On Saturday morning I was on the coach early to get to Brighton in time to hear Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche teach on Santideva’s 9th chapter. It was just after 6am. I pulled out my new dharma book The 6 Perfections by Dale Wright (an excellent book) and tried to read the section on tolerance. It was early and my eyes hadn’t woken up. Blurry font. Unfocused mind. Easily distracted.
About 10 minutes into the journey, we were at the last main coach stop before leaving Oxford for London. A young woman got on. She expected the driver to accept card payments – only had £5 in cash. The nearest ATM was a long walk away. I asked if she was going to Victoria in which case she could withdraw £10 when we got there. We sat down and out of nowhere out of my mouth said the words: Keep the money. She wanted to repay me. All I thought was, I don’t own the money, the Government does – all I’m doing is moving it around.
The question of ownership shifted in a big way after reading a short excerpt by Daniel Dennett. It was from a philosophy text reader when I belatedly started university in my mid‑30s. My take on Daniel Dennett’s view on ownership is this: Your possessions stretch as far your mind. So, if you’re at a friend’s place and are handed a plate is the plate yours or your friend’s? The pens at work where you sit each day, are they yours? Well, they’re your employer’s. So when I sat down on the bus and thought, It’s not my money, it’s the Government’s, that’s where I was coming from. Continue reading
Hello from Goa, land of blue skies, sunshine and palm trees swaying in the balmy breeze. But lest you think that Liz and I are living the languid life of lotus eaters (okay, occasionally…) we are of course as trumped and brexited as the rest of you – but in true Indian style.
Luckily we weren’t here in November when the demonetisation policy kicked in overnight. It caused mayhem and chaos and is still not fully resolved. Basically there is still a shortage of bank notes as they scrapped the 1,000 rupee note and replaced it with a 2,000 note. That’s now £25 quid in UK money with the current crap exchange rate and if you try and pay with it few shops have change to give you or they want plastic money instead. Yes, they are trying to move to a cashless economy where hundreds of millions don’t even have a bank account or their own mobile phone. There are still unreported riots and violence and the poor have no money to pay for fruit, vegetables or milk. Unemployment has risen. Nobody can afford to buy locally built Hero motorcycles, for example, so they’ve had to close the factories. Continue reading
2 cups Panir (tofu) cubes
2 cups peas
4 tomatoes (medium) chopped
2 onions finely chopped
2.5 cm ginger piece
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon chilli powder (optional)
1 teaspoon cumin powder
2 cardamoms (black) ailaichi
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons oil/ghui
2 cups of water
Coriander leaves chopped
Fry panir cubes till golden. Remove and drain out. Grind ginger, garlic, turmeric and cumin seeds and make a paste. Heat oil, and add cardamom and bay leaves. Fry onion till golden. Add the paste and salt and again fry. Add peas and tomatoes. Again fry for a few minutes. Add water. Cover and cook till peas become tender. Add fried panir cubes and again cover for 2 minutes. Add mixed spices and garnish with green coriander leaves. Serve hot with bread or rice.
Source: Joys of Nepalese Cooking , Indra Mahapuria
Mint leaves are not used for making chutney in Kathmandu Valley where they grow wild, but they are generally used in the Terai region of Nepal.
1 cup of green mint leaves
2 small garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoonful of chili powder or 1/2 green chili
1 teaspoonful of salt
2 tablespoons of mustard oil
1/2 teaspoonful of fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoonful of turmeric
Juice of one or two lemons
Grind mint leaves and garlic in a mortar. Add salt and chilis. Squeeze one or two lemons for juice. Heat the mustard oil in a small frying pan and fry the fenugreek seed till they become black. Add the turmeric and turn with a spoon. Now add the mint and garlic mixture.
Time required 10- 15 minutes
Reaching out to animals and all sentient, how would this change our world? If everyone understood that all beings, whether animal, insect, bird, plant or even mineral, are sentient and therefore conscious, how would this change the way we interact with them? If we understood and began to appreciate all living beings as sacred and intelligent, what impact would this have on us, and all the other living forms with whom we co-exist on this planet? The mind boggles…
I remember as a child that one day my mother asked me to go over to the neighbours house to find out if they were at home. At that time we were living in Nelson, a small town in the north of the South Island of New Zealand. Our neighbours were a husband and wife and their two children with whom we young ones often played of an evening. They had not long moved to Nelson and being so near by, our family had instantly warmed to these new arrivals.
I ventured over the side fence and made my way up the staircase to the front door. Their tabby cat was sitting on the doorstep imbibing the warm noon sunshine. I was already acquainted with her and so gave her a nod as i climbed past to ring the doorbell. I pushed the button a few times but there was no response from within and so, without thinking, I sat down next to the venerable puss and asked her where the family had gone. She looked up at me, made a little feline squeak and we amicably bumped heads and then sat a while in companionable silence.
After some time I slowly got up and made my way back over the fence to tell my mother that the family were, at that minute, away somewhere. When I entered the house a chorus of giggling and squeals of laughter greeted me. Evidently, my mum and sisters had been watching my encounter with the neighbours cat through the back bedroom window which directly overlooked the neighbours staircase. They had overheard our conversation.
For some reason they found it inexpressibly silly and funny that I should have been sitting there verbally interacting with a cat! I found it equally silly and funny that they did not understand that one could. I was sometimes reminded of that incident whenever family members would begin to recount stories and memories of our childhood days, yet, from then until now, I still do not see what they could possibly have found so strange or amusing.
All life that is sentient, is therefore conscious!
It is incredibly important for us to take this statement seriously and give it the consideration that it deserves. Day after day we can witness around us acts of callousness and cruelty of which most people are not even aware. They are not aware because they simply do not acknowledge that other life forms are sentient and therefore feel and respond to energy, moods and pain, just as we do. This is an extremely crucial point to understand if we are ever to come into greater harmony with all other life forms with whom we share this world. The various forms of sentient life may not speak our language but there is a place where understanding can occur naturally no matter what the outer form may be.
Many who own so called pets become conscious of this truth by necessity of close association and yet somehow they often continue to exclude other forms of life. If we can ever begin to question our assumptions and reactions towards all living beings we would quickly be forced to change many long held beliefs. If we want to allow the extra ordinary bio diversity of life on our planet to continue to, not only exist but thrive, then a shift must take place in our perception.
At the moment human beings predominantly have the supremely arrogant view that everything in nature, be it animal, plant or mineral, exists for their use and convenience alone. How primitive and barbaric is this view?Thankfully this is beginning to change, there is something of an awakening in the consciousness of a growing number of people. It is not yet widespread, but it is a beginning. Many of the so-called primitive societies understood and lived by the natural laws of respectful and sustainable co-existence. But in recent human history most of these intuitive qualities have been lost and forgotten.
Awareness does not discriminate between forms. It is the inherent nature of all sentient life, how ever and where ever it may appear…
What we begin to see now, even though it is in a very nascent stage, is something of a quiet opening and awakening. At this time it is just a few people who are paving the way in inter species communication, but their work is sending out ripples, which in time will have a profound impact on the way we view the living world around us. However, each and every one of us can help to accelerate this process through our every day small deeds and by changing the way we think. Then like a shift in the tide, almost imperceptibly but slowly with a gathering momentum it can begin to catch on and start challenging old and previously unquestioned beliefs.
There will come a time when we will look back on current accepted norms and behaviours and be amazed that we could live in such a barbaric and unaware world such as we have been living in for so long. It would seem that the more, so-called advanced today’s societies think themselves to be, the more unaware and brutal they actually are.
When ingrained beliefs begin to under-go a shift, when we begin to become aware of who and what we really are, we can not help but start to notice that this same beingness which is in us, also pervades everything else. Everything includes everything, animals, plants, insects, and the planet on which we live, move and have our being. Interconnectedness is vaster and more thoroughly integrating than our mind can ever really comprehend or grasp, therefore we need to move beyond mind in order to begin to really get a sense of the underlying reality out of which all of life arises. The implications of such a shift in awareness are truly immense.
An appreciation of the unity and sacredness of all life is integral to awakening to our own awareness.
Awakened beings have long understood the interconnectedness and inherent divinity in all sentient life forms. From the Buddha, to Ramana Maharshi, and countless others besides, great sages have communicated with animals in such a natural way which is completely respectful of who and what really exists. For them this truth is a living reality, not something to be questioned or doubted, their experience which moves from the heart in an ever fresh exuberance of being, is a timeless and constant affirmation of unity in diversity.
We are all sacred drops
from the same sacred ocean of life.
Those who stayed near Ramana Maharshi and who were honoured to witness his many exchanges and relationships with animals, birds, and at times also the plant life, took it all quite for granted. The animals simply became a part of the life of the ashram. The Maharshi treated them all as his own children, showing them the same care and respect that he bestowed upon all the people who were drawn to be near him.
A Jnani can differentiate between the different forms of life, but to him all are inherently divine.
The changes which can be initiated by humans in their interaction and effect upon the different kingdoms of life, begin in our mind and thinking. When the energy of the heart is enabled to speak through the mind anything becomes possible. This is not mushy, sentimental talk, but truth based on a profound and inherent law in nature that always moves towards harmony and balance. As in all things, we are inevitably drawn back to the one and central tenet, the inherent divinity within all sentient life. To find out who and what we really are is so vital in reclaiming our true inheritance and in recognising that all living beings have an equal claim in this same inexhaustible spring of life. However we, as human beings, hold a unique position and responsibility within the kingdoms of nature. We have the capacity to know who and what we really are to live and let live by this truth.
Photos provided by the author.
[This article was sourced in LEVEKUNST art of life]
Thanks to the author for permission to publish.
Casa da Torre near Vila Verde
Using the deity as meditation practice, in particular White Tara, was the topic for this years summer camp held for the 6th time in northern Portugal. The venue was once again Casa da Torre near Vila Verde, and the delightful Portuguese sangha were as welcoming as ever. It is always lovely to meet so many now familiar faces after twelve years of Bodhicharya Summer camp retreats here and in France since 2006. The warm weather and fresh vegetarian food laid the ground for a spiritually nourishing week with Ringu Tulku Rinpoche.
Rinpoche told us that White Tara was the first sadhana taught by the Buddha: in India, where White Tara was already a common practice, she was known as Saraswati and associated with healing and long life. The great yogi-saint, Atisha Dipankara, felt he was guided by White Tara and believed himself to have been saved by her, and when he was invited to re-introduce Buddhism to Tibet from India, he brought this practice with him. Gampopa later inherited the practice and passed on the sadhana to the first Karmapa, Dusom Khyenpa. Since then White Tara has been regarded as an important bodhisattva in the Tibetan school of Vajrayana Buddhism and this particular sadhana has been recited throughout the entire Karmapa lineage until today.
Sign in Haflong, Guwahati
There’s something wonderfully hedonistic about an alarm that goes off at 5am and you lie in bed for another hour in that half dream-like state. This is India; and lateness is a fine art that requires a last minute scrabbling for the prize – a seat on the bus or train; meeting a friend in a chaotic, busy city; frantically looking for an internet hotspot at the airport to confirm a flight.
So my wife is off to the train station. One hour late! Not that it matters. She’s meeting her brother and his wife and a sister coming on the Delhi express which is two hours late.
Today is chilly and misty. We’re in Guwahati, the capital of the state of Assam in the north east of India. The flat has been lent to us by Sadhana, a childhood friend of my wife’s. Sadhana heads a team in the precisely named DIRECTORATE OF WELFARE AND SCHEDULED CASTES and lives with her husband on the other side of the city.
Sadhana outside her office
I spend some time relaxing and reading India in Slow Motion by Mark Tully, the BBC correspondent for India. Someone described his broadcasts as sounding as if he were speaking from a phone box in the middle of a busy city with the hum of traffic and horns sounding in the background. The chapter I’m reading is about Sufism, Islamic mysticism expressed in dance and rituals. A pity there is the split now amongst so many adherents of the religion.
My wife brings the family back from the station and they quickly settle in to the spare room, a rather dark and dank affair as it hasn’t been lived in for some time.
Time to go for a wander in the town, we leave the house and board a bus which takes us to the outskirts of the city. Walking around, we come across the Science Museum, surprisingly neat and tidy with lots of experiments for the the kids to play with inside the building. Nothing really sophisticated is there but the attempt to engage children in scientific practice is well thought-out.
Outside is a medicinal, aromatic herbal garden with all kinds of plants in neat beds. Signposts indicate their Latin and local names as well as their efficacy for treating various ailments. Doubt is cast when I see that some are purported to cure leprosy and cancer, though who knows what truths lurk in local lore.
We aim to return before we leave, yet knowing that road leads on to road we doubt that we will ever come back.
Day dawns. Early morning standing in the doorway of the little courtyard of Shinji Butt. Outside, pigs are grunting about in the mud. A little boy squats and defecates while a multi-teated sow waits behind for him to finish. A goat, wearing a yellow sweater, its front legs inserted into the arms, munches grass at the side of the road.
Inside the lodge, embers from the previous night’s celebrations, set into a square bed of sand with a parapet of bricks around the edges, still smoulder and glow red in the middle of the open yard.
The fog of the previous day has cleared, revealing cold edges and carved roundels on the lintel at the entrance to the shrine room. Staff move around, here and there, lightly brushing the paving with a besom, clearing the corners of cobwebs that glisten in the grey, morning light.
Slowly, we leave the temple and make our way to Maha Bodhi for our morning perambulation around the walkway bordering the quadrant in which is set the main temple area.
Clearly, in my head, is the sound of the Japanese monk, Ryosho Shimiza, playing his ancient sho with its bamboo pipes standing erect. He follows spider-like notation penned in meditative harmonies that have strange, other-worldly dischords.
The instrument is blown and sucked; the disparity in the harmonies sends shivers down the spine – dissonant , flowing, pensive sounds.
In the evening, we sleep well and waken the next day to a bright, clear and crisp morning.
Around midday we leave Bodh Gaya in a hired car for Patna. The journey through dusty Bihari towns and villages takes 3 hours. Our journey will continue from Patna to Guwahati, the capital of Assam state in the north east.
Alighting from the car with our baggage, we are suddenly in the chaotic traffic circle in front of the entrance to the station. We enter the concourse and walk around the various families and individuals camping on the floor of the reception hall. Those who are awake stare at us as we make our way to the waiting room
As in all of India, real information is very difficult to come by and we know the train is late, but by how much we don’t know.
We find our way to the ladies’ waiting room. One old lady is making a fuss about there being men in the room although they are obviously with their families – wives and children. I have to leave. But the general waiting room has an air of depression that overwhelms. The bright overhead lights, the resigned hunched postures of the waiting passengers, the smell of vomit from a corner where someone has thrown up is overpowering and sends me back to the ladies’ waiting room from which I had been ejected.
By 12 midnight, according to the electronic notice board, the train will be at least 4 hours late, an increase of 2 hours on the last bulletin.
A descent down the worn stairs, past a beggar wearing shorts to show off his chronic leukodema: the poor guy is a sickly white except for brown panda eyes; and on to a “help desk” where my wife has already been and where she was told, “No rooms available”.
I try to get a room. At the help desk, the clerk and his assistants speak no English. I get passed from one to another and every time I start to communicate with them about getting a room somewhere in the station, they all cast their eyes down and giggle. Eventually, I manage to communicate and I’m given a room, number 4 somewhere along from the waiting rooms upstairs.
I pay the Rs 780 (about £9) and a coolie in regulation maroon uniform takes us along a dark passageway past a restaurant that is closed and we come to a door with a padlock. We leave our bags and progress, feeling exhausted, to a dark alcove in which there is a raised deck. A peon is asleep on a raised, concrete platform. He peers at us from under a blanket.
We waken him and he rubs his eyes and gives us the key for the padlock. We return to the door, open it and enter a large square room that could double for a multiple occupancy prison cell in Saudi Arabia or Syria with a palette and mattress in the middle of the room. Using our own sheets on the thin, lumpy mattress to lessen the chances of being bitten by bugs, we flop down and sleep a dreamless sleep with the fluorescent light blazing above our heads.
As we can’t hear the announcements from the tannoy every hour or so, I have to traipse downstairs to check the bulletin board for any hint of the arrival of our train; and it’s back to a short nap in our torture chamber, the lower wall splashed red from the expectorant release of pan disconcertingly the colour of old blood.
At 4 am the board still states our train will arrive at 2 am.
Standing outside, I suddenly I hear that the train is arriving at the station. The coolie has failed to wake us to take us to the train and the peon is fast asleep again under his blanket.
I waken my wife and send her downstairs to fetch the coolie while I pack and pile our luggage outside the door.
THE TRAIN IS NOW ARRIVING AT PLATFORM 2, I hear over the tannoy. It’s the North East Express to Guwahati.
Just then, my wife arrives with the coolie looking guilty. We shake the peon awake and shove the door key at him then rush downstairs, the coolie carrying our bags on his head.
Across a pedestrian bridge we go, weaving in and out of the crowds. My wife is running ahead. The train has come in from Delhi and we have only about 10 minutes to find our carriage and get our bags on the train – and there is a really, really long train of carriages.
Just in time, the coolie finds our carriage about halfway along the platform, and we settle into our sleeping quarters.
On the way to Assam, our train is delayed again and we don’t reach our destination till past midnight the following night…altogether a 33 hour journey from Gaya to Guwahati.
A friend has booked us into the Surya Hotel but the place seems locked up for the night. Raju, our friend, phones the hotel and eventually a young boy opens the hotel door and takes us up to our room.
After the filth on the train, the room sparkles. At last, we have a shower and sleep.
We Buddhists talk about death a lot.
For me, that’s the main attraction – there’s no shying away from the truth in Buddhism. I’ve always known death. I’ve always said that Life is death and death is life. When I was 14 months old, my sister was born terminally ill and died 18 months later. In 4th grade, my father underwent major surgery which he again underwent in 6th grade. I guess he’d had symptoms for a couple of years. Maybe he didn’t want to imagine himself unwell. Who knows? In any case, he did what men so often do and didn’t go to the doctor. He died at 46 when I was 13. If he’d have gone to the doctor earlier, he would have lived longer.
The way I see it, my father wasn’t one for facing facts. For whatever reason, for some people the truth is too hard to bear. Maybe we’re all like that – it’s just a matter of extent. Maybe that’s what the Buddha is teaching us. Maybe he’s teaching us that we need to face the truth. We can’t see what we can’t bear to see. How do we see what we can’t bear to see?
The story of my sister’s death isn’t as simple as it seems. The story of my father’s death isn’t as simple as it seems. For anyone who’s experienced these types of things, it’s never as simple and straightforward as we like to imagine. We like to create edges around things, fill in the contents and label them. We like to see what’s inside our jars, put a lid on and write what’s inside. We read the jar label imagining the flavours and textures. But it’s completely different when you live and breathe it. It’s a bit like a reading a book. If you’ve lived it it’s completely different to getting a theoretical perspective. For us Buddhists, we read books about death – about bardo, life, death, books like The Tibetan Book of the Dead. But death from the inside looking out isn’t like a book describing something. It’s too close. It’s not orderly. It’s not contained. It’s visceral.
I need to go back a bit so you understand where I’m coming from. Let me start with my sister.
I first felt the onslaught of the digital tsunami in my engineering days. My job as an apprentice toolmaker was to set up capstan lathes in a small factory in Glasgow that made bespoke accouterments for submarines: salinometers, micro-valves and custom tools for cutting gears. Crockets was the name of the company.
After two years of working there, the management decided to invest in machines that could be monitored by one man from a centrally situated hub and my skills quickly became redundant, along with about 10% of the factory’s workforce.
It was the sixties and the journey from analogue to digital had begun.
In 1981, after many years of working on a BBC computer and inking exam papers on a Banda machine for third-world use, I was in Toronto where I was helping to build a sauna with some Polish students in the district of Pape. The house was a late 19th century French colonial structure. The sauna was annexed to a bedroom on the top floor, the middle and ground sections providing living space and a kitchen respectively. In the basement was a service workshop for Apple computers, the first in the country I was told.
Tom and his wife Trudy, the owners of the house, left me in charge while they went for a two-week vacation to Tobago. I was to sign myself in and out of the place, cook my food in the kitchen, and was allowed to’play’ on the computers in the basement.
I don’t know how you feel about packman and on-screen table tennis, but don’t get involved, ever, with shooting alien craft out of the sky as they drop to earth in ever-increasing numbers accompanied by a repetative, digital soundtrack. I spent 16 or more hours a day at the screen and walked about the house zapping everything in sight in my line of vision accompanied by an auditorially tintinnabulated internal screeching of extra-terrestrial craft landing from the ceilings of the house.
Nowadays, while driving, I think of how my father would have wondered at the technology used in cars these days. For as far as I can remember he drove a new car every year until he died in 1972. These included Vauxhall, Singer, MG, Morris Oxford, Triumph, Humber, Austin, and various other models. (I also wonder how Leonardo da Vinci would react to television, helicopters and aeroplanes, and, well, just about anything in the modern world.)
Now, microprocessors in cars regulate the windows and the engine with on-board diagnostics. The engine control unit, for example, is one of the many seeming miracles of vehicle technological developments. It balances the mixture of air and fuel that passes through the catalytic converter to remove pollutants from the car exhaust. And what would my father think of me speaking to someone on my hands free iPhone then switching to a GPS navigation system which can forecast my time of arrival at a destination by the shortest and least cumbersome route in real time?
Now, I have an old and redundant SLR Pentax in my cupboard with a detachable 185 mm lens, replaced with a Nikon digital camera, a Cassio compact camera and an iPhone on which I can access What’s App, Viber, Face Time, send and receive texts and tweets, send an Instagram, listen to music on wireless digital headphones on Deezer or Sound Cloud, enter appointments in my calendar with one click, find the arrival of a bus near my home or anywhere in the country, carry plane, train, bus and theatre tickets in my digital wallet, make use of predictive text which suggests words I might wish to insert in a text field, predictions based on the context of other words in the message and the first letter typed…and take a pretty good photo with a selfie stick that someone gave me.
As for the future. Well, here are some of my predictions. I was told by an 86 year old mathematician who used to work in Ferrantis developing electronics for the defence industry that most of the guesses below have been or are in progress. Excuse the layman’s vocabulary:
• Inter-dermal gossamer implants containing personal information such as passports, medical records and current terrestrial location
• Geo drones for the delivery of online-purchased goods.
• Holographic, omni-directional media systems for home use
• Rolls of highway applied to super-Velcro surfaces
• Predictive Assessed Profiles (PAP) of criminal behaviour – think Tom Cruise’s Minority Report
• Smart wrist bands that send real time diverse health uploads to a central astro-physical diagnostic hub enabling packets of advice on activities and diet
• Organic/biological prosthetics
• Neo-plastic neuron implants in designated inter modal pathways to facilitate the amelioration of harmful habits such as smoking and alcohol addiction
• Inter-spatial organic plateaus for the production and delivery of food to stations on earth
• Genetic applications of advantageous features in mammals applied to humans, such as amphibiotic gills, eidetic tableau memory platforms and stereoscopic vision.
• Biological, inter-gender robots with legalised human partner-paired capabilities (This is happening now cf Martina Rothblatt)
• And, of course, international exospheric battlement stations stocking nuclear payloads
In a billion years, let’s imagine that we’re still around, the difference between human appearances now and then would be as different as the forms evolved by bacteria and a monkey.
I read that somewhere.
Technologically, well, that’s beyond all our present understanding.
In Nepal, several types of pudding are prepared. One popular kind of pudding is that made from fresh corn.
1 cup of fresh corn
4 cups of milk
1 cup of sugar (honey can be used as a substitute)
1/2 cup of dried fruit
1/2 teaspoon of cardamon
2 tablespoons of grated coconut
Boil the milk on a low heat. stir frequently till it boils down to only 3 cups. Add the corn and continue heating till it thickens and the corn is tender. More milk can be added if required. Add the sugar or honey and the fruit. Heat for a few minutes more. When cook, serve in small bowls. Top the with cardamon and coconut.
Serves 6 persons
Source: Joys of Nepalese Cooking (S. Devi, Lashkar (Gwalior), India)
A story of overcoming fear in your workplace, and in your heart. Excerpted from Jaiya John’s new book of healing, Your Caring Heart: Renewal for Helping Professionals and Systems. Online where books are sold.
Harriet Tubman was a baaad woman. She didn’t play. One story I appreciate telling about her (creatively adapted, of course) is a story of leadership. So, the story goes that Harriet and her people had been discussing for some time the idea of breaking away from their plantation and finding freedom. Now, freedom can be a very frightening idea to a slave. Sure enough, as the designated night approached in which the group would escape the plantation, the people began to voice their concerns. Their fears.
Many of these people were menfolk, and Harriet being a woman, was used to the challenges of being a female leader. Folks started in with fear talk: “Now, Harriet, this freedom thing of yours sounds great in theory, but I don’t know if it is realistic. Look at our life. We have so much to deal with. So many bad things could go wrong. I don’t know if we have time for this freedom thing. I need to get back to my work or Massa gon’ whup me good. I can’t afford to lose my job. How much work is this freedom thing going to require?”
Does this litany of fear talk sound familiar to you? If so, it is because, bless us all, the slave is alive and well in our society and work. It is a spirit of self-oppression that burrows deep into people and groups, rendering their idea of reality as one of impending doom.
Harriet listened respectfully to her people. But Harriet knew fear. It was in the nature of being a slave. In fact, her people harvested fear more than they harvested cotton or other crops. It was fear that they brought home to their slave quarters. Fear that they ate together for dinner. Beds of fear that they slept on. Dreams of fear in the night. Fear was their sunrise, their clothing, their daily industry. So, Harriet, she knew fear. And she would not let it get in the way of freedom. On a night absent of moonlight, Harriet gathered her people down by the riverbank. The murmuring water would be their chaplain for this freedom service. The people were now terrified. They risked death, dismemberment, whippings, dogs tearing at their flesh. They risked disappointing their overseers and their masters. They risked losing their precious jobs as house slaves, for few wanted the backbreaking life of a field slave. They risked being sold. This entire river of fears was now pushing up their throats, coming out as angry resistance to freedom.
Harriet wasn’t sweet. She was fire. A woman, slave, nurse, social worker, leader, healer in those times had to be fire. She used hers. Lifting her sawed-off shotgun, she pointed it directly at the men challenging her leadership. Harriet said these words: “I understand, my people, the ferocity of your fears. But we have been slaves far too long. We have lost the taste for freedom. But here, under cover of this black night, I’m fixin’ to make an executive decision. Those who choose to stay in this life of suffering may do so. Otherwise, whoever wants to have freedom sing in their bones and dreams tonight, follow me. Tonight, my people, we fixin’ to be free.”
In every group of human beings who care deeply to do this healing work, in the right way and spirit, there must be those, of any title, willing to walk the group through their long night of fear into the astounding daybreak of freedom. There is no other way than directly through our fear. We should do this now, good souls, before we further lose the taste of freedom.
“But what is self Love?” she asked.
And Love answered:
“When your sacredness becomes your deepest song.”
Somehow 2016 feels like a game-changer. The fatigue of decades of political non-speak and spin has taken its toll this year with Brexit and Trump. The social scientists at work were wondering what they’d missed in their analyses of the political ailments that returned us to Germany in the 1930s when the news of the Austrian election where almost half the population voted for an outright Fascist. How did that happen? we asked and yet it’s been a long time coming.
So what’s in stall for 2017?
I live a very simple and calm life which has been fantastic for my Buddhist practice. At an external level, not much changes between one day and the next, one week and the next. I make breakfast, do Pilates, meditate, go to work, come home, cook dinner, read, go to bed. It’s pretty much the same thing day in, day out. The weekends are mugs and mugs of freshly brewed loose-leaf tea while pottering about the house. The amazing thing about having a repetitive life is that I have the space to develop my practice, to reflect, to read – it feels very 1980s. Simple and comforting.
A Buddhist acquaintance recently said that 30 years ago she made the decision to lead a full life after her father’s death in her late teens. The conversation triggered a contemplation about what it means to live a full life, especially as I lead such a quiet life. Given the opportunities and options available today, the idea of doing lots and lots of things as a definition of leading a full life feels like I’m in a huge banquet hall with tables and tables in every direction with varieties of cuisines and courses of all descriptions. There’s no way to taste everything and I’m unsure about where to go? what to choose? how much to have? I’m overwhelmed by the possibilities and feel uncertain to step in any direction. None feel particularly meaningful and the consumption feels both unethical and unsatisfactory. Why choose 1 way instead of another? It doesn’t matter which way I go, I’ll always miss out on more than I could ever taste. And besides, what will all that tasting give? A chronic insatiability of what I haven’t yet had, questioning what other options are available and regret about which decisions I made. I feel saturated and overwhelmed by it all.
In response, I’ve pulled back from the world, restricted my options, reduced what I look at. One of the decisions has been to focus on the good news on the internet and to avoid the rest because the bad stuff is really bad, e.g. the situation in Syria is bad enough and yet Russia is in cahoots – Putin looks like a parasitic monster feeding on the underbelly of greed. In addition, I get the feeling that much of what’s news is propaganda. Is ‘the news’ a form of consumption to feel bad as much as shopping is a type of consumption to feel good? It’s as if the society is obsessed by consuming in any form without understanding the assault on the soul. My body and mind feel triggered and pulled in all directions as it seeks my attention, emotion and purchase.
And so the question remains – What does it mean to lead a full life? After much cogitation, I’ve decided that leading a fuller life is to lead a stiller life – to notice both the beauty and the pain by pausing and doing less: The sunrise is beautiful. Syria is a mess. Fascism is rising. The rose is stunning. People are lonely. People are happy. There are hurts. There is forgiveness. And then there’s the wonderfully kitch and the inspiring.
For me, it seems that to lead a full life is to lead a life with the full gamut of emotions, responses, reactions – to intimately engage with whatever arises: The funny, the bland, the hate, the love, the sorrow, the drudgery, the appalling, the wonder and the joy. As for 2017, my hope is that it will be a new job at better pay, meaningful friendships, connection to a charity, deeper understanding of Buddhism and plenty of wonder and joy.
May you also have a year that is full of wonder and joy – and full life in whatever form that takes.
About the author Wendy Nash.
Wendy is Australian and has been living in Oxford, UK, for the past 3 years. She has been following Buddhism since 2003, took refuge with the Buddha in 2008 and in 2014 realised that although she had everything she wanted (good relationships, health and job) she was still unhappy – that’s when her practice really came into its own. She has been dedicated to the White Tara group in Oxford since 2014.
She thinks that life is better with a vase of flowers nearby and mugs of teapot tea.