Friday, June 29, 2007

In The Netherlands

Temple dog, Tom the handsome one.

Sorry, no postings while I am in The Netherlands.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Have a Heart

In the book A Change of Heart Claire Sylvia tells her story following her heart transplant surgery.
She reported noticing that various attitudes, habits and tastes changed following her surgery. She had inexplicable cravings for foods she had previously disliked. For example, though she was a health-conscious dancer and choreographer, upon leaving the hospital she had an uncontrollable urge to go to a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet and order chicken nuggets, a food she never ate. Sylvia found herself drawn toward cool colours and no longer dressed in the bright reds and oranges she used to prefer. She began behaving in an aggressive and impetuous manner that was uncharacteristic of her but turned out to be similar to the personality of her donor. Interestingly, uneaten Kentucky Fried Chicken nuggets were found in the jacket of the young man (her donor) when he was killed. From Organ Transplants and Cellular Memories, Nexus Magazine.

It makes sense that the heart has a mind of it's own. Makes sense to me anyway. There was a Chanel 4 documentary series called Mindshock, aired last year. One was about heart transplants and the possibility that the heart retains some of the memory of the (now dead) donor. Interesting.

One of my monastic mentors on occasion would say, 'The body does have a mind of it's own you know'! He was teaching us to listen, with body-mind. They are not two.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

In Kopke Kofie

I wonder who it was that traveled from Exeter St. Davids to Redruth on November 17th 2003. It wouldn't have been me, I was in America at the time. And anyway only today did I set eyes on The Story of English, which is where I found the rail ticket, used as a book mark.

Tickets and travel arrangements have been occupying me these past days as I prepare to travel to the Netherlands on Monday. Much kindness has been extended by my Dutch hosts with reassurances that people speak English. All the same I've written instructions and maps to ease my way once I'm in the country.

English. A common language, what a gift. What a history! Now my eyes have been opened wide I can hardly put the book down. Perhaps I'll take it with me on Monday.
The Frisian for cow, lamb, goose, boat, dung, and rain is ko, lam, goes, boat, dong and rein. And the Frisian for 'a cup of coffee' is in kopke kofie. The similarity between Frisian and English, both with strong Germanic roots, emphasizes how close English is to German, Dutch and Danish. The Germanic echoes in all these languages betray their oldest and deepest roots. And it is no accident that the Dutch, for instance, often seem to speak English with as much ease as the English themselves. The evidence of a place like Friesland (an area in The Netherlands BTW) suggests that if that linguistic cataclysm, the Norman Conquest of 1066, had not occurred, the English today might speak a language not unlike modern Dutch. From The Story of English, p. 55.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Monkey - A Circus Opera

For centuries, the epic tale of the Monkey King’s journey of enlightenment has been an omnipresent part of Chinese culture, delighting young and old with its heady mix of adventure, mystery and magic. Now, East meets West in 'Monkey: Journey to the West', a new production that reinvents the legend with a thrilling combination of music and action.

Manchester International Festival, 28th June - 15th July 2007. The world's first international festival of original, new work. Good for Manchester.

Ah, remembrance of the Halle Orchestra one sweltering July evening at the Bridgewater Hall.

Yes. Well done Manchester O city of so very many memories.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Long Day, Short Night

On the eve of Midsummer's Day, many bonfires used to be burnt all over the country. This was in praise of the sun, for the days were getting shorter and the sun appeared to be getting weaker, so people would light fires to try and strengthen the sun. Woodlands Junior School, Kent

It's mid summers day, the longest day of the year. Certainly felt like a long one to me.

Walking back from meditation this evening there was a certain sadness in the air. Even the grazing rabbits appeared subdued and the young ones were not scampering in their customary way. Soon the nights will be drawing in and in no time it will be February again.

Happy Summer solstice all the same.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Double Tea Potting

Imagine my delight when this wonderful statue came to visit last evening. It stands 20 inches high and was found in a dustbin. A genuine 1950's Bugs Bunny statue standing in the classic double teapot stance, hands rolled up and placed on hips.

As a younger monk I was pulled up for double tea potting while trying to get across a point to the head cook. There is also single tea potting, if the point being made is just a minor one. I was completely unaware of this stance and have since wondered if it helps get the point across more forcefully, or not. I have my doubts.

It was too good an opportunity to miss. A practical joke in the rabbit infested garden. Many of us saw the funny side...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Rabbits on the Run

The talk around these parts is of rabbits. At this time of year they are wrecking havoc in the gardens, the young ones especially. As one monk put it, they are eating the flowers before they have a chance to grow, let alone blossom. One solution is to flush them out by a whole team of us trawling through the larger garden in a row, sending them towards the garden gate. The gardens are fortified but there are always the adventurous few who find their way in. It only takes one or two baby rabbits to get inside the fences to make for sad and frustrated gardeners.

The garden across the yard from where I work has been the site of much cunning, both on the part of rabbits and the garden caretaker. This morning the second of the three inside the garden was caught, by hand! Two down and one to go. We do use live traps as well as basic stealth by the way. The fencing within the garden is only temporary it being used to flush out the bunnies into open lawn and when there the determined caretaker hurdles the back wall and chases the culprit(s) out of the open gate.

Last evening, just at the crucial moment, one of the cats just happened to wandered through the open gate subverting the current operation. No amount of sweet talking would turn that cat around.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Irrational and of a Magical Nature

Jorge Luis Borges (August 24, 1899June 14, 1986)
In lonely basements and drafty attics on park benches and noisy coffee shops people are at it, they are writing. People have been writing down there thoughts for ever and I must say I do enjoy reading about the lives of such people. Often incredible tales of loves gained and lost, of hardships and near miraculous recovery and behind them they leave huge literary gifts. Never has it been so easy to read about the lives of writers. Jorge Luis Borges for example, an Argentine writer who wrote this:
"It is often forgotten that (dictionaries) are artificial repositories, put together well after the languages they define. The roots of language are irrational and of a magical nature."
-Jorge Luis Borges, Prologue to "El otro, el mismo."
I came across the above quote having followed a link given me by one of the monks who is keen on words, that's Etymology. The Online Etymology Dictionary is a real gem for those who are interested in exploring the roots of our language...which are irrational and of a magical nature.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

In Revolting Mood

I've made it back to the monastery earlier than I'd anticipated and I'm in the mood for Revolting Rhymes.

Roald Dahl 's version of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs are decidedly different, as was the author.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dharma Flix Wiki

Welcome to the newly introduced DharmaFlix video wiki. is a collaborative effort to list and review films with Dharma content for the benefit of all.
Have a go why not? Write a review. I'm gearing myself up to mention the series, My Name is Earl.

I'll be traveling to Edinburgh tomorrow and then on to Dundee on Saturday for a day retreat and will not post here while away. Back on Sunday.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Following Family Footsteps

Here’s why I applaud, feel at home with and generally enjoy the company of nurses. And why I link to medical blogs from time to time. I’m declaring my interest.

At a young and impressionable age, before reaching ten, I’d go with my parents to visit Aunt V. in Surrey who owned and ran a nursing home for the elderly. Conversation over supper in the staff room invariably included discussions about bowel movements, the prevention of bedsores and other such intimate matters. So I grew up quite familiar with subjects lavatorial and nursing matters in general. This was my introduction to the world of nursing and care for the elderly and infirm.

My parents eventually bought the ‘home’ and I learnt, first hand, some of the nursing arts: how to utilize a failing memory to help a chronic smoker to stop smoking, how to navigate ‘doctors orders’- which sometimes were clearly bonkers. If I remember correctly, in one particular case, ‘orders’ involved pulling out Mrs’ B’s eyelashes! And then one day, after her visitors had left, I found Mrs. H spitting out gobs of pink, orange, blue and yellow fragments mixed with glutinous drool. ‘Oh my dear, the sweets they brought me are HORRIBLE’! ‘Gosh Mrs. H’ they look like bath salts to me! ‘Cup of tea’?

The home continued until the residents were substantially younger than my parents, at which time they closed up shop. Around that time I offered to take on the home and run it for them. They wouldn’t hear of it, pointing out they didn’t want me to automatically just fall into the family nursing/medical tradition. As it has turned out I’ve followed in the footsteps of my great grandfather, who was a clergyman.

Retaining a sense of humour in grief and adversity, is the saving grace of both nursing and the religious life too.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Raised Awareness

Out walking to-day. The hedges and grass verges are full of wild flowers, the Dog Rose is a favourite of mine. We have a lot of them growing beside the 'bottom road', where I walk most days. I appreciate them as they bud, flower and then produce their hips in Autumn.

Dog-rose is the most common and widespread of all our wild roses.
"An old riddle, 'The Five Brethren of the Rose', gives an effective way of identifying roses of the canina group. It is a folk-riddle that has been passed on orally since medieval times. This is a version transmitted through a line of distinguished gardeners, from Canon Ellacombe to Edward Bowles to William T. Stearn:

On a summer's day, in sultry weather,
Five brethren were born together.
Two had beards and two had none
And the other had but half a one."

(The 'brethren' are the five sepals of the dog-rose, two of which are whiskered on both sides, two quite smooth and the fifth whiskered on one side only.) (Mabey, Richard - "Flora Britannica")

Yes, to-day twas a summer's day, in sultry weather. A good opportunity to revisit The Chimneys. Now it's raining and the land is glad of the water.

We watched An Inconvenient Truth last evening and I guess you can't watch that without a renewed appreciation of the natural world. As well as have ones consciousness raised, absolutely

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Weasel Words

Some time back there was some discussion about the origins of the phrase, 'the penny dropped'. Yesterday I was directed to The Phrase Finder. What a find!

The following phrases were chosen at random from the wealth of material:

Dogs Breakfast - a mess or muddle.
Origin: This is a 20th century phrase. Eric Partridge, in the 1937 edition of his 'Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English' lists it as "a mess: low Glasgow".

Rack your brains - to strain mentally to recall or to understand something
Origin: The rack was a mediaeval torture device. The crude but, one presumes, effective racks often tore the victim's limbs from their bodies. It isn't surprising that 'rack' was adopted as a verb meaning to cause pain and anguish. Shakespeare was one of many authors who used this. For example, from Twelfth Night, 1601:

"How haue the houres rack'd, and tortur'd me, Since I haue lost thee?"

Weasel words - Ambiguous or quibbling speech.
Origin: Stewart Chaplin's story Stained glass political platform, 1900, contains this line:

"Why, weasel words are words that suck the life out of the words next to them, just as a weasel sucks the egg and leaves the shell."

Thanks to Jonny of Do They Hurt for the link.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Telling Tales

My 'fairy story' is Little Red Riding Hood. There are others with the same twist but it's the fox representing himself as an old woman and thereby deceiving Red Riding Hood which makes it 'mine'. It's the old scary theme of something appearing to be one thing when in fact it is quite another. If there is anything in life that is going to disturb me, it's that.

Story is so closely related to our lives, how we respond to life, perhaps even how we shape our lives. Who knows? I grew up with a story teller pare excellence, my mother. She told tales of adventures; hers. Tales of stepping out of the Victorian box she was born into; living in a tent in Devon in the 1920's, driving a Double Decker bus and owning several motorbikes, showing movies without benefit of electricity cranked by hand! Growing up, all I needed to do was join her story line, which is what I basically have done! The twist at the end, becoming a religious, is perhaps the modern day ending to a life of external adventure. My mother was behind me although, in later life, she would have wished me to be behind her too, in a certain kind of a way. Very close to her death the story line was broken, her story dissolved and with that the tie between us. It came as an unanticipated twist at the end of our story together. How I know about that, is another story!

Tom of The Logogryph ponders on story, fact/fiction. And again here.
One part of the story of the historical Buddha that I love is the fact that he starts out as a handsome prince. That is, his life as it has been remembered and passed down begins as a storybook life. "Once there was a handsome prince who lived in a beautiful palace and had everything one could wish for ..."

Friday, June 08, 2007

Always Going On

Finally I managed to change my photograph to a more recent one. It was taken almost exactly a year ago at the end of the last retreat held at the Priory in Edmonton. Many thanks to Michael who skillfully managed to overcome my resistance to being photographed and then was able to put me at my ease. Thank you, and thank you Edmonton people I think of you all often.

It is almost one year since I ceased being the Priory in Edmonton. This is from a posting I did on June 17th, 2006 titled Moving Right Along.

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.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


I could have known better!
Do avoid the should word.

The results were…
Not bad, not good, not satisfactory

Do remind me next time,
Not to soak in biological.

My Tilley Hat!
Turned patchy yellow/orange.

No, don’t whiten your whites
By soaking over night.

When next morning comes...
You'll be mighty disappointed.

You know you should-uv-not,
Could-uv-not done it.

It’s the story of my life! When will I ever learn to keep away from anything with, even a hint of, bleach in it? Other monks soak, they separate their whites from their colours, and their sheets and towels glisten on the line. My beloved Tilley Hat from Vancouver, a kind gift, now skulks damp and patchy on top of my walking boots to dry.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Courage to Bend

I'm always heartened when I hear of people working in institutions who have the courage to break or bend the rules in order to respond to a human, or in this case an animal need in a hospital Emergency Department.

While you are in Australia you might want to download the e-book How to be a Nurse, which Ed of impactEdnurse has put together from posts to his blog. Prepare to be edified and inspired, you don't need to be a nurse either.

Thanks again Ed for your contribution of humour, wisdom and hands-on practical advice. Wonderful! We all benefit.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A Sane Man

A Sunday supplement magazine, published in March this year, on Mental Health fell into my mail slot. As tired as I was on Sunday afternoon I read it cover to cover. It is through this magazine I learned about the ground breaking work and compassionate approach of Dr. Rufus May, a young Clinical Psychologist and former psychiatric patient. There are many articles written by him on the Internet, a number of interviews too. And within all of what he describes, he retains a sense of humour. This publicity stunt reflect that.

August 2006: As a teenager with schizophrenia he saw the mental health system brutalise patients. He became a doctor to change things from within. Now he is pushing a bed from London to Brighton.

Dr Rufus May and a group of fellow campaigners will tomorrow start pushing a bed from Brighton to London to raise awareness of the forced use of drugs and ECT in psychiatric hospitals. The bed, complete with a dummy patient, will be chased by a giant syringe. There will also be an ECT machine offering free "treatments" to the general public.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Not a Hollow Cheer

Yesterday it was my turn to lead the monthly festival ceremony. We celebrated the life and teaching of Dogen, and then afterwards I gave a talk to the gathered community and visting guests. Now it's time to pack up the very many books I've been reading of Zen Master Dogens writings, and the commentaries on his writings, and file away my own voluminous notes on Dogen.

Over the last month I've gained a greater appreciation of our first Japanese Ancestor and his particular contribution to Buddhist thought and practice. In the statement the celebrant makes at the time of offering incense at the beginning of the ceremony I used the word stupendous to describe Dogen. While I do not find myself adequately equipped to wax lyrical, or write in detail about his teaching I can at least stand and cheer. He was stupendous, awesome in fact. That, however, is all to no avail if we were not to put his teaching into practice. That would make for a hollow cheer would it not? Here is the blessing verse:
This ceremony is offered in memory of the Great Priest, Eihei Dogen. First Japanese Ancestor and a stupendous figure in our Dharma Family.

“Time flies quicker than an arrow and life passes with greater transience than dew. The life of this one day, to-day, is absolutely vital life.”

Let us daily express gratitude. Let us keep alive the Smile of Shakyamuni Buddha as well as the Smile of all the Buddhas and Ancestors of present, past and future.
Blessing statement for Dogen Day, 2007.

The table where I studied while in Wales on retreat in May.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Way things Are

The sound of the valley stream
is the voice of Gautama Buddha.
The forms of the mountains
are his perfect body.
Throughout the night countless poems,
but the next day,
how do I convey them to others?

This poem is from The Sounds of Valleys and the Forms of Mountains, a chapter of the Shobogenzo by Zen Master Dogen. The poem speaks of how nature 'speaks' when we are full ready to hear. This is possible because of the Buddhist teaching of the fundamental non separation of ear and sound, mind and matter.

It dawned on me why I was so caught up in the film about the Giant Hornets and the honey bees the other day. I remembered a short poem I'd written early in life which started, Bee and me we are One! Well, it was a start! I had no religious context through which to understand the sense of unity I experienced while watching a bumble bee one idle summers day. The impression however was a lasting one.

It's not unusual for people to speak of a profound sense of unity they felt with existence while out in the wilds, or elsewhere. Very often people spend their lives trying to find an explanation for such experiences. Some take up a formal religious practice and realise a window onto the way things are opened briefly. They can then let go and move on.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Not Easy

It's always cheering to see that another person is attempting to establish a regular meditation practice. Just sitting may be simple however it is not easy. And especially not easy to keep up a practice alone.

Well done, keep going.