Thursday 23 May 2024

Not an unending end

On Sunday DC and I enjoyed a good dance session. Another UoN Prof., Lars was there and we invited him back for a simple supper. It was a nice evening. At one point the conversation turned through various philosophical areas and by various means we found ourselves describing what for me is likely a major part of my koan. Simply put it is the experience of amorphous annihilation; one is rendered one with an amorphous suffering, there is sufficient self left to experience this yet there is only chaos. There is the pain of fear. This is a dark 'space' and one apparently pointed at by various religions. The most frightening part of this can be described as an unending end. Obviously we looked up and out at our reality and were thankful that such was not in the moment our experience. Reflecting upon this I could see there was a resonance for me; something meaningful was being articulated but it remained unclear. How does this sit with Buddha dharma? What aspect of my karma is there here to appreciate? I decided to take refuge in my friend Mugo. In a short discussion with her yesterday I was reminded that the conditioned self fears annihilation but it is not possible to destroy (unconditioned) consciousness. It was a helpful discussion. The Heart Sutra was referenced and in the evening I revisited the text of both the Dimond and Heart Sutras to rekindle my understanding. Yes, I thought- the mirror of consciousness 'reflects' the experience yet as a glass is not wet by the water it holds, it is not that experience. 'My' Buddha nature is not destroyed. It is this relationship of conditioned self and true Self / Buddha nature which is so easy to muddle up in thought and feeling, especially when I am frightened. All forms change. They are transient, arising and passing. 'I' as a conditioned being change moment to moment and exist, as is so eloquently described as a reflection in Indra's net. What eludes 'my' experience so far is the mirror and the reflection as One rather than the partial view (of an insubstantial self) described above. There have I feel been glimpses and I am all too aware of our impermanence and my mind like those who imagine unending ends is given to the fearful projections of a self who knows this yet can't identify with that which is deeper. Although all this sounds gloomy I am heartened by the reminder that these fears are projections and not prophecies of eternal suffering. I am grateful for the wisdom element of this and open to the prospect of playful samadhi. I imagine that as a baby, induced for medical reasons, born with forceps and then placed in a cot rather than with my mother there must have been initial experience which was understandably distressing. Later as a sensitive child there were likely more glimpses of emptiness which were too frightening to absorb so as to see the arising / creative as well as the passing / destructive. I've read that emptiness is not the best place to enter a discussion of Buddhism and that compassion is a better gate. But for me the illustration of the unconditioned as the fullness of emptiness was and remains the heart of peace. If I had I encountered Buddhism as a child I wonder, how would my appreciation of the dharma have been able to ripen? Pointless speculation. Generally, although there are times of great distress I do bounce back to equanimity sufficiently to observe without entirely becoming such distress. And thankfully things are generally good. The depths of reality need not fill me with anxiety.

Reading the above I see it's clumsy and too wordy. The main take home is that I needed to be reminded that I can trust our Buddha nature. There is some degree of faith required here. Not faith in anything or one but faith nonetheless.

Friday 3 May 2024

Koan

Recently I've had some 'half baked' notion or other in my awareness. I've not really been able to articulate to myself what it is. And so I decided to see if blogging would draw it out. What came to me in part after listening to Leonard Cohen was a previous post -this one - about the ground of our being and everyday life. But this is not all. More specifically I suppose the notion is more related to attachment and ultimately death. Freedom as alluded to in T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets - 'costing not less than everything' is I think also inextricably tied up with the other part of that poem - that we 'arrive where we started and know the place for the first time'. Much has been written about ego death and physical death, attachment, surrender and the various forms of knowing. But this is both poetry and fingers pointing at the moon. In the everyday, in the difficulties of any physical, mental and emotional state to what extent can I surrender to what is and even be in playful samadhi? Not to give up in depression looking down, a condition which holds tightly on to the way I want it to be, but to give up and look up or rather to expand to hold what is. Why? Why what? Why expand? Is there a subtle holding on to me, mine, being safe and happy in this? Of course there is. A constant dance of subject and perceived object and emerging in that a tiredness and a giving up sometimes into liberation and sometimes into tightness. The Four Quartets are a favourite of DC and in his wonderful way, he has printed and framed the verses including 'to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time'. They sit on the sideboard in the entrance to our home clustered by various papers and objects which are yet to find their way to their proper place as we negotiate everyday living whilst having work done on the house. The builder's dust and materials etc. mingle with displaced items of life as we 'camp' in the spare bedroom and keep our clothes in what will be the sitting / reflective / meditation room. The dust is getting to me. It and the clouds in my eyes caused by PVD together with the other works yet to be started so as to bring the house into a shape more harmonious with our way of being feel like a constant challenge to be accepted worked with and through. This juxtaposition in my mind of everyday tightness, tiredness and 'spiritual' 'position' hangs koan like as this 'half baked' notion.

DC will say to me that I need to learn how to be happy. He knows that I do know how to be happy, but tend to pessimism. He also says quite rightly, that pessimism is just a way to avoid disappointment. The koan constantly shifts and I wonder is there is any real underlying movement towards liberation or if it just adjusts position staying largely in the same 'place'. I try to constantly wipe the dust (of unhelpful thoughts and ways) from the mirror (of awareness) knowing that the mirror 'has no stand nor any place for dust to land' yet the knowing is still through a glass darkly, though the sense of the koan is also a knowing in some sense of it's resolution.

We're going to spend this long weekend by the sea for a much needed rest from the dust etc. DC loves the sea and it will be lovely to walk along the cliff tops and beach. Friends will stay with us for a night and I'll let go (I hope) of anxieties about getting our house in the shape of the home that feels 'right'. Coming 'home' being its own koan!

Tuesday 23 April 2024

Whole

Over the past few days I've been drawn to write a post. Largely the inspiration has been to explore the ways in which the limitation of my ability to surrender affects my experience. 'Give up and look up' my friend Mugo would say. Acceptance in the widest possible way. Do that which is asking to be done and release the need to try to be in full control so as to have everything just so. Sounds easy. But in the end there are (I have found) limits. In the wider spiritual sense there may be no limits but there is karma; cause and effect. Things are stressful just now for DC and I with a lot of disruptive work having to be done on our home. DC has been great fielding contractors whilst trying to work on the index for his book while I've been out at work. I've not been well enough to be as close up and involved at each tiny stage as I usually would. But of course I still feel the need to intervene to ensure we get what we need and hopefully avoid as many future problems as possible. Much childhood trauma has been triggered and it's been a difficult dance for both DC and I to negotiate. But as ever, our love for each other, our willingness to be open to as much of our reality as possible and our ability to support each other continues to make us stronger together.

It is not all this which in the end has prompted me to write today though. It is the words of Andrew Scott in his interview on BBC Radio 4's This Cultural Life. DC has been trying to listen to this for a few nights at bed time but falls asleep almost as soon as his sweet head touches the pillow. I was still awake and heard Scott discussing his experience growing up gay in Ireland where homosexuality wasn't decriminalised until 1993. Scott used the word 'desexualised' to describe the way society forbade queer people to be who they were. This still happens. A 'normal' adolescence is denied queer people by this. In place of the affirmation straight people get we get the opposite. It's something I've written about before but the word 'desexualised' struck a chord. Why? I think it sums up the gross indignity and more; it's the removal of part of our person, our being. We are prevented from developing in our natural way. We are not perverted as an adjective we are perverted as a verb. There isn't anything wrong with us but we are told there is and then we are erased. And this happens to a part of us which is so fundamental to so much of our life. The fear and shame induced compartmentalisation in which we engage is something I've also written about before but the added element made visible in the use of the word 'desexualised' is that part of us is removed by others. I have blamed myself for this. I have thought and felt that it was me who desexualised myself; I decided not to face up to my sexuality in my teens, I did it... But I didn't, society did. I didn't fail I just wasn't allowed. Any option open to me would set me as perverted. Society was the active abusing element and I could only manage the situation as best I could. The management, a process likened by a number of gay men I know of to putting together a jigsaw without the box lid picture, inevitably causes us to abandon and reclaim ourselves over and over again. Fortunately, most of us do get to the stage where we have our picture fairly well assembled and about as 'complete' as anyone can ever be. We are all a work in progress. Things are much better now than in the 1980's of my adolescent years and young men both straight and gay seem to be much more whole, without undue edge and artifice. The machismo of the past seems to be at last fading away and new men seem wonderfully gentle by comparison. And yet I also observe self censorship, compartmentalisation and much of the same prejudice still at work. As Scott also said in his interview, much homophobia would disappear if people stopped the assumption that everybody is straight. My own experience for many years now is that most people are fine with queer people. It's important for queer people to trust this and not assume others will be homophobic. We have to play our part in creating a more whole world.

Spiritually, what does all this mean? Well, DC and I were discussing the merits of a rich life over a happy if limited one the other night. I'm not sure to what extent we have control over this or what the best life might mean. I'd like to think that we are spiritual beings who live in order to see our true nature. What that might mean is a whole other post and probably the theme of the whole blog.


Wednesday 20 March 2024

Daliland

 Last Saturday evening DC and I watched Daliland a movie depicting aspects of the life of Salvador Dali. We enjoyed the movie and despite the fictional aspects and limited exposure of his life we were surprised to see the less favourable reviews. I found myself seeing the made-ness of our lives whilst watching and a vague sense arose of the pregnancy of Emptiness / sunyata. My thinking mind was drawn to contemplation, but of course can't ever grasp that which is beyond reason. And yet the mirror like quality of mind sometimes becomes at least a ripple in its self revealed. Writing these words I see they create pictures and both illuminate and obscure the experience. Mixed with glimpses of Emptiness the vitality and eroticism of form was also present. How could it not be given the nature of the protagonist?! And so there is in this I suppose an opportunity to consider the spiritual paths open to us to see our true nature. The inward, meditative and the outward sometimes ecstatic. As ever the movement between these states and the colours of our character determine the path, the steps and the experience which unfolds. And for me the middle path seems the best suited. I wonder to what extent the mystery of all this might shift towards a greater capacity for peace and equanimity together with joy even in the midst of life's vicissitudes. However careful I've been not to chase spiritual 'experiences' but rather to incorporate as best I can the dharma into daily life there's always that slight tone of practice to get somewhere or rather escape the risk of untenable suffering. And glimpses of our true nature can all too easily seem to mark the way. Which they both do and do not as far as I can see. The reality of each day is there before me with all its delusions. Did Dali have any choice but to be as extravagant as he was?

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.