I felt on top of the world, with my letter of introduction to the Dalai Lama, in my pocket, close to my heart, we tickeled tocked, tickeled tocked, into the train station at Patankot. The mist had fallen onto the paddy fields, and plains left to right of the old sleeper train, in the misty morning and my heart seemed to be gently pounding to the anticipation of just getting out onto the platform. I had shared a four tier bunk carriage with two nuns and a very large Indian lady whom was coming up from Old Delhi to take the mountain air and by pure chance to also visit a Tibetan Doctor.

After a little bartering with the mini bus driver, the four of us alighted with a lot of luggage as I had with me two trunks , which I had brought all the way over from Nepal. One trunk was my kitchen things, the other personal items. We were on our way up the two hour drive to Dharamsala, Northern India, in Himachal Pradesh. Dharamsala is a small hill station known as Little Tibet and the home and residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.


I was to get used to this route in the years to come, but this was the first time I had gone over the Sutlej bridge, and it was by habit, that my travel companions told me, that one was to take tea and puris in the little tea house just after the river before we climb the foothills towards the Kangra Valley. The fields around the farmsteads were bright yellow mustard and the wheat fields a beautiful comparison of green. Ahead was the powerful beauty of the Dhauladhar range, snow peaked splashed by the morning sun. We were getting close to our destination, and everyone started to show signs of excitement. The nuns chatting at half a dozen- reminiscing stories of His Holiness’s annual teachings this time last year. As we approached Lower Dharamsala we passed the Tibet College of Tibetan Medicine, the Menzi Khang. And my heart missed a beat with the anticipation of learning there.

Continue reading


Image: Alexander Mils

The following extract concerning the increased use of antibiotics for the treatment of colds and associated ailments is from the magazine Positive News.

Honey could offer more effective treatment for some respiratory infections than prescription medicines, according to a study

The pharmaceutical industry has developed a host of treatments for sore throats, blocked noses and coughs, but a study suggests snuffling patients could get more relief from honey than antibiotics and over-the-counter medicines.

Physicians from Oxford University’s Medical School and Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences analysed existing data to evaluate the effectiveness of honey in treating illnesses that affect the nose, sinuses, pharynx or larynx.

Such maladies are referred to as upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs), and include laryngitis and tonsillitis, as well as common colds.

Words by
Gavin Haines
The full article can be read at Honey more effective










The more I work with the plants, the more I become eternally grateful for what they give to us. They have an uncanny knack of being in exactly the right place and the right time when you need them. It’s hardly surprising that the Cherokee’s have this Creation belief:

“Each tree, shrub and herb, down even to the grasses, agreed to furnish a remedy for some one of the diseases named, and each said: “I shall appear to help man when he calls upon me in his need”.”

This could not be more true. As I get older, and hopefully a little wiser, I am learning to trust the plants implicitly. The depth of healing they can bring to a patient is often phenomenal and I am often full of awe. As I am becoming, in Stephen Buhner’s words “vegetalista” they appear, as if summoned on a whisper or a prayer in our lives, quietly but insistently making themselves obvious in subtle yet insistent silence.

It’s hard to explain this, certainly scientifically, without sounding bonkers. I spend a huge amount of time reading and researching, and yet I find that it is meditation that provides the clarity. When the plants present themselves they sometimes surprise me. I’ll say “Oh, it’s you!” and on reflection “Oh of course!!” as I realise the why.

Recently the forgotten herbs have started to make their presence felt. Humble weeds and meadow plants whose use has been lost to the passage of time. With climate change and overcrowding diseases are changing. My research area is Lyme disease. The tick bourne bacteria Borrelia, Bartonella, Babesia, Rickettsia, Erlichia, the viruses and molds. As the number of people infected becomes clearer, now that there is more ‘official’ recognition (a NICE pathway and 11 WHO medical categories for it), the plants appear too. A new John Hopkins lab study demonstrates the bactericidal power in vitro of Cryptolepis, black walnut, Japanese knotweed and co., herbs that Stephen Buhner and Julie McIntyre have been working with in over a decade of pioneering work with Lyme. The experience and trust coming before the laboratory proof provides vindication.

So Marsh Woundwort who found me four years ago is, I find, the closest thing I’ve known to an ‘anti-anaphylactic’ herb, quick acting and powerful in allergies and flares. In cases of Lyme and lupus flares and in chronic gut reactions I have watched her calm skin, gut, kidneys and tissues.

Now Mouse-Ear Hawkweed is calling. Before WWII he was a specific for brucellosis. A disease that mainly cattle had, that could be transmitted to humans, caused by the Brucella bacteria. Well it turns out now that Brucella and Bartonella are siblings on the tree of life. Well who’d have thought?

In Scotland, Japanese knotweed is an invasive species with a ‘bad boy’ reputation. A lot of resource goes into spraying poisons to kill it. Yet if people would take the time to dig it and dry it, I would buy every single rhizome. It is a herb par excellence for Lyme, killing Borrelia and alleviating the crippling joint pain that goes with it.

This morning, as I write, the sun is gently coming up on a new day. The meadow outside my window is in full bloom with hogweed, loosestrife, dock, nettle – a jumble of plants each one with a gift. As the countryside around me is slowly concreted over in the name of development, I watch their habitat disappear. And yet it is the weeds, determined to keep popping up – whatever obstacles we humans unthinkingly place in their path – that offer us healing now. And I am humbly grateful for their presence in our lives.

I recently read one of Stephen Harris Buhner’s essays and would like to include this quote that resonated:

“Plants are also highly responsive to the needs of their community. As I go into in depth in my book The Lost Language of Plants they sense when any member of their ecosystem is ill and begin producing the needed compounds. If other plants are ill, they send those compounds through mycelial networks to reach the plants who need them. If it is any of the multitude of animals in the region, they send out chemical cues through their stomata, letting those animals (who are far more attuned to their body wisdom than we are) know the location of the medicines they need.”

The full essay can be read at

I recently read one of Stephen Harris Buhner’s essays and would like to include this quote that resonated:

“Plants are also highly responsive to the needs of their community. As I go into in depth in my book The Lost Language of Plants they sense when any member of their ecosystem is ill and begin producing the needed compounds. If other plants are ill, they send those compounds through mycelial networks to reach the plants who need them. If it is any of the multitude of animals in the region, they send out chemical cues through their stomata, letting those animals (who are far more attuned to their body wisdom than we are) know the location of the medicines they need.”

The full essay can be read at


Dear Friends,
Many of us have pets, work with animals and care about their end of life. We asked the following two questions:

1. How can we help a dying animal?
2. How can we help an animal that has died?

These two questions have been answered by Ringu Tulku, and Lama Tenkyab from Mindrolling monastery:

Ringu Tulku’s response:
« Generally there’s nothing separate, you don’t need to make any separation or any difference for what you do when you do when a human being dies or an animal dies from a Buddhist point of view.
So you can do anything or everything you do for a human being.
Also you can recite the names of Buddhas. Recite any mantras like Amitabha, vajrasattva, Chenrezig, Tara.
All these kind of mantras you can say.
You can also give blessed medicine to the animal before it dies or whatever you can do. »

Lama Tenkyab’s response :
« I think there’s no difference when you do puja for dog, creature, animal even the human being. These are all the same. There’s no particular practice/prayer for the dog, creature, animal, insect.
When you do prayers it’s the same for every being.
Even a small insect has consciousness,there’s no difference, only the body. Some have big bodies, some have small bodies.
Otherwise all creatures, animals, everyone needs happiness, nobody wants to suffer
There’s no particular prayer/puja for dog, creature, small insect, human being as everyone has Buddha nature. That’s what I’m thinking:-) (chuckles).»

Khenpo Rangdol’s response:
“The first question is: How can we help a dying animal.
If you know some prayers like Chenrezig, Tara, Amitabha etc you can chant these.
If you don’t know these prayers then you can just make wishes.
You can make lots of wishes like, ‘May this animal die very peacefully, without having big problems, and big difficulties.’
So making wishing prayers is very important.
If you are a Buddhist devotee you can put a little bit of these precious, blessed pills in the animal’s mouth to connect with the dharma. This is because the animal doesn’t know anything about the dharma. Wish for them to have a good rebirth in the next life as a human being or other being.
Make lots of prayers for this and share, and care, and love this dying animal.

The second question is, how to help an animal once it has died.
OK, and what practice do we do? So when the animal has already died, it’s good to recite the prayer ‘The King of Prayers’, an aspiration prayer which is one of the most powerful texts. Not only this prayer, but also Buddha Amitabha’s Pureland, Chenrezig prayers etc.
There are a number of wishing prayers as well as your own.
It would be good to offer some butter lamps, either in front of the dead animal, or at your home. Also anywhere, it doesn’t matter.
If you have some good connections with monks and nuns you can request them to say prayers for your lovely dead animal. That would be very useful.
At the same time you can make your own wishing prayers, offer butterlamps (tea lights/candles).
This is a practice that can be done.”

First published in Living and Dying in Peace.

See The Question of Euthanasia in Animals.

Black Friday

When you realize it’s black Friday

You are at home doing homework and your pencil snaps so you go to sharpen it but your electric sharpener is broken and  the next day is BLACK FRIDAY!!!!waiting and watching the commercials  and for once excited for the violence to start.Checking the clock every 5 minutes and you purposely get there a day early so you don’t miss a chance to fill your garage with products you won’t even use, but why not miss the chance of super cheap items.At Costco in the dark by the door with lots of people in line behind you just trying to get a flat inch TV for half the price .BOOM!!!! You check your watch and it’s 7:00  the time that costco opens and  you are  soooo close you can almost feel it and later when you are so close to a new samsung printer, but the women next to you  rolls over your foot with a shopping cart and you drop to the floor.You see a light  and you realize it’s the end but you gain enough courage to get back up and grab the last TV.Then you go get the bag of tomatoes and then get a new pair  of socks,water bottles and a new bed frame,but the time you get to the cash you pay the $50 but the cashier does not give you you change .Your are trying to rush out of there because you promised  yourself  to get to sephora by  8:00.Finally you say KEEP THE CHANGE so you get to sephora and go home.Your sitting on the couch just before bed and  you can’t stop obsessing over the new bed sheets you got for $5.You know your gonna have to wait another 365 days till next black Friday but it’s worth it.

Written when Mia Evans was 11

Interested in art, music, math, writing, science and environmental issues. Mia also loves playing on her ice hockey team and aspires to one day be a doctor.  Attends school in Toronto.  This was the result of a school project.

The Buddha and the Scientist

The physical reality is changing constantly every moment.  This is what the Buddha realized by examining himself.  With his strongly concentrated mind, he penetrated deeply into his own nature and found that the entire material structure is composed of minute subatomic particles which are continuously arising and vanishing.  In the snapping of a finger or the blinking of an eye, he said, each one of these particles arises and passes away many trillions of times.

“Unbelievable,” anyone will think who observes only the apparent reality of the body, which seems so solid, so permanent.  I used to suppose that the phrase “many trillions of times” might be an idiomatic expression not t be taken literally.  However, modern science has confirmed this statement.

Several years ago, an American scientist received the Nobel Prize in physics.  For a long time he had studied and conducted experiments to learn about the subatomic particles of which the physical universe is composed.  It was already known that these particles arise and pass away with great rapidity, over and over again.  Now this scientist decided to develop an instrument that would be able to count how many times a particle arises and passes away in one second.  He very rightly called the instrument that he invented a bubble chamber, and he found that in one second a sub-atomic particle arises and vanishes 10 to the power of 22 times.

The truth that this scientist discovered is the same as that which the Buddha found, but what a great difference between  them!  Some of my American students who had taken courses in India later returned to their country, and they visited this scientist.  They reported tome that despite the fact that he has discovered this reality, he is still an ordinary person with the usual stock of misery that all ordinary people have!  He is not totally liberated from suffering.

No, that scientist has not become an enlightened person, not been freed from all suffering, because he has not experienced truth directly.  What he has learned is still only intellectual wisdom.  He believes this truth because he has faith in the instrument which he has invented, but he has not experienced the truth for himself.

I have nothing against this man nor against modern science.  However, one must not be a scientist only of the world outside.  Like the Buddha, one should also be a scientist of the world within, in order to experience truth directly.  Personal realization of truth will automatically change the habit pattern of the mind so that one starts to live according to the truth.  Every action becomes directed toward one’s own good and the good of others.  If this inner experience is missing, science is liable to be misused for destructive ends.  But if we become scientists of the reality within, we shall make proper use of science for the happiness of all.

From Vipassana Meditation by William Hart, (HarperSanFrancisco. 1987.)  Narrated by SN Goenka

Are We Listening?

“Hear now this, O foolish people and without understanding, that have eyes and see not, that have ears and hear not”.  Jeremiah 5:21

The year is 2019 and everyone is talking about the environment, especially in the wake of the school strike for climate change, started by the remarkable Scandinavian teenager Greta Thunberg. It seems to be a new conversation but, in fact, scientists have been speaking, writing and almost screaming about this subject for many years. Some of us have been listening, but, on the whole the powers that be have not really got the message that “business as usual” cannot be sustained, and major changes will be needed if humanity is to continue to exist on this planet.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the pioneering biologist Rachel Carson presented detailed observations of ecosystems which were being disrupted, on an unprecedented scale, by the use of chemicals, and particularly by the use of pesticides and herbicides. In her classic book Silent Spring, which was published in 1962, she describes, chapter by chapter, chilling scenarios such as the near total depletion of salmon in rivers which had received run off from areas sprayed with insecticides. She catalogued many other instances of harm done to plant, animal and human life due to indiscriminate use of chemicals.  The powers that be, who were interested in promoting the farming and forestry industries, had no real understanding or interest in “ecology”, and so were not inclined to listen. However, Rachel Carson did catch the attention of President John Kennedy, and eventually she testified in congressional hearings. Her work has been cited as being largely responsible for the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Had she not died from cancer in 1964, at the age of 57, we would certainly have heard a lot more from her. But, also, since Rachel Carson’s time, pesticides with greater toxicity have continued to be introduced and have become more and more pervasive throughout the food chain. Genetically modified crops are designed specifically to tolerate high concentrations of toxins applied to the fields, even as we learn that pesticides are implicated in cancer and autism. Since 2016, the US government has actively dismantled many environmental protections.  So, are we listening?

Another modern classic, Diet for a Small Planet, was first published in 1971. The author, Frances Moore Lappe, concerned herself with the problem of world hunger. In this book, she shows how meat centered farming (especially that which involves grain fed animals) uses vastly more water, fuel and land, and that widespread shifting to a plant centered diet would go a long way to alleviating world hunger, while conserving those same limited resources, namely, water, fuel and land. Diet for a Small Planet presents a hypothetical “all plant diet” together with nutritional analyses to prove that such a diet contains ample protein and other key nutrients.  To show that such a way of eating is feasible, the analysis is followed by practical cooking instructions for  ingredients unfamiliar to the American public, such as whole grains and beans. Frances Moore Lappe has continued to write, teach and organize internationally, and has received 19 honorary doctorates to date. And yet, the lungs of the world, the Amazon rain forests, continue to be torched in order to grow food for beef cattle. The demand for beef has never been higher. So, is anyone listening?

The American space program gave us the chance to see our very own planet, photographed on the way to the moon, in 1972. The “blue marble” photograph showed a breathtakingly beautiful blue sphere with wisps of white cloud against the backdrop of space. The image showed us our only home, where we all must live.  Nearly 20 years later, the Voyager space probe sent back an image of the earth as a barely visible Pale Blue Dot. The astronomer and philosopher Carl Sagan shared his perspective on this image.  “the Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could  become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot…. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we have ever known”.

These words have been widely applauded and quoted. Yet nations continue to build nuclear arsenals, and recent reports tell us that the amount of plastic waste in our oceans has come to outweigh all the fish in the seas. So, is anyone really listening?


In 2019, a scientific paper of great scope and significance was published in The Lancet, a top medical journal. This paper, Food in the Anthropocene, was authored by 37 experts from 16 different countries, and brought together data from the fields of human health, agriculture and environmental science. The aim of this undertaking was to develop evidence based global scientific targets for healthy human diets from sustainable food production systems. It speaks of feeding a projected population of 10 billion humans on planet Earth in the year 2050, with a diet whose elements are known to enhance health and reduce the burden of chronic disease. At the same time, the emphasis in farming would need to shift to products and farming methods that will ensure achievement of the standards set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris Agreement of 2016, so that planet Earth will remain inhabitable for humans.

This 40 page paper is full of meticulous detail, looking at farming outputs with respect to greenhouse gas production, land use and degradation, pollution of waterways from fertilizers, pesticides and animal waste, biodiversity loss, and so on. It essentially connects many of the dots from pre-existing research, so that the big picture can be seen. The paper comes out with a “reference diet” that can be produced through farming methods such as conservation agriculture, which limit damage to the environment and can even regenerate soils. This reference diet can be adapted to different regions with different climates and cultures.  [Reference 1]

This landmark paper notes that healthy diets consist of a variety of plant based foods, while minimizing animal based foods, refined grains and processed foods. To achieve the targets set out in the paper would require a 50% reduction in unhealthy foods.

Food production is the largest cause of global environmental change, and portion for portion, production of animal based foods and particularly beef, use more land and energy and produce more greenhouse gases and pollution than any of the plant based foods, including beans, nuts, seeds and grains as  major sources of plant protein.  [Reference 2]

These concepts have been presented before, notably by Rachel Carson and Frances Moore Lappe whose books sold millions of copies. But the Lancet paper really brings it all together, connecting the different disciplines and giving a very specific template for individuals and also for policy makers and governments so that harmful practices can be reduced and beneficial ones adopted. It has a chance to work, if we listen and if world leaders listen.

I would like to emphasize that Food in the Anthropocene is not someone’s blog or a touchy-feely opinion. In fact it could never have been written by a single person since no individual could possibly master so many different scientific fields, and it relies on whole bodies of pre-existing research.

It is an example of what human beings with a shared purpose can achieve, uniquely, by working together. The purpose, a noble one, is to make a better world for the future, a future which many of the authors may not live to see. Neither will they know the beings, humans and others, who will benefit or who will be spared unnecessary suffering, if the recommendations in this paper are followed. As far as we know, only humans have the capacity to envision working for the benefit of the future, and the ability to communicate and cooperate in order to make it happen.

We can rest assured, however,that if the world continues with business as usual, and climate change accelerates, there will be untold suffering from extreme weather events, more and more frequent droughts, floods, heat waves, crop failures, whole areas of the world becoming too hot to inhabit, displacement of populations, conflict over scarce resources, tropical diseases appearing in formerly temperate climates, and much much more.

They were not listening, they’re not listening still, Perhaps they never will.”  (Starry Starry Night, by Don McLean)


2019 it was, and at the time it seemed reasonable to talk about 2050, to plan changes to do some day, some time, or whenever. There was still plenty of time to breathe, to sleep walk and to go about business as usual, at least in the affluent West.

But now it is 2020, and we are truly in unexplored territory. Corona virus has knocked the whole world sideways, and we are just at the beginning.

If authorities had been listening to the concerns of epidemiologists, they would have understood the need to prepare for a pandemic. There have been several viral epidemics in recent years, all originating in animal viruses which have jumped from species to species, mutating along the way and gaining the capacity to infect humans. The conditions that support this process include having different species crowded together as in the “wet markets” of China, but also the crowded and unsanitary condition of factory farming for meat. Physician, public health expert and author Dr Michael Greger described this danger in his 2006 book, Bird Flu, a Virus of  Our Own Hatching.  The so called “Spanish flu” of 1918 was a bird flu, and the epidemiologists and public health doctors have been anticipating a pandemic for some time, especially in the wake of SARS, MERS, H1N1 flu, and Ebola, which all originated in animal populations.

Corona virus is the first pandemic of the twenty first century but is not likely to be the last.

If the powers that be needed any more reason to promote a shift from a food culture based on factory farmed animals, perhaps COVID 19 will convince them.

For those of us who claim to care, who claim to act from compassion, then also, maybe 2020 is the time to see clearly, and let go of the meat on our plates, or reduce it drastically.  If not for our own health, if not for the animals, if not for the environment then as a way to stop sponsoring the food system that gives rise to pandemics.

As Don McLean sang to us years ago, “They would not listen, they did not know how. Perhaps they’ll listen now”.


  1. Food in the Anthropocene, in The, published online Jan 16, 2019, Table 1
  2. Food in the Anthropocene, Figure 4

3. Bird Flu, a Virus of Our Own Hatching, on for print edition. Free digital editions may be found on the internet.

4. “Dr Greger Told Us About Corona Virus in 2008,” Plant Based News, on YouTube

Disclosures: Dr Miriam Maisel is a GP with a diploma in Lifestyle Medicine, and promotes a whole food plant based diet for health improvement and prevention and reversal of chronic disease.
This article has recently been published in Medium Forum.




Scientific Perspectives: The Heart Sutra and the Atom

As His Holiness the 14th Dalaï-Lama says, Buddhism is scientific religion. In his first teaching the Buddha explained the universality of cause and effect: “All phenomena arise from causes”[1]. Moreover, he repeatedly asked his followers to make their own opinion, even about his own words. Buddhism considers science as a first step and also as a solution, since the root cause of problems is ignorance. Therefore, modern science too can be used on the path. Continue reading


2 cups leaves of spinach
1 cup of gram flour (besan)
2 green chilies chopped or 1/2 teaspoonful chili powder
1 big onion finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
Pinch of asafoetida (hing)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of water or as required
oil for deep frying

Wash and clean spinach leaves well.
Cut thickly or use as it is.
Mix all the ingredients in gram flour and beat well.  It will become a thick paste.
Mix cut spinach leaves in the paste and beat again.
Add more eater if needed.
Heat oil in the frying pan till smoke starts to come.

To make pakoda crispy, mix a tablespoon of heated oil in gram flour.  Fry small balls in the oil till they become light brown.  Adjust the heat accordingly.

Time Required  30 – 35 minutes

Serves  3 – 4 persons

From The Joys of Nepalese Cooking by Indra Majapuria

New Day

Me at 2 years old

Today we cannot do, behave, or think the same way as we did yesterday about tomorrow. Today is truly the first day of the rest of our lives. Yesterday’s actions, habits and strategies will not work the way they work before COV-19. The world is at war with this virus and I’m sure that we will unite together and prevail as we have in the past.

But not all is hopeless. Everything, or almost everything has a purpose, and although it may be difficult to see what good can come from something as awful as this we need to learn to adapt, change and resolve to overcome this situation.

Out of every problem is an opportunity to adapt, change and improve our life.

For those of us who are confined to home and have the ability to connect with the outside world through the internet, this gives us an opportunity to tidy up our environment … time to organize our closets, basements, files, hard drives, our thoughts, and our analogue world, exercising at home, walking outside, laughing, singing, learning, talking,  writing, communicating with each other.

We have the tools, the apps, the ways and means to improve our lives whilst going through this transition.

This too will pass.

We also need to help those less fortunate by creating lines of communication between friends and family.

We need to pray, meditate, exercise stay healthy and strong and overcome fear.

Now is the time for us all to find creative ways to improve our future together, to stop being affected by world media manipulation and focus on our family and friends, locally and abroad.

We have to be grateful for every second of every minute of everyday for all we have and more importantly the things we don’t have that we don’t need.

For years, now, my lovely wife and I have become good-will ambassadors, determined not to wait for bad things to happen and to appreciate the good things we have in our lives that we so easily take for granted. Things like clean water in our taps, fresh air, food in our cupboards and shelves on stores.

A few years ago whilst visiting in Florida, where the public were tense and worried about issues like ‘black lives matter’, I saw a Sheriff sitting in his squad car outside a Walmart. We cautiously approached the car and I asked the sheriff if he would help me fulfill a New Year’s resolution. He looked at me cautiously and I continued by telling him that I had resolved to never pass a first responder without thanking them for being here. The change in attitude and gratitude was palpable.

We’ve being doing it ever since wherever we go with bus drivers, baristas and checkout workers in supermarkets, everyone we come in contact. It is important for us to be kind and complimentary to all we  interact with and meet, especially first responders who are on the front line.

Try it.  It can save someone’s day and bring them back from  fear, doubt and uncertainty that we all have.

With Gratitude.

Norman, Toronto

Despatches from The Hill

An experience of going through coronavirus
I had originally been due to be away on retreat for most of March.  It was cancelled as the first wave of international cancellations began.  It was fortuitous, however, I found out, that I had been preparing for a significant retreat for many months.  Because now we were indeed plunged into retreat, not just a small group of people in a carefully planned retreat centre with an atmosphere of peace around, but pretty much one third of the whole world in the situation of gradually, but inexorably, being directed to retreat into the heart of our immediate lives, and told to stay there.  And this amongst a fearful and confusing situation being variously reported and analysed by many different experts.  An unprecedented and unparalleled set of circumstances: either a recipe for disaster, or a time of enormous potential for stopping, taking stock and reappraising our lives.

It has led many of us to come into contact with the core values of humanity, as kindness and care for all our fellow people on this earth and in our communities.  A great generosity of spirit has come out in all corners of society, in our health workers and in everyday interactions.  But the nature of humanity is that we also face our basic anger, greed and ignorance and if we don’t take care their patterns will overwhelm the crucible we now find ourselves in.  Which is why I felt the necessary approach was to see it all as retreat and to bring our practice to where we find ourselves now as strongly as ever we could.

It was interesting for me to notice, though, how our ‘retreat’ changed when we really felt the presence of Coronavirus amongst us.  Before that, I felt happy and lucky to have health, a nice home to be in and time to dedicate to practice.  Every aspect of our entertainment and distraction out in the wider world was being shut down, bringing us all to dwell more fully on the simple pricelessnesses of life: the unfolding daffodils and spring’s green shimmering.  I knew where all the birds were nesting and observed the daily unfolding of the chestnut tree leaves.

But then one weekend my husband started coming down with something after work. He is an ‘urgent care’ out-of-hours GP doctor in Oxfordshire, treating seriously unwell patients at home and in nursing homes.  He’d been using all the facemasks and hand gel and distancing protocol, he’d washed his hands till they were raw, but it seems he still managed to contract the virus through treating patients with Covid symptoms.  I think you know when you’re under attack from a virus at close quarters – I started slathering the whole kitchen, door knobs and kettle handles and even the milk in the fridge, with sanitising gel.  I tried to separate us in the house and distance from each other.  But it only lasted a few hours because you cannot live like this.  Fearing hugging your own husband.  By the evening I just looked at him and thought, we’re going to get it.  And we sat down and had dinner together as usual and the next day I started with the symptoms.

As it happens, I experienced mild symptoms, as have our two daughters.  At first, I thought I had a migraine and my daughter thought she had hay fever.  Taken singly, I would not normally have thought anything more about each of our illnesses than I would about some bug or other we get and throw off after feeling a bit rubbish for a day or a few.  It was because we all came down very quickly, within a day or even hours, of each other, with very similar, and some slightly strange, symptoms (like a ‘smoky’ feeling in the throat or a gravely feeling in the chest).

All I know is that fighting this virus in my body, finally, after all the hype and fear and panic circulating around the world, felt like a relief.  I didn’t even know initially what I was fighting, whether I had ‘coronavirus’ or a migraine or whatever else, but just giving in and ‘being ill’ and letting the body get on with doing what it knows how to do, coming into contact with this true and immediate reality was a kind of salvation.  Before we give anything a name or a diagnosis, the body is there dealing with it.  In the end, this is our first, and our last, defence.  It is our embodied reality.  It felt real and like I could deal with it, in a way we cannot deal with unrelenting fear or limitless ideas.  But we can deal with whatever is ultimately real, through experiencing it.  And it was reassuring to watch over my children, if they have to have it, rather than fear them having it some time when I am not there to care for them.

So, the journey of being ‘safe at home away from Coronavirus’ to ‘in danger in our very home, with it being brought right into our midst’ to ‘fighting it in the cells of the body’ to ‘cleansing it out’ has actually felt like a tremendous release, in our case, and has brought a freedom.  Now, people – and surfaces – all look safe again to me.  I don’t need to circle round anyone I meet out walking in the woods – Well, I do, for their peace of mind and because it is currently the law; but I don’t feel afraid of being near someone or like I will henceforth have to banish myself away from people in order not to bring a threat to them.  I feel safe again.

I think it’s really important to realise this point will come, we will all be able to be close again once more.  This virus will move on.  It is the nature of things.  This does not diminish the loss in any death from this virus or otherwise, but it gives us a ground to stand on, to be able to face it all.  We have had models of diseases before, with high predictions of deaths, for Bird Flu and BSE and SARS and Swine Flu, none of which were borne out in the real world to the extent of the predictions.  Viruses have their lifespan too, and life meets these viruses in ways that maybe cannot be predicted on mathematical models.  Perhaps this is the place of prayer or intention or how we can influence things by how we act.  Nature has her own checks and balances, not least the fact that as viruses mutate, they often become less severe.

At some stages in this journey I have also been filled with an intense tornado of fear, quite unmanageable and literally ‘petrifying’ (specifically thinking of my husband having to see patients with this ‘terrible’ disease).  In fact, for a while, I noticed I was subtly (and not-so-subtly) angry – frustrated, irritable and a bit all over the place.  Until one day, through practice and meditation and basically just coming into the body and accepting where I was really at for once, I woke up in enormous fear.  And I realised I wasn’t really, underneath it all, angry, half so much as I was afraid.  Of course I was, you only have to watch the news for 20 minutes and you must be afraid (or not listening).  This ‘real’ fear only lasted an hour or two and then was gone, but it had been bubbling under there this whole time.

And so I have relearned the value of coming into the body: of feeling the earth, of widening my awareness so I feel grounded and whole and broad and connected; so that nature is holding the whole of me and I cannot be afraid, I cannot be anywhere other than okay in myself, just breathing and resting on the earth.  The practice of ‘shammatha,’ calm abiding, saves us, even in this moment, even when nothing else has changed.  And then, I think, to have this enormous care and concern for our wide society, and especially the vulnerable, which is the good side of what is being brought out everywhere; then it is so much easier to bear and probably more help too.

We are all learning that we need to give ourselves space and time to stop inwardly and rest and calm (turning off all the news and information stream from that connection was important for me).   Whatever we are dealing with, there is no better way to prepare to face it than to look after ourselves and cultivate good health.

Meditation-wise, I found it invaluable to spend time taking awareness step by step through the body, easing out the mind and tensions found along the way, (actually I always find spending time on this helpful).  Visualising refreshing and cleansing white light permeating through to all the parts of the body can potentise this and I found it calming and healing.  I think it’s important we bring our usual practices to this situation and not feel they are separate from it.

Lastly, the great value of nature as a healer and holder of anxiety.  So many people have been commenting on this in their lives I think, whether it is the woods or countryside or just a flowering tree in a nearby garden.  Even a nature programme on TV, I have found, can bring a relief like diving into a deep clear pool of refreshingly cool water, nourishing us.  We can all feel the deep restorative power of nature and yes, it does fire up in me a desperate urge to protect whatever of it we can.

And, for whatever reason we may have been plunged into ‘retreat’ at home, truly stopping and reflecting on life can only be a good thing.  And so, my next question, was how to use this time well, this very unusual opportunity it brings us all.

[  Note: Perhaps I need to qualify my approach to turn off the news etc, by mentioning that the other half of our family-isolation here includes a pretty full-on effort on the part of my husband and his research team, collecting and interpreting evidence to understand Coronavirus, Covid 19 and the current health, social and NHS implications.  It is his job as Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, now located in a hut outside our back door, buzzing with phone calls and interviews from morning till night.  Every family conversation includes mention of the latest updates and how they should be understood.  I am not suggesting turning away from the suffering in any way, but taking care to understand things in context.  There are many aspects of what is unfolding we need to stop and analyse more clearly before we really know what is going on.   See:]

Retreat in Spring – The Wood Element
However, we have come by this situation, it is in our hands to make as best we can of it.  The more consciousness and light and clarity we can bring out now, as always, and maybe particularly now, the better.

I am trained as an acupuncturist, and in particular a Five Element acupuncturist.  This form of acupuncture takes as its model of health and well being, the theory of the Five Elements – five phases of emery that make up nature’s archetypal and fundamental ebbs and flows, that create and underlie all of life.  So I turned to this theory for inspiration at this time.

An acupuncturist is interested in diagnosing and facilitating the balance of the five elements in a person, through the phases of their life and the challenges they may encounter.  Thus any symptoms that arise are treated at their very foundation, through encouraging the balance and healthy interplay of all five elements in a person.

These elements also make up nature that is all around us, in just the same way; nature that we are made from and nature we are held by.  One way we can get in touch with the different strength and expression of each of these elements is by observing the flow of nature through the year, each season embodying a fundamental ‘flavour’ or expression (at least in temperate climates with several seasons).  So, wintertime expresses particularly nature coming back to her essence, the quiet hibernation that replenishes us and puts us back in touch with our deepest resources and essential nature.

           Bluebell Woods

Once this phase is completed, the next phase naturally arises out of it, the beginning of the expression of that fundamental hidden nature out into the world: springtime and the ‘Wood Element.’  This will lead us on toward the blossoming of full maturation in summer, the nourishment of harvest in late summer and through to the natural letting go of autumn, so that we would once again return full cycle to the essence in wintertime. Or at least, these ebbs and flows give us a chance to follow these natural cycles (although we do tend to over-ride them a bit, us silly old human beings, don’t we?)

The ancient Taoists taught as a great fundamental of their approach to life that, if we can live in harmony with nature, and these flows of the elements of nature, we experience health and well being, the elements naturally balancing within us.  And of course, the cycles described by the elements don’t just happen over a year; they are happening for all of us in myriad ways all the time.  They happen over a lifetime, over a day, in relationship with others, over the course of a project or endeavour, anything that has a natural organic lifespan.  So this is a way of looking at our lives and consciously bringing out the best, the harmony, the wholeness, inherent in life’s potential.

So I put my thinking cap on, at the beginning of this strange time we find ourselves in, to see what the theory suggests would be good things to include in a way of life, or retreat, at this time of year.  The Wood element is all about going forward in life: direction and planning, creative expression, guided by an over-reaching vision for our life.  As winter turns to spring it is a natural time for us to go forward and start being more active in the world again.  So, all the more challenging that it is just at this moment we have all needed to turn back and go within, into our homes.

But that need not stifle the natural Wood movement.  We just have to be a little more conscious and creative at finding ways to express this healthfulness.  What nourishes and supports the Wood in us all is things like:

  • Structure, a daily plan or direction, as in the way a trellis gives a climbing plant a structure to grow through
  • Regularity / rhythm, of meals and sleep and so forth
  • Exercise and movement, whether its outside in nature or stretching / yoga at home
  • Artistic / creative expression
  • Direction / Intention, we can still contemplate these and consider them, even at such a time of openness and uncertainty. They may be even more important for us to shine light on at such a time.

So it may be that devising a lifestyle in our new way of life involving these will help.

[  Theoretical note: The Five Elements as I talk about them here are as they are taught in acupuncture theory and practice in the west in current times, taken primarily from ancient Taoist classical texts, but informed also by Japanese approaches, and brought through the ages in this way.  Seeing the world in terms of Five Elements is a basic philosophy common to Eastern philosophies in general and has an important expression also in Tibetan Buddhism.  I find the two systems totally compatible and, in some ways, fully informing of each other, but they are given slightly differently.  The Chinese / Taoist system talks of Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal (corresponding to winter through to autumn, as given above).  The Tibetan Buddhist teachings talk of Water, Air, Fire, Earth and Space.

Sometimes the Taoist system is drawn with Earth in the centre of the other 4, as a pivot, and I think the teaching is somewhat more like the elements are presented as grounded in the medium of Earth.  Sometimes the Tibetan or Buddhist system talks of the ‘Four Elements in Space’ (Space as the fifth element), i.e. they are presented more as grounded in Space as their medium.  To my mind, they are different ways of looking at the same thing, but entirely compatible.  However, I should make clear, the Tibetan Buddhist theory of Five Elements does not map them onto the seasons.  They are given as the feminine consorts or counterparts of the male Buddhas which are the heads of the Five Buddha Families.

It would no doubt all be the same in the end (experientially), I think, but I find the way the elements are talked about in acupuncture theory more accessible to share with people, for us to use as a day-to-day understanding of the elements and how they shape our health and lives.  Whereas, it seems to me, the Tibetan Buddhist five elements, especially as the consort Buddhas of the Five Buddha Families, is a very subtle and refined theory and requires quite a lot of prior understanding before we can even start to grasp its reality as a description and expression of life.

See, for example, ‘Everyday Consciousness and Primordial Awareness’ by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche for a definitive description of the Five Buddha Families and the corresponding Five expressions of Primordial Wisdom which manifest as the Five Elements and constitute thereby worldly appearances.]

Looking ahead, Transition and Integration
Although no one is really in the space of working out how we are going to go forward from this strange world we find ourselves in now, a friend commented to me how it would likely be ‘like a cork popping out of a bottle.’  I thought, ‘No!’ and realised this stage to come will be important too.

How we integrate what this time brings us and how we move forward, whenever the time comes, I think we should be aware of this, contemplate it while we can and take care how we come out of this place, so we bring our hard-won treasures with us.  I think it is just about staying aware, taking care, going gently but being present and open to what is always arriving.

These were just some thoughts I had at this time.  Apologies for any mistakes and well-wishing to all.


Mary Heneghan
Mary Heneghan is an acupuncturist, writing here from atop a hill on the edge of Oxford city where she lives with her family, a city she continues to love since coming here as a student 30 years ago.  She teaches meditation and kum nye yoga and has two daughters who are at university and just finishing school (or would be if they weren’t at home painting, applying facemasks and heading out to stack shelves at supermarkets).  She has followed Ringu Tulku’s teachings as a heart practice for many years and is one of the Directors of Bodhicharya Publications.


Oxford lies as if under a spell,
deserted and quiet, with only sunshine to fill the streets.


        These photos taken at midday on a Thursday on my daily walk …
        It feels as if a princess somewhere has pricked her finger on a spindle,
       and all the world has fallen into a deep, deep sleep…

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), a Chilean poet, wrote this poem in the 1950’s:

Keeping Quiet

Now we will count to twelve

And we will all keep still.


For once on the face of the earth

Let’s not speak in any language.

Let’s stop for one second

And not move our arms so much.


It would be an exotic moment

Without rush, without engines,

We would all be together

In a sudden strangeness.


Fishermen in the cold sea

Would not harm whales

And the man gathering salt

Would look at his hurt hands.


Those who prepare green wars,

Wars with gas, wars with fire,

Victories with no survivors,

Would put on clean clothes

And walk about with their brothers

In the shade, doing nothing.


What I want should not be confused

With total inactivity.

Life is what it’s about;

I want no truck with death.


If we were not so single minded

About keeping our lives moving,

And for once could do nothing,

Perhaps a huge silence

Might interrupt this sadness

Of never understanding ourselves

And of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us,

As when everything seems dead

And later proves to be alive.


Now I’ll count up to twelve

And you keep quiet and I will go.

Crazy Wisdom

First Thought : Best Thought. 

Wherever I am, wherever I go, there are many roads to choose from. And sometimes, one of them is the best.

 We are experiencing an amazing moment in history, a time to sit and meditate. In a country under national containment because of a world pandemic, many of us are staying home without any prospects about what is about to happen next. Probably, we have often missed the right moment to sit and to meditate with the thought that we don’t have time; but nowadays, the situation is one of full-time retreat for millions of individuals on earth.

Mother Nature needs a break from the non-ending frenzy of activities of human beings, always stirring the 4 elements. Even though people have much more time at home, it seems difficult to welcome this unusual descent into our deepest selves which is now offered to millions of us. Here is a dramatic but also great opportunity to work on our spiritual health as individuals and as a community. Day by day, humanity, scattered in many places, is sharing similar states of uncertainty and fear since Covit19 leads the show. Continue reading


Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, They are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourselves with others you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater or lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive from high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, Gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have the right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

From Living and Dying in Peace. Poem by Max Ehrmann



A rich old man died leaving two sons.  For some time the two continue living together in the traditional Indian way, in a single joint household, a joint family.  Then they quarreled and dicided to separate, dividing all the propery between them.  Everything was divided fifty-fifty, and thus they settled their affairs.  But after the settlement had been made, a small packet was discovered which had been carefully hidden by their father.  They opened the packet and found two rings inside, one set with a valuable diamond, and the other an ordinary silver ring worth only a few rupees.

Seeing the diamond, the elder brother developed greed in his mind, and he started explaining to the younger one, “To me it appears that this ring is not the earnings of our father, but rather as an heirloom from his forefathers.  That is why he kept it separate from his other psssessions.  And since it has been kept for generations in our family, it should remain for future generations.  Therefore I, being elder, shall keep it.  You had better take the silver ring.”

The younger brother smiled and said, “All right, be happy with the diamond ring.  I’ll be happy with the silver one.”  Both of them placed their rings on their fingers and went their ways.

]The younger brother thought to himself, “It is easily understandable that my father kept the diamond ring: it is so valuable.  But why did he keep this ordinary silver ring?”  He examined the ring closely and found some words engraved on it: “This will also change.”  “Oh, this is the mantra of my father: ‘This will also change!'”  He replaced the ring on his finger.

Both brothers faced all the ups and downs of life.  When spring came, the elder brother became highly elated, losing the balance of his mind.  When autumn or winter came, he fell into deep depression, again losing his mental balance.  He became tense, developing hypertension.  Unable to sleep at night, he stated using sleeping pills, tranquilizers, stronger drugs.  Finally, he reached the stage where he required electric shock treatments.  This was the brother with the diamond ring.

As for the younger brother with the silver ring, when spring came, he enjoyed it; he didn’t try to run away from it.  He enjoyed it, but looked at his ring and remembered, “This will also change.”  And when it changed, he could smile and say, “Well, I know it was going to change;.  He didn’t start crying, knowing that this would also change.  And yes, it also changed, it passed away.  He did not lose the balance of his mind and he lived a peaceful and happy life.

This was the brother with the silver ring.

From The Art of Living.  Vipassana Meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka by William Hart.



I thought it would be fitting at this time of year to remember Lama Tsering Paljor, a personable friend who passed away 6-years ago.  It didn’t take long in his company to realise what a genuine and heart-warming person he was.

In 2012 Donal Creedon led a one month retreat in BMC in Sikkim.  He taught from Tsele Natsok Rangdrol’s Lamp of Mahamudra, not an easy text by any means.  In order to retain some sort of equilibrium to the teachings which often left me confused with the complicated techniques propounded, I often found solace and balance in talking to the resident monk. 

I’m not sure how old Lama La was; he had that youthful appearance, which many Tibetans have, and a calm deportment that affected all who came in contact with him.  His easy manner of speech and his openness with others put them immediately at ease, and one felt that they were in the company of an exceptional individual.

During his time in retreat in Pharphing near Kathmandu in Nepal, he told me of his practice of tummo and how he wore three sets of wet robes consecutively and dried them with the heat of his own body.  This he performed in the winter. He also joined me in qigong, together with others early in the morning after performing his ritual offerings at the fire house on the roof of the gompa. We also enjoyed watching a film about Milarepa on the laptop and he would explain each part of the story to me, especially the power of his sorcery and his later tutelage under Marpa.

Lama Paljor also liked to demonstrate his skills in singing and dancing and once led an extended session of chanting the mantra om mani peme hum in the shrine room.

In his little kitchen at the top of the building, he made chai and offered sweets.  These times provided welcome moments of relaxation.  Lama La was a gentle man and enjoyed our company.  He showed us his photographs and it was surprising to see him stand out with his long hair and beard while the others had shaved heads.

To us, the first knowledge of his problems came about half-way through the retreat.  Lama La was experiencing a burning sensation in his chest and decided that he wanted to seek medical advice.  My wife and I took him to consult a homeopathic practitioner in Gangtok and he was prescribed various ‘remedies’, but to no avail.  He was later diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis was not good.

Lama Tsering Paljor passed away at 7 pm on 15 October, 2014.

However, he was able to travel back to Tibet and passed away amongst his family and friends.

Lama Paljor will be remembered fondly by all who met him and he will live on in their thoughts.

[See  Annie Dibble’s article published in Bodhicharya IrelandRemembering Lama Tsering Paljor.]

First published in Many Roads, October 24, 2014



Wild Fact of the Day:
Once humankind used 7000 species of plant and 1069 species of fungi as foods. 

A single community averaged 120 wild species in their daily diet providing a massive range of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc)  and phytochemicals, such as plant-made serotonin that keeps us all happy. Each country studied records a dietary range of 300 to 600 wild species once eaten. 

There were no simple divisions: we were hunter-gathers, cultivator-collectors, farmer-foragers, agro-pastoralists, fisher-foragers, and our strength was dietary diversity. It was never just farming until around 300 years ago (UK) and many other modern cultures still have over 20% wild food in their diets. In 12 remaining traditional hunter-gather communities studied, between 30% and 93% of calories are wild not farmed. 

Sadly today over 50% of the entire globe’s daily calorie intake (and, I would argue, nutrient intake) comes from just 3 species – carb laden corn, wheat, rice. And 80% of calories from just 12 species – you know the other 9, those sad, tasteless, watery supermarket vegetables. No wonder city dwellers only have a third of the beneficial gut bacteria species that foragers have. 

The result of the loss of our wild food diversity – and the exercise spent collecting and catching it – is that we have become sick, sad and obese! 

Edible wild leavesAs one researcher puts it the “gradual replacement by store-bought produce causes discernable and significantly negative impacts on nutritional security at household and community levels”. 

Just saying…

I live in a field in West Lothian. 4 wild acres where I am planting and encouraging medicinal and foraging species. I have been fascinated by herbs and plants since childhood. My original interest was sparked by a wild childhood in Kenya, where I was introduced to herbal medicine by a local Kikuyu herbalist at the age of six. We were outdoors most of the time and I remember with joy the freedom of those early years. I love foraging for wild food as well as wild medicine and would happily never visit a supermarket again.
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