Gloves for Life

New work gloves.
New work gloves.

Warm hands.
Warm wrists.
Unencumbered fingers.
Happiness is mine!

It’s been a milestone day in terms of the Field of Merit project and these gloves will remind me of it. Given by my monastic colleague this morning. I don’t seem to be able to take them off now! There is something special about hand made gifts and about those who make and give them too. Thank you so much.

News of our milestone day will appear in the next post on Field of Merit website. I’ll link to it.

Hanging On – Letting Go

I’m currently dealing with the lifetimes accumulation of a late friend. More than a few times I have thought to myself, Goodness! how could you have/why on earth did you…save all of those…! Fill in the gap. And I have to be careful not to condemn him in my mind. What he left behind reflects his passions and I can bow to that.

And so it is when one’s belongings start to accumulate, it is all too easy to be bound up with self condemnation. Not a good state to be in when sorting since rushed decisions, driven by guilt, can lead to long term regrets. So it is important to have compassion for oneself and that which has gathered around you. Just as  I endeavour, at the moment, to have compassion for my friend as I bundle up a mountain of maps!

When I arrived at Shasta Abbey in late 1980 with the intention of becoming a monk I had a backpack with me and a box of books arriving later by post. That was it! I’d imagined getting to this point of few belongings but this time I’d achieved it. Almost. I’d wanted to be able to carry all that I had, but I was close. On reflection I made some unwise decisions and would have done well to retain more than I did since lots of my belongings would have come in handy later. But storage is the ever present problem isn’t it.

Much is written about getting rid of stuff, about de-cluttering, about living simply with few possessions. Here’s a couple of articles by a woman in America who, with her husband, had to up-sticks and move. In the process she had to let go of, among other treasures, her dairy cow Daisy!

As I sit at my computer, the sun pouring though the windows and a gentle breeze wafting through WeeHavyn, I can’t help but reflect on the winding path that led me to simplify. The process was not always pleasant, but the freedom and richness it has brought to my life has been worth it. Of course this happened in several stages and the first one was sheer terror and resistance.
Hanging On – Steps to Simplify Part 1

And then:

Day by day our load lightened and I began to enjoy the process. I started cheerfully giving things away, much to the puzzlement of our friends. After all, shouldn’t I be sad that we couldn’t keep Aunt Ruth’s table? But I wasn’t sad, I was elated. You see, where I at first felt powerless in this whole process, I came to realize I could choose what I wanted to share my life with. What could be more powerful?
Letting Go – Steps to Simplify Part 2

In my early years we moved rather often. When packing my mother had a mantra, put like with like and when faced with items we no longer needed she would talk about resolving rather than get rid of those things. To this day I repeat her mantra and avoid thinking about getting rid of things. Early learning comes in handy later on.

Engaging with the Truth of Change

Preamble: This post is shining a spotlight on the fact that, realize it or not, we are all active agents in the flow of change and following the Precepts and living a reflective life is paramount in minimizing harm to self, other and society generally. Please forgive me, I am most likely preaching to the converted!

That all compounded things are subject to change is a universal Truth. There is no way out, round or under change. In Buddhist doctrine Anicca is the Pali word for impermanence (change) and is one of three universal Truths marking out how Buddhists understand existence, The Three Marks of Existence. Sometimes these three Truths extend to include Nirvana and are then termed The Four Seals of Dharma. There are other variations on the collective term used.

Change itself is not something we will or want or don’t want since, as a universal Truth, Anicca can’t be argued with, obviously. So when talking about engaging with change it is specific change that’s being referred to. We humans quite often want what we don’t have, and don’t want/like, sometimes, what we do have. That all covers a huge amount of ground both for individuals and within society generally. That’s ranging from the material/physical world, what can be seen and held to, through to matters of the mind and heart which are hard to pin down. Views, opinions, emotions, and the like cannot actually be divorced from the material and the physical, however it can be helpful to make a distinction.

Having and not having, and having a problem either way, is one of the descriptions of suffering – Dukkha. We feel or say that we are subject to change, or (painfully) being subjected to change. Both tend to imply that we do not have much influence on what happens to us and perhaps the society we enjoy being part of. As Buddhists we encourage active intelligent engagement with what comes before us. We do, and rightfully, have a place in influencing the course and direction of our individual and collective lives. The truth of Anicca makes this possible! Without a changing present there is no chance of a future. We’d be stuck with now!

During a conversation I had recently, which originally sparked off my thoughts about change, the subject of the wisdom, or otherwise, of engaging in a process of dialogue to influence specific changes was on the table. Here are my thoughts on engaging in dialogue with a view to influence change. Each person comes to the table with unique skills and experiences as well as a unique world view. Each person is beautiful and blessed with intelligence of all varieties. Compassion, love and wisdom are ever present. Also those around the table carry, as night follows day, a degree of habit energy (karma), which is a universal Truth in itself. I remember in a previous article on Jade Mountains referring to this habit energy as the elephant in the corner, the koan arising. In other words the koan arising and the energy that goes with it can be so obvious few think to acknowledge, and take active responsibility for, its presence. Because it is obvious! That room, whereever debate and discussion is taking place, can be anywhere: be it on-line, on the phone, in the street or via the written word. Never before has communicating been so easy or so sophisticated, and so rife with potential TROUBLE, on a global scale!

We have come a long way from kids taunting the neighbour’s kids from the safety of the woods at the back of their garden, and then running away. Or shouted conversations, often enjoyable ones, across the hedges while hanging out the washing. Put kindly, dialogue and debate covers a multitude of possibilities.

Please accept the following as non-judgemental, just my way of expressing a wish for there to be generally fewer bruises and less blood shed in the world when we are out and about talking to one another. So, I make a plea, put in common parlance, for acknowledgment and ownership of ones personal agenda: it will always be there. Respect yourself and others and where you and they are coming from. And keep a watchful eye on your ethical compass.

Understanding basic Buddhist doctrine and practicing the truths embedded therein stand us all in good stead. And I for one could do better in terms of study. At the risk of sounding bossy or preachy – to be effective, to effect change for the good, we do need to keep in mind our spiritual roots and abiding Refuge. That’s, rightfully, where we are coming from. Here is some reading should you have the time:

The Four Seals reveal what is unique about Buddhism among all the world’s religions. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche said in an article titled Buddhism in a Nutshell: The Four Seals of Dharma, “Whoever holds these four [seals], in their heart, or in their head, and contemplates them, is a Buddhist.”
This quote came from here.

On Jade Mountains I tend not to post directly about Buddhist doctrine and weave in the basics in a conversational way. This is because I assume non-Buddhists read Jade just as much as Buddhist do and it is important to be inclusive of all who come here. The Rinpoche quoted above is from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and the article pointed to is a transcript of a talk given to committed Buddhists in his tradition. That’s good to keep in mind if the approach taken is unfamiliar or difficult for you in some way. Read, if you get to it, with an open heart and mind.

With thanks to a sangha colleague who applied her editors red pen to this text.

Reflective Practice In Action – On Foot – In Derbyshire

A guest post by Adrienne Hodges, click on her name above to view other posts by her. See also my comment. Mugo
Cromford and Highpeak trail
Walking – In Derbyshire
Yesterday I caught a train from Nottingham to Cromford and walked along (actually up then down) the High Peak trail to the Hepton Tunnel. Very cold, very snowy and so beautiful it made me cry. I was meant to walk with my friend but she had to cancel at the last-minute to wait for a phone call from the plumber to come and fix her boiler. I almost didn’t go but I had my backpack ready with a flask of tea and sandwiches made, I was already wearing my salopettes, boots on so just gave myself a bit of a mental push to get myself going (oh, and thanks for the lift to the station, Nigel!).

View from Black Rocks
View from Black Rocks

The walk was very tough, there being two very steep and long inclines. I had intended to circle round the local quarry back to Cromford but the snow was too deep, I couldn’t see the path well enough and I had left my trekking pole at the station. Back on the Trail a couple of walkers asked me ‘have you made it to the tunnel? It is beautiful!’. I hadn’t intended to go that far but, after a chilly picnic sat on my rucksack to avoid sitting in the snow, I pressed on.

Chandeliers of doesn't do them justice.
Chandeliers of icicles…photo doesn’t do them justice.

The photo of the tunnel with its chandeliers of icicles do not do the experience I had of seeing them justice. It was simply magical. Being there on my own, my feet crunching through the fallen icicles, with the snow still coming down outside, was worth all the effort of getting there.

I missed my friend and thought about how she would be fed up, not being able to join me. And it was OK on my own too. I walked mindfully, and I could contemplate, imagine, notice my anxieties, keep dropping those thoughts and carry on, walking and training.

Reflecting – On Being With Dying
What is this all about? This plan to walk all that way in Wales? I am quite sure it has a lot to do with my dad’s death last year. He died quite suddenly, not unexpectedly and from the phone call from the paramedic to his bedside as we watched him die it was… intense; distressing, painful, exhausting and very, very draining. Dad knew what had happened to him was likely to end in his death. He must have realised when the aneurism burst and started to have a catastrophic effect on his body. He certainly knew when the doctor at casualty in Lincoln said ‘Mr Hodges, if you do not have this operation, you will die’.

They couldn’t do the operation in Lincoln; they do these operations in Boston, a sick-making, crazy, drive through the night in an ambulance, with the siren blaring as the driver overtook traffic around blind bends and took corners at a speed only someone with the kind of experience he must have had could do. Despite how close to death dad was at this point and the urgent need to get him to Boston for the op, we stopped. Dad was in pain, and this became the priority. Pain sorted, we set off again and arrived into the hospital.

There was a brief, very brief, moment when I was with him before he was taken to theatre. I thought afterwards could I have said something more? This was actually the last time he was conscious while I was with him. He never regained consciousness after the 6 hour operation to try to fix his heart. Relatives arrived, decisions had to be made. The loss of blood that had occurred over the time it had taken, from the emergency call he made, the journey to Lincoln then Boston, had taken its catastrophic toll on his body. We were told he had probably suffered brain damage, a stroke, his kidneys had failed, it was a miracle he survived the operation. He was being kept alive by a plethora of machines, medication and the gentle, but sometimes necessarily brutal, care of the medical team.

For a man of his age, 86, he was very fit. Of course he was. He still rode his bike around the village where he lived and my love of walking is definitely inherited. So he remained breathing and living.

After much intense consultation and discussion, a wait of a further 24 hours to see if there was any sign of improvement, we were in agreement that it was time to allow my father to die. I absolutely know and knew then that it was the right decision. In some ways it would have been better had he not survived the aneurism.

But survive he did, for those few days. And during all of that time I was acutely aware of…, not sure I can put it into words, not sure I want to pin it down in words.

So I sat with dad; from the moment I received the phone call. I was sitting with him while Nigel drove me to Lincoln hospital. I sat while we careered through the countryside to Boston; sitting, breathing, being with my father, whether conscious or unconscious. I sat with him, not clinging on, not loading him with any desires or my own selfish wishes. And when things became tricky, when difficult decisions were having to be made, when the emotions and distress of others around me became more magnified, in the middle of this, within my own emotions and distress, I went to a place that was very still. A place that training had helped me to find. It seems a simplification to say that it helped me to get through the experience of seeing my father die. I had a sense that I wasn’t trying to get through anything. I knew that all that I was doing was being there and that everything was OK.

Everything - OK.
Everything – OK.

So, this walk is about a desire to achieve, it is about sangha building, it is about raising awareness of the Field of Merit and it is in recognition of training and the deep sense of gratitude I feel.

Homage to the Buddha,
Homage to the Dharma,
Homage to the Sangha.

This post is dedicated to John Hodges.

Great Advice

In a published interview the interviewee was asked what advice would she give to a young person who aspires to achieve the position (in a university) she has.

Don’t give up,
when others tell
you otherwise.

You can do things,
you never thought
you could.