Wendy’s Writings

Medicine, meditation and mindfulness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Cutting through the karmic knots… (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Untying karmic knots… dharma, love (1)

16261-62_nuts_for_knots_bow_tugger_copyFollowing on from the previous post…. Understanding both the meaning and purpose of ‘ being tender towards your ‘self’ was a bit of struggle for me.  Though our particular knots will surely be tied in different ways, perhaps sharing some thoughts on that struggle might be helpful.

in James’s commentary to the  treasure text of Nuden Dorje  in the book Being Right Here  he speaks of a kindly investigation into the self.

He talks of making friends with yourself, kissing yourself, and tickling yourself until you start to relax… and then he says… if you become very good at it, you can make love with yourself and you will become all dissolved and then you don’t cause yourself any more trouble!

Blimey!!! I thought when i read that… I have no doubt that he knows exactly what he’s talking about; it sounds good but I haven’t a clue how to set about doing that. That was a paragraph I couldn’t make much sense of for years…  It helped when I realised that the self he is referring to here is the wobbly ‘I am – ego-thought structure’ with which we are prone to identify…and it being taken care of by the hospitality of our true self. Gradually it came together around seeing how the karmic knots, from which the wobbly self-sense is formed, are created and how they can untie.

If someone is all knotted up and anxious…. how would you treat them? Would you tell them they are stupid? Would you order them to relax? Would you tell them that they are hopeless?
Say a child has badly hurt themselves but is so scared that they won’t let you look at the damage… how would you be with them? I think probably soothing, gentling  and tender and giving confidence that, whatever the situation, fundamentally it will be ok,  you can work through it for the best outcome. Firstly though you have to help them relax.

If you would naturally do this for someone else… would it be possible to consider applying the same kind of tenderness to your self? If not there’s something weird going on, isn’t there?

This weirdness might be to do with unconsidered false divisions and certainties – I am an individual and I deem myself worthy of this particular  treatment, so this is how I will treat myself – you are also an individual who I consider  worthy of that particular treatment, so that is how I will treat you. But in fact what is happening here is that I am imagining you, and  imagining me (by applying my biased views  to our unique revelations) and then I am bringing into the situation whatever I have learned, or just feel is suitable, from what I have picked up along the way. Within this view behaviour is dualistic, determined by concepts, and there is no understanding of dependent co-origination nor of the freshness which arises directly from openness.
But, in what is referred to as  the ‘false relative’ in the book Simply Being, this is our normal, worldly, way of proceeding.

Overt habitual kindness is not the most attuned or beneficial way of being, but leaving that aside, if we are practising harshness with ourselves most of the time, as we switch into a different role with others and try to be kind it’s hard to see how that could be a genuinely responsive move. Maybe sometimes, but it is hardly flowing and innate, is it?

There is a Taoist saying about governing a large country ( which is rather what our ego-self resembles, with all its multiple states) it says… ‘like with frying small fish… too much poking spoils the meat.’
All the critical checking of behaviours causes more problems, more anxiety, more sense of being separate and ‘less than’… but in Dzogchen we’re not trying to govern, the practice is to dissolve or resolve these aspects within the infinity of openness. Softness and tenderness to yourself, rather than poking and prodding, are key to this profound relaxation.

If you can be tender then you will be able to get closer to yourself, the defences will drop a bit, and you’ll be able to see what kind of nonsense you’re up to.  Being kind could be seeing  “Oh there  I go again – (repeating a karmically created pattern)… maybe not so useful, done this a few times before”… ” never mind; relax… open… begin again”… rather than the harsh attacking recriminations to which we often subject ourselves.  With the softness and closeness comes the possibility of settling and relaxing the ego so it can let go into its proper place…with the harshness there is further reification of division and separation.

Mistakes are not so serious. if you can see them for what they are. After goodness knows how long of behaving in a certain way patterns are highly likely to recur, even with awareness,  for some time – there is such a karmic/energetic charge behind them. They will release, given space humour and tolerance, but not if we crowd in and judge.

Not putting yourself on the hook, but not taking yourself off it either… is one way James speaks of this in one of the Macclesfield talks. It is perfectly possible to discriminate and see what’s helpful without being judgemental.
So we ourselves are the laboratory for this very interesting investigation – the opposite of a Frankenstein creation. And if we can show this tolerance for ourselves on an ongoing basis, than it’s  possible to bring that forward as a way of relating to goings-on of the world.

P.S.There is now a Japanese robotic Sense-roid which is a torso and jacket which lets you hug yourself by returning the pressure and strokes which you give to it. I haven’t watched the video which is billed as disturbing…
The dharma teachings, if applied, do more than the business… but i think many robotics engineers would have trouble knowing what to make of them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paying tender attention to your cucumber – a Valentine’s day invitation.

In the early days James once mentioned to me in a fleeting sentence that…

…. ‘when i could slice a cucumber…. then i would…grace.’

Both koans and cucumbers come in different shapes!

I can remember my thinking at the time…’Oh my goodness!…so i have all the grace of an elephant!’

Wrong thinking on many counts:

Firstly elephants are amazingly graceful in their movements…

Secondly James wasn’t really talking about physical gracefulness per se….

Thirdly it wasn’t a judgment about me…

…it was an invitation to see/be different.

images

That self-referential thought led to something helpful.

I watched myself slice a cucumber. Very quick…chop, chop chop… and swish the results into a bowl…onto the next thing… zip, zip

I could see the speed…grab the cucumber, grab the board and the knife and get the job done!
Speed and efficiency as priority plus the distraction of  unnecessary thinking (whether off-piste, pissed-off or bog-standard) precluded any real participation in, and enjoyment of, the process.

Yes, the slices were quite even, and no, i did not cut myself… but acting in this way i lost any sense of presence and also the offering of the cucumber…
Its texture, its ridges and asymmetry, its variegation in colour, its coolness, fresh scent, and glistening interior passed me by, as did the knife with its shiny blade, the balanced weight of the handle and its hardness, the arc of the knife as it moved through the air and the hand that was holding it…the warmth and the cool, the movement of the arm.
The way the slices pile up onto each other, then topple over…and the texture and warmth of the wooden board under the hand as the cucumber is slid off into the shining bowl…all these were lost to ‘goal–orientated chopping!”…
The  shape and weight of both the cucumber and the knife invite the hands into a different grips, but this and the relation of the activity to space…and everything else… just whizzed by me…

The task, for me, was something to be got out of the way as soon as possible…? in order to get on with something more important?… but if your practice is your life…exactly which bits, which moments, are unimportant?
If, as within samsara, the next moment is predicated on this one, surely this moment matters too…?

Remembering that it is ‘I’ (my little egoic thought–structure) who says this moment is ‘special’ or ‘rubbish’  could i move from this towards fully seeing each moment just it as it is?
It’s one thing to read about lack of inherent self-nature in phenomena, it’s another to directly experience the open ground of arisings, yet even then the tendency to impute has such a very long history behind it….

Rather than commenting on my deportment, I think James was positing the possibility of living a different kind of politeness, a politeness which is itself grace; gesturing towards an absolute welcome to each moment in its entirety. An appreciation completed if the moment is fully received…without prejudice.

A  soft attuned participation will surely come with that practice…rather than rushing through and pushing on…on to the next…and the next.   Each moment is entire; it is there just for you…as a revelation of the creativity of your mind.

Washing floors, opening doors,
taking the lid off the milk or cutting silk..
Present or absent? awake or asleep?
Noticing, noticing…the sense of separation… then remembering…the form and the senses are always ‘becoming’ together with everything…yet not becoming any ‘thing’ as such… within your unborn awareness.

If self and other come into being together a gentle enquiry could be appropriate….how friendly are you with the potato?….how tender towards your self?  

 

 

Gift-horses…coming and going


image-of-polio-virusWell if this ‘blog’ were about cats, with cute pictures of them crawling over the PC or dancing on the table then millions of people would enjoy…

As I’m able to see how many people look at this site (whether or not they enjoy it or find it helpful is a mystery) …i know it is not like Cats…  but it’s enough to make me feel that it’s worthwhile. I haven’t written for a bit as I did a little retreat over Christmas and then had the pleasure of entertaining the local virus in bed… interesting shapes they come in…(see left).

This was an ordinary kind of virus (rather than one of man’s engineered new ‘life forms’ – virus +injected DNA) and  dealt with by the immune system in its own good time. However because I use a voice recognition system – my typing is so slow – writing this was impossible for some time as it didn’t recognise my voice.

So I had some time to just be properly quiet… no point to try and do anything.

There I am propped up in bed… and happy, delighting in the fact that for dharma practitioners everything is an opportunity for practice. Being a bit woozy and just sitting up and meditating for hours was a situation occasioned by a virus…so thank you virus!

There are teachings e.g. from my mother… and the zen tradition (and dzogchen in a way) which suggests you say Thank You! for everything.  You do not ‘look a gift-horse in the mouth!’ Whatever it is…its this, and its here for you…’whether you like it or not’.

‘Whether you like it or not’ is what makes this tricky to practice…
It gets easier when you see that your opinion is kind of irrelevant; that you have choices around making this the main event; and that what you make of it can go many ways – depending on your karmic or dharmic outlook!

I used to be quite irritated by people who would announce ‘it’s a gift!’ into the face of someone who was struggling with an event. I don’t think that’s at all helpful, but if you know for yourself how to change your perspective when you are ‘sinking’  then you have options.

Saying ‘Thank you’, mentally or verbally, slows down the immediate reactivity and gives space to put the experience into a wider perspective…and more to the point there’s a softening that comes with acceptance.
This contrasts favourably for us, as we experience this in the body, with the narrowing and tightening which occurs with an attempt to reject the unwanted gift… and frustration at the impossibility of rejecting something which has already arrived.

You probably look at a gift quite carefully, with appreciation… ‘I didn’t necessarily ask for whatever this is, maybe it’s really not something I want at all… but here it is…hmm… Well, there will be different ways of working with it’… and with this more relaxed approach… the more relaxed I am the more I’ll be able to see and feel what these possible responses are.

Why is this ‘gift’ here just now, where did it come from?
Well you could probably say something…
You could look at some of the infinite number of factors that brought it about on the level of dependent co-origination…. but looking from a limited perspective you would only ever see a few of these …. so why bother even trying to work it out why, it’s usually far too complex!
Sometimes though it is useful to look, there may be something to be learned, something to change in the way of behaviour to alter an outcome if that’s what you want.
But is there really something to be done?
If so, what is it?… then do it.. If there is not – just leave it… it’s just like this and its ok.

I remember each time my daughter caught a cold, when she was very little, a relative would ask me ‘who gave that to her’? And sounding quite cross about it. I was so surprised by this…

I thought that, if actually I could ‘name names’, would she want me to go round and bop them on their (probably already sore) nose? It was not an intentional gift. But she’s not alone, I’ve heard other adults saying much the same, sometimes in annoyance and sometimes just as statements… ‘I got it from here or there’, ‘so-and-so had it and then I got it from him’, but what’s the point of that? even if they are, in part, correct… you can’t give it back!

The ‘use by date’ of this gift  is also something to look at seeing as you have some influence there.
The cold will go quickest if you take care of yourself – early nights, keeping warm, plenty of hot drinks.
But if say, you torture yourself with a continuous re-presentation of the horrors of the world, in fusing your energy with those thoughts then it’s quite possible that your immune system will also be compromised.
I was speaking with a lady today who is going to try comedy instead of horror for a while – she has been suffering off and on with a virus since October and has become hooked on watching horror films in the evening.

Sometimes you can go all the way around the houses with people who are upset and then find they are not actually interested in letting go of their sorry state.  ‘Well thank you, but I think I just need to sit some more with my anger/ depression.”

Well, I guess if you think you own it, then sitting with your very own ‘pile of pooh’ seems a valid thing to do!

Sure, pushing it away will make it stay (you’ll get it all over you) as in doing this you are validating the imagined ability of a thought, feeling, or sensation to overwhelm you. You energise it by your attention and make it act like a boomerang –  ‘I am going to  get rid of this ‘thing’… (to which I am attached)… so i  forcefully push it away… and it comes right back and hits me… with the same force used to throw it!’

Putting ‘it’ inside an imaginary box inside yourself, which you then lock, is no real solution. It means that these thoughts have an unnoticed continuous impact – it leaks out…  you have imagined a compartment (toilet) inside you which is a no-go area…and that’s not going to contribute to a free flow of energy.

Someone I was talking with recently, who had been severely traumatised, had been advised by her counsellor to deal with fearful situations by imagining a small safe box inside herself and then for her to climb inside it and shut the door!
I was amazed, how could making yourself feel even smaller, powerless and disengaged in the middle of a difficult situation be at all helpful?
It is exactly the opposite of what the dharma would suggest.
As a sentient being, with a precious human re-birth, and having the nascent potential to express the wisdom and compassion of the buddhas, there are many methods available to change our relationship with ourselves and others, to change our way of being such that, relative to the full openness of being, the difficult situation is a small movement – tumbleweed – and so being overpowered by external events becomes less and less likely .
The easiest, though initially difficult, way is just to let the experience flow through without attaching to it…as a part of the infinite dynamic experiential field. Trust that it will go by itself anyway if you let it… impermanence will see to that.

Whatever the situation – the point is to stay spacious and turn the available energy in the right direction, not waste it down spiralling avenues of speech or thoughts that go to nowhere…..

Someone who came to the Crediton group was very taken by the following story… it meant a lot to her and she used it to help relate usefully to the changing circumstances of her world…

wild-horsesIt’s the story in which a magnificent wild horse turns up, quite out of the blue, at the master’s farm high up in the mountains.

The neighbours said ‘Oh, how lucky you are!’…but the master said ‘maybe yes… maybe no’…  which leaves them puzzled.

The horse escapes… ‘ Oh, how unlucky you are’ say the neighbours… ‘maybe yes… maybe no’ says the master…  They think…’how strange he is!’

Sometime later the horse returns bringing the rest of the herd with it.

The neighbours say ‘Oh, how very, very lucky you are!’…but the master says ‘maybe yes… maybe no’ which leaves them completely nonplussed.

A few days later… the master’s son was trying to ride the horse but he falls off and breaks his leg.

The neighbours say ‘Oh, how unlucky you are, what with the harvest coming up and everything, what bad luck!’  the master says ‘maybe yes… maybe no’ which again leaves the neighbours shaking their heads, with much discussion about him and his ‘weird words’ over tea, and breakfast and dinner.

A few days later some guerrillas came through the area collecting, at gunpoint, all the young able-bodied men… taking them off to fight for them.

The young man with a broken leg was left behind…

[Depending on how phlegmatic the young man’s reaction to the old man’s ‘maybe yes… maybe no’ this could be good or bad luck for the master!]

He  had a mind of equanimity….and  maybe he could see round corners.

Within the realisation of the empty nature of all phenomena, hanging a label on an experience and then writing an opinion on the label is still quite possible to do – but it’s not ‘essential’ to have an opinion on everything, nor is the opinion taken to be definitive…or something which has to be pumped into the world.
When we do the work of the ego, in labelling and judging according to some pre-figured thoughts, we loose touch with the flow of experience… narrowing down onto, and effectively isolating, one aspect from the complete moment.  Then, as we judge it we solidify the experience…and get.. heavy!
It’s perfectly possible to discriminate, to recognise distinctions and difference, without judging…(that’s when the ‘and I don’t like it…it’s bad.. and it shouldn’t be like that’ comes in).
Conversely, when we do the work of the buddha we put into question the nature of the one who is doing the judging, and also the nature of that which is being judged.

If the true nature of these arisings (which includes the egoic structure) is clearly seen, this loosens the knots of fear and desire. Without seeking ‘good’ times or trying to avoid ‘bad’ it’s all a much lighter play…

 

 

 

 

 

A timeless gem, a present from the Tao….

This link will take you to the translation of the 9781848375444-uk-300Tao Te Ching done by J.H. McDonald in 1996

This extraordinary teaching is as pertinent now as when it was written around  2500 years ago.

I have come across quite a few different translations  and find this to be the clearest so far…. and I have seen some which are very strange indeed!

This is a translation for the public domain so I believe it’s fine to offer it in this way. I found it on a site, to which I am grateful, but as it was decorated by, amongst other things, a picture of a small tank…..

…. I have ‘re-wrapped’ it for your enjoyment.

If it appeals to you I found some attractive soft-back copies of this translation which are available from Abe books.

No i don’t get commission 🙂    Merry Christmas!

He said……!!!

he_said_what-330It is my pleasure to edit some of the audio recordings – mainly those made in England –  and also the archived material from tape recordings.

The video recordings however, along with many of the audio recordings, are unedited and therefore contain material which given time and facility might otherwise have been removed. It is also possible that there is some material left in the recordings I have edited which may cause, at least, raised eyebrows…not that that is necessarily a ‘bad thing’.

So I think it may be useful to explain some of what i understand about the giving and receiving of this kind of teaching. It is essentially non–dogmatic, arising from the ground itself, for the benefit of those who are listening… at the time the teaching is given.
If you are listening later it is still true dharma and truly beneficial, but it’s different in that its dynamic nature, of teaching relating to and evoked by that particular context, is not apparent.

Within the mix of those who are listening at the time the levels of dharma understanding will vary with their particular lineaments of confusion [i.e. whatever they are bringing  to the teaching in the way of bias or tendencies.]

So in talking with people after James has talked…and in the groups that I have facilitated…I have noticed that some people hear something loud and clear as though it was just for them, whilst other people have different foci.  Sometimes what is fed back as something he/she said – is definitely not what came out of the mouth – however it’s what the person ‘heard’ and sometimes this is useful…but sometimes the change has been made by the recipient so that it fits in with their current beliefs.  Also, adding to the mystery of this process, i know that i have ‘heard’ material which checked out with James… but is not on the recordings.

Whole chunks of teaching can also just slide by if the key to access them is missing or as consequence of distraction  …. and often that which is abstracted, and held to, may need the context and the view in order for it to be correctly comprehensible.

At the time the words are spoken they may be an expression of the speakers mood,  but moods and feeling and circumstances are always changing. So there could be room in our own conversations  for ‘what did you mean by…’ and ‘i understood you to say … is that correct?’…’Is it still how you feel or have things changed?’

My mother used to say “Say what you mean…and mean what you say” …but so often we are unable to clearly express what we mean with words …we would have to go on and on and on…and in trying to refine the particulars of the expression we get further from the heart of the matter… and anyway, what we do say is then interpreted through a conditioned  matrix, or filter, in the others ears.

Teachers also can be unreliable, this may be a selfish act…i remember one teacher advising me that it is ‘good to keep them waiting’ adopting a superior position and incorrect…but unreliability may not be an ‘act’ but a fact – a response to situations which are dynamic.  At a certain level reliability may be a showing of generosity towards the students need at that time – but at some point  questions around the desire for a straight-jacket of reliability based on conventional expectations will arise. ‘You said’ can be met with myriad responses… which do not include ‘i said…. so i must!’…though if being reliable is appropriate that’s also possible!

James once said that a dermatology consultant gave him the simple explanation of the way he worked with patients’ conditions: ” if it’s wet – dry it”  ” if it’s dry – wet it”.  So sometimes a teacher moves to the left, showing that the right is an empty position, and vice versa. If an opinion is voiced it is just that…an opinion, not a defining truth…and someone who really knows what they are talking about will not turn an opinion into a keystone – a belief on which to rest the apparent weight of existence.

Any ‘truth’ which can be spoken will depend on concepts and is a reflection in  relative reality –  so its an expression which may be useful – but is never the truth itself.

Certainly great practitioners can see a situation very much more clearly than is usual but at the same time the relative domain is very complex in its interdependencies, its nature is impermanence and when James first started teaching in Macclesfield he sang  ‘if you’re looking for someone who’s  always right and never wrong – that ain’t me Babe!’… for me that was very refreshing.

In my experience this particular teacher, rather than regurgitating the scriptures… or other’s interpretations of them… is working more  with directly manifesting of the dharma into the energetic field. For this reason he can drop ‘bombshells’  to wake/ shake the field, evoke a mood of playfulness, be outrageous… whatever is required by the situation to facilitate the transmission of the dharma. It bounces off rigidity …though rigidity is not apart from it.

The intention is not  ‘never disturb anyone’… quite the contrary… because it is from our assumptions – into which we have fallen asleep, believing them as truths we can rest inthat a great teacher gives their time and energy to help us awaken.

All the way along the dharma path there are encampments where people feel they have ‘arrived’…  ‘these teachings are it – Now I Know! This is how we should be!’  If they are lucky they will hear the whistle of someone who points out the way around the corner that fewer people know of.

So it’s very interesting to look at what exactly it is that we snag or snarl up up  around… our own certainties of rights and wrong, good and bad, that which we think is ultimately true,  inalienably and enduringly so… then, looking  to see whether there isn’t  a dharma view which dissolves or transcends this.

The Buddha’s later teachings were perfect for some… others were completely appalled…but thankfully, whatever our level of understanding, there are dharma teachings which, if applied correctly, will certainly increase our capacity to act (or not) from wisdom.

 

 

 

Everything you do makes a difference…

Juni_2012_Alte_Fasanerie_Sikahirsch-Kuh-2I was talking with a homeless man who had in his hands an envelope… not bad news as it turned out but good, so good he could hardly believe it – that he had been found a place to live in, a place where he could cook and where perhaps his daughter might visit him.

He had recently been very disappointed as a tenancy that had been found for him was withdrawn at the last minute by the landlords – but that place did not have cooking facilities and this new place was much more suitable.

For many years he had been living alone in some woods. His business had collapsed, it was a small business employing nine people, and in the disappointment and sadness with himself and life, he retreated completely.

He told me that two things had brought him to a point where he felt he could engage again with society.

The first was that one day a deer with a fawn at foot walked into the clearing where he lived. It looked about, sniffed the air, and then eat a few leaves before leaving… he felt accepted by the wood and its creatures – he felt he belonged.

The second was when a teenager detached herself from a group of other teenagers walking over a bridge and came and sat down beside him, beside the river, for a few minutes. She said  ‘you’re all right (his name), you’re all right!’

Seven words… and her gesture of leaving the familiar to sit briefly with the outsider…no pushing, no judgment, made such a difference.

so all good luck to him… and the teenager…and our homeless bothers and sisters.

After Cathy  is an excellent and powerful radio documentary formed of the recordings of the lives of three homeless people compiled fifty years after ‘Cathy Come Home’ shocked the nation (well, some of it!)

“do not take lightly small good deeds…in time they fill giant pot”

Likewise “do not take lightly small misdeeds, believing they can do no harm:even a tiny spark of fire can set alight a mountain hay”

– from The Words of My Perfect Teacher by  Patrul Rinpoche…a book which fell into my hands when visiting my mother in Malta many year ago and is an inspiring, comprehensive and very readable explanation of the dharma pathways and pitfalls.

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image:4028mdk09 (via Wikimedia-Commons) / bei Nutzung bitte zusätzlich angeben “aufgenommen im Wildpark Alte Fasanerie Klein-Auheim”, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJuni_2012_Alte_Fasanerie_Sikahirsch-Kuh.JPG

‘Note to self’ :

 

Light + concept = pseudo-entity

 

In the speed of interactions in the world – will i remember the truth of this?
[from Macclesfield talk 08 Integrating-the-dzogchen-view-with-basic-buddhist-practice/ ]

Any time i tighten or freeze and ‘make something of it’ i know that i’ve got lost in a situation and fused with concepts, with my thoughts or feelings or sensations.

Reminding myself of the truth on a daily basis with the prayer by Rigdzin Godem means that, for at least the time while i’m saying it, that view in the equation above is operational…but that’s only for a few minutes… what about the rest of the twenty four hours???

Re-membering, re-membering (preferable to being surrounded by body parts!)… form is not other than emptiness, form is exactly emptiness…
So, what is it?…this ‘thing’ to which i am averse?… It’s the flower of emptiness…inseparable from its ground.
And who is this one who is tightening up?…also the radiance of the dharmakaya – impermanent and so ungraspable, arising due to causes and conditions which are themselves impermanent…
Maybe a knot in the handkerchief would help!

Maybe… but this is a slow and uncertain way to proceed…where kind of ‘during or after the event’, if i’m lucky, i realise, so there’s a bit of a gap while i assess, remember….  then also there’s remembering that what is arising in me as a response is also empty… and then orientating myself accordingly – according to received wisdom, or that deduced by analysis.

It’s through the opening and dissolving practices in tantra and dzogchen that i can have an on-going certainty regarding the nature of each manifestation, including that which i call ‘me’. Its through these practises that eventually the relaxation of rigidity enables creativity… when responsivity arises directly from spaciousness, from the infinite hospitality.

iStock_000005584686XSmall-300x299

 

Observing a cat, seeing ‘itself’ in the mirror for the first time

 

……a sudden shock, bristling – the hairs of the fur standing on end, eyes widened…

then settling

…relaxing

…disinterested

 

whilst we might think ‘that’s me who’s in the mirror’ – this cat just checked it out

and then

spent no further time on a reflection.

 

 

Doing the ‘hokey cokey’…..

hokey

‘You put your whole self in – you put your whole self in, you put your whole self out, in out – in out, shake it all about… ‘  ‘that’s what it’s all about’.

Maybe this can be a good metaphor for effective practice!… particularly tantra and dzogchen.

Before I went to sleep as a child there were three prayers i used to say out loud.  One was ‘MatthewMark Luke andJohn blesssther bed that I lie on… Arrrrrmen’    and I said the words… exactly that, I said the words… like a rhyme.

I was very moved by the story in one of the scriptures of the pigeon who felt so desperate to help in the face of  a forest fire which was consuming every living thing…… but was powerless to do anything but fly to and fro with a beak full of water from a nearby river… and then died, exhausted. The beak-fulls of water did not put the fire out yet good consequences did ensue… so maybe these little somethings…? So, later in life, in saying different prayers on a daily basis I started gradually to put more meaning, more intention, more energy and concentration into my hopes and requests.

Although I knew that ‘energy follows intention’  as I spent more time in this neck of the woods, with prayers being the best that I could offer into the desperate and difficult situations in the world, and spending more time doing this, I felt the need to ask whether or not it really made any difference. I could see that it made a difference to me as, over time, it changed my appreciation and orientation yet I was dubious as to how much difference, if any, it made outside of that.

The answer came in the form of a question ‘Can you get someone to turn their head around and look at you if you stare at the back of their head?’….    my answer  was ‘probably yes, if they are not deeply involved in something else.’

Really this was deepening my comprehension that however we are, whatever we do, has an impact – it might not be visible but nevertheless it does.  I had previously explored this with people who say ‘ what’s the point, why bother, what I do doesn’t make any difference?’

Over the years of doing the Rigdzin Puja, often as if it were a piece of pleasant homework, sometimes just ticking the box – ‘task completed’– I finally had a lightbulb moment… seeing that if ‘I’ was doing it – even with my good intentions – it wasn’t being done, or being used, effectively as it should.  For a long time I was going…ah yes, white light…now red light…and so on, turning the pages…but without any feeling of a change it was just words. I had to allow myself to become an engaged participant in the activity, to allow the activity to flow through me, to become the activity, for it to be possible for any effect to occur. That also implied changing priorities, giving enough time and space to the practice and engaging ideally at time when i was fresh rather than half-asleep!

Ah well, it takes as long as it takes…

……Put my little self in, take my little self out

in-out, in-out, shake it all about (it will dissolve if I shake it enough),

Get my big self out, let my little self in…

…the whole self i’m in…     oh! the hokey cokey…

With practise the tune changes…… in out, in out > out-in-out, out-in-out…not so catchy!

 

The teachings have a rather different origin from say “Teach yourself Buddhism”…(the first dharma book i bought…and one i didn’t finish – dry bones)…and it takes time and is worthwhile to let the perfume sink into every pore..

 

I was talking with someone a while ago and mentioned the haiku by Kobayashi Issa “slowly, slowly, the snail climbs Mount Fuji”…he felt so sorry for the snail!

…an alternate rendition “O snail! Climb Mt. Fuji… but slowly, slowly” …maybe gives a better sense of the way

As the practice says…and as the Irish say in a beautiful way… ‘Take your time’

 

Bull in a china shop

nextgov-mediumWhen I started with a little group in  Tiverton some years ago James suggested that I could ‘take along pens knives scissors chopsticks and so on’… or words to that effect.

Sometimes, in order not to interrupt the flow, I trust that things will become clearer in time or through engagement… if I asked him anything by way of clarification I think the answer probably was ‘you have to hold them differently’…err…  yes…and???

As I put together an assortment of articles to take with me I had a glimmering of that to which he was alluding. That everything, everyone, with whom we engage – if the engagement is to be the most attuned or appropriate – requires a unique response, specific to their presentation that time.

I could give you many examples of my not getting that right…however I think this one, which doesn’t involve people, is a good illustration –

I was in charity shop a little while back and when  i went to pick up a painted wooden duck, very similar in appearance to one i once owned …  there was an explosion….it was very surprising …bits of stuff went all over the place.

Luckily I managed to catch a little vase in my skirt before it hit the ground and amazingly the other bits and pieces which I had knocked over were unbroken.

I’m not usually clumsy so what had gone wrong?

Well, it was just that I had picked up the wooden duck, which looked so much like one I had owned some years ago, as though it was the exactly the same. However whilst this duck looked like it was made of wood ( I was not wearing my glasses!) it was in fact pottery – quite a different weight – and, moreover, the head and neck came apart from the body… they formed a lid to a pot… and it that was what I lifted up. I had gauged the amount of energy needed and the trajectory completely wrong and the spare energy scattered everywhere.

So  it is with people. If we are confident that we know how the other is prior to meeting them, or if we meet them without sufficient spaciousness to have a sense of how they actually are ( because we are already full of our own ideas about how they are, or what we have to get across to them)   or if we just have our own constant ‘ way of being’ – take it or leave it this is me! – then the possibility of a beneficial congruence is remote…. and the risk of explosions much greater!

Instead we have to keep looking, take nothing for granted, put our memories aside, and have the confidence to be tentative…trusting that we can regain our balance after a faux pas or mis-step/ mistake… and also play a different tune if that’s what the situation requires.

All of which requires a good degree of openness. Intentionally practising doing it differently will, in my experience only take you so far…  it’s the on-going practice of openness which will naturally lead to that ‘fresh cooking’ in the moment… of/as which James speaks

 

This P.S. arose as a solution to a practical –?what is fitting – problem and might just be useful-

I have a fridge and from time to time the drain hole bungs up and the bottom fills with water. The instructions suggest inserting a little plastic gadget (sometimes supplied) or a straw into the hole. This has worked before but this time no luck!

I didn’t want to call out an engineer to dismantle the drain from the back but, looking on the internet for another solution, i got to see the shape of the drain – its straight for a little bit [the gadget/straw solution works for blockages in this section] but then it then curves away downwards.

I wondered… What would have sufficient strength to clear the blockage…be the right width to fit inside the drain…after insertion- maintain a curve in the right direction so that it would enter the curved part…and be soft enough not to damage the drain ?

…a little while later i caught myself looking at the open plastic ring with the tab – the one that you pull to get the top off a plastic milk carton – as it lay on the side waiting to go into the bin…

Perfect!

 

 

 

Fly

Fly

At one time, little fly, you had the freedom of the space

but then your body  nudged against a tiny sticky filament

and in your struggle to get free

your wings and body were stuck fast

” Fly in a net ”

and yet……..

 

no spider came as answer  to your calls

to turn you into means for its existence

and so,  unwrapped,  flying again became a possibility.

 

Why don’t you move?

you are not dead!

220px-Pollenia-sp-Cluster-fly-20100718a

using a lens and dampened brush

so gently, wash away the unseen residue, the glue,

and be a fly, and fly and be….

 

each moment freed, spontaneously.

 

 

The little net of the ‘ego thought’ catches the passing, fleeting thought… the beginning of the forming of a shape…of solidification and reification  “Open… release…. begin again”…

 

 

 

 

Playing ‘Pin the tail on the donkey’….

In the childrens’ game of ‘Pin the tail on the donkey’ the winner is the one who, whilst blindfolded, manages to pin a pretend tail onto a drawing of a donkey…  closest to the anatomically correct position.

Now, if we were inflatable donkeys…of the kind children might ride in a swimming pool (well i’m sure you’ve seen Loch Ness Monsters in that setting…so donkeys are a possibility…

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 18.42.54

….aha, found one… the incredible creativity of the mind!…)

we’d rightly be very wary around pins…for fear of deflation …. sssss….

 

 

In our felt separation – there’s me and there’s you

and we donkeys can make such a hullabaloo
…swapping tails with each other
we say ‘How d’ye do’ but….

we can be quite wary (while holding our pin)
with the thought that ‘the other’
might stick theirs right in…

………………………………..our posterior!

 

In being not donkeys,
the tails are just tales…
and we don’t have that feeling that
we could be nailed.

And, in being (not donkeys)
we don’t fear the pin…
as there isn’t a rump
for the pin to stick in

Just being is us, but it cannot be done
if we spend our time fearing a pain in the bum!

 

This came after a chat about the  behaviours that we do with a friend who is about to be 90…happy birthday Gwen!

 

 

 

Projecting hatred…

IMG_20160512_0001

He is about to hit him in the face with his ringed fist but does this man hate this monk?

Well, he’s angry for many many reasons – only one of which is that the monk reported to the police that the demonstrators (of which he is one) had assaulted another man… but he knows nothing about the monk apart from that. He has his opinions and beliefs ….some quite different from those of the monk and some will be  quite similar yet the monk has become a symbol onto which he can project all the  stored frustrations and sense of injustice that he has faced in his life so far.

As Milarepa said ” you menace others with your deadly fangs but in tormenting them, you’re only torturing yourselves.”

He’s projecting the bad out, onto the other … tightening up his heart, his mind, his body, to mete out ‘just desserts’…. in this case onto someone who would not fight back. Taken over by his afflictive emotion the result of his action is a photograph which has  the effect of arousing sympathy for the monk (not what he intended) and this action will do nothing to diminish his own suffering.

The thinking is often that ‘things aren’t working out the way I think they should…and who’s fault is that – well it’s their fault’… So if we punish them or get rid of them that will make things better… right?!!

Has this ever worked?

No…. because it’s never just one person’s or groups’ fault that a situation as it is. In relative reality each situation arises due to a concatenation of events, many many factors have to come together for its occurrence…. and it is then interpreted through our own mental filters and mixed with our concepts and prejudices.

Opinions arising from this process cannot be taken as reliable. The ‘alien other’ has the same nature as ourselves and deep buddhist practice is very much about working with the enemy within… the grasping onto a fixed sense of ‘I’ with all that arises from that.

As that felt sense of separation, feeling oneself to be a separate  self–existing entity, starts to dissolve then tolerance of difference increases and aversion decreases, and situations become more workable.  There is more appreciation of the showing of different forms – the radiance of the mind, empty of inherent self–existence.

…here’s a bit more  from Milarepa

If hate reigns supreme, it chains us to hell.

Great avarice opens the gulf of eternal hunger.

Dulll ignorance makes us no better than animals.

Growing passion ties us to the world of men.

If jealousy takes root, it leads to the realm of warring gods.

Overbearing pride traps us in the land of the heavens.

These are the six fetters that chain us to samsara.

…and maybe if you have time check out the latest vimeo  Seeing clearly and acting gracefully  where the internal definitions and anxieties leading to a contraction – as with the result of the recent referendum – are explored.

P.S. It’s hard to see… but underneath the monks arm there is a rather disturbing figure (you can see this if you click on the photo so it comes up big), a little lady who is really happy and laughing  to see such sport…

…its a very different kind of happiness that we wish for all beings!

 

Heaven or hell ? – it’s all in the mind as it moves with our thoughts

Version 2Some years ago I was doing a strict Goenka vipassana retreat in a monastery in Thailand… the sitting for ten hours a day was hard for someone used to sitting for short periods.
Each day I looked around me  and everyone else seemed to be coping just fine – ‘a bunch of crack meditation ninjas’ – and I thought it was just me, so unused to this kind of practice, who was really struggling with discomfort.
There was no communication allowed during the retreat between the participants  so we could not compare our experiences or encourage each other verbally…yet somehow or other a little nun from Korea and I mostly got up to leave the meditation hall at the same time  every evening…

Two days of the retreat had been billed as being particularly difficult – the first turned out to be easy for me and the second was very very difficult, the pain in my legs was becoming intolerable. At one point, fearing becoming crippled due to the impact on an earlier injury,  I was granted permission to use a chair but that seemed to make matters worse as the blood pooled in my legs, so I went back to the floor and gritted my teeth. I have a reasonable amount of willpower and used that to get through  that day… but that wasn’t the end…. there was the next day and more! The next morning, for the very first time, I skived off to the toilet in the early hours of the meditation and after that it was downhill all the way and it became so hard to stick with it…

Then I remembered a teacher saying ‘well – if you can’t do it, you just can’t do it’.
This may not seem very profound but being able to accept that I might not be able to do it brought about enough relaxation for me to hang in there while my legs shook and shook until they settled and I found that I was still practising after the teacher had left.  On this occasion he had walked out quietly without giving notice of his departure… usually there was a bit of a countdown… and I had been counting the seconds believe me!

So it got easier… in fact it got to be pleasurable – extraordinary! – and that was when a big ‘downfall’ occurred. We had been warned not to indulge in any pleasurable experiences if they arose…the  thought of this happening seemed so remote that the instruction barely registered. But then I remembered ( having indulged!) and the world changed – this is the interesting bit.

Prior to indulging in these feelings I had been in a kind of  heaven… albeit a somewhat painful one. The  setting was beautiful with a river nearby. There were flowers and sunshine and a golden dome and starlight and birds and food which was – edible, and  I was doing something I felt to be meaningful.

Then suddenly, with this enormous sense of shame at having not followed the instructions, everything changed. I could no longer look at people, I could barely eat, all the colour had drained out of the environment, it had become  monochrome, grey…there was nothing to wonder at… just my dismal thoughts that there was no point in my continuing, that I wasn’t worthy enough to be there or to do the pilgrimage which was to follow.

Then I thought my way through the inevitable conversation when I returned – ‘so why didn’t you do what you to set out to do?’ ‘Well you see I was in a monastery and I hadn’t done what I’d been told to do so obviously i am not good enough to be following in the Buddhas footsteps… so I came home.’
I imagined the somewhat  disappointed acceptance of my returning thousands of miles to say that…. and thankfully, I started to sound foolish to myself and to realise that this was all part of the ‘growing up’ process… and the world started to lighten up again for me.
In truth I started to lighten up the world, just as before my thoughts had darkened the world. The food, the monastery, nothing much changed while I went on this mental journey and so the truth of – “Everything has mind in the lead, has mind in the forefront, is made by mind” (Thomas Cleary’s translation of the first few lines of the Dhammapada)  became very vivid for me.

I had been swept away by thoughts with which my egoic sense of self (another thought) had fused. Believing in the truth of them any awareness, or sense of presence had been completely lost. Then, lacking spaciousness, i had collapsed into being a ‘no good’ object for my judgmental ego-self. Luckily that little hell didn’t last for too long; thanks to impermanence and karma some more useful thoughts arose which i could use as a rope ladder to climb out…not the method of choice but all i was capable of at the time.
Any dzogchen practitioners reading this will know that any kind of  thoughts can arise and pass in  awareness as an aspect of the arising field …but fusing with them and taking them to be definitional is as wise as jumping out of a high window in the belief that you can fly…
…ah well, it takes practice and growing confidence which was part of the reason for the pilgrimage!

As for not doing things exactly as instructed… well under my particular circumstances  that was quite understandable. Really, as always, it was just a matter of learning from  that slip, letting go of it, and carrying on…and when i did just that i was finally practising properly –not  hooking into any sensation.

Making the mistake meant that I also had a glimpse of the truth that forcing myself in order to succeed might get me to a ‘goal’ but not much past it… it was the relaxation coming from looking ‘failure’ in the face which allowed me to continue.
Dzogchen in particular is not a practice of  anxious striving but of a profound relaxation from which manifestation arises precisely in relation to the emergent field …and as James has said more than once “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”

At the end of the retreat also it became clear that my assumption that I was the only one suffering was completely unfounded – we all were; some of the exuberance and joy expressed  was related to the retreat experience… but quite a lot to do with the ending of it and the release from silence and tension!

The little nun and I hugged each other…

… and then we were told off for breaking ‘Sila’…’good grief’ i thought ‘what have i done now?!’

That hug was in fact ‘right action’ – entirely appropriate – but back then I felt terrible and got someone to translate my abject apologies…

…. however the nun was vey happy about the hug… and we did something lovely with any merit gained in our practice then

…and i hope she is very happy now and that her practice is going well.