Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Wind in Your Hair



When i was growing up in New Zealand there was a motorcycle advertisement that used to be played a lot on the radio. It was before the days of compulsory helmets for motorbikes and bicycles. I can still remember the tune so clearly and the feeling which it used to evoke.

and if you don't know what its like to take a (cycle) some place,
in your own time, with the wind in your face,
its a great shame...

One of my unalloyed joys while living in India is that one still has a choice as to whether one wears the head gear or not, at least this is very much the case in the small temple town where i currently live. 

Most of us here, choose to ride un-helmeted.

Laws do in fact state that helmets are 'compulsory' but when i step out onto the street i am lucky if i count the helmets i see on one hand!

This is India after all. One seldom rides above 40 ks an hour on a good run and hey, my wheels are powered by a whole 50 ccs!

We all have certain things that just instantly make us  'happy.' Simple and innocent joys are the evanescence of our lives.

Why shouldn't we give ourselves a buzz from the little things which are still free and accessible, as long as they harm no one else, they keep the blood pulsing through our veins and a lightness in our heart.

Why leave life to 'happen' until it is all a bit too late?

Do you know what its like to feel 
the wind in your hair as you glide between avenues of trees and pass by silent temples in the stillness of the predawn hours...?

The cool breeze will stroke your face as you pass down the leafy green aisle... 

The ancient whispering ones are like temple pillars,

 they will share this  magic moment with  you.

If you open your heart you will be able to fly. 

Its never too late...

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Dancing With Fear


Whoever and whatever the force that brings us into this world and to which Rumi is so eloquently 'pointing,' it is without doubt the greatest mystery of life, yet our attention gets constantly caught up by peripheral considerations. Our 'fears' and 'hopes' are at the forefront of the peripheral preoccupations which shape and mould our movements in this world.

Usually these limit us in various ways because we are bought up to exist within clearly defined boundaries. We tend to move through this life believing that this is how it is and will always be and we become so entrenched in this 'idea' that most people live their whole lives this way, never knowing the unique and infinite potential that is right in front of them and within them.

Yet all around us we see that there is a vague stirring of dissatisfaction, an inner rumbling of discontent, a deep and a deepening inner sadness, but if the cause of these symptoms is not addressed they become a 'disease,' chronic and stupefying.

"Zombisim is a word that encapsulates the rise of a modern trend; the age of the living dead. When having too much of everything has simply overwhelmed the senses and left an awful lot of people in a semi-conscious state. Look around, look closely, look at the unsmiling faces, look into the dull, unshining eyes.

As miserable and frightening as this picture may appear to be, it is nevertheless within our individual hands to turn our own mind and life around. We don't need to change ourselves or do anything accept recognize the treasure that exists within us. The mystery of being that surrounds us in every breath and in every moment of our lives need not be 'created;' it already 'is,' we have but to stop and notice it.

Reaching out to grasp our infinite potential requires the ability to look into the face of mind-created fears and tackle them from the place of intuition and spontaneity.

There is one incident that Chogyam Trungpa recounts in his autobiography that I have never forgotten and which made quite an impact on me when i read it, back in the nineties. No doubt because I had a somewhat similar experience and could very much relate to his situation. It had happened somewhere in Tibet when he was a young man, probably in his early twenties, prior to the Chinese invasion of Tibet.

He and two assistants were on their way somewhere in the mountains. Their path ran past a monastery and as they approached, they heard the deep, rumbling and guttural sounds of a large Mastiff guard dog. As they got nearer they saw the animal chained to a post near the entrance gateway. It had worked itself into a fine frenzy over their approach and was snarling, frothing and wrenching at its chain in a most unfriendly manner.

The two assistants were tense and stiff with anxiety as no doubt Trungpa also was, however, there was no way to skirt this path or take another route. They had to continue on their way with the hope that the animal would remain securely tied to its post.

Just as they crossed the gateway of the monastery however, the dog suddenly managed to pull itself free of its chain and immediately rushed upon them in a black ball of fury and fangs, intent on attack.

It was at that very instant that Trungpa did something completely unexpected and inexplicable. Instead of trying to escape as his two attendants immediately tried to do, he turned around towards the animal and charged straight at it making a loud sound as he went.

The dog was so startled by this turn of events that it yelped and backed off in an instant and uncertain truce. No one was hurt and they were able to continue on their way, somewhat ruffled but unmolested!

I love this story, it is a shinning example of taking fear by 'the neck' and looking it straight in the face. Naturally one would not want this experiment to go wrong and in Trungpa's case it did not. It certainly requires remarkable courage and daring.

I have a few of my own 'dog stories' in Tibet which took place during the 1980's and on one occasion with several large man eating beasts at a burial ground near the foot of Mount Kailash, into which I had inadvertently stumbled alone.

I could not have turned on those animals because there were five of them and they were not fat and well fed dogs used to human company, these beasts were wild and hungry and used to the taste of human flesh. I did the only thing I could have done in that situation, other than running, which was not an option as i was near a cliff face that fell away at least 100 meters to a valley below, so I just sat down and began to sing and it worked!

These are extreme examples of confronting and dealing with fear, yet no less valid for being so and rather memorable of course. This is not to say that we should endeavor to 'overcome fear.' Fear is an extremely important and vital life protecting mechanism. However, there are a number of factors with regards to facing our fear and the way that we deal with it that can be very liberating.

I am not advocating the headlong or blind rush towards the object of fear, despite the story that i just related. I have mentioned these incidents because they are a striking example of, tackling a problem outside of the use of conventional wisdom. Trungpa’s response which demonstrated openness and spontaneity bought about an entirely unexpected outcome.

Why not turn our lives into a dance and dance our way through it, since after all, as has been pointed out very succinctly on many occasions, 'none of us are going to get out of this alive.'

If we allow ourselves this kind of openness, if we are willing to surprise ourselves and others, we place in our hands a key that can help us to unravel mysteries of being.

But exactly how you might ask and understandably so? There is no how, there is no set formula. The way manifests once we begin to dance and then the dance becomes the way. It requires only an inner intention, decision and courage.

The dance of life implies a joyous and spontaneous attitude, a willingness to accept change at the very instant that it arises before us, in whatever form that it may be manifesting and a willingness to break free of conventional wisdom and live in the moment.

We are sure to be surprised by the outcome.







Dance when you've broken open.
Dance if you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you are perfectly free.


Rumi


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Maha Kartikai Deepam, Lighting the Sacred Flame Atop Arunachala



Lighting the Flame on the Hill of Fire!

Every year during the month of November an ancient ceremony is enacted at Arunachala in the South of India.
A huge copper cauldron is carried up to the summit from the Arunachaleshwar Temple and filled with ghee offerings, many of which are carried up by local and visiting pilgrims.

Each evening as the sun sets the lamp is ignited and burns throughout the night for ten consecutive days.
A lot of the foreign visitors run out of town during the main day of the festival, but i would not miss it for the world.

There is something very special about the atmosphere in this place during these days.

Come dusk on Deepam day, most of the town surrounding the entire Hill are outside on their rooftops. Everyone has ghee lamps prepared and offerings of flowers and incense.

When the sun is setting in the wast and the moon is rising in the east the head priest at the main Arunachalesvar temple sends a signal from the inner sanctum at the exact and auspicious moment.

A flare shoots up into the sky and the great cauldron atop the hill is lit and bursts into a mighty flame. At that instant a roar rises up from every place in and around the Hill.

The crowds cries out Harohara, three times. This translates as; This is a sight for the gods to see!

It is a truly exhilarating moment.

In a world torn apart by hatred, fear and the endless divisions created by countless human minds, we can take heart in the united joy which ignites itself as the eternal flame at Arunachala!


Arunachala is the sacred Hill which represents the Agni Lingam (Fiery Element) of India.

The following link will take you to one of my previous and more detailed posts on the;

Friday, 6 November 2015

Acceptance






Accept--then act. 
Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it...
This will miraculously transform your whole life.


Eckhart Tolle 



No matter how bad things may get, there is still a way for us to find the seeds of hope and peace right there in that difficult situation.

Life can deal us a series of blows and we might either give in to our misery and bitterness or dig deeper to find the point of our surrender and subsequent acceptance. 

Acceptance of what is, is the beginning of making peace with ourselves and the world.

If we are ever to find any shreds of peace and happiness in this world, the sooner we welcome acceptance into our lives the better.

Do we really have any other choice at the end of the day? Aside from orchestrating our own swift demise, which is no solution at all,  we merely drag out our suffering on a subtler plane where we have even fewer choices.

We are not advocating a dull quiescence to whatever life throws our way. Rather what is being pointed to here is a calm submission to what cannot be changed. Whatever can be changed and whenever that opportunity may arise one should be ready to act, keeping in mind, that it is always better to err on the side of kindness to oneself and others.
***
A few days ago i headed outside on my bicycle. It was just before four pm and some heavy storm clouds were rumbling in the distance so i thought it wise to get out and complete my evening routine of walking and cycling before the rains came in.

Every day when i am staying in Tiruvannamalai, i like to take my cycle and ride or walk up the wide pathway on Girivallum Road. The sadhus who live along this stretch are so familiar with my evening and, on occasion, pre-dawn jaunts, that they have bestowed upon me the name 'Cycle Ma.'

In this tropical locality, it is usually searingly hot come late afternoon. However, Girivallum Road has plenty of shade and avenues of old, towering Tamarind trees line both sides of the road bringing shade and relief to all who pass that way.

Many small Hindu shrines, tanks and temples are built along this stretch of road. An assortment of sadhus also live there, some practising meditation, others hanging about chatting and drinking chai, still others sleeping. The pavement along here is something akin to an open living room.

In any case, it usually has a certain relaxed ambiance and is a preferred spot for my evening walk and cycle ride and i seldom miss the opportunity to do so.

The particular evening i speak of, i headed out from my compound taking the usual back route and cutting across an open field which comes out right onto the pathway between a large rice storage center and an unused marriage hall. This route enables me to avoid the main highway until the crossing point.

As my luck would have it that evening i no sooner crossed the highway than large drops of rain began to fall. I made a b-line for the marriage hall which offered some sheltered areas along its sides and only just made it before the rain really set in.

I had passed an old fellow dressed in the simple orange attire of a sadhu. He was painfully making his way along the path. After the rain had begun in earnest he headed in my direction but as his legs were badly deformed he was not able to move quickly. By the time he reached the shelter, he was soaked right through.

I had seen many like him before, ragged, poor, wretched and unwell. He must have suffered from polio as a child and the marks of this ghastly disease had remained with him throughout his life.

He soon joined me under the shelter and we exchanged pleasantries via various hand signals. He spoke no English and i have only a smattering of Tamil words at my command.

He wanted to know where i was from, how many children i have etc. The usual questions that tend to pop up as introductions to most first time exchanges in this land.

He then proceeded to inform me that he had five grown-up children. Three sons, which he intimated by twirling an imaginary mustachio and two daughters, for which he pulled on his right nostril in order to infer a nose ring. The flourish with which he enacted the mustachios of his 'sons' was quite amusing. In Tamil Nadu one seldom sees a man without some form of facial hair. The mustachio is regarded as a sign of manliness and no self respecting male would be without one and the bigger and more extravagant, the better.

All his children were grown up and married and had families and children of their own. He had been a tailor in his younger days. The way he flapped his feet to intimate a treadle sewing machine led me to this conclusion and apparently with the small earnings from his trade he had raised his family in a simple way.

Then his wife had died and one misfortune had followed another. He began to take comfort in that family wrecker of all time, the 'bottle.' In the end none of his five children would take him in and he was forced to leave the village where he had lived all his life. He donned the simple attire of a wandering sadhu and began to live with neither shelter nor the surety of food. All he had was a dirty white cotton bag which hung limply over one shoulder.

He looked utterly wretched standing there drenched and miserable. Large tears began to roll down his cheeks as he looked at me steadily. It was the more heart wrenching because he did not try to play up his situation in any way and he was not asking for money. He was simply acknowledging what his life had become.

My heart ached for him. So many countless old people, like him, faced the final years of their lives, homeless, destitute, lonely and unwell. 

The best years of this man's simple life had been spent in raising the children who had eventually cast him out onto the streets to face his end alone and penniless.

Many many times i have seen these old ones and tried to imagine what their days are like and how they feel each morning when they wake up.

We do not know how our lives will turn out. Whether we will face our old age amid conditions of love, comfort, and support or whether the opposite will be true. In fact, we do not know if we will even face our old age at all.

What always comes back into the mind, however, is how utterly essential it is to seek the truth of our inmost being while yet we can. Only with our confidence and certainty in who and what we really are, can we face the future with all of its uncertainties.

The innovations to help, the charities, groups, and individuals who have taken on the challenge of addressing the outer needs of people such as these are worthy and much needed but in the end, we cannot avoid the fact that we must go alone and unaided when our time comes.

When we see the difficulties that others face it can be quite overwhelming. We long to help and yet find ourselves constrained in so many ways and for so many reasons. Even when we can help in some way it seems like so little and so inadequate.

How is one to face a future such as this? I could only guess at what this man would be thinking and feeling in these moments.

I put money in his shirt pocket but knew very well that it could only bring the most temporary relief. Very likely he would drag himself across the road again to the wine shop for another draft of short-term 'happiness.'

Yet, right here on this road one could witness a wide variation in levels of 'acceptance.' Each day I also passed those who had made peace with themselves. Those who had 'surrendered' were joyful and at ease whether there was rain or shine, food or famine. Those who resisted were struggling night and day.

Who knows if he could understand, but i turned him towards the mountain and tried to convey to him that his karma had brought him to the feet of a peerless sage in a powerful and sacred place. If he could somehow let go of his regrets and bitterness despite all, he could yet pass out his days with a peaceful heart.

Our true wealth lies not in our accumulated riches or the extended family crowd which may at any moment, be snatched away from us. As one of my teachers said; family and friends are like birds that gather for a moment in the branches of a tree before scattering to the four directions. 

Everything will be taken away sooner or later, whether we live in a mansion or on the side of a road, whether we have twenty children or none. 

Only what we have cultivated in our heart; in the inmost secret garden, will always abide, nourishing us and those around us and bringing us peace and joy when all else seems lost.

*****

Thursday, 8 October 2015

King Cobra

King Cobra
When life throws the 'unexpected' at us it can instantly rock the foundations of our 'known' world and put a very different perspective upon our moment to moment perception of day to day life!

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Discovering the Space Inside and Out

The Way the Leaves Shine
Discovering the space which is within us and which surrounds us is a delicate matter that requires nothing more than a very simple shift of attention. If you can stay with the moment 'between thoughts' a whole world of infinite existence and beauty will begin to emerge as naturally as the sun rises bringing on the dawn...
*****
In the early 1990,s I spent several months in a retreat centre which was located near a pilgrimage place called Asura Cave in Parping, a small village on the southern fringes of the Kathmandu Valley. This cave was said to be the place where the great Master, Padmasambava meditated and realized the state of ‘Mahamudra.’(That which is unchanging)
Day after day I would climb up the hill behind the cave. In the still, early afternoon air, which throbbed with heat and sleepiness, one seldom met anyone on the way. Indeed many were taking a nap during those very hours.
Each day, at the same time, I would walk past the cave and take a small dirt track up the hill behind. It wound its way steeply between rocks and shrubbery. The scent of ash from countless sticks of incense filled the air with a peculiar pungency which could almost be intoxicating at this time of the day. It was this smell, which rose in the heat from a large incense burner, which I associated with the place, the time and with the atmosphere.
At a certain point after climbing up the path the way opened out to a magnificent view which swept down the valley, across unfolding fields of rice paddy and on into the descending, dusty distance. Occasionally one could even spot the glistening spires of Himalayan peaks far, far away to the north.
Even though I knew those peaks were always there, it was only very infrequently that one could gaze upon the snowy summits from this vantage point and be thrilled by the spectacle of those distant giants.
A few more steps and one arrived at a small terrace like plot of earth which rested directly above the ancient cave. There were a few scrubby trees here and there. These had somehow escaped the knives of the women who came to gather fodder for their cattle and goats. The limbs of all the trees had been hacked and chopped so relentlessly, over the years, that they never grew beyond a certain height. Between these small trees were hung line upon line, and row upon row of colorful prayer flags that fluttered and waved in the breeze.
I would invariably turn my back on the grand view that swept down into the valley of Kathmandu, in favor of a less spectacular vista which opened out onto a small group of hills which were dotted with tiny hamlets, nestled here and there between the folds of undulating, bare earth, greenery and layered rice terraces.
One friendly branch offered some welcome shade from the heat and glare of the westering sun and there I would sit, motionless.
At that time of the day the light would appear to glitter on the leaves of a distant Bodhi tree at the base of a nearby hill. This rather ordinary and innocent reflection would invariably and very quickly engross my attention and still the wandering, restless mind.
I cannot say why a few shimmering leaves could hold my attention enthralled hour after hour, day after day, but come noon, the irresistible pull of that one spot on the hill would draw me from the dusky interior of my room and out into the light of day.
In the stillness of those hours there was a silence so full and so overpowering that thought was not even possible. In the absence of thought came a spaciousness that would give wings to the current of life within.
The happiness and peace of those silent hours could assuage even the sharpest anguish, restlessness or pain that might appear at other times. If I happened to climb the hill with a heavy heart, burdened by the transient but nevertheless, sharp worries of the world, within minutes of arriving there, all would be swept away in the blessed glitter of those distant dancing leaves of light.
The eyes were open and yet unseeing, the breath came and went less and less. There was a sense of merging towards the hub of a gigantic turning wheel. While the world spun on its way, all that had been previously scattered, drew in and focused itself to a potent point that had no circumference.
Grace flowed like an intoxicating balm into the weary waters of the mind.
In stillness, wisdom arises spontaneously to reveal the space inside and out.
The one that ‘sees’ and ‘knows’ and ‘thinks’ ceases to be and there is only the being itself, only the seeing itself…

(This is an excerpt from my up and coming book
Who Lives? Who Dies? What We Need to Know Before We Go)


*****

Sunday, 6 September 2015

For Kindness Sake

Leunig

"When in doubt,
It is better to err on the side of kindness..."

The immediate reaction of many upon seeing the cartoon above might be, 'oh, here we go again, another moralistic lecture...'

Potent images in the press and media of previous days have flooded cyber space. In a world where the senses are overwhelmed by 'bad news' and where mass and tragic outcomes, which are often caused and then exacerbated by a relatively small group of selfishly motivated, greedy individuals, can cause the mind to shut off and tune the 'noise' out. There is always something going on. Recently i heard a new phrase, 'compassion fatigue...'

However, every now and then one image will emerge which will cut through all the indifference, through all the debate and all of the noise.

If there is a saturation point at which the mind's ability to cope with and embrace demands upon our 'conscience' then those which touch us directly at the level of the heart, have the capacity to summon an inmost and boundless compassion. That fount taps into an inexhaustible ocean of grace which can swiftly bring all the other barriers down in one great crash.

Suddenly the excuses, the arguments, the ignorance and the indifference dissolve.

Like a bottomless spring that bubbles up, seemingly, from 'nowhere,' spontaneous acts of kindness spring from the depths of our being. They are not contrived, nor are they limited.

Imagine a world in which beings could exist without this?
Would you or i want to live there?

There is a favored spot where i often go to watch the sunset and enjoy that final hours of daylight. It is on a small stretch of road some miles from the town. It lies in a rural area among rice paddies and open fields and has been slightly elevated. The only source of shade on this stretch is one isolated Tamarind tree of considerable age. It's generous branches have sheltered many a wayfarer over years and decades...

Yesterday i ventured there for a little respite from the noise and dust of the road and town and to my dismay found it had been cut down!

Little pieces of it remained scattered about. It felt to me, as though a senseless murder had just been committed. What has taken years to grow had be hacked down in just a few miserable minutes.

The scene of this 'crime' is now completely changed. The 'tree of refuge' which had harmlessly and silently  abided in this place for so many years, was, no more. Gone the gentle atmosphere of shade and refuge; in its place a shade less expanse, strangely empty and now entirely at the mercy of the relentless tropical sun.

In contrast to this and not far away, the careful and back breaking work of planting numerous Banyan trees goes on afoot. The vision of a few far sighted souls who may never personally enjoy the shade or grace that these trees will bestow, but who, nevertheless are sowing the seeds that future generations will enjoy.

The effort required to plant and nurture each and every sapling is considerable and yet it is going on in striking contrast.

Every day we can witness acts of kindness if we make it our business to notice such things. Even when they may express themselves in the smallest of gestures they still belie something deep and fundamental to our inmost being.

There is much misery in this world; the sort that is often caused by careless, thoughtless destruction, yet the very same hands that are the cause of the destruction are equally capable of bringing about the most amazing transformations.

We need be in no doubt at all as to how important and crucial are the collective and small individual thoughts and doings of each one of us.

The fact of our very existence must, in time give rise to the awareness of what we all 'create.'  A single thread in the great tapestry of life may seem unimportant and yet each thread is crucial to holding the whole great mosaic of life together.

So even if we feel overwhelmed at times by senseless acts and by the suffering and sadness which engulfs so much of this world, there is also much that each and every one of us can do to offset it, at least within our own small orbits.

We cannot know the power of our good will and intentions until and unless we believe in them utterly. Herein
lies our true strength and ultimately, our joy!

In knowing that we can BE the change; that we can plant that tree, or extend that hand, be the listening ear,  or the shady bower. That we can be anything and everything we want is the springboard to true and actual freedom.

We are never separated from this freedom in our inmost being yet amid the clamor of the world one can forget.

As for 'the world,' the words of Nisargadatta Maharaj are something to aspire towards. "You don't have to change anybody; you just have to love them."

In concluding, there comes to mind the final words in the classic Middlemarch, by George Eliot;


"But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on un-historic acts and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in un-visited tombs."

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The Precious Present


The Tibetans have a saying;

You will have to stand for a very long time 
with your mouth wide open
before a roasted partridge will fly into it...

It is a rather droll way of expressing high levels of improbability, but nevertheless useful, in reminding us that some things that we may pine and hope for are simply
'unrealistic.'


The fact is that we could stand outside 'forever,' with our mouths agape and there is no way in the world that a 'roasted partridge' will ever fly in!

The odds are completely against this ever happening and it is like this also with a lot of things that we may cling very vehemently to as aspirations, hopes, dreams and wishes.

This is not to say that we should not have any. It is only to point out that it is wiser to actually get out and take the needed steps that would enable an 'outcome' to eventuate.

We must measure our wishes against our ability to create the causes that will engender the hoped for 'conditions.'

When we wait too long, the chances are we may miss out altogether.
If you are into 'roasted partridges' it makes more sense to scour the markets.

There is a huge advantage in learning to 'surrender' to life and accept what actually 'is.' Instead of dancing through our days like animated 'puppets,' tossed about here and there, in a relentless cycle of 'hope and fear,' we can simply learn to relax and allow our attention tofully greet exactly what arises before us.

Most of the time, we do the opposite. Our 'attention' is fixed elsewhere, any where, but right 'here' and right 'now.'

We need not live our lives as slaves to longings, hopes, desires or fear. We ALWAYS have a choice.

We can do ourselves the greatest possible favor and recognize the treasure of the 'present moment.'

The 'present moment' deserves our closest attention, gratitude and even devotion.

Take the hint and look again more carefully, you will never regret it.


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Surrendering to Life





Allowing ourselves the freedom to surrender into the present moment is a profound and joyful 'letting go.'

Only our fears, expectations and preconceptions hold us back from realizing the true potential of what is right here and right now!

We have so many preconceived 'agendas' as to what we think should be; as to how things should work out and yet 'life' hardly ever happens just as we would like.

Most often the things we want we do not get and the things that we don't want come uninvited and all the while the unwelcome shadows of impermanence and disappointment are ever trailing us, so that when we actually do get something we want, we must be alert, for it can be snatched away from us at any moment.

When we carry preconceptions in our mind and heart we can never hope to find real happiness or peace in this world because the reality of what is unfolding moment to moment is almost never what we expect.

There fore, life ends up being one long disappointment.

Drop the agendas; let go of expectations; free the heart from hope and fear and what do we have?

Moment to moment choice-less awareness of what 'is.'

It may not be a 'tropical island' but it is the ever present abiding essence and its inmost nature is spontaneous 'joy.' That 'joy' is within the grasp of each 'conscious,' living being.

In the graphic and highly relevant words of Chogyam Trungpa;

"We can hold back, not really surrendering because we feel that we are very genteel, sophisticated and dignified people.

"Surely we can't give ourselves to this dirty, ordinary 'street-scene' of reality.

"We have the feeling that every step of the path we tread should be a lotus petal and we develop a logic that interprets whatever happens to us accordingly.

"If we fall, we create a soft landing which prevents sudden shock. 

"Surrendering does not involve preparing a soft landing, it means just landing on hard, ordinary ground, on rocky, wild country-side.

"Once we open ourselves then we land on what is."

*****

And 'what is' is always waiting for us to notice it! 

From moment to moment, day to day, week to week and year to year; the 'awareness' that fuels the entire 'drama' of life; be it pretty, be it harsh, be it stressful, or satisfying, that 'awareness' awaits the moment of our 'recognition.'

So open the doors to your mind and heart and take that leap of 'surrender' into the present moment of whatever arises...


Monday, 1 June 2015

When the Earth Begins to Tremble


Contemplating life from a lofty ridge in the Himalayan foothills can be a risky business, perhaps none more so than now!

Naturally we feel that our meager 'existence' is, in some inexplicable way, important to the world.

However, the 'reality' is incredibly humbling.

'We live, move and have our being' upon a mighty, living and moving organism, for such is this Earth that gives us the very foundation, sustenance and refuge that we often so roundly take for granted!

When the Earth begins to wake and tremble we all must stop and take notice...

"It’s more than unnerving to be tossed about in an earthquake, the whole mechanics of being caught up in the movement of the earth’s plates and tectonic zones potentially lays us open to a complete shake down and not just physically but psychologically as well.
When I was about eight years old, I remember waking up one night in Nelson, my home town in New Zealand, and thinking I was being driven in the back of a horse drawn carriage that was bumping over a pot holed road at great speed. Moments later, I understood that it was the earth itself that was heaving, not some imagined carriage.
Now, so many years later, I find myself in a tiny, fragile hut, clinging to a small outcrop of rocks several thousand feet up in the Himalayan foothills and pondering over the impermanence of life.
I built my “tin palace” some years ago. It sits on a forested ridge about 2000 meters from any other human habitation, save a small retreat center and Buddhist Temple. It is rather near the edge of a precipitous cliff that drops about 250 meters to a small cluster of houses which are nestled at its base.
I had often mused that I would not like to live just below this cliff, but when the earth becomes unstable, living on the top of it is also not such a pleasing sensation.
On the 25th of April at 4:45 am, my long time winged friend, a species of dark iridescent blue bird found in the Himalayan foothills, landed with a thud on the tin roof. This had become a familiar sound to me over the years. My eyes popped open in time to see one black eye peering over the side of the awning into my loft. She was letting me know that it was time for me to get up. I took a little longer to heed her call that morning and paid the price as she jumped up and down at five minute intervals, reminding me, like a snooze alarm, that she was waiting for her cheese.
This had been our little ritual over a good many years. Despite the fact that I had only recently returned from 24 long months away, she had not forgotten and no sooner had I settled back in, than she resumed her old habit of waking me up at the crack of dawn.
I was reluctant and slow to get going that particular day. No sooner had I taken my first gulp of Darjeeling tea than a furry head appeared at the little side window in my kitchen. Shortly after that there was an almighty crash on the tin roof, as a large simian male dropped down from the tree above the hut. It was not a promising beginning to my day.
This was followed by various annoying and inconvenient visitations from hairy and hungry monkeys of all sizes and generations hailing from a large group that had been roaming about these forested hills for the past few years. Joining in the fray were three excited dogs, frantically enjoying the chase as they tore in and out through the bamboo railings of my fence and dashed around the base of trees as monkeys taunted and teased them from the safety of the branches above.
By 11am I was worn out with trying to keep vigil on my little stock of food and remaining pot plants and stay sane. All possibility of meditation and quiet time in the loft had flown out the window the minute these visitors appeared. Despite threateningly dangling my slingshot at the monkeys, who were by now making a sport of leaping from the branches onto my roof making the loudest crash possible, there was little I could do to keep the group at bay, so I just continued on with my usual daily routines as best I could.
Around noon, having no sooner sat down and taken a couple of mouthfuls of my midday repast, there was a strange tremor and creak. My first thought was, “monkey.” But then the tremor continued and increased. The hut began to sway and the wooden beams made strange creaking, groaning sounds. Soon I heard an eerie, deep rumbling sound. I managed to stand up and noticed that the water in the small pond outside was splashing back and forth.

It was a big quake, accompanied by all of the unsettling emotions of surprise, alarm, shock and fear.

Cries soon started up from the villages on either side of the ridge and also from below. People were running in all directions in a bid to flee their houses. The quake that day was the 7.8 that rattled Nepal to the west of Darjeeling.
The next day at approximately an hour later than the previous one, we had another quake. This was the aftershock of 6.7 that struck close to the same region in Nepal.
The third day at dusk, just after I returned to my hut from a walk around the Temple, there was a much more powerful jolt. Screams, cries and shouts rose up from the neighboring villages yet again. Dogs began to whine and howl and pandemonium broke out on all sides.
I caught my breath and scrambled outside. The earth was still shaking even as I tore up the path to the main temple. Rigzen Dorje, the current care taker, appeared from the retreat center with a loud and startled cry.
In the neighboring towns and villages people were engulfed by a wave of fear. Never in their lifetime had they been so rudely shaken three days in a row.
One, two, three more days passed and there were no more tremors. Slowly but surely the normal sounds of life and business resumed. Jeeps could once again be heard plying the road above our forest and people began to forget their terror. Those that had been camping outside, in fear of their houses crumbling down on top of them, once again returned to their homes and life swiftly resumed its normal flow.
How brief are the memories of those not directly affected by a catastrophic event?
Brief. So brief, that merely the span of a few days could elapse before, by all appearances, it would seem that nothing at all had even happened. How quickly we all resumed our egocentric lives, but then wham!
On the 12th of May another large quake struck, this time much nearer. Eerily, it unleashed its power at almost exactly the same time as the first large quake. But this time in the mountainous region not far from Everest. Those “pillars” of all that stand for “solid” and “stable,” quite literally began to crumble—an appalling and unforgettable sight for those who witnessed it.
The story is still unfolding and by no means passed. At any moment the Earth can shake us off her back. We may disrespect her, ignore her, mistreat her, adore her, even pay homage to her. But at no time are we ever anything more than her guests—just visitors passing through.
Mere specks riding on the back of a mighty and vastly mysterious “being.”

The above article was written for and published in the May 31st 2015 edition of Elephant Journal

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Guru of Impermanence


Our lives are as fleeting as a cloud...

On the 25th of April at 4.45 am, my long time winged friend, a species of dark iridescent blue bird found in the Himalayan foothills, landed with a thud on the tin roof of my tiny hut.

This had become a familiar sound to me over the years. My eyes popped open in time to see one black eye peering over the side of the awning into my loft. She was letting me know that it was time for me to get up.
I took a little longer to heed her call that morning and paid the price as she jumped up and down at 5 minute intervals, reminding me, like a snooze alarm that she was waiting for me to put out her cheese.

This had been our little ritual over a good many years. Despite the fact that I had been away for two long years, she had not forgotten and no sooner had I resettled back into my 'tin palace' at Das Mile Retreat Center, than she resumed her old habit of waking me up in the mornings.

I was reluctant and slow to get going that particular morning.

No sooner had I taken my first gulp of Darjeeling tea than a furry head appeared at the little side window. Shortly after that there was an almighty crash on the tin roof, as a large simian male jumped from the tree above the hut onto the corrugated iron sheets.
It was not a promising beginning to my day!

This was followed by various annoying and inconvenient visitations from hairy and hungry monkeys of all sizes and generations hailing from a large group that have been roaming about these forested hills for the past few years.

Joining in the fray were three excited dogs, frantically enjoying the chase as they tore in and out of the bamboo railings of my fence and dashed about among the trees while the monkeys taunted and teased them from the safety of the branches above.

By 11 am I was worn out with trying to keep vigil on my little stock of food and remaining pot plants and stay sane. All possibility of meditation and prayers at the shrine in my loft had shot out the window the minute these visitors arrived.

Despite threateningly dangling my slingshot at the monkeys who were by now making a sport of leaping from the trees onto my roof making the loudest crash possible, there was little I could do to keep the group at bay, so I just got on as well I could with my usual daily routines.

Around midday I had no sooner sat down and taken a couple of mouthfuls of my midday repast, than there was a strange tremor and creak. My first thought was, 'monkey'. But then the tremor continued and increased, the hut began to sway and wooden beams made strange creaking, groaning sounds. Soon I heard an eerie rumbling sound. I quickly tried to stand up and noticed the water in the small pond outside splashing back and forth. It was a big quake accompanied by all of the unsettling emotions of surprise, alarm, shock and fear.

Cries soon started up from the villages on either side of our forested ridge and also from below. people were running in all directions in a bid to flee their houses.


Read More in Masters, Mice and Men
Volume Three in the series, Shades of Awareness

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Is Unconditional Love Really Possible?

Update: 28/4/15

It seems appropriate to say a few words here prior to launching into this post. I had actually put this article together before i left Arunachala, but had not had time to edit it as i was preparing for the journey up to Darjeeling in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas. Therefore i finally got to finish it just a few days ago, in fact just one day after the massive quake in Nepal, which incidentally, we felt very strongly here as well.

What has struck me very deeply and movingly in the interim, is the outpouring of spontaneous love and support that has been flowing towards Nepal and all those caught up in this unfolding tragedy...

We may at times question our ability to feel and be moved by the pain of others, particularly of those whom we have never met or known, yet in this instance, as in many others around the world, we have direct proof of our inner sense of interconnection with others.

This inner sense is not 'sentimental' it is utterly 'fundamental...'


We are inclined to think that unconditional love is something rather idealistic and unattainable and yet it is more a part of our lives than we might previously have noticed. Not only is it part of our lives, the fact is that, without it we could not exist!

True and unconditional love arises from such a pure place within us that it cannot be contrived and is in no way intellectual. We cannot control it, it just flows from the inexhaustible source of 'being' itself. 

Yet, isn't it true that we can often feel quite disconnected from this?

The love of a parent for its child is one expression of 'unconditional love' and this is something we can witness easily all around us and on a daily basis, whether human or otherwise. Unconditional love is not an unrealistic form of love that one might only read about occasionally in a fiction novel, it is the very fabric and weave upon which life plays itself out.

We have been led to believe that a 'pure love' such as the unconditional kind is something that only a few lofty or heroic souls may ever come to know, and yet it is not at all unattainable or even uncommon. Our lives are filled with expressions of unconditional love, in all shades and in all varieties. 

The squalor of hatred, indifference and all the accouterments of our so called 'modern' societies are pre eminently brought to our notice day in and day out with an almost obsessive repetition and yet life is also filled with spontaneous expressions of love and generosity and we don't have to look far to find them!

I remember coming across a chapter in a book, years ago. The book 'White Sail' was written by Tinley Norbu Rinpoche, an extra ordinary Tibetan Lama/Teacher/Writer, who has since passed on.

In this book he has written a chapter called 'Love and Faith.' I had not come across anything quite like it anywhere else, at least not at the time that i first read those wise words.

He did not admonish us to 'love one another unconditionally' from a moralistic stand point, he simply took a long and hard look at the nuts and bolts of what we know or 'think' we know about 'love.' At the time and still now i find his clarity very relevant and inspiring.

Within various religious institutions; the phrase 'unconditional love' rolls easily off the tongue, but much more challenging is our capacity to actually find this kind of love within our own hearts and to spread some of it about in our world.

To simply admonish us to 'love unconditionally' is a call to action that for most of us is unrealistic. We all struggle to some degree or another with our various likes and dislikes. Nevertheless we are also all 'plugged in' as it were to this inexhaustible source, simply by virtue of the fact that we even exist at all. 

When we look around us and within us, we can begin to notice the spontaneous moments of joy and out reaching that can come our way, almost imperceptibly throughout the day. This broadening of our understanding of 'love,' is extremely important. Even something seemingly unrelated or trivial can be a doorway into greater understanding and our re-connection with this inner source. This can be triggered by something as simple as the glint of sunlight through leaves. If we allow such a moment to touch our souls, it awakens within us the stirring of our inner heart, and this is the smoke that can precede a fire, if we are prepared to fan it.

Indeed true love is not something rare, we are surrounded by expressions of it and we ourselves can easily create moments in which this spontaneous flowering can arise.

True and unconditional love' is the very essence of 'who and what we really are.' It lies at the very heart of existence, radiating outwardly as the profound interconnection that binds all expressions of life.

Breaking everything down into the simplest and most uncomplicated universal energy, love brings us directly into the presence of what lies right at the very heart of being.  

 It is not something that can ever be contrived or in any way fabricated, as Pooh so rightly pointed out to Piglet.

Our modern world so highly regards its material values, the individualism and competition which those values often generate. Yet such values divide and isolate instead of unifying and nourishing, and they tend to encourage a growing sense of imbalance and disharmony.

As the Dalai Lama so rightly and succinctly pointed out, 'love and compassion are necessities not luxuries.'

Unconditional love flows most naturally, so let it, it will transform you and the world...