Sunday 14 February 2021

Warm Winter Boots

In the winter of 1990/1991, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche spent the entire cold season in Bodhgaya.

He had arrived there even before I did and was comfortably installed in some large ground floor rooms in Beru Khyentse's monastery on the outskirts of the sacred Buddhist town.

It was still early in the winter season and not as crowded as it would surely become in the weeks and months ahead so I was fortunate to find a room in Beru Khyentse's monastery just doors away from where Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was staying.

No two winter seasons were ever alike in Bodhgaya. I must have spent at least ten winters there and each time I was there I had very different and powerful learning and even life-changing experiences.

I distinctly remember that the mood that particular winter was in some ways a very subdued one. Khyentse Rinpoche was not in robust health. Despite this, however, he began to give an important (for the Longchen Nyingtik lineage) cycle of teaching transmissions and empowerments to the students, monks and visiting Lamas who had gathered to receive them.

Where ever he was Khyentse Rinpoche always had a very busy schedule even if he never left his seat or his room. His days were filled with the buzz of endless comings and goings. But during that particular winter, we started to notice changes to the way things were usually happening around him.

Several new rules were announced which restricted our access to Rinpoche somewhat. This had never happened before. However, one of these new rules was rather in our favour, or at least in mine. We were told that he would not speak until after 9 am in the mornings. I liked this new rule because it meant that I could slip into his room early in the morning for a blessing and then quietly sit nearby in a corner of the room usually completely unnoticed and do my practice while he was doing his. This was always a very special time and I felt deeply blessed, grateful and fortunate for this happy circumstance.

He would sit in his wooden box with a large woollen blanket draped over his folded legs. His upper chest bare. I was always fascinated by the various appendages that he wore around his neck. Intricately carved silver and gold amulet boxes and other precious items hung there. He would lean slightly forward and they would all clang softly together whenever he moved. During these early morning hours, he would be fingering a large wooden malla ( rosary) as he mumbled various verses, chants and prayers. Nothing remarkable appeared to be happening and yet the entire room was suffused with an intangible, deep peace. For me, it felt as though I were sitting in the very centre of the universe. It was certainly the centre of my universe.

That winter I had come directly from Australia where I had gone to work for a few months. Khyentse Rinpoche usually spent his summer seasons in retreat in Bhutan and so that would be the time when I would go to the west and earn some money with which to support myself during the winter months in India and Nepal.

I had pondered long and hard over what I would bring him in the way of a gift when I returned and eventually I decided on something very practical, as was my want. I decided to get him a pair of the iconic Australian footwear known as Ugg Boots. These slippers, for they were and are essentially an indoors shoe were initially created by an Australian surfer in 1970s. They were a relatively simple design and made of sheepskin wool, supremely snug and warm.

However, Khyentse Rinpoche had very large feet, some might say, unusually large and I had to search quite a while before I found a pair that I thought would fit.

I was so excited to present these to him. I knew they would be just the thing to keep his feet all warm and toasty and I eagerly anticipated a happy outcome.

However, on the morning after my arrival, when I went to offer my greetings to the master and present my gift I quickly discovered that it was not possible to get his feet to slide into the boots.

It was not that the boots were too small, they were in fact just the right size and the biggest size that I had been able to find. The problem was in the design of the boots which meant that they rose well above the ankles to cover the entire foot and lower leg. I tried and I tried to get his feet into those boots, there was much huffing and puffing, but there was just no way it was going to happen. I hardly minded because Rinpoche sat with one hand on the top of my head throughout all of my exertions. There was a bemused expression on his face but he had sat there patiently putting up with my various and energetic man-oeuvres. But eventually, I had to withdraw.

When Rinpoche had first laid eyes on the boots he had looked well pleased and I was determined, come what may, that I would find a way to make them fit. I quickly settled on a plan to cut the front of the boots open and surely enough, his feet then slipped effortlessly in. I was thrilled and Rinpoche cast a bright and loving smile my way. I could have melted into the floor right there and then I was so perfectly satisfied and happy.

Throughout the winter months, these same boots were worn during the day and also on various outings. One can just make them out in the photo above. I could not have known then that this was to be our final walk around the sacred Stupa of Bodhgaya. Due to ill health his stay that winter was cut slightly short and soon after he had bestowed the empowerments, he returned to Nepal and then a few months later left for Bhutan.

Continue Reading in Tibetan Masters and Other True Stories

Sunday 3 January 2021

A Life Well Lived


 Another year has passed since Chadral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche passed away.


Beloved Lord of Refuge, we can never repay your kindness.

Merging into the expanse of Wisdom 

you will continue to benefit countless beings …



If you don’t reflect on death and impermanence

There will be no way to practice Dharma purely.

Practice will remain an aspiration,

One that is constantly postponed.

And you may feel regret the day that death comes,

But by then it’s too late!

 Kyabje Chadral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche

While working on the final stages of the book Who Lives? Who Dies? I received the news, early one morning, that my teacher Chadral Sangye Dorje had passed away in Parping, Nepal. The following chapter was in no way planned. It came as an addition to the current volume. How could a book about living and dying, which was reaching its conclusion right at the time of the passing of my great master, not include a chapter to honor his life extraordinary life?

The news did not come as a complete surprise. A few days earlier I had received a warning that he was unwell and had immediately thought to put together a list of things I would have to do and pack should I need to leave quickly for Nepal. I knew very well that if I received news that he had ‘passed away’ I would very likely be in no state of mind to attend to all the details of making a sudden and hasty departure. Surely enough, that ‘word’ came on the 5th of January 2016.

He had actually passed into ‘Tukdam’ (final meditation state) on the 30th of December 2015 but as he had requested his closest family members not to announce his passing until he had fully merged into Maha Paranirvana, they carefully kept the occurrence a strict secret. Not even people working on the premises inside Rinpoche’s compound were aware of what had actually taken place.

 Chadral Rinpoche lived to the considerable age of one hundred and four, counting by the Tibetan astrological system which includes the months of gestation prior to birth. His had been a grand and long life and one which had been of benefit to countless sentient beings.

 He guided and took care of me for more than twenty years and the gratitude I feel along with the sense of the deep connection which will always exist between us is something that is not possible to ever fully describe in words. Next to the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, he was one of the central and most important people in my life.

 Since 2009 it had not been possible to meet face to face with Rinpoche but for me personally, this had not been an issue. He had guided me through my crucial retreat years and I had been extremely fortunate to be able to go to him when I needed his advice and to consult about and verify ‘experiences.’ I had been incredibly fortunate to complete the needful prior to that time.

 Others were not so fortunate, however, and a whole new group of people both young and old from all walks of life and all parts of the world missed that precious opportunity of direct contact with him. Nevertheless, his influence continued to reach far and wide.

 Before 2009, Rinpoche was very accessible although he never lingered too long in any one place. There were occasions when things might not have gone the way some people might have hoped for or expected but this was part of the beauty of his style and expression. He was never a Lama to compromise on the things that he held dear, neither could he be ‘brought around’ once a decision about something or other had been made.

 A hundred and four years is a long time to be alive in this world. Rinpoche met and influenced so many people; he saved countless lives and lived out his term without compromising his convictions in any way. His life was one of simplicity and integrity and stands as a testament and shining example for all those of us who were fortunate enough to witness at least a part of it as also for those who were not.

He spent time in worlds so incredibly different. Imagine Tibet in the early nineteen hundreds long before the Chinese occupation and try to compare that world with the one in which we live now? He moved seamlessly through both, never missing a step, never faltering in his determination to benefit sentient beings.

·       Practical and Yet Spontaneous

 Rinpoche was a supremely practical man who did not possess even an ounce of hypocrisy. He was so direct and to the point that some feared him. Although he was very much a Tibetan ‘Yogi’ he could also be quite traditional. However, it simply was not possible to narrow him down and label him as either traditional or non-traditional because he rose to meet every occasion in his life from a place of complete spontaneity.

 His focus was always on the ‘essence’ of things, and he had little time for or interest in anything else. He was a living embodiment of the Buddha’s teachings, which he had so completely ‘owned’ through his dynamic practice and experience and he encouraged all of his students to do the same.

 Rinpoche’s spontaneity arose from his moment-to-moment living in the present, which gave rise to many unexpected little incidents, some of which could be quite humorous.

 I remember one morning when we were buzzing around and preparing for a day trip up into the foothills of Darjeeling. We thought we had things pretty well in hand but when it was announced that the car had arrived a bit early, Rinpoche suddenly leaped up from his seat and began to head towards the door. We quickly grabbed the warm clothes that he would need as Darjeeling is several thousand feet higher than Siliguri. We awkwardly tried to dress him as he moved. Once he got into motion it could be difficult to pin him down. His daughter Semo Tara Devi was there on that occasion and so the two of us had managed to put on a jumper and also drape his sen (shawl). But then suddenly he was heading towards the door again so Semola grabbed one shoe and me the other. Only when Rinpoche was actually climbing into the car were we able to notice that he had a different shoe on each foot. Certainly, Rinpoche himself had not noticed.

 Dry words in a book on a shelf were for the scholars. Rinpoche moved freely through the fields of experience. There was joyfulness around him and a scintillating sense of freedom without boundaries. Never-the-less it should be noted that Rinpoche was also a brilliant and prolific scholar who authored, at least, three volumes of works in the Tibetan language.

·       Authenticity

 He was tremendously learned in an organic way; his learning came through experience and revealed itself with considerable authority and power because it was so completely authentic.

 This authenticity never moved me more profoundly than on an occasion when a small group of women students gathered one afternoon in his room in Salbari Gompa in order to receive the Bodhisattva vows.

 Some weeks before this event, a long-time western student and I had been discussing the practice of Guru Yoga in general and Chadral Rinpoche’s Guru Yoga in particular. I had been deeply impressed by the way my friend had recounted some of his personal experiences in this regard. He had discussed the various qualities of different sadhanas (practices) but then pointed out that the Guru Yoga of Chadral Rinpoche was so potent that the blessings which flowed from it were almost palpable. In my mind’s eye, the image of him holding his hands together in a cupping gesture had burned itself into my imagination. He had said that you can literally ‘hold’ the blessings in your hands and feel the weight and the power of them.

 His vivid description remained with me very clearly, and that afternoon when we gathered to receive the vows it kept coming into my mind.

 I had taken Bodhisattva vows already on several occasions with other teachers; however, a European student of Chadral Rinpoche’s requested that he give them to her, and I found myself in the fortunate position of already being present in the room and therefore able to join this small gathering on the auspicious day. I was delighted by this happy occurrence.

 There might have been five or six of us present. If I remember correctly, we were just two foreign women, a couple of Tibetan nuns, and one or both of Rinpoche’s daughters.

 At that time, Rinpoche was staying in the small room upstairs in his house in the Salbari compound. We were asked to wait outside his room while he prepared and then, once all was ready, he beckoned us to enter and close the door behind us. We stood before him in a line across the width of the room. Rinpoche meanwhile, was sitting on his meditation cushion on the floor ensconced in a large furry cape. A small wooden table had been placed just in front of him and on top of this were his bell, drum, dorje, and a few other ritual implements within easy reach.

 Although I had spent a lot of time around Chadral Rinpoche in an informal way, I had only been present on a small number of occasions when he gave formal teachings or empowerments. This turned out to be one of those rare occasions.

 Rinpoche asked us all to make three prostrations and as we did so, he picked up his bell and damaru (small hand drum) and began to chant the lineage prayer of the Longchen Nyingtik. Rinpoche’s lineage is a remarkably short and powerful one originating in Kuntuzangpo, which passes on to Jigme Lingpa, Gyalway Nyugu and then to Patrul Rinpoche, Nyoshul Lungtok, and Khenpo Ngachung, (Rinpoche’s root Guru) who in turn passed it on to Chadral Rinpoche and Nyoshul Khen.

 I don’t recall that I had any particular expectations of what was to come except a pleasant sense of anticipation which in no way could have prepared me for the impact of what was to follow.

 As soon as Rinpoche’s deep and rich voice began to intone the liturgy I felt myself suddenly and quite inexplicably catapulted into a ‘timeless state’ my mind ceased to function and the room was saturated with grace, so much so, that even though I had barely completed my three prostrations, a surge of tears welled up and began to flow down my cheeks.

 I was not at all prepared; no handkerchief, no tissues, not even a long shirt-sleeve to come to my rescue. These were not the emotional tears of joy or sorrow; these were tears that overflowed from some previously untapped source in my being. They surged out from the deep depths. With every passing moment, it was as though Rinpoche was opening wider and wider the faucet on a stream of blessings. Not only did the tears flow from my eyes but my nose was also streaming. I had never had any such reaction in previous gatherings with other Lamas where we had all taken these same vows. This was something quite unprecedented and it really caught me off my guard.

 For the entire duration of the gathering, this flow continued. I remember feeling some embarrassment at not being able to control what was happening or even dry my face. I was a complete mess, red and soggy eyeballs, snotty-nosed and pathetic.  I did not notice if anyone else was as affected as I was. I only recall how relieved I felt when it all ended and I could rush off to my room and wash my face and re-compose myself again. The memory and the power of that encounter linger on and remain with me to this day. Fresh and potent.

 This is naked, simple authenticity.

·       As Conventional as He was Unconventional

 In many ways, Rinpoche could be conventional, and yet in others, he was quite the opposite.

 One instance of the manner in which Rinpoche could be unconventional, and which most people would not have been aware prior to his passing away and which caused many some surprise, even consternation, emerged only when the family compound in Parping was opened to the public. On the walls of the Lhakhang, which had been built inside the compound, were painted the Hindu deities of Shiva with his consort Parvati. On the left side of the shrine; Krishna with his consort Radha and their entourages along with various other representations of this kind.

 Directly in front of the temple entrance, and housed in a dedicated building, resides a Shiva lingam of generous size.

To some traditional Buddhists, this would seem like a grave eccentricity in the Lama and something quite inexplicable.

 However, Rinpoche had gone beyond the narrowness of needing to confine himself solely to the accepted and traditional Tibetan pantheon. He saw no conflict of interests. What these images represent is an expression of ‘energy’ in its many and varied forms and this ‘energy’ is universal. Had not all of the vast body of Buddhist scriptures and knowledge been brought to Tibet from Mother India? Were not the sacred sites of the Buddha’s life still vibrant and emiting their power? Whether one refers to an energetic personification as Siva, Mahakala/Shadrupa or Natraj does it not still embody the same potential, the same inner meaning?

 On more than one occasion I was with him when we visited Hindu shrines. One which he dropped into regularly was the shrine on Tiger Hill near Darjeeling and there were others which he attended in various locations.

·       Integrity

 There was complete integrity in all that he did, and this is no doubt why he could carry so powerfully the traditional alongside the non-traditional.

 He made it very clear that he would not perpetuate himself in the lineage of ‘Tulkus’ and unequivocally stated that there would be no ‘reincarnation.’ This was to be the last life. In recent years after the passing of several great masters, a number of ‘Tulkus’ had been put forward as potential candidates and much controversy had ensued. Rinpoche made his position crystal clear and thus avoided any future complications.

 He had always steered clear of the monasteries and large religious institutions and consistently underlined the importance of practicing in solitary retreats in order to have direct experience of the essential points of the ‘dharma.’

 On several occasions, Rinpoche made the comment that some people who came to him and who were dressed in the garb of ‘practitioners’ actually had no stable inner experience, while there were those who seemed to be very ordinary and who did not have the appearance of being a ‘practitioner’ yet who were in fact ‘true practitioners.’ To Rinpoche, a ‘true practitioner’ was someone who had recognized the natural state and achieved a measure of stability in settling into That. He underlined for us the fact that we cannot judge anyone by appearances alone.

 He was the first Lama to establish a retreat center and many more were to follow after he moved to India in the late 1950,s. Those who came to him were able to practice in suitable locations and thereby actualize the teachings by gaining first-hand experience of them.

·       Practice

 He clearly pointed to the fact that one has to practice the ‘dharma’ in order to gain benefit from it for one’s self and in turn for others. He had spent many decades of his life doing just that and often under the most trying conditions. For many years he had wandered around Tibet, staying in the caves or in a small tent with little more than what he could carry over his shoulder. He could easily have passed his days in comfort and plenty in one of the rich monasteries. He truly had lived as an example of what he later encouraged others to do.

 The master is not able to give us something that we do not already possess. He/she simply alerts us to our true and inherent potential. It is for us to understand and gain a true experience of our inmost natural state by taking his/her advice to heart.

 He established many simple places where practitioners could come together, or where they could be alone in order to practice the Dharma without distraction, in safety, and in peace.

 He always emphasized the need to gain experience in retreats and almost all of his direct students have undergone a retreat or two under his guidance and care at one time or another.

·       Compassion

 That our lives should be an expression of what can bring benefit to others is the motivation of a true Bodhisattva whose every action is geared to turning others towards ‘truth.’ Rather than spending our precious lives and energy in meaningless activities and distractions, he encouraged us to benefit beings through sincere and concerted practice motivated by Bodhichitta. As with the fragrance of a flower which need not ‘do’ anything particular and yet which affects and purifies the whole surrounding area with its perfume, so too should our practice radiate its fragrance throughout space.

 Soon after Rinpoche escaped to India from Tibet he took a vow renouncing the consumption of meat. This happened in nineteen sixty, long before it became fashionable. Prior to that, he had been as rabid a meat-eater as any other Tibetan. Once he decided to abstain, however, his stance was unshakable, and all the temples and retreat centers under his guidance became ‘no meat’ zones. Here again, he was an example of what he preached, and by living to a grand age was able to underline the fact that human beings can subsist very healthily and happily on a vegetarian diet to a grand old age.

 He made it a mission to release countless fish from the fish farms in Kolkata and elsewhere. Other kinds of wildlife were also rescued in a similar way.

 His compassion revealed itself through a long stream of activities that brought freedom, on one level or another, to countless sentient beings.

·       The Humor

 It was a delight to spend time in Rinpoche’s company. There was always plenty of laughter and light-hearted banter. There were so many humorous occasions, but one instantly springs to my mind.

 One year, we were in the Lhakhang retreat center up in the Helambu region of Nepal. At that time a group of devotees had come up from Sermatang to accompany Rinpoche to their monastery where he had been invited to preside over a ceremony.

 Around thirty of the older and higher-ranking people from the village had made the journey on foot, in order to welcome Rinpoche and accompany him back. They brought with them a sturdy little pony which Rinpoche was to ride on the way down the trail to the village. This particular pony was an old favorite of Rinpoche’s and had carried him around on other such occasions in the past.

 On the morning when we were due to leave everyone gathered near Rinpoche’s hut. He climbed onto the pony, a big happy smile spreading over his face. One lama went ahead of our group wielding a large kukri blade in order to make sure that the pathway was cleared of any debris or possible obstructions and the rest of us followed behind.

 Barely had the small horse begun to move than it let expelled a very loud fart! We could see Rinpoche ahead of us shaking with laughter and everyone behind followed suit. The animal continued on in this vein every few minutes all the way to the Sermatang. Goodness knows what he had been given for breakfast. Suffice it to say, we kept a respectful distance behind…

·       The View

 Above all else, Chadral Rinpoche encouraged us to recognize our ‘true nature,’ because absolutely nothing else will be of any use to us in the long run. This and this alone is the chief and crucial point. In recognizing and practicing to achieve a measure of stability in this, one brings into balance all other factors in one’s life. It is the great panacea, the one thing which brings resolution to all that causes confusion and suffering in this world.

 On one incredibly precious occasion when he gave a couple of us some whispered ‘pith’ instructions. I will never be able to forget the look in his eyes when he told us that what he was giving was like the ‘blood of his heart.’

We sat there at his feet with tears flowing down our cheeks.

Such ‘treasure’ is immeasurable. It has the power to liberate countless beings; we need only open our hearts and pray with one-pointed devotion. Our devotion is like the sun that melts the snow at the top of the mountain which is the ‘Guru.’

·       Devotion

 A few days after the news had been broken about his ‘passing,’ I made my way up to Nepal from South India.

 I had gone to Nepal for the first time in many years in August of 2015 and had the great good fortune to see Rinpoche just a few months before he dropped his body.

I traveled over to Parping from the hills of Darjeeling in order to pay homage to my great teacher. I had just completed a summer retreat at his center at Das Mile Gompa where I had undergone my previous longer retreats. This was the final time I was to see him as I had known him in his earthly form.

 The visit in January of 2016 was under very different circumstances and carried with it a very different mood.

Nepal was in the middle of winter and in the grip of not only the cold but also, at that time, profound economic and political misery there was an added dimension to the sense of sadness at his passing.

 Crippling power cuts and shortages of every kind were the order of the day and these were not due to the after-effects of the powerful earthquake that had struck only months before. These had been brought on by the greed and short-sightedness of an elite few.

 Despite all of this, however, or perhaps because of it, the Nepalese population near and far came to Parping. They came in droves to pay their respects and receive the blessing’ of the reliquary.

 Initially, I had passed some days inside the temple shrine and participated in the ceremony that was taking place. However, it soon became too crowded so I withdrew to a spot outside and below the temple area. Every evening before the prayers ended, I would head up to the temple and stand near an open window in order to recite the lines of the Guru Yoga prayers with all the Lamas who were gathered inside.

 For me, this proved to be the most moving moment in the days during which I could be present. Invariably as soon as the Umsey (chant leader) began to sing this particular prayer his voice would crack and waver. Sometimes he would have to stop chanting altogether and then another Lama would quickly take the microphone.

 Rinpoche had brought so many of us together and the feeling that we were and are one big family remains. How can we ever forget his kindness?

·       A Life Well Lived

 Day after day I sat and watched the stream of humanity, young and old, rich and poor pass by and through the temple precincts in which the Kudung was being housed. It was not easy for these people to make this journey to the fringes of the Kathmandu valley. Their transport was inadequate and often terribly over-crowded. It was a costly journey for most people and also extremely uncomfortable. Yet they came and keep coming.

 It is profoundly moving and humbling to see how one life, which is motivated towards the good of others can influence so many in contrast with those who are motivated by temporary gain and greed at the expense of so many others.

 What a stark contrast and the more moving for being so.

 We need good examples of how to live our lives and how to give precedence to what is most meaningful. It is not as though we are going to have endless chances to do this.

 Everywhere we look we can find countless examples of lives spent in dissipation, and distraction while a well-lived is a rare thing indeed.

 I can only rejoice in Rinpoche’s example which was and remains so deeply meaningful not only me but to so many others. The radiance of what he gave the world will continue to have its beneficial effect long into the future if in fact humanity has a long future before it…

 In these days and times, we can be sure of nothing except the ‘one true thing’ of which we have spoken repeatedly throughout this tome.

 May we be moved to discover this for ourselves and thereby make our own lives resonate with what is truly meaningful.

 With the pure motivation of Bodhichitta (the wish to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings), each one of us has the power to transform our world.

 May we keep this in our mind and heart, always.

Precious Bodhichitta, the highest attitude

Where it is unborn, may it arise

Where it is born, may it increase,

rising ever higher and higher. 




From the book; Who Lives? Who Dies?

Lyse Mai Lauren



Saturday 26 September 2020

Digital Dilemmas and the Psychology of Distraction

How do we reclaim the 'power' of our attention in this age of distraction?

Its a really important question because digital technologies have completely changed the way that we live. In just a few short decades the manner in which we interact with the world and each other has completely shifted. In the midst of all of this dynamic movement have we paused to consider just how pervasive the changes are and what they can mean for us now and in the future?

There is no question that these technologies are a force for good in our lives but there is also another side to all of this. It would be unwise for us not to make the effort to understand at least some of the implications and how they may impact us and our children. There are choices to be made as we march forward within this shifting paradigm. 

At the forefront of this movement are our so-called smart devices.

What is emerging is an ocean of smart technologies which are highly interdependent. To stay afloat in this ocean we need, at the very least to know how to tread the water, better still how to swim, even better than that how to discern which waves and currents to catch and which to avoid.

Devices with apps that are created to snatch away our attention and meter it out to us as micro-fragmented milli-moments have the potential to lead us into a state of profound confusion and disconnection if we do not develop some essential modern-day skills.

Without them, our precious time and attention can be manipulated for profit and power. Reclaiming our power is about learning to 'swim.'

We do not need to be helpless pawns in this digital game, with knowledge come  the possibilities for rewriting the rules of our engagement. Rewriting them to suit our needs from a place of conscious and active participation. 

How do we reclaim our power? 

We reclaim our power by reclaiming our attention.

We need to get smarter.
But in this case, by 'smarter' I mean wiser and more conscious of what we give our precious time and attention to.

Why? Because we live in an age of distraction and complexity. There are so many demands on our 'mind-space' ready to snatch away our attention. In a cynical society based on consumer spending and profit, we find small groups of highly trained people who know all about creating devices that are both desirable and smart.

Trapped into this never-ending spiral of clever marketing we are told that we need more, better, faster and smarter stuff and the unsuspecting buyer has become a plaything of the very technologies that he/she 'plays' with.

And when too much power is in the hands of too few people one has to question where all of this can lead...

Such a potential 'power' for good has also its flip side and we the users, the consumers need to begin to take an active part in understanding and harnessing this power...

(1st Edition November 2019
  2nd Edition July 2020)

Monday 10 August 2020

Small Things Big Trouble

Our actions, whether big or small do have consequences and we can never be quite sure what they will be...


I recently read a quote of the Dalai Lama which made me smile.

‘If you think small things don't matter, try spending the night with a mosquito in your room...’

Neeya Zzzzzzzzz… bye-bye, sleep!

Well, I have spent lots of nights with mosquitoes in my rooms so I am very much moved by the wisdom of these words.

Small things can lead to bigger things and unexpected outcomes…

But I must first explain how my story came about.

Several years ago, an Indian friend wanted to give me a birthday gift.

He had obviously taken considerable trouble to choose something that was extra special and when he delivered it I could see how excited and thrilled he was with his choice.

His sense of anticipation was palpable and it immediately set the alarm bells in my brain ringing and whirring.

He contrived to turn the ‘gift-giving’ ceremony into quite an occasion. He had appeared on my doorstep at 6 o’clock in the morning!

However, being an early riser myself, I could take this in my stride.

As soon as I opened the door he rushed inside and placed a box on the counter with exaggerated care and turned to me with an expression, not unlike that of an eager little puppy. He was fairly wriggling with excitement, anxiously watching my every move and expression.

Getting into the mood of things I turned my attention to the brightly gift-wrapped package and with great care began to remove the ribbons and undo the colourful paper in which the whole thing had been lovingly wrapped.

Inside I found a, well, how to describe it?

A plastic lotus flower thingy...

It was the sort of house ornament that one could only find the likes of in India or China!

It had four large outer petals and inside these, sprang another four psychedelic pink and green petals which were arranged within a circle of tiny red and yellow light bulbs. From underneath and around the petals appeared small plastic frogs, birds, bees and butterflies of all sizes, colours and varieties...

He urged me to press a bright button on the bottom. Even though his expression alerted me to expect something extraordinary I was not quite prepared for the sudden startling flashing of lights and the explosion of sounds that burst forth from that little box.

It was loud enough to rouse the entire three-story building from any remnants of lingering sleepiness. An embellished electronic version of Jingle Bells filled the air. And while the tune rang out the light bulbs flashed in time with the music and the plastic insect life bobbed up and down in unison.

My friend leapt into the air giving it a bit of a punch at the same time as if to say, YES! Then, he dissolved into a fit of laughter.

That unforgettable gift had pride of place on my kitchen shelf for some years and then one day, very recently while I was spring cleaning, I decided it might be time for the ‘gift’ to grace someone else's home or shrine.

My friend happened to be present and was helping me with my clean up, so I suggested he might take it back to his ashram where it could be prominently displayed and enjoyed by many. He agreed readily enough.

Now the reason for my unseasonal spring cleaning was the arrival of an unwelcome intruder, a very tiny, but extremely industrious mouse. I had spotted her on a number of occasions even though she was just an itsy bitsy little thing.

She was quite unafraid of me and if I had been on my guard I could probably have evicted her much sooner. But, as luck would have it, the minute I wanted her out, she disappeared.

This little rodent had singlehandedly chomped her way through a number of my best articles of clothing, shredded a pile of newspapers, eaten through some wiring near my computer and left her calling cards all over my apartment.

That such a small mouse could single-handedly create so much mayhem in such a short time was something of a wonder.

In the face of such astonishingly determined feats of nest making, I decided she had to go and I was hoping that a good clean up might flush the little villain out after which I could carefully block all possible future entry points.

That very year, I had brought with me a fancy electronic gadget, which I had purchased on a trip to Australia. It was supposed to blast such intruders with unpleasant subliminal frequencies and vibrations, sending them scuttling outdoors.

But it turned out to be a miserable failure. My little visitor had comfortably settled herself in and appeared to be anticipating a long and happy stay.

There was nothing for it but to go carefully through everything in order to find her hiding place and promptly evict her. But besides a trail of devastation and mouse droppings, we could not discover the little tyrant.

Eventually, I decided, rather optimistically, that she might already have fled unnoticed during our noisy cleanup operation.

We had gone through everything, or so we thought. We could do no more and it was time for my helpful friend to go. I snatched up the box which had the plastic lotus flower inside, not wanting him to leave without it and eager to free up some space on my shelf.

We arranged it with some ceremony inside his bag and off he went on his bicycle.

Several hours later I got an excited phone call. It was my friend calling from his ashram.

An inquisitive guest had noticed the box containing the infamous ‘lotus’ and had been overcome with curiosity as to what might be inside.

A small audience gathered around all eager to discover its contents.

As my friend looked up from his work he happened to notice something that looked rather like a mouse’s tail dangled down from the back of the contraption even as it was pulled from the box, but he was too late to intervene.

From beneath a pink lotus petal leapt the little monster. She had apparently been taking a snooze in between the lotus leaves. Thus rudely awakened from her nap, she leapt straight onto the unsuspecting, innocent guest’s face and then scrambled down the front of his shirt.

Pandemonium broke out. The men yelled in surprise the women screamed and the children shrieked with delight. The silence and ambient calm of the ashram were thoroughly shattered.

Meanwhile, the hero of our story managed to wriggle out from her victim's trouser leg and make a swift and fortunate exit.

Whereupon she was never seen again…

The 'motto' of this story is, of course, NEVER underestimate 'small things!’

To be sure, even the tiniest of things can unleash the most unexpected chain of circumstances…


Monday 22 June 2020

Finding Our Way Through the Minefields of Grief

L.R. Knost's words which ring with wisdom and are infused with compassion also give rise to hope. They empower each and every one of us by pointing to the light that is within us.

We find ourselves living through times which are unprecedented for our current generations. There is suffering, there is fear, there is loss. We are inextricably caught up in a tide of uncertainty. Our lives have been turned upside down. We have been tossed into a raging ocean of change. Gone the arrogance, gone the complacency, gone...

Nature has an innate propensity for balance. This is the lode-stone of the natural world. Not from a place of right or wrong, it moves from the source of all being and will never stray far from that place of 'balance' no matter the works and wishes of men.

Time and again civilizations have come and gone and as Shakespeare so famously said; ' there is nothing new under the sun.'

Stripped bare of our certainties, stripped bare of our delusions we suddenly find ourselves on the borderlands of a new way of thinking which in turn is leading towards a new way of living, the one must precede the other.

 In our current reality internet technology has opened doorways into one another's lives, where ever they or we may be. We are connected with one another via our smartphones, via social media and instantaneous news updates, suddenly many of the connections to the world we thought we knew, exist merely via a small device which can sit in the palm of our hand.

Yet what remains constant and unchanged is the fact that we exist in an interdependent world, it has always been so and it will always be so, and yet only now can we begin to grasp how profound and true this really is. Only now can this truth become 'real' for many of us.

There has always been suffering and there always will be and yet, now, because of our ability to be so much more aware of what is happening around us and in the greater world at large we can find that our senses and our minds overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information and the intensity of what is coming to our notice, so much more of it bad news than good.

If it all feels as though it is much worse than before it is because we are aware of so much more...

Things such as climate change or issues that go against our values and principles and yet for which we feel blatantly powerless to change can bring on a sense of profound inner unease and grief particularly for those starting out on their life journies.

 What are the coping mechanisms for finding our way through the minefields of grief, collective grief as much as our own personal sense of grief for whatever reason it may be rising up in us?

I know that. for instance, since the beginning of the bushfire crisis in Australia a sense of grief had been welling up in me and I had to stand back from it and take a good and long look. Not because I felt the grief was inappropriate, but because I felt powerless and because there was then and remains now the conviction that there is so much more of it coming. 

As Michael Mann recently said in an excellent article posted in the Guardian. "... bushfires have burned their way to the front of everyone's mind." This was not just a matter for Australia. Smoke impacted many areas in New Zealand and the smoke cloud ended up by encircling the entire globe.

Humanity is awakening the fact that our lives are intertwined and what happens on one corner of the globe is going to have an effect on the other side as well.
I think we human beings have a tendency to internalize our grief, whatever the cause for that grief may appear to be, and by internalizing it can begin to metamorphize into something else. In this way, we avoid identifying where and how our deep inner sadness is arising.

 We find ourselves on the frontiers of a brave new world and we cannot turn away from changes taking place because they impact us all so directly. Nothing is static and there is absolutely no certainty. This 'truth' is immensely confronting but it can also push us to open our minds and to take in the possibilities of renewal, expansion and growth. 

From the fires of destruction rises the Pheonix of renewal, we can choose to ignore it or we can turn our gaze in a new direction and witness the arising of this Pheonix.

Reaching into our own mind's as also reaching out to assist and nurture one person, one animal, one plant at a time might not change the whole world but it will change the world for us and for that one person, one animal or one plant and this is what we need to keep in mind during these gravely unsettled and unsettling times. 

Focusing on what we can do in our own small way, day by day and moment by moment is empowering. This is where our potential lies and the way in which we can move forward with grief is in knowing that we are doing whatever we can to transform it in our own lives.

There are of course, many people who will not acknowledge what I am speaking of and simply shrug and ask, 'what grief?' But those who know, well they just know. They might not have actually put it into words, they may not even have identified it but something in these words rings true for them.

We have to find ways that empower us in order to move through the current and very active minefields of grief. Otherwise, the sheer scale of suffering that we see in the world around us can just feel too overwhelming and being 'overwhelmed' is the antithesis of being empowered.

You may already have heard the story about the 'Starfish' but I will retell it here because it rings with truth and hope. The message is timeless and can be applied every single day in our lives in the most practical of ways. 

The Starfish Story

"One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…” I made a difference for that one."

Loren Eiseley

Making a difference one by one.

If the basis of all change in this world is within us, then it is even more important to avoid, at all costs, the temptation to become disheartened. If every true change begins within our own mind and heart then rather than being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of whatever is happening around us, we can instead zoom within to the unmovable centre of 'silence.'

From that inner centre everything becomes possible and we discover our power and we discover our light.