Monday, 29 January 2018

Gone Forever: the Impact of an Unexpected Death



"In my early teens I used to cycle to school with a girl who lived quite near our house.
Jessie was a little older than me. She had gorgeous, healthy, long blond hair that always seemed to fall in perfect folds around her face. She was not beautiful but she was certainly attractive. Neither was she one of my closest friends, or a confidante, but I enjoyed her company on the long cycle rides to and from our college and over the years we had developed an easy going and pleasant friendship.

Every day we had to traverse many miles of road. We often found ourselves pushing into a strong head wind which made the journey seem that much harder and longer. Cycling together, Jessie and I would chat and joke about all sorts of things and the trip felt less tiring. Near the end while on our way home, we would push our heavy cycles together up the indomitably steep, ‘Tamaki Street’ which stretched up the hillside on the last leg of our journey. Alone, this last climb seemed interminable, but when there were two of us it didn’t feel quite so bad.

We made these trips two times a day and five days a week, month after month over a period of several years and because we shared this routine so regularly I seldom thought anything of it.

Then suddenly one day she was gone. I got the news from my sister, who heard it from a friend of hers. Jessie had been instantly killed when a motorbike, on which she was a pillion passenger, somehow missed a bridge, flew off the side of the road and crashed into a dry riverbed far below. It had happened two nights before word had reached my ears.

I was utterly stunned. Then, as the numbness began to wear off, a gradual and painful sensation of having been betrayed swept over me. I thought of all the days that we had cycled to and from school together. I thought of all the hours that we had spent in our respective classrooms, yet I could not think of anything that she or I had done in these past years that could have in any way prepared us for this!

I could think of nothing in my school or home life that came even near to addressing the fact of ‘death.’
The things which I had spent all my time doing up until that point suddenly appeared superficial and irrelevant. It felt as though the past years of my life had all been a dream.

All the days, months and years that we spent in our college, doing our lessons and then all the hours spent after school doing homework, suddenly all of that seemed like some kind of bad joke.

Despite my previous experiences, nothing I had done up until this point had ever really come close to addressing the issue of death. There quite simply had been no apparent place for it in the routine and predictable life that I had been living. But Jessie’s sudden demise completely shattered that illusion.

Suddenly everything felt empty and meaningless. There was something about this ‘death’ that made everything else appear unreal.

That life could be snatched away suddenly was something I had brushed against much earlier, but ‘I’ had gone on, life had gone on and once the old routines recommenced I had been lulled back into that shadow land which engrosses all of our energy and attention with things that we are somehow made to think are important.

That someone I had seen and shared time with almost every day for several years had now simply ceased to be; this was something quite new, strange and inconceivable. Of course I had heard about people dying but that was something outside my own personal experience.

With Jessie, it was different. I had walked and talked with her only days before. She had been so alive and so vital. Somehow to grasp that she had gone and that there was nothing that anybody could do to bring her back pushed through a barrier in my mind and challenged me to look beyond it.
I felt the presence of a ‘mystery’ which was simply unnameable.

That very day I made the cycle ride to school alone. It was a cold Monday morning. Never will I forget walking into the classroom and having to endure the silent stares of the entire class. No one knew what to say, no one knew what to do. Something unspeakably ‘mysterious’ had happened right in our midst and yet we all just sat there doing our lessons hour upon hour without even alluding to it.

In those days there was no pupil counselling to help students through any kind of crisis, there was no support at all.
One was simply expected to get on with it; with the same useless, meaningless grind, as though nothing at all had happened.

When Jessie died, everything felt different in a new way. I had reached an age when my mind was beginning to question and inquire. In earlier years I had simply accepted whatever came along, but now I felt no longer able to do that.

Her death left a completely unexpected, gaping hole in a day to day ritual that we had shared for several years. I found it impossible to accept that she had simply ‘ceased to be.’ The sense of absolute mystery about her disappearance from the world threw me into a sombre mood. I found no comfort in the words I heard in church.

I urgently needed to know what it actually means to ‘die.’ I did not want to hear some secondhand stuff that had been pulled from a book. I wanted more than that.

During that time, I discovered one thing that could bring a sense of relief and perspective to my life. I took to sitting outside at night and gazing up at the sky.

When I did this I could feel the ‘mystery’ and the ‘something’ which is so unfathomable about our existence. To look out and see countless stars and universes helped me to bypass my questioning mind and feel directly something which I could not name. When I looked into the vastness of infinity I could feel at once that there is so much more to our existence than the petty day to day concerns that ate up all our time and energy. This helped me to cope with my grief and frustration.

I suppose that is when I began to understand that the society I was growing up in would not be able to satisfy the deeper, inner questionings that this event triggered.

The intense and actual mystery of so-called ‘death’ loomed up before me as a huge and solemn unknown.

How was it possible to continue on with petty, boring daily life knowing that we all faced this huge ‘thing’ and that one day we too would die? Surely there was something more which we needed to know, something which needed to do to address it. This all welled up inside me with a great sense of urgency.

Western societies are not known for prolonging their mourning. In fact, the feeling one gets is that as soon as the loved one is buried or cremated, as the case may be, it is expected that there should be a sense of closure or, at least, the expectation of closure and everyone then goes on with whatever it was they were doing before.

To me, at that time, that felt like a travesty.

I felt that ‘death’ was not being given its full due, it was being brushed over in a way that seemed superficial and inconsistent with the fact, that each of us would have to face it at some point.

Why was it that no one seemed to wonder where she went or what actually happened to her? Why was it that people were able to believe, so unquestioningly, what they had merely been told? I knew that could never work for me.

It takes some unravelling to get to the bottom of the complex feelings that can accompany the loss of someone who has touched our lives. Most of the time, these feelings are glossed over, ignored, or buried beneath a load of distraction. There are endless ways of not confronting the reality of loss and death directly.

We avoid the confrontation by filling our time with self-centered and artificial distractions. Very often we are preoccupied with all manner of things that are not in the least bit vital and this is primarily how the days, months and years of our lives are filled. All the while, we know very well, that the ‘clock is ticking,’ that our time is running out, yet we are no closer to understanding what its all about.

Inherently we are so much more than we are led to believe. There is a mystery in that. A mystery far beyond the confines of what our day to day ‘thinking mind’ is willing or even able to comprehend. We can get a striking sense of that even very early in life.

Surely death is the greatest of teachers.

The fact is that we cannot escape ‘ourselves’, where ever we go, whatever we do. The inescapable fact of our existence is bound to  confront us, sooner or later and ‘death’ is one of the most powerful ways to bring this before our attention.

This is why it is vital to look more closely now in the midst of so-called ordinary life, with all its cares and distractions, because the ‘now’ is itself filled with immensity and holds the key to the deep, disclosing recognition of who and what we really are.

The now is all that we really have!

Jessie’s life came to an early and abrupt end and she did not know herself  beyond the body and mind and the routine day to day needs and preoccupations of worldly life. But it can be different for us. We have the chance to look inward and discern beyond what appears to be true to what actually is true.

Life gives us a push and in some instances a sharp and hard slap, forcing us to look further and more deeply. We are not bound to believe all that others would have us believe, we must discover the truth for ourselves and the signposts that rise up on our individual journeys are often uniquely and perfectly tailored to help us do just that and thereby, wake up.

May the inward journey for each of us begin now; fresh and renewed with each passing moment!"

*****

This excerpt is taken from my latest book;
Who Lives? Who Dies?
What We Need to Know Before We Go

Thursday, 11 January 2018

The Whispering Ones, Secret Lives of Trees



Tane Mahuta. Lord of the Forest
I was deeply touched when my mother shared with me an experience which she had a number years ago with her younger sister, my Aunt Carolyn. Carolyn passed away several years ago from breast cancer and this particular incident of which i am about to recount took place a year or two before she died.

My mother was in Auckland visiting Carolyn at her beautiful home on the outskirts of that big New Zealand city. The two became very close in later years and my mother often made the trip north to spend time with her. 

The later visits were particularly poignant because of Carolyn's illness and yet despite this they were also joyful visits and deeply satisfying as Carolyn never tried to hide or ignore the fact that she might not overcome her illness. She was honest about it and honest about the fact that she was not quite ready to face the ultimate challenge and yet one could sense that she was nevertheless facing her fears with enormous courage and coming to accept them in her heart.  She took the fruits of this precious 'teaching' into her everyday life with the understanding that every moment was precious. 

There was none of the anger that can often accompany an unexpected and serious illness. Instead, there grew in her an implicit understanding that sooner or later we all must face the 'great leveller' and being an utterly gracious and compassionate woman, she knew enough of 'truth' to know when to bow down to it.

One day, during this particular visit, she surprised my mother by asking her to get ready to accompany her. She would disclose nothing at all about where they were going. It was all rather mysterious.

They put a few things into the car. Loaded the picnic basket and took off into the cool and pleasant morning. Several hours they were driving along, stopping often to gaze out at the contrasting colours and beauty of the New Zealand countryside.

Eventually they turned onto a dirt road and followed it along on the loose metal surface for several miles until they reached a small car-park. Still without giving away anything as to the purpose of their visit, Carolyn climbed out and beckoned to mum to follow.

They wandered along a gravely pathway until suddenly they turned a bend in the path and right there before them was Tani Mahuta. The name was given by the Moari and translates as Lord of the Forest. It is a huge and very ancient kauri tree. 

The sheer size, the silent power and majesty which rose before them so suddenly in the shape of this whispering giant made my mother gasp. It simply took her breath away. Never, in her entire life, she later recounted, had she felt such an instantaneous and overpowering sense of awe, quite spontaneously the tears had begun to flow down her cheeks and her immediate instinct had been quite simply to fall on her knees in homage.

In those days Tani Mahuta was not as famous or as frequently visited as it is today. One could approach the tree along a forest trail that was completely closed in on all sides by thick and towering trees and undergrowth. It could not be seen from the road or even the pathway until one came to a bend in the path and turned the corner. Then it suddenly appeared right in front of ones vision in all its immensity and splendour.

Now there is a wooden walkway in place which carries one right to the base of the tree but not close enough to be able to touch it or  trample the immense roots beneath. These are now all protected very tastefully by wooden walkways and the whole tree has been fenced in, so there is no more the possibility to embrace this mighty giant even if only a tiny part of it.

Perhaps my mother and Carolyn were among New Zealand's earlier tree-huggers and in those days, they had ample opportunity to do just that.

Tani Mahuta, is the largest known surviving kauri tree in the world. Its age is unknown, but it is estimated to be somewhere between 1,000 to 2,500 years old. It is from the Argarthis australis genus of trees and stands today in the Waipoua forest north of Auckland.

For my mother, this occasion was a deeply spiritual experience of which she never spoke without a renewed sense of reverence and awe.


Tane Mahuta
This extra-ordinary world in which we live is a dynamic and living web of interconnected life. How is this so? What is the unifying factor which pervades this universe? Like one breathing organism, our world expands and contracts in a continuous revolving cycle, the very centre of which is unmoving and unchanging. The source of all being is a common factor which binds us all inextricably together whatever outer form we may may find ourselves in.

In this instance, i make mention of 'trees.' Often they surround us on all sides. They are the silent witnesses to our lives and yet how much attention do we ever give them? Most often they are simply there on the fringes of our awareness, present and yet largely unseen.

It is time to pay homage to 'trees.' How they have blessed my life and i am sure have blessed yours as well, is a fact for which i am immensely grateful.

It is so easy to pass them every day and barely notice them at all and yet there they are, the whispering ones...
With complex and sophisticated networks of communication between and among themselves and a sentient life all of their own, they most assuredly deserve our attention.

Jai Krishnamurti asked; 

How do you look at a tree? Do you see the whole of the tree? If you don't see it as a whole, you don't see the tree at all. You may pass it by and say, 'There is a tree, how nice it is!' or say, "It is a mango tree," or "I do not know what those trees are; they may be tamarind trees." But when you stand and look -I am talking actually, factually- you never see the totality of it; and if you don't see the totality of the tree, you do not see the tree. 
Seeing the Whole, from the Book of Life.

As with all things in nature, trees give us another opportunity to witness, first hand, our interconnect-ness with the world in which we live, move and have our being. These silent warriors, are like sentinels guarding the very portals to awareness itself.

All trees are interconnected with one another in ways in which we are barely even cognisant and the trees, in their turn, are connected to us within a vast network of interlinking, breathing living-ness.


Tree Temples
When i was very young, forests always appeared to me to be very lively and mysterious places. My parents favourite picnic spot, when i was growing up in Nelson, New Zealand was a large forest of pine trees which grew on a piece of land that jutted out into the bay, called Rabbit Island.

We often visited there. Whenever entering its precincts i was immediately overcome with the fresh scent of thousands upon thousands of pine needles and cones from the many acres of looming coniferous trees. They emitted the delicate, fragrant scent of cedar and pine.

I always felt so refreshed by this fragrance whenever we entered these forests and to this day the smell of pine needles and the sound of a breeze among the pine trees holds a deeply nostalgic significance in my heart.

There is nothing of the mental in this and yet everything of a direct and emotive experience. I will always be grateful for what the forests of this earth have and continue to teach us. Their wisdom is given so freely and simply and points towards the very highest of truths.

Our forests and our trees are the precious earthly heritage that links us to that essential nature which is present within all living things.
This is a sacred link and must be treasured and guarded.

It is fitting to conclude with the verses by Joyce Kilmer;



Trees


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree

*****


Sunday, 7 January 2018

Chatral Rinpoche and the Importance of Saving Lives

Honouring Chadral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche, who passed away (30.12.2015) in Parping, Nepal.

*****

Homage to the Beloved Lord of Refuge. 
 Your Kindness is as Boundless as Space. 
Merging into the Expanse of Wisdom 
you continue to Benefit Countless Beings...


"Limit yourself to just a few activities 
and undertake them with all diligence."
Kyabji Chadral Sangye Dorje

One of the activities that Chadral Rinpoche undertook with all diligence, was the annual fish release into the sacred Indian river, the Ganges. This continues to take place each year, right at the point where this vast river finally flows out into the Bay of Bengal and the wide open sea.

He began this project in the 1960,s with little more than an old wooden canoe, a few bucket loads of fish and a couple of helpers. Today the work is carried on primarily by his wife, Sangyum Karmala and various sponsors and volunteers. It is now a large operation involving many helpers, a number of boats and many truckloads of fish which are purchased from the fish farms in and around Kolkata and then released with prayers and auspicious mantras into the milky green waters of the great 'Mother Ganga'.

During the 1990,s I used to wonder about the little black pouch that Rinpoche always wore around his waist. He guarded this pouch very carefully as it was stuffed full of various denominations of Indian and Nepali rupee notes which devotees had offered for the purchase and release of fish. 


He was thoroughly scrupulous about the offerings which came in ensuring that all the offerings intended for the fish release were carefully added to the bulging purse. All offerings were assigned to its designated purses which denoted different causes, but somehow the funds for the 'fish release' were always very abundant and the little black pouch was often seen around Rinpoche's waist fairly bursting at its seams.

However, this had not always been the case. When Rinpoche first began this project, he was only newly arrived in India as a refugee from Tibet and extremely poor. In those days he was establishing the very first Buddhist Meditation Three Year Retreat center in the Sub Continent and as they could not afford to hire many workers, he rolled up his sleeves and took up a shovel, carrying, digging and labouring on the repair work site with everyone else.

Funds for the Fish Release were very scarce. One time the monastery caretaker walked into Rinpoche's room with tears in his eyes. He had just discovered that Rinpoche had sold a lovely piece of precious brocade, one of very few items that they had managed to bring with them from Tibet. With these funds he had bought a dial up phone so that he could call Kolkata to order fish and keep tabs on progress for the annual end of year release!

The caretaker was in a state of utter misery a good deal of the time during those years of scarcity. He was always wondering how on earth they would all be able to eat and carry on the general business of very simple living, but Rinpoche was never concerned and always waved him away with words of solace, telling him that ‘all would be well.’

I know that Rinpoche would have given the clothes off his own back in order to keep on releasing fish into the Ganges. In fact he ordered Lolu, the caretaker, to sell some of his scant personal possessions in order to do just this, on more than one occasion.

I used to watch Rinpoche's handpicked group leave from Salbari Gompa every year for this great event, with tears in my eyes, wondering if I would ever have enough merit to be allowed to go with them and help. They all stayed at the house of a Marwari Hindu who had taken a 'shine' to Rinpoche's project and Rinpoche, ever mindful and sensitive about respecting others, was always careful never to take more people with him than was absolutely necessary for the task at hand. He did this so as not to over step or impose on the kindness of a generous donor.

One year, however, I decided to take matters into my own hands. At the time, I was living in a small retreat hut in the forests of the Darjeeling hills and had come to know that Rinpoche had arrived at his Salbari Temple. He had journeyed from Nepal and was already on his way to Kolkata. I did not want to ask for permission and risk being sent back to my hut, so I just packed a few things, went down the hill and caught the night train. At that time i was living at his retreat place at Das Mile Gompa, a small monastery in the forests of Lopchu. 


After arriving in the wee hours of the following morning and finding myself a suitable lodging, I made my way to the place where I knew the release would be taking place. I was able to reach the banks of the Ganges just as they were all preparing to begin work that day.

It was naughty of me to go without his permission, but I never once regretted my decision and Rinpoche never said anything to reproach me nor showed any sign of displeasure at my unasked for appearance. Within an hour i was chugging out onto the river on a funky old wooden tugboat together with one of the Lamas. The two of us had loaded our boat with the help of a band of Indian workers, with large, waist high buckets filled to the brim with fish.

Four other boats, each with two helpers to unload the buckets came and went in a constant procession as we began to release the truck loads of fish that were being bought down to the river.

It was hard work in the unforgiving sun, but we barely looked up to notice it. Throughout most of the day, Rinpoche sat quietly on the banks and watched us come and go. There was such a special atmosphere, like a rain of blessings enfolding the whole procedure and although we laboured for hours with only occasional breaks, none of us faltered or felt tired.

Many times I found myself with tears in my eyes and spontaneously, mantras and prayers flowed from our lips as we lifted bucket after bucket-load of fish and poured them in droves into the waters. The moment of their release was so exhilarating. It was a joy to watch them flicker away like sparkling darts as the rays of the sun's light flashed for a moment off their silvery fins.

As it turned out, the year I went was one of the last that Rinpoche, already well into his nineties at the time, could attend in person and his wife, Sangyum Kamala and others have come forward now to carry on the work.

Just think of how relevant and how meaningful this work, which had such humble beginnings, has now become. This is not just a symbolic act that shows remarkable foresight and conveys a powerful message; this is a living demonstration of something much deeper, which has profound implications.

It is true that the fish in our seas are being caught indiscriminately and in droves and who is giving anything back? Can we take and take without end? But there is also another point to be made and one which needs to be repeated far and wide again and again.


All sentient life is aware and its existence is sacred. The Buddha recognised this more than 2,500 years ago and repeatedly pointed our the significance of this truth and yet we have been slow to recognise it for ourselves. Chadral Rinpoche found a unique way in which to honour the Buddha's teachings. When he released the fish which had been reared in captivity at farms in and around Kolkata he did so with the universal wish that each and every one of those numerous lives would find their way to liberation. 


However, this story does not end here, there is a twist in this tale and i want to include a mention something that happened to a young newly-wed couple who were about to embark on their honey moon in the Andaman Islands. Their story is a remarkable tale that reveals the intricate and subtle underlying threads between the motivation and the activities of those who live, work and exist in this world only to benefit others.

On the day of their departure, the young, newly-weds were walking through the Kathmandu airport, when they noticed an elderly Lama sitting to one side with his family and entourage. It was Chadral Rinpoche, about to set off for Kolkata to undertake the annual fish release.

As the husband’s family members were all long-time devotees of Rinpoche, he immediately went over to receive the Lama’s blessing. During this encounter Rinpoche made some comments which the young man was not able to fully understand at the time. He had asked Rinpoche to bless them on their trip and this Rinpoche had graciously done. However, he had also said something to them that they had both found very unexpected and disturbing.

He had said something major was about to happen and that much life would be lost as a result. As a political conflict was raging in Nepal at that time, the couple attributed his words to this. Rinpoche had told them that he was going to Kolkata to buy and bless fish which had been raised in fish farms. He had told them that he would release the fish into the Ganges and that he was praying that by doing this, he could save a few lives.

The couple offered a donation towards the purchase of the fish and he thanked them and then added that it would be offered in their name, but not only for their long life, but for the benefit and long life of all beings.

It was mid-December in the year of 2004. Exactly two weeks later there was the huge 9.1 earthquake near Indonesia. The massive quake released a gigantic tsunami which devastated a vast swathe of south-east Asia and took with it some quarter of a million lives. It happened just off the coast of Aceh, not far from the Andaman Islands where the couple was still holidaying at that time. The newly-weds lives were spared but their known world thereafter was completely shaken and they could never forget the timely words or the powerful blessing of the Lama.

(This excerpt is from the chapter called Ransoming Lives and is quoted from my third book, Masters, Mice and Men, in the Series, Shades of Awareness.)

*****

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Are Smart Phones Making Fools of Us All?


www.everherenow.com

In this age of smartphone technology most people are distracted pretty much most of the time. Constant inattention can and will have serious implications for this and future generations.

Many people are not aware of the fact that they are almost constantly distracted. We tend to have an almost addictive need for some kind of emotional engagement and smartphones fill this need on a number of different levels, very effectively. In fact they have been designed with just this 'need' in mind. 

Various kinds of social network messaging, digital games, news and or information feeds can keep us engaged for inordinate amounts of time and in one way we may feel more connected than ever before and yet, ironically, the levels of disconnection in our societies and among our young people are higher than ever before.

As artificial intelligence begins to penetrate our lives in various subtle and invasive ways we would do well to take into account what this can mean and how it can affect the way we live. 

There are not many of us who have not experienced the frustration of trying to sort out a problem on the phone and having to deal with a digital answering service.

Certainly the changes now taking place are unprecedented in both the speed with which these technologies are being developed and the manner in which they will completely change our mode of living. 

I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.



These words have been attributed to Albert Einstein but regardless of whether this is in fact true or not, they are relevant and sound out as a clarion call. May we wake up in time and shake ourselves out of our zombie-like infatuation. It appears that a whole, vast section of humanity is sleep walking. Will we look up from our devices long enough to actually notice that we are distracted in the first place and from what we are distracted in the second? 

It is not that this is anything particularly unique to our current civilization. As says the Biblical injunction; 'there is nothing new under the sun.' We may think we are on the cutting edge of technologies that have never before seen the light of day and yet countless civilisations have passed through this earthly realm and the remnants of their passing are a continuing cause of wonder and mystery to many in this current day and age. 

What ever the mind is capable of dreaming up and even what has not yet been dreamed, all these things are possible and can and will become manifest in due course of time, if the will to manifest them arises. This is the innate power of the mind.

What has not changed however, is our perpetual state of 'distraction' in one form or another. The fact is that these emerging technologies can capitalise on this apparent human weakness to target and harvest our attention on a massive scale never before witnessed. We should all be alert to the implications of this.

What we see happening now with the rise of modern technologies which have quickly become seemingly indispensable to the vast section of humanity in just the brief space of a few decades, is at base just more of the same old, same old... There may be a new look, a new flavour, a new brand, but strip that all away and our basic human instincts continue to propel us all in the same old direction.

We can dress up our confused emotions, we can varnish over the fundamental impulses which propel us through life, but century after century, decade after decade and day after day, they remain intact and they are the motivating force behind all that is manifest in this world. This is and remains the case as much now as it was a thousand years ago.

What is troubling now is the fact that this trend is being directed by a by tiny minority. If we loose our 'attention,' we loose our power. If we are not aware of or have never considered what impact the current technologies are having on our human civilisations then it is certainly time to become aware now!

As long as we remain subject to the ebb and flow of our hopes and fears we cannot know our true inner freedom and at this time and in this age we are so vulnerable en-mass to being manipulated by a minority. 

The sheer scale of what is taking place, virtually unnoticed, is indeed a cause for concern. When a minority is capable of quietly manipulating whole populations for gain and profit can we call this anything other than a negative trend?

When a whole civilisation appears to be sleep walking towards a precipice we do indeed face a grave danger.

Is it not intrinsically against the whole ideal of democracy to intentionally keep the mass of humanity distracted by what is unimportant? If we create devices that are geared to monopolise our attention and keep it focused on the trivial instead of the vital we can imagine what the outcome might be.

Don't we have a moral obligation to wake up and notice what is really happening here? It is up to each one of us.

And there is a tapping at the door of our awareness. The inmost core within each and every one of us is trying to get through, trying to jolt us out of our torpor.

Do you ever get the feeling that something is missing in your life?
You should trust that feeling because it is a true one. Something is missing in your life. It's called 'attention.'

If our attention is hijacked by a mobile phone or some other kind of smart device do we not then become the plaything of that device or thinking which has created it? Where is our cherished freedom if our ability to avoid the subtle manipulation, inherent in the designs of modern technological innovations, is woefully inadequate.

There is something infinitely more dangerous about an addiction which slips into our lives unnoticed. Modern technologies exploit people's impulses thereby robbing them of the ability to choose wisely. 

Leunig
Have you ever heard of the term, 'persuasive design'? Until very recently i hadn't either. I have however, long suspected that our very modern deficiency of attention or perhaps we could term it; partial attention syndrome is a very insidious new-age kind of illness with momentous implications. Are we not distracted most of the time?

Persuasive design, is a term that describes any kind of technology that has been created with the intention of grabbing people's attention and holding it. It involves the subtle art of subversively
capturing our interest, overpowering our attention and bringing it back repeatedly to that thing, whatever that may be.

If we are beginning to recognise this trend then it is none too soon. The problem is, that even upon recognising this very recent affliction we are nowhere near addressing and or managing it.

Learning to pay attention to our attention is a very crucial piece of advice. It points to something utterly fundamental about our existence.

Do we really notice what is going on around us if we are distracted? We loose our inherent freedom the moment our attention is compromised. Smartphones are not only very efficient in creating a 'vacuum' in our lives, but they are equally efficient in seeming to fill that vacuum as well.

The moment our concentration is directed towards something or other, then, in that moment, whatever it is that we are perceiving becomes our 'world.' 

This is what is meant by the spiritual dictum that we so often hear and yet fail to truly understand. Namely; nothing has an inherent existence in and of itself. Another way of saying this is; what ever our mind is drawn to, that is our reality in that moment.

If something or someone hijacks our attention we become little better than automatons, walking zombies moving past one another in the vast ocean of time and space, scarcely even aware of each other or of the fact that we exist at all.

We don't need any evidence that this is in fact already the case, we have proof of it in every direction that we may turn our gaze in our so called modern and technological societies. These technologies have entered our lives and are completely and utterly changing the ways we live and think and behave.

We urgently need to become aware of just how pervasive and insidious these changes really are.

In our so-called 'money economy' it is regarded as perfectly acceptable to manipulate people's attention in order to capture that attention and direct it towards a 'product.' Isn't this the very basis of capitalism?

Therefore capitalism is geared towards exploiting human vulnerabilities for monetary gain. Smartphones have already become tools of mass manipulation on a scale, the likes of which we have not seen before. This is a deeply worrying trend and deserves our thoughtful attention.

Ultimately all of this leads to nothing but a profound and insidious d
isconnection from who and what we really are.

If we are not in control of our attention, then something or someone else is... We can be absolutely sure that if we feel that something is missing in our lives, it most assuredly is our attention.


In days to come we will be forced to grapple with this problem  head-on. Given how pervasive our distraction has already become, this will be a mammoth undertaking.

“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
Albert Einstein

And herein lies our salvation if we can in fact rise to the challenge.  We will have to recognise what has always been nearest and dearest.

It has become an urgent necessity to expand our vision beyond the current distraction and pre-occupation with smart devices of one kind or another, towards what is fundamental to our very existence.


*****

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Case of the Curlew


www.everherenow.com





The Wisdom


Look! Look! he is climbing the last light 
who knows neither time nor error, 
and under whose eye, unforgiving, 
the world, un-forgiven, 
swings into shadow.


 –from "Evening Hawk" by Robert Penn Warren



Have you ever had one of those pivotal moments in which everything you had previously thought of as true and real, no longer seems so because your whole sense of reality has shifted gear and opened out into a wider dimension?

This 'new' perspective is so near and so natural we can't help wondering how we had never noticed it before.

I think most of us have experienced such moments during our lives. When they happen we feel that nothing will or can ever be the same again and 'truth' seems so very near and obvious. But alas, all too often and all too soon we lose the lofty heights of our momentary perspective and sink back into the dream...

And the 'dream' is addictive and compelling. We believe in the story of our lives and almost everything that we do or say or think feeds into the sturdy edifice of our story. It is almost as though we cannot help ourselves because the story-line seems so believable.

And sadly, we almost never think to question our story or to investigate the nature and origins of our inmost sense of 'self.' As a result, our attention remains locked onto the drama of our unfolding life and we remain none the wiser right up until the time it is about to end.

Most of us are not even aware that we are fixating on a drama which is neither true nor real and we are accustomed to living almost all of our lives this way. For us, what is nearest and true, as our inmost nature, has become but a distant dream and what is dreamlike and passing is the obsessive focus of our day to day attention.

There is a nocturnal bird that lives in Australia, called a Curlew. It has a tendency, on occasion, to turn up outside windows and reflective surfaces where it appears to be mesmerised by its own image. It is not that it thinks the image is another bird, rather it knows instinctively that the image it is seeing in the glass has something to do with itself. There is an almost fatal attraction which compels the bird towards what it is perceiving.


Bush Stone Curlew
In a similar manner, we human beings are infatuated with our sense of self-identity. We are convinced that we are what we appear to be.

We can learn so much from the natural world around us, from the wildlife, from the plants and in fact from every living thing.

Since i was very young i remember hearing stories about birds that
would appear just before or around the time of someone's death. In fact, i personally witnessed such a thing on more than one occasion in my younger years.

In New Zealand, where i grew up, these untimely or timely, visitations were considered, by the Maori, to be an omen.

Modern societies have forgotten about omens. Everything has been reduced to the small and narrow focus of what is apparently provable. As though the only reality we can identify with must be scientifically accounted for.

And yet, whenever something rattles our attention and gives us pause for thought, or better still, arrests our thought altogether, we have come face to face with the 'unknown.' In such confounding moments, we have entered the realm of omens of awareness. We cannot understand them with the mind and yet on an almost subliminal level we feel deeply unsettled by them.

Getting back to the interesting case of the Curlew.
Some years ago, while i was visiting Kuranda, a small settlement, in the far north of Queensland, i was surprised to see groups of birds occasionally gathered here and there around the town, usually near bushes and leafy parklands.

They were most often completely still and immobile so that one might not actually notice them until very near and then be startled by these strange, still and graceful creatures. They certainly made an impression on me.

I asked a friend about them and he told me they were called Bush Stone Curlews and that the Aboriginal people feared their appearance in a locality as harbingers of death.

Whether that is actually true or not remains to be seen, however,
i was particularly impressed by these birds and the feeling of something other-worldly which i always felt when i saw them or happened upon them on my way.

They are said to be primarily a nocturnal bird explaining why they move so little during the hours of daylight and have an almost dreamlike quality about them. Dream-like as in sleepwalking.

Then, in March of this year, i came across a story of a bird that appeared in a busy Brisbane suburb. One of this particular breed had planted itself very firmly outside an office building and was seen to be gazing at itself in the glass of the shop front for hours on end. In fact, it would come at the crack of dawn with the very first rays of the sun and leave again only at dusk when it became dark.

Of course, many people noticed it and the occurrence began to spawn much attention. So much so that a notice soon appeared on the window just above where the bird would stand in isolated and determined vigil gazing at itself in the glass.

"I'm a bush stone curlew," the sign read.
"I'm fine. I just like to stare at myself in the window."


Many people were alarmed by its behaviour.

The Brisbane City Councillor, Ryan Murphy, humorously named
one such bird Sir Kew Llew, when, on a separate occasion, one appeared outside his office and took up the post of a vigilante for several days on end.

He wrote;

The situation is rapidly spiralling out of control. Despite it being clearly signed, the Curlew ignores all instruction. What's worse, patrons of the nearby Dominos have gifted it a generous supply of Classic Crust, allowing the bird to maintain its siege indefinitely.

I am no stranger to odd constituents. Indeed, one once threw a burning tyre through the very window that now consumes this Curlew. The affection of some constituents burns red hot, but the obsession of this avian interloper is more than a man can bear.

RSPCA refuse to pick it up, so I guess Sir Kerr Llew must stay. Like an ‘office volunteer’ who hangs around a lot, eventually, I will be forced to put it on my staff.'


😄


Australia is blessed with many unique and extraordinary birds but there is something mystical about this one. It has a bone-chilling and piercing cry which can often be heard if they are nesting in the local vicinity. Their call is very haunting when it sounds out in the early, silent hours of a morning.

As with so many things in nature, we can find, in their seeming eccentricities, things which are entirely relevant to our own lives.

We are so surprised and even quite unnerved by the behaviour of the Curlew. To us it appears extreme and irrational and yet we do not notice that we also behave in a similar fashion.

We may not plant ourselves in front of reflective surfaces for days on end gazing at our own images in the glass and yet, are we not mesmerised by our sense of 'self' and the seeming reality of our lives and the part we appear to be playing in them?

This infatuation can compel us to move through an entire lifetime like a sleepwalker, awake to the dream and yet asleep to what actually is. Like children engrossed in watching the pictures made up of moving dots on a screen, we fail to notice the screen itself.

To be present and yet absent from our presence is a dilemma that ensnares our modern societies. The fatal attraction of a pseudo pleasure which is always somehow just out of our reach is a modern version of an ancient human problem. Smart phones and our digital technologies play into this dilemma very conveniently by creating devices that snatch away our attention and subvert it very efficiently into channels that do not in any way serve our best interests.

At the end of the day, the wise will remember that life is brief. Of what use is it to spend so much of our precious time and attention gazing at a screen? Better by far to waken from our dream and become aware of what it is that makes the whole show appear in the first place!

The only truly meaningful thing to do in this world is to understand who and what we really are and yet we find endless ways with which to distract ourselves from this vital investigation.

We are fatally attracted to what we perceive and yet fail to notice what it is that perceives.

This points to what is missing in our lives. Many feel that something is in fact missing and yet cannot quite say what it is. The answer is shockingly simple. Our attention is missing. When our attention is distracted we are not aware of the only thing which is actually real and true. Without it we are merely puppets dancing to some frenetic tune from which we finally collapse, exhausted and lost.

Unwittingly, we have become sleep walkers. From the moment of waking until the moment when we sink into sleep, we are the plaything of our perceptions and of the very technologies that promise to free us. The lines between waking and dreaming have been dangerously blurred so that we scarcely notice them at all.

Is this not a strange turn around of events? Unintended repercussions are often the result of fundamentally good intentions.

May the omens of awareness come to shake us out of our torpor, out of our dreaming. Infatuated with the images on the so-called screen of life we fail to see that we are swallowed by the abyss of inattention and when our death comes to greet us, as it surely will, we will suddenly wake and wonder how it all has come to pass.

Like the Curlew that has planted itself in front of the glass we are fixated and lost. We are not able to free ourselves from our obsessions.

Let us not forget the most precious of all gifts which each of us has right now, in the very palm of our hands. It deserves our unswerving attention now and always...


Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Merits of Adversity


Iron Ore may think itself senselessly tortured in the furnace
but when the blade of finest steel emerges, it knows better...
Lobsang Rampa


Phoenix Rising
If we could see our future, if we could know how things will turn out and if we could comprehend the greater and wider picture, we might move through this life very differently. Then again, we might not...

As we move through life we tend to cherish an arrogant assumption that everything we think and do is up to us and yet is this really true?

We like to believe that we are the master of our own little ship.
That we are standing at the helm, making all the decisions and that we are in control. The whole setup looks and feels so convincing. There we are on the bridge of our own self-made vessel clutching a self-made 'wheel.' All around us is the wide and open sea. We feel secure in our flimsy vessel, with a little bit of stick in our hands. Yet that sense of security is just a thought.

Despite the size and the ever shifting seasons of this vast ocean space in which we live, move and breath out the course of our days, we feel that somehow and in some way we are steering our own independent course.

Yet, is this really true?
And how can we know if it is or not?

Recently, i underwent a journey at considerable expense of time, money, energy and effort. It did not turn out the way i had been hoping for or expecting. In fact, it was altogether quite disastrous in terms of my preconceived expectations. 

It seems not to matter how long we live, how much we do or how far we travel, to some degree or other we remain glued to our belief in what we 'think' we know. Very often the results of life experiences don't seem to add up to much and certain things may take place for which we can find very little meaning at all and yet at the end of the day, do we need to? Do we need to find a meaning in everything that happens to us in our world? Would what we know or think we know really affect the outcome?

Is there anything in what appears to 'happen' to us that we can actually hold onto and claim to own as ours or mine?
Its all so very illusive isn't it? If we look back on the events that have taken place in our lives they are nothing more than memories. If we look forward to future happenings, they are simply fabrications of the mind's hopes, fears and endless expectations.

The only thing we ever really have is this very moment of 'awareness.' There really is nothing else. Each of us needs to investigate and experience this consciously for ourselves. We need to pierce the bubble of our 'known' world of perceptions and preconceptions and take a cold and hard look at what actually is.

The mind is brilliant at fabricating, interpreting and judging, but can we really trust it? I think that deep down we all know that our mind is very unreliable, that it is shape shifting and filled with contradictions. How can we find peace and happiness with such a 'master' at the helm of our little ship?

The ego can take a certain satisfaction in what it perceives as worthwhile or positive outcomes but what do we do with the stuff that we just can't make sense of? Do we simply try to cast it from our memory? Is that enough to bring us some relief from our endless mind made torment?

If we are not to become cynical about or jaded by 'life' there remains only one course open to us. But how do we get to the point where we can let go of our preconceptions and assumptions without going through a process which will ultimately and at the end of all searching and struggle leave us with no other choice. Such a process is likely to be a torrid and long drawn out affair?

As tiny children, we could look out at the world without preconceptions, but then life set in and we were loaded with so much information, imprisoned by so many surrounding thought-forms and finally so bound up by our own created mental preconceptions that now we can no longer remember the simple innocence of just 'being.'

Getting ourselves back to the simple realisation of our profound and ever present 'state' requires that we unravel all the constructs which our minds have created around the essence of who and what we really are.

Who among us will cast our mind towards the 'profound' when life is buzzing around us and all is going well? Its only when we encounter adversity that we begin to question the basis of our day to day reality.

Think of the way each grain of sand on the beach has arisen by the action of endlessly crashing waves through countless seasons. We can be likened to these grains and our life experiences to all the ups and downs and unexpected twists and turns that shape and polish and in turn reveal the true and inner beauty.

"If it were not for the stones and boulders that make up the composition of a mountain, we could not catch hold of and retain our grip on those steep and slippery slopes or continue to move onward and upward to the summit of the peak.

How many of us ever reflect deeply in the midst of happy circumstances? When things are going our way, we relax and tend to let the time fly by. We don't consider the deeper questions surrounding our lives and our existence. 

We are like children, deeply engrossed in the game of building sand castles on the beach. All the while the tide is coming in closer and closer but we don't notice it because we are so caught up in the game which we are playing.
At last the waves begin to touch our feet and the castles that we have built begin to disintegrate with each incoming surge. We suddenly look up from our game and notice that the sun is already low on the western horizon and that soon it will be dark and that night will be upon us. 

This is how we live our lives, in a state of perpetual distraction.
We don't question our assumptions about this world. In fact, we take our lives and the extra-ordinary fact our existence completely for granted.

Only when it is about to be snatched away from us or from someone to whom we are deeply attached, do we stop and give our attention to what is most important.

As babies, we could look out at the world without bias but as we proceed deeper into the maelstrom of life we loose our 'real' selves and become hopelessly entangled and confused.

In the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, there is one sentence which is graphically sobering;
"Water, water everywhere, yet not a drop to drink." 

Afloat on the sea of life our very existence arises due to the inexhaustible spring of our awareness and yet we often feel ourselves to be alone and abandoned on a vast ocean from which it seems that we cannot quench our thirst.

Again and again, life rises up and forces us to look more closely. The filters created by our mind must be swept away, either one by one or all at once, before we can see it for what it really is. Sooner or later we must acknowledge that nothing could exist without the innate sense of knowing that we exist.  We do not even need to reach out to grasp at what is inherently already there within us.

So next time we feel ourselves to be like the helpless iron ore, aflame within the furnace of uncertain life events, we can remember the blade of finest steel. It will flash brightly in the rising sun to remind us of what has always been ours. The very fact that we know that we exist is what makes the flashing of recognition possible in the first place.

Ultimately, we have two choices; either to let go and recognise what we already are or to undergo the painful, forging process which will eventually force us to drop the multitude of misconceptions that our mind has created and which prevent us so effectively from recognising who and what we really are

The Fire-Bird of Transformation