On being… or caught by thoughts

What a distressing picture I beheld as a child…. opening the book ‘Gulliver’s travel’s and seeing the poor man stretched out on the ground and pinned there by hundreds of tiny ropes. There were so many that despite their insubstantial nature he was fixed so tightly to the ground that he could not move at all.

More than ten years ago I repeated James words that he ‘would never be caught by a thought’ to a student. She was so taken with those words that she relayed them to a lady on the checkout in the local Morrisons store. ‘ You must never be caught by a thought!’ she laughingly admonished….and the lady thought that was such wonderful advice.

I also told her that James had once instructed me to… ‘take the ring from out your nose’.  Clearly he was referring to my lack of   freedom in being led around like a cow… both by the nonsense of others (first step to be free of that) – then secondly, and with much more difficultly, to be free of the nonsense of myself!

Since then both she and I – and no doubt the lady in Morrisons – have been captivated by many a thought.
Knowing what’s  good for you when you hear it one thing… consistently applying the advice for long enough to bring about a change is very much another!

At first noticing the difference between moments of openness… and then the felt tightening in the body as an attention-invested identity-thought fuses  (or goes into a fugue) with another…or  noticing the rudderless, life-consuming drifting, and the ‘home-coming’ in meditation… over and over again. Being helped  to understand the nature of thoughts, the nature of the mind… the dharma has so much to offer us. Seeing what is going on and releasing from these old habits, allowing the thoughts to move freely without locking on…
It’s no quick fix…but it can be done…and it’s not a bodge job which just keeps your head above water!

Keeping some form of meditation going through all the ups and downs – not resting the oars – is great if you can. Some just drift away after a while…but some, like this dharma student, find that after each period of disconnection with practice the healthiness of the return becomes more evident. She recently told me that she had realised that it was the only thing that was really going to help her.

As the buddha said in the Kalama sutra ‘When you know for yourself, Kalamas, these qualities are skilful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them’.

Gradually you reset your own compass away from the rocky shores into the open waters…the threads that seemed to hold you, fixed in place and time dissolve…and freedom from the mind-forged lilliputian manacles is yours!

Cartoon credit

Homme-âgé – reflections 3

Evening time

meditating in the graveyard

Birds, bats, thoughts flitting

Father-in-law dying



of the infinite


the shift to

con-fusion with false identities


It’s when,

it’s when,

and only when see…

and stop the conning and the fusion

and then, and then, and only then

we feel ourselves at-oned,

at home again.

Homme-âgé – reflections 2

Evening time –

meditating in the graveyard…

birds, bats, and thoughts




from old age…

this world, from lack of love

from  lack of wisdom


All this confusion

breeds,  hatred,  greed…

and our pollution

from tensions, torsions –


all distortions and contortions 



only when

we stop the conning and the fusion

and then… and then, and only then

in truth,


we can begin again.



Homme-âgé – reflections 1

Once of a time he made –
sandcastles by the sea
and kites that flew…life opening…
so much that he could be

He studied hard, his knowledge grew,
at university he made
‘things’ from new materials…

…he made his girlfriend blush
married, made babies,
made the children laugh,
(did he… or did I imagine that?)

made money – house and garden…
retired, grew flowers

grew old

and now he makes, increasingly,
a nuisance of himself

– so I am told

credit for picture





The perils of perching – advice for parrots!

Whatever the position taken up with assertion, the egoic or  separated sense-of-self will cling to that self-created perch for stability.
With fear of falling from that perch (or being pushed) the claws tighten and tension in the body increases.
There is a locking on and locking up which makes release and flying far less likely… and eventually inconceivable.
Welded to the perch, identified with the perch, by the ‘guano’ accumulated from relieving the bowels in the same place, or constipated by fear of letting go…  starvation and immobility lead to death.
Who died?
Was there ever a ‘parrot’ or a ‘perch’ in truth?

Woolly minded!

In mid July I was in a little tent with some friendly faces talking about the view of dzogchen under the title ‘Who dies, who dances?’

Over the years I have taken different props with me, from crystal droplets to bubble blowers. This time it was to be a little box of sheeps wool collected from Dartmoor.
In the event I left it behind… things have been pretty busy lately… but it didn’t much matter because it’s fairly easy to imagine. So I thought I’d see whether the metaphor means anything to you.

If you take a piece of sheep’s wool and try to look through it… that may not be possible.
If you squeeze it and squash it into a little box then, of course, seeing through it becomes impossible.
Cold water washing won’t help but will stick the threads closer and hot water washing will felt it so that it will be quite impossible to see through.

But if you gently tease it apart so the little strands of wool separate, you can see the space that was always there and you can see right through it.

The mind is a little bit like that… (and  quite a lot not like that)!

It’s a bit like the mind because… when we as ‘subject’ focus our attention onto the thoughts, feelings and sensations – the threads – which arise (the movements of the mind) as if they were objects, we become mesmerised and lose touch with the spaciousness from which, and back into which they go. With this comes more sense of solidity, density, weightiness, certainty…which increases the sense of being a separate subject and decreases the ability to see what’s really going on.

A deception is played out so often it seem true… inflation of the ‘I’-thought, believing in it (and with that the thought-threads wrapped round it) as a true identity.  Then relating to other arisings depending on the perception of their impact upon our created construct.

Seeing how any trick is performed requires very close attention. There is usually a moment of created diversion, a distraction, and during that moment of slippage the sleight of hand is performed…

When you know how it’s done you can still be taken in…it’s a big habit, easy to fall into…but instead of saying ‘you got me (or got to me!) again’…you know you confused yourself!

There’s a great poem by Portia Nelson about how you can reposition yourself relative to the hole in the pavement. Meditation which allows the mind to move but does not follow the movements – is a practice which goes with that. ‘Oh..i’m tightening up, narrowing my focus, condensing, putting weight into story-line, falling down the hole’….relax, release…begin again…

The more we fuse and entangle with the tanglings the tighter things get.
Relaxing more into the spaciousness, holding a very wide-angle view… this allows the con-fusion with the tanglings to release, we don’t have to tease them apart. ‘Tanglings’ then move as the transient energetic display aspects of the mind itself…movements which awareness, or the mind itself, doesn’t grasp.



birthday’s blossoms…




I planted this blossom tree  in my garden some years ago – with  prayers for felicity and growth in dharma realisation of all students, all practitioners, all beings

always…all ways…

astonishing and multifarious,

the ’empty’ truth displays itself

no matter what we make of it, it’s never something else



for that through which life’s blossoms  flow…



….what is above

and what below?







Thanks to sakurachiru for this photo.



Sparks – a bonfire of the vanities, revealing….

Just an attention grabbing line, i hope…

in case you haven’t noticed this latest, very beautiful, publication… ‘Sparks’ by James Low.

Although one can dramatically ‘burn the vanities’… until the underlying sense of need for covering is gone, sooner or later, replacements will be sought.

By inspiring, allowing them right in, the marks on these pages can become heart-sparks… and then through repeatedly breathing onto them with tender attention, slowly or quickly, they will surely glow and then set fire to the soggy accumulated dead wood, so that the brilliance of the source of inherent warmth and wisdom can blaze forth unobstructed.

Mostly ‘though the fire aye burns,
we do not realise, because…
our smoke gets in our eyes!  

I felt moved to write the review below for Amazon:

‘If I had to choose one book to take to a desert island,
one dharma book,
one book for all time,
one book to open the heart to…this is it.

With iridescent lucidity ….moving beyond words
using language which is precise, yet contemporary and very accessible,
with great warmth and encouragement, the wisdom shining through this great teacher of dzogchen illuminates the way from lostness and confusion to the ease of our being, both simply and directly.’

It’s also available through Abe books and, if in London, from Watkins book store.



Emerson comes early…

Often in July…but not always so!

These meetings and partings ‘mark the change of time’ as a song of Milarepa’s  goes

they may seem a ‘fixture’ but times change, causes and conditions shift, the river flows…

The setting is beautiful…  the teachings beautiful and profound….

It’s always a lovely time…and these freedoms and opportunities to be reminded of our true nature are rare and precious…

Hope you can make it.


You can camp or (if you prefer and book in time) stay in the college buildings

Painting by Stewart Edmonson

no commission! – i just like the work…and the way he works.

Doggedly we grasp…and the consequence is?

We took this little dog, the one i mentioned in the previous post, down to the beach one day… his first trip to the seaside!

He was very very excited by this new environment…what with the waves and smells and sounds… so many new experiences….

And then a kind of game got going – stones were thrown… and, just like with a ball at home, the dog went chasing after them to retrieve them.

Of course he couldn’t…he would run after the stone very fast, tracking it through the air, but each stone landed among so many other stones.

You could see he didn’t know which one to pick up and bring back, he looked puzzled… but as the stone-throwers kept throwing there was always something new in the air for him to chase after.

I’m sure he very much enjoyed the running but I wasn’t so happy with the lack of completion… something maybe a bit unsatisfactory from the dog’s point of view…but it was ‘good fun, good excercise’ from another viewpoint.

The next morning I went to give the dog his breakfast… this dog enjoyed food and it would vanish in a flash… but on this day he looked very sad and didn’t eat anything.

Something was clearly wrong so I took him to the vet who also thought something was wrong… the dog wouldn’t let us open his mouth so that we could see inside to see if maybe he had picked up a piece of stick which had got stuck, or some other damage.

So that meant an examination under general anaesthetic  was called for.

When I collected the dog afterwards, in the evening, the vet said that it was very strange.  The dog felt pain, even under the anaesthetic, when he tried to open his jaws – and that was unusual – however he could find nothing wrong.

So the dog came home… and the next morning eat his breakfast as usual!

No further problems so ‘one of those mysteries’ I thought at the time.

Some of you meditators may be well ahead of me here… it was only years later when I started to directly feel the impact of fusing with thoughts, experiencing the effect in the  body, that I gained an insight into the likely cause of the problem.

My guess is that each time the dog ran with the intention of grasping that stone between its jaws and bringing it back to the people who were throwing. It wasn’t just that his legs were moving when he was running… a whole set of occurrences in his body happened at the same time priming him, getting those jaws ready to catch… over and over again.  The fact that he couldn’t actually catch the stones that were being thrown wasn’t being processed and I suspect that the clenching of muscles that would have gone on over many hours without a relaxation, rather a building of tension, eventually put the muscles into spasm.

Like us in the ordinary way, all kinds of movements are happening even before we are conscious of having ‘caught a thought’ (the work of the ‘sticky-hand’ egoic-thought)…and in fusing our attention into that we are taken for a ride.

So the jaws clamp on but nothing is actually caught and we don’t go anywhere…yet it’s exhausting…and can lead to spasms in the body.

All the anxiety, worry, lack of sleep… lead to more anxiety and all its bodily manifestations…no rest…

Whereas meditation – letting ‘things’ (thoughts, stones etc) be; relaxing out of grasping at these ungraspable showings – leads to…

well, take a look if you like (James Low – The sun of ungraspable awareness)  – the ‘no-method’ and result…

the enjoyment…poised, relaxed and at ease… attunement arising from emptiness.
Screen Shot 2018-02-02 at 19.54.23



As do the movements of this ‘not-so-active’ dog

…. the dog that we create for ourselves by the application of our concepts to the colours in the shape on the left.
P.S. As you, and as the Buddha knew, the answer to question posed in the title is…. suffering!

The tale of the dog…or ‘not always so’…

springer-spaniel-x-jack-russel-puppy-5615774ce02d0In an earlier life….  we had just started living on a farm,  everything was in a great muddle and I was exhausted as we tried to make sense of the existing arrangements and animals and work out what to do next…

The neighbours’ dog had just given birth to nine puppies… and we had a daughter, whose life also had been disrupted by the move, who really really wanted a puppy.

Thinking ‘dogs and farms go together’… as a guard dog a Jack Russell/ springer spaniel is really not at all scary but can give an alert! – maybe in the long run for moving stock – as a companion… A teacher at a previous school had said she felt that children without a dog had been deprived…and how much more difficult can it make things?

…so next we bought a puppy.

My sister-in-law at the time trained dogs for competing at Crufts and helped our daughter choose The One. He was like a small Snoopy, big soft brown eyes, silky black ears, a white mottled body with a black spot on the side…and soon showed a very friendly lovable nature.
I just looked and this cross is seen to be loving of everyone… and their dogs… with an energy level high enough to be ‘mental’. Fairly accurate I should say : ) Dog owners and their dogs often seem to have some kind of resemblance.

But we couldn’t just play with him, even if we had the time. This dog would, at the very least, need to come when called and leave the sheep alone. So ‘dog-trainer’ was a new, extra, role to take on.

Clicker-training – using a sound and food, then just sound, to reward and train good behaviour… and socialisation classes followed. However when chasing rabbits and pheasants (which I don’t think he ever actually caught) his interest in coming when called was non-existent… although he would turnaround to look at you to show he had heard!

As for the sheep… the thrill of getting a large number of these white furry things moving… and then going faster… so he could chase them faster… was worrying to observe; prior to our arrival dogs had been worrying neighbouring sheep.

As farmers see the distress caused, and the profit lost in vets bill’s and the waste, their determination to catch and shoot the offender in the act increases. Their anger over this had been expressed to us… so I invested in an electric collar.

When later I told a vet’s wife that I had done this she was truly appalled, many dogs have been deeply traumatised by the mis-use of electric collars. It is true that many are of too nervous a disposition to be suitable for this way of training, also the approach needs to be very thoughtful and systematic when it is being used for recall…and with just the right amount of whack applied when training to leave sheep alone.

This particular cross breed – terrier/spaniel – tends to be pretty bombproof and irrepressible, and also I took my time and was very careful with the training. For a month before use we would go about carrying the  device that sends a signal to the special collar around the dog’s neck. Then one day in full sight of the dog starting to chase the sheep, press a button. The collar receives a signal and gives a shock strong enough to take the dog off its feet… For him it was like a bolt from the blue/sheep in response to his behaviour. His respect for sheep and distance from them was maintained all the time that  he was at the farm and the lady who owned the sheep said ‘I would always trust your dog with our sheep’.

For any who are still unconvinced of the kindness of this shocking action, years later my heart quailed to hear that the traditional way of dealing with this common problem with farm dogs is to wrap the dog in a couple of duvets and put it in a confined space with a ram. The ram will try to kill it… but you rescue it after it’s taken a battering and hopefully learnt to be respectful!

He also learned to come when he was called but was pretty hopeless at moving the stock as he was a bit scared of cows and a bit bouncy for the piglets. He learned respect for the cat who settled his jumping up by planting claws directly into the top of his head… resulting in an egg shaped lump and a large veterinary bill…and was (mostly) a pleasure to have around, with his softness and zest for life.

Things changed for this dog after I left the farm and a new person came in with their dog.  Ball chasing was completely different – as the ball was thrown he chased the ball but this new dog chased him so he had to zig-zag. Life was less comfortable for him, no longer ‘top dog’, and he could be blamed for trouble rather than the newcomer.  But when after a few years the new dog died he was very sad and spent time looking for him, lying with his nose level with where this dog used to lie under a bed.

Then he re-located with his owners, they started to travel overseas and they left him with friends.
He started to wander… he started to chase sheep…
he returned with blood around his mouth so he was horsewhipped…
Maybe that helped with the sheep chasing but my understanding is that the correction has to be applied at exactly the moment of the mistake otherwise the dog can assume it is being punished for returning or some other behaviour.

Clearly the circumstances had changed, he was unsettled and unhappy and his behaviours naturally changed with that. Who would want to re-home him with that history, would he have to be put down?

This is a Christmas Eve story and it does have a ‘happy ending’ –  grandparents who knew him agreed to take him so he is now a good-natured companion dog for them and their other dog. He does not go off the lead unless he’s in their paddock but now he’s an older dog this is nothing like the imprisonment it would have felt like earlier in his life.

Older, greyer, plumper, he has become more territorial and proprietorial – so his attitude towards other visiting dogs has changed – but he is warm, content, well-fed and well loved…unlike so many of the two-legged friends and other beings with whom we share this earth today.

so firstly a Christmas quiz

a) is this dog real… that is to say is it enduring through time, un-changed, independent of other factors?…

b) so could it be true that birds that live on a golden mountain take on the colour of the sun?

c) So although he had the same name… was the dog the same dog all the way through?

d) Did we each create our own dog from what was there or was the dog self-existing?

e)Did the sheep see him in anything like the same way as we did?

f)Is a puppy a small furry human? What’s it like to be a dog? Can you speak dog to dog or only human to dog.

g)  although I named, trained, fed, cared for, and protected this dog was he ever ‘mine’

h) in the same way are our children ‘ours’, entities which can be known, controlled and treated as possessions?

i) are you and i ‘things’ or manifestations?…driven by karma or arising responsively?

j) so if you say “i would never do xyz…” is this true…for ever?… how can you be sure?


Then, as for the awful circumstances others face… being alive to those situations brings us into mental connection and diminishes our own encapsulation and self-involvement. As we eat, others are going without food…. as we get dressed others may just be pulling on whatever old dirty clothes they have… as we practice the dharma others lack the freedom or understanding to do so… This understanding helps drive the determination to find a way to be helpful which eventually goes beyond, as well as including, ordinary helpfulness.

Connection is a given… and if it comes with a light touch – no dogmatic assertions, directions or appropriations – it can be so beautiful.  I  found this link to the first reading from Letters from South Africa on Radio4   poignant and moving…maybe you’ll enjoy it too.

Merry Christmas!






Stand At EASE!!!

1024px-Postawa.zasadniczaIn the talk – ‘Dissolving conflict in life and death’ James mentioned the limitation on openness which can result from tensions held within the body.

Sometime ago, on the radio, I heard someone saying they felt their jaw tighten in response to  some event.

It got me wondering whether my jaw had ever felt really loose… and I explored that a bit. Sticking the tongue out works well, so does rubbing the hands together ’til they are warm then gently softening the face and jaw into that warmth… but just imagining that area becoming  soft, like a cloud, from the inside worked best for me.

Shortly after this ‘noticing’ my whole jaw started to really ache – tension stored there from a long time ago when I had broken my back teeth through grinding them together at night-time.

The dentist had diagnosed ‘buxitis’ and made me a plastic plate to wear inside my mouth so that the teeth could slide over each other as my jaw worked away in my sleep… an activity which naturally also led to problems with the temporo-mandibular joints!

I was only in my twenties at the time and never thought to think that the tooth-grinding, along with other maladies, had causal factors… and did not realise how resulting tensions can be stored in the body… and that these can be released.

I think of these tensions as being a bit like like compressed springs… vibrating with the energy stored in them… maybe at a low level but even so, vulnerable to being amplified by identification with, and fusion with, the impact of situations which resonate with this particular patterning of energy.

For as soon as, as long as, we take ourselves to be things – entities which can marked and labelled and judged, wanting validation and expecting completion from external factors…suffering is woven with the story. So it was that one night, when I was very sad, I grabbed a thought which was so so dismal… and I felt the impact directly on my breath and the contraction in my body.

This led to some anguished howling as realisation of all the suffering, all the damage we do to ourselves and others as we fuse with thoughts, taking them as true and definitional, really struck home.

A few months back, listening to a radio programme – the Reunion, about the conflict between Rupert Murdoch and the trade unions around the move to computerised printing at Wapping in 1986, I was struck by the absolute contradictory convictions of the participants.

One (for whom the dispute had been all-consuming) was convinced that the heart-attack he suffered  at the time was caused by Rupert Murdoch… whilst another, on the opposing side, was equally convinced that this was completely ridiculous notion – that the heart attack was nothing to do with the situation, mere happenstance…

So an understanding of dependent co-origination – that within relative reality events occur due to a multiplicity of interlinked factors – is absent and, for them, that heart attack was either ‘just the luck of the draw’ or ‘all his fault’…. no middle way.

Also striking was the word used as Brenda Dean and Charlie Wilson  agreed that their oppositional, polarised, political views were – not informed by but – “forged” during the heat of that intense conflict. Attitudes, tensions formed and held, giving particular oppositional shapes to their lives ever since.

For myself… over time… as well as applying the ‘dharma massage’ – listening, reflecting, meditating/acting – over and over again, I’ve enjoyed releasing or being helped to release embodied tensions through qigong, tai chi, yoga, five rhythms dance, Rolfing, massage, drumming, sound healing, myo-fascial release, contact (and comedy) improvisation, art, walking, swimming, talking and so on… whatever I felt might be helpful and was available to bring some more ease and a different sense of the possibilities of my embodied existence.

As  one area loosens up it highlights the lack of looseness in other areas. Rigidities like the soldier’s ‘attention position’…back straight! shoulders back! stomach in! chest out! head up! do you want to wear a coat-hanger in your shirt? …and many further instructions about how to walk, eat, laugh etc ‘correctly’….are more than likely to have a somewhat negative effect on fluidity and embodied ease!

But every block has possible release and little by little things change. With meditation the facility to release any new snarlings increases as does sensitivity to the connection with the environment…so the amount of effort expended is more appropriate and attuned, more harmonious.

At first there’s the imagined ‘me‘ acting on the imagined ‘it’, with only partial connections to ‘it’ or me. Whatever I think I am is the main event…and there are these other ‘things’ – things that I make use of, often whilst i’m thinking about something else.

But, in thinking about something which isn’t there (in an on-going, random, fashion) – i’ve stepped out of embodied existence into mental-cyberspace – so, naturally, I can’t fully receive what is here.

At some point i noticed this – that when i was distracted there was a kind of snatching and clumsiness in the movements i made.

A simple example would be that I became conscious of opening the door a little roughly – I pushed the handle down a bit harder than i needed to in order to open the door.
Why was this?… Because, in my mind, I had gone ahead of myself…headed towards the end of my journey upstairs, pulled along by fusion with the thought of doing whatever it was. The door was just something in the way.

Ordinary mindfulness would give me an instruction to pay attention…to notice the coolness, the feel, the shape, the sound of the movement opening… so ‘I’ would be here and noticing something in particular…and that would be an improvement.

But by staying as presence in time, as time… when each moment of interaction is equal as experience… it is the whole of the journey and the entire field which is inviting the participation of inter-subjectivity.

And as the body softens from the inside there’s a softness to these cloud-like interactions which leads to more softness

….ahhh…easier breathing

…ahhh…just this

and this…ahhh….


‘Inch foot time gem’ – not twice ever does this precise moment arise…

but then.. as it’s coming and going however it is, you might think that this physical stuff is unnecessary activity for a meditator….and for some it would be, it’s not the main event.  But, already having ‘issues’ with my neck and shoulders, at one time when i did a lot of sitting meditation I found that things had locked up to the point that i could barely turn my head. Working on the lap-top is not comfortable….so remedial action is ‘working with circumstances’.

Feeling the body to be soft and light (as developed in practice) and rounded rather than tight and stretched offers a lovely alternative to twitchiness or rigidity.


Thanks to Julo for image of Polish soldiers (Wikipedia)


‘Dissolving conflict in life and death’ – James Low

Teacakes – well… softness with a somewhat cloying sweetness – high-calorie comfort-food.

These teachings, recorded this July at Emerson College, now available to listen or download – may be the perfect food for these troubled times – highly nutritious, softening, and… strangely slimming too!

(maybe click on the title of the post if the pictures below aren’t displayed in the right order!)

From this                                                      to this

Porcupine4 prehensiletailedporcupine-002







with hidden….                                                         tomg22329780.700-1_800


Latest: Tunnock’s tea cake blasted into space; Emerson recordings travelling through cyberspace…


‘One of Scotland’s favourite snacks’ according to the Scottish Sun newspaper has been sent 36,000m into space…’and the nation waits’.

I used to enjoy these when I was younger – biscuit base, marshmallow topping, covered in chocolate – but i wouldn’t expect too much from a high-altitude tea-cake!

David Cameron tweeted that he ‘liked the shine on the foil…’

Viewers of this site will probably have more realistic expectations of satisfaction from the recordings of ‘Dissolving Conflict in Life and Death’, this year’s talk at Emerson College, which are currently travelling through cyberspace – ready for Chris to publish when he has a moment – carried on the tail of a hurricane-wind dragon!

Some other work (coming later) has gone on around these recordings so it’s taken longer than usual and i haven’t had time to post… and now need to catch up with other stuff! but i will let you know when this great feast is available on the simplybeing.co.uk website…