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

Trauma

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

Indecent

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?



Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Randolph's Leap

I'm spending a few days in Scotland resting and hopefully recovering from the after effects of covid. I'm determined not to name this long covid or post viral syndrome etc. although I clearly have some kind of post viral fatigue. It feels like the exhaustion and light headedness of a hangover (but thankfully without the throbbing headache). I seem to have about half a day's worth of energy before I feel foggy and tired. I've worked right through the whole thing including the stresses of our recent house move but I've got to the stage where I know I have to slow right down and rest - my head gets too foggy to keep reading all the work emails, processing them and responding efficiently. I wasn't too badly affected by covid but this ongoing fatigue is starting to get to the stage where I'm not able to function properly. In truth it comes on top of a hugely stressful period and it's clear to me that my system has just decided to put the brakes on as it were.

So, today after a leisurely breakfast and gradually getting ready to go out I took a short drive over to Logie steading and somewhat half heartedly perused the second hand book shop and art gallery before getting some lunch. I then drove the short distance to Randolph's leap and ambled by the river and amongst the trees before returning (somewhat fatigued) to the car to head back here to my lodgings. I'm feeling a strange mix of tired, light headed, generally blah and as if I might pass out - although I'm fairly sure I wont! I'm definitely ready for this malaise to be gone! Here's some pictures which alas fail to capture the swirling waters of the Findhorn river:

About two thirds up the picture a white patch is actually two mounds of froth circling each other in an eddy


The froth is actually swirling







 

Even the roots of trees seem to swirl


The river heads towards the narrow gap of Randolph's leap



The movement of the river unlike the typical charging, constant roar of fast water in a gorge is a mix of smooth flowing flat water, rapid lively energetic cascade, foam and above all there is a swirling motion which seems to be in a constant state of flux as far as speed and patterns go. And somehow there is a (sort of visual) polyphony to all this. And as has happened to me before in this place I'm suddenly aware of something else. I look about and standing all around are the trees - still in meditation. I would not have been surprised to have seen something out of our everyday experience in the spaces between the trees, between the river and the trees, between the stillness and the motion... It has been said that this is a place where the 'vail between the worlds is thin'. Best not to go into such musings too much me thinks. And it's obvious why anyone might say such things here though. I had been studying the water for a while and looked up at the rocks and in some visual equivalent of sea legs the rock squirmed for some time and was not still in my vision. It settled and I looked again at the swirling waters then back at the rock, again this strange and slightly alarming visual illusion - the rock in motion. I turned my attention to the trees and their bright autumn colours. The sun was very weak but there was just enough golden light to bring vibrancy to the foliage. I spent a little time walking down to the confluence with the river Divie before heading back to the path to the road where I noticed the path continuing upstream. I walked a short way to see the cascading river Findhorn approaching the narrow gap of Randolph's leap. The river the other side of the gap is so full of flux and the thought came to me that from upstream the gap appeared like a birth canal into a new life for the waters of the river. Certainly there were many 'dramas' ahead as the water would pass through rapids, eddies, smooth powerful turns, calm pools and many more ways of being. There would be changes in hue, lustre and depth, dressings of foam and interplay with rock and air. And much more would be happening below the waters than I could know of even having seen the gentle boiling of currents from the depths coming to the surface. The river seemed an allegory for our own lives - we enter this world through the birth canal and the currents of our existence flow on - our life a complex of streams flowing, weaving, making us moment by moment. Yet the trees stood largely still with only the slightest of swaying to the minimal breeze. Stillness was present too. In this place these two aspects of our existence seem so present and clear to perceive. And there is something, something... whatever. And I thought - oh, is this just my habit to relate experience to form and emptiness? I could hear DC chiding me playfully. I walked back to the car feeling tired headed back for a cuppa and a rest.





Thursday, 14 October 2021

What Do I Really Believe?

My spiritual 'position' is I suppose basically that of the perennial philosophy. I think that if there's any 'truth' to be found in a religion then it will likely be a 'truth' shared by other religions with only the way of pointing to that which cannot ever be fully described being different between religions. Beyond that I suspect it's myth making. Myth has a place, what place is another discussion. That everything is connected and that we cannot know the ground of being is, I think so clear as not to warrant further discussion. Zen Buddhism has been for me, the most clear and encompassing religion (if it is right to call it that) upon which to ground my 'spiritual' understanding. In practice I have found that some western psychology and a bit of what might arguably be termed 'new age' practices such as ecstatic dance, heart circles, conscious touch etc. have given me much and (for me) brought Zen to life. The Buddha taught the four noble truths and I think there is obvious wisdom there. One question might be just how to view desire... most of us are not going to expunge desire, we might tame it a bit and if we're wise we might even get to the stage where we see that without it life would loose meaning, but at some stage life is going to throw us a curved ball and we'll find our self wanting maybe even needing something which life isn't providing. It is this which can provide an insight to our edge and to our limits I think. I refer to an axis from mild craving through the impulse to thrive and express our creativity, our joy, our living life and to our deepest needs for physical, mental and emotional security. I don't believe in a 'sky god pulling the strings'. To me God is The Source, The Unborn, the ground of all being which is each and every-thing and is no-thing. Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form. I'm given to seeing this pessimistically and focusing on impermanence and how that threatens aspects of life which are precious and I couldn't easily let go of but of course it is also the very source of all life - pregnant with possibility and giving birth to each and every moment. The question is I think, how do we see this ground? Is it divine, is it consciousness, are there 'layers' of reality spanning the world we experience; the forms and the formless? In that realm (where surely the universe is so much more than each of us can ever directly experience, our experience only being a part of the whole) is there intrinsic meaning, do 'laws of karma' form and shape, is there a deeper reality of our nature beyond the rational material world of the every day? I note that it's not even easy to frame the question. Faith? A tricky word, it seems to imply a belief in 'something', something unprovable. My own experience of the reality of being isn't really like that. Sometimes people relate all this to the question of what comes after death. When the person dissolves - the body returning to the earth and not restoring itself in the living process, the flow of the life of the biosphere making other use of the material, when the mind - ah, yes - the mind... what of the mind? I suppose personality dissolves, we clearly live on in some sense in others and in the ongoing effects of our actions in life, but our human personality dissolves. Actually I think of it that personality, like the body is a flux in life and then the flux dissipates. But what of the mind? What is mind? The word 'mind' is used to describe different aspects of our interior - thoughts and feelings are perceived in our mind, we think (or sometimes just ruminate) in our mind, we talk of 'awareness' and 'consciousness' - in a way these are ideas in our mind, the idea of 'mind' is arguably in our mind, etc. To me there's no fully grasping with rational thought and explanation the relationship between the ground of being and our mind- we can't ever know as we only have our (limited) experience. Experience, in a way by definition, is limited - formed, changing and not eternal. Ah - eternity - what are we to make of that?! Is this not another idea? And so we find ourselves - here! Wherever that is. Who is it who is where? We are conditioned beings - we emerge out of conditions, are conditions, experience conditions and spend quite a bit of our time attempting to control conditions. Does any of this help us understand the ground of our being? Perhaps not. As a glass is not wet by the water it holds, that which experiences is not 'wet' by the experience. Any notion or experience of that which experiences is an experience and yet somehow I do have this sense of these two aspects of life- a formless ground which is somehow holding and at the same time is everything and (experience of) forms. Together these two aspects which are not separate are everything (including myself) in my purview. And there is (if not obviously at least somehow known) a sense that I am an aspect of something much larger than this personal self. Well, sometimes it is that way. Mostly life feels full of separate things and people. And sometimes there is just loving DC and feeling his love for me.

DC and I have been together for almost 30 years. He is the best thing that ever happened to me. We talked on the beach at the weekend in various ways about the subject raised in the paragraph above and what I noticed was that although the words struggled to capture what we were both trying express and in some way feel into our own position with, we were nonetheless understanding and on the same page. Seeing, being seen, caring and being cared about (and for) - heart connection. And there is this with friends too. It is as much the ground as anything else I think. It is difficult when in distress to keep our centre. In such times connection with those who love us is invaluable. In this holding each other there is a stillness and a peace. And whilst my rational mind can question the 'reality' of this I've experienced it at times so as to see the ground of our being as an unconditional love. Other times this sense isn't so clear.

I suppose the intention in writing this post was to explore what seems true to me now about the ground of our being. Writing I'm finding that I'm not clearly feeling into this. I'm recovering from Covid and there have been other stresses. I've deliberately stopped formal meditation (zazen) - I'm sure I'll return to it but for now looking inward doesn't seem helpful and meditation off the cushion with rest and being gentle with myself are more appropriate. I'm hoping to get a couple of weeks retreat at the end of this month. Time to decompress and perhaps reconsider - am I holding on to something I call 'spiritual' out of fear? Am I adding ideas to what is?

Sunday, 20 June 2021

New Home

DC and I have moved house! We now live in an extraordinary house and to be honest I think we're both trying to take it in - we have bought this huge five year old house with cathedral like high spaces, a huge expanse of glazing opening on to a wrap around balcony with stunning views up the valley in which it sits on an elevated site. A main road is only just visible from the house and whilst I've fretted terribly since we put in our offer on the house about if it will be too noisy in practice it seems not to intrude too much. So concerned was I about the road noise during our viewings - listening to see how loud it was both inside and outside - that the reverberation of the internal spaces escaped me. Our real challenge noise wise seems to be finding ways to damp down the acoustic. For DC the house is quite literally a dream come true. He had a dream in which a house like this - a modern house with internal and external balconies and a mezzanine of some kind featured decades ago before we ever met and he loved it the moment we stepped inside. For me any house move triggers enormous anxiety. Leaving my nest to go to a new one I've not been fully involved in making and thus not fully in control and knowing all the ins and outs of is even by anyone's standards a distressing business. And (inevitably I suppose) even though I researched the house and the move quite thoroughly before we committed to it, once actually in things come to light which throw me into paroxysms of fear. Having committed so much hard come by financial wealth into the purchase and hardly able to believe that we've actually somehow been able to accrue this wealth by frugality and good fortune, I'm terrified that it's all going to go horribly wrong and we'll end up destitute. These are old wounds. Childhood trauma from home moves and struggles to make ends meet when my parents had very little money and problems with the cost of timber decay and such like, mortgage interest rates and the perilous financial situation of the nation in the 1970's (and later 80's) coupled with school change, the ill health and death of relatives overwhelmed a sensitive child who had always seen the fragility of things. So whilst I see all the amazing things this house has to offer I'm also dealing with a frightened inner child and a pragmatic and pessimistic inner engineer who sees the pitfalls and problems. My OCD has given way to the more basic traumas at its root and at times the tasks of turning this house into a home seem obscured in a dense and debilitating brain fog. And where in all this is my true home - that indestructible part of us, the glass (of awareness / being ) that is not wet by the water (of experience) and yet is not separate from it? Well my meditation both on and off the cushion is full of thought and emotion, the body-mind is tight, tired and scattered. The smooth centred calm awareness and intimacy with the stillness of which everything is cut through are but a vague longing in the storm. And yet... they do not go completely. As much as I understand that life is change, that we emerge out of change I nonetheless have always found disruption of the familiar ways and environs unsettling. Some folk I'm led to believe relish it. I dislike it. I find change for its own sake, such as clothing fashions irksome. I want to go and buy the same trainers, T-shirts, jeans, underwear etc. to replace worn out ones. I find it irritating to find an item nominally the same but a slightly different fit - I look at the labels - the country of manufacture has changed and so the cut is altered... ugh. I recognise this sounds autistic. It's not, believe me (as DC says - he's not autistic he's just rude -but that's another story...). I think I'm just sensitive to my environment and have a little too much need to feel in control... What's that about? At bottom it comes back to seeing the fragility of things - their made-ness, their dependant origination, their emptiness. And yet there's also that in me which doesn't want to be the same, stuck, not growing, not alive, but which knows that however much I seek perfection and want to attain it and stay there, safe - the pendulum settled nicely in the middle - there is no life in this. A stopped pendulum is of no use. And so I observe my reactions, give myself time to calm, engage with things in manageable chunks and try to respond to each moment as best I can. We're in a fantastic space and yes there are some issues and I've got really triggered but I'm not that little boy anymore. The karma of his experiences roll on, the ripples and eddies merging with others.

DC and I enjoy a little TV at the end of the day and at weekends a movie. We've not got a TV space settled and set up in this new house yet but my study was originally set up (by the previous owners) as a cinema room. We've kept that and now have this multi-functional space with comfy chairs and it's proven to be like being at the movies, but just with the two of us! Last night we watched A Moment in the Reeds. There's much I could say about this movie but what seems most salient is the the question that it caused to arise in me about the nature of being or rather the way love brings the stillness and movement of being into harmony. As in any story of falling in love there are the obvious questions - is being in love anything more than a mix of projection, a measure of co-dependency and lust fuelling and fuelled by a surge in brain chemicals? Is there balance in the relationship and the situation etc.? Actually, I'm not sure we can ever know the answers to those questions but irrespective there is a movement, a force which is present in such relationships and it is of immense importance. Ultimately there is a bringing into being aspects of ones self hitherto unopened and this at the same time generates a deeper stillness in being. There is I feel a measure of resolution of the paradox of our situation (we are both separate and completely intertwined with everything and everyone) and at some level we feel it deeply. DC and I have been together now for almost thirty years and whilst we were never 'madly in love' we were from the start I think deeply connected in a very gentle way. And just now we're feeling our connection, closeness and warmth quite strongly. This isn't a claustrophobic, in each others pockets kind of thing but rather an open supportive field.

Both DC and I have noted and commented upon the stillness that is present in our new house. Yes there are acoustic issues to settle and we're still feeling into the spaces and getting a sense of how to live in them but there is a sense that this house has a great deal of potential for both creativity and calm. I think our task is to bring a harmony to the spaces. And watching the movie last night something about the harmony of movement and stillness and the action of love seemed to resonate with me and point to the nature of making this house a home.