Saturday 26 September 2020

Digital Dilemmas and the Psychology of Distraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we reclaim our power? 

We reclaim our power by reclaiming our attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 10 August 2020

Small Things Big Trouble

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


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

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

Neeya Zzzzzzzzz… bye-bye, sleep!

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

Small things can lead to bigger things and unexpected outcomes…

But I must first explain how my story came about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A plastic lotus flower thingy...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whereupon she was never seen again…

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

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


Monday 22 June 2020

Finding Our Way Through the Minefields of Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Starfish Story

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

Loren Eiseley

Making a difference one by one.

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

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

Wednesday 18 March 2020

And We Do Not Fear...

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

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

There is no greater assurance than this. 

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

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

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


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

Thursday 27 February 2020

Becoming Protectors of Life

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

Our actions affect others. 

We human beings are the only species with the power 

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

H.H. Dalai Lama

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

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

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

Nothing is not interdependent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This balance is in our hands...

Sunday 9 February 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Fatty Boy, Baby Spotted Owlet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lama Shariphu and Fatty Boy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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