Category Archives: Films/Books

Being Mortal – What Matters In The End -(Book)

Impermanence, one of the three signs of existence, has certainly been to the forefront of my mind since I left England back in mid May. I’ve lost count of how many deaths there have been in the last seven month. All people significant to me. Death is certainly a wake up call in terms of realizing the Truth of Anicha. That which arises, passes.’ And who can complain at that. But everybody does.

I have lost track of which month each died except for Grant, my luminous friend, in Vancouver. He was the first to go and it was late August. Bless him. The date eludes me though. And my Dharma Brother Alexis Clouds and Water, tragically killed in a car accident. In January I think it was. He was the last in the procession of people entering eternal meditation. So far anyway. I’ll be here in Canada until March 12th.

Their names are significant to those who suffer their loss and the date of death will for ever be an important day for those close. The name embrace our memory of them. The highs and the lows and the laughs in between. What has captured my attention in particular is life itself as it flows along on the river of our mortality.  Not in terms of ‘making the most of it’ more a growing appreciation. The moving towards what is yet to unfold and that life need not be counted away as a litany of lose more an understanding of that which arises, passes.  Ant that’s not a problem!

From the moment one enters the world until the end there is a level to our beholding existence and towards the end of life the encounter deepens. That is as it should be if we gave ourselves half a chance and allowed time and space to write the end chapter of our lives to amount to something greater than loss and limitation. Would that not be amazing!

I have been drawn to reading about end of life experiences. There are so many books around which speak of the last months, days and hours before physical death. We have all had our own experience with this when being around the terminally ill, the elderly and the like. Here is a quote from the current book I am looking at. As is pointed out in the quote below ‘the ending matters’.

In favoring the moment of intense joy over steady happiness, the remembering self is hardly always wise. “An inconsistency is built into the design of our minds,” Kahneman observes. “We have strong preferences about the duration of our experiences of pain and pleasure. We want pain to be brief and pleasure to last. But our memory … has evolved to represent the most intense moment of an episode of pain or pleasure (the peak) and the feelings when the episode was at its end. A memory that neglects duration will not serve our preference for long pleasure and short pains.” When our time is limited and we are uncertain about how best to serve our priorities, we are forced to deal with the fact that both the experiencing self and the remembering self matter. We do not want to endure long pain and short pleasure. Yet certain pleasures can make enduring suffering worthwhile. The peaks are important, and so is the ending.”

― Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Oscar – therapy cat. Video

An elderly woman died
this very morning.
A cat curled up
beside her feet.
The cat
insisted.

RIP
Mom.

And there is a now famous cat called Oscar who lives on a dementia floor in a facility on the East Coast of America. He too curls up beside patients close to death.

The book, Making Rounds With Oscar provides a window on all those; family members, care staff, doctors and the patients touched by the devastating impact of dementia. I found myself educated on the subject while being enthralled and charmed by this remarkable cat.

With thoughts for family, friends and strangers who are supporting and caring for the elderly and infirm. And for all that is involved when somebody dies.

Slow Walking The Way

Yes. God’s Hotel by Dr. Victoria Sweet has been a constant companion these last days. I’ve chosen the following quote from a book review in the Huffington Post because the pilgrimage described is close to my heart. Not so much the actual one mentioned here more my attraction to the wisdom of walking. Of taking a walk or journey for a spiritual purpose rather than a journey to get somewhere in particular.

These past five months in North America while not involving a lot of physical walking have been in a sense a pilgrimage. A personal spiritual journey. Where the path has lead, the events and very much including the sudden death of my Dharma brother Rev. Alexis,  continues to unfold with no end in sight. Although my flight back to the UK is booked for early March.

There is an ancient pilgrimage, 1,600 kilometers to walk, from south central France to the frontier of Spain and then due west to Compostella. In France, the path is called le chemin and the route the Saint Jacques de Compostelle Pilgrimage. In Spain, it is el camino and known as the Santiago de Compostella Pilgrimage. But the term that pilgrims for a thousand years have used is The Way. It is a journey of body and soul, a means of seeing, feeling and being that a person unleashes from within: This is a spiritual force, non-sectarian and universal, and a means of finding the purpose and human connection that are as essential to a life well lived as they are hard to achieve (Journey for Body and Soul).

God’s Hotel opens a window on the evolution of our health services and the evolving of the approach to health care. The most engaging aspect of the book is looking in on the very personal account of the evolution of one doctors growth and insight into her profession. From the traditional ‘professional’ doctor/patient relationship to one less starchy, rule bound and pressed for time. Professionalism is not compromised.

Short film in the making

A 2nd year short film project has captured my imagination. The film is called The Priest and the chap behind it is Mathew Herbertz. Here is a brief idea of what the film is about.

In a world where organized religion has become violently persecuted, an aged priest, Father McNalley, searches for a safe place to start a new church. After a long journey, the priest collapses on the doorstep of a family farm. The family takes the priest in for the night without knowing his true identity. Father McNalley must decide whether or not he should trust the family enough to let them know who he really is. Will the family help the old man continue his ministry or will they hold his faith against him?

Today is day one of Mathews fundraiser on Kickstarter. I particularly like that he has posted a short video saying thank you for pledges so far – his dog features in the video and does a great yawn too!

It’s rare for me to publicize something like this. I’m not soliciting funds or support although if anybody is moved to do so that’s great. It is more the wish on my part to support this young man just starting out on his film making life and the thoughtful subject he is tackling. Non of us know just how long Buddhism will be able to be practice peaceable here in the West.

Good fortune Mathew and crew. I hope this short post helps spread the word for you and this project.

Between Quiet and Solitude

Pegasus Books, Berkeley.
Pegasus Books, Berkeley.

This photograph has been deliberately fuzzed. That’s how my mind was and generally is when in a bookshop of any size. I’m an admirer of book covers, the design and fonts used, the colours and lately the plastic covers. Shining paper is giving way to mat flexible plastic. Feels good in the hand. But, I rarely look inside. I’m not there to buy I’m there because the door’s generally open and I’m irresistibly drawn into the cavern of yet to be explored delights. But, I don’t get past the covers, often.

I know a genuine writer who writes real books, which have been published. The most recent one Every Blade of Grass as a Kindle edition. At Pegasus I made a half-hearted attempt to find him on a shelf, his books, but not having my glasses cut the project short. He says that writers are readers and more importantly, for me, that readers are writers. Aspiring to be a genuine writer I guess I’ll have to get past the covers sooner rather than later. In the mean time books covers are lovely.

But that wasn’t what I had intended to write about tonight. I was sent a link to the most incredible story which I’ve been READING, on and off, for most of the day. The title of the news article is The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit. It is an amazing story of a twenty year old chap who camped out in the woods in Central Maine…for 27 years. He survived by stealing food and supplies as well as books and magazines. It is a gripping tale. I was anticipating a sad ending but no. He went to jail, got a seven months sentence and let out on the understanding he wouldn’t return to the woods. He went back home to live with his mother.

When asked what insight he had into life truths while he was alone in the woods he eventually said, Get enough sleep! Then…

He set his jaw in a way that conveyed he wouldn’t be saying more. This is what he’d learned. I accepted it as truth.

“What I miss most,” he eventually continued, “is somewhere between quiet and solitude. What I miss most is stillness.”

Thanks to Julius for the link.