Category Archives: Overcome Difficulties

Chance and Choice

20151121_160442A long time congregation member and reader of Jade wrote the following reflecting on the killings in Paris and her personal response.

The awful events in Paris on Friday evening became known to me as I snuggled down in bed with radio 4 on and then the news started coming in. My thoughts went to chance and choice, how the smallest change of mind and circumstance can lead to so many life changing events some good, some not so good. Overwhelming sadness for those killed and injured and for the perpetrators who believed so strongly that that was what they should do. This coming Wednesday my grand daughter’s class are going for a visit to Exeter mosque as part of their multi-cultural learning. At first there was a tiny amount of reluctance on my part but then I thought some parents might not like their children going to  a Buddhist temple. I’m just glad that there is a wider more open thinking now than when I was a child in Cornwall and had no idea of the faiths of other people.

Just the smallest movement; a last moment choice which has you not traveling a road. Saying or not saying  something that changes a life for good or ill. Agreeing, or not agreeing. Joining in, or walking away. But what is our guidance system? On what do we rely to steer through the day?

I was just talking to a monks here at Throssel. We remembered my father coming to visit who would, on arriving, habitually seek out the Reverend to admire his ‘handiwork’. One time he was working in a remote part of the monastery and sure enough my dad found him in no time. In an attic! I’d like to think my dad was exceptional but he wasn’t. Everyday each of us moves through clear thin air bumping into and moving around all sorts of things, people and situations. We make choices without consciously thinking about them, or aware a choice had been made. How was it my dad consistently found the Reverend when he frequently eluded members of the community?

Well I don’t think we can answer that question in a sentence. Chance and choice play their part along with conscious deliberation decisions, frequently involving rational thought – weighing up pros and cons. And then there is the mystery factor, that element in life when there is no rational explanation for how or why. Why some people phone consistently at an inconvenient time while others don’t. Why you were following a car that left the road and rolled down a bank. You called 911, sat with a critically injured passenger – while up above on the road your passenger directed traffic and kept everybody safe. Why a person who can act calmly in an emergency ends up on the scene of an accident.

And then there is the situation when a person is certain and acts on that, alone or with others, without wavering. Maybe there is a mystery factor involved here too, resulting in good or ill. However our living is played out on a vast stage set in uncountable time. Kalpas. And even knowing this we are called to act and respond now, best we know how.

Join the Joy

Time for celebration

Join the joy
take a bite
a sip of tea.

at a distance
a friends…

Join the joy
open heart
soft mind.

Ah but what of envy and jealousy? Of cold heavy bitterness when others achieve. Disappointment. Diminished. Loss of confidence. Recognition from ones community, hopes dashed. The list goes on does it not. All emotions and thoughts non of us escape at some time or another yet not emotions and thoughts that can easily be shared. What to do? Well join the joy, the others joy.

There is a teaching in Buddhism. Mudita – sympathetic joy, happiness at the achievements of others with no self-interest. One can have sympathy, join in, with another’s happiness just as much as with sadness and suffering.

So, go on, take a bite of that lovely fruit scone with lots of butter and sweet jam which I enjoyed with my distant friend the other day. Take a sip of tea, Earl Grey. Enjoy.

Hum. I wonder if I’d have written this had I been suffering at the news of my friends achievement. Well, some years ago I cried wet tears into my keyboard as I wrote to a fellow monk telling of my utter grief at being overlooked, overtaken. passed by. We say that the ‘sweet dew covers the whole earth’. And so it does. Open Heart, soft mind.

Life/Death – Close Together

This morning tootling along narrow Cumbrian lanes between dripping hedges following the on/off brake lights ahead. Listening to the radio. A road diversion due to flooding I presumed but unprepared for. A 20 min drive took an hour! However, good old Radio 4 had me fully engaged (as well as driving of course) with an interview about death and dying. A popular subject. Here is the introductory blurb,.

David Schneider is terrified of death. In his two editions of One to One he wants to try to overcome his fear by talking to those who have first-hand understanding of dying. In this programme, he talks to Palliative Care consultant, Kathryn Mannix. With almost forty years of clinical experience and witnessing over twelve thousand deaths, she believes that a ‘good death’ is possible even when you are seriously ill. She explains the process of dying to David. This, she believes, if accepted by the patient, removes much of the anxiety and fear surrounding the end of life.

Two bundles of information stand out and I’ll remember them for myself (I am well and fine) and for others approaching death. For those in Britain who can listen to the podcast I highly recommend doing so.

One: The vast majority of people pop off when attending loved ones are out of the room for a moment. It just seems there is a preference to fade out of this world when there is a chance people who love you are not around to hold onto your heels! My mother chose her moment, I believe. My dad and I knew she was close to death in the hospital but decided to go home and finish cooking the Christmas Cake and would come back later. Our return ended up having us washing her body not seeing her breath her last. That was fine.

Two: Kathryn Mannix had witnessed thousands of deaths and the process  followed a similar pattern. Going from needing more sleep to sleeping more and being awake less and less and eventually drifting into unconsciousness and dying. Peacefully. Ones worries about being in agony and frightening people, happens but rarely apparently.

Oh I seem a bit cavalier on this subject but as a woman said to me the other evening on the phone, I don’t know how to put this Mugo but it seems life and death are very close together. I respond by saying I think you have put it very well indeed. This thought of hers and what I took away from this mornings program has me better informed and more at ease about death, mine and others.

The post is for the man who lost control of his van yesterday which then entered the swift flowing waters of the River Kent. Today he was found dead in the river.

On a Deeper Level…..

Flowers bloom in the desert.
Flowers bloom in the desert.

This image speaks of beauty and vulnerability. Something I’ve been thinking about these past days, not so much in terms of appearance though. More to do with those who are alone in their home, sick or diminished in some way.  Many of whom do not have anybody to reach out to. (Your might say they are deserted’) Or have anybody, a friend or family member, to check in on them to ask simply, Are you alright? Can I get you anything? People die in their homes and not found until days, weeks or even months. I heard recently. Imagine? It is too easy to recoil in horror and shame, to turn away. Perhaps inwardly complain about a society that lets this sort of thing happen. or point at families who let this sort of thing happen.

However from a deeper perspective, and from a less emotive one, could it not be that our living and our dying, our flowering, fading, shrinking,  falling over, decaying flow together with impeccable timing. Even the circumstances we travel in and lay our heads down in. And births too. impeccable timing. But on the surface of things, quite often, it doesn’t look that way. We see the suffering and we know the pain and share in it. As is right and good. We are familial creatures designed to take care of our own. And still it is good to know the deeper rest.

Being born a human being, in the great scheme of things, is a flowering most rare. And most precious. We have the opportunity, as conscious beings, to rise up out of our prickly abode – and that’s as far as I am going this night. Enough to say that I do all I can to reach out to those I know who are alone in a prickle patch. Yes, keep an ear out for those vulnerable, who know you. The winter months are hard.

Thanks to those who have sent texts, emails and made phone calls to make sure I am still alive. I am. However the cold I brought back from Latvia was a doozie!

(thanks to Mark for sending in the photograph – this cactus blooms ‘once in a blue moon’! Rarely in other words. And a long time family member!)

Sleds and Storks – and the rest

We had heard tell that it was the custom in days gone by to have a coffin (empty) stored in the rafters of rural dwellings. And sure enough there in an ancient house in an Open Air Rural museum outside of Riga was a coffin – in the rafters of a simple home. While there at the museum, we caught a few moments of a Lutheran service in a wooden church with painted ceiling, scratched around, inside and out, of wooden buildings used by farmers and fisherman and crafts people, buildings housing carts and sledges and memorably – a horse-drawn funeral carriage.

But as we toured the countryside taking in sea and sand dunes, a reconstruction of a medieval castle (circular tower and lots of steps) and a Sacred Oak the large bundles of sticks purched  on top of telegraph poles caught my curiosity. Storks nests! The Latvians seem to hold the Storks, now in Africa, in high regard. Never removing nests when poles no longer carry wires and our guides for the day had much to say about the birds in general. Touching actually.

And the rest? After the history and the culture and the national pride, and not forgetting the fancy (many crumbling especially the wooden ones) old city buildings, what remains to mention? A shop where the clothing was sold by weight! The old women begging for money outside of the Russian Orthodox church. Inside the Orthodox church just sitting for a few moments of peace. The way people waited at cross walks for the little green man to light up before crossing. Civic discipline?

And the modern, fresh face, English-speaking young men who will go far. Contrasted with bent over, looking at the ground, old faces carrying heavy history. Theirs and of a nation.

Basically I fly away tomorrow thinking about nationhood. Grateful to have stability in my lifetime, and to live forward with hope.

My thoughts Latvians. Hope on.