Wendy’s Writings

A downbeat yet somehow encouraging offering.

150px-Punishment_sisyphThis recording of Alain de Botton’s talk on pessimism posted on vimeo is a refreshing change from the often promulgated notion that  happiness and success are within the palm of your hand if only you try hard enough or buy the right book. That if they are not what you are experiencing then something has gone wrong…you have failed… and that those who have the good things have got them solely by their own efforts.  He suggests that, in fact, these might not be the worthwhile goals of life; that sadness fully experienced is of value and there is a cheapening  of one’s humanity in brushing it aside.

From a deep dharma perspective all experiences are empty therefore they can be fully felt, and their richness experienced, without fear of being overwhelmed.  Each experience then naturally dissolves making way for the next.

The greater the range of tolerance to the experiences, the greater the compassion available as this brings a reduction in the ‘turning away’ from the undesirable or desire for fusion with the ‘desirable’.  Any attempt  to push experience away (avoidance) or to hang on to it (grasping) means a separation from the flow of experience and the creation of  a false position (knitted from the experiences – thoughts feelings and sensations) and with that a sense of continuity, of substance, to both experience and experiencer.

It looks like James recommended it and i hope it lifts your… errm…  spirits!

 

P.S The picture is of Sisyphus (see Camus on pessimism)

Unchanging wisdom…neither ancient nor modern.

Thanks to Tessa Rose of Arcturus publishing who has given permission for the use here of  these lines from the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu. 9781848372443-uk-300

The highest good is not to seek to do good,
but to allow yourself to become it.
The ordinary person seeks to do good things,
and finds that they cannot do them continually.

The master does not force virtue on others,
thus she is able to accomplish a task.
The ordinary person who uses force,
will find they accomplish nothing.

The kind person acts from the heart,
and accomplishes a multitude of things.
The righteous person acts out of pity,
yet leaves many things undone.
The moral person will act out of duty,
and when no one responds
will roll up his sleeves and use force.

When the Tao is forgotten there is righteousness.
When righteousness is forgotten, there is morality.
When morality is forgotten, there is the law.
The law is the husk of faith,
and trust is the beginning of chaos.

Our basic understandings are not from the Tao
because they come from the depths of our misunderstanding.
The master abides in the fruit and not in the husk.
She dwells in the Tao,
and not in the things that hide it.
This is how she increases in wisdom.

This is from the arcturus publication of the translation by John H McDonald.  It’s a beautiful version of a brilliantly clear translation which is sadly out of print… however a few copies are are still available from Abe books.

Drainage problems? What’s on your mind ?

Once, a few decades ago, I used a ladder to climb down inside an old Victorian septic tank which had recently been pumped out. You can imagine perhaps what that looked and smelt like! Anyway – in an area with a high water table, unless the septic tank is made impervious, water will drain from the surrounding area into the tank and then it becomes impossible to flush the toilet. My plan was to use a waterproof cement to point between the bricks, which I did and, with some luck and help, I managed to get  much of the surface water re-routed into other drainage systems – each of which needed either permission, repair, or creation.  This took a lot of time (and there was quite a lot at stake!) so it was a great relief when everything flowed freely.

Drains are vital if unseen, and need regular maintenance. The body however is quite incredible in that, if everything is working well, solids liquids and gases are taken in, then exactly what is needed is extracted and the rest is released back into the environment from whence it came. We don’t have to do anything about this except listen to the body so that we can be a bit sensible about how much and what we take in. It is really amazing that with all its twists and turns, valves and muscles and loops, and complex functioning it is almost maintenance free!  However in order to function it does use some of the energy released and after a heavy meal (or a heavy drinking session) the system sometimes struggles bit.

Now what kind of system or cistern – ‘scuse the pun – have we installed to manage the contents our mind’s, is there free flow? If there are a lot of ‘solids’ or certainties, we have some options to manage the build-up.

We can just live with it, as many people do, and just think ‘this is how it is, this is how I am’ (more solid certainties) but movements are limited!

Using our exquisite attention we can gild the contents and make them very special – but bear in mind that it will be we ourselves who does this; also that other people may well know that all that glisters is not gold – and it’s a big job, there’s a lot of them! And whilst polishing a turd is seen as impossible, at least with that there is something to try to work with!

Then, if we  make  these thoughts so special, we won’t want them to escape. So maybe we could try to encase them in strong, maybe fireproof, boxes with locks? I have seen these and they are very heavy and expensive – a lot of energy is used both in their construction… and of course we need strong storage racks to keep them in.

For some of us this may appear to be an excellent way of dealing with thoughts that seem too ugly or terrifying to be allowed out… but the downside is that the mind is getting more and more rigid as it fills up with all this stuff, and no-go areas might develop which become too dangerous to countenance a visit. Dripping taps, rotting wood, death watch beetle, who knows what’s going on down there? It’s a bit scary…we’ll have to keep busy or do something, anything, to take our mind off it.

So we  could, instead,  maybe consider a replacement system with filters so that the good stuff comes in and the bad stuff goes out? I haven’t yet seen an example of this system in operation which functions well long term in the lived situation…in fact  my experience is that this solution is a bit of a con-trick. What usually happens is that you yourself have to be permanently on duty – making selections and then trying to hold on or push  away – sweeping into the garbage, or putting on the shelves – dependent upon your decision. So the downside of this is both cost – in terms of life energy, and a fixation on the task. With this we narrow our field of attention and this this blinds us to the richness of life as it is.  There is also the fact that it’s exhausting  to be… on the go all the time.

So maybe one of us should design an automatic, easy to install, capture, sort, and release system for thoughts?

Well ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you that there is… freely available… in the dharma… a way of dealing with this perplexing question as to what to do with all the stuff. It is the original  operating system. Whilst this requires some effort in meditation, groping around in the dark to begin with, to see how it functions, once it’s up and running there are no operating costs and, as there are no moving parts, it comes with a lifetime guarantee.

It works like this. Once we have seen for ourselves the nature of a thought – what exactly is it?… and the nature of the mind, by looking, … where is it? what size is it? what shape is it? what colour is it? Does it have a top or bottom? Is it inside of you or outside if you? and we really know; when we have looked at where thoughts come from and where they go to….mmmhm did you say go?.. aha…yes, they always do if we let them (thanks to impermanence they have only short stay visas)…then we can relax

all you have to do is….do nothing with them

So save your money and don’t buy and install a system. If you have one in place check out how it functions for you and, if its not up to spec., look at the ‘uninstall’ guidelines. You can find these in books – Simply Being has the answer to many questions, and then there is the Simplybeing.co.uk website with a box to ‘ask James a question’. I can answer some… but coming to a weekend talk may give a sense of how it is not only possible to live like this, but of how much easier and errr…fresher… life can be!

From flapping about to settling down

wasp-on-flower-480x320So…flapping about when wasp are near really disturbs them and increases the chances of being stung. Understanding this can change our behaviour  and so decrease the chance of being stung. Having a benevolent attitude towards them either because we see them as helpful, or in a bigger way as part of what is, may also help. Creatures certainly can be sensitive to our attitude towards them.

Perhaps we have a similar approach to other human beings who we feel are a threat and may sting us – maybe we flap about in our anxiety – but if, either on a relative or ultimate level, we can understand the conditions operating in the situation then this can soften our tension and, if we are stung, allow a quicker release of the pain.

A dharma investigation will take us back to fundamental ignorance and the arising of the five poisons on the basis of that misunderstanding.

With that, the Buddha’s story about the man hit by a poisoned arrow is very helpful. How much time do we want to spend working out who fired the arrow and why, what the arrow – shaft and tip – is made of, and what kind of feathers the flight, before we pull the arrow out?

Our sense of injustice, with questions like ‘don’t they know?’ and ‘why can’t they see?’ and ‘how could they?’ can often simply answered by… ‘no, they don’t’, ‘because they haven’t looked’, and ‘because they are them’, respectively. The conditioned nature, with egoic centrality, does not invite a questioning tentative approach and, if we had their conditioning, we would behave exactly as they do. The spinning around these questions takes up a lot of time and energy, often to no good effect, and can keep the wound from healing – it’s like scratching the top off  a scab.

So perhaps there is something useful to be said or done, perhaps not. If there is then it is likely to work out better if we truly know who we are and so have the space to be curious about the other, holding gently in mind the question of who they are – both in their true nature and its current precise expression. With that approach our response will be to be more attuned to the actual circumstances prevailing at the time rather than a defensive reactivity based on the past or imaginings.

Sometimes when something hurtful is being chewed over and over I suggest this is a bit like picking up a poisoned dagger which someone has thrown towards you and sticking it in yourself over and over again. There is the possibility just to leave it on the ground where it fell ( if you’re not so ‘solidly defined’ then what will it stick to?).

And  while we are talking about what we and others get up to there is a saying I like which is – as one points a finger at the other there are three fingers pointing back at oneself or, as the Buddha said, ‘a man winnows the faults of others whilst hiding his own like a crafty gamester covering his throw.’ Turning the mirror around to look at what we’re up to is challenging, and sometimes we are too close to the mirror to see clearly, it’s all a bit blurry or we focus just on what seems attractive or unattractive to ourselves – which can be where a teacher comes in very handy – but it’s by altering our own way of being that we really can make a difference. Trying to be helpful while being tangled up is hard to do… we may just become more entangled. But if we can see that happening then, as we are trying, we are learning. To offer to help someone being swept along in a river is a kind expression but it’s more likely to be effective if you are standing on the riverbank with a rope and a lifebuoy than if you are being swept along beside them.

Which leads to Dharma practice… and the old Zen saying if you haven’t got time to meditate for twenty minutes you need to meditate for an hour!

The lads in my village take every opportunity they can to practice their tricks on their skateboards…. I talk with a young woman who is a keen rower and she makes sure to go to bed in time to get up for training…and we who are practising the dharma and trying to turn around the course of, or our relationship with, the supertanker of our conditioned habits and beliefs…how much effort/precision do we give to this?

“After a while you learn…” by Jorge Luis Borges

Perhaps this poem relates to relative truth with a bit of an onward and upwards feel to it, but it gave me sense of a little lift within the poignancy of the truth of impermanence….and others have appreciated it…so i hope you will too.

 

After a while you learn the subtle difference

Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning

And company doesn’t mean security.

And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts

And presents aren’t promises,

And you begin to accept your defeats

With your head up and your eyes open

With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,

And you learn to build all your roads on today

Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans

And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn…

That even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul,*

Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure…

That you really are strong

And you really do have worth…

And you learn and learn…

With every good-bye you learn.”

 

 

*maybe, from a dharma perspective  you practise and practise,  asking the question ….who is it that learns?…until you know – and manifestation is ‘goodbye’,  ‘hello’.

Or, from a more prosaic perspective, goodbye and hello are together, like the legs of a pair of pyjama bottoms worn by the ’empty’ moment.

wendy

Eyes open or ‘eyes closed’ – assumptions

Looking and looking, just as the historical Buddha did, and not believing the first thought that pops into our heads is a very sane way of proceeding… how clear am i about what is going on, what am i up to, am i making assumptions… or running a habitual pattern of thinking?

– In a previous post i mentioned the killing of a  wasp outside the bread shop which  made no sense at all, particularly when you could see that there are many more wasps inside the shop.

– A charm seller outside a mosque is told to leave by a young muslim woman. He calls out to his friends saying that she is American who has just burnt the Koran. She is horribly murdered in front of hundreds of bystanders…. none of whom asked to see the ashes or check her nationality.

– My brother had his skull fractured by a deranged man wielding a machete on the basis that my brother was American and therefore implicated in the troubles of the Arab world. He is English and the result is much pain for him and no benefit to anyone else, just as it would have been if he were in fact American.

Although we might think that we ourselves would never make such daft mistakes I’m not so sure we can be certain. The are three cases of unreliable evidence which made me think again. Some long time ago some jewellery was stolen and ‘the perpetrator’ was identified in a lineup, convicted and incarcerated. Having served his time he was released but a short while later the same series of events was repeated. And it was whilst in prison on the second occasion that another jewellery robbery took place, a man was arrested and it became clear that he was responsible for the  two previous burglaries. So an innocent man who looked like the burglar was ‘positively’, but incorrectly, identified on two separate occasions.

Another example is of two women who had been followed and attacked insisting that the attack had been carried out by five people. In fact CCTV showed that although there were five people walking with them initially,  by the time the attack occurred there were only three perpetrators, the other two had left and were innocent of the charges against them.

Also, when a stabbing was carried out on an underground train many of those interviewed said that it was a black man who wielded the knife however it was in fact the white man sitting next to him. This latent discrimination points to the store cupboard of unexamined possibilities for projection and projecting out fear combined with a good bag of assumptions recently led to a Spanish actor being removed from a flight. He had been reciting Tibetan prayers at takeoff and had set a meditation timer… but  it was assumed that he was reciting the Koran and the words destruction and similar had been clearly overheard – well he did have a beard!

The dharma would suggest that we are all de-ranged to some degree in our behaviours and greatly in our mis-identifications  …looking to see our own blindnesses is hard, we’re a bit too close, good teachers can help with this and meditation practice can bring more calmness and clarity and a much broader perspective to each moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wasps – you belong!

wasp-300x225There was a queue of people outside the bread shop – wasps and humans were wanting the sweet things inside. One minute I was looking to see if there was any of the bread I wanted left for sale, the next I was watching the lady in front of me twisting the ball of her foot on the ground, grinding a wasp into the pavement. She turned to me and said ‘they do no good you know, they are completely pointless.’ I can get hooked by incorrect statements and i mildly observed that, maybe surprisingly, wasps pollinate flowers just as bees do. She retorted that bees were okay but wasps were not because they were malicious and stung out of spite.  ‘In your story-book’ was my quiet response ….and she was in agreement with this saying that I was about to be stung by the one on my wrist!

I left the wasp to walk about on my wrist and then fly off. I bought my loaf of bread and left but afterwards I thought about the wasps and how we can soften our certainties by becoming more conscious of our limited views and so becoming more curious… and also how treating the small creatures of the world with respect is a softening practice to start with, and one which, overtime, can make harshness less and less likely to arise inappropriately – whether for insects or humans. Some of us can become hugely tender to the lives of little creatures but unsurprisingly find the bigger (speaking) ones much more challenging.

Wasps are used in great numbers by farmers in agriculture for pest control, they are predators for all the world’s insect pests. The greenfly in the garden  are eaten by them but at this time of year they are very hungry as their main food source, a sugary secretion from the wasp larvae in their nest, is no longer being produced. That’s why they quickly gather round food and are very persistent! The wasps didn’t know that the shop’s air-space and its contents  was supposed to be off-limits to them, for them it was suddenly ‘manna from heaven.’

Stinging is their defence mechanism. If a wasp is in trouble it will emit a pheromone which will disturb all the nearby wasps and put them into defensive/ attack mode. So its really best for all concerned to let them be. In my experience, usually, if you are still and calm then creatures can sense that you are no threat.

I think that, from the wasps point of view, suddenly being crushed could well be seen as a malicious act… and as for these humans, do they do good?… What is the point of them? Projecting out anger and hatred onto the other and then reacting violently to what we see is common human behaviour …do wasps behave like this?

If our own concept of functionality is a prerequisite for the continuation of existence of the other then we really have taken over the role of gods (of the ‘all knowing’, ‘all powerful’ but not ‘all loving’ kind). Nevermind this arrogance, at this point in time we seem very close to losing the plot in many different ways.  We can now genetically modify mosquitoes so that they will not breed, some would think that this is a very good idea but fortunately there are people who realise that the mosquito is an essential food source for many different creatures. More troublingly  the normal molecular structure composed of the four amino acids – the basic building blocks of lifeforms – can now be altered and replicated using other substances. This creates a completely different lifeform and, as a commentator said, ‘this could be quite scary as we have no defences against this organism’…..’err yes indeed!’ i thought he went on to say but on the other hand if in the future we want populate Mars then producing lifeforms  which can cope with radiation etcetera could be very helpful’…. Sometimes I find it very hard to believe my ears – going to another planet, that’s possible,…creating new and potentially dangerous life-forms that’s also possible,… we know so much yet do we know how to be truly alive… what do we know about how to live together, how to care gently for ourselves, each other, and the suffering world that supports us? (link to National Geographic article)

As I remember it, one of the patients in the l’Arche foundation’s first home was bedridden and could do nothing more than move an eye, yet the quality of his being was such that people wanted to spend time in the room with him, not from pity but for grace. Was he pointless? Maybe, but he surely had value. Many activities and qualities like altruism and patience could be deemed pointless…. and tolerance is such a precious quality for living together in this strange world… we are all here, we belong, so how shall we be with each other?

Maybe, for starters, we have to see, to sense, to feel, to be open to the field (you plus me plus the context)… that’s hard to do with hands full of the book of, and both eyes glued to the story of, ‘Me!’.

…and when you see that the wasps persistence is due to hunger and their drowsiness to ‘hypoglycaemia’ then its easy to give some beings what they need – a teaspoon of jam in a dish outside keeps about twenty wasps happy for the day (and it does keep them outside which makes me happy)! The three which looked drowned in the dish this morning, after the rain, surprisingly  sprang back into life when I gently emptied it out, but a flat surface would be safer.

 

 

 

The ordinary is special…the special is ordinary

1.Stephen-Jenkinson-Care-of-the-Dying-280x143Dorothy Bohm – women’s hour July 14 35.56 mins beautifully contradicts the interviewer who says ‘you have a knack of making the ordinary seem precious’. She has experienced so much horror in her early life that every moment is appreciated and for her the ‘ordinary’ is precious, it’s not made to seem so by any kind of knack. Our own situation changes so quickly that it seems madness to spend today’s time looking at its imagined imperfections.

The bodhisattva attitude in Mahayana buddhism evokes a sense of gratitude and indebtedness as foundational in relating to other sentient beings on the basis of our relationships of connection through infinite time. Dependant co-origination also evokes gratitude for all that is…how could this mug come to be in my hand without an infinite number of factors – the earth, for the clay, the miners, designers, potters and shoppers, and so many others and other events taking place – my mum my dad, their parents and so on…all the caring events that mean i’m still here…all the people i’ve met who have shown me different ways of being and acting so that i can enjoy this communication…  As my hands curl in a certain way around the handle, a way conforming to its shape, i can take in this shape and colour… here we are – the mug and i and you everything arising together – then, with an imperceptible shift, the next unique moment arrives,and vanishes.

Here is also a link to the trailer  and also the film Greifwalker (open link in a new window) which I came across it thanks to a happy encounter with someone last week and I found it profoundly poignant. Stephen Jenkinson suggests that is it is a deep knowledge that throughout life we have taken and taken– in a self-serving fashion, with an attittude of entitlement rather than respect and gratitude – which brings fear to the death process. Although his tradition is different, this ties in with the understanding of the operation of karma in relative reality… where all actions (karmic activity) have consequences (virupa) both at the time and later as that seed bears fruit – whether sweet or sour – when the appropriate conditions are in place. Also i’ve included it because ‘death and impermanence’ is one of the thoughts which turn the mind towards dharma practice and, although they are linked, the ‘death’ part can feel harder to engage with…  so maybe this format invites a beautiful and gentle engagement with the inevitable!

When i first started to practice I had difficulties with the notion of rebirth but decided to park them and carry on as i could see that, whether this was true or not, the dharma showed a way of living in the kindest way with the world (‘though my ideas about kindness very much needed to be held up to the light!) and would lead to living life in such a way that one could leave it with maximal mental ease…                                                              A history of ideas 24 July 12.00am links with this in its suggestion that, rather than shrugging off a death as a non-event, or  pretending that we can keep the dead alive by refusing to let go completely, ritual  can be very helpful in facilitating the healthy transitions and adjustments of life.

Gratitude  is softening… and receptivity increases with that softening. Like the earth, water runs off the hard baked soil, but can permeate deeply where the ground is soft… opening to everything starts with a softening…..

The source…….

forest-brookFive major rivers, vital to the existence of millions of beings in Tibet India China Myanmar Burma Laos and Thailand, all have their origin high on the Tibetan plateau. The water there is as fresh as water can be but by the time these rivers reach the sea their colour has changed from blue to brown and levels of pollution are disturbing.  The energy of the rivers is increasingly being used to generate electricity so the flow of water and migration of fish is disrupted by dams. The silt release, in which sediment is periodically released from behind the dams to prevent them from silting up, is a phenomenal event which has a devastating impact on the life in the river downstream. So human interference with the flow of these waters – as with other rivers in Africa – and around the world, is having an impact which sadly resonates through time.

The streams of dharma are like this. Most of you will know this so please excuse me but there are some dharma teachings and books which are, one way or another, very close to the source – fresh and with minimal pollution – and others which are so heavily impacted by human interpretations and ignorance that, like the water from the yellow river, they should carry a dharma health warning.

I started my studies with ‘Teach yourself Buddhism’ and without a teacher they would have ended there, it was not dharma …..apart from which its too easy to read a lot and think you ‘know’ as the story of Naropa shows… and little bit of this and little bit of that, like mixing colours in a paint box, ends up with a muddy brown.

How to  pick your way through the minefield… unless you are already an expert how will you know whose advice to trust?

The internet is helpful here as you can check and cross-check very carefully. Keep looking and finding out all you can about the validity of the source of dharma which you are using for your own life transfusion…Look outside and inside the tradition and listen to other teachers. Gradually you’ll get a sense of where your connections lie and the difference in qualities. You matter too much to just cross you fingers and spit, trusting to luck or happenstance. Who taught the teacher? Who gave them authorisation to teach? How qualified are they? What have others said about them? Is there some kind of ‘group think’ going on?

If they write, can you see how much of what they write is dharma and how much is personal opinion. If you are reading a translation what are the translators skills in both languages… maybe you can check for bias and differing interpretations by reading other versions. Two english translators of the I-ching had a judeo-christian bias and used a little respected Chinese version as their source; one of the versions of the Tao te Ching i have i find completely unreadable while another seems very clear and beautiful.

Are they open to questioning….some are straight down the line…take it or leave it…and if they are straight down the line that will do no harm. They may have other ‘fish to fry’  but can you work with that? – there’s a  song Leonard Cohen wrote about how he and others tried to persuade his zen teacher to say ‘just a little bit more’…unsuccessfully!

Observe their behaviour for many years, do they embody what they teach, what can you learn from them? Do they want you to wake up, or to use your energy, or are they confused. Is there an agenda involving the worldly dharmas– is the dharma running the show or the ego?

Whichever the stream you drink from… may the water be clear.

 

The bubbles and the beer

UnknownThe  ‘Beer of Awareness and the Bubbles of Manifestation’ was the title of a talk i gave recently in a small tent. It was an enjoyable hour and a half for me – and also it seems for the happy handful who found themselves there – involving ginger beer, paintings, bubble blowing and a small plastic man in a tin box!

I nicked the beer image from one of James’ talks as its a refreshing a visual metaphor for non-duality. The bubbles are arising from the ground of the beer as its efflorescence…a part of it, within it, and the moving aspect of it – not separate from it nor homogenous with it. In the same way the froth of manifestation, occurring within the openness of the mind, is an enjoyable  but ever-changing display… identification with, and fusion with, individual bubbles is exhausting and unsatisfying…as they pop pop pop!

It’s not a perfect metaphor as the contents of the bubble in a glass of beer is different from the beer itself whereas a bubble in space is space surrounded by space. The encapsulation is a very thin wall and when the bubble pops all is as it was before the encapsulation. The bubble is not a ‘thing’, stable, enduring – an entity which can be known and controlled or something to rest on… and neither is that which we co-create with the energy of the mind….

….’The old man of the village called us back to drink three cups beneath the crooked mulberry…

Mankind is small but this drunkenness is large …where now is your Japan, where your Korea?’

…to a Korean friend – from Sayings and tales of Zen Buddhism by William Wray

Simple solutions…

 UnknownIf you listen to this radio programThe world this weekend (from 18m:30s  onwards) you will see the  initial statement ‘we will kill all the terrorists’, given as the simple solution to the ISIS issue, being followed by a more thoughtful response to this very complex situation. Everyone who is killed has friends and relations who will be impacted, they  have  memories which are passed down through generations, and many people look to revenge as the appropriate response. So this is like cutting off the hydra’s head with many more spring up in the place of the one cut off. At the end of the program the suggestion is that politicians are taking as simple what is an immensely complex situation.

Just as it is for Aung San Suu Kyi with the treatment of the Rohingay muslims. The guardian says ‘this is something about which “mother Suu” remains virtually silent, no doubt in part because the recognition of this people’s plight would amount to political suicide in a country where racial prejudices run deep.’ So should she speak up for them and loose any opportunity she might have to benefit Myanmar in other ways? Being in opposition to the governing party and with the army holding the veto in Parliament her freedom to act  is constrained… so it also is complicated, as she has said.

Ann Applebaum in ‘The world tonight’  (from 7m:55s) asserts that President Putin is deliberately engineering a crisis. The contrary view of Sir Tony Brenton, former British ambassador to Russia, suggesting that her view is incoherent and that Putins actions are a response to what he sees as western subversion and aggression, unsurprisingly cuts no ice with her; it was clear that she had no interest in his viewpoint.

If you see a simple cause to a problem you’ll offer a simple solution but if the problem is complex then this simple solution will  bring no resolution.

With a dharma perspective, the truth of dependant co-origination is plain to see… with the links of cause and effect reverberating through time, each event being both the result of and the basis for an infinite number of others. There is a ceaseless movement which is driven by assumptions, beliefs, fixed views and dogmatic assertions arising from a sense  being truly individuated, being disconnected from each other. So we see from a particular standpoint, ignoring some events and over-privileging others, disconnecting the links between them.

Not seeing clearly we feel able to stand apart and judge without the understanding that everything arises due to causes and conditions.  Yesterday a friend who was asking my opinion said ‘never mind about the past what do we do now?’ Lucky for me that i do not have to decide, but i do know that the present is predicated on the past and that as a country we are implicated historically in may of the current troubling events, they are not a bolt out of the blue. What i can do is not add to global warming by wasting my time with pointless opinions and speculation. I know that i cannot remove the assumptions, pride, greed, anger, jealousy and grasping from the “external” world but regarding the “internal” world there is work i can do which will benefit me and others with whom i am connected.  I and each of us, who may feel disempowered, can make some moves towards greater tolerance, to offer a greater curiosity and hospitality to the world as it presents itself…looking at our own prejudices and seeing through their origin.

In adding the definition ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to situations we seal them, fix them, and make them less easy to work with. A situation is as it is … so what will be best for all concerned both now and through time? This is a level, unbiased approach. And when we define people as inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we have become foolish. They are not inherently anything but they are complicated…. behaving differently with different people at different times, under different circumstances, their behaviour arising due to a complex matrix of conditions for which they are not directly responsible but within which they are embedded.  As a practice… developing generosity, patience, humility and other virtues is beneficial; if we can understand that we are always affecting ourselves as well as others by our thoughts and actions then it may  be easier to practice… but understanding the truth of the open nature takes the heat out of “things” and then, with lessened attachment to fixed views and outcomes, reactivity decreases…. and precise and attuned responses become more of a possibility…

 

 

Fixed views and sore heads

plums_0.standard 460x345 There is a plum tree just outside the place where I live.

In the late summer the plums ripen and many wasps come to this wonderful restaurant for the free food and drink.

 

03_Vespula_germanica_Richard_Bartz I like to have the fresh air coming in so I often leave my door open.

Some of the wasps get lost (maybe they’ve drunk too much) and they end up inside my flat.

They fly to the windows and try to get out through the glass.

This they cannot do.

They try very hard, and they hammer with their little heads on the glass over and over again. They use up a lot of energy and sound quite frantic.

The noise is quite irritating, and I feel sorry for the wasps, so I open the window for them.

These windows are Velux Windows set in the roof; as you pull down the handle the window open up and out into the space outside.

As I do this, the wasp is free to go … but it doesn’t leave, it clings tightly to the glass.

It doesn’t see that it is free to go anywhere it likes; the wasp is literally holding a fixed view.

It’s little eyes are very close to the glass, looking through the pane of glass to the freedom it desires, and it has no awareness that it is already out in space.

Even when the window is almost vertical–so all around the wasp is space–the wasp insists, with great agitation, on trying to get through the glass.

The wasp is unaware of the futility of its approach, and holds very tightly to the very thing which is preventing it from being free.

Our attachment to thoughts, fixed views, makes us like the wasps; agitated, buzzing, repeating old patterns, with no rest. We are so caught up in this behaviour that we ignore the spacious awareness in which we move;  the view in which  alternative, more helpful, moves are possible.

The true freedom that comes from seeing the trap of believing in thoughts may not be available to wasps but for us, thanks to the teachings, this is a real and very wonderful possibility.

How to liberate the wasps? Me, I use some care and flick them off with a plastic spatula. If I did not do this the wasp would die—exhausted from its efforts trying to get through the glass.

We are more fortunate in that, having come across the teachings, we can see that moment by moment, the choice is in our hands.

We can hold our fixed view in front of us, look through it and be stuck; or be aware of the ways in which we construe (or construct) things,  relax and be free.

P.S Today a butterfly flew in and up to the window. It too fluttered against the window pane trying to get out. As I opened the window, the butterfly settled down. When the window was fully open, a breeze slightly lifted the wings of the butterfly and it flew up and away, out into space.

I wrote this some years ago when living in a different place,but was reminded of it today as i was trying to persuade a fly to leave through the open velux window in the kitchen. This was more tricky as he had flown in following his nose and was not trying to escape. He flew out and then flew back in again (perhaps having a liking for samsara!) So encouraging him out of the kitchen into another, more boring, room and leaving him there with the window open….was like us in meditation, cooling down the busyness to see clearly and find our way.. it took a while, he was there when i first checked, but eventually he went free : )

 

Dancing in the rain

I have worked in hospitals and come across the word invalid many times before  but recently was shocked when i looked at it in a different light – ‘in-valid’ and all the feelings that go with a  sense of being ‘less than’ or discounted.

This poem is  for Jo … and everyone who is trying to be at ease, finding a different way of being in the world, as their ability to function in the way in the way they, and others, have expected is impaired (in her case by a brain tumour)

Please don’t join the dots to make me,

I’m still here – but different lately.

Not just as i was before, and nor are you…

but what is more, there’s not one thing that we can see

that stays the same eternally.

We can’t go back; we can go on –

breathing each breath of this life’s song.

As our lives shift so poignantly,

will you stay in the dance with me?

Will tenderness move through your heart

and help me feel i am a part –

and not apart from,

life?

 

with love, wendy

 

 

Artificial Intelligence

What is it that the world lacks? Is it a superior form of artificial intelligence? Is this the straw that we are now clutching at to save us from the consequences of our own inhumanity, our pride, our greed, desires and aversions?

Currently there is debate  about whether or not we should fear the consequences of the recent acceleration in the development of a superior form of artificial intelligence. Bill Gates and Simon Hawkins are signatories to a letter suggesting caution in its implementation. However the genie is already out of the bottle, vast amounts of money are flowing into its development. In a program about this on Radio 4 a contributor stated that, although at the time many people were fearful of its consequences, the Industrial Revolution was beneficial for mankind. The implication was that this advance into the application of artificial intelligence was similar in nature and that  anxiety is misplaced.

Nobody queried this statement, perhaps its truth seemed self-evident, but I think there is another way to read this. The methods of increasing productivity in the Industrial Revolution brought disruption to original local or family connections of individuals who became the workforce. The factories, furnaces and mills worked throughout the night and therefore so did the workers. The natural diurnal rhythms of life were disrupted and tasks no longer changed with the seasons as they would have done in the the agrarian economy. The work was often highly dangerous, poorly paid and repetitive; noise levels were high and work took place within confined spaces. Originally toilet breaks were non-existent – a pot was passed around. Pollution was at a high level and people’ homes destroyed to make way for ‘expansion’.

Some people made a lot of money from the life-energy of many who lived day-by-day under atrocious conditions. It tok a long time and a great deal of struggle to improve the conditions of the workforce in this country yet oppression, hazardous conditions, and low pay are still with us. In other countries which supplied us then, and now, with raw or manufactured goods, conditions are appalling.

My understanding, having looked at the some of sadnesses in the world, is that the pride, jealousies, greed, hatred, anger and aversion which are destroying our world do not come about as a result of a lack of intelligence whether human or artificial. It’s not that we need more advanced intelligence to solve our problems but that we are lacking in wisdom and compassion.

Our intelligence has supplied us with a vast database of knowledge about the nature of many ‘things’ and how to exploit them for our own benefit. This has not made for a happy world and levels of anxiety are increasing. We have not learned how to live either with ourselves or others in a harmonious fashion.

Our endless desire for pleasure is a way of keeping busy, it papers over the chasm of the  un-met needs of the heart and is fundamentally unsatisfactory.

In our culture many people have much more than they need but many are very miserable. Getting more ‘stuff’ does not bring happiness. We have prescribed  antidepressants  to mask mental dis-ease to the point that birds now have measurable levels of Prozac in their bodies. Although their existence may become more bearable people are still not happy and at ease.

This dis-ease cannot be medicated away.  Attending to the symptoms rather than the cause will not bring about a satisfactory resolution to the existential angst of existence in a world where the intellect and productivity is privileged over wisdom and the compassion which arises from that wisdom. Compassion arises as a response to the suffering of others. For this to be evoked there needs to be a feeling of connection and  an empathic attunement. This response is not  one of ‘rationality’ but  of humanity, of warmth, sensitivity, connectivity, and kindness.

This requires the ability to go beyond the thinking, computational, aspect of mind. It requires us to listen with our hearts to what underlies the semantic content of a conversation. It requires dropping judgement and seeing situations clearly, without the screen of our conditioning. It requires a willingness to feel how others are – not to stop when we have read the label which tells us ‘what’ they are.  In order to be  appropriately responsive  to the  situation of others we have to be able to soften and receive how they are even if this is painful. Often our way of coping with our own losses,  sadnesses and disappointments is to unconsciously repress them and to ‘toughen-up’ which means we are then guarded against or desensitised to the suffering of others.

Einstein said that “the intuitive mind is the gift of spirit, and the rational mind is its servant. We have created a society which honours the servant but has forgotten the gift”. I’m with Einstein on this; he also said that he regarded the pursuit of ease and happiness as ends in themselves as a suitable ambition for a

A car controlled by artificial intelligence might override my intuitive action to drive my car into a bollard rather than kill a passerby. While this might be logical from  the point  of view of maintaining my existence what if  my intuition is correct and the passerby brings more benefit into the world than I can? My freedom to be is curtailed in favour of an algorithm .

Left-field responses, blue sky thinking, happenstance, serendipity or accidental discoveries are not driven by logic but all can be beneficial.Rational decisions can turn out badly in the long run and those which initially seem irrational or ill-thought out can work out well. Because the world itself is neither rational nor fair, working effectively with circumstances  requires a broadness of perspective, a lightness of touch and the ability to make a precise and unique response into each unique situation. Artificial intelligence does not sit well with this world which, rather like our bodies, is a complex organism. Changes in one part brings about changes in other parts at different times;  activities are interconnected rather than discrete.

The rational mind would suggest that very few people will read this and I could be better employed. The same kind of rationality might suggest that arts and music, culture, humour, the unconventional, religious devotion and carnivals are all a waste of time. The old, the differently-abled, non-conformist and other seemingly less productive members of society can be seen as of little value and edited out.  This has happened before in other part of the world where a dogma has been taken as a truth and people are de-humanised with  ghastly consequences.

In the long run artificial intelligence may decide that controlling or deleting the variables – human beings – is the rational but deadly answer to the human condition!

In the meantime, any one for a bit of open-hearted dharma, for meditation, for being? Or is there already  so much to do that there is no time left to be?

 

Response to Dylan’s rage

Last night i heard a poet read Dylan Thomas’  “Do not go gentle into that good night”.

This heart-breaking expression of a son’s attachment, facing his father’s imminent death, was so desperate and grief-filled that this morning i wrote this response –

 

Oh love, go gently into that good night…and give your peace to those whom death doth fright.

Why would you rage at sunsets, rainbows end? –
the  leaf that falls responds to winter.

When death calls, be soft with love and not uptight

– there is no ending to the light.

wendy 1 March 2015

People sometimes say that they become more  fully alive in the face of a terminal diagnosis – letting go of the unimportant, more free to express and appreciate than ever before.

Around 300BC  the Greek philosopher Epicurus  wrote ” The art of living well and dying well are one ” and Montaigne wrote in the 16th century that ” Death is one of the attributes you were created with; death is part of you. Your life’s continual task is to build your death ”

Are you ready to die? If not, then you might begin some preparation. Most readers of this will die this century, and death is constantly beside us…as Montaigne urged “One should be ever booted and spurred and ready to depart.””

Living ‘with death in the heart’ as a practice is enlivening rather than depressing. It intensifies the experience of each arising moment and  brings our short existence into relationship with the infinite. This in turn can refine our relationship to ourselves, to others, and how we are in each heart-beat of our lives.

R.I.P is a wish, or prayer, often inscribed on tombstones for the peace of the departed…but it’s surely far safer to find the way to rest in peace before then – in this life.