Sunday, 1 May 2022

Forty Years

DC and I visited the Granary Gallery in Berwick on Saturday and saw an exhibition of prints from various artists. Details from MutualArt website:

The Printed Line showcases the work of nearly 60 artists who have used a variety of printmaking techniques to exploit the potential of the printed line, from the thick velvety line of drypoint and the heavy cross-hatching of etching to delicate wood engraving and boldly coloured screenprints. The use of colour will be explored in screenprints by Bridget Riley and Kenneth Martin, as well as Simon Patterson’s witty lithograph, which reworks the lines of the London tube map.

The exhibition features a number of celebrated artists, spanning the 20th century to the present day, including: Walter Sickert’s masterly cross-hatched etching The Old Middlesex (c.1910), Ben Nicholson’s rich drypoint Halse Town 1949 (1949), a bold etching by Eduardo Chillida and David Hockney’s pared-down linear etchings.

All the prints in this exhibition are from the Arts Council Collection, which is the largest loan collection of modern and contemporary British art and includes fine examples of work by all of this country’s most prominent artists.

We'd not researched this exhibition and I'd no expectations arriving at the gallery.

The following print by Hockney I found delightful. More naturalistic than the stylistic work which has become his trademark, and dated 1966 just before the 1967 sexual offences act, the picture conveys a beautiful and gentle connection between the two men depicted. This connection, clearly post coital, is one of calm peaceful presence - the men are at one with themselves and each other - spiritually speaking, sex has done its work; union at multiple levels flows between them.

Returning home I listened to Shine on You Crazy Dimond by Pink Floyd and let Spotify wander off to play what it considers related tracks. The Spotify algorithms seemed to get it right for me and played stuff which fitted my mood. A mood which has been growing over the past day or so. I'd captured part of it over lunch before we went to the gallery in a conversation with DC as follows: I was 12 in 1979 shortly after the general election which brought Thatcher to power. Effectively as I started leaving childhood and developing more adult ways of thinking neoliberalism was taking a pernicious hold and aided by the industrial woes of the time, perhaps one might say under cover of those woes, it would dismantle and redirect the zeitgeist. It could have all been so different, a progressive, inclusive left, focused on improving life for the many, taking due consideration of emerging environmental understanding and building on and cherishing the progress made in the earlier post war period both those immediately following the war and those of the 1960's, might have taken the need for individual freedoms and woven them into a collective engagement rather than exploited greed as a vehicle for all that has inevitably unfolded as did the right.

Sensitive and in many ways the classic gay boy I'd hated competitive sport and was painfully aware I think of the vulnerability of human life as a child. In another version of the universe things might have unfolded so as to be fertile ground for such a child to blossom. But in the one we're in the ground would be more grist to the mill... a feeling of going against the grain or bumping over the tracks has been I think, an underlying current throughout most of my life. Doubtless we all feel this in some way at some times but that turn in direction in 1979 has I feel, set things in a mode ill conceived and tiring. 

I suppose I'm indulging in a fantasy that some fictitious alternative history would have been more fulfilling. This is dukkha. However, there's more here than tanha. Desire as I've said before isn't so simple - it has its pitfalls but without it where are we? What's important here is a feeling of connection with one's integrity. At the moment conditions are challenging me greatly and so connection with my integrity is essential. What does this mean? At present it means acknowledging the fears, being with the thoughts and feelings and giving life time. Time to let deepest desire become clear through the fear, not to let only part of experience fill awareness. Being with and not judging, not trying to control but still having care. I'm blessed to have DC with me. He's so steady and a natural optimist. His mind and heart are of the very best. Together we allow each other to be the very best, the very most we might be. This is the unfolding of deepest desire. What do I mean by deepest here? I mean life's desire to be - to exist to create. In our depths we know what is good, we recognise it by its warmth. We know beauty, wonder and peace. Perhaps that fantasy of an alternative history isn't so much an indulgence as a reminder that we need to remember our humanity. That I think is what has been almost totally abandoned by neoliberalism. And the kick back is seen in populism. You might find calling anything an 'ism problematic - any definition by nature is partial, we know that. But I think the use here is a convenient and reasonable shorthand. In truth I have faired well economically and I'm grateful for that. I see the progress made through my lifetime, I was remember, born about the time of the picture above in1967 the year of the sexual offences act and looking about it's plain that much of the 'revolution' of the '60's has come to pass. Much is good. Yet many of the traditional political ills play out - plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. What is delightful in the picture above is how we see the hubbub, the drama, the travails, all that,  fall away... and left is being, being together. Being together with DC continues to deepen and I'm grateful for that. Being, doing, intention, time / timelessness and our creativity... These I think are present in the Hockney picture above. And implicit I think is a message about an individuals truth - that they can only be who they are. This would come over in a depiction of any couple in unity but it's more stated in a work showing two gay men drawn in 1966. It's nice as per my previous post to see that this last point has faded - that a work showing two gay men is no longer as significant. Progress has been made and depending upon your politics you'll say either because of or in spite of the individualism which has marked the past forty years. It's a complex picture.

Friday, 29 April 2022


 DC and I usually take an early evening walk along the Derwent Walk, a former railway line. It's decades since any trains ran the alignment and the route is for pedestrians and cyclists now but we sometimes note that looking down the path you almost get the sense of a steam train, like a ghost train, trains that once were... a past time that almost passes through present time. The past in the present. I suppose it's the vestiges of the old railway that we see and our knowledge of other railways fills in and colours what we perceive with things that might be assumed missing from a certain picture, a picture of railway that's been awakened by those vestiges. It doesn't seem like that of course. It seems like you can almost see a train, sense the motion and perhaps steam and smoke...

Yesterday on Radio 4's Today program there was an item about a TV series called Heartstopper. Apparently it's about gay teenage love and the interesting thing is that the drama frames this as a simple first love, teen thing with little gay angst and all the usual 'old gay stories' of coming out and struggling for acceptance. So things have moved on, it's a non-issue. The guest talking about this drama said it was the drama he would have liked to have been on TV in his teens rather than being a teen in the time of Section 28 - a horrible piece of late 1980's legislation by the Thatcher government aimed at banning the 'promotion of homosexuality'. His comments about shame and feeling he'd committed a 'thought crime' for fancying another boy and trying to purge such thoughts from his mind for fear they would show on his face struck a chord with me. My own teens were in the early '80's so I'm a little older than him but yes, that's how it was and I felt the usual sadness well up. The interview continued to explain that a number of men of our age feel a melancholy over this and there are comments about the teen romance that we so wish we could have had but of course did not have. This is ground I've written about before, usually when something triggers the memory and the past comes into the present. Of course the past is in the present, as is the future. It's not that there's some person who would be as they are irrespective of the past, that those experiences we didn't have somehow can be said not to matter because that's all gone now, all in the past. Things we didn't have like things we did have, have made us what we are in the present. The melancholy isn't so much about the past as the present, the scars are still with us. But not just the scars. All human life is difficult and in the words of the song 'there's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in'.

Long gone trains appearing on repurposed alignments, memories reawakening, shared memories, shared stories, vestiges of the past... this is part of the nature of the present and ultimately the future. And as DC and I have said a few times recently, time isn't as linear as we assume. More and more I see the interconnectedness of things not just in the present but across time too. It is spring now and everything in nature is bursting out - fresh green leaves and wonderful flowers. There are Bluebells, one of DC's favourites in the woods and it is lovely in the sunshine. I remember to look up and be thankful that here we're not directly affected by the wars that are taking place in the world and that despite the environmental emergency there's still nature to cherish. I'm glad times have improved in many ways and I hope as a species we can more and more see the interconnectedness of everything and act with wisdom and from the heart - a new spring in our ways.

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Enlightenment - Warp and Weft

It was back in early 2006 when I first started to explore what is somewhat vaguely called 'the spiritual aspect of our existence'. I say vague because by its very nature any definition of 'spiritual' is only approximate or tangential. I was finding my way after the rug had been puled out from under me and Findhorn Foundation (FF) Experience Week (FX) quickly led me to Zen Buddhism. How I ended up doing FX  is a whole other story but it's fair to say that the eyebrows of a number of friends were raised. I had been what might be called a rationalist fundamentalist and the FF was out there floopy - woo woo. In practice though that woo woo would be a swift gate to wu (wu Chinees or mu Japanese). And it was in that period of fairly rapid shift when my friend John Kennedy recommended The Doors of Perception by Aldus Huxley. I read it with interest and my recollection is that the concepts fitted with much else I was studying although I knew that the chemical way to adjust what Huxley referred to as the 'reducing valve of the mind' was not for me. No, my path would be zazen. (And zazen has been my way from that time to this.) The Doors of Perception has sat unread in my library since that time. So then, it was interesting to read a quote of Huxley in a work colleague's email:

“To be enlightened is to be aware, always, of total reality in its immanent otherness - to be aware of it and yet remain in a condition to survive as an animal. Our goal is to discover that we have always been where we ought to be. Unhappily we make the task exceedingly difficult for ourselves."

I responded that Huxley captures it well and that I recall Meister Eckhart is quoted as below by D.T Suzuki in a chapter titled ‘A little point and satori’ in his book Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist

"The union of the soul with God is far more inward than that of the soul and the body… Now, I might ask, how stands it with the soul that is lost in God? Does the soul find herself or not? To this I will answer as it appears to me, that the soul finds herself in the point where every rational being understands itself with itself. Although it sinks in the eternity of the divine essence, yet it can never reach the ground. Therefore God has left a little point wherein the soul turns back upon itself and finds itself, and knows itself to be a creature."

And as I also said in my response I have investigated this quite deeply over the years. The rug pulled out from under me had left me one way or another with little choice. Now what is tricky to convey concisely here is how the terms self, soul, God, creature and awareness might be understood. It is here that mu the first koan in the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate) sprang up for me and still does. Because in some ways as Huxley (among others) points out that we have always been where we ought to be, that is to say that mu is clear, it is yet also hiding in plain sight. We are conditioned, dependently originated and deeply connected. Whilst constantly in flux (indeed we are that flux) there is that which sustains and there is a movement between the absolute (the unborn) and the relative (of everyday life). Not nothing but no-thing, form and emptiness mutually revealing. That of course is all very well but do I remain in playful samadhi? Nope! And so here I remember the inspiration for the title of this blog- Case 5 in the Mumonkan - Kyōen's "Man up a tree". Now I've interpreted (or imagined) this koan as pointing to a number of aspects of my life - my Buddha nature and my everyday interactions. And in particular a bit like Kyōen when the rug was pulled from under him what was I to do, how would I put one foot in front of the other? That is to say with much of what I'd thought I could rely upon as who and what I was shattered, what place in the world and what place the world in me could I find? Painful as those times were the gift was nothing less than the flowering of an understanding which surpassed anything I would have come to I think had the rug remained. There would be other challenges too, most notably the Red Thread koan. And here I return to my love, my DC who has been with me on the journey of my life for thirty years. He is a most wonderful man, the finest of heart and mind. And vicissitudes or not I'm grateful that we have always been where we ought to be - warp and weft weaving our life together.

"To be enlightened is to be aware, always, of total reality in its immanent otherness - to be aware of it and yet remain in a condition to survive as an animal." I sort of see this as the warp and weft of form and emptiness - our Buddha nature. I've tried to take care not to grasp for enlightenment as a salvation but rather to stand as a dear friend says - on shifting sand with one foot on a rock. And I very much doubt that Kyōen's experience upon hearing a stone strike bamboo will be even approximated in my awareness. I'm still far too 'intellectual', too 'in my head' I see that little point with my rational mind. But, I see also that the years have deepened early experiences. Experiences where might I say the point became at least seen through a glass darkly and perhaps not so darkly. And I'm as caught up in my dramas as ever! The birds leave no trace in the sky yet not I. 🤷

It's enriching to work with colleagues and good to be able to stand on that rug whilst remembering - shifting sands and one foot on the rock. At times I've wondered this past winter if I'd come to the end of my relationship with the Buddha Dharma; the challenges have once more seemed immense and so intense that I've have to let formal sitting go for a while. But the email exchange referred to above triggered writing this post and in writing the depth of the Dharma is remembered and the Dimond shines.

Homage to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. And blessings to John Kennedy as he lives the later stages of his terminal illness. His light is one of the warmest.

Wednesday, 29 December 2021

Scottish Winter Landscape

This Christmas we are in Forres visiting friends and the landscape. It has been overcast and frosty but there have also been bright clear skies. Look closely at the frosty scene and notice the bulrushes - they stand straight and tall against the tangled fallen remains of summer vegetation and together with the winter light seemed to uplift the otherwise subdued marsh. The Findhorn bay is as ever just stunning in the low winter sun.

There isn't much to add to these pictures - they speak for themselves.

Monday, 20 December 2021


I feel the past couple of years have shown me the limit of my ability to stay centred, present in the here and now, spacious and accepting. Things have been very tense and stressful for most of the time we've all been going through the pandemic. Certainly the lockdowns and restrictions contributed to the stress but I suspect my OCD may have flared up anyway. Sometimes there's no knowing why it will come out of what might be called remission and take a hold. Over about four and a half decades it has shifted shape, and waxed and waned. For most of the past two decades its focus has been around technical errors and the potential harm which could result. We grow and become more experienced and with this improved vision our past actions however well intentioned can seem foolish. OCD will find the chinks, amplify the uncertainty, pick away at the action, see only the worst possible outcome and thus derive the worst possible intention. It's very draining. And so it was for a lot of 2020. Then early this year we started the process of moving house and eventually moving in May. As ever there are unforeseen issues. These coupled with the stresses of the previous year and my patterns around major transitions have left me strung out and often knocked off centre. My OCD has waned to be replaced by the fear it has tried for most of my life to control. This fear is only partly articulated in my mind but viscerally it manifests with an intensity varying from a sickly unpleasantness to an overwhelming fire. At its worst my body and mind are consumed with pain and I cannot think straight. The rational mind has generally been my safe place - the problem arises, I analyse it, determine the necessary actions and regain 'control'. To have this function compromised is, for me a most uncomfortable position. And yet some part of me having spent so much time in control now feels exhausted and whereas in the past I would always want to be in or very close to the driving seat, now I find a child in me arises and just want to have it resolved by someone else. In truth there's so much exhaustion that it seems I can't access properly the dynamic, creative energies required to operate in those ways. And whilst I've always held that Zen Buddhist practice is a practice without set intention, without trying, without expectation, a salvation not to be seen as good for anything (take aim for no target without trying) and yet still full of engagement, I have found since the autumn that the intensity of the situation is too great to sit with. And so I have stopped formal meditation. I am looking at the limits of what practice / training / call it what you will has been able to move. And practice has moved those limits, I know. Not just moved, but changed. I shall be forever grateful to the dharma for illuminating depths I'd no idea were there, turning up the colour when I likely thought the world only existed in monochrome and providing a lens through which to see in such a way that the view, the lens and I were if not one then not separate either but more importantly that this need not be a frightening aspect of experience as I fancy it had been in childhood. Which is to say that the impermanence of things is rooted in an emptiness which is as least as full and creative as it is destructive. That the flow of life is sacred in ways which are inexplicable and yet at the same time tangible. For all this I am grateful. And the fact remains that like most people what brought me to the dharma was the wish to find a place where the pain would not ever be so great as to destroy me. And I knew the danger of this. I knew that what was needed was to become as they say 'like willow'. It is I think through practicing with the heart and the mind that this is done. And so I have I think it fair to say absorbed the dharma in to daily life - practice off the cushion is where it's at. And yet as I write I am not well. I am distressed and overwhelmed. The pot of my awareness boils over with the porridge of my experience and the years of practice are not able to expand that awareness so as to remain centred. Forgive the clumsy metaphors.

In all this I am blessed with DC. I love him and see him love me in a reciprocity which illuminates the sacred. It is a mystery to me that my fear in our current situation is so great that it incapacitates me despite the enormity of our love. And through this mystery I return to a wound I think. A wound which has festered in me and from time to time driven DC I am sure to distraction. His light and optimism perplexed by the fear which at times takes a steely grip of my being. He has over almost thirty years been the most wonderful partner. I find certain kinds of change seem to trigger me and fortunately DC seems able for the most part to hold that. I'm blessed. Briefly he and I touched on the Jungian idea that at some point our psyche reaches a stage when it looks to old wounds to heal and integrate them. Seeking out situations in life where this may play out. There's something in this I think. And I notice there is in it the notion of growth and direction which in their turn imply the idea of something to grow. At my best I can identify with a Self as an interconnected web of life. That we all live in each other and more. But this seems at present insufficient to dispel the awful fear of... of what? I could list practical, tangible issues and yes they are not insignificant but there's something else, something as I said above which is only partly articulated yet quite visceral. I'm prepared to see that what I'm describing here is trauma. Not necessarily some big trauma but perhaps the death of a thousand cuts which in someway(s) takes our vitality and freedom. What I'm struggling with right now is not being able to have the confidence that whatever comes along that I can find and rest in my true home - my own being - centred and capacious in as they say a playful samadhi.

Saturday, 20 November 2021

My Love!

 This weekend marks the end of the first week back at work after two weeks off sick and one week holiday. I enjoyed being back at work although I'm still feeling in the getting better phase of post covid ill health. Two weeks ago I took the following pictures. They're not perfect and I've deliberately not edited them just as when taking them I decided to 'take and see' ie keep tapping the shutter 'button' on my smart phone camera as the changing display in the sky evolved. What I wanted to capture was DC's delight and wonder at the display. When I see him like this I know why I love him so much. There are many other times I know why I love him so much too of course!

It's tempting (for me) to write posts that try to succinctly (I hope) capture vast swathes of my 'field of being' maybe like a cloud experience(s) in a vast open sky of... Here I go again... But really DC's smile captures it all.

Tuesday, 2 November 2021


DC and I recently saw the play Indecent at The Menier Chocolate Factory. It's a play about the controversial play God of Vengeance. There's a lot going on in this play about a play and I found it very moving. I've neither read nor seen God of Vengeance and I know nothing about Yiddish culture. Further, Indecent takes us on a journey from the first readings and shows of God of Vengeance in 1907 through to the author, Sholem Asch leaving America in 1953 (he was subject to accusations of 'un-American activities') and shows both something of the Obscenity trial of the Broadway version of God of Vengeance and takes care to remind us of the Holocaust. Indeed, the play opens with a reference to those sent to their deaths (although the reference wasn't clear to me until it returns towards the end of the play in an action reminding us of those deaths) during the Holocaust. God of Vengeance takes on the hypocrisy of societies and is brave enough to say that Jews are no different to those of other religions in that they too have those who will profit from selling religion, are hypocrites etc. it depicts a man running a brothel trying to bring up his daughter piously and it shows that daughter in lesbian love. So it's not too surprising that the judge and jury in the Obscenity trial and subsequent arbiters of moral values have been outraged - all too often 'family values' are anything but. Indecent is a play held together by the character Lemml - a tailor and stage manager for productions of God of Vengeance. Right from the start we see that he sees the play as moral and he is deeply touched by the humanity and meaning in it. As I've said, there's a lot going on in Indecent and I was moved by it. And that's what I want to write about. Lemml is so moved by the play that he sees its importance and wants others to see what he's seen. This too I think is what we see in Indecent. We see that beyond the storeys we all tell ourselves, that societies tell themselves, that make and steal ourselves, beyond and yet not separate from ourselves we share a humanity and it is precious, vulnerable and powerful. Through all the complexities of Indecent a spirituality came over for me and at one point when Lemml is illuminating this humanity, this spirituality he looks out and for a time I was eye to eye with him seeing each other. I notice that I'm being careful in this post - there are so many pitfalls here - misinterpretation of both plays, failing to understand some aspect of Yiddish or wider Jewish culture and not taking sufficient time to consider the persecution and the holocaust. And I've done a little reading up about Sholem Asch and as I understand it he seemed to be pointing to a common ground for us all whatever our backgrounds. Somehow, for me this came across in Indecent - that what is important is that we see and care for each other. And for me at least what was illuminated was that aspect of ourselves known by many names and perhaps well described as 'our true self'... 'the self who knows'... In that eye to eye contact with Lemml where each sees the other and is seen seeing... Where like paper not refusing ink no matter the marks made... Where the particulars of our dramas recede and our humanity holds all in compassion... Here need we add explanations, attempts at capturing in words the spirituality of humanity?