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?

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.

Saturday 24 April 2021

When we let the dust settle

Some week ago I had a few notes or maybe even a phrase of music in mind, I can't recall how or why it came to me but I tried to get enough of something, some lyrics or a few more notes that might help me recall what it was. I tried Googling a few potential lyrics - nope, couldn't find it. I tried Googling sax solos  - nope, couldn't find it. Then last week by chance I heard it on the radio - Hazel O'Connor - Will You. Now, for years I think I may have mis-heard the lyrics, hearing 'Or will you just politely say goodnight' as will you adjust the light beam. Which may or may not in the past have resulted in my missing the scene described by the lyrics. However, I doubt anyone could really miss the meaning in the music. Both the voice and the sax sing it out but of course in the sax it's absolutely out there. And it's in Vaughan Williams -The Lark Ascending in a more Apollonian, spiritual form. In Will You it's in its passionate Dionysian form. Yearning. Both manifestations, one the longing to return home out of form back to the source the other to be so one with experience as to totally merge with form(s) are I think at the heart of the human spiritual journey. We are suspended between heaven and earth. Each moment (of experience) comes into being with us, is us and we feel separate and want not to feel so. Somehow we know... Know what? That we come out of the garden (to have experience) and whereas that sax in Will You paints that yearning as for experience, and the lyrics describe the tipping point where a relationship between two people could develop into romantic / erotic love,  The Lark Ascending points to returning. Joni Mitchell pulls all sides nicely together in We Are Stardust. And I read in today's Jade Mountains post a poem pointing to the Nothing that is. Which seems to me to be on the same page as the music above when you let the dust settle. (That's to say settle so as to not obscure rather than gather.)

So I was musing about the sax in Will You today as DC and I were out and about and started talking to him about it. We quickly came to the same place about yearning with DC noting that the saxophone has a distinctive passionate sound that doesn't easily blend in. I said I like that about it and we both agreed much the same could be said about me. Of course I like to see that in a creative and colourful way rather than its flip side which is less appealing. It's all very well to each be the forms through which the mirror of awareness reflects but it's less appealing to be be the dust that can gather (and thus obscure). I love the storey of Huineng and the illustration of the roles of practice and understanding in his addition to the stanza by Shenxiu. It came to me writing this post pulling the music, the emotions and thoughts together and then adding in the Jade Mountains post.

Friday 2 April 2021

The Third Man

Last night DC and I watched the film The Third Man. We didn't set out to watch it but instead it was one of those fortunate turns of evening entertainment.

The Wikipedia entry says - The atmospheric use of black-and-white expressionist cinematography by Robert Krasker, with harsh lighting and distorted "Dutch angle" camera technique, is a major feature of The Third Man. Combined with the iconic theme music, seedy locations and acclaimed performances from the cast, the style evokes the atmosphere of an exhausted, cynical post-war Vienna at the start of the Cold War.

Having read part way through the movie (and rightly DC will tell me off for Googling things when we're watching a film) that the film employs the above techniques we did indeed notice them and in fact commented just how obvious they are. Setting aside the cinematography and concentrating on the plot we might note that the character Harry Lime whom the movie revolves around doesn't appear until relatively late and his character is only gradually revealed. Indeed, what becomes apparent is that we never get to know much about him and those who have had lengthy and / or close relationships with him it seems don't really know him either; what they seem to have is a projection, a fantasy. But neither do we get the chance to explore the character and the version of him the other characters hold in their minds. No, the protagonist in this movie is not Lime but rather Vienna. Anna, who we gather was in love with Lime does indeed appear exhausted and cynical at some level. And whilst the role is no doubt a cypher for Vienna at the time, she does I think raise a question about the difference between who people are and who they're seen to be. If she has painted Lime as at least lovable to her and she remains unchanged in her view even when she knows of his dreadful deeds, then Holly Martins who reappraises his view of Lime upon discovering his deeds seems no less to see her as someone he cares about. There is here then Martins looking at Anna looking at Lime. But it is their versions of the people they look at. There is the sense in the movie that all the characters are in their own world, all coping with this post-war world in which they find themselves. Vienna is divided into sectors and there is a sense of compartmentalisation throughout the movie. Yet at the same time there's a sense that beyond all this there is still humanity. It is then I think, interesting that the book and film versions have different endings - in the book Martins and Anna get together, they don't in the film. The film stays focused on separation but in so doing evokes connection.

What this film prompted me to post about is this mixture of separation, projection and connection. The interconnected nature of our existence and the paradox of our apparent separation seems to me to be at the heart of the storey.


Tuesday 16 February 2021

It's a Sin

I've just watched the final episode of Russel T Davies' It's a Sin, a drama about the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's. I'm reduced to that place of our deepest humanity where we see the madness of our human condition: the struggles and anxieties, the joy and the sorrow on the canvas of our sacred nature. This is a special place for in it there is acceptance and forgiveness and we expand in a timeless peace. And yet it includes a tinge of the prospect of more pain. Pain which of course gives joy and love part of their meaning. There are tears and I wonder - what is being felt here? Accepting my homosexuality only in my mid twenties whilst compounding the shame and isolation society's homophobia had sewn into every fibre of my being, had protected me in the 1980's from HIV and AIDS. But it had also robbed me of the friendships and loves that the epidemic might have taken away from me and/or me from them... Life of course has thrown up other challenges and those struggles rise through layers of being to be felt in the space unfolding now. And there is a gentle holding of the shame, the fear and the confusion. Time is passing; I'm no longer in the timeless space. Sat at my desk I write this. A 5 Rhythms wave I assembled is playing; I'd been playing it earlier and knew the tracks would help with the writing. There is emotion, energy, joy and life in the music and the feelings produced are good - the dissolving of little lead jackets on each cell which in turn releases the knowledge of their forgotten existence producing both relief and pain fades and is replaced by a light playful gratitude for life and the need to dance. I move sympathetically to music, the emotion and the process of writing as Le Vent  Nous Portera by Noir Désir plays...

It is good to have combined this music, a 5 Rhythms wave, with the process of writing. I realise how valuable both practices (writing and dancing) are! The tracks flow on: Baby Elephant Walk by Henry Mancini, La Valse à Mille Temps by Jacques Brel, Waltz From Maskarade by Aram Khachaturian... and at this track I am back fully in the expressive vitality of life - the yearning and the swirling, the sheer joy of the madness - marvellous! I started putting these tracks together back in 2018 but couldn't fully get the whole wave finished to my satisfaction. The theme is mystery and the motif is a swirling motion but there is also a digeridoo track with a strong focused energy... I should finish this wave and play it with the dance collective. Oh how I miss dancing the Rhythms together with other people in a big space. The Covid pandemic has put a stop to all that just now. Across this planet we humans are faced with yet one more plague. And the thing about this one is that to control it we are forced to stay physically apart from each other. We cannot gather, hold each other even in sexless embrace, see and feel the light each of us radiates... In to My Arms by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds plays now. It's the last track of the wave... The lyrics are:

I don't believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch a hair on your head
To leave you as you are
And if He felt He had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms
And I don't believe in the existence of angels
But looking at you I wonder if that's true
But if I did I would summon them together
And ask them to watch over you
To each burn a candle for you
To make bright and clear your path
And to walk, like Christ, in grace and love
And guide you into my arms
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my…

This post is for all the ways of loving and all the losses our coming out of the garden facilitates and for the space in which see that garden.

Sunday 7 February 2021

God's Own Country

Last night DC and I watched God's Own Country. We'd seen it before when it first came out, at the cinema (oh happy pre-Covid days) but it had come to my mind a few times in recent days and I wanted to see it again. It's a beautiful film about struggle and softening. Gheorghe a Romanian migrant worker comes to work at a small struggling family farm run almost single handily by Johnny, an isolated, frustrated young man who has too much placed upon his shoulders and reacts with binge drinking and aggressive casual sex. Johnny lives with his father, who has had a stroke, and his grandmother. There is bitterness and anger in all three characters, and the life is hard. Gheorghe is used to harsh conditions; calm, wise and gentle, he coaxes life into all he comes in to contact with. But this is not Cold Comfort Farm; there's no romanticism or satire here. The film turns on the relationship between Johnny and Gheorghe, a relationship which opens Johnny up to love. Johnny is emotionally unavailable; there is anger in the furtive casual sex he engages in and he is lost to himself, struggling to square the circle. The sex he has with Gheorghe is transformative. Gheorghe arrests the anger in Johnny's sex and allows a powerful space in which it is naturally allowed to soften in to love. The sex between them, in contrast to the tight, addictive, restrictive bursts of lust fuelled release Johnny has previously known, affords opening; it cleaves the men open and thence together. In the process Johnny eventually releases the fight with himself and his situation and sees what it is he wants: Gheorghe and a life together as lovers running the farm - together. Again this is a gritty path and not a romantic one; but the concluding scene where Gheorghe opens the farmhouse door for Johnny to enter what is to be their home is a metaphor for the film: Gheorghe has opened Johnny to life.

What I find stimulating in this film is the exploration of confusion and struggle counterpoised with acceptance, softening and love, and the role sexual energy plays in the process. This is a film about embodied existence: weather, mud, farm animals, physical work, the human body and its reaction to life. Johnny's grandmother alludes to the life having been in part responsible for his father's debilitation and calving and lambing show the fecundity and vulnerability of life and the raw visceral reality of flesh. The breath, heat and desire between Johnny and Gheorghe explode through the cold damp environs of the landscape and later resonate with the spectacular scenery. The film stays real, and whilst a flash of DH Lawrence crossed my mind, I smiled at the irony of the flash and saw the half baked creative madness of our fetishes and fantasies. Johnny's impulsive eye-eye, eye-crotch, eye-eye pick-ups and associated fast sex before returning to his pint or whatever he was halfway through contrast with Gheorghe's love making and Johnny's learning to love. This too is visceral. And there is a sense of something trying to come through, to emerge. Here I think we see the contrast of struggle - an attempt at forcing and controlling life - with allowing; not as separate aspects or ways of being but rather informing each other and weaving us. The Tao flows effortlessly, but is it not in our relationship with it that our spirituality is to be found? Somehow, for me this film pulls together the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of what it is to be human and invites softening. It is a film about transformation.

Saturday 6 February 2021

Our True Home

And so I have found myself slightly swimming about in strange waters. DC and I are in the process of moving house. It's been a bit of a rollercoaster but we're increasingly becoming excited by the proposal. What of course is so stressful about moving house is that it is not just a big financial step to sell and buy a house but that it is fundamentally moving home. And it is home which is questioned here. What do we want our new home to be, to be about? What is home in the deeper, spiritual sense. The second question informing the first. And so practical questions about physical location, build quality, and all related potential  unknowns merge into the most important existential question of all. A question that this morning DC and I found ourselves sharing whilst getting ready for the day in the bathroom (such is the wonderful mix of the mundane and the profound that is our habit). It seems we had both been sitting with it - him in his traditional Indian singing practice earlier and me both on and off my cushion (ie in formal and everyday meditation). The conversation unfolded so as to posit an axis spanning the materialist view at one end and the mystical at the other and set parallel with an axis of there is no God at one end to we are all God / Source / Buddha at the another. The conversational path towards these axes traversing for DC the notion of an all powerful, all seeing and perhaps directing or intervening God in the western Christian sense as existing or not, whilst for me traversing the way in which our karma, our conditioning, reveals our Buddha nature, for we are conditioned beings. And so together we stood there and came to that place where the ever present but more often than not hiding in plain sight question came into focus- what is the relation between our everyday experience and the deepest reality? With life somewhat shutdown due to covid restrictions, social interactions curtailed and the world viewed through the window of video conferencing (MS Teams, Zoom and WhatsApp video calls) DC and I have been other than our constitutional walk around the local streets and for me very occasional site visits for work, largely holed up in our hutch together. And it has been a busy time not just due to the potential house move but also with work. (I am grateful for that and find I really enjoy my work and like my colleagues.) So, due to covid it has been for almost a year now a different sort of everyday to that which we are used. For some covid has meant a time for inward reflection and there has been time for that. However, as I've been still working I've not had the space to go on an inward journey in the way that can be renewing spiritually. And because I've not been able to properly meet up with the folk who in one way or another make up my sangha I've been feeling my way through all these recent months have been bringing up in a somewhat haphazard way I suppose. So this morning in the bathroom when DC asked me about karma I understood straight away that what we were both sitting with was something that might be put thus: is the unknowable ground of being to be seen in simple rational western philosophical terms, ie to acknowledge that there is no Archimedean point but to believe that that alone does not have any mystical significance, or in terms of the perennial philosophy, ie to make that acknowledgement leads naturally to believe in a greater significance. Or to put this more succinctly where are each of us sitting in our experience of emptiness. Those strange waters are a kind of testing of faith. A faith in nothing which somehow becomes everything. I walked from the bathroom to my study, to the book shelf, to look for something which might ground this (no doubt through the poetic) in to some... I went to The Gateless Gate book of koans and flicked through the introduction and contents pages. DC joined me as I read from Mumonkan, Memorial to the Throne:

        Blue sky, broad daylight, and a peal of thunder,

        The earth and creatures' eyes are opened;

        All the universe is making profound bows,

        Mount Sumeru dances to the ancient music. 

I was just considering this, did it speak to me now, might it convey something to DC... when DC said yes! And we both at that time alighted on the thought that a work of art does this - it lets us see something deeper. I could feel our question encompassing the nature of a work of art; it is an illuminating consideration but I feared we might loose the purity of the original existential question in philosophical contemplation. My intuition was to stick with the felt sense of the unspoken question; the nature of the divine.

It's now evening and I've written this post in exploration of those waters- just what are they? What are those thoughts and emotions? What has come to me is captured by the title I've given this post and is I think perhaps summed up thus; it is our engagement with life as a dialogue internal and external, that is both mundane and profound, our own experience and yet not separate from anything or anyone, empty in the fullest way and in many ways immediate and yet unknown, that is our our home. Where is it and who is it that sits there? Do we not somehow know that we are so much more than we can see? I sense we do.

Sunday 24 January 2021

The White Crow

Last night DC and I watched The White Crow, a film about the young Rudolf Nureyev. The title is, I feel, particularly fitting. The portrayals of both Nureyev (by Oleg Ivenko) and his teacher Alexander Pushkin (by Ralph Fiennes) were exemplary and in each for me could be seen something of the utmost importance. The tension towards the end of the film as events narrow in at the airport and around Nureyev's defection from the USSR to the West bring to focus the many ways in which this 'something' is so often stifled. And, even though I knew as an historical fact that he would make it, somehow the chance that he might not was palpable. And yet by the end of the film I had that feeling of having only seen something 'as if through a glass darkly' and yet for all that more clearly and there was a slight feeling of needing a drink, the thought of which I decided to let pass without action, rather to sit with the feelings.

Reflecting upon salient aspects of my experience watching this film I recall: the calm, centred expansive and controlled Pushkin; the form of a chair in Pushkin's apartment; the depiction of Nureyev's wonder as a child at the world and his thirst for experience of what was important to him; the clarity of focus in Nureyev as he cut through the stifling conventions of society. It is perhaps, too obvious to remark that (whilst understated) the whole film is perfused with Nureyev's potent sexuality. What then, in this mix and my own karma to elicit my feelings of having seen something 'as if through a glass darkly' and with the attendant (dismissed) thought that a night cap might be in order? It is I think this, that what we see in each of these; Pushkin, the chair and Nureyev is the emergence out of chaos of beauty and it is seen dimly because it exists in relation to the observer. And that fleeting thought of a nightcap was in reaction to the enormity of the perceived gap between my everyday experience and the possibility of a perfection so impossible as to render itself little more than a perverted glimpse of the deeper possibility afforded by a harmonious allowing of natural unfolding of the Tao. It is then obvious that a softening in to this allowing reveals the illusion of the gap and at the same time demonstrates the natural eroticism of experience and the beauty of it when attended by clarity.

I've read that Nureyev was like a child trapped in an adult's body. But is it not that he was to an extent simply less trapped than the bulk of us are? This returns me to Pushkin; his self control is liberating and he makes the point in the film that he teaches technique but that the dancer must use this to say something. And here I think we have the nub of the matter. Just what is it that we each really want to say? And more fundamentally to whom? What is seen through a glass darkly is the reflection of oneself as the very mirror itself, it is the resolution of the paradox of separation and the answer to the koan is the experience of beauty. Somehow in the portrayal of Pushkin and Nureyev both Fiennes and Ivenko bring this to life. And for me personally there is something in the Russian idiom the white crow - the outsider, which (at least in this film) is evocative of the shaman. There is I think, a shamanic quality to Nureyev as he's portrayed in this film and it elicits the potential for transformation.

Sunday 10 January 2021


I just did a zoom session with the dance collective I usually dance with. We danced at home in lockdown to the music and connected as best we could through the small video images and chat log. I quite quickly felt so sad; memories of dancing together in a public space with the feel of the floor, the space, the people, the sounds, the altar, the hugs and smiles... all so many months ago. And it's not just a social dance, no, it's the heart connection; the inner and outer connection; beings together setting aside the wrestling with any struggles to just be in them and to feel the space, the vast vast space that holds us, and to dance it. To dance it what ever it is, good, bad or indifferent, happy and joyous or more difficult. To hold a space for ourselves and each other, to let the body feel it and breath and move. Oh how my body mind and spirit need that. No wonder I've felt ill at ease without quite being able to say what was the trouble... oh sacred space to dance how we need this.

I've not been doing these zoom dance sessions as I found at the start of lockdown that they didn't really work for me. But I'm glad I had this connection. The dance at the physical level was little more than a jig about, barely a warm up by my usual energies BUT the memory of breathing and dancing oh so important! Dance dance wherever you may be...

Oh how I hope we can all dance together again soon!