Sunday, August 27, 2006


Lake Siskiyou with Mt. Shasta in the distance.

This picture was taken while on an outing yesterday. During the day-in day-out life of the monastery one rarely pauses to reflect on the beautiful mountain scenery close by. I guess that's because we are in the scenery!

Reflections on Physical Disability

I recently received an email from a long standing friend in the Dharma, and reader of this blog. Reproduced below, with her permission, are personal reflections on disability, sparked by an audio posting.

Lovely to hear your voice Reverend Mugo. I saw a documentary on TV about a year ago about the lady with autism who is quite a character I think. I worked with some autistic children in Reading and was/am fascinated by the whole thing.

With reference to transitions--as you say, and sometimes we don't realise till later that we've been through one. I am currently in a funny one which I find interesting. I've spent the last 2-3 years being ill and incapacitated with osteo-arthritis. At first I tried to hide it and was embarrassed when I first began to use a walking stick. Now I would never feel self-conscious about using a walking aid or any other kind of aid.

I didn't know what was wrong for a long time. I've discovered it's common for people to be relieved when diagnosed, no matter how bad the diagnosis is. It's better than not knowing. Since having to stop work I've hung out with other disabled people and with older people in my village, especially a lady in her mid-seventies who uses a wheelchair and can move one hand only. She can talk and hear well though. I know well two more women with MS who use wheelchairs and a lady who was very close to death after a brain bleed, and many more suffering from various forms of arthritis. They are all very individual characters with real determination to get through each day positively.

I feel privileged to have been a part of these communities. When I first went to a hydrotherapy class run by the local physiotherapist at the swimming pool it was wonderful to be with a bunch of other people with problems. The non-disabled community had begun to seem like they spoke a different language from mine and didn't 'hear' or understand what I said. The disabled people didn't need to have many things explained to them. We were in the same boat and could discuss our problems without feeling we were complaining or 'harping on' about our difficulties or being boring. We were interested in each other.

Now I have recently had my second knee replaced (well, partially replaced to be precise). I have 2 rectangles of metal above and below each knee with a plastic bendy bit between. Soon I will be able to walk 'normally' and should be able to stop the painkillers I've used on and off for 3 years. I won't be classified disabled any more and won't be entitled to an allowance or a special parking space. Unlike some people's daft ideas I won't be bouncing around like an 18 year old – I will still have the body of a 56 year old after all - and I won't be running marathons.

My friends in the disabled community have been encouraging and supportive all the way through. They never say how lucky I am to be getting a second chance, luckier than they are perhaps. Sometimes I stop and think after I've said something to my friend in the wheelchair, like grumbling about what a nuisance crutches can be – she would probably love to have that problem.

I actually didn't care if I never walked again but was desperate to be free of the constant pain which is so incapacitating. Some of the people I know have a lot of pain and use various devices to control it. Others are not very mobile but don't feel pain. Pain killing drugs bring their own problems and most of us have gone through periods of trying to do without them. Most people have good days and bad days which is something many non-disabled people find difficult to comprehend.

So, soon enough I have to return to the 'real' world. I may have to get a job. I am hoping to do a training course in counseling and maybe work with dying and terminally ill people. I hope I never lose sight of how it is to be overlooked by the majority because I can't run around or walk like them. Or of how frustrating it can be to be ignored or simply not understood when in pain or discomfort. Or not considered 'interesting' because I don't do an important job or have much of a social life.

I think I've said mainly what I wanted to say.

Thank you Reverend Mugo once again for being there and for having sparked off my flow of expression on this subject.

With love, A

Thank you, and good fortune for the future.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Field of Merit

To-day I had the rare opportunity to walk the Alms Round with several other monks from the Shasta Abbey Community.

"For 2500 years, since the time of the Buddha, Buddhist monks have walked the Alms Round. This practice is said to create a field of merit for all sentient beings, an opportunity to show the finer qualities of the heart."
Shasta Abbey web site.

* * *

As I walked this morning I kept Robert Barrington Leigh in mind. He was a high school friend of one of the congregation members in Edmonton. He was found dead in the North Saskatchewan River a few days ago.

May the field of merit embrace Robert and all who know and love him.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Three R's

There is nothing like making a statement of intent to do something. By 6.00 or so this evening I'd just about moved out of the old laptop and onto the new one.

The knowledgeable novice monk in Berkeley told me about the three R's for network managing.

1. Right click. A much under used facility which I've used a lot to-day.

2. Re Boot. Often seems to be a solution for so many difficulties.

3. Relax! Sometimes all the computer, or network, needs is time to sort itself out. Latter it will work. Probably.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

On Pilgrimage

We have a line in one of our scriptures which goes: "Do not travel to other dusty countries thus forsaking your own seat". When I first started to contemplate a monastic vocation I innocently thought that meant I should not go to California to be a monk! (It is dusty in California after all!) I quickly learnt what this teaching was pointing towards and continually aspire to follow it.

There are many transitions and 'journeys' that one makes in life. The important thing is not to forsake ones 'sitting place' what every one is doing and where every one is. Hah! That's the message of 'Moving Mountains' isn't it?

I have been dipping into an interesting book. Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin. You may already be familiar with it. The sub title of the book is and other reports from my life with autism. At one point in the book Temple writes of her difficulty with conceptualizing making transitions in her life. She devised a way to understand transitions via actually walking through a specific door where she was living. In this way she practiced making the upcoming transition. Latter, I think, she simply pictured the doorway and was able to then proceed with what it was she was going to do, in practice.

powered by ODEO

The above link is to an audio file titled Doorways, it lasts just under 15mins. Sometimes you need to press the play button a couple of times and then be patient.

At the moment I'm fully occupied with transferring everything from one laptop to another. So that, in part, is why I haven't been writing much these past few days. By the end of to-day, if all goes without a hitch, I should have made the transition.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Onwards and Upwards

National Public Radio (USA) has been broadcasting a series of programs called "Hacking the Himalayas": about a project to bring a mesh based wireless network to Dharamshala, India.

I first bumped into this news on Boing Boing and while roaming around found out that there is an internet connection on or very near Everest.

Onwards to Shasta Abbey tomorrow.

Not Easy for Anybody

"What are you"?
"Where do you come from"?
"Do you meditate"?
"How long do you have to meditate for"?

Questions from a 13 year old while out shopping this afternoon, then came

"Is it hard being a monk"?
Thoughtful pause, "Well, being a monk means trying to be the best person you can be.
And that's not easy for anybody".
Long pause with thoughtful look.
"Now say thank you", says mom.
Latter I gave him a wave, he waved back.

The answer came from one of the other monks I was out with. Good answer.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Wireless in San Francisco

I nearly knocked a man off his bike in Union Square in downtown San Francisco, but that was nearly ten years ago now. To-day thankfully I was navigating not driving.

This afternoon a novice monk and I went on an expedition to Britex one of the worlds wonders, if you are at all interested in fabrics and buttons. I'd gone for a specific fabric in a specific colour and they didn't have it. But we left the shop wiser knowing I'm looking for 'poplin' in teal, a blue/green colour. The people there are experts, the woman who attended on us was very certain about her fabrics too. Handling the sample I had she knew right away it was pure cotton, and 'too green if you are matching to this thread'. And I thought I had a good eye for colour matching. We left the shop wiser and thirsty.

By the time I was at the top of the line at the coffee shop in Union Square the young novice had already booted up and found sites selling teal poplin! Such is the wonder of the free wireless service covering most of San Francisco. And the wonder of my new laptop that can be carried and connected with ease, anywhere there's wireless. Or rather replacement laptop for the one lost on its way for repairs a year ago in England, and now carried to the US by a returning monk.

On leaving Union Square underground car park I felt sure we would be delayed since it was 5.00 p.m. Indeed I kinda hoped we would get stuck in traffic. I wanted to try and write a post using the wireless connection in the city. However in no time we were flying across the Bay Bridge catching sight of all sorts of wireless connections as we drove. The Bay Bridge has two, BB1 and BB2, both secured and presumably in place for the bridge workers.

But really the thing that got my attention on our way home were the two pairs of legs stuck out of the roof of a passing car...not real ones but real enough! There is the bizarre to be found where ever one is in this big wide world.

And PS: Mountain View near San Francisco which is Google's home town went free and wireless, yesterday.

Some Dementia

A elderly woman I know was on the telephone recently. Her nephew was asking if he could come and stay. "Sounds good to me" she said, "But I'd better check, I have some dementia you know"! Closer to 90 than 80 and, at the time, able to have some perspective on her condition. Over the past days that has changed.

The issue of Neurodegeneration is exercising the scientists around the world including Walter at Evolving Space. Thanks for the input and for whatever it is you do...and have done.

The merit of this posting is offered to the elderly woman mentioned above, and for her husband and extended family.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Wiser Nature

I'm not sure of the significance of the balloons tied to the wing mirror but the rest of the scene was all too obvious. 'Press the button, push! push!, yes come on darling the button, press it'. But the infant, locked fast inside of the car played on, oblivious of the drama it was part of'. Presumably the toddler had been playing around pressing buttons on the dash and locked the car from the inside. 'Push the button, PUSH IT!

I returned having completed shopping for lunch. The scene had not changed much. Although there were now windscreen shades to shield the child in the hot and airless car. It was still having a great time romping inside, secure in the knowledge that it's parents were close by, waving. 'Press the button'! 'There'! Pointing. 'There, THERE!

Soon the paramedic truck turned up. Looked like a fire truck. Four uniformed men, with no guns, stepped out. Surveying the scene one walked round the car checking to see if any of the doors were open! First go for the easy and obvious solution. As I drove away one of the men was consulting a manual, presumably to work out which slim jim to use with this model of car. The father looked worried yet resigned at the same time. I'd imagine it costs to have such a heavy duty call out. Four men and a fire truck sized truck all red with gleaming chrome.

One little family drama playing itself out under the public gaze. And left with the question, "How did that infant find itself alone in the car". It could hardly have been left there on purpose, roaming free and unrestrained. And, "What kind of car security has a lock on the inside of the car"?

I wonder if we are not like the child, innocently playing while wiser discernment is trying to get our attention.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Making a Choice

*The Way to the Ultimate is not hard;
simply give up being picky and choosy.

In our tradition we have very clear teaching from Zen Master Dogen around food. In every aspect from buying it, preparation, cooking and eating the mind of non discrimination towards food, of not being picky and choosy, is held uppermost. Living within a monastery one is saved from needing to choose what to eat since that is all dealt with by the chief cook. He or she, under the guidance of the Abbot, decides what is eaten at each meal. Of course there is plenty of room left for being mentally picky and choosy while eating, however what one eats is not a choice.

Living as a lone Prior these past couple of years my meals evolved into being more or less the same for breakfast, lunch and medicine meal. I guess I defaulted to a combination of what I like to eat and what takes the least amount of time to prepare. The priors life is a busy one with little time to spend on cooking for oneself or deciding a varied menu. In this way shopping was simple, preparation straight forward and picky/choosy problems side stepped. Now while traveling, and eating out especially, the issue of personally choosing what to eat from a menu brings up the picky/choosy issue. When I'm asked what I like to eat my standard answer is, "I eat anything (vegetarian)". And that is true.

When faced with a menu this lunch time making a choice was not easy. "What would you like to eat"? "Err, it all looks good to me!" The great variety of choice can be overwhelming. Yes that, and then there is a fine line between choosing and being choosy and picking a dish from the menu and being picky. All a matter of right attitude of mind of course.

*From 'That which is Engraved Upon the Heart That Trusts to the Eternal'
(Kanshi Sosan, 30th Ancestor), Buddhist Writings, Copyright Shasta Abbey Press

Monday, August 14, 2006

Airy Repose

I walked up Solano Avenue this afternoon, it’s familiar territory and close to the Berkeley Priory where I’m staying at the moment. It’s all Starbucks and up-market boutiques now; the thrift store has long gone. The sun was out, sea mist coming and going with a brisk wind blowing dampness off the bay. Solano starts in the City of Albany and ends in the Berkeley Hills. And up there among the houses is something quite remarkable. Indian Rock a rock climbers haven which, it would seem, has links to WW2 history.

But few people know about little Indian Rock, as I call it. Where The Alameda intersects Solano there’s a path threading its way between the houses leading to Indian Rock. Then take the first left off this path and a few houses down on the right there’s a huge rock. Big as a house. The developers just skipped a plot left the rock there and made a neighbourhood park. Few people know about it or use. I sat at roof height to rest awhile and take in the vista.

Gazing out across the bay to distant San Francisco with the Golden Gate Bridge swathed in sea fog and Alcatraz looming out of the grey is to be transported. It’s almost to fly, or at the very least to have some moments of high-up, wind-blown, airy repose.

Close to the top of Solano is Pegasus; a bookstore selling new and second hand books. I strolled through, more a pilgrim than paying customer. Ah Pegasus, the flying horse of the Muses a symbol of high-flying imagination.

It’s good to spend time with my monastic family and also to check-in here too, when I can. Like sending a postcard, with wings, not knowing where it will land or who will read it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Octopus's Garden

Today would not have been my first choice for taking to the sky's but that's what I did. The flight from Vancouver to San Francisco was just over two hours and given the recent events in England passengers were asked to check-in three hours before the flight. The security was not hyper vigilant however I got the feeling there was a lot of unobtrusive 'watching' going on.

All the same one could have been forgiven for anxiety levels to be somewhat higher the day after a major 'bust'. So I was delighted to find an article in the Alaska Airlines Magazine on the Giant Pacific Octopus by Brandon Cole. His close up photograph of the critters disc-shaped suckers as well as a number of other stunning close-ups had me transfixed, and distracted, for most of the flight south.

Sometimes it is skillful, and compassionate, to distract ones mind. To direct ones attention purposefully to something other than what's occupying it. Or in my case for the last 24 hours, pre occupying it.

Here's some script from the article for your interest and amazement.
"The arms of the Giant Pacific Octopus are lined with up to 1,600 disc-shaped suckers. They work together to grip with Herculean strength or manipulate with wondrous finesse. The suckers are wired into the creature's advanced sensory system and are used to 'taste" objects and creatures it encounters." and latter in the article... "Enteroctopus Dofleini is the world's largest octopus species--examples weighing more than 200 pounds with an arm span of more than 20 feet have been recorded in the cool, nutrient-rich waters of the Pacific Northwest." The author goes on to say, "I've had them hop onto my head, ride piggyback on my air tank and play tug-of-war with my camera."

As coincidence would have it Victor, who took the photo of the bridge at Lytton, has spent quite a bit of time down in the depths swimming around with the long armed ones between Vancouver Island and the mainland.

* * *

I'd like to think I will be able to continue to post regularly however these past couple of weeks have shown me that I'm most likely going to be sporadic for awhile. Thanks for continuing to visit. Do take a look at the photos to be found by following the link.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Carry On

There was a serious derailment on the bridge over the Thompson River at Lytton over a week ago. Coal was dumped into the river. Seems it will take two to three months to mend the bridge. So hearing the train whistle echoing up Botanie Valley yesterday morning was a reminder that the trains are now moving through the mountains again, to and from the Prairies and beyond. Lytton is thriving with all the extra business brought in with the bridge workers. It's said that the local motel is having people sleep in eight hour shifts. Sheets changed every eight hours?

And as if that was not enough, on Friday a second derailment with grain being dumped into the Fraser River this time.

One moment the train is running just fine the next moment jumping the tracks and into the river. So much depends on keeping the trains on the tracks and moving right along. Just like us, or so we think.

One can become derailed, but not for long. That would defy one of the three signs of existence. Impermanence. Maybe falling off the tracks is not as big a disaster as we imagine. After all, life does carry on without our moving hand and that is good to be reminded of, now and then.

Thanks to Victor for the photograph. Good job.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Train Whistle Calling

I should have known better. My hosts in Vancouver are ex prairie people, one family of firm German stock moved north from Saskatchewan to Fort St. John, to farm. We talked growing up on a farm talk this evening. Day old chicks, making ends meet, trying pig farming, horses, bridles and bits. And the country. We looked at photographs; weddings and puffy hair, smiles and memories. It all made so much sense, she said, reading about a Mennonite boyhood in the Boreal forest of Saskatchewan. Great book by Rudy Wiebe, 'of this earth', published this year. Uh! I should have know better, but I knew what I was doing. Opened up the book and an hour latter it's nearly midnight.

Just writing that was refreshing.

But that wasn't what I'd intended. It was the sound of the train whistle calling up the valley this morning that's been with me most of the day. That haunting sound, the echoes bouncing and fading. Evocative.

All that arises, passes.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Under my Skin

People have been asking after me. "Are you getting some rest"? "I expect you are glad to be away from responsibilities in Edmonton, so you can get some rest". You must be feeling rested now...". Purposefully resting, "now I will go and rest" is not something I tend to do. I told one of the monks recently that when I can't keep my eyes open any longer I lay down and go to sleep. That's as close to purposefully resting as I get. However I'm one of those fortunate people who can fall sleep, at any time. I remember being on a hike with my dad in Scotland. We sat down on a pebble beach beside a river to have lunch and afterwards we both fell fast asleeeeep in the sun. It must be a family trait. These days though when it comes to sleeping at night before midnight, I remain wide awake.

Last night, partly in response to all those messages about getting rested, I decided to turn in early at 10.30 ish relinquishing the wish to write a blog entry. As midnight came and went and unconsciousness eluded me I wished I'd written instead. But this sleep pattern will have to change as monastic schedules set rising before 5.00 in the summer months and I'll be at Shasta Abbey in a couple of weeks.

I'll get in a bit of early-to-bed-early-to-rise practice this week-end as the community at Lions Gate Priory will be packing up and driving out to the retreat land near Lytton. We stay until Monday, a holiday in Canada. No late night blogging for me for a few days.

On the subject of resting? For me, the deepest rest is to simply sit, and I'm able to find more time for that at the moment. Thank you for your well wishes and kind concerns.

And Edmonton, Alberta, people, dogs, big skies, thunder, lightening, peeling paint, sunshine, hot cars. Like Singapore, you got under my skin and haven't left.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Make Time to Play

Inspiration is slow to arrive this evening; I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing.

I think of blackberries, what a treat! And free for the picking. The prior of Lions Gate Priory and I wandered off for a walk this afternoon. Right there in the neighbourhood, walking and talking, picking berries and eating them, what a treat on a lazy afternoon.

Nearly back to where we started we see some lads in the park rolling around on the ground. Are they hurt? Or are they laughing? It’s hard to tell. We get up closer and see they’re laughing, on and on and then we hear the reason. They had kicked the soccer ball into their own net, scoring a goal for the other side. Just a lot of summer fun, nothing serious, no crowds to boo are cheer.

Recently I was told about a film made in Russia about an impoverished family. The oldest girl, in her early teens, talks directly to the camera. She takes care of the children, the father, everything. “What would you like if you could have anything”. In a sad and lifeless way she says, “To play”.

While on Vancouver Island a woman took me for a tour by car to get a sense of the area around Victoria. I even got to climb about on rocks and stalk birds with my camera. The island is a lovely place at this time of year; I’ll post photographs one of these evenings. My guide told me about her son who is just starting his stint of volunteer work near Lusaka, Zambia. Tut, tut, no emails home for two weeks. He’s working for an organization called Right to Play. Their web site is currently featuring a project on the outskirts of Mozambique’s capital. The children there play in the garbage dump, looking for toys or food. But now a local lad who once played at the dump, Justin, works as a coach for Right to Play and plays football with the kids.

Do you remember ever knowing a cat that hadn’t learnt to play, and how you tried to show it how? There are some children in this world like that, and some adults too. How very sad that is.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Salty Sea Stories

I had a good visit to Vancouver Island and learnt many interesting things about the sea, and about Santa Claus!

The giant Pacific octopus lives in the sea between the mainland and the island. An orca is a sea dolphin not a whale. And to take care making cell phone calls on the ferry to the island as it passes through US waters and one would incur US roaming charges.

I also learnt Santa Claus was a Catholic Saint who performed many miracles including saving storm tossed, near drowned sailors. And another legend tells how a terrible famine struck the island (of Myra) and a malicious butcher lured three little children into his house, only to kill and slaughter them and put their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham. Saint Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry, not only saw through the butcher's horrific crime but also managed to resurrect the three boys from the barrel.

So there we have it, miracles and mystery for the salty sea. How I love to be out on a boat.