Category Archives: Daily Life

Step Out – Three

THIS POST WAS FIRST PUBLISHED MAY 2011.
Day three in this epic series that has me staying up far too late into the night. Here is the second part of my personal mantra of uplift.

Step out!
Step out and the Great Earth,
Leaps joyfully.

(It is said that the Great Earth is the foundation of gratitude and refers to the fundamental ground of Everything.)

In Rules For Meditation Zen Master Dogen states, if your first step is false, you will immediately stumble. To point out the obvious, if you are not looking where you’re going you are quite likely to not only stumble, you’ll fall over! Eventually. There is something fundamental being pointed out, although rather often the obvious practical aspect can get lost sight of. The question is where exactly are you coming from. What is going on behind the eyes which receive that which enters them? Specifically, what is the basic underlying intention behind one’s actions? On what basis does one choose to point one’s toes in this direction, rather than another?

The sixteen Buddhist Precepts are regarded as the basic principles by which one guides one’s life. Not as a rule book, although specifics on what is simply not on are important, more as an underlying intention. The fundamental intention is then to keep true to the Precepts. The only way to do that, having studied to the point of them being ones life blood, is to SIT. To meditate while walking, sitting, talking, bending, driving, cooking, thinking. In other words to be stilled and reflective within all the countless ways we engage in action, all of our days. The essence of the Precepts are found in the Three Pure Precepts; to refrain from harmful habitual actions of body, mouth and mind, to direct oneself to the good (a good beyond the opposites of good/bad) and to be/do good for others. Another way of putting that last one might be to not act like you are the only person left in the universe! We all have to start somewhere with Preceptual living so having the intention to be the best person you can be is a great intention. Once fully committed to them there is a way that we are brought to honour our pure intentions. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later. Sometimes much later. In the end good prevails.

The following is an affirmation.

The Great Earth does leap with joy
as we step out with
great intention.

Engaging with the world through our senses,
embraced and embracing,
how could there not be gratitude.
Really?

Today’s letting go is the letting go of looking down. Literally having one’s eyes downcast as one steps out. For some of us, some of the time, to lever one’s eyes off the ground and to have them seeing ahead can be THE hardest and most painful act imaginable. I wish I could find the email somebody sent me describing the utter torture of raising his eyes in this way, and keeping on walking. And keeping on looking up when looking down feels safer, more comfortable, more normal. Try it. In addition, while looking where you are going try deliberately bringing in peripheral vision (go wide-screen) this helps to ease off on that hard-edged staring ahead if that’s your habit.

As you step out, make a move in life, speak out, speak up, shift inwardly and outwardly or in any other way one might step out – look up! Engaging with what is actually before you, with clear intention behind your eyes, you might be amazed to find anxiety and worry have deserted you. For me looking down, literally, indicates that I’ve something on my mind. Looking up, literally, however much my eyes slam down again makes me face and acknowledge what’s there. Acknowledging is the letting go.

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Rise Up, Open! – Two

THIS POST WAS FIRST PUBLISHED MAY 2011.

watermeadow_Mt__Eddie1.jpg
Meadow, stream, mountain. (Mt. Eddy)
So here we are, day two in this current series looking at daily life training through the lens of what we term letting go. A popular subject I expect since most of us have been extolled to do that, and more than once. Probably. And I hope it isn’t only me who has puzzled about how one does that. The first couple of lines of my 2005 inspirational poem to myself are:

Rise Up!
Rise up and greet the dawn.

There are a number of references in our daily scriptures to this rising up. There is the talk of a joy springing up in the Litany of the Great Compassionate One for example. The Litany is an offering up, a looking up. We implore ourselves to, Do, do the work within my heart. Nobody else is going to do that. But what is the work within my heart? Getting up, rising up is a good start when there is work to do. That’s getting out of bed (always a hard one), out of the chair, out of the doldrums, off one’s high horse, off the Internet, out of the car, leaving one’s meditation cushion, leave the comfortable familiarity of one’s discomforts. Rising up out of a lake of unhappiness, to greet the dawn of a new day or a new life. Rising up is an act of will, a choice made constantly on subtle and not so subtle levels which can have life-changing consequences, one could not predict beforehand. All day long, all life long there are choices. The rising up of joy is all part of rising to greet the dawn of the next thing.

From The Most Excellent Mirror – Samadhi we have: Night encloses brightness and, at dawn, no light shines. In the laundry room, the other day I was asking a couple of novices where this line of scripture came from, Night embraces brightness? Nobody could remember and we decided I’d probably made it up! As it happened I’d only invented one word, embrace. Meditation embraces brightness. Meditation embraces with encircling arms the myriad demanding bright lights of day, the never-ending next things. And at dawn no light shines! the scripture says. What could that mean? Perhaps this little verse is challenging us to examine our customary, wall to wall, dualistic mode of seeing and conceiving of existence. Of darkness opposed to light, an action opposed to stillness. Nirvana opposed to Samsara.

Thank goodness Zen Master Dogen got up from his disquieted seat and sailed to China. Then came back to disturb us with his understanding. He unrelentingly challenges us to awake and rise up out of our sleep, and as he puts it in Kuge (On The Flowering of The Unbounded) Chapter 44, see Blossoms in Boundless Space. You can find this chapter of the Shobogenzo by downloading the whole book from the Shasta Abbey website. There is a lot in this chapter which I can relate to. In particular there is a resonance with my thinking on the use of the physical eyes and the impact that has on letting go mentally and physically.

Because it is getting late now and I have an early start tomorrow morning I refer you to the posting Worry Walking. The letting go spotlight today is on the use we make of our eyes when engaging with all that enters through them. I’m one who finds it hard to rise from my bed. What I do to help myself is to purposefully pay attention to what is before my eyes using peripheral vision, the ceiling for example or the curtains. I allow the simple sight to enter in and fairly soon I’m ready to move and get out of bed. Somewhere in there, I greet the dawn! This is a soft-eyed seeing, not hard-edged zooming in on something. During the day, at the computer perhaps, have a go at zooming out from the monitor and go wide-angle allowing the rest of the room to come to you. Your interest in the contents of the silvery eye of the monitor may fade as your attention shifts wider and opens up to the big wide world you actually live and work in. Ah! take a breath. Is this letting go?

See my comment also.

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Holding The Space – Keeping The Beat

Note: This was first posted in March 2009. The words, quoted freely here, are from one of our scriptures (Sandokai), keep entering my mind. Here they come again…they speak to this post.

End and beginning here
return unto source
And high and low are used respectively.
Light goes with darkness
As the sequence does of steps in walking.

In the fields, drifts of lambs. Laying.
In the lanes and gardens, drifts of snowdrops. Waving.
Signs of spring.
New beginnings?
Or endings?
Both. Together.

Just now a Ewe walked up with lamb in tow. She walked so close, she looked so intently. Do we know each other, I thought. But I held the space. We gazed on, and there was mutual acknowledgment. Obviously, we don’t speak the same language however, a meeting can take place without the conventions of a common language. At least I like to think that the meeting is not bound to language.

In the conversation over the past days and weeks this kind of direct acknowledgment, with the added benefit of a common language, has enriched my days. Meaningful exchanges? Meaning exchanged. Great sounding isn’t it, meaningful exchanges! But I’m not so happy about using the expression. Two words that don’t really convey much of anything. And certainly not the color, tone, quality or depth of conversation.

We jokingly talk about being divided by a common language – the joke mostly comes up in North America. The same could be said here in Britain too. We do our best and for the most part, the meaning is conveyed and quite surprising, to me, spiritual meaning is derived from relatively ordinary exchanges. And often the most powerful teaching is derived from ordinary everyday events. Not so much what is said, more the way it is said. Amazing! I think that is to do with the sincerity of the listener, the ability to drop down past the words and derive a deeper meaning. Meaning becomes the listener’s gift to themselves.

But this isn’t quite where I wanted to get this morning. Although linked to the lambs and Ewe in the field. The other week while in conversation, with somebody I respect a great deal, he mentioned that I tend to jump to respond in a conversation rather briskly. In so doing a faster pace is set. I was thinking about that comment this morning – and the encounter with the Ewe. And of the many encounters, such happy ones, during these past weeks. With strangers and those I know or have come to know.

Well, I am back with rhythm and music, heartbeat, breathing and babbling streams. Snow drifts turning to snowdrop drifts. And what comes to mind is that while gain and loss, end and beginnings are ever present in our lives it is the small words between the big ones and the punctuation which give us the beginning-less and endless-ness of existence. The no-birth/no-death of Buddhist teaching. The blessing of our lives – the rhythm and the beat, the call and our timely responses. What better insight to come out of my R and R and R and R time.

And what of the term holding the space? Is it not the spaces in music, that fine timing which has the violins or the tenors coming in just so, which elevates music to something grand? How much more so with the music of language and living. Poised with my violin, I’ll come in just so. I’ll not push the beat and so not lose my space. (I wonder if anybody understands what I am trying to say…!)

With fond memories of my Master who would talk about language in terms of musicality. I remember her lesson on punctuation, and it wasn’t an English lesson either.

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The Buddhas Renunciation – Dharma Talk

I don’t do well with the word ‘renunciation’, not one I’d apply to myself i.e. that I renounced (rejected) the life I was living in the ‘world’ and became a monk because…? Nope. (Renunciation – Meaning, refraining from, going without, doing without, giving up of, eschewe, rejection of.) Well yes, there is a good bit of doing without and refraining from as a monk, however for me talking this path, all those years ago, was and still is, about embracing, acknowledging what’s fundamentally here and now. Embracing all of existence, oneself included. Ideas of having and not having, fall away. Or rather the clinging to having and not having.

Last Sunday we celebrated the Festival of the Buddhas Renunciation. This, the renunciation, is pointing to the time the historic Buddha took off to live as a wandering ascetic. Rev. Vivian, a visiting monk from Shasta Abbey gave the Dharma talk. She points out at around the 8.38 minute the sort of question people pose themselves. Imagining, for example, that to do this Buddhist practice seriously you have to leave everyday life (practicing as a lay person) and ordain as a monk. This is mistaken thinking, really it is. She talks about making those big decisions such as ordaining and what can influence/drive them for example. Not the little decisions like what kind of mattress to buy or where to go on your holidays, more the biggies, life changing ones. So when you have a moment listen to this talk.

This talk explores the Buddha’s Renunciation in light of what it might offer us in our practice today when we find ourselves making difficult choices, and what that implies about the true meaning of Renunciation.
Bowing to The Great Unborn, Dharma Talk by Rev. Vivian.

Anyway, that’s enough for this evening.

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Of Marmalade and Mountains?

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

The other day I definately committed to making another batch of Marmalade. A creative act. Once committed somebody, by chance heard my plan and offered her hands to help. Couldn’t have done it without you Jenny. And the first batch of Marmalade? Maria, I could not have done it without you! Definitely committing doesn’t need to be heroic, a Himalayan expedition for example, Although I’d have been game for that before entering monastic life. The closest I got was flying over the Himalayas. Fabulous!


… but when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money—booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence.
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:


W(illiam) H(utchison) Murray, a mountaineer, from his book The Scottish Himalayan Expedition published in 1951.
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