Friday, June 30, 2006

Problem With the Site - Solved!

I'm on the road in BC on route for the week-end retreat at Lytton. The problem with the site is being looked into by our reader in Singapore.

...and at the advice of Iain in Japan I removed the photo in the previous posting and everything came right again. Who know what that was all about, I'm just glad everything looks like it normally does now.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

On Tour, in China

I received this photo and account of being on a tour to China via email recently. Reproduced here with permission.

Dear Rev. Mugo,
It was a very good trip, but not what I expected. I was disappointed to learn upon arrival that we would not go to the Ling-Yin Monastery as indicated in the itinerary, apparently the company has had complaints from tourists about seeing "too many Buddhist temples" although I think our group would all have found it interesting. We did go to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian and I offered incense and lit 3 candles in the front, and climbed to the top of the pagoda. The scriptures (brought from India by and translated by Xuan Zhuang, 7th c. AD) were all hung on the walls, but written in Chinese, and so I wasn't able to know what they said. In one of the side buildings, there was an amazing mural made of lacquer and jade in 3 full wall panels depicting the life of the Buddha, a wonderful teaching tool. I don't know how old it was but it was very impressive. I didn't have a chance to talk to or see any monks at that temple, but purchased some items in one of the shops on the grounds. We also went to a Taoist park in Hangzhou, which was interesting to see, with statues and other sculptures offering opportunities for good luck wishes.

My general impression of China is that it is experiencing major changes in their social and economic structure, and hopefully becoming more accessible to Westerners. I did see many Buddhist objects in all of the shops we encountered (way too many shops, in my opinion!) but because I was on a commercial tour, very little attention was paid to any of the religious practices of the Chinese people. I did notice how the three major religions of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism seem to be blended a lot in the culture.

Our tour focused on historical sites and cultural experiences, primarily. We ate well, had very good hotels, excellent guides, and comfortable travel accommodations. I would have preferred less shopping opportunities and more sites, but I guess that is part of that kind of tour. (I've never been on a tour before...) I'm very glad I went, and if I were to go again, I would do it differently, focusing on Buddhist temples.

In gassho,

Thanks for this. It just shows how very different your tour in China was to my journey last year.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

No Viable Alternative

These past couple of days I've been commuting to the apartment from the home of congregation members who are hosting me. It's a whole new way of life; gathering everything for the days work in bags the night before, checking to make sure I've keys to get out of the house, to get into the car, to unlock the steering wheel lock. (We are taking no chances with getting the car stolen again). And then there’s a key to get into the apartment building, another to get into the apartment itself. Hello #206, at last! Keys, keys and more keys. What would we do without them?

As well as being prepared with things and keys there’s calculating what time to leave in order to get there on time. It's just a ten minute drive but at rush hour it could be a bit longer. Incidentally rush hour in Edmonton is like normal traffic anywhere else. And on this short commute I've even contemplated joining the rest of Canada queuing for coffee and Timbits at Tim Hortons. But so far I've settled for tea and instant oatmeal for breakfast, after morning meditation.

Timbits are to Canada what Big Mac's are to the rest of the world. Tim Hortons is the nation’s favorite 'pit-stop' chain, founded and named after the famous hockey player, and should not go without mention while I’m still in this wonderful country.

So this morning at 6.30 am as I sailed north up 109 Street, accompanied by the Gold and Silver Waltz, I had an appreciation of what it's like to commute. Back in the early 1970's I drove one to two hours up the A3 to London in a venerable VW bug. There was heat which reached to my right foot only, no radio, very little synchromesh, and suspect breaks. And I loved that bug to pieces. Ah, happy days.

It was during those long commutes, nose to tail at high speed through the Surrey countryside, that I learnt something of sitting still. Much latter while parked for two hours, or more, on the M25 London orbital, I passed through the impatience barrier to a deeper acceptance.

Sometimes one learns to sit still because there is no viable alternative at the time! Waiting in traffic has never been the same since that M25 incident. Uh! Maybe I'll stop for some Timbits tomorrow morning.

Hot Spot

Canada reached a record breaking high temperature to-day. Somewhere has to be the hottest place, and that was Lytton BC, at 40c. Let's hope it cools off by the time we get there on Friday.

It's been a warm day in Edmonton too.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Walk Through

Our landlord, Bob, phone half an hour before we were due to meet him for the final inspection of the property we vacated yesterday.

The accumulated strife and frustration which often arise when dealing with a landlord had become focused on this last encounter with him. Without fully knowing it I, and the member who had dealt with Bob in the past, were keyed up for an 'encounter'. After all most of our meetings were less than easy-going ones. We were conditioned to anticipate trouble. However the place was clean, the holes in the walls were filled, and no damage had been done. And, AND a huge amount of working meditation had gone into dry walling the basement to make it into our meeting room. We had left the place better than we had found it.

Still, the final 'walk through' loomed. "Would we get our $900 damage deposit back"? "Would we have to make a case"? Bob on the phone, "Hi. No need to do the walk-through", "Everything is immaculate". "You can pick up the damage deposit cheque tomorrow".

For all the frustrating phone calls about the heating system malfunctioning, the calls pleading for permission to put up light fixture, for all of the receipts still unpaid, I put my hands together and say, THANKS. Thanks for showing me, once again the assumed adversarial relationship with landlords, workmen, and officials of every kind. Thanks because where else is one going to learn to go deeper than fear, frustration, defensiveness and fury than in the hands of individuals one feels powerless to counter.

Tomorrow I will be dealing with the power company and the phone company. Actually, I’ll be dealing with individuals doing the best they can to do their job to provide a service, to customers who are often unhappy even before they arrive at their door.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Green Leaves

This photograph was taken two years ago. The trees have grown a lot since then. Edmonton is glad to let the world know they have the largest amount of green space within the city in North America. I'll have to check that out however that's what I was told. There is probably a record number of trees as well. In this part of Edmonton, south of the river and near the University the streets are all tree lined as here.

The street where we lived.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Trail Companions

It's not every day I get pebbles in the mail. This will probably be last package of substance I'll receive at this address in Edmonton. What to do with them, that is the question? Found objects can take on a huge significance, like these stones which were picked up on a long distance coast to coast walk in Northern England last year. A significant walk I understand and now with one trail companion recently dead.

There has been a pine cone, which looks like a hedgehog, moving around the priory. Somebody brought it here and here it has lived, on top of the fridge, on the window ledge, in my pocket and now it's moved in with the pencils and pens. How those hedgehogs get around!

A member brought a shell back from Vancouver Island, it's sitting in the hands of Kanzeon; she who hears the crys of the world. Will it travel with Kanzeon to the groups next location, day after tomorrow? Or will it come with me to British Columbia along with the pebbles, and the hedgehog?

I'm packing, packing, packing.
With no time for blogging.

Slow moving objects trying to find their next place of rest.
One monk, one pair of hands and many more things to attend to.

I love the pebbles, there're coming with me on retreat, they can remind me how to sit still. They are reminding me already. Thank you, I will do the right thing by them.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Listening to Silence

Ernest Hemingway is quoted as having said, "I have learned a great deal from listening carefully."

Sitting now, late in the evening. The clock ticking, the computer chattering as it thinks, the click click of the keys, the fan whirring and stopping. What is there to learn?

Oddly, it seems, by paying attention to sound the underlying silence becomes more evident. And listening is at the heart of our practice of meditation. That's not just listening with the ears, it's listening with the eyes and the finger tips. Listening like the hen sitting on her eggs, listening with her whole being. One can choose to be as the hen on her eggs however more often than not we are busy pecking out a living, and that's just fine.

Thirty more tick-tocks of the clock and it will be midsummer day. The longest day of light and my late brothers birthday. It's really due to him that I continued to write.

We were not close and this very fact meant that he (our shared blood) inwardly called, from a distance. My first retreat at Throssel, a priory then, had him calling me to go and visit him and his family. It was clear that was the next most important thing to do. So, over the years since our childhood we visited, with long gaps in between. With little in common there was nothing of substance to talk about and yet we continued to see each other.

Blood relatives tie us together with memories and they can, and do, set us free with the silence found beneath the racket of separated lives. This was certainly true of my brother and I. It was the often painful song of Johns life which had me venture to sing my own song. A little wider, a little louder. Thanks brothers.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Onwards to Audio

I've been preparing to post audio files and then this afternoon Heather came for tea, and being well versed in matters to do with the internet, set up an account with Odeo for me. This is a free Podcasting service. The recording was made directly from my computer to the web site using a headset with a microphone. Magic!

Press the pink button and wait...

powered by ODEO

Tomorrow morning we will be singing the Shushogi in our first Transfer of Merit Ceremony. The audio file attached to this blog is a reading of the first paragraph of the Shushogi. This piece is often read out as part of the dedication at the start of a Memorial. I'm tempted to talk about it however time is short and I need to get on and prepare for tomorrow.

I believe the sound quality is quite a lot better than a previous audio posting using the telephone. Next will be a recording made on an MP3 player while I walk round the neighbourhood. I think they are called an 'audio tour'.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Moving Right Along

I always had my suspicions about the pepper shaker, wondered in passing if any pepper ever came out. But I never went further than wondering, didn't take a closer look. As I move from computer work to practical work and back again throughout the day the quality of my attention has become much greater. For example, while cleaning it, I discovered the shakers twist-top. And no it wasn't open so no I have been shaking no-pepper for the last nine months!

This all causes me to pause and wonder how many other details I've missed. That's in practical matters and in administration matters. And they are just the tip of the iceberg of matters that have need of attention, and now demand attention. And now with a date-line for resolution. Daily the line advances and gradually, through the gift of repeated experience, the realization that what needs to be done will present itself, next.

This is basic daily life training, just getting on with the next thing. All very well to say however quite another to practice when there are so many details to take care off. During these past days the practice of choosing to switch back and forth between phone/email/movinghouseadmin and packing/sorting/cleaning/filling holes-in-walls has been wonderful practice. This regular moving back and forth helps ease the way for picking up and putting down and in so doing not getting bogged down in detail. An ever beckoning pit. The other pit is becoming overwhelmed to the point of paralyses by the sheer volume of work that needs to be done.

Apart from dealing with 'good-to-do-sometime' kinds of things and the 'got-to-do' and the 'got-to-do right-now' things, there is something deeper going on. Obviously.

We are moving on.
We are moving into new territory.
We are moving deeper than our fears of the future.
We are moving past what has gone.
We are MOVING and the day is a week from tomorrow.

We are moving apart.
...and that's a hard one, for me.

Tomorrow the lease on a two roomed apartment will be signed. For those reading this in Edmonton, the schedule for the next couple of weeks is posted on our web site.

This arrangement of roses was given me a couple of days ago to express sympathy on having the car stolen. A very uplifting offering for the altar. Thank you people, such a kind thought.
Tomorrow the run away car will be collected from the Police pound. YES! happy news.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Inner Strength

Sometimes people drop me a note with follow up thoughts on a posting. Here's a copy of a recent email, published with the authors permission.

In response to your blog on decrepitness....................

I once meditated in this Anglican church. Upon arrival an older man in a powered wheel chair was cruising by. I thought nothing of him. Once inside the church I sat in the pew and meditated for some time. I walked outside slowly. Trying not to get swept into the rustle bustle of the city. As I came around the corner of the church where the labyrinth is (one of my favorite meditation spots) I noticed an empty wheel-chair sitting to the side of the labyrinth. I then noticed the man from the chair, (he was) inching his way slowly around the labyrinth every once in awhile sitting back in his chair to rest, then going again.

Something inside me churned. To see so much strength in an old feeble body. So much perseverance*. To this day it reminds me that strength lays inside.

*Persistent determination

Belief Traditions

I received this question via email from a reader. The answer is published here with the questioners permission and encouragement to share the answer with others.

Rev Mugo can I ask you a question? I hope you don't think its, well anyways....can a Buddhist be a Christian, or a Muslim be a Buddhist, what I'm asking I guess can you believe in two or say even three paths?? Thanks

Good question. We talked about it at the group meeting last Wednesday night. All a matter of what one understands by 'being a Buddhist', Christian, Muslim etc. I've had committed Christians come for morning meditation regularly and attended seriously Buddhist ceremonies and that worked for them.

I think one can be open minded to many paths and even walk a ways on several, even at the same time. But as the paths diverge, as they do in quite specific ways, then internal difficulties and confusions can arise. This happens especially as one goes more deeply into meditation/contemplation within a tradition. That's potentially the case with say a committed Christian taking up theme less meditation. Not sure how that all works for a committed Buddhist traveling another path at the same time.

I tend to keep away from deliberately thinking myself as any particular 'ist' although obviously as a Buddhist monk people, including myself, regard me as a Buddhist. Following a specific path these past years has been a great gift for me, one that I keep on re-receiving and realizing what a precious gem I have been given. That's often the difficulty, not fully appreciating the gem one has because it isn't shining at the moment and going around looking for a brighter one. All with the utmost of sincerity in the questing for answers to deep questions about profound matters.

Now I read your question and you are asking about 'believing' and I have talked about practicing. Maybe it is just a matter of word use. However in Buddhism, as I have understood it, I've not felt obliged to 'believe' in anything in order to practice. Well, save for believing that the Buddha rediscovered a universal Truth, that what he found has been passed on through a direct connection of master to disciple and the 'passing on' is happening accurately through living Buddhist teachers. There we go, Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Hope that goes some way towards answering your question. Sorry it has taken a long time to answer, I've been a bit more involved with 'got to do to-day' things of late.

Rev. Mugo

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Normally Bizarre

This small pot of flowers, pansies, petunias and red ones satisfy my gardening pleasure.

FYI bloodhounds take pleasure in flowers too, they like to eat them! We had one in the community in the 1990's. When he arrived as a really young puppy his first act, as his paws reached the ground, was to eat a petunia from the flower bed beside him. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world but it wasn't, for a dog.

An unexpected out-of-town visitor attending the Sunday session brought his mountain bike unicycle indoors. All I could say at the time was, "you are rather late, please come in"! Always one needs to be ready to embrace the unexpected, if not bizarre.

So when a regular member, who usually comes on his mountain bike, trundled out his colourful going-grocery-shopping rig from beside the priory, I was practiced and ready to embrace it, nearly!

Our visiting friend with one wheel, (he said it helped him with staying focused and present), rode off with net curtains twitching probably. And the colourful four-wheeled wagon went shopping.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Wild flowers in the paving
Gardening in pots in Yorkshire

This garden is a tribute to a long time friend and fellow trainee who sends me photos from time to time. And it's about time I published a few of them. Thanks, and I will have to take a picture of my golden pansies and other brightly coloured individuals I have in a solitary pot on the front step.

Along with the primal qualities of walking across the land comes the walking across the land pushing a lawn mower. Rarely do I have the opportunity to do this however to-day I mowed the front lawns, ours and the neighbour's as well. It's been a happy arrangement. Once I came back thirsty from a walk intent on cutting the grass only to find the neighbour had done it already. In the winter I'd shovel snow off our sidewalk as a matter of routine. We have an easy give and give arrangement.

The primal part of mowing goes so deep it's hard to capture. The smell of cut grass, the sound of the mower, the all's-well-with-the-world feel of a summer afternoon out-doors in the garden. Yes, there was something deeply fulfilling about to-days mow. Flashes of my bare chested father zipping up and down the garden with his old faithful machine. He took silent pride in the condition of the lawns, not obsessive just a natural pride. Now I am following in his footsteps.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Remembering Moments

Over in Japan Iain in a posting titled Foot prints in the Snow, remembers an event in early childhood. He says, an intuitive sense of 'the transient' really touched me.

There is just something about foot prints isn't there.

I must have been, Oh about 16, out walking high on the South Downs in Sussex. Photography was just starting to be a hobby, black and white film in those days. On the chalky white path I came upon a pair of discarded cheap black patent leather women's shoes. They so struck me that I took a number of pictures, one with the shoes arranged as if 'walking' up the path. This was one of the first times I attempted to capture something I felt on film, and never felt satisfied I'd caught it. I still can't say what it was however I'll always remember coming upon those shoes. Perhaps that too was about transience, after all 'Where was the person'?

House Keeping Note: You may notice a change in the way I am linking to other blogs and web sites. This comes through reading about the original 'weblogs' which were link rich. Their aim being to encourage people to follow links through the means of informative 'link text', that's the underlined and highlighted text. Early web sites worked hard to keep people on their site, weblogs worked hard to get people to leave!

It is great that people, on average about 50 a day, visit here and I hope you will leave your mark through the comments and then leave again, and again and again.

Senescence and Solitude

"The organic process of growing older
and showing the effects of increasing age".

And I'd been drawn into believing that decay was un-natural and should be avoided at all costs, or at the very least, 'fixed'! Take heart oh silver haired readers.

Maybe because I will be on my way to a week-end retreat in BC in three weeks, or maybe because I'm just ready to spend some down time, what ever the reason this site devoted to Hermitary struck a cord this evening. And while there, following a link I found an article, Wabi and Sabi: The Aesthetics of Solitude that took me right back to memories of my original spiritual longings, which drew me towards the contemplative life.

Back then I had a romantic notion of what ‘the contemplative life’ would be like. Yes, perhaps living alone in an isolated place away from hustle and bustle. However, in our tradition at least, we are encouraged to be content to sit in our ‘cave’ whereever we are, alone or in a crowd. And sometimes we do retreat to a remote hermitage.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Wetaskiwin, a Giant Magnet

One of my recurring dreams is returning to where I parked my car only to find it gone, stolen. And that's just what happened in real life this morning. The car I borrow for a couple of days a week got stolen during the night.

The day has been intense. First waiting several hours to hear back from the owner with the license plate number. Then, in between phone calls and a visitor, registering the theft with the police. Eventually I connected with the dispatcher. She was so kind, "We nearly always get them back", she said. "Yes, I'm sure you've had a hard day...". Wonderful, a police woman ready to offer sympathy and understanding. I was ready to be receptive.

On a similarly intense day, although for very different reasons, I taught myself to juggle. I remember that day as being fun in the midst of all that was happening that was not fun at all. To-day I packed the Sacristy into boxes ready for the move. It was a rare pleasure to take time and care packing the items as when arranging them on an altar. I hope we can take as much care with packing the toilet brush, the kitchen utensils and the paper clips.

And when cars get old, lost or stolen chances are they will end up in Wetaskiwin, about an hours drive south of Edmonton. I was there on Sunday and spent an enjoyable few hours with a congregation member and his young family.
These cars, along with row upon row of rusting combine harvesters, tractors, plows and a couple of 'planes are part of the overflow from the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin. We were too late to go into the museum proper however the field of venerable rusting monsters was a visual treat in itself. Here's more:

As we snapped away I pondered aloud on dignity and decrepitude and wondering if there was a word between the two. And now it's obvious; not a word in-between just join 'em together to make, dignified decrepitude. That's what I see in these machines. And that's what I observed while sitting on the priory step on Sunday. The elderly woman across the road inched her way hand-over-hand on the rail, ever-sooo-sloooowly, down the steps to water a bush. Being in a state of deterioration due to old age, or long use, can be dignified. She is.

The '92 Dodge Spirit that got stolen hasn't quite achieved decrepitude, however given the chance it may live long enough to find a resting place in Wetaskiwin. "Come back! I'm calling to you sweetie".

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Airport Training

Walter of Evolving Space is in the air to Singapore, he is re-locating there to work.

Here's part of a comment I left on his last posting before leaving England: "It does seem to be a time when the mountains are moving, yet remaining rooted at the same time. I don't think one has to appear calm or peaceful to be rooted. Roots go deep. Trust the roots will hold you to the Eternal heart! That could be a poem couldn't it!"

Please write lots about Singapore, and post lots of your fantastic photos too.

I watched Brokeback Mountain this evening; joy and happiness, unspeakable grief. A tragic and moving story. Let's spare a thought for the suffering that this movie points to.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Small Burial

We honour animals when they die, just like we do humans, by laying them to rest with love and attention. Here's a blog posting from Iain in Japan talking about a well loved family dog, Kuu, and his final resting place.

Last April I was being pulled around the neighbourhood by Kuu, and waking early to his cries. For food? For a walk? I remember him as an uplifting kind of a critter, because that's how I felt walking out with him beside the greening rice paddies. It was spring time.

The forty-nine days mentioned in Iain's post relates to the bardo, translated as "in-between state". In our tradition we have a series of exhortations which are read to the terminally ill and newly dead. Relatives or friends may also choose to do a forty-nine day retreat following a death.

The Resolving Thought

Just another twenty days and it will be mid summer's day. Isn't it amazing how days remain light so late and get light again so early? In Edmonton, as in Northumberland, it hardly gets dark at all around mid June. It's just after 10.00 pm now and the sky is turning orange, stunning colours. This time of year with the extra light I can live with less sleep, which is handy as there is a lot to do before the move into a smaller place. And I leave Edmonton.

On July 1st, Canada Day, the Edmonton Priory will re-launch itself as a Meditation Group. In the mean time a three bedroomed, developed basement, house of furniture and belongings will need to be 'resolved'. That's a term my mother used. "These books will need to be resolved sometime dear" she'd say in the general direction of my dad, but with little passion in her voice. With books, there was rarely any resolving. Except ones from the library they came into the house and stayed. So the books mounded up everywhere and building more shelves was the usual solution. That's not going to happen here.

I like that way of thinking about dealing with things. To resolve: 'to find a solution for' rather than get rid of it or the catch-all, recycle it. I'm finding solutions suggest themselves as I go about my day with the resolving thought at the back of my mind. Yes, there is a passion in my mind for getting stuff sorted at the moment.