Good Grief!

The late Iain Robinson would, in conversation, frequently exclaim, ‘Good Grief’! This was an expression that covered a lot of ground, anything from mild surprise to outright outrage. I’ve thought of him in recent days/months/years, imagining his heated response to what’s happening in the world. Lots of cause for ‘good grief’s’ these days, ey Iain! In my bones, I feel we are coming up for the anniversary of your death, sometime in July nine whole years ago. Right?

Whether or not those heated responses would be justified, or not, grief itself is ‘good’. I’m coming to understand that rather directly these past days since we heard of Rev. Myfawy’s death last Thursday. Like that tree from yesterday with every twig of it connected to every other branch and twig, one death is all deaths, all connected. Everywhere throughout all time and space, it just takes time (and space) to realise that. It’s a step to know that grieving ends up less personal, more universal. Even when, at the same time, intensely personal.

In the midst of it who goes willingly to one’s sitting place to become ‘intimate’ with nameless blank numbness? But this is part of the curve associated with coming to terms with change. Following the curve on its upward journey, our journey, there is to be found acceptance. That’s integrating the ever-present reality of mortality with the very real practical changes that become our very real, changed, lives.

Death at the door.
Friends, relatives,
lovers and strangers.

Good Grief? Yes, Iain.
Good because grief is
on the path to acceptance.

Not that loss
ever becomes something
other than loss.

Regarding Taking Refuge – Brenda Birchenough


While Rev. Master Daizui (the late head of our order) was talking I suddenly had a mental ‘flash picture’ of a great tree and from the deepest root to the furthest twig flowed the lifeblood of training. This lifeblood was the Water of the Spirit and for it to flow, every part of this ‘tree’ had to be in contact with every other part and this contact was (and is) the taking of Refuge (in the sangha).

This is an insight Brenda Birchenough shared with me in an email. I’ve not got a date but it could have been 2000.

The merit of this post is dedicated to Sandy Johnson who is close to death and for his wife Sue. Go in peace.

Kind Leadership – a Kindle read

There is a limit to how much we can predict the future. Chaos theory tells us that everything affects everything else, and this is very evident in many complex work environments. This does not mean we have to surrender to anarchy but it does suggest another reason for relaxing attempts to control the future. Many traditional cultures recognise the usefulness of being lost. To be lost is to be at a place where previous methods of finding
the way are no longer working. This is a call to find new ways of moving forward. The act of being lost requires us to let go of previous beliefs and this creates a space in which new ideas
can arise. What often happens in this situation is that we start to look around us in a new way. We might re-look at the information we have, or talk to people we have not spoken to for a while, or simply create some space to reflect on the situation. In doing this our understanding can deepen and we can gain new insights into the situation.

This is an extract from ‘Kind Leadership’ by Neil Rothwell, Chapter 7 Letting Go of Control.

Neil, who is based in Edinburgh, Scotland is a member of the Buddhist sangha connected with the order I am part of. This book is available to read on Kindle, at £1.95. I was hard-pressed to choose a quote from this packed-full of useful and insightful practical information and advice. Where ever you are and whatever your ‘position’ there is something in this book to benefit from.  No doubt about that.

Thank you, Neil, I can’t say enough good things about what you have written and offered.

Sacred Idleness + Sad Announcement

Continuing on with a theme.

Work is not required of a person
There is such a thing as sacred idleness
The cultivation of which is often fearfully neglected.

I don’t know the source of this quote sent to me by a sangha friend. Talking of friends in the sangha, this time a member of the monastic community, we had the sad news that one of the monks in the order died on Thursday. We are all, to say the least, stunned. Here is the announcement posted in various places on the Internet.

It is with great sadness that I am letting you know that Rev. Master Myfanwy, a senior member of the Order and a disciple of Rev. Master Daishin Morgan, died at Dragon Bell Temple on Thursday, July 2nd in Tiverton, Devon. For some years her health has not been robust, and in the past week, she had reported to her congregation and to fellow monks that she felt particularly unwell. Last Friday she called the NHS 111 emergency telephone service and then followed up with consultations and prescription medication from her general practitioner; these had somewhat relieved her symptoms. However, the cause of death is not known at this time.

This sudden and unexpected death of our fellow monk, who had been part of the development of Throssel, having been ordained in September 1983, and the second disciple of Rev. Master Daishin, has left us all, frankly, stunned. Many memories flood in at this time; her contribution as a trained artist to the decor in the ceremony hall and elsewhere, as well as her presence within the community and among the lay sangha both here at Throssel and later, since 2000, in the South West of England. There is nothing like a sudden death in ‘the family’ to bring home our mortal nature. Our hearts go out to all those who grieve, and for those who have been deeply impacted by this news.

If you would like to share a personal memory please leave a comment on the Throssel blog where others can appreciate the breadth and depth of this big-hearted person. Yes, big-hearted, compassionate and wise and sometimes very forthright! All those aspects and more combined to form the Buddhist monk, Hōun Myfanwy. She will be missed by many.
In gassho

Being Nobody, Going Nowhere!

This poem by Emily Dickinson heads the home page of Rita Brady Kiefer’s website, more on her another time. I have bumped into it in a number of places and each time I’m left in a thoughtful mood.

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d banish us – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog —
To tell your name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!”
– Emily Dickinson

Being a shy sensitive youngster I longed to have an identity and at the time that was connected to what I did. ‘What do you do’? was the question I would dread as I struggled to be invisible in the public space! Then it was a common make-conversation opener when sitting on a train or bus, now most people are looking at a screen rather than at each other. Teenagers struggle to be something or somebody, to have an answer as much for themselves as curious others. I wanted my answer to be a casual, ‘Oh, I’m a photographer!’ In time, a long time, I could honestly use that as an answer but by then I didn’t need it. I knew I was a multiple me and nobody wants chapter and verse, at a bus stop!

Fast forward through the decades, now when asked I can say ‘a monastic’, (surrounded by Northumbrian bog)! Identity, apart from ‘function’, is so tied up with appearance, how our face is. Photography is in the hands of everybody, everywhere, anytime. Screens, especially at the moment when less in outdoor public space or indoors for that matter, has become how we know people. How we make contact. For those who have used Zoom, or group Skype or other means of joining online using a webcam, there you are face and shoulders with a ‘sneak peek’ into the life behind the image. On big Webinars, there are multiple screens to scroll through to see ‘who is there’. No questions asked or needing to be answered. At the moment for so many people having contact is to see, and speak to a moving image. Which is both close-up and at a distance on a glass screen. To go deeper than surface appearance is all guesswork, more or less.

The other day I had a photograph of myself ‘taken’ for the booklet of printed photographs we have available for visiting guests although, needless to say, we are not open to live guests, for the moment. This book of faces means visitors can learn the monk’s names which is all part of connecting with the community, and the practice and teaching here at Throssel. Little did I realize uploading this photograph here and in other online places I frequent (Facebook as hounmugo for example) I’d get the multiple responses that I have.

How public – like a Frog —
To tell your name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

With thanks to all those 67, and still counting, people who have responded to that image. It doesn’t cause me to think I am ‘somebody’ going ‘somewhere’. Nor on the other hand, am I, or anybody reading this, a nobody with no direction to life. That would be a sad, sad thing.