling and moseying around San Luis Obispo’s charming, historic downtown district.

From 6-9 pm, most participating venues will host art openings that showcase artwork ranging from local oil paintings to international textiles, and everything in between. Small but cultured, San Luis Obispo boasts a flourishing community of artists, including world-class plein air specialists, award-winning jewelers, a growing cottage industry of crafters, an active and talented cadre of painters both abstract and representational, and all manner of sculptors and ceramicists. Alongside these diverse and abundant exhibits—around thirty each month—most galleries offer something else for which our region has earned an impressive reputation, glasses of fine wine.

In our unending effort to distinguish ourselves, Bambu Batu takes a unique approach to Art After Dark in SLO. As our wall space is already well filled with lovely art, scrolls and bamboo merchandise, we generally try to focus on other forms of art. Each month we feature a different line-up of local musical artists, from gypsy jazz ensembles to ambient DJs to singer-songwriter soloists (including Anthony Roselli in the photo above). Tonight (Oct. 2, 2015), our special guests include and handful of members from SLO county’s notorious bluegrass sensation, the Mother Cornshuckers.

As a spiritually oriented shop, we also take Art After Dark as an opportunity to showcase the metaphysical arts. Harry Farmer, the impresario of astrology on the Central Coast, participates on a semi regular basis, offering his most insightful readings of your planets based on decades of study and experience. Mary-Aiñe Curtis also offers her intuitive talents on alternating months, using Angel Cards to exercise her sensitive energy reading skills.

Finally, given this region’s saturation of grapes and wineries, we opt to offer another much loved but under-represented exemplar of the fermented arts: craft beer. Typically we pour suds from either Creekside Brewing Company (brewed and based directly across the street) or Figueroa Mountain Brewing (based in Santa Ynez and brewed in nearby Arroyo Grande). Beer and wine lovers alike appear to appreciate our bold efforts to diversify the palate.

Bambu Batu is proud to be a part of Art After Dark in SLO, and whenever possible we also include arts and crafts from local artisans, to brighten up the evening’s fare and give budding artists a chance to gain some exposure and display their works. And at last we can rejoice, that Bubblegum Alley is no longer San Luis Obispo’s greatest contribution to culture!

Eco Fashion Show 2015

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and San Luis Obispo’s natural fiber fashionistas know what that means. The 5th annual Eco Fashion Show is just days away, taking place at the Odd Fellows Hall at 520 Dana St., on Friday May 29, at 6:30 pm. A yearly fundraiser to benefit Humankind Fair Trade, a non-profit gift shop on Monterey Street, this year’s Eco Fashion Fashion will feature several local purveyors of fine organic and re-used apparel.

Of course, no SLO Eco Fashion Show would be complete without showcasing outfits from Bambu Batu, Hemp Shak and Maule Wear, pillars of our local natural fibers community. Live Local Apparel will also be on the scene with their locally inspired and locally produced t-shirts and caps. Second hand clothiers like Curio, Ruby Rose, Threads and Castaways will also take part, touting the ecological benefits of used clothing. Re-use and reduce! A new addition this year, Eco Bambino will be representing the fashion trends for the little ones.

Good-looking models have been recruited from the community to show off five outfits from each participating business. Bambu Batu will feature a number of new styles, including our top-selling Felicity Dress, as well as other perennial favorites for men and women.

Be sure to stop by and see what else is new this season in the world in the eco fashion. Tickets are $15 in advance, or $20 at the door, and proceeds benefit Humankind Fair Trade, a non-profit shop that provides income to artisans and farmers in the developing world. Also check out the vendor fair before the show, and don’t miss the silent auction, with some exceptionally nice gifts from each of the participating businesses.

Central Coast Sustainability Festival

The 2015 Central Coast Sustainability Festival takes place this Saturday, May 2, at Mission Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo. The festival, hosted by the Cal Poly Future Fuels Club, will feature bands, companies, alternative fuel and electric vehicles, and other projects all with one goal: making the world we live in more sustainable. Up to 30 businesses will be exhibiting their sustainable tech and cars, 2 bands (including San Luis Obispo’s own Louder Space, and Attic Empire), and several food vendors will be there!

Heidi Harmon

 

Yesterday, hundreds—perhaps thousands, but surely a dismally small number—of U.S. citizens went out to the polls to participate in this American experiment we call representative democracy. Today we can breathe a collective sigh of relief that another season of mudslinging is behind us. But more importantly, I’d like to extend a heartfelt congratulations to one of the few real winners in this election cycle.

Her name is Heidi Harmon, and she ran what was probably the cleanest, most honest and respectable campaign I’ve ever seen. For the first time in my life I had the privilege of casting a vote for a someone I genuinely believed in, someone I honestly believed to be a real person with a heart and soul, an artist, a mother, and a citizen of the planet, willing put the collective interests of her planet ahead of the political and economic interests that have always set the rules and defined the playing field.

At the end of the day, Heidi’s opponent, the incumbent Katcho “I-sell-gasoline-for-a-living-so-don’t-ever-expect-me-to-take-a-stand-against-big-oil” Achadjian (R) had more votes, and will thereby keep his Assembly seat for the 35th district. But anyone who’s ever spoken with Heidi, or attended any of her rallies, or met any of her team of grassroots supporters, or read any of their numerous letters to the editors that have been published in the local papers over the recent months, must know that regardless of vote tallies, Heidi Harmon will always represent the winning side.

Taking the gas station entrepreneur head on, Heidi ran as a self-identified “climate change candidate” and set herself apart from nearly every politician from either major party. In neighboring Santa Barbara County, Big Oil demonstrated its might by soundly defeating Measure P, which would have banned fracking and certain other form of oil exploration, outspending the ban supporters to the tune of $7.6 million to $284,000. On a brighter note, Northern California voters passed Measure S in Mendocino County, effectively banning fracking in that county and giving the citizens—not corporations—the final say in their local water use policies.

Let’s just hope Mendocino, and not Santa Barbara, will serve as the bellwether for future fracking controversies around California and the nation. And let’s also hope for a future in which we are less often forced to settle for the lesser of evils, and more often given choices we can be proud of.

 

Central Coast Bioneers

The 5th Annual Central Coast Bioneers Conference is coming to SLO later this month, October 24 & 25, at the SLO Grange Hall, 2880 Broad St. The locally hosted event takes place in conjuction with the 2014 National Bioneers Conference and features recorded presentations of all the keynote speakers, addressing topics of Climate Justice, Women’s Leadership, Indigenous Knowledge, Biomimicry, and more. Among the highlights will be noted author Naomi Klein, who’s currently on tour to promote her newest book, “This Changes Everything.”

Local participants can also attend innovative workshops on community building, environmental stewardship and ethical investing.  You’re also encouraged to join field trips to local points of interest, to study bird watching at Hi Mountain Condor Look Out, community planning at Tierra Nueva Cohousing in Oceano, and the future of farming at Kukkula Winery in Paso Robles.

For pricing details and a complete schedule of local and national events, check the Bioneers website. Tickets available online and in-person at Bambu Batu.

Art by Terri Tylman

 

The elusive and illustrious See Canyon Ramblers are making a rare appearance in downtown SLO this Friday, Oct. 3, out of their Oceano cavern and straight onto center stage for Art After Dark at Bambu Batu. In addition to the toe-tapping tunes of this bluegrass fusion band (including a few members of the local “beergrass” sensation, the Mother Corn Shuckers), you can always expect a gregarious throng of art enthusiasts, bamboo lovers, new age revelers, and responsible beer consumers.

This month’s featured artist, Terri Tylman, creates vibrant, colorful images of tropical visions and  local landscapes, using a very unusual technique with color-infused metal. Take advantage of this chance to meet the artist and see her work in person, because I’m having a hard time describing it in words!

Friday’s line-up also includes local astrologer Harry Farmer and intuitive angel card reader MaryAiñe Curtis, at your service to help you wrap your mind around your soul’s path and your cosmic destiny. If that’s not enough to bring the inner peace you seek, perhaps a cold beer from Creekside Brewing Company will do the trick. We always have a few varieties on hand, from the palest ale to the deepest darkest porter, and brewed so locally you can literally see their raw grains from here.

And chances are, you’re really going to want a cold drink come Friday night, because this weekend is supposed to get hot hot hot. I’m not saying it has anything to do with Climate Change, but possible triple digit temps as the worst drought in California history intensifies, and you can decide for yourself. And if you’re familiar with the Indian Summers for which the Central Coast is famous, you might even take the opportunity to pick up a nice, light-weight bamboo tank top to help get you through the season.

Whatever your needs may be, we hope you’ll join us for this next edition of Art After Dark, because we know it will put a smile on your face.

 

 

greenhouse

What could be a more appropriate use for salvaged wood than use in a recycled greenhouse? Once a thriving organism in its own right, timber rescued from wine barrels, barns, old doors and retaining walls can become a shelter for developing seedlings. A Place to Grow | Recycled Greenhouses recognizes the potential in scrapped wood and bestows upon the material a new life as an environmentally conscious greenhouse, shed, or outdoor studio space.

Operated by San Luis Obispo residents Dana and Sean O’Brien, the company prides itself in finding a solution to construction waste and creating beautiful bespoke structures. Dana boasts a finance degree from Cal Poly SLO, over 20 years as a government employee, and an active role in Habitat for Humanity. Sean graduated with a degree in computer science from Cal Poly, has been a software engineer for more than 25 years, and possesses a California contractor’s license. Together, the O’Briens created their business to pursue their passions for eco-friendly building.

A Place to Grow has been honored by the Martha Stewart American Made Contest, and has created greenhouses for Sage nursery in Los Osos and private residences up and down the Central Coast. For more information, contact A Place to Grow through their website, or email Dana at dana@recycledgreenhouses.com.

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