Wendy’s Writings

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.

With love on Valentine’s Day

 

Maybe you got a Valentine’s card on Feb 14th, maybe you didn’t, but either way you could see this as a flower from the oasis of your own heart – inviting you to consider the meaning of love.

Romantic love is one kind of love, one which can often be blind and is inevitably partial, but there  are different kinds of love.  The love evoked by the  the wish for all beings to know happiness and to be free from suffering is infinite and profound…and you might find yourself to be an aspect of this bigger kind of love.

This happiness this kind of love is different from that which arises from the transient pleasures of money, status, power, feelings of worth and so on, but is instead a feeling of being at home and at ease that keeps time with every heartbeat of life…and this wish is made immeasurable by wishing complete happiness and freedom from suffering for all beings – for all time!

It follows that the true causes of happiness need to be examined and understood  – how does happiness come about? and what are the causes of suffering? and how can we be free of them? These are things the Buddha examined nearly six hundred years before the birth of Christ and the teachings arising from his conclusions developed in methods and practice through time.

He taught that all actions have consequences, both for ourselves and others.  Although these consequences are experienced in the moment  of the action  their repercussions continue into the future as patterns of behaviour are established.

We can see this occurring on a global scale as well as the individual.  In Four Thought, The Shadow of the Cold war,  Professor Sachs, a renowned economist, explains how the USA was happy to assist Poland in their financial crisis however when Russia under Gorbachev requested  assistance under similar conditions, help was refused. His suggestions… that this decision was instrumental in creating the kind of ‘Russia’ that we see today, and that victors rarely learn the lessons of history… did not meet with much applause in the New York bookstore where he was speaking yet had a ring of truth about them.

In the same way,  how much tolerance of Western-style democracy is likely from the Hong Kong government official who, when he was a young man, experienced brutal repression of political dissent and the imprisonment of his sister  under the ruling  colonial British government.  At this timeHong Kong was acting as a sweatshop for our country and dissent and disruption was crushed partly because of politics and partly for financial reasons.  This particular official, who had been intending to join the colonial government, left the country to study finance and politics in Beijing and has now returned to take up a leading role in the current Hong Kong government. (i’ll add the radio 4 link for this program if i find it)

Just as you cannot extinguish an electrical fire with water so the right methods are needed to put out the fires which rage in our own and others’ hearts. The Buddha taught that to live in love amongst those who hate is the way; that hatred never conquered hatred. True love simply cannot flow from actions inspired by our assumptions, our hatred, or our greed.

In our ignorance we tend to project our hatred onto other people and act as though the environment is there for our consumption; alternatively we may repress these tendencies. Either way we suffer from a dis-ease where the lack of integration between ourselves and the environment has a detrimental effect on our physical or mental health.

The buddha taught that our  tendencies to jealousy, pride, greed or desire, hatred or aversion, envy and wrong views… of ourselves and others and situations (our assumptions)… can be examined, seen in their true nature for what they are, and let go.

We are not powerless, we can do much that is good and kind and tender both for ourselves and others. We can take steps to grow in wisdom and compassion and, as we change ourselves and our views, we see the world differently… and love is there…no matter what.

If  you are met with love today you can imagine sharing that with everyone who is in need of it.  Even a drop of water is more than some people will receive today so if you hold those who are thirsty in mind then, as you drink, people who seem other, yet are part of our world, are held in your mind with love…. and your heart is growing in size to accommodate more and more. That’s one method, there are many others which bring about a greater sense of connection.

The bodhisattvas vow connects us with all beings with compassion… and the practice and accomplishment of the perfection of wisdom/dzogchen leads to a compassion grounded in truth.

If this way of looking at things appeals to you do have a look at the website and get in touch, or check the wealth of information on simplybeing.co.uk

And here is a valentine’s present for you…  it’s Yasmina Khadra, an Algerian writer now living in France reflecting on personal identity in the light of the challenges currently facing Europe.  For me it was  poignant and beautifully expressed. The programme on radio four on Wednesday morning lasts for just fifteen minutes  yet expresses so much truth…with love, Wendy

Muslim or Mancunian….what do we know?

How many different worlds could be conjured up in yours by the word Muslim… or Mancunian?    So very many.  But if we know what a muslim is…or we know Manchester why would we enquire further, why would we really look at the basis for our knowledge and question its validity ?

I used to live near Manchester and in other countries the  mention of  Manchester would often elicit a response along the lines of ‘Ah…I know Manchester! Manchester United — Ryan Giggs!!’. In this way a complex and dynamic city is equated with a footballers name.

Currently there is  an excellent series on the radio about Manchester by Jeanette Winterson and  called Manchester – alchemical city   ( you can listen to this on radio4 i-player). It speaks of Manchester’s multiple faces – social political economic geographic and demographic – which change through time, dependent upon many different causes and conditions.

Naturally this is Ms Winterson’s perspective, with its particular biases. As listeners, although our ears may hear everything she says, we find ourselves paying particular attention to aspects which interest us  and giving less attention to others (dependant upon our own particular biases). But whether expansive or limited our opinions about Manchester are unlikely to do harm.

However when we view people of other faiths, or groups, from a biased or ill-informed perspective  this does harm. To think ‘they are all the same’ and say ‘I know what they are’ is both a violence and untrue.

Unfortunately when people hear the same thing repeatedly, whether they are saying it to themselves or someone else is saying it, eventually it ‘rings true’ for them and they  believe it. ‘It must be true – I have heard it so many times!… everybody says, everybody knows that…surely you know that too…it says it in the paper! But what ‘it’ says in the paper is affected by many factors including the editor’s bias or prejudice.  Activities perpetrated against others on the basis of such beliefs are committed in ignorance…an ignoring of our shared and linked existence, our common ground, and an ignoring of the consequences and ramifications of such actions over time.

Early coverage on the radio referring to investigations into religious practice in Birmingham schools mentioned a poster of a ‘warlike god Ram’ on a wall in one of the classrooms. I wonder whether a poster of King Richard ‘the Lionheart’ or St George and the dragon would have caused similar qualms? The person being interviewed seemed unaware that Ram is actually a Hindu deity who is seen as embodying chivalry and virtue. It would be nice to think that he has read the Koran but perhaps this is unlikely.
The understanding of any religion is complex, the translations and interpretations of texts and the manner in which the beliefs are practised is variable — one size does not fit all.

Excerpts from a book by Moshin Hamid called Discontent and it civilisations    (also available on radio 4 i-Player) give a delightful glimpse  into the life of an acclaimed Pakistani author, his views and experiences of living in Pakistan the U.S. and the U.K., and also into the rise of Islamophobia.

The practice of the dharma can lead to an appreciation of the way in which we create a simulacrum of a world of absolutes and certainties out of that which is inherently labile and impermanent. Investigating the nature of the self, the mind, and thoughts is far from ‘navel-gazing’.  It is through this meditation that we can gently come to see what we are up to and find a different, more healthy, way of relating both to ourselves and to the rest of the world.

wendy                                                                                                                                                     10.12.2014

To study the self is to forget the self – to forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.

 

 

Dharma or samsara?

Homage to the Guru – our own true nature, and the embodiment of that….

 

Thoughts and feelings

sensations, sounds…

the natural radiance of the ground.

 

If I relax and let them be

I find the openness of ‘me’.

 

If I grab hold, I’ll make of me

what’s called by Scots

‘a wee stookie!’*

 

* Stookie …a rigid dressing, usually made of gauze and plaster of Paris, used to immobilize an injured body part, as in a fracture or dislocation – a plaster cast (urban dictionary )

You could see the plaster of paris as the energy of attention which, when applied to the gauze of the constructs/concepts, seems to create a fixed shape or pattern which restricts the degree of free movement or play in the world.

wendy Dec 2014

 

 

…be soft in your practice…

For those of you who come and go…

This comes from the introduction to a lovely book – Sayings and tales of Zen Buddhism —  Reflections for Every Day, by William Wray… and it has helped me to think of dharma practice in a softer way from the habitual striving —  yet keeping the connection throughout changing circumstances.

‘Be soft in your practice. Think of the method is a fine silvery stream not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream, have faith in its course. It will go its own way, meandering here trickling there.It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it. Never let it out of your sight. It will take you.’