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 take 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

Thursday 23 May 2019

Is Time Speeding Up?

It seems to be a global phenomenon. With every passing year, time appears to be accelerating.

Where ever we go and where ever we turn we hear people commenting about time flashing by so quickly, time pressure, the days appearing to become shorter and so on.

Young people are much busier these days than we were when we were growing up. They have more activities to attend to and school schedules are very full, along with after-school work and activities of various kinds.

The same holds true with every age group in different ways and for different reasons, barring perhaps only the newly born.

If we throw modern day digital devices, such as mobile phones, gadgets, tablets and gaming devices into the mix it quickly moves the whole phenomenon to another level.

One group of thought say that the 'time speeding up' phenomenon is due to a lack of 'milestones' as we get older and that this perception is based on psychological reasons. The 'firsts' which greet us in the earlier period of our lives diminish as we age. This explanation, however, seems incomplete.

Another school of thought takes a more scientific bent bringing quantum physics into the mix. The Schumann Resonance, which can be likened to the pulse or the heartbeat of the planet is said to have been stable at 7.8 cycles per second for thousands of years. This same group say that since 1980 the pulse has begun to increase. It is currently at 12 cycles per second. Some claim that when it reaches 13 the earth will actually stop rotating on its axis. It will not rotate for approximately 72 hours and then slowly it will begin to rotate again but in the opposite direction and a reversal in the magnetic field around the earth will thus ensue.

Very interesting...

And yet where do we actually stand in the midst of all of this?  What do we have to measure with or even comprehend our place within a vaster scheme of which we are slowly becoming aware? The interdependence of every living thing has now become undeniable and yet we still have not acknowledged how this is so or why.

We are under the impression that awareness exists because the world exists, but exactly the opposite is true. 

The world exists because we are aware...

Don't underestimate the importance of this statement. It is, in all actuality, mind-blowing.

If we go back to the absolute fundamentals based on our perception of the world in which we live, move and have our being, we are faced with the incredible mystery of our awareness. That, which is under-rated and often overlooked is, in fact, the very key to unravelling our confusion over the whole, messy business of living and dying and everything else.

Within an ever-broadening mandala of interconnectedness, we are being forced to begin noticing what is closer to us than any 'thing' can ever be.

How beautiful it is that this fundamental 'truth' turns out to be the simplest thing and the only thing that we can ever really verify in our own personal experience.

We all have the intimate and direct experience of our existence. It's really the only thing we have. Think about that for a moment.

Everything outside of that is hearsay.

Meanwhile, we are living our lives in a state of almost perpetual distraction. Our attention is riveted to the evanescence of life and not to the spring of 'awareness' from which it all arises. In other words, our eyes are fixed on the moving colours and shadows on the screen of life and not apprehending the screen upon which those colours and shadows are dancing about.

We are running faster and faster to get, well, nowhere...

Busy-ness has become a dilemma of our times. Too much to do and too little time to do it in.

Yet, we only need to pause a moment and take note of what really is right now and we are immediately brought back to zero...

What can be simpler than that in a complicated world?

Friday 12 April 2019

Too Busy Being Busy?

People running here and there. No time to stop, no time to think, no time to even really live...

When we are busy most of us are not able to live consciously in the present, instead, we are caught up in thoughts and all of the activities that spring from them. If we strip these thoughts right down to their bare basics we can quickly discover that all of them are about some preconceived hopes or fears about the future or the past. This is the condition in which we normally live. It is distracted, pre-occupied, stressful and very unbalanced.

Busy-ness is a kind of modern-day insanity which is overrunning our lives.
Even in our moments of non-busyness, we often find ourselves reaching for something to engage our attention and this continues from the moment we open our eyes in the morning until we shut them again at night. We live in a kind of fever and stress has become a substratum in our day to day existence in the modern world.

Unless we consciously take the time out to pause and be still we are caught on a wheel of perpetual movement and change. We are little better than mice on a treadmill which is going around and around. We are working so hard but we are not actually getting anywhere.

There are most certainly psychological impacts when we are constantly distracted, and constantly busy.

There is nothing so useless as
doing efficiently that which
should not be done at all.

Peter. F. Drucker

One impact of this condition is the sense of acceleration, the feeling that time is speeding up. We perceive this as something which is happening to us and we feel it as a kind of pressure which manifests itself in our lives as stress.

And stress, as we all know, directly affects our health, our moods, our thoughts and the quality of our lives. It also affects the way that we interact with others and has powerful repercussions on the lives of those with whom we are close.

In actuality, of course, time and space are relative and yet when our mind is engaged in the busyness of living from day to day we become entangled in the machinations of time passing in units of hours, minutes and seconds. We get caught up in the drama of events and we lose our sense of a wider and vaster perspective.

If there is one disease that pervades modern society it is that of stress which can condition our behaviour in so many ways and adversely affect our sense of well being and health. When our anxiety levels are high we are certainly not at peace and our lives are certainly not balanced.

When our attention is constantly engaged and distracted and busy we can easily miss out on the very things that give us a sense of meaning, satisfaction and fulfilment in our day to day lives.


Recently I was reading a story about two psychologists from a university. They conducted a test which was designed to indicate what kinds of triggers and conditions engender in people certain types of behaviour. In this instance, compassion and empathy.

In two separate groups, one therapist asked the students to walk to a class where they were each expected to give a short speech. The chosen theme for the day was compassion and empathy.

The other psychologist sent his group of students off to another class, ostensibly telling them the same thing, however, he led his group to understand that they were already late for their class. The first group, however, had been told that they had plenty of time until their class would begin.

Meanwhile, an actor had taken up a position on the pathway along which each group would pass. The actor made the appearance of being very unwell and in distress.

What happened next was interesting. It turned out that the theme and topic on which each person was expected to speak in their up and coming class, had little if any impact on their behaviour. (Remember, that day the theme was about empathy and compassion.)
Only 10 per cent of those who had been told they were late for class stopped to help the person in distress, whereas, 60 per cent of the group who thought that they had plenty of time stopped to help out.

Busyness is bad for empathy and compassion. Those of us who have spent time in big cities have seen many examples of this. I am sure that most of us can also attest to examples of this in our own day to day lives if not personally, then in numerous instances that we can observe happening around us.


It is very extraordinary to notice how our sense of perceived 'time' can affect the way that we behave and react to different situations.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have the following, also equally thought-provoking example which took place during an excursion into the Andes.

An archaeologist hired some Inca tribesmen to lead him to an archaeological site deep in the mountains. After they had been moving for some time the tribesmen stopped and insisted they would go no further. The archaeologist grew impatient and then angry. But no matter how much he cajoled, the tribesmen would not go any further. Then all of a sudden and quite unanimously they completely changed their attitude. Inexplicably, to the archaeologist, they picked up the gear and set off once more. When the bewildered archaeologist later asked the tribesmen why they had stopped and refused to move for so long, but then suddenly appeared to have changed their minds they answered, “We had been moving too fast and had to wait for our souls to catch up.

This may sound very quaint in our digital world where everything moves at breakneck speed and yet there is a very profound truth buried within the simple tribe people's home-grown wisdom.

When we rush around continuously never giving ourselves time to be still, to be silent, to be quiet and to be present in the present we rob ourselves of something utterly fundamental to our health, wellbeing and sense of day to day fulfilment.

Our existence is rooted in a truth so unspeakably near to us that we fail to recognise it. In the midst of our busy-ness, there is just one thing which is utterly essential for us to do. Everything else, in the light of this truth is completely meaningless.

To find out who and what we really are is the single most important thing we can do in this life. By refocusing our attention away from being the 'doer' we can train ourselves to perform actions even while we remain quiet and at peace within our sense of 'awareness.'

Friday 29 March 2019

When Hatred Explodes into Love

On the afternoon of the 15th of March 2019, I was in the small provincial town of Nowra about two hours south of Sydney, when a Whatsapp message pinged in on my phone. It was from my mother. It read; 'Everything is ok with all of us so please don't worry. Will ring you when I get home. Am out at the moment.'
At first, I thought it might have been mistakenly sent to me while intended for someone else. So I responded, 'Did you send that message to me accidentally?'

The reply came quickly. 'No! Am at a friends place, we are all holding together here.'

Then an earthquake alarm which I had installed on my phone after the Christchurch quakes, now many years ago, went 'ding ding' right at that moment so I immediately thought; 'oh no... there must have been a big earthquake.

As a New Zealander growing up in a subduction zone on the 'Ring of Fire,' I am very much aware of quakes and as most of my family members are now living in Christchurch I keep the alerts on my phone in case one strikes. It was uncanny timing because my alert is set at Richter 6.5 which does not go off very often. I looked quickly at where it was registering and it said Indonesia, so was immediately baffled as to what mum was referring. As I was soon to discover however, this was an 'earthquake' of a different kind...

Next moment another message came through from her. 'Listen to the news.' 'Massacre at a mosque near Hagley. It's chaotic here at the moment and the crisis on-going.'

During the entire duration of my journey back to Gerringong on the train, while clinging to my cycle in the hallway and as the compartment swayed back and forth I was riveted to my tiny phone screen consumed with news of the unfolding situation. A few tears rolled involuntarily down my cheeks as I tried to comprehend what was going on. The unfolding situation along with disbelief and horror was particularly poignant because it was happening in the vicinity of people I love and places I know. Whenever I am visiting my family in Christchurch I stay with my mother who lives quite near Hagley Park and my feet have pounded the pathways around the park many times over and at every opportunity.

Hagley Park is the 'jewel' and heart of Christchurch in many respects.

The news of this event is of course, by now, history...

One man with several loaded semi-automatic machine guns and a mind consumed by hatred and extremist views walked into a mosque near Hagley Park and unloaded his weapons into a temple filled with praying devotees both young and old.

At the same time, thousands of children were been gathering in Christchurch Square in order to protest about climate change. After the gunman's attempt to commit another massacre at a second mosque was foiled by the intervention of one of the worshippers present, he had taken to driving through the streets and shooting at people randomly. This caused widespread chaos and many people were caught up in the effects of the pandemonium which ensued.

It was not long before I was home and able to call my mother, as were many others who had family ties in the city and were connected either directly or indirectly to what was unfolding and yet far away.

Not being in New Zealand while all of this was taking place I could only listen from afar to the experiences of personal family members but nevertheless, they really touched a spot. What arose from this horrific incident appears to be so significant. From the fear and hatred which motivated the unbridled killing of innocents, rose up a tidal wave of empathy, love and compassion.

A few days after the event, my mother along with one of my sisters took their offering of flowers to add them to the makeshift shrine that had been erected outside Hagley Park.  Several streets before the park the flowers and tributes and notes and candles began to appear. By the time they came near the park itself, there was an ocean of flowers as far as the eye could see.

Both felt deeply moved by the scene, in fact, they had never seen anything quite like it. They quietly walked along arm in arm occasionally stooping to read a note or some card or look at a photo of a loved one lost. After moving along the wall of flowers for some time in this way, they lingered a while to take it all in and became aware of an Imam kneeling on the grass reading through some of the notes. My mother had noticed him before at some time, somewhere but had never spoken with him. He pulled himself up from the grass and the flowers, the messages and the tributes and turning around he was directly in front of my mother and their eyes met.

Without thinking at that moment something made her suddenly reach out and extend her arms towards him, he acceded to being held by a complete stranger in a warm and loving embrace. My sister soon joined in and the three of them stood there silently holding each other. Within a moment the Imam was sobbing uncontrollably in their arms. No one could speak, what could they say? The flow of empathy between them was complete and in that moment they were united.

Many many people around the city of Christchurch during that time had their own stories and experiences to share. It quite literally unleashed a tidal wave of empathy and compassion.

Exactly a week after the massacre I got another message from my mother. She told me she was all dressed and ready to go to the park for the 'Call to Prayer' which was to honour the victims and show support to the Muslim community. She had, only weeks before undergone a knee replacement and being well into her eighties, was naturally baulking at the idea of making this journey alone. Normally this would never have been the case as either a neighbour or a friend or one of my two sisters would have most certainly accompanied her.

However, on this particular morning, everyone appeared to be busy. Even the neighbours whom she had approached. A sad little message appeared on my phone. 'Lyse,  I so want to go to the park and be part of the ceremony but it looks as though I will not be able to.' I could certainly understand her dilemma, but on this occasion, I felt it was too important to follow her heart and the inner pull which she was so obviously feeling and that somehow everything would be ok.  I immediately encouraged her to drive as near to Hagley as possible and then take a bus from there. It was all she needed. Just a wee nudge of encouragement and she was on her way in her little bright-red Honda making a beeline for the park.

She drove to Hagley, found a park for her car and began walking slowly with the help of her crutches and a determination to make it to the main shrine area. It was a fair distance but before long someone approached her and asked if she needed help. She replied gratefully that she could manage. They reached forward and embraced her and went on their way. This happened several times until a lady in her mid-fifties suddenly took mum by the arm. She stayed with her throughout the whole ensuing ceremony and even accompanied her right back to the car afterwards.

The flow of grace and the spirit of generosity and empathy were palpable. Mother made it to the makeshift shrine, she was even able to find a seat, probably only one of a handful in the whole area. Being present and able to partake of this momentous event which had shattered so many people's lives and then exploded into a huge outpouring of love was really quite unprecedented. Everyone present could feel the empathy.

Of course, things will slip back into the usual day to day flow when it all begins to fade and the old routines kick back in and yet something completely out of the ordinary has taken place. Hatred has given way to love, it has opened people's hearts and minds. Such an outcome could not have been further from the perpetrator's mind and intentions and yet this is the beauty, this is the hope...

One cannot write about these events without mentioning Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand's currently elected Prime Minister. She is a strong young woman with a heart which is alive. A woman with the courage to stand by her humanity. Perhaps, because of its very isolated geographic location, in New Zealand, such an outpouring can happen more easily but I feel it is also an indicator of our times and amid the hatred and the greed we all need to see this quality blooming and taking hold. Our societies have become hotbeds of disconnection, dysfunction and profound unbalance.

She caught the imagination of the world by taking a devastating and traumatising event with which the perpetrator sought to isolate and terrorise one small group and she transformed it into a deeply unifying expression of the only thing that can heal such madness; love.

This is and must be an emerging sign of our times.

Kia Kaha is a deeply significant Maori phrase widely used around New Zealand, meaning 'stay strong.' ' Stay firm.'  Do not waver in the face of hatred and adversity. Remain united and as One.

Saturday 9 February 2019

Sacred Caves of Sikkim. Part 3

After a rough night camped out on a tarpaulin which we had laid out over the bare and none too clean floorboards of the cabin, the first sounds of life outside indicating the approaching dawn summoned us to rise early and make our ablutions under the cold water tap nearby.

We set about preparing a simple breakfast after which we got ready for our ascent and the final climb up to the cave. The previous day, a local person, possibly a native to northern Sikkim had arrived a little after us and set up a  camp nearby, he rolled out his bedding not far from ours inside the shelter. As we could not communicate except with the small store of Nepali words I knew we had not been able to get to know his purpose there.

 However, that morning we shared our small cooking fire and a few biscuits with him. It seemed that he was visiting the cave as well, but he set off some time before we got going that morning.

As soon as we climbed out of our camp we were confronted with steps rising almost vertically up the side of the mountain. The steps were narrow, steep and slippery. One careless foot placement and it could all be over within a flash.

We continued our steep ascent up mossy stone stairways that seemed to become ever more narrow and steep the higher we climbed. It was a somewhat cloudy morning unlike the blue skies of the previous day which had graced our journey in. Therefore we were a little anxious about the weather turning on us. This gave us some added pressure to our sense of limited time. We intended to make it back down to the lodge that same day and our descent on the slippery pathways was not looking any easier than the ascent had been.

Onwards and upwards we continued for some forty or more minutes, by which time the sun had risen and was beginning to peak through the early morning clouds.

Then, after a particularly exposed and sheer section of bare stone steps, we suddenly noticed a whole bevvy of prayer flags hanging over a narrow entryway and we knew our destination was now very near.

There was some clambering over difficult large boulders and then we were there, right in front of a steep cliff face and looking into several dark passageways. Interestingly, there was no clearly defined cave entrance to be seen, rather a series of gloomy caverns under the sheer cliff wall.

Small shrines were set up here and there with statues and offerings of butter lamps and flowers and bowls of water. Many had passed this way before and the pilgrims had left their offerings on the stone alters. There were all sorts of things from human hair to old malas and various other knick-knacks.

We immediately sensed a very powerful blessing in the place and although it was indefinable, it could not be ignored. Not long after we arrived the Sikkimese man with whom we had shared our breakfast at the camp shelter way below suddenly re-appeared. He beckoned us to follow him and as it turned out, this was a very fortuitous occurrence because we could never have found the caves which he was soon to lead us into had we been alone there. They were quite hidden from public view and not at all obvious.

Armed with nothing more than a small candle and a box of matches he entered one shallow cave near the main cliff-face and then disappeared over the lip of a very large rock.  We followed closely behind him, Frank ahead of me on the heels of our guide and me panting up the rear. Both of us had gas lighters and torches with us but even so the inky blackness within the mountain was utterly impenetrable and our lights seemed very meagre indeed.

Read on in Pieces of a Dream

Wednesday 6 February 2019

Sacred Caves of Sikkim, Part 2.

A faded sign marks the beginning of our journey on foot. Here starts the trail to the northern cave of Chang Lhari Nyinpo. This roughly translates as the old cave of God's hill. The trail passes through dense forests of ancient trees, bubbling mountain streams forded by rickety bamboo and wooden bridges of dubious strength and construction.

We begin with a descent along a pathway paved with roughly hewn stones. They are damp but fortunately not slippery. However, one must be constantly vigilant as the stones are not level. They jut out from the soil in an uneven profusion and often add to the difficulty of the path rather than making it easier to traverse.

Frank leads the way into the dense forest that greets us at the beginning of our trek. Bamboo groves soon give way to massive trees dripping with orchids and ferns of all exotic kinds.

It is not long before he decides to find us suitable walking sticks. These simple branches will become essential as we progress on our journey. A stick is very necessary in so many ways and quickly becomes an indispensable trekking tool.

I don't have the greatest kneecaps and a walking stick helps me to balance and take some of the weight while climbing and descending.

There were plenty of bamboos available near the beginning of our walk so we chose a couple of sturdy staffs to help us on our way.

As we were both carrying our own loads in backpacks it was essential to be able to balance the load well, especially on the tenuous cliff stairways and hanging bridges that we were very soon to encounter.
I will have to admit that I did roll my eyes when we climbed up to the first dubious section of the pathway not long after setting out. In this particular spot, a bit of bamboo had been roped to the side of the cliff wall and it looked none too sturdy. Without luggage one can skirt these sections fairly painlessly but when carrying a load it becomes quite a different matter.

The surrounding trees were tall and magnificent. This first part of our trail passed through some very old-growth forests that had never been touched with a loggers chainsaw.

We walked steadily onwards and upwards. In fact, after the first thirty minutes of relatively flat walking, it was all ascent, ascent and more ascent!

I always find that the first thirty or forty minutes of the day is the most difficult part of walking. After that one finds ones walking pace and the going becomes much easier. After warming up the body finds its own walking rhythm and once you tap into that there is a momentum which seems to carry you along, not effortlessly of course, but slowly and steadily.

Frank and I seemed to manage our pace at about the same rate but I was aware that he was being very thoughtful and not putting too much distance between us. There were many places where large rocks or slippery wooden walkways made it a little challenging for me, especially with my load and he was always nearby to extend a helping hand. I should also mention that he had quietly taken the lions share of things which had to be carried.

Even though it was relatively cool, as often happens with trekking, we soon became very hot and sweaty.

A seven or eight-hour trek is not much to tackle, but when the trail rises sharply most of the way it can begin to get quite gruelling.

I am something of a seasoned trekker and yet, I do remember feeling particularly weary on this ascent by the middle of the day.

Our intention was to make it to a small and extremely basic hut which lies about an hour from the cave of Chang Lhari Nying Phuk.

Early afternoon, when we stumbled across a bubbling stream with large and inviting boulders along its banks we decided to take proper rest, have our lunch and a good break.

Only the occasional local villager had passed us during the morning and sometimes they had a few goats or yaks with them, but we did not encounter any other pilgrims along the path.

Read on in Pieces of a Dream

Saturday 26 January 2019

Sacred Caves of Sikkim. Part 1

Ever since I first came to know about the four sacred caves of Sikkim, I wanted to make a pilgrimage to each of them and as of now I still have not accomplished that entirely. If a chance comes my way, I will make another journey and endeavour to fulfil that wish.

According to historical records, the guru Padmasambhava was requested by one of Tibet's kings in the 8th century to search for places where practitioners could practise in safety during the coming times of trouble.

The four caves of Sikkim are deemed to be among the places which he blessed during his search. The spiritual heart of Sikkim is said to be a place called Tashiding and these four caves are located in the four directions which radiate out from this place.

Two of the four sacred caves are easy to find and two are more challenging being several days walk up into the mountains along slippery and leach infested trails. One, in particular, can be reached only along a very treacherous trail which leads high into the mountains. This is the cave in the West, the Dechen Phuk or Cave of Great Joy.

Two caves, Cave of the Dakinis in the South of Sikkim and the Rebungla Cave are easy to get to. Chang Lhari Nyingpo in the north of Sikkim, which roughly translates as the Old Cave of Gods Hill is perhaps the oldest of the four caves.

My German friend Frank and I were both keen to make this journey. Frank had spent a bit of time in the hills of Darjeeling and Kalimpong and when I had mentioned these caves to him was as eager as I to visit them. So in the year of 2008, we made a plan.

Our intention was to try and visit all four caves, however, Frank was by that time living and working in Germany and could only spare a few days for our proposed adventure.

Therefore we decided on one cave in the South which would be on our route into the hills north, where we proposed to climb up to the Chiang Lhari Nyingpo Cave and then we could visit if possible the other eastern cave on our way back down.

There would be no hotels or eating places on our way once we headed for the northern cave, so we packed a small stash of supplies to last us for a few days.

It was spring in the foothills, but still somewhat cool and also rather damp with rain falling on most days. the area to the north was flanked by dense forests and as we were yet to find out a very steep and slippery climb.

On our agreed meet up day, I rose very early in order to prepare for a big day of travelling ahead. It was a cloudy morning and I could not see the mountain of Kangchendzonga from my window, which would have been the case were it clear. I had to flag down a jeep from the road above the place where I was staying.

Ten minutes of concerted climbing with my luggage brought me puffing and sputtering to the gate of the forestry department. From here many jeeps would ply up and down the steep and narrow road on their way to Gangtok and Kalimpong.

Frank had already been a couple of days with a friend in Kalimpong so I was going to meet him at the turn off at the bottom of the hill which was several thousand feet below where I was living at the time. From there he would pick me up in a jeep which we had hired to take us up to the beginning of the track that would lead to Chiang Lhari Nyingpo.

That morning it was not difficult to flag down a jeep, find an empty seat and make my way down to the Teesta river. I got there a little before Frank arrived with our driver and it was not long before the two of us were heading east on our way into the Sikkimese foothills.

As the eastern cave was on our route we made a stop at Rebungla and found the trail that led to the Pe Phuk or the Secret Cave.

Honestly, we were both quite taken aback even before we even entered the cave. There was a very special sort of atmosphere surrounding the entire place and neither of us had really expected that. I guess we didn't really know what to expect. As it was already mid-afternoon, we could not linger too long in that place, however, we did take the time to sit near the entrance before climbing down into the cave itself. It was surprising how big it was inside. A large picture of Guru Rinpoche was placed high in the entrance to the cave as though guarding and protecting against unauthorised entrance.

Climbing down into gloomy interior we both wished that we had a guide. There were a few obvious routes that we could have taken in order to explore the vast cavern but they looked so small and we both felt claustrophobic just seeing them. It would also have required our crawling on all fours in the dust and then wriggling through narrow openings. Neither of us being of small Nepali or Sikkimise build we decided we might leave those excursions for another visit and we plopped ourselves down in the main entrance way instead and just imbibed the atmosphere of the place.

Read on in Pieces of a Dream

Saturday 5 January 2019

Return to Forever

When we reach the autumn's bend

Will we wish that we were young again

Laughing in the face of time

If only we knew now, what we did then

Clouds... billow across the sky 

Changing as they fly 

Return to forever... 

Thus go the words in the song by Minnie Riperton.

When we reach the autumn's bend will we wish that we were young again?

Many people feel that their lives are filled with regrets and with the pangs of' 'if only or what if'..?

Filled with broken promises and dreams lost.

Filled with the residue of stuff that is no longer important and perhaps never was...

Yet, each moment holds a new promise.

The promise of what is right here and now...

That elusive little something which costs us nothing.

Which is always with us and from which absolutely everything arises.

How can we claim what is already ours?

This is the greatest of mysteries.

Unravelling it leads to recognising the simple and living promise that nothing and no one can ever take away.

But it can only happen when we let go of the endless strings of hope and fear and confront the challenge which appears before us as a complete and perfect paradox.

Continue reading at Return to Forever