Wednesday 14 February 2024

Boundless or bounded?

Last week talking with my friend Niels about life in general he made the comment '...we just get pushed about...' he was referring to life (or perhaps some greater being) doing the pushing. Yeah, and who are we? That's the question. Is it that we are entirely physical beings who's consciousness is an emergent property of matter and the entirety of our experience is the moment by moment arising of conditions stemming from a vast interconnected web of a basically physical universe generating a complex flux or is this insufficient to capture our nature? Given that we don't and probably will never fully understand the nature of the observable physical universe and that there is likely far more universe which is unobservable it seems that both positions come to the same conclusion- our ground of being is unknowable. What then of the question 'who are we?' We are our life it seems. Boundless and yet bounded we are, and likely as not can't say much more than that we can't really know. All knowing being limited it would seem by it's own apparatus of knowing. Anyway you look at it 'it's turtles all the way down'. In my younger years I saw the story of 'it's turtles all the way down' as an illustration of the foolishness of folk believing in farcical notions of reality. Now I see it more of a warning that any notion of reality is actually only an approximation, a partial explanation and liable to require refinement, and constant modification. This of course is Sunyata - Emptiness. And it is pregnant with possibility. At times seeing reality this way offers the possibility of what might be termed salvation - that life is so much richer and more complex than I can know and that there's the possibility that I might reach such a deep understanding and experience of / insight into this that my entire life might undergo a significant and liberating shift. At other times this seems merely a philosophical observation without any likelihood of such a shift. Overall I suspect that my appreciation of Sunyata has and continues to deepen even if any significant shift may elude me. And perhaps a significant shift might not be such a good thing- I may not have the temperament to accommodate anything radicle. In which case a gentle softening of the more unhelpful aspects of my personality may be enough. As I've said before I'm too given to seeing the entropic aspect of Emptiness rather than the creative. The fear that I'll be pushed around to some suffering that I can neither stand nor control has been with me for as long as I can recall. Softening to see the 'I' in this in wider terms and trusting that it is enough to respond to each moment as fully as possible in the moment without writing the drama of a self trying to control the future isn't always possible. The combination of awareness and surrender doesn't always manifest. Often there's awareness but alone this isn't enough to avoid suffering. This is particularly true where there seems to be trauma. At present I'm reading (or listening to) a book about how we humans 'break'- I may write more about this in a future post. For now I'm just rolling with the being pushed about and wondering who's being pushed.

Thursday 8 February 2024

The Moon in the Marble

I couldn't resist this title - so evocative. I'm spending the week with my dear friend Niels in Cluny. This wonderful old building which has seen so much life, constructed as a hydropathic hotel and for decades the home of Findhorn Foundation staff and guests is now once more home only to a few people. The restart of guest programmes after the Covid lockdowns lasted only a short time and in September last year came to an end. Walking around the spaces and recalling so much that unfolded and letting it go it's strange to experience this once full and alive place now at an ending. Nobody knows what if any future the Findhorn Foundation has and thus what may be possible for this building and its grounds. A place which so many have poured love into and who have benefitted from its holding. It has held and been held. And so I'm grateful for all I've gained from this place including the opportunities to share looking after it. Now I'm enjoying a little retreat time and being with friends. This bright and frosty morning out for a walk passing by the cemetery I recalled the words of an Essentials of Psychosynthesis course leader from back in 2009 - 'Oh, lets go look at the moon in the marble!' he said on a clear full moon lit night coming back from the pub. And so we all joined him looking for polished marble in which to see the reflected moon. That course was held here by the Psychosynthesis Trust, it wasn't an FF course. I enjoyed the course a lot and the events of that week although not related to the course would lead to my spending time here as a resident, but that's a whole other story... Today what seems more relevant is not even to reflect upon the past or to 'work' at being present but rather to just relax. It would be easy to write about the mirror like quality of the mind, to draw out evocative pictures and play with the qualities of the moon and marble but I don't need to do that. The words 'the moon in the marble' do enough by themselves in that respect.

The world seems to be in a difficult time; climate change, wars, economic problems etc... There is talk in various circles about trauma and I certainly have my share of it. And I've certainly not been able to stay 'on my perch' in all of it. Any aspiration from those early days of 'spiritual practice' to reach a place of unassailable equanimity (as if!) has been flushed away. Fortunately, I knew of the dangers of such subtle clinging and so haven't been left totally denuded. I bounce back. In that respect 'practice' has helped. Relax! Sometimes one does have to accept that there are limits to what can be controlled. Poetically we know this and hence the evocative nature of the moon in the marble. 


Wednesday 13 December 2023

Three Thousand Years of Longing

Last week with DC away in London I watched the movie Three Thousand Years of Longing and this week we watched it together. I enjoyed it the second time as much as the first. It's visually sumptuous and the tale doesn't tire with telling. There's a line in the dialogue where the question is asked is love real or just a madness? The love in question being romantic. And in a turn more sophisticated than is usual in most movies, the point is also made that love brings out of our selves that which we hitherto had not seen or been able to express. The themes of truth, beauty, freedom and love run through the movie and I've found my self contemplating them in the context of the three poisons - delusion / ignorance, greed / lust and hate / aversion / anger described in Buddhism. Further, I wonder how we are to grow in the way or in any other way for that matter, pointed to by this bringing out of ourselves that which was previously unseen. Yes, as life challenges us and / or we experience that which brings delight, interest and captivates us hitherto aspects of possibility lying dormant awake. In Buddhism the diminishing of the cycle of the three poisons to be replaced with a more capacious acceptance shifts experience. The euphoria or intoxication of 'in love' fades and reveals a deep connected relationship or little but projection. Always there is the ungraspable nature of truth hinted at by everyday realities. Sumptuous scenes displayed regularly throughout Three Thousand Years of Longing like tableau evoke richness in the broadest sense and as DC pointed out might draw comments regarding orientalism. Their effect through this richness is to generate the promise of greater knowing and to bridge between the mundane and the magical. Magic is central to this movie but as is fitting to a tale about narratives it is a vehicle for exploration of our condition as much as it is employed for our amusement. Amusement, often thought of as trivial distraction to while away time of course usually does reveal our condition.

Drawing back from this I sense a heady mix sitting on top of the anxieties provoked by dealing with our everyday problems of a leaking roof and bringing our house up to scratch, the backdrop of climate change urgency and geopolitics. We are fortunate in having reasonable financial resource and living in a part of the world not caught up in immediate environmental disaster or warfare but having grown up with the constant shortage of money it is difficult to ever feel that I've escaped the risk of catastrophic economic ruin and the knowledge that micro and macro environmental disaster is unfolding in the world does add a tension and sense of running out of time. Time, were it to run out would presumably put an end to all experience and perhaps give Hamlet his sleep of no more. He of course wonders is it only our natural cravings and attachments to favourable experience, our very life force as exemplified in the Red Thread koan that keeps us facing life's vicissitudes or is it that we suspect that time and bad experience are possibly without end. It's a valid question for much anxiety is underpinned by the fear of not just loss but everlasting agony. That some part of us didn't reach its flowering in any time seems to remain as an everlasting reality beyond the end of time as much as any reality in any time remains beyond time. We are in this sense caught in our temporal nature. Whether any enlightenment can bridge the realms of time and timeless has been a quest of our creation narratives. These too are alluded to in Three Thousand Years of Longing. It's a tale about narratives. Returning to considerations of time I see that whereas in the first half of life there's a sense of there being plenty of it ahead, in the second there's a sense of a wisdom in consolidation (as opposed to fossilisation). It is perhaps the fear of unravelling which I find alarming in these times I think.

Monday 13 November 2023

Remembrance Sunday

Yesterday, remembrance Sunday I attended a Quaker meeting in the morning then had a walk with DC through the local area. We had lunch outside a cafe as DC has Covid. It was reminiscent of those lockdown days. We watched Hotel New Hampshire then I took myself off to Sunday conscious dance group. It was Bob's set of tracks. I generally like his music - he generally has a good mix of tracks to get us moving whatever the energy and mood of the participants. The Quaker meeting had been naturally infused as it has been for a week or two with thoughts of the current conflicts and previous ones. The ministry was heartful and upon reflection indicative of a processing and care of troubling aspects of human nature. Through this care some understanding and peace seemed to evolve and through that the better side of our nature was alive and visible. Bob opened his set with the reprise from The Eagles, Wasted time. He introduced this as his acknowledgement of Remembrance Sunday noting that the track is about one minute long. I remembered a comment at the Quaker meeting that maybe we should add a minute for the damage we have done to the environment. The dancing was good and I could feel my body respond positively to the music and the connections with others. There was a nice warmth in the group. I returned home to a lovely dinner prepared by my wonderful DC.

That track Bob opened with reminded me straight away of this post from April 2015. I mentioned to Bob that it always brings tears to my eyes. It's that line from the full track - 'And maybe someday we will find, that it wasn't really wasted time' that still gets me. Somehow the music and the words for me at least tap straight into that wider human journey with an acknowledgement of suffering and growth.

But will we humans ever grow enough to end the self inflicted suffering?

Monday 30 October 2023

Change and Stillness

Yesterday DC and I attended the Quaker meeting in Keswick. There was talk before the meeting about the future of meetings and the Quakers and I'd heard similar words recently at the Newcastle meeting. There was ministry regarding change. I was drawn to speak, I sat still and said nothing but the urge persisted and I resisted until it was clear- stand. 'Everything is changing all the time, but it is cut through with stillness.' I've seen this clearly in the past and it seemed in the meeting to be the concise response to the questions raised in the ministry. I sat and felt into the space again. I wasn't entirely comfortable with way the word cut had come out- too sharp, too much me in it. Maybe this should have been said in afterwords. It was close to the end of the hour. The clerk ended the meeting. There was no afterwards. One of those present came straight across and said to me 'thankyou, your ministry was concise'. This point is important to me as it is I suppose a road through the everyday to what is perhaps pointed to with 'A little point and Satori'. For an explanation if needed look here. The question that I find arising now is the ultimate one of 'faith' - does my experience continue in any way after death? Is there significance to this 'little point'? I've not crossed it nor approached it deeply enough to have experience which would qualify me to respond to the question. But I have wanted the answer to be such that there was a meaning in the answer beyond the rational. Because without that... without that the weight of everyday rational meaning is unbearable. And yet if there is a finite end then at least there is an end to any pain at least for a single being. To answer this question of faith it is not good enough to merely recognise our interconnectedness in the living everyday world. It is perhaps to ask as Hamlet does '...what dreams may come?' But this too is a disturbance. His place of asking is not neutral. The ripples of his mind obscure the very ground upon which they sit. The question might be better put as 'when the mind is still where does it sit? And thus where and what were those ripples? Well, we know how the Platform Sutra puts it so there's nothing I can add. In truth it's still very much through a glass darkly at best for me. And something, no-thing, was concisely conveyed. 


Friday 15 September 2023

The falling leaves

Yesterday evening DC and I saw The Father, a play by Florian Zeller at the People's Theatre. Although an amateur production the performances were good and the experience in no way felt amateur. No small feat given the nature of the play. With no consistent narrative position we experience the unfolding story of an elderly man with dementia. The uncertainty of 'reality', his decline from robust demeanour to second childhood and the frightening isolation as his awareness no longer holds a coherent picture of the world or even himself is played out in an ever shifting field. Time, place and relationship constantly fail to join up into a coherent linearity. The sequence of past present and future as the temporal backdrop to the physically apparent world fragments. The who is who of the people in his life fragments. The where is where fragments... His closing lines 'my leaves are falling away, my branches are falling away' leaves us asking the same question he has just asked '...but what about me... who am I?'

And so it seems fitting to remember the title of this blog - for who is holding on to what? Who is it that might ever hold on to nothing, to be with what is, as it is? Inspired by the koan (Case 5 Mumonkan) at a time when I was recovering 'myself' after my sense of who I was had been, if not shattered then certainly knocked about a bit by an anxious depression caused by long term stress, this blog aimed to capture some movement into a wider sense of being. And what I sought was a place where I could be alive to life without again being overwhelmed by any pain it could cause me. Even to the extent that the very notion of 'me' was to be kept under scrutiny. And I was all too aware of the danger in this! I kept it reasonably soft... the grasping in this was clear to me and I fumbled my way through the dharma... So, the years have passed and what might I say now in answer to the question - who sits? I've no idea! And I don't mean that in an elliptical or 'knowing' way. It really is a mystery. But it is a mystery sitting in a coherent consensus reality. I'm not dementing. (As far as I can tell.) What and how do we know the nature of ourselves to be?

Meanwhile, the play reminds us of the last days of DC's father and the increasing fragility of my parents. We are aware of the passage of time and the movement through the seven ages as we cast about the stage of our lives, interconnected and separate as they are, in this unfathomable and yet obvious paradox.

The Father is a moving play and the theme of loss and death resonated all the more strongly as we spoke with the director. We know him and his wife through other friends and we acknowledged the sadness in the unfolding falling away that accompanies the last days of life. And as we all agreed it's shit. The loss of function and the physical pain taking up the time before death, squeezing the precious remaining moments of connection. It IS shit. And as family and friends gather and share, as the days pass, there is that which has been and that which remains.

The merit of this post is for those approaching the end of their life and all who love them.




Tuesday 12 September 2023

This September

 It is a time of transition. Mid September brings a mellowness and a sense of impending stillness. There is much change going on in the world and in our own tiny corner of existence DC and I are soon to move house. For a variety of reasons I find floating through my mind consideration of... Of what? Of appreciation of the challenges, changes and stillness... the spiritual 'journey'... Elliot's words 'costing not less than everything'... Recent years have been very challenging and I have often lost sight of the stillness in which the motion of the challenge takes place. Returning to the desire to reach both a place of safety  and insight whilst releasing any such imagined position into the reality of the present ever unfolding moment there is reflection.

Surrendering to the moment with an open heart and mind doesn't seem to be a natural disposition for me. My mind is constantly grasping for control. Yet there is seeing this without adding too much further. Over the passing years since first coming across the Buddha dharma, understanding, appreciation, and much more have naturally shifted. The picture of a spiral is often used to describe 'views up the mountain'. But whilst useful this reinforces the notion of a journey with the attendant risk of an asymptotic goal. In practice there is both the need to keep 'polishing the mirror' and to realise reality in the present. Certainly much of that reality now is tiredness. Hopefully the coming transition will afford rest and renewal. And in that there may yet be more clarity and peace.

 I suppose that implicit in all this is the koan at its most basic. The panoply of challenges each encompassing various wants and needs, the access to wisdom at both intellectual and visceral levels- the being and doing in each moment. And how aware, how conscious am I in all this? Indeed where am I in all this? I hope the coming autumn will afford opportunity to feel into all this.