Wendy’s Writings

Springing into life… at Emerson College and Oxford

I realise that it’s time to spring-clean and blow the dust off this website…various projects and a pilgrimage have intervened…and it’s so long since I wrote anything that it just taken me twenty minutes to find the password!

Someone sent me an email today asking when James was next teaching in England… so i can see that it’s good to have this up-to-date, supplementary to the Simplybeing.co.uk website.

Today it’s a pleasure to bring dharma spring, summer, autumn, and winter together in a  paragraph or two.

Spring – new leaves will be showing on the Emerson recording tree with the completion of editing and sound improving the recordings from last summer. Hopefully these will be ready for posting in  the audio section of the Simplybeing website ( you’ll find it under publications) in a week or two. It has taken a very long time to get this to spring back to life and you would be amazed at the amount of energy of various kinds… from buddhas and beings… have gone into this, from inception to delivery, all for our ease.

For various reasons I have listened to most of these recordings many times and, as usual, every time I listen different aspects sink in deeper.
A long time ago James alluded to a friend of his who just got a teaching from his teacher every six months…  the friend made good progress –   digesting, assimilating, and then attempting to apply what he had learnt before he met up again with his teacher for something more.
There is an enormous depth and richness to those few days of teaching and i would have liked you to have the full six months to enjoy this before we are meeting again… but it’s, as usual, a case of working with circumstances.

Summer – the time and date at Emerson College is now shown here, as well as on the Sb. website.

Autumn – well probably early winter really, but anyway… will see us meeting up back in Oxford on 8-10 Nov…details coming soon.

Winter – the Oxford recordings from last December are also now available. You can now listen to the public talk  as well as the weekend teachings.

– James has agreed to teach again in Oxford 8-10 Dec. at Gio’s invitation. Further details will soon be available.

I once heard someone sing a song about the yogin Milarepa and his disciples… ‘their meeting and their parting mark the change of time’ …..and so it does for us

Photo credit

Being your (appropriate) size…whatever that is!

Once upon a time long,long, ago… I was meditating, sitting on the grass in the Deerpark at Sarnath. It was early morning and relatively quiet, the light was soft and there was not yet much heat in the day. There were no deer, I had checked that out earlier… the animals had changed… there was  a crocodile instead!

So I was sitting at a place where I had sat in before and slipped into some meditative state. I always used to sit cross-legged with my small pack underneath my right knee and I would often slip the leash attached to this around my leg.

Packs can disappear in a flash, one moment they are beside you, the next moment whisked away.  I had found the advice I was given to put a leash on my big pack also useful in England before setting off – looping it through a chair or table leg to slow down anyone wanting to snatch it for long enough for me to get a drink. There would be some commotion in the pulling over of the chair or table which might help…and usually i had my weight on it too…so this leash gave me freedom from clutching my belongings with security.

So…there i am, meditating…and dropping into a state of being less conscious of what is going on around me… then suddenly feeling a tugging. Tugging where? Lots of different places!….
From whom… Lilliputian thieves!

Very strange  to have some of this gang of little beings trying to pull your pack away at the same time as others worked on removing your shoes, undoing your watch strap, removing your necklace….etc.

They were too small for me to whack at, and that thought did not cross my mind at the time – but anyway it was too muddly – using force i might injure one accidentally… If i had focussed on stopping one pair of hands in particular, another pair might have succeed…

So i just kind of exploded up and out… very, very, big… and they ran away..no harm done.

With the thoughts envisaged as little binding threads, as in the previous Gulliver post, practice of the hinayana in the bodhisattvayana and tantrayana methods can bring about a change in the kind of thoughts or apparent quality of the thread.
With each view, because of the varying way oneself and  ‘others’ are regarded, a ‘revising of sizing’ is required and facilitated.

In the practice of dzogchen, resting in the openness, the variations in focus from infinite to very small, openness to precision, is ongoing and become more attuned.
The use of the syllable ‘phat’  can break the ‘golden threads’ as well as the ‘mundane’; or one can simply relax out of any particular shape or size …….

….becoming more and more shapeless gives more potential for different shapes to show…

 

The little story above relates to the second time that slipping into an altered state had been an unhelpful disconnection from my lived situation. The first time was when my bag was stolen, in a library in England, as i stared transfixed at my first sight of the Simplybeing website… which had just come into being! It’s much safer to be awake, able to take different shapes, than in a fixed or altered state, when moving in the world.

P.S. The crocodile was in my mind…and so were the deer in their pen…leaves were being brought in from the countryside to feed them. The deer park was not as i had imagined!

 

 

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

 

shimmerings

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

flitting…

father-in-law

dying 

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 

stops

 

only when

we stop the conning and the fusion

and then… and then, and only then

in truth,

released

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

 

so,

for that through which life’s blossoms  flow…

 

 

….what is above

and what below?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to sakurachiru for this photo.

 

 

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)

 

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!

 

 

Greed and beauty – The Clock O’Clay

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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…….

Clock-O’-Clay

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

 

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  …..