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.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

And We Do Not Fear...





*****
In times of crisis.
In times of suffering.
In times of uncertainty.
In times of fear...
We can turn our gaze inwardly to the changeless,
to the timeless, 
to the silence from which all of this 'display' arises...

Our greatest friend is always right here with us.
There is no need of searching, no need of weeping, of pleading or of protestations.

There is no greater assurance than this. 

But one must know it, taste it and recognize it for oneself.

The simplest and most attainable truth is right in the palm of our hand.

"And we do not fear.." because we know that in our true nature, our inmost being, we are untouched by the transient 'happenings' of this world...

*****

Excerpt from  Never Not Ever Here Now
Volume Four in the series; Shades of Awareness

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Becoming Protectors of Life




"The destruction of nature and wildlife populations is a result of ignorance, greed and lack of respect for the earth's living things. 

Our actions affect others. 

We human beings are the only species with the power 

to destroy 
the natural world as we know it. 
Yet, if we have such a capacity for destruction, so, too, 
do we have the capacity to protect wildlife and the environment—
we have an urgent responsibility to do so..."

H.H. Dalai Lama

Sounding the clarion call...
A very timely and important message from the Dalai Lama!
Human beings have demonstrated a masterful capacity to destroy
and kill and yet that same 'power' can also be harnessed to protect and nurture.

As we have crossed a 'tipping point' on the planet a great necessity confronts us. A new way of thinking and a whole new way of behaving towards all the kingdoms with which we share this planet must ensue.

For too long, greed and ignorance have held sway over all other considerations and now we are seeing the results of this greed.

Nothing is not interdependent.

To continue to live in ignorance of this 'truth' is to court disaster.
Within the reality of interdependent energies there exists a critical point of balance.  Each and every one of us holds a stake in this 'balance.'

This is a vital point because if we do not know this, we can easily feel overwhelmed and powerless. However, we are not powerless.
We hold immense power within ourselves and this is the time to acknowledge it and put that power to good use.

We can see the results of greed and short-sighted ignorance. The death and decay
of this kind of living are all around us, continuing the cycle of suffering and 
despair.

As the Lama so truly pointed out, our capacity to destroy and wreak havoc
exists in equal measure to our capacity to nurture and support the life that exists all around us and within us.

There can be no blurring of the boundaries. This is a time for what is clear and decisive, not a time for small-minded, selfish pettiness.

From clear and altruistic intention which acknowledges humanities responsibility towards all other kingdoms on this earth will rise the new age of limitless possibilities...

From chaotic grasping and greed, there is only death and despair.

It is a stark choice and yet this is the choice that we face...

This balance is in our hands...


Sunday, 9 February 2020

When Our Pet Dies. Losing a Friend Like No Other, Part 2




The next friend that was to come into my life was a little yellow male canary.
I was living in an apartment by the sea and at the time training in classical flute at Sydney Conservatorium. One of my flute students brought him to me one day and insisted that I accept him as a 'gift.'

I always disliked the idea of birds in cages and was very reluctant to take on this one, but this student would not take him back and so Bert stayed on with me.

I set up his cage near the window overlooking the sea. The door was always open so that he could fly freely around the apartment but I put his food, water and leaves inside the cage. Usually, he spent most of his time sitting on top of it.

We got on just fine. I discovered very early on that he was extremely competitive. As soon as I would pull out my flute and begin to play he would fly onto the music stand and sing full throttle.

Whenever I was playing he never gave me a moment's peace and would be there right in front of me on the stand warbling his little heart out.

Bert was with me for a number of years, he even managed to entice a neighbours female canary who turned up one day outside the door. When I opened it, she flew right on in and the two of them were nest making in one of my pot plants in no time at all.

One summer when I was going away for a couple of months, one of my young students asked if he could take care of my little Bert. I will never really know what happened, but when I returned Bert was no more.

We never really know until they are gone, just how much of an impact they have had on our lives and how much we will miss their presence. Bert was just a tiny drop of golden feathers but he had an incredible song and brought so much joy to my ears over so many years. Now after all of the intervening decades he is still missed.


*****

The third little friend that came into my life was a baby owlet.
A friend had seen him with some young boys in a village on the outskirts of Kathmandu in Nepal.

He had managed to talk them into letting him take the little fellow as the boys told him that he would not eat any food and it was obvious that he would soon die.

As soon as those beautiful big, sad eyes landed on me I melted with motherly love and a deep sense of connection and affection. I am recounting a post that I wrote several years back when I told the story in detail.



Fatty Boy, Baby Spotted Owlet.

In the late 1990s, when I was staying at Godavari in the eastern corner of the Kathmandu Valley, it was not at all unusual, to come into the garden compound of Chadral Rinpoche's retreat centre and find several cages with varieties of birds that had been bought from the markets and then gifted to the Lama, in order that he would bless and then release them back into the wild.  Often these birds were in bad shape and could not be released right away.  They needed care and good feeding for some days before they could face the rigours of freedom.  Many never made it to the point where they could even be released.

It was a sad business to see this kind of trade going on, and yet it was rife throughout the valley, and although people meant well when they bought the birds from the markets, in many ways, this practice just encouraged and perpetuated the trade.

One day my friend and I took a path through a nearby botanical garden which passed through a lovely piece of forest on its way to the neighbouring village.  We had come to know of a very skilled tailor living in that place, and we both had a number of items on order and ready to pick up.  Coming back, however, we decided to take another route that skirted a village we had not been through before. While passing by some small, mud dwellings Sherab, the lama who was with me, suddenly turned and began to speak to a small group of boys.

He would often stop to banter with the locals as he passed by, so I didn't take much notice at the time and just kept slowly making my way along the cobbled path.  After a few moments, he joined me again but bade me stop and opening his bag, pointed to a little ball of feathers sitting on the bottom.  I could just make out two very large and shinny, sad eyes peering out at me. Even though I could not make out quite what it was, I immediately fell in love with the look in those eyes.

It turned out that the boys had somehow captured this little fellow from his nest, (he was a spotted baby owlet) and were trying to rear it in their home as a pet.  The boys had told Sherab that they were trying to feed it, but the little fellow had not taken any food since they had captured it two days before.
With some clever persuasion, Sherab had managed to get them to hand it over to his care, and thus it was sitting on the bottom of his bag, looking very weak and bereft.

My mothering instincts kicked in as soon as those large eyes looked up into my face. Anxious to get home now, we picked up our pace and soon arrived back at my apartment, which consisted of the upper floor of a private house.  As it turned out, this was to be rather ideal for the feathered friend who had just entered our lives.

I found a safe and sheltered corner for him, spread out some newspapers and put a small cage down with large stick tied onto the top of it, this would make it easy for him to perch, and somewhat easy for me to clean. I had absolutely no idea what baby owls would eat.

It was all improvisation and I simply prepared a  mixture of oats and water with some honey mixed in and tried to spoon it into his little beak. But unless I forced him to open so a little would slip in, that beak remained firmly closed, and I found myself trying to repeat the process every few hours, without much success.

This went on until the around midnight the following day, when I had taken up the spoon yet again. However this time, to my surprise and joy the wee fellow opened his beak and let me tip the mixture right in, gulp, gulp...

From then on, he adopted me as his surrogate mother and developed a very healthy appetite.  Sherab who was popping in frequently to see how we were getting along, began to spend a good deal of his free time ferreting around for more meaty morsels, and before we knew it our owl was suddenly puffing up and recovering a healthy sheen to his feathers.  He also began to develop a very keen curiosity and would seldom let me disappear from his sight.

He had a favourite perch on the window ledge in my kitchen. From this vantage point, he could monitor my every move and if I happened to go into the next room, he could simply turn himself around with a series of very endearing little clumsy moves, without ever taking his eyes off me.  If I disappeared into the bathroom, he would simply bounce right on in after me,  plop, plop, plop.  Determined not to miss a thing.

Those large green eyes were like laser beams.  Two creatures could hardly have been more different than this baby Owlet with its fixed and gazing stare, and a beastly little furry visitor, a Rhesus Monkey I had named Beasty, who could never focus her attention on anything for more than the briefest moment.


Lama Shariphu and Fatty Boy.

We called our new friend 'fatty boy' though we never found out if it was a male or female.
It was not long, before the  owl started to spread its wings. As he got stronger and bigger, he began to make clumsy excursions, that often led to near-disasters, especially when he would launch himself from the balcony of my apartment into the neighbour's high walled compounds below. 

 He would tumble down into the greenery, and then call us, and wait to be rescued.  I would then have to summon Sherab, who, batman like, would scale walls, fences and other such hindrances.  But he always  reappeared, in due course, with the wayward traveler, albeit in a bedraggled and ruffled state.

We soon decided to move him over to Rinpoche's garden compound, as he was now strong enough to manage the outdoor conditions and he quickly set up residence in a small pine tree near Sherab's window.

However, his preferred day time perch was on top of the open window, as, from there he could watch every move within. It was a bit unnerving to have those huge eyes fixed unwinkingly upon our every move.

He would puff himself up and then sway from left to right, bobbing his head up and down, as though this movement somehow helped him to focus on the objects of his unquenchable curiosity.
He quickly adapted himself to the gardens and became a familiar sight, riding about on our shoulders as we made our rounds of the stupas or went on with some other business.

By this time I was very attached to the little fellow, and he was growing fast.  His flights became more confident and far less clumsy.  Then one day I heard him calling from the roof. Normally when I would coax him he would just fly down and perch on my shoulder, or else I could extend a long stick and he would climb onto it and let me bring him down.  But this day, no amount of coaxing and calling would make him budge.

I realized something was afoot, and sure enough, he soon flew off into the tops of the trees. Our work was done.

I like to think that he came back to visit us from time to time, but I never actually saw my little friend again.  I looked and called a hundred times, but no, he had flown his human nest and rejoined those of his own kind, or so I desperately wanted to believe.

I will never know for sure but one thing is certain, I will never forget him.

Our lives are touched in so many unexpected ways.  We never know who will come, or in what form.  These visitors enter our lives and often without any prior warning,  stay for a while, and then they are gone.   

It is all so momentary and yet they leave something behind that is unique and lasting.  When they enter and touch our lives, however fleetingly,  they change and enrich our world forever.



*****





Monday, 23 December 2019

When Our Pet Dies. Losing a Friend Like No Other. Part 1





During my life, at least so far, I have befriended three non-human beings. Well actually, many many more than that, but three have been with me and dependant upon my care for some time. Others have come and gone due to circumstances such as house sitting or caring for the pets of family or friends in times of need.

The first was a black and white collie kelpie dog that I named Bilbo.
The second was a bright yellow male canary called Bert.
The third was a small baby owl.

Each of them was so different but each one also unforgettable.

Until this day I feel immensely grateful that they came into my life despite the fact that I carry a sense of sadness due to the loss of their company.

This is perhaps the hardest part of having non-human friends, their life-spans are generally much shorter than ours and we are bound to face the day when they are no longer with us.

I want to share with readers my own particular experiences with the hope that perhaps you might find some comfort should you still be grieving the loss of a pet. As I have come to know through direct experience there is no 'closure' when it comes to the loss of a loved one, we never stop loving, but there can a shift in our grieving when we cross the threshold of acceptance, cherishing what was and able to release the loved one into the newness of ongoing life however and where ever that may be.

Sadly, there is so much misunderstanding among people as to the nature of awareness of animals, birds, fish and pretty well all living things. They are sentient beings, just as we are with their own thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears. They feel pain just as we do. They love their young just as we do. They mourn the loss of a close one, just as we do.

When we understand this incredibly important truth our whole attitude and behaviour towards them is bound to change.

If we come to have a pet in our care and as a companion, we know only too well that they have very distinctive characters and characteristics. We also know what it means to bond and form an attachment with them.

However, it is important to keep in mind that all non-human beings share these same characteristics, not just our pets.

I always feel and believe that we human beings hold a place of special responsibility towards all these creatures with whom we are sharing this planet. They deserve our respect. They deserve our care. They deserve our protection.

*****


Bilbo was just an itsy bitsy thing when he first came home with me. He was at
the animal shelter in Kuranda in far northern Queensland. I actually picked him up for a friend who had recently lost his dog due to a tick bite.

Bilbo did not in any way or manner deserve to be called after our hobbit hero of the Lord of the Rings. As a puppy, he was extremely sensitive and fearful of everything but he adapted quickly enough and I pushed him past his fears in the way that I pushed myself past them during those formative years.

I will never forget the day I brought him 'home.' I was riding a small Yamaha motorbike and he was so little I was able to put him in the front carrier basket. At that time I was living in a patch of rainforest which was just near the Baron River and a little upstream from Baron Falls.

The whole ride home he gazed up trustfully at me hardly daring to even peak at the road, his little silky ears flapping wildly in the wind.

In the first days of his arrival into my life, he was afraid of everything and stayed very close to my heels and he had good reason to be. There freshwater crocodiles and snakes, spiders and wild cattle. The forest was filled with dangers more real than imagined.

He was terrified of the river especially. I used to swim across it and back every day and I was terrified too. Those deep and dark waters always held my mind in their grip. But I was just eighteen and newly alone in the world and determined to see what I could do. I needed to find out how far I could push past the fears and barriers in my mind.

When I arrived in that place I felt I only knew myself through proximity to someone else who had featured large in my life for the few years since I had departed from family life. In the forest, I had the chance to find out more about myself and every day became an adventure.

Soon after I moved there, I made a pact with myself that I would swim across the river every morning and that is exactly what I did notwithstanding my own fears.

Bilbo was not impressed. He would take one look at the river and run back home like a frightened rabbit. One morning I decided to take an executive decision. I carried Bilbo in my arms right down to the river and threw him in. I was ready to jump in after him should he fail to do what comes naturally for dogs... i.e. to swim. However, there was no need. He immediately made his way back to the shore climbed up onto the banks, shook the water from his furry coat all over me and then he tore off back home, without so much as looking back when I called out after him.




The following morning, to my surprise, he followed me willingly and even got into the water and had a brief dip and from then onwards he was always in the river before me.

He was a real character and a wonderful companion but I was always afraid of the day I would have to leave.

That day came along soon enough. Ray, the owner of the property and ostensibly the person for whom I had brought Bilbo home in the first place was supposed to take over his care. That had been the idea all along. But he had a salon down the hill in Cairns and only visited Kuranda fitfully. I had kept away from people during my months in the forest and really only made friends with one neighbouring couple.

I went to them when my time came to depart. Even though Ray promised to come and get Bilbo and keep him with him, I could not quite rely on his word alone so I asked the neighbours if they could kindly make sure the little man was ok should Ray not immediately be able to come up to Kuranda.

I left one day to make my way down to Sydney and a whole new life in the city but I could never forget my little friend. That separation and the manner in which it happened made me decide never to have a pet again. One has such a responsibility and I knew then that my life could never accommodate a dependent pet.

I still ache when I think of Bilbo. How abandoned he must have felt when I left, how terrified he would have been to find himself alone. Thankfully, I came to meet the friendly neighbours some months later in Sydney and they could assure me that all had turned out well, but I have always felt as though I let my friend down. That in some way I betrayed him.

I was so young at the time and life was moving fast for me. I did not have a fixed place to live and I felt that city life was no place for a dog.

*****

To be continued...




Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Crazy Horse Dancing






"I have dreamed the vision of the horse that dances wild,
I have seen the land of the great beyond.

I am one with this earth as a little child.
Let my eternal light shine on..."

The legend of Crazy Horse


Given the diminishing freedoms of this modern world which encloses us within a web of electromagnetic cyber 'intelligence' which is tracking and monitoring our every move, in order to bombard us with ads about things that we neither need nor want, let us take a moment to remember what is true and real and changeless and near.

A moment to remember what is most important.

Taking just a moment to give ourselves over to the reckless abandonment of the inner joy and freedom of the heart is so refreshing. To just let go of the mind and its endless stories, cares, and unceasing thought processes and let our hearts open.

If we could remember to take a few moments every single day. If we could remember to just stop and look around us. Just a few moments to look up at the sky. A few moments to breathe in the fragrance of a flower. A few moments to look within and remember who and what we really are...

*****

Sunday, 6 October 2019

A Heart of Gold, Ani Lodro Palmo

The following post is an attempt to honour the life of Ani Lodro Palmo who was one of Tibetan Buddhisms most senior and accomplished western practitioners. She was also my most respected dharma sister and a very dear friend. She passed on from this world on the 1st of October 2019 displaying the accomplishments of a fully ripened practitioner. She is forever and fondly remembered and revered.

Ani Lodro Palmo (Linda Talbot)

The above photo was taken in the winter of 1991. At that time we were sharing a room in a monastery where the Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche had been invited to stay. It was a bright morning and Anila was bathed in the warm rays of the early sun. I remember thinking that she looked perfectly angelic at that moment. It is the only photo I have been able to find of her.

It turned out that that winter was to be the final visit that Khyentse Rinpoche would make to Bodhgaya and although we did not know that at the time, we felt so blessed to be right there and so closely within his magnificent presence.

It was an eventful winter in many respects and there were numerous occasions when I felt that Anila Lodro was, for me, a perfect elder dharma sister.

She was an entirely authentic western Buddhist practitioner. From the first I felt immense regard for her and an intuitive and deep sense of respect. She was a shining example of how we should not only practice the Buddha's teachings but live them as well.

I saw her living them on many occasions and not in grand and sweeping gestures but in the small and seemingly trivial details of life. The kindly smile, the extended hand, the gracious glance. She was generosity incarnate and yet never in a way that pronounced itself. Quietly, almost unnoticeably she gave and gave and gave. She would have given her last dime if she saw someone in greater need of it.

I remember the first time I really noticed Ani Lodro Palmo.
It was during one of my first winter visits to Khyentse Rinpoche's monastery in Boudhanath, Nepal. The year was 1986. Khyentse Rinpoche had just given a teaching transmission to a small group of Lamas in his private rooms and there were a handful of close western students also present.

I had crept into the room when I noticed that something was about to happen and supposedly unnoticed was sitting at the back observing what was going on.
I remember Rinpoche, at one point, turning to Ani Lodro and asking her a question. Anila was gazing into space and absorbed in some revere. Rinpoche addressed her a couple of times but still, she was absorbed and then I will never forget the look of pure affection that came over Rinpoche's face. It was absolutely heart-melting, just like a grandfather gazing upon a beloved and wayward child.

That look and her unassuming attitude when she suddenly became aware of his attention will always remain with me. From that moment I marked her out as someone different and special. Later I came to understand that she was, in fact, a hidden yogini.

I was incredibly fortunate because over the years she was so very good to me. During one winter stay in Bodhgaya, some years after Khyentse Rinpoche had passed on both of us were there during the same period. At that time I was trying to unravel the deeper meaning of a small Dzogchen text and was spending most of my time in a little nook that I had discovered just outside the Maitreya Shrine on the upper level of the stupa. I was spending so much time there that the residing Indian priest actually gave me a key to the upper shrine. In those days we could come and go with a great deal of freedom.

I would sit in a tiny alcove with one solitary and ancient statue which was housed in a corner of the upper floor and cover my head and body with a shawl. I always brought bits of food and water for the many families of squirrels that resided on and around the Bodhi Tree and this little shrine was nestled within it wondrous branches and leaves. Ani Lodro was often the only other person I ever saw near that spot. She knew I would be there and the door would be open and so she appeared every day and sat quietly by doing her practice. She really took me under her wing during that period. Always encouraging, always, always kindly and sincerely supporting of my bumbling efforts.

It was such a special winter and she was so much a part of my memory of that time.

Several years later we agreed to meet in Gangtok, Sikkim. I used to go there several times a year as I was living just a few hours south in a small hermitage during those years. Khyentse Khandro* was, in those days, living in the Tsuk Lakhang near the palace at the top of the hill above Gangtok. Anila wanted
to meet her again and also visit Dodruchen Rinpoche and his Khandroma, Pema Dechen*.  She had established close connections with each of them over the years.

I was thrilled to be able to accompany her on these visits and always remember how warmly she was received. Khandro Pema Dechen was nothing short of delighted. We spent several hours as her honoured guests and she and Lodro Palmo laughed and exchanged many tales from past days.  Some of the stories Khandroma shared with us that day were so incredible I still feel thoroughly inspired whenever I think of them.

What does it take to be an exemplary practitioner of the Buddha's teachings?
Authenticity, which reveals itself to the world unselfconsciously in little acts carried out with the utmost humility.
It reveals itself in the deep and seasoned wisdom which knows when and where to speak and when and where to listen.
It reveals itself in the oft unnoticed gestures of spontaneous generosity and kindness.  Ani Lodro Palmo had a heart of gold, pure and untarnished.

We had remained in touch even during the later years when she no longer travelled to India. Regularly either she or I would phone one another. Therefore it was not with surprise but joy that I received her call just a few days before she was to pass on from this world. I had been trying to contact her for some time.

Not for years had her voice sounded so strongly and so clearly. She was nothing short of exuberant. That morning I had been feeling a little glum, but after our conversation, my mood was transformed and I was greatly encouraged and gladdened.

I could never have predicted that this would be our final conversation.

Beloved Anila whose many kindnesses were beyond counting, how you have blessed so many lives...

*****

Please follow the link to Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche's eulogy for a more
detailed description of her life.

* Khyentse Khandro was the wife of the great Tibetan master Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. Details of her life can be found in Rigpawiki and also an article I wrote called; A Remarkable Woman, Khandro Tsering Chodron.

* Khandro Pema Dechen was the first wife of Tulshik Lingpa, the Lama who
led a group of devotees up towards the sacred hidden valley of Shamballa. He was swept away by an avalanche just near the fabled entrance and his followers were forced to return to the valleys below. The extraordinary tale is retold by Thomas Shor in his book, A Step Away from Paradise.
Details of Khandros life are recounted in Rigpawiki.


Sunday, 4 August 2019

The Curious Case of the Curlew




Bush Stone Curlew

The Wisdom

Look! Look! he is climbing the last light 

who knows neither time nor error, 

and under Whose eye, unforgiving, 

the world, unforgiven, 

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 mesmerized 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 in the glass.


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 come face to face with the 'unknown.' In such confounding moments, we entered the realm of the 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 curious 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 ghostlike 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, given the ancient origins of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia one might well assume that they would have cause to know.
I was particularly impressed by these birds and had 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, quite recently 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.

Read on in Pieces of a Dream