Category Archives: Teachings

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.

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Being Deliberately Useless

We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men (and women) are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness.

Thomas Merton

It takes a deliberate decision, and a difficult decision at that, to decide to NOT do something one could do. That is exercising ones ability to choose and it is a choice that can only be made by oneself, alone. Formal meditation is based on a deliberate decision to agree with oneself to not do anything, and then there is the flow of attention, of being finely present. A very private flow, an intimate connecting beyond all reason. We long for intimacy and there it is, right there!

I was thinking of small children when they are found or caught ‘daydreaming’ by their parent or carer and brought out of themselves to ‘go and play with the other children’. So-called daydreaming, being alone with oneself, and thus not usefully being a child doing what children are expected to do is not understood. Or appreciated. No wonder as adults one can feel slightly embarrassed to be ‘caught’ or discovered by accident sitting in formal meditation. Even as a monk I can remember sitting formally in my room and with a knock on the door I’d find myself being apologetic, ‘Oh, I was err…just sitting’!

Yes, we are wired for action, for doing the livelong day. Being with oneself, spending time alone with oneself, not necessarily sitting in formal meditation, has to be a deliberate decision NOT to do something else. Being ‘useless’, resting in uselessness!

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What is ‘The Present Moment’? – Livestream Talk

I’ve been back and forth on whether or not to publicize this afternoons talk I gave via Zoom. But having viewed it I’m reasonably OK with what I see and what I said. Unlike a previous short talk on Zoom where my brain blanked which, I have to confess left-footed me for some time afterwards. Such things happen to the best of us and the only way is to ‘move on’!

Question and Answer

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Onwards to Basics – Audio talk

I can do no better this evening than to point you towards a talk Rev. Roland recorded titled Learning How to Live. It is intended for people contemplating doing Jukai. A week-long retreat usually held in the spring which unfortunately we were not able to hold this year. We title this retreat or have done in the past Giving and Receiving the Precepts. A fabulous rich retreat which I attend as if for the first time, every time.

What remains with me having listened to the talk a couple of days ago is the kind and compassionate addressing of our humanity; habits, attitudes, views formed early (sometimes out of conscious awareness) and in innocense which benefit from tender reflection. The talk is intended for ‘beginners’ but I feel this is good for anybody however much, or little, they know about Buddhist practice.

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Long Longest Day

‘In the midst of darkness, light persists.’ Martin Luther King.

This is for those who, on this day of long light find themselves in deep darkness. Take heart. The sun will smile and warm you tomorrow. And always.

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