Tag Archives: Annie Dibble

The Emptiness of Curtains:   Some reflections in retreat.

We need to make a practical decision – where to sit Donal our facilitator. The choice is limited to beside a door or in front of a window on the north side of the room: and we choose the latter. 

Then, another decision – should the curtains behind him be open or closed?  These are small but important things to consider.  We play around with it: morning light – closed; midday – open; evening – closed.  And they stay closed for the rest of the week, so that only the southern sun illuminates the room.

The curtains are a floral grey and pink meandering design, hanging from the ceiling to the windowsill just above the radiator:  two curtains on a rail.  Objects intended for letting in or keeping out the light.

There are 26 of us here, together for the week of retreat.  Sorrow’s Springs  is a phrase from an allegory by Gerard Manley Hopkins in which he grieves for a young girl’s future sorrow (even before she has come to know grief for herself) and is one we return to over the week, exploring through dialogue the meaning of the poem and how it may differ from suffering? How does it resonate with bodhicitta and compassion? Could it be the doorway to wisdom?

We are reminded each morning to consciously generate bodhicitta: to be active with it; to let it be the fundamental ground of all we do.  We sit with the intention – to paraphrase Donal’s words – to understand that the ways of thought are generally mistaken and lead to the mess we generate in our lives.  He speaks about the different ways of viewing thought in meditation:  thought as a major agent of destruction, an enemy to annihilate; another way to see thought is as a friend providing the fuel for meditation; but then again perhaps thought is the meditation. I play around with these ideas in the hope that thought will not totally absorb me.

The dharma text that supports the week is one of Ringu Tulku Rinpoche’s teachings, taken from his publication, ‘Like Dreams and Clouds’ about emptiness and interdependence.  Sahaja is the Sanskrit word, meaning born together with or naturally co-emergent.  Each time I hear the term I think I have understood it: that nothing can exist on its own by or of itself, nothing arises without a prompt, an interference, an injunction from elsewhere, a coming together of elements to create something afresh. It is the dynamic substance of life. Emptiness is both the basis for and result of things coming together and parting.  Another way of saying it is that everything is possible and that change is a permanent condition. An empty mind is a blank canvas, pregnant with unborn arisings.  Yes.

Donal brilliantly elucidates these ideas and I listen with all senses open, attending to the belly-breath.

But then my mind moves once more to the pink and grey curtains that were parted before coming together to keep out the light. On reflection their closure seems counter-productive – a sort of oxymoron– contrary to our purpose here which is to illuminate the source of sorrow, to let in the light. 

And surely, a curtain is a curtain, a functional, light obstructing and single object, in a form that we identify as cloth.  I sit and allow these curtain-thoughts develop – deliberately bypassing my own wellspring of sorrow.

Studying the pink flowers, I begin to wonder who designed the pattern? Someone with a unique life and a family, do they also meet with sorrow and how does it manifest for them, or do they name it as suffering?  And the colour, the dye, the chemistry and the alchemists who worked in the lab to find ways to create a shade that would print and not fade on curtains. I imagine the toxicity of the dye stuffs inhaled in the process; and of the endless supply of precious water needed for the dyes, and the poisoning waste spilling into the rivers and streams and killing earth-beings in its discardment.  I use Earth-beings here to include plants etc. which have not been identified yet as sentient, but are recorded as having a level of response, and on whom we are dependent as part of the eco-chain.  Though scientists now recognise plants as being sentient. 

Dyes used to be a product of nature, and this cochineal red was extracted at one time from a female Mexican beetle called dactylopius coccus, dried and ground into powder before chemists found ways to replicate it with precious minerals mined from rock, to be fixed with formic acid.  Suddenly I recognise that this dye-knowledge, born and developed across hundreds of years to enter my curtain story, came out of a time when there were no windows and no curtains; and that these curtains could not be here in this form without crushed beetles and earth poisoned in the process.

And the cloth, the weave, the interlacing of threads into fabric: this curtain that blocks our light has been woven by a machine.  But once, weavers worked by hand, in attic homes with roof windows to let in the light on the southern side. Until the coming together of weaver and engineer at some point in history (herstory) brought forth a mechanical loom to create a cloth that one person printed and another sewed and another hung on the window in this room wherein now I sit.

Emerging from these phantasies, I mull over which category of thought they have been: friends or enemies, or, is this a form of curtain Vipassana?

The curtain is also composed of fibres: cotton, perhaps from Uzbekistan, where children are removed from school to help with the harvest because their families are too poor to live any differently. So child labour and poverty and famine in the Old Russian Republic now also belong to this curtain that keeps out the light. 

The other fibre, polyester, starts as oil.  And when I look more deeply with my weaver-eyes I see that the oil-fibre that has been processed and spun into the finest curtain-yarn was extracted from a fossil yielded by our Earth-mother, a million year old gift from trees and plants in the landscape of a time when no humans were yet even dreamed of.

Perhaps it was drilled from a well in Texas where hurricane Harvey recently un-homed thousands and then tore over Pacific rigs raised higher each couple of years to compensate for the rising sea waters as the Arctic melts; and where a ship has just boasted its traversal across the North Pole because the ice is no longer an obstacle and has gifted the boat a passage.  Or maybe the oil was from the Gulf where Arabs are killing Yemeni husbands, fathers and sons and raping their women, using guns and bombs supplied by foreign governments (who also strive to destroy their own folk in different kinds of ways). That too I see in this curtain. 

Intelligent investigation into the mind requires both trust and doubt: trust that we have the means to the answer, and doubt to keep the questioning mind active and alert to the quality of arisings and insight. Doubt reassures us that there is an issue, something to work with, without doubt we will not search, without trust we will give up the search, each is crucial in its own way.    This week it has been difficult to find the trust sometimes. Each day, news brings a fresh onslaught of fires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, drownings, mudslides and massacres and unintentional loss of life: nowhere escapes the ensuing mental suffering.

Here in this curtain-protected room we have created a trusty vajra tent within which illness, suicides and other deaths of loved ones visit us each day to ask for inclusion in our evening prayers.

And I remain aware, also, of the ancient forests, the alchemists, dyers, weavers, seamstresses and their sons and daughters, the Arabs and Yemenis, the children of Uzbekistan, hurricanes, tornadoes, dictators, Mexican beetles and earthquakes, dependently arising as curtains, open or closed to the light.  

Annie Dibble is currently co-ordinator for Bodhicharya Ireland, and a Tara Rokpa Therapist. In another life she recently retired from teaching 3rd level art and design and is now working to create supportive links between weavers in India, Nepal and Dublin.

Healing the Wounded Heart

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Almost two years ago I found myself unexpectedly in a hospital bed awaiting a common but serious medical procedure to unblock an artery. I had just returned from a trip to visit my daughter in the US, and could count a few mostly work-related flights in the five months prior to that, including a trip to a very remote part of northern India where for a month my days had begun with a mile-long walk up a very steep path for breakfast at 6 am. Over time I’d found myself getting more and more breathless, and put it down to lack of fitness but, back in Ireland, I decided to consult my GP who immediately referred me to the emergency chest pain unit.  Within two hours I was sitting in front of a young hospital registrar, still expecting to be told to get out and exercise more. However what he said took what was left of my breath away: I had an eighty-percent blockage that was preventing oxygen (lifeblood) from flowing into my heart. Fortunately, he said, my heart was not damaged and could be fixed.

I meditate regularly, read and teach on matters of the heart, and have spent many years sitting with people as they explore mind-heart matters, struggling with their stuck places: creating the space for them to paint away the barriers to feelings with watery paint on paper, to help create a movement, a shift, a flow that would allow emotion to be felt.  In the meantime, my own heart had been quietly shutting down. Continue reading

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Hello to all the readers of Many Roads.

Up here in Scotland the days are becoming colder and the nights longer.  Out come the warm clothes, hats, gloves, thermals and scarves.  That’s how it is in the autumnal, northern hemisphere.  The scattering of leaves on the pavements adds a certain melancholic poignancy to the season.

There is a feeling that we are in for a long, cold winter.

However, a warm thanks to the readers who have posted comments on the published articles.  Your thoughts are welcome. 

Several new articles have been published recently.  There has been positive feedback on Anni Dibble’s heart-felt article A Tribute to Akong Rinpoche.  

Ringu Tulku Rinpoche also wrote a revealing article, which originally appeared on the main page of Bodhicharya, outlining his memories of the late Akong Rinpoche.

Dr Sangeeta Rajbhandary has written about the recent festival of Ghantakarna in Kathmandu.  There is very little separation between Buddhist and Hindus in the valley, thus the Hindu/Buddhist in the title.

The Ten Commandments for Foreign Travel in India by Upasana Pokhriyal contains some invaluable advice for both seasoned and new travellers in India, and especially for women in the context of recent events in the country. 

And Ani Rinchen Khandro, a nun based at Samye Dzong in Edinburgh, has written an account of her discovery of Buddhism in her article Approaching Buddhism and her subsequent experience on retreat and after on Holy Island.

Mail Chimp sends out any new articles on a weekly basis to subscribers.  If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do this at the bottom of the About tab on the Many Roads site.

 

Wishing everyone a peaceful and relaxed time this coming season and hoping to hear from you soon.

A TRIBUTE TO AKONG RINPOCHE

 

 

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Only the impossible is worth doing’[1].

 Choje Akong Rinpoche was indeed, as described by Colum Kenny in the Irish Independent newspaper this week, a remarkable man:  tulku, father, husband, lama, teacher, labourer, refugee, politician, healer, soothsayer, pure visionary, founder of Samye Ling and the Rokpa and Tara Trusts.  A trusted guide to thousands of people in Europe and Asia, he had time for everyone and was utterly fearless.  Everything Akong Rinpoche did appeared to have been accomplished effortlessly, and yet what he alone achieved through sheer doggedness in his lifetime was unimaginable in ordinary human terms.  Apart from the dozens of schools, medical colleges, monasteries and nunneries he has built in Tibet, one little known project was to oversee the reconstruction of the mani wall,  originally built with the stones that Dza Patrul Rinpoche had carved, that stretches for a mile across Dzachuka in eastern Tibet.  All of that work has happened ‘under the radar’ mainly for political reasons, but also because he worked with a quiet determination that came of knowing what he had to do and just getting on with it. No fanfare, no accolade, just a relentless drive to benefit others, helping where help was needed, no matter what the personal risk.

This year in Samye Ling, the last stage of the monastery and shedra building has been completed, Continue reading