‘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…




Cheers! Here’s to sadness!

170px-Wine_GlassSome years ago someone who had been on Prozac for eight years came regularly to a group i was facilitating in mid-devon.

She was put on the drug following the death of her young daughter and at a time when she herself was in an unsatisfying job.
She had, since then, found more satisfying work and so we worked through things together – she slowly came off the prozac and is relatively happy in her life.

Her openess and ability to connect, with a care for the happiness of others, means that other employees in the store where she works feel able to confide in her…and she is able to pass on some of the benefits of her experiences.

One day someone she works with came into  the staffroom looking very subdued… this lady noticed and enquired… her colleague sheepishly admitted that having been to the doctors and put on prozac…

They had a conversation and then others in the room joined in…. and in this little store in mid- Devon there were four or five others on prozac.

This number…plus the others who did not share…multiplied by the number of large stores in the country…would be a staggering number in itself…then add in all the rest!

No wonder the birds have measurable levels of prozac in their bodies – they drink the water that runs into the rivers from the sewage plants…
which only remove some substances.

I can remember listening to a poet who had made a poem out of the ingredients of a shampoo which had a ‘natural’ marketing image.
The poem of the list of chemicals was extremely long… the small print can be very small… and I couldn’t imagine any trichological necessity for most of  them!
Anyway, i thought, they don’t stay on my head for long… but then I imagined them going down the waste pipe into the sewerage system and on…and on…and fish swimming in it, birds drinking it and..eek!

As i see it, to be able to be allow for the arising of sad feelings is part of being alive and connected with this world… however the egoic thought–structure feels that there is something wrong with this.
If you are in connection with this world and see and feel what’s going on around you, i think being sad is a completely natural experience.

When the thought that ‘I should be happy’ arises and links with another thought (thought of what I take myself to be)  there can be a sense that something has gone wrong and it needs fixing a.s.a.p.
‘I would like the world and myself to be the way I would like them to be’… so I am rejecting what is, i’m making a story about it and becoming oppositional to the arising thoughts and feelings and sensations… lumping them all together… either forgetting or not being unconscious of their transient nature.

Surely sometimes  a chemical intervention is appropriate… but it can become an automatic response to  ‘I don’t like these feelings please take them away’.

Anything that does that is not necessarily good… and they’ll go anyway if you let them…crying can be a great release, not a sign of failure. Stiff upper-lips are not indicative of health and ‘pulling one’s self together’ just tightens the knots.

To look at what’s going on rather than to mask it, or go for distraction, takes courage. To ask ‘what is the root cause of my suffering?’ is the question which set Gautama Siddhartha off on his journey… and he realised an answer which is the same for all of us….one we can experience…that’s a worthwhile journey!

But mostly it seems easier to try to sort out the external factors. Sometimes this is not so difficult, and it can be useful if it brings more of a sense of spaciousness into the situation. However these external factors are themselves impermanent and not the root cause of the problem…and the very busyness involved in changing circumstances may conceal this.
Also there is a big difference between satisfaction – being okay however things are – and the happiness of pleasure. Pursuing pleasure is to over-privilege the high points, the excitement around which is addictive and diminishes the enjoyment of everything in between…so much so that the in-between time can be just be filling-in-time between the highs.

There was a zen master who gave a teaching to an official who wanted to know how to be…how to practice within the constraints and the perceived tedium which went with his high office?
The master’s blessing translates as – ‘inch foot time gem’ – and its recipient was nonplussed until the explanation came….words to the effect that
Every moment is a moment of life – and, as  there are only so many moments in your life….why not be there for them all? – receiving and allowing them to go.  Turning your face away from any of them is life denying; with the ego calling the shots life becomes constricted and tensions increase.

I like James’s analogy of the ‘i’ as an empty wine glass for this…and if we can relax the desire… for the champagne or the happiness…whatever we might ordinarily feel would bring things to perfection…we can be momentarily full of rich burgundy, water, milk,  Orangina, urine or chocolate pudding …. many many different flavours….

a self emptying, cleaning and filling wine glass…. extraordinary!


btw… along with many other drugs, the use of Diclophenac , a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, is not compatible with the use of Prozac…. and if you read the warnings about NSAID’s in that Diclophenac link you might be quite slow to swallow them in any case!

…and then there’s that quote of Einstein  “Well-being and happiness never appeared to me as an absolute aim. I am even inclined to compare such moral aims to the ambitions of a pig.” !

The self-referential nature of the above quest keeps the blindfold in place… and so the tail can lead the dog down many a cul-de-sac!



Length of audio recordings

We are working to bring you the recent Emerson College recordings…

Until now I have broken the recordings into segments of roughly half an hour but as download speeds have increased i’m wondering whether you would prefer to listen to recordings that are an hour long, or are half hour chunks easier to manage?

If you have a keen preference one way or another send me an email via the contact page and we’ll try to work out what’s best overall.

P.S. i have updated the list of links to all the available audios and videos in the ‘Macclesfield talks’ collection of teachings. You will find the link to this index on the home page… at the bottom of the introduction.

Greed and beauty – The Clock O’Clay


Wednesday, 13 July 1793 was the birthdate of the poet John Clare.

James spoke of him during the recent teachings at Emerson College… referring to the deep despair and desolation the poet felt following the Enclosure act of 1773 and that his sensitivity was such that its impact on his mental heath was enough to send him into madness.       There were other tensions around his poet/peasant identity and in relationship, and so as he watched the drastic changes in his world he became increasingly unstable and weak in health. He spent the latter part of his life incarcerated in asylums…whilst continuing to write poetry.
It seems that he had a complete breakdown after swearing publicly at Shylock during a performance of Shakespear’s Merchant of Venice.
Perhaps this also related to feeling obliged to accede to the many alterations that  his editors insisted on making to his original work …. changes which he saw as a massacre…in order to support his family and to continue to write. Also much of his financial support came from…. lords and landed gentry…the instigators of the enclosures. His vehemence in the ‘Lament of Swordy Well’ is telling as is the sadness of ‘Decay, a Ballad’…

The stated intention of the Enclosures act was to be ‘An Act for the better Cultivation, Improvement, and Regulation of the Common Arable Fields, Wastes, and Commons or Pasture in this Kingdom’  and to achieve this a majority of those who used the land were supposed to be included  in the decision-making and formation of the petitions to be put before Parliament (as were the local landowners and those with title deeds). A suitable commissioner was then to have the responsibility of dividing up the land appropriately.

However the commissioners were often chosen by the landowners and the planning meetings held in private amongst themselves. The commoners were excluded from the process…. and then quickly or slowly they were excluded from the land… as what had been the ‘common land’ of England was fenced off by local landowners and taken from the ‘common man’.

The look of the landscape changed completely as the angular nature of the new divisions was imposed on the spontaneous landscape. Trees were felled, marshland drained, wild areas ‘tamed’ and the countryside emptied of those who had previously enjoyed its use… their livelihood, playground and means of existence or subsistence were stolen from them.

And so it goes…………..You might be interested in reading this article by Liz Alden Wily  The Global Land Grab: The New Enclosures

Seeing what’s happening yet remaining sane is a middle way….and, speaking from experience, it takes a lot of practice!
At one point, having looked at what was going on… and then found out more and more about what was going on… I  completely lost any sense of spaciousness, developed an oppositional ‘good/bad’ ‘right/wrong’  perspective, managed to pass my anxiety onto a few other people… who were already no doubt  already anxious… and brought myself out in an acutely uncomfortable rash! Not a great result!
James has spoken often enough about how healthy engagement can only occur from a healthy position….and,  paraphrasing the Buddha, the priority is to become free from one’s own delusions….with that clarity comes the ability to be with and, when appropriate, work with arising circumstances in an easy and beneficial way.

There’s greed and harshness and also beauty in the illusion….

John Clare had loved to wander freely  across the countryside around him, moving at his own, sometimes very slow, pace. Sometimes stopping for hours to minutely observe… at the level of the plants and the insects… going back day after day and observing so closely that he was not an ‘observer’ but someone who could feel and sense and see from the inside…filling his mind/heart eye, not separate…
So fresh and free from artifice,  beautifully shaped, released from the editors constrictions his poems are, i think, a joy…….


In the cowslip pips I lie,
Hidden from the buzzing fly,
While green grass beneath me lies,
Pearled with dew like fishes’ eyes,
Here I lie, a clock-o’-clay,
Waiting for the time o’ day.

While the forest quakes surprise,
And the wild wind sobs and sighs,
My home rocks as like to fall,
On its pillar green and tall;
When the pattering rain drives by
Clock-o’-clay keeps warm and dry.

Day by day and night by night,
All the week I hide from sight;
In the cowslip pips I lie,
In the rain still warm and dry;
Day and night, and night and day,
Red, black-spotted clock-o’-clay.

My home shakes in wind and showers,
Pale green pillar topped with flowers,
Bending at the wild wind’s breath,
Till I touch the grass beneath;
Here I live, lone clock-o’-clay,
Watching for the time of day.

John Clare (1793-1864)

and some music and movement to go with it!


P.S. The Everyman’s edition – Selected poems of John Clare is a few pounds on Abe books.

Photo of cowslips  Alex Brown licenced under creative commons


Audio glitch, videos and… live speech!

public-speakingJust to let you know that the audio website is undergoing some remedial work which will take a few days…. Christian is onto it!

His update on 30th June….’the Macclesfield Talks are working again. Also most of the elder records.
The links from Oct. 2015 to Feb. 2017 are still out of order, but we’re working on it.’

In the meantime there are no issues with the videos….

…and at 9.30 until 11am on the morning of Wednesday, 12 July I’m giving a little talk at the Buddhafield Festival. It needed to be early this time as I’d like to be over at  Emerson college by  evening for James’ teaching.

The title of the festival this year is ‘Embracing Simplicity’ so i’m giving a talk called  ‘The dance of becoming – simplicity and complexity’.

I have given a talk at this festival for many years (under the workshop umbrella rather than in the dharma parlour ) as ‘a round peg being offered a square hole’. Could be viewed as esoteric – not in the middle – but maybe just that ~ and appealing to some.
So if you are going to be there it would be a pleasure to see you in the little tent, otherwise maybe in East Sussex…anyway hope you enjoy whatever the summertime offers you!

The bird of pray

ChaffinchMuch of the news lately has been searing… so here’s a sweet and true story about a little bird.

I often walk uphill past a wooded area and on this particular day I noticed that the noise coming from the birds around was much more clamorous than usual.

Just as I was rounding a corner a coloured flash of movement caught my eye down at my feet, underneath a road gully grating. This grating had curved bars which almost overlapped, with a wider spacing at the top of the bars..which narrowed at the bottom – the intention being to keep surface debris out of the drain.

Somehow a little bird had gone down between the bars into the chamber below and couldn’t get out.
As it flapped its wings, flying upwards, the open wings stopped the bird from being able to get through the narrow curved gap between the bars…. and it fell back into the bottom.

I tried to lift the grating but it was  firmly tarmaced in place.

I watched this the bird try and fail a few times and then crossed to the other side of the road so that my presence didn’t increase its agitation… and prayed very hard that the little bird might get free.

No instant miracle followed… but two elderly, blue clad and bereted, Frenchmen appeared ambling towards me down the hill. From their gait and conversation they had probably enjoyed a glass or two of wine with their lunch.

“Excusez moi messieurs …il y a un petit oiseau dans la…”  i said, indicating, with my hand, the trap.
They looked very dubiously at me, and doubtfully peered into the chamber… then both excitedly noticed the bird… and tried to pull up the grating.

They couldn’t do it either…

so all three of us were standing round, staring down into the chamber

when suddenly the bird shot right up through the grating, straight up, about six feet into the air without apparently flapping its wings, just like a dart

and then flew sideways, off into the woods…. which fell silent

we were so happy too


Getting through the bars of a horizontal grid – timing the wing beats so that they were closed just at the right point, would be difficult enough, but  for a bird but to get through the space between these curved overlapping bars was extraordinary.
Maybe a little example of energy following, flowing with, attention……and that what seems impossible may not be.

I saw somewhere the suggestion that we often say prayers three times because the first time we are just beginning to engage, the second we are a bit more focused, and the third time we are fully engaged.

The wholehearted prayer for all beings… for their freedom from suffering… for realisation of their true nature… is surely energy moving in the right direction and

if  we are fully engaged all three times…present all the time…what then might be possible…..?

words by Toyo Eicho ~

For long years a bird in a cage 

Now, flying along with the clouds of heaven

and the words of Paul McCartney’s freedom song  Blackbird  …..






Hatred is a killer…

ca. 1921, Cairo, Egypt --- The delegates of the Mespot Commission at the Cairo Conference. The group was set up by Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill to discuss the future of Arab nations. --- Image by ? Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

ca. 1921, Cairo, Egypt — The delegates of the Mespot Commission at the Cairo Conference. The group was set up by Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill to discuss the future of Arab nations. — Image by ? Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

In the little place where I live, a small village, there is a lot of warmth and friendliness and there is also fear and hatred.

What do people here hate?
Well…it’s a strange mixture. There is a man who hates flies – loathes and detests them– and one who hates cancer–which he feels has stolen the lives of people dear to him – and there is one who, while mostly a great bird lover, can’t stand pigeons!
There are those who have expressed xenophobia and one man (no longer living here) who thought I should be very afraid of a woman whom he suspected of being a powerful witch. There was also a time when a ‘witch’ ( in his opinion), but someone different from the person he was warning me against earlier, expressed the view that, as a dangerous influence, he should be run out of town. Soon after that this man, who owned a machete, and threatened to use it, was expressing his hatred of people who abuse women and was ready to do violence to the person he saw as a perpetrator. He himself it transpired had been abused as a child.
I have chosen to mention these extremes of attitude but each person also had much more moderate and kindly and aspects to them… like most people they were not ‘one thing’ but varied according to circumstances. An extreme example is Idi Amin’s daughter  who found him to be such a lovely dad that she really couldn’t believe the stories of what he had done to his countrymen.

Soon after I took the Bodhisattva vow I found myself in a small field with about twenty other people who were in varying states – from anger through to rage at times. Their unhappiness was very understandable but it made me think about this vow and how it could ever possibly be fulfilled – so much unhappiness just in one little field… if you magnify that up to the size of the world, all beings in the world, the universe/multiverse…. the amount of unhappiness seemed unbearable. This led to despair, then some unusual experiences, and  with that the words that I was ‘looking at the hate and not the love’ which dispelled the agony. Realising that there is no way that I, as an entity working with entities, can fulfil the Vow, and that a completely different view is required didn’t come until much later.

There is a saying that there will never be peace on the outside until there is peace on the inside… and I can see that this is completely true.
These hatreds have more to do with the holder of the hatred than the object of hate… and if you can see the sudden change in facial expression, muscle tone, and breathing, of people as they express these hatreds you see what damaging tensions and tightness they are living with on a daily basis. Repressed rage and anger which is often unacknowledged to the point where people feel they are essentially calm and reasonable, can express itself in these projectile explosions from time to time. Some event hooks that anger or hatred and it is projected onto and into situations remote from the original event.

I remember once listening to an interview with a holy man who was revered as a Christian;  someone who spoke holy words, spreading words of goodness and kindness as he walked about on the Mount of olives, being interviewed as to why he  thought it right that Palestinians should be prohibited from coming through the gate in the wall which the Israelis built. They wanted to tend to their olive trees… their livelihood, which was by now on the wrong side of the wall.
It seemed a reasonable request but as he spoke, in his response you could hear, in the tone of his voice, an extreme tightening that had nothing to do with being reasonable. As he spoke he revealed that some members of his family had been killed in an explosion for which he held the Palestinians responsible.

In another interview I heard a man saying ‘we are a vengeful nation’… members of his family had being killed and from this he knew who the enemy for his lifetime is, and he would pass this knowledge on through the generations, this ‘knowledge’ and hatred become embodied. The recipients of this knowledge and those who will be viewed through this particular distorting lens will be remote from the event in time… the whole situation may have radically changed, but thoughts from the past will tend to hold the lens in place.

To see the bigger picture is not to make excuses; within relative reality there are reasons for everything… but it’s not just one factor but many many factors, linking back and across through time, that have to be in place for the one thing to occur.
Letters from Baghdad is a film I hope to see shortly which points to the effects of British involvement in Iraq after the First World War. Its a documentary about the life of Gertrude Bell, the adviser to the British government on Mesopotamia, who had an influence in the the foundations of the desperate situation which is resonating today.

I have to admit that my own knowledge of history in many aspects had not gone far beyond the Ladybird books of childhood until relatively recently… so I was not sneering when I responded to someone standing next to me waiting for a planning officer who was asking me why we were giving money to India when they didn’t want it? It must be guilt! he said. I suggested that we, as a country, probably make donations for many different reasons including, along with hopefully some altruism, trade and politics. As for guilt… although I don’t think that is relevant factor… I explained a little bit about the annexation of many Indian principalities and the use that land was put to…. this was all news to him.
We only have the view from where we are… but it’s surely very much more complex than we might like to think.

Since the British, in 1839, made the first of their three invasions  Afghanistan has been invaded and in conflict so often that there has not been peace for longer than living memory.…and what a mess has resulted from these impacts ( this link is to a Guardian page with a brief explanation). All of those killed on all sides have relatives… interventions in the Middle–East have not sorted things out, quite the contrary; things don’t get sorted out like this.
People desire stability and in order to achieve that that they tend to use control and the greater the fear/ aversion, or desire, the greater the effort to control.
Win-win is not the order of the day… the pound(or oil field) is either in my pocket or yours… so it had better be mine. We could share it but instead we fight over it… and this is the result of the human condition…. of pride and greed and anger and jealousy arising from ignorance.

This won’t be resolved simply by an injunction to love one’s neighbour as oneself…. the strong conclusions about what is good (what I know like and appreciate) and therefore what is bad (all the rest which is not merely neutral) are mostly held to so hard and fast that they are extremely difficult to overcome even with the best of intentions. The ego knows what’s what…!  Until there us genuine care, a softness and tenderness for this little self, flowing easy and natural, then efforts to love others who we don’t take to, let alone those who have done us harm are going to founder on rocks of judgement.
But if love can be seen as the wish for all beings to have happiness and to know the causes of happiness i.e. for them to become enlightened… we can pray for that with diligence!… enlightened beings  are satisfied and so they don’t go around attacking people…. and if love naturally arises from wisdom then studying and practising the dharma  has to be the most effective way to go.

The Buddha has  has quite a lot to say in the Dhammapada about abandoning thoughts  about those who have harmed you in order not to live in hate…. and later the dharma leads to hearing that….. the way out of the maze of the confusion of samsara is through and with all beings…
I felt very stupid when I first heard this; I had absolutely no idea what was being talked about… but I can see that in experiencing the  ‘common denominator’ of all  it is possible to appreciate the different showings or shapings of manifestation without becoming averse to any – they have the same ground. And if this  ground, this openness, is the ‘home base’ from which activity arises, then it is then possible to work with the arising circumstances for the greatest benefit of the entire field, rather than according to personal desire, dogmatic diktats or popular assertions….
The notion that good deeds are done by good people that bad deeds are done by bad people might make sense on a quick look but it is a statement worth a lot of looking at, from a dharma point of view.

Galloping assumptions

When I was in hospital  many years ago I was up during the night and spent a few happy hours chatting with the night staff. As I was leaving to go back to bed someone said ‘you’re not a bit like how we thought you were.’
On the basis of my having a fresh nightdress each day, having the consultant visit regularly and being visited by a number of reasonably well dressed more elderly gentleman they had, discussed me, invented their own ‘me’ – and come to their own conclusions about it!
[In fact the nightdresses were borrowed and the consultant and elderly gentlemen (other consultants) were all people I had worked for in a different area of healthcare.]

Sometime later when I was working in a hospice I was told not to bother with Mrs so-and-so today.  ‘Why not?’ I asked, and was told that she was in a really foul mood so no one was going near her. I wouldn’t ‘not be’ with someone just because someone else says so and also I was interested to know what the problem was. So I went to find out, said hello and smiled as I went into the room, and asked how she was.
It transpired that she had been treated like a child – told that the nurses would take her for a cigarette only when she had done what they asked of her, and when they had  finished doing everything else they needed to.
No wonder she was angry…dying and powerless and being controlled.
She was not angry by the time we had finished talking, she wasn’t inherently angry, it arose due to causes and conditions.  The nurses saw it as a nuisance to have wheel her bed into the smoking area, they didn’t smoke so they didn’t know what it felt like to be blocked in that way, they didn’t approve of her smoking, and that fed into their behaviour towards her, concluding that she was a nuisance… and then hers towards them. It was a situation was quite easy to resolve and explain.
My father, aunt and uncle… many people that I knew smoked – I think my father was given cigarettes in his rations during the war… a whole generation grew up smoking like that.… Although some died of smoking-related cancer they weren’t stupid… and even if they were, would that mean they deserve less kindness than the clever/lucky ones?

The bodhisattvic attitude… that all beings have been your mothers or fathers in previous lives and that you therefore meet them with a debt of gratitude gives a clear direction to open the heart to everyone we meet.
The dzogchen view is that the ‘other’ is not other, nor the same, but an aspect of experience arising in awareness… part of the integrated field and not something which can be ‘summed up’.
Judging, ascribing value dependent upon perceived behaviour requires ‘something’ to have been created in the first place. This we do by cutting out the other from the context…. and in the business of separating out and reifying the other we simultaneously create a false sense of solidity for ourselves. So in judging we set up the potential for being judged either by ‘others’… or ‘ourselves’ as we identify wholly with a manifestation which is the creativity of the mind.

Sylvia-Silver-Set-OThis creativity is extraordinary… just a little example which made me smile –
The other day I was standing next to a lady  in a queue. We had been talking about this and that when she suddenly said ‘I really like your necklace, it’s really lovely!’
The necklace is just a simple silver chain and a flat ‘Hung’ pendant.
Then she said ‘I really like the liquid silver’…. I raised my eyebrows… and she said ‘you know, liquid silver… it’s really lovely’. I do know liquid silver, fine tubes of silver strung on thread… the necklace is not that… so I just smiled at her.
Then she said ‘and I really love the Egyptian beads’.
Knowing what she was looking at I said ‘balls of fluff’… but she responded with
‘I know my Egyptian beads’… so I repeated ‘balls of fluff’.
As I explained that tiny bits of thread got pulled out of whatever I was wearing and clumped together around the chain… her face was interesting to watch as the marvellous necklace made of liquid silver, strung with Egyptian beads, slowly changed shape before her very eyes!

There is a saying ‘there’s none so blind as those that will not see’…. some insist on the absolute truth of what they can see… but don’t see that it just looks like this… at this moment, under these conditions, wearing this particular set of ‘conceptual lenses’…





“What’s wrong with doing what you want?!”

GalleryImage_1491_2975_2723f9This was the question put to me recently by a young adult. In the way it was phrased it wasn’t really a question… more a statement implying that everybody knows that it’s good to do what you want. That to be able to do what you want is the freedom worth striving for, and if the opportunity arises surely anybody sane would take it…. after all, doing what you want makes you happy… right?

It depends… if you’re talking about transient happiness maybe… but if you’re talking about a more profound satisfaction, one which is equally at home with the happiness and sadness integral to being connected with the world, then the starting point for that comes from spending some time getting to know who you really are – beyond any stories you or others might tell – rather than spending time doing whatever it is that you think will do the business.
Maybe this particular groove, which seems to fit you so well at present, leads to a ditch which gets deeper and deeper – so deep that perspective is lost, and any talk of your infinite nature sounds like so much gobbledygook.

Isn’t it likely that if I do what my ego dictates I just become a puppet of my own desires? Isn’t it likely that the more I make satisfying these desires my priority, the more validity I give them, the less important everyone else’s wants and needs are to me… and so I’ll become even more egocentric and selfish. My ability to make a wise decision about what’s most appropriate to do, considering all involved, diminishes.  I become blinded to my impact on other people and ignorant of the detrimental consequences for myself…as the ego-skin thickens the sense of being separated from ‘others’ and the ground of being increases. Then the world is seen and valued  depending on how well it fits in with my priorities, with the thinking that I should be able to get what I like and do what I want.

And if I’m blocked in the fulfilment of my desires I will be unhappy. Sure enough, eventually, the world will block me because, strangely, it does not come into being in order to fit around, and satisfy, my ego’s changing shape.

It’s a bit like in Hogarth’s the Rake’s progress… the likelihood of the rake seeing the error of his ways and making amends diminishes as he ‘progresses’….the potential is always there but no realisation of  wisdom…so it’s ‘I can’t get no..o.. satisfaction!

Just doing what you want is not the road to freedom.

Talking with teenagers in school many of them believe that getting what you want will make you happy.

I say that that might be so for some people… for a little while… but that I know many people who got what they wanted then found that there was no lasting satisfaction in that achievement. Often, however well they do as far as their external circumstances go, there is a sense of dis-ease, or unsettledness, on the inside which shows itself in how they feel about themselves, in their behaviours, and the way in which they relate to other people. Often there is a great effort made to try to show worthiness, their value, to parents, relatives or friends. This is so sad because it implies that their sense of having value rests on approval from people who cannot be relied upon to give this for ever, if at all. In any case if the approval is based on prestige or status or wealth or some particular deeds, some factor which is not even symbolic of their particular being… a manufactured display…it’s always unsatisfactory, at ‘one stage removed’ from the one seeking approval.

One man I tell them about started a company determined to make enough money to buy himself a very expensive sports car. He succeeded… but that didn’t quite do the job so he bought another the same, and then he bought another of a different type. None of this satisfied his longing for acceptance, for the the love of his mother, a love for which he sometimes cried.

The factors for the continuity of these symbols are in any case  unstable and so there is also anxiety around losing them or having them outshone or devalued….

In St Tropez the yachts are arranged smallest (with the smallest floral arrangements) near the quayside with the yachts and floral arrangements getting larger as you walk out along the jetty over deeper water.  The satisfaction of some of those in the larger yachts, as they walk past the smaller yachts to shore, shrinks when a massive yacht belonging to a Russian oligarch comes into view… all black glass, black uniforms, black ropes and fenders, but… a botched mooring leaves the onlookers with a sense of superiority. All in all samsaric vision’s not such a pretty sight. Who can be at ease as they squander all this energy in trying to show that ‘I’ve arrived’?

I remember the advertisement of an expensive watch manufacturer which made the statement ‘Wear a ‘… ….’ to show you’ve arrived!’ Arrived where? Arrived at a place where you able to spend a lot of money on a wristwatch…it doesn’t actually say anything at all about your own state.

As for being the envy of one’s friends…what a ghastly idea!

The young friend i referred to earlier had been, as part of an exercise at work, looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
I’ve included a couple of extracts from Wikipedia below… Wikipedia is very handy for this kind of thing but there are issues… one of which made me smile. A famous musician was discussing correcting an error in his Wikipedia entry. It was something he knew very well, something like his date of birth, but each time he altered  the entry it was changed back… he was able to watch this happening in front of his eyes and gave up after the third attempt!


“The term “self-actualization” may not universally convey Maslow’s observations; this motivation refers to focusing on becoming the best person that one can possibly strive for in the service of both the self and others.[3] Maslow’s term of self-actualization might not properly portray the full extent of this level; quite often, when a person is at the level of self-actualization, much of what they accomplish in general may benefit others, or “the greater good”.

From what this friend was saying i think that ‘self-actualisation’ is sometimes being mis-construed, interpreted as having the freedom to be able to shape your life in the way you want. Also, in the model she was given, the higher level of self-transcendence (below) was absent.


In his later years, Maslow explored a further dimension of needs, while criticizing his own vision on self-actualization.[8] The self only finds its actualization in giving itself to some higher goal outside oneself, in altruism and spirituality. “Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos

Then there’s non-dual realisation…when the true nature of self and other is experienced as awareness within which manifestation arises….
I used to encourage myself in dharma practise by saying if you aim for the top you might just get there, but if you aim for something lesser you surely won’t.
However, what if you don’t know that there is a top to aim for ???….or someone takes the top off your mountain…?

Anxious striving in samsara ties us in knots and in dharma practice also it takes us further from where we want to be… the open state… because as we gather ourselves up and apply more effort there is more a sense of solidity and grasping  with that.  I know because I’ve tried it… and become exhausted… but then there’s a  direct invitation to look differently.
“Sit on your bum and get enlightened now” as James once said…that too can seem like a ‘mountainous’ injunction! But he knows the nature of the mind;  his directions are clear as to what to do when you are sitting on the climbing ropes.
Coming across teachings on resting in the nature of mind, relaxing into spaciousness are a blessed relief…it’s always there, wherever you find yourself… and all the busyness can’t improve your true nature, it just kicks up the dust and makes it more difficult to see.

Buddhism and Psychotherapy

Apologies to those of you who have clicked on the link to this talk only to find that it has already taken place –I’d removed the link to the invitation to the weekend…but not to the Friday’s talk which was on this topic.

However the talk was recorded and it is now available under audios on the simplybeing website….this link will take you to that (it’s at the top of the page) and to other audios on this topic.

If you were recorded and are happy to have your contribution shared that’s lovely, thank you… if not just let me know and i’ll remove it. [I sent an email to go around about this earlier but part of its contents got lost in the email-mill, apologies again!]

Killing the right one…

Close-up_of_a_blue_and_pink_Morning_Glory_flowerI can remember James saying, relating a conversation with someone very troubled,’ Oh sister (or brother)… you are wanting to kill the wrong one!’

This was his unspoken response to someone who was so angry that they wanted to kill someone – the someone they saw as the creator of their suffering.  Linked with this is the unexamined belief that the death of that person would make them happy healed whole again… that this death would be appropriate and perhaps the only way for them to move on through life.

I recently spent time with someone who now has quite wonderful circumstances compared with what they were when I first met him. However these improved circumstances have given space for the dominance in thinking about a wrong which was perpetrated in the past. This person strongly believes that they were cheated of what was rightfully theirs and now they are running this thought to the point where they’re using alcohol to get to sleep, to get some rest from thoughts. They are unable to enjoy the new circumstances and heading for further trouble… given a gun they would happily kill the perpetrator. It’s very sad.

A lady I met on the train told me she had been robbed both of her son’s life… she had assumed his would naturally extending past her own, and also by her sister on her mum’s death. These events had shocked her to the core as she saw it… and she was still shaking. She was heading off for some ‘retail therapy’ with a friend who understood her… and wouldn’t cheat her. I wonder…?

From my own experiences I know about the betrayal of expectations, the behaviour changes which can occur when money is at stake, and about projection.

Earlier in life I had experienced projection without understanding it, then later I knew it as a concept, but later still as an experience which I had to be with, until I could really be with it, unsurprised, undisturbed.  There is no curiosity with projection… no space for the other person to be different from prior, held in mind, assumed certainties.Touch a sore spot and you get a sight of the whole undigested works, everything that has been slid into the shadow, spews out and then slides back into the deeps!

One question is Who is it that you want to kill, are killing – any idea?… when this person is in front of you what do you see?
Do you see their face, their hopes and fears, their potential, their buddhanature….. or do you just see your beliefs stuck onto their image…with the thought this person is ruining my life?
The latter view leads to a sense of entitlement to treat them as objects – bad objects…. the scapegoat for all that’s not gone well in life….and as someone else  is putdown there’s a sense of going up, of power, becoming more important. Also as we tend to collect people around us who are thinking the same way (our ego likes that sense of confirmation) we find that the energy of the group can often take things further than one person on their own.

Hatred and the sense of injustice won’t be assuaged by killing… it won’t bring peace and ease and a release from tension… quite the contrary… but without looking to see the situation and consequences clearly there are no brakes on surrendering to highly cooked up, instinctive, reactive thought.

Little children can understand the effect of these thoughts…
In an assembly of primary school children if you ask them to think of someone they love, someone they care for, and let them sit with that for a minute or two… then ask how they feel in their body… they come up with words like soft warm comfy…
If you then ask them to think of someone who they want to thump, someone they are cross with, and then after a few minutes ask them how that feels in their body… you’re likely to get words like hot tight hard etc.
Mmm…hmmm…. So you see that these thoughts have an impact on you… the person suffering while you are thinking these angry thoughts is… Yourself, not them!

The angry thoughts may be perfectly appropriate and if they come and go quite quickly no harm is done but stewing over them, putting your life energy into them is really unhealthy…living in a stew!

In relative reality it is clear that all actions, arising from a belief in the true separate existence  of ‘I’, have consequences, both now and through time,

Deep dharma, answering the question Who am I?, reveals the non-entitative nature of self and other…it reveals the nature of the would be killer…(who me? a killer??? … well, jailor if you like!…) and that investigation kills, with wisdom, the  ‘I’ as something real and separate. This resolves the conflict…and frees the other from your own projections.
Form is not other than….



Image of morning glory flower :    wikipedia taken by  Koshy Koshy from Faridabad, Haryana, India



Medicine, meditation and mindfulness

fitness2It’s maybe a bit personal – the story and the opinions – it feels a little strange to write, but perhaps this reflection will be helpful or encouraging to someone reading it.

When I was a child my main experience of trouble with health was mouth–ulcers ( lucky me).

In my late teens I added migraines (treated by a giant box of soluble aspirin courtesy of the NHS)

In my early 20s along came tooth–grinding and temporomandibular joint problems, fibroadenomatosis and irritable bowel disease (packets of Fibogel).

In my 30s  a period of gastro-oesophageal reflux ( Gaviscon)  had replaced the irritable bowel disease and fibroadenomatosis, along with recurrent dental infections ( lots of antibiotics), and an event of atrial fibrillation ( a bottle of beta-blockers)  also just a week of depression.
I am glad to have briefly experienced the depression because without it I would not have understood that bubble of bleakness, colour washed out, feeling of the pointlessness of existence.
In one of James’ talks he mentions working with people who are depressed and sometimes catching them out… making them laugh… showing them that it wasn’t a  continuous state. I think that really would have helped, but in my case I didn’t mention it, no one noticed it, so it went untreated and passed by itself – very lucky.

In my 40s… just ongoing dental infections and extractions.
But during this period i looked into my toolbox, the one I hoped would contain a solution to the other difficulties I was experiencing, but inside was just a bent nail.
Then a choice – one way led to the dharma the other to making silver jewellery. Happily the dharma won and led me to the explanations which James gave in the Macclesfield talks about how life comes to be as it is, and the part we play in this. These were revelatory and later gave me the wherewithal to see circumstances more clearly and develop a range of responses well beyond what I had imagined were possible.

In my early 50s with relocation and dislocation came bladder infections and then atrial fibrillation and flutter which had me hospitalised and discharged on beta-blockers for life.
I had been to medical school and had a particular view of illness as just a bodily malfunction but following the heart problem I picked up a book in an Oxfam shop. It was a book which normally I would have been a bit sniffy about  – The wisdom of Menopause by  Dr Christine Northrup. I was a bit snobby about the strap-line ‘as featured on Oprah’ but that was a mistake, all kinds of things can act as tools to open us up…and there’s lot’s useful information within. That health is affected by so many factors…genetic, dietary, societal, mental, familial, environmental made perfect sense. All of this, in buddhism, comes under karma…due to causes and conditions it’s like this…what happens now is the fruition of past events.
I started to read about the connection between life-force, conditioning, and health and thought ‘oh my goodness’ I see… problems with my heart….!!!  and the words of warning … ‘Grow or die’ were speaking to me just as they did to her.
This with many other factors came together so that  later, when i realised my heart  couldn’t go on, in the nick of time, I finally released myself from unworkable circumstances.
Luckily by this point wisdom had been glimpsed, so desperate thoughts could move through, and the great warmth of dharma compassion and support of friends meant that what could otherwise have been an annihilating rupture in circumstances was certainly a very difficult patch… but one which eventually, following the dharma, opened me out to myself and the world.  Heartfelt! thanks to those who helped in this.

So that was my luck in my first half-century. The following decade has been good. Now in my nearly 60s I’m very well and not on any medication though I’m not taking health or life for granted… the seeds of decay will flower naturally!!!

Looking at my life from this vantage point it’s clear that all the medical interventions had an effect on the symptoms yet did not address the underlying cause of the problems. Each ailment was treated medically as an isolated random occurrence  yet each, I would say, was triggered by or sustained by stressors in the environment and by my response, or lack of response, to them – this resulting from the embodied tensions, the stresses and neurotic patterning that I was carrying from the past…the underlying disease showing itself in different ways.

I was recently speaking with a prominent dentist in this neck of the woods who was very happy to include, from observation, stress as a major factor in those recurrent dental infections where dental hygiene is good…  certainly as circumstances changed and I became more alive the infections disappeared.

The situation with the heart was interesting. I had the luck to make a follow-up appointment, not having received one, with the consultant I thought had looked after me. I got the wrong name but as it turned out the right person. He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him, but he decided on conservative measures so I would gradually come off the beta-blockers with the intention of returning for hospital treatment as necessary.  I was very glad to do this as they acted like a veil and slowed me down.

In the last decade, since changing my life, I have had only two episodes of A.F. neither of which required medical treatment. The first of these occurred in the same way as the initial event… physical activity suddenly going from zero to a thousand volts…this time finding myself dancing solo to South African music in front of a church audience!  Afterwards I realised that my heart hadn’t returned to normal. It was late and rather than go to hospital I decided to try and meditate through the night to see if I could bring it back to normal rhythm. An ECG the following morning showed that there had indeed been an event but there was just a slight residue… it was resolved.

The second occurred when a friend spoke violently of suicide or attack and that literally made my heart jolt. This time it took an evening of paying particular attention to the breath, long and slow, and other practices to bring things  back to stability. We certainly affect each other physically by our words and tone of voice as well as looks but in my experience both the impact and the refractory period can be militated by the lack of rigidity/solidity which can be realised through meditative practice.

Mindfulness, as it is now offered, might have helped me in earlier life…brought me water–wings in the swamp, or a piece of cork on which to rest my chin – some refuge – and might have led to other changes… but, being dualistic, could not not in itself bring about liberation from the root cause of suffering.
As I see it, and I have done a mindfulness teacher-training, it can bring about a re-connection with the senses, coming out of the spiralling thoughts… and attention to the thoughts and to the breath in various ways, and some lovely poetry to open the mind… all of which can be very helpful and healing.
The qualities of the healer are important for effective healing to take place and John Kabat-Zin and Saki Santarelli were very good at this, their programs were successful. They offered a high degree of relatedness and also brought a depth of experience, compassion and long personal practice as mediators to what they offered… that’s hard to replicate.
The group work done in mindfulness programs can be very beneficial, but when it is offered as the packaged panacea for so many of the problems arising from samsaric existence, things have gone awry. Recently I heard of overworked, hard-pressed, psychiatric nurses on the point of breakdown being offered expensive mindfulness courses as the response to their distress. It  was no solution…again, it might help with the symptoms but not the cause.

What to do with the opening up which can occur with mindfulness, how that is worked with, is at the root of some of the negative case reports in the media. If it were still part of the well tested training system from which it was extracted there would be the wealth of experience of those who had practised deeply, in a continuity of thousands of years, to rely on for support. On one mindfulness course I attended a woman was crying, very upset by the discovery that she  was ‘not her thoughts’. This distress was met with…. that must be very scary!
….whereas the dharma would say… Bravo! now you can start to get free. If you are not your thoughts (and I am not mine)…. and i am not my body(and you are not yours)…yet we are here…what are we here as?

It’s not that these meditations on the nature of the mind, the nature of the self, are intended to or will in themselves prevent disease… but with waking up a bit also comes more consciousness of ‘locking and tightening up’ and the held, embodied, rigidities. Releasing as you go along and, for example, Tai Chi, Chi Gong, Five rhythms dancing, massage, Rolfing …lots of ways to shift the stuckness can be used alongside the meditation to get more of a free flow of energy through the body…and with that comes a natural increase in vitality.


P.S.Just a smile… A woman who runs a charity shop looks at me and says… ‘Oh i know i should switch to decaffeinated tea!’…. Why?
‘I have high blood pressure’…. Have you cut down on salt?… ‘yes, i don’t have any’.
She’s carrying a few extra pounds and her feet swell up…so how about exercise? ‘I don’t do any’.
She’s already explained about some skirts she bought in charity shop on holiday, skirts that swish, that she wants to fit into.  Ok, so how about dancing? ‘Oh i was a dancer’…explain about the inclusive and welcoming dance improvisation and five rhythms group in Exeter…’i’m coming!’ …..





Cutting through the karmic knots… (2)

alexcuttinggordionknotSo it seems that, as human beings, our sense of self is formed through identifying with a mass of little ‘thought knots’, of energetic kinks twists and shapings.
One little thought, ‘i’, links out to many other thoughts about ‘me’.  By giving these thoughts our attention as being particular to – and definitional of – ourselvelves they become beliefs… and so the knots tighten and seem more solid.
This constructed, conditioned, false, sense of self appears to be the natural, only and inevitable ground for our behaviours…but this is a movement within the mind, identifying with movement, and linking/ knotting together. And if we act with that as the basis – with a solid real sense of ‘I’ as something separate, disconnected from the rest – then one effect of this karmic activity will be to re-inforce these beliefs.

To untie a knot usually you have to loosen it… the space within and without the knot allows for this…then you can see how the loops have overlapped and gently tease them apart.

As a child I spent hours untying the knots in the line on my father’s fishing reels, sometimes working pins into them to get some movement and open them up a bit. When these knots were released the stretching and tension in the line had often caused kinks around which new knots would form, either during the untangling or when the line was next cast.

However the dharma truth is that in the spaciousness of awareness, unlike knots in fishing line, karmically generated knots can untie themselves…completely.

When Alexander the great was starting his ‘career’ he needed to win an initial battle to give his troops confidence. Nearby was the town of Gordia and there was a prophecy that whomsoever could undo the ‘Gordian knot’ would have victory over all of Asia. Alexander saw this as  key to his future success but the knot was incredibly complicated – formed from a number of knots with the ends tucked inside. It had been created by King Gordius a hundred years previously, in honour of Zeus, and it bound together the shaft and the yoke of the ox–cart in which Gordius had travelled into the city (a prerequisite to fulfilling the prophecy of Zeus and being recognised as the next ruler).

In one version of this story, Alexander struggled for some time at the side of the ox-cart trying to undo this knot then, in frustration at being thwarted, he just drew his sword and cut right through it.

I used to think he cheated…but it did the job!

In another version, he simply pulled out a lynchpin running through the yoke, thus loosening the knot sufficiently for him to tease it apart.

Either way he went on from there to win the first of many battles!

In dharma terms cutting through the knot could be likened to sudden enlightenment; removing the pin to a direct introduction to the nature of the mind – You have suddenly changed address (as the Maltese say of the deceased) and yet the heart is still beating.

There are practices for liberation from the false sense of identity – the investigative work around the question of who we really are, beyond the stories we and others hold about ourselves, loosens the grip on the knots. The absorption of  light, dissolving into light, and concentrated diminution of that light into the emptiness of the dharmadatu releases the attachment to a sense of solidity..and the three ‘A’ meditation releases the knottiness into infinite space.
This process is likened, in Tibet, to pulling a hair out of a pat of butter. If the pat of butter is very cold this is impossible to do but, by massaging in the warmth of the dharma, the pat softens… and then, with gentle but firm ongoing effort it is possible. Having the curiosity to look at our selves is essential but looking in a very kindly way for otherwise we won’t do it. We won’t want to look to see what we are up to if we think we are going to be revealed to ourselves as the ‘Bad One’, nor will we bother if we think we are already the ‘Good One’ – we’ll prefer a distraction to finding our true self.
If we know for sure, either from experience or because we have faith that the teachers know what they’re talking about, that  actually there is no ‘Bad One’ to be found, then we can gently proceed with the process of revelation. Unlike with unwrapping an Egyptian “mummy” the result will not disappoint – lightness, flexibility, humour for starters

And once the unchanging ground of all is known, the knotted up–tight ego-self is revealed as a limiting fixation which softens to a function, not a big issue, as the previous reliance upon it for definition is relaxed.
The thoughts relating to that ‘structure’ go free and the knots unravel…deconstructing the  ‘me-self-knot nut–house!’ .