Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cleaning Cloths

At last a sunset! We come out of meditation at around 9.00 pm and the sun is getting ready to go behind the hill about then. These pictures were taken a few days ago. One from behind the buildings where I live and the other of the inside of our first floor library.

Observing the setting sun through the library windows I could not help but notice they needed cleaning. And as it happens we have some of those amazing micro fibre cleaning cloths, which do a great job on windows, as well as:
.....mirror cleaning, glass cleaning, dishes, cleaning glasses, cooking pots, kitchen stove, hot plate, microwave, oven, grill oven, kitchen sink, bathtub, shower, washbasin, kitchen cabinets, furniture, computer screens, tv's, stereos, bikes, musical instruments, marble slabs, floor coverings, tiles, cleaning chrome and high gloss surfaces, cleaning lenses, jewellery, paintings, picture frames, and much more.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Beacon of Hope

New heels for old shoes.

Treasured hankies made white again.

Years ago at a spiritual direction ceremony (Shozan) one of the monks asked about compassion. How may I find compassion for myself? The Master answered something to the effect that she started by taking care of her boots! It is not such a stretch when you think about it. Being mindful of ones shoes and getting them heeled, bleaching handkerchiefs when they have become sad and grey is to treat them with respect and gratitude. If one treats things with that attitude surely it's possible to treat oneself that way too. To have compassion for oneself, and all things.

Too often people regard themselves as having little worth and so gratitude fades to a flicker. Sometimes that flicker dissolves into dark despair and where there is no light there seems to be no hope either. A woman asked me after the recent funeral how she could convey a sense of gratitude to the deceased. I said I thought all she could do was simply offer her open heart and in that there is conveyed gratitude. Which is a beacon of hope.

So I guess we make offerings of tender care to the stuff around us including ourselves. Life is precious.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Timing is All

Conducting a funeral yesterday in a room 6ft by 8ft, containing seven people and a coffin presents some difficulties, but non insurmountable. Timing is all at these events especially when the body has to be moved across town mid proceedings. It's the funeral directors we have to thank for ensuring everybody is in the right place at the right time. And to leave afterwards, briskly. Thankfully all went well with both the Funeral at the funeral home and the Memorial at the crematorium afterwards. Fifty, very sad, people attended.

Funeral directors perform a much needed service and they do it with dignity and firmness. Being sensitive to the potential wrath from those in charge I was keyed up to keep within our alloted time! At the last moment I discovered we actually had forty five minutes from getting everybody in to getting them out. Ceremonies happen one after the other in quick succession in busy Crematoriums so I guess that fifteen minutes ease room is there for over running or unforeseen circumstances. At the very last moment the director gave me his last and closely kept secret. The clock in the Crematorium is set five minutes fast! As it happened we were all done and finished in twenty.

One thing about death is that it is hard to predict timing. Funeral Directors are always on call to go and pick up bodies at any time of the day or night and in all possible conditions. They are often on the scene with the police and often the ones who first console the shocked and bereaved. They face death every day of the week, it's their business. And they retain a sense of humour, behind the scenes.

Well, there is one creature, Oscar the cat, who has made predicting the time of death his business. In his innocence he is providing a service for relatives and friends so they can be present at the scene of death, before the Undertakers.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Helping Grieving Children

I've had cause to look into services which help bereaved children and their families. Winstons's Wish based in the UK looks like a good one.
Fiona husband died by suicide in February 1996, leaving her to raise their unborn child alone. Fiona, from Halesowen, spent years investigating bereavement services and finally found Winston’s Wish, an organisation that could help Fiona and her child David, live with their loss. From a case study.

RD4U (road for you) is another service for bereaved youngsters.
RD4U is a website developed by Cruse Bereavement Care's Youth Involvement Project which aims to support young people, after the death of someone close to them. We believe that the best way of doing this is to involve young people in planning, developing and delivering services.

Chanel4 made a series of documentaries titled A Child's Life. One of them, Why did dad choose to die?, deals with the issues around child bereavement due to a parent committing suicide.

Many thanks to those who helped me to find this information this evening.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Weeds Act 1959

Ragwort, love it then pull it up.
Under the Weeds Act 1959 the Secretary of State may serve an enforcement notice on the occupier of land on which injurious weeds are growing, requiring the occupier to take action to prevent the spread of injurious weeds. The Weeds Act specifies five injurious weeds: Common Ragwort, Spear Thistle, Creeping of Field Thistle, Broad leaved Dock and Curled Dock. So says defra, Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs.

We have quite a crowd of guests here for the Summer Training Period. Each Wednesday morning for the next three weeks the monks and guests have the chance to join in a Community Work. Today we tackled the Thistles and Ragwort which are covering the fields above the monastery. None of us have ever seen so many thistles on the property and now I see we have injurious weeds. Indeed we do, lots of 'em!

I started with an 'off with their heads' attitude swinging away with a hoe. Quite soon I reverted to a more contemplative approach. They may be weeds, they may be injurious weeds however they too have the Buddha Nature just like you and me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sing no Sad Songs


When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

I found the above Song, by Christina Georgina Rossetti, in my new found book of treasured sayings, advice and teachings. At the moment I'm making preparations for a funeral on Friday which will be in a town a couple of hours drive from here. This poem brings reminders of a soft acceptance of death. Perhaps I'll read it at the cremation.

No Sad Songs has a wealth of poems suitable for Funerals, Memorials and Cremations.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What to Offer?

Walking along the bottom road this evening. Some stranded calves bellow to their mothers on the other side of the rushing river on the valley floor. Rarely does the river run so wide and fast. How much more can the giant sponge which is the moorland at the head of the valley hold before it disgorges? The road is running with water, in places I have to paddle. This is an unusual situation for us. But, as I walk, I can't help counting our blessings here. To be grateful to be safe from the power and great strength of flooding water further south, rushing to find it's level.

So also I can't help but think of those who are caught up in the drama. And I remind myself not to become vicariously involved in the drama as it unfolds daily. As far as I am concerned the disaster is to loose ones sitting place in the midst of all of this.

Charity, tenderness, benevolence and sympathy (empathy) are the four signs of Enlightenment which we can offer; always and in all directions. For the most part this goes unnoticed, which is as well.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Horribly Jolly

The weather in Britain has been in the news and on all of our minds one way or another. Here is some bright spark who has a solution to the flooding. (Thanks Iain for passing on this item found on the BBC web site in a comments section.)
I'm going to build an 'ARK' with twenty levels, and fill it with fish, well, Carp in particular.
Its going to be a multi-storey 'Carp ark', that should keep us dry!

My journey to and from Harrogate and Leeds this week end went without event. Returned here Saturday evening to find the phone line was down. No known reason.

As a people we can be horribly jolly in adversity. That doesn't hurt though.

Friday, July 20, 2007


One of the monks was very keen to have me snap a picture of this huge moth which had been attracting a lot of attention this morning. So, here it is.

I'm off to Harrogate to-day, and then Leeds tomorrow for a day retreat. I've a Tom Tom aboard so hopefully it will guide me to my destinations.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Better than a 21 Gun Salute

A 100 Squadron plane flew low over the Methodist cemetery just as the minister was committing the body. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The timing was impeccable but who could have planned the weather? After the pass the plane shot vertically into the sky disappearing into the clouds. 'To get away from the weather' his son said. What a send off!

The Squadron Leader, the newly departed one and neighbour, was greatly honoured in our small valley. He served as a Royal Air Force pilot most of his working life. His son, also an RAF man, had arranged the fly past.

Five of us had trouped along the bottom road to the cemetery, just a couple of minutes walk away. The clouds were readying for rain, a small group of mourners gathered on the side of the narrow road. We were invited to the burial by the widow, one time receptionist at our local doctors surgery. One way or another we get to know the neighbours.

As one of the monks remarked, We grew up with Mr. A. Indeed, most of us would have stopped to pass the time of day while out for a walk. My conversations in the early 1990's with him were about re building dry stone walls, which he did rather expertly. Rather more testing were the irate phone calls I'd receive from him while the Guest Master. Your people are on my land, again! For the Wing Commander, straying guests were stray stock to be chased off with much hulewing. He was a force to be reckoned with. Frightened and confused the guests would scramble back over the fallen down wall. Later we put up large signs to deter the guests from inadvertently wandering off the monastery property.

I'll not forget the the sight of the plane rising vertically into the sky this afternoon; any more than I'll forget the cloud of golden leaves whipped up into the air by a stray breeze as the late Head of our Order entered the cremation oven. That was back in April 2003.

The Universe has perfect timing and this is true for everything.

Well done Squadron Leader, you did well and have a good 'flight' into the clear blue sky.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Human Training

Yesterday I made a pilgrimage to visit my belongings, for the time being mournfully trapped in plastic boxes in an attic. There is always a surprise in store on these occasions. This time I discovered I had an audio cassette tape player, which is good news indeed. While there I decided to drag down some box files containing old lecture notes. To my great delight there were also notes I'd made after conversations with one of the seniors at Shasta with whom I regularly took Refuge. Sounds like I must have been having an issue with trust and getting along with other people. A common theme in practice.

Trust Partakes of Acceptance
Trust (in somebody) is given expression to by being willing let go of what ever is going on.
In order to trust someone absolutely they would have to be perfect.

Compassion for Self and Other
When encountering people (their habits) 'get to you', think how difficult and painful it must be for that person to be the way they are. July 1995

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Dog Training

See how naughty, and muddy, I can be?

See how attentive and cute I can be?

This is Tom the rescued, and apparently seriously abused, Golden Retriever out in the forest near Apeldoorn. The Reverend, who is now his 'person', senses Tom didn't have a chance to play in his early life and feels it is important for him to now catch up on puppy activities. Here Tom is doing the 'look at me' routine before going down for more mud-fest fun. Later he cavorted in a stream and then kept out of puddles, with strong encouragement from his person!

It is touching to witness the development of trust. Both dog and man need to grow the mutual trust. A nip can set the process back, but not for long. The desire to be loved overcomes the fear very quickly. I found myself having to learn dog language and dog training too. On occasion Tom would emit a low dull rumbling sound as I entered the house. On such occasions my instruction was to ignore him. By not making eye contact and talking to him I was not rewarding him. Apparently one of the hardest things for a dog is for the pack to ignore it. I was number two in the pack and the Reverend definitely number one, none the less matters did not go past a growl. The best pack leaders are hero's, worthy of being looked up to. Tom definately looks up to his person, and well he might. I do too. To rule by fear does not last for long.

As with dogs so with us humans.

Monday, July 16, 2007

One More For the Road

I drink coffee at my peril, my physical peril that is. But, but, but...I like the taste. So I drink coffee, just now and again, and suffer the consequences. Unfortunately the consequences are getting more severe. My gallbladder tells me all about it for weeks after a cup or three, not just hours or days afterwards. A mild addiction perhaps? And self deception in operation? Just one cup won't do any harm. Or, more delusive still, I'll just have one cup, to prove I am free to choose. The writing is now on the wall. I quit!

A documentary film making in America made a film in 2004 called Super Size Me. Probably everybody but me knows about this film. Anyway, part way through his 30 day experiment of eating nothing but MacDonalds food he is seen talking to a nutritionist. By this time Morgan, the film maker, is suffering seriously from the effects of his fat and sugar rich diet. He has gone from an above average healthy and active man to a depressed and lethargic shadow of his former self. He reports that the one thing that makes him feel better is to eat another MacDonald meal, even though afterwards he feels ill. The nutritionist remarked casually, Oh, you're now addicted.

Well, I'm not about to take a stance on coffee or fast food, or any other matter for that matter. However it is interesting to note the architecture of addiction, is it not? Too easy to spot the addict on the street and miss the one gazing out from the mirror.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

It Happens

Here is part of a letter from a reader:
Hi, Something in your blog reminded me of when I lived in the boonies. While walking in (from the road) one day, the snow was just starting to melt, I noticed something beautiful off in the brush. It was a soda can someone had tossed. What was interesting was my reaction. The beauty was still there and it was a soda can. At the time it reminded me of a peacocks feather. To this day, for some reason, (the sight of) discarded cans can bring on a certain appreciation.

In a similar vein I remember well one winter afternoon going into the parking lot at Shasta Abbey. The snow was melting and turning to slush. My usual way would have been to pick across this unpleasant sea with revulsion. Not so this particular time. To my great amazement what I saw was perfection, an icy beauty in the grey ugliness! Yes, and coming upon slushy streets has not been the same since.

It would seem that this 'seeing with new eyes' comes unbidden and is probably not an uncommon experience or particularly Buddhist or 'spiritual'. It just happens.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Tourist Bewilderment Devices

Antony Gormley, the artist who produced the Angel of the North, photo above, is currently showing tourist bewilderment devices (TBDs) on roof tops in London...

The installation, called Event Horizon, consists of 31 sculptures cast from the artist's own body. Gormley's clone army will be placed atop buildings and public walkways in Westminster, Lambeth and Camden.

Gormley told the BBC he wanted “to recognise that...over 50% of the human population on this planet now live within the city…a totally constructed humanly made environment and what that means.”

If you are in London there is an exhibition of Antony Gormley's work, titled Blind Light, at the South Bank Center. The event ends August 19th.

See also Another Place, Crosby Beach, Liverpool.

Apparently in a documentary Antony Gormley indicated he has a background interest in Buddhism. I'm starting to warm to art in the landscape.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Is it Real?

Have you ever watched a blue heron fishing? There it is standing stock still readying itself to snap up an unsuspecting fish? For an age you and it wait, but nothing happens. You start to doubt, Is it real? It doesn't move, then gradually there is the dawning realization that it isn't real, it's plastic!

Plastic flowers too can be so real seeming, it's hard distinguish them from the real thing. While in the Temple in The Netherlands a few of us gathered for a meeting beside the fish pond where a blooming Water Lilly sat amidst glistening leaves. I kidded the guests, It's not real you know. A shadow of a doubt was sewn, successfully but not for long! Just what is it about coming upon the man-made in nature that is both strangely attractive and deeply disturbing at the same time?

In the photo above all is well with the world, nature is going about it's business of blooming and leafing. But what is that rising above the bushes? A head. A real head, or what? In actual fact it's the Angel of the North standing beside the A1 greeting visitors with wings outstretched. Art placed in natural surroundings, especially sculpture on any scale, finds me examining my conceptions of...well gardening actually!

I think the disturbance is about the truth of impermanence. Creating successful gardens is, it seems to me, about working with impermanence with a light and playful hand. And I hope gardeners will continue to place sculptures within their creations. Yes, and I hope to see the occasional plastic pink flamingo or pixie in their shrubberies to disturb us even more!

It's good to have our realities challenged.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Window Dressing

This is the window of my room. Yesterday, with much help from my neighbour, I dressed it. First we put up a light blocking blind, blue on the inside and white on the outside. This proved to be a complex operation as the blind needed to be cut to fit inside the window recess. It took over two hours, what with getting sums wrong the first time. Wrong in the right direction thankfully. After a quick restorative snack we recalculated measurements and then returned to the exacting work of trimming the blind, again.

Doing projects like this is when years of formal meditation proves it's self. When the going gets tough and you would rather take a nap; keep going, keep up the careful work, not cut corners and remind yourself it's basically a worthwhile thing to do in essence. My companion in activity said, by way of encouragement, something like, 'people remember the care involved and tend to forget the hardship'. So true and true of the life of meditation as well.

My original plan was to buy some fancy curtaining while in The Netherlands. Traditionally, and rather oddly, their windows are dressed down to about knee length with white lacy obscuring curtains and then the calves, so to speak, are left bare. Sometimes a host of pot plants hide the view of the interior, but often the living room is in plain sight. So it's hard not to take a peek while passing by. That's just the way windows are dressed, or were. At the temple the windows onto the street have obscuring plastic with tasteful images cut out. As you can see I've 'gone Dutch' as one of the monks remarked on seeing my new window treatment.

This is one of the oldest buildings in Amsterdam, it's in the same square as the English Church and a one time Begijnen community. Not much evidence of window dressing there. More on the Begijnen another time.

Monday, July 09, 2007


At times like this
when it's getting late and
I need to get to bed and
I'd like to write a post, yet
there are SO many possibilities and
I can't make up my mind
what to write about
I usually just go to bed, instead.
Many thanks to Sangha friends in Vancouver for the use of the photograph.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Ascending the Mountain

Two good sangha friends have reached their 60th year of life. This is the culmination of the 'age of Wisdom' and the start of the 'seeing of the mountain to ascend'.
You both will have to ask somebody wiser than me what that means....

Friday, July 06, 2007

Watch out for the Wild Boar

It's the Year of The Pig, or boar, in the Chinese calendar. This small bell is from Japan, delivered in person this year by Iain and his wife who where here on July 4th. Back in May Canada Post put out a stamp, as is their custom, to commemorate the turning of the Chinese year. Too bad I wasn't in Canada this year to pick up the souvenir sheet, as is my custom, to send to an elderly woman in Scotland who loves these stamps.

From the photograph and in several of the links you can see some tell tale tusks indicating the pig can also be a wild pig, known as a Wild Boar. Wild boar have a particular significance coming from the long walk I took with Tom and the Chief Priest of the temple where I was staying last week. We had walked through deep woodland for what seemed like hours and very possibly we were lost. I'd noticed that the ground was churned up somewhat to the side of the path and I'd tried to make sense of it. The chilling news? Wild Boar activity. Thankfully we were close to the end of the walk. Apparently Wild Boar can be found in British woodlands. I'll be happy not to meet them.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Raise no Barriers

While in The Netherlands last week a group of us drove to the north east of the country to visit a couple of Sangha friends. They live very close to the German boarder in the region of Westerwolde. On our way home we visited Bourtange.
The fortifications were initially built during the Eighty Years' War when William of Orange wanted to control the only road between Germany and the city of Groningen which was controlled by the Spaniards. This road followed a sandy ridge (tange) through the marshes.

I was particularly taken with the mandala like configuration of the fort. It's a pleasant place to visit, a quite village atmosphere, tasteful shopping, tranquil walks along the top of the moats. Unfortunately my photographs from this visit are locked into my camera with no way of downloading them until I find the appropriate cable. This is a great pity as I captured a windmill there, the only one I saw during my entire stay! You can see it here along with several other pictures of the site.

The building which housed the ammunition for the cannons caught my attention. Apparently the walls are a metre thick however the roof is not completely attached to the walls. This was done in anticipation of 'accidents'. If the building were to blow up the force would blast off the roof and the walls remain intact thus saving the village from being destroyed.

Considering what has been happening in the U.K. recently and the resulting need for greater vigilance when traveling internationally this fort kind of puts things in perspective. The need to defend ones patch has been going on for centuries, the tactics and weaponry have changed however.

Fortification. Defensive structure consisting of walls or mounds built around a stronghold to strengthen it.

This is a time to sit still, and raise no barriers.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Bureaublad = Desktop

Before linoleum

On the bank of the mighty Maas, near Venlo.

The beach of the mighty Maas.

Wildflower garden with art.
I'm in the very south of The Netherlands near Venlo, close to the border with Germany. I'm being hosted by a couple who live and have an art studio in the converted novice quarters of a Catholic monastery for monks and nuns in a village called Steyl.
Since the computer I'm using is showing me Blogger in Dutch, the spell checker is correcting the English to Dutch and I've only just worked out what Desktop is in Dutch, I'll not stop to write much.