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.
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
astonishing and multifarious,
the ’empty’ truth displays itself
no matter what we make of it, it’s never something else
for that through which life’s blossoms flow…
….what is above
and what below?
Thanks to sakurachiru for this photo.
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…
As do the movements of this ‘not-so-active’ dog
In 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.
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
‘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)
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!
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.
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
and the words of Paul McCartney’s freedom song Blackbird …..
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.
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.
This 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’…
This 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. 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. 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.
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
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!’ …..
So 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!’ .