Category Archives: Information

Training hand, heart and mind

This letter, first published in 2006, is reproduced now in slightly edited form.

Dear Rev. Mugo,
I thought I would write to let you know what I have discovered about Trinity College of Music at the time Rev. Master (Jiyu-Kennett) would have been in contact with it, in case it is of interest.

Trinity was started in 1872 by Bonavia Hunt who was deeply concerned by the quality of church music which was becoming poorer and poorer. Trinity was first known as the Church Choral Society and College of Church music. It was open to members of the Anglican Church, and men only! The college started with a view to teaching so that quality could be restored and the long tradition of church music continued. As it developed, the college trained teachers and offered exams throughout the world so that standards could be maintained. I’m not sure of the date, but women were also welcomed in to study before the war.

By 1939 the numbers at the college grew and the college ethos was one of welcome and the doors were opened on Sundays as well as all other days, “to keep the lamp of music burning during these dark days.” The choir was open to those who’s choral societies had had to disband for war reasons. Trinity hosted concerts throughout the war and two concerts in 1942 were given by the children of London county council and Middlesex who studied on Saturday mornings with Gladys Puttick, a pioneer who arrived at Trinity in 1934 and was one of the first to teach musicianship beyond the instrument. She was also the founder of the Saturday School and Trinity was the first music college to have a Saturday junior department. Distance Learning also started to help those unable to get into college to study, in fact Prisoners of War were able to do distance learning with help from the British Red Cross offices.

Gladys Puttick arrived in 1934 and stayed until the 1970s. Three other notable people were at Trinity from the 1930s – mid 1960s. Charles Kennedy Scott was keen on the study of Plainsong and the chanting of Psalms and gave regular lectures and led rehearsals. Dr Lowery was passionate about organs, organ music and is noted as giving superb lectures. The Principal of Trinity from 1944 -1965, Dr Wilfred Greehouse Allt was also an organist who was the President of the Incorporated Association of Organists from 1956-1958 and then of the Royal College of Organists from 1962-1964. Rev Master would almost certainly have come into contact with Gladys Puttick and Charles Kennedy Scott, whether based at Trinity or as a distant learner.

Gladys Puttick gave a lecture in the 1940s and it reveals an approach to learning that often goes unnoticed. She said that music was, “essentially a pivotal subject of education, since it could be the means of training, at once, the hand, the heart and the mind.”

It would appear that Rev Master was in good hands.

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Near Death

There isn’t a day goes by when I am not in touch with somebody who is dealing with a life close to ending. Or a death approaching, soon or predictably – quite a bit later. The usual measure of time doesn’t seem to come into it – a moment can seem like a life time. Hours slip by in a blink of an eye. My own father died January 29th 2000, quite suddenly and without warning, although he was elderly he was fit and well by all appearance. Nineteen year ago. He is long gone…and yet… Still close.


I see friends and family struggle with the loss of a loved one…and I’ve stayed silent about my experience. While nothing but time can alleviate the pain of loss, I can’t help but feel that as a card-carrying member of this exclusive club ( near death survivor), I have inside knowledge that might alleviate a different kind of pain — the pain of imagining the final moments, what might have been going through their minds, and whether they made it to the other side in peace.


Christen O’Brien – Medium

The above quote is from a piece by a person who experienced near death, and survived. This is not rare.

This post is for all those who grieve a loss and specifically for Norman and for Rachel. And for Kate S too. And so many more.

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The Buddha’s Enlightenment

Part of the altar for the Buddha’s Enlightment Festival Ceremony at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey 2018

Last Sunday a number of people came to the monastery to mark the Buddha’s Enlightenment with a ceremony. We sing, we bow, sing some more and offer incense at the main altar. We follow a form I’m very familiar with from having participated in this and other ceremonies for…many years. Thirty something years and I’m not counting.

Like so many aspects of formal monastic life, which I’m revisiting while living at Throssel on an open-ended stay, I’m seeing myself respond to forms we use in our Buddhist tradition (and form generally) differently. That is rather interesting since, heck!, one would imagine ones response to conditions both internal and external would be subject to change! And they are. Conditionable we are, and habits of mind and body do change – in the short-term, long-term and very long-term.

Anyway here are a couple of verses from an invocation we sang on Sunday that caught my attention:

There is a Life beyond the dream,
The dream of life and death.
With naught to have, to want, to know,
IT fills me with each breath.

There is a Real beyond the dream,
Of sacred and profane,
Beyond the mirror of my mind:
No form, no end, no stain.

This post is for all those who find themselves in extremity, physically/emotionally/mentally/spiritually. The above words point to absolute truth through what we term ‘the opposites’. In Zen teaching the relative and the absolute are ‘not two’. Not one and not separate.

On a slightly different note we witnessed, early in the morning the other day while walking to meditation, the moon and Venus rising at the same time. It is said that the Buddha’s was Enlightened on seeing the Morningstar, Venus. Who knows, that was a long time ago and far away.  Certainly caught my attention.

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Unapologetic Discriminator

As with dogs, so with us humans? I’m prepared to run with this.

Attention is an intentional,
unapologetic
discriminator.
It asks what is relevant
right now,
and gears us up to notice
only that.

Alexandra Horowitz
Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know

Horowitz introduces the reader to dogs’ perceptual and cognitive abilities and then draws a picture of what it might be like to be a dog. What’s it like to be able to smell not just every bit of open food in the house but also to smell sadness in humans, or even the passage of time? How does a tiny dog manage to play successfully with a Great Dane? What is it like to hear the bodily vibrations of insects or the hum of a fluorescent light? Why must a person on a bicycle be chased? What’s it like to use your mouth as a hand? In short, what is it like for a dog to experience life from two feet off the ground, amidst the smells of the sidewalk, gazing at our ankles or knees?


With a hat tip to Frank whose emails end with the Attention quote.

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Is it the Pain That Hurts?

Where the Rivers Kent and Bela meet for Morecambe Bay and beyond.

Just sometimes, when you are smack in the middle of some trauma or anxiety provoking situation it is best not to jump too quickly to thinking about what the teaching was/is. But it’s tempting if only to bring oneself comfort in the midst of pain. So it is for me at the moment. I’m tempted to write about my recent dental travails however that’s still ongoing and better left to settle down. If nothing else I’ve come to accept that it’s no good blaming the dentist for my tooth problems and pain. I know where the responsibility lies. Really simple! In the scheme of things my troubles are small.

It is heart rending to hear about the hard places people find themselves in. A woman on the phone today with a serious heart condition. So bad the consultant is not able to do anything, too dangerous to proceed with surgery. She said, It’s the nights that are worse, wondering if this pain is a heart attack. or not.. The night magnifies everything especially if alone. I offered my mobile number. Call me in the night if you need to. Thank you darling, God Bless. She replied.

There is a litany of people I know who are facing or have just gone through major surgery. There are others who live with chronic pain, chronic fear of dying and diminishing cognitive abilities. What stories people have to tell, life lessons to learn. The most compelling story to tell is the approach of death and few people live well enough to tell the tale.

But something remarkable has been happening on Mondays on Radio 4 around 5.30 am. Star broadcaster Eddie Mair has been interviewing Steve Hewlett, star journalist and BBC correspondent and much more. Steve was diagnosed with cancer last September and Eddie for the Radio 4 PM program has been following Steve’s progress allowing his story to unfold with gentle good nature and with tender good humoured questioning. So how did it feel when you were told there was no more treatment that could be given? Asked Eddie, Steve’s response….? Here are all the interviews starting back in September last year.

The last episode:
Steve has had to continue his stay in the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, so Eddie Mair went to visit him again. During their conversation, Steve told Eddie that his consultant had said his liver would not be able to handle any more treatments and that the outlook in the long term was not good.
On a happier note, he and his partner Rachel decided to get married.

There’s a journalist telling his own story as it happens. He blames nobody. He speaks not for entertainment but for education and for uplift. For those who are in extremity themselves or who are beside somebody who is. Guess that covers all of us.

IS it the pain that hurts?

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