Friday, November 30, 2007

Buy and Save

Seen on a bill-board in Leeds. An image of a couple embracing on a couch.
The text: When you find something that feels good, hang on to it!
The product: a cell phone!

Much to ponder here, not least of which is the dodgy personal relationship advice.

In the marketing world it's worth pondering upon, in terms of wisdom, the thinking behind RED. John Humphrys in Beyond Words, How Language Reveals the Way We Live Now sees red on RED Products pages 64 and 65.

John Humphrys sees and says a great many things in this book. Maybe he would have something to say about the use of something in the advert, and more than likely feels good too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Driving Windscreen Wiping

Driving over the Pennines to Penrith. Driving on the M6 motorway. South to Preston Lancashire yesterday, back north this morning. In and out of Westmorland Services for coffee and scone. Listening to the car radio, Radio 4 exclusively. Whizzing along, passing lorries, cars passing me. Sometimes raining and sometimes foggy. Headlights on. Headlights off.

Then, getting back to the monastery, walking up the lane with my bags. Monks from A, or B, Team coming out of kitchen clean-up. Walking up the lane. Trees bare. Sky grey and low. Find my slippers in the gloom. Unpack. Place the donation envelope in the Alms Bowl. Put a receipt for petrol on the Bursars desk, for reimbursement. Secure it under the stapler to make sure it's not lost. Return the satnav to the Bursars cupboard. (What a gem that gadget it.) Quick nap. Hunt up lunch from the kitchen fridge. Microwave. Eat while chatting with a visiting monk from the south.

Yes, it is good to get out and about. To connect up with old friends. To look in the window of peoples lives. To step inside and join them, for a short while. People doing their best to live the practice where they are. Proving the teachings true for themselves. Proving that it is possible to sit still in seemingly intolerable circumstances. To completely live now.

A hat tip to my hosts, and the offer of a brief peek into the window of my driving, windscreen wiping, life. Good to get out and about, and good to get back. And no doubt this is how life is for everybody.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Appreciative Joy

Two women. One in America the other in England. Both have recently received acknowledgment of the contribution they have made in their professional work. They have been promoted. One made President of the company she started out with by doing their accounts from her home. The other potentially being made Head Teacher of the school where she teaches, and as I understand it, in extremely challenging circumstances too.

Such recognition of ones professional ability is no small thing. Yes, there is likely to be all those things that spell 'success' in the world of work: all that comes with greater status, more money as well as extra privileges and 'perks'. Who knows what promotion brings but one thing which is likely is for a rash of jealousy and envy to rise up amongst the ranks. Who has not been disappointed when others receive the public recognition you privately longed for.

I learned about mudita, or more correctly the teaching was pointed out to me, when I was suffering from the private hell of envy. I can't even remember what that was all about now. Mudita is the possibility, the human potential, to have arise naturally a sense of sympathetic or appreciative joy. It's chief characteristic is a happy acquiescence in others' prosperity and success. Knowing that this is possible and can arise out of ones depths naturally, even in the face of crushing disappointment, is one of the great blessings.

One might imagine that Buddhist, religious practitioners, would be 'above' such matters as recognition of ones contribution to society. That it might not have any meaning. Water of a ducks back in fact. Or could it be that there is a natural pride that grows in doing ones best and that we humans wish to join our hands, and applaud such efforts. Effort's which all benefit from, ultimately.

Well done my dear good friends. It really doesn't matter if you accept the accolade or not, the important thing is it was proffered.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Palpable Disquiet

Nearly all the retreat guests have gone. We had a good retreat together and I was glad and happy to be talking about Buddhism, practice and the Precepts. Somewhere in there during the week-end we talked about karmic consequence and how one can recognize negative consequences by a palpable disquiet experienced within ones body and mind. One blog reader who appreciates words and their use was taken with these two words so I thought I'd share them with you all.

There were a few Mountains readers here. It was a delight to meet those known to me already as well as those who mentioned being a regular here who I didn't know about. I'm generally amazed that real live people read this and even get something out of it that's useful too. There may well be a few more checking in following the retreat. Welcome if you are one of them.

Iain over in Japan, who set up this blog for me initially, writes about the third anniversary of his fathers death, which is today.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Intention is All

It's The Life of the Precepts retreat this week-end.
The dharma talks (during the retreat) will address in practical terms how we can apply the Precepts in daily life and how the practice of the Precepts is inextricably interconnected with mediation and true wisdom. Taken from the 2007 Retreat Programme flyer.

Many people are here who will be attending Jukai next spring. Jukai is a week-long retreat with a number of ceremonies including The Receiving of the Precepts, which in so doing people formally become a Buddhist. People who do not, or are not able to, attend Jukai are no less Buddhist if the Sixteen Precepts are practiced whole heartedly.

The journey to the monastery, priory, meditation group or temple to receive basic instruction about the practice is perhaps the most important 'ceremony' of all. In fact we say the first ceremony of Jukai IS the journey to the monastery.

Trog waiting at Dinas station on the Welsh Highland line with one of his human family.

I think this little dog is exhibiting bright attention, which is important in terms of following the Precepts and practice in general. My thought for the week-end is 'intention', the Precepts are all about intention: to follow, to refrain, to relinquish, to open to Compassion. And the intention to do the very best one can. It is enough.

That's the last Trog picture for now.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

M.E. Royal Free

For anybody who suffers from M.E. (also known as chronic fatigue syndrome)or knows somebody who does BBC Radio 4 magazine programme, You and Yours broadcast a series of programs on the subject. You can listen to the audio and there are also full transcripts. Here is David Puttnam (now Lord Puttnam) the film producer talking about the onset of ME.

I'd just come back from a trip to the Far East, I was at Columbia Pictures at the time, and I got - I'd only been back I think a day, day and a half - and I suddenly came up with this tremendous fever, it was extraordinary. And the doctors first of all - first of all being tested for Dengue Fever. I just remember dragging myself into bed and then for about a week - and this is not an exaggeration to say - when I needed to go to the loo it was literally like climbing Everest, I was - by the time I'd climbed back into the bed, been to the loo, I was covered in sweat and utterly exhausted, I was sort of dragging myself across the room. David Puttnam on You and Yours, BBC Radio 4

While still a novice monk at Shasta Abbey I came back to England on a 'family visit. It was 1986 and I remember distinctly reading an article about M.E. in the Sunday paper. At that time this crippling condition was not well known about, in fact it was still being called the Royal Free disease. So named after an outbreak of a strange disease at the Royal Free Hospital in London in 1955. There was much speculation, as there still is, about this condition being all being in the mind. As a fledgling priest I predicted I'd be counselling people while on their journey to get a diagnosis for their unrelenting, and strange, symptoms.

As it has turned out, over the years, I've had quite a lot to do with people suffering from M.E. I've a great sympathy for the mental/emotional suffering, as well as the physical conditions that these people live with, day in and day out. Come to think of it I even diagnose somebody as I was driving from Throssel to catch a train. We were chatting back and forth about his health and I just said, Hum, had you thought this might be M.E.? Turned out it was, sad to say.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sanding and Gritting

Trog, dog of the blog! Jazzy from Edmonton, eat your heart out.

Just having a bit of fun. I'd not want any cat fanciers to have their whiskers bent out of shape due to lack of cat photographs. Which reminds me of a cute cat event I witnessed the other day. Sadly I'd not got my camera with me at the time.

A new postulant was being instructed by the Head Novice. They were sitting in the novices common room gazing intently at a piece of paper on the table. Sitting on the table was Smudge, the novices cat. He was gazing at the paper intently too! It turned out that this was instruction on how, when and where to salt and grit the paths around the monastery. More signs that winter is approaching, not that we have that much snow. Ice, yes. Smudge will be out there stalking wildlife in the snow and ice, given half a chance.

A member of Trog's extended, human, family has recently died. This posting is offered in memory of the newly past on one, and for his family.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

O to Be a Senior - At Last

We met in the laundry room. Uh! My eyes hurt, it feel like Ive got sand in them, I said. We do tend to suffer from dry eyes, Ive a spare tube of Viscotears you can have. We? A moment’s pause. Ah yes, WE and our common concerns that come on with advancing age. I'd not have it any other way.

A couple of years ago I was in Redruth in Cornwall buying a train ticket, Are you a senior? No. Fast catching on to the chance of a reduced fare I ask how old do I have to be. Not old enough unfortunately but quite soon my time will come. Soon Ill join the we of my heros and heroines. Many of them are seniors like this woman from Scotland.

Jeanne Day greets the morning cheerfully. Up by 6.30am, she pulls on her tracksuit and heads out in to the bracing Fife air to walk a couple of miles over St Andrews' farmland. Then it's back home for some meditation, floor exercises and a breakfast of fruit. Between 9am and 6.15pm, she is available to teach but if she's not fully booked, she'll take in another long walk or do a spot of gardening, followed by a light supper and more gentle exercises on a cross-trainer. After 8pm, she's often on the phone with family and friends, or keeping up with her emails. Jeanne is 88 years old.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Defending One's Self

This evening we watched Downfall. The story of Hitler's last ten days as seen through the eyes of Gertraud "Traudl" Humps his youngest private secretary. She stayed with him in the bunker until almost the last moment and was present when Hitler shot himself. The film ends with Traudl walking through the invading troops, hand in hand with a small boy. How things went for her immediately after her escape was, in actual fact, a very different story.

Her death came close after the publication of her book and the premier of the film. Othmar Schmiderer, the producer of the documentary Blind Spot, was among the last people to speak to her. He quoted her as saying: "Now that I've let go of my story, I can let go of my life." From the Traudl Humps Obituary in the Guardian.

We see the now elderly secretary being interviewed* at the beginning and end of the film. I didn't see her defending herself, she was obviously disturbed and found it difficult to forgive the young girl of her past. As she said, she was letting go of her last.

*The interviews were part of Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, a 90 minite documentary directed by André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Over the Hills and Far Away

The woman behind the counter at Boots the Chemist had yellow fuzzy ears on. Owww! she said they do pinch. They're giving me a head ache. I'll ask them in the dispensary if they'll give me something. All in a good cause though. It's the BBC Children In Need fund raising day. Oh, and here's a £2 off voucher for hair care products. I'd got my hat on but she knew I was a monk. Well sometimes you grow some, don't you? Finally I agreed to accept the voucher and give it to somebody who could use it. At the electrical shop the man knew right away what size night-light bulbs I needed. The good people of Hexham know us through and through. I enjoy the familiarity of strangers, their kindness and their openness.

And later, after a Chinese lunch back at the monastery, back on the road again south to Harrogate. My chance to sample the tranquility of Northumberland. Perhaps however a tad more solitude than I'd intended having entered into yet another adventure with the TomTom satnav. Climbing up a thin ribbon of black, single track, tarmac out of Weardale I did wonder if this was the fastest or the shortest route I'd chosen. A distinction that is really important when it comes to travel in these parts. As the high moors opened in all their bleakness I'd have been glad of some familiarity of strangers, anybody even a sheep!

I last traveled this road over from Weardale to Teesdale on Good Friday 1990. I remember it well. I remember the stopping and opening and closing of gates, three of them this time! Even then the gates where potent symbols. I was on my way to Reading to be introduced into the ins and outs of running a small church, priory as we called them. That day marked a huge change, from living in the middle of moors to living in a notoriously rough housing estate. Thankfully I came to know that practice is not dependent on tranquil surroundings, I even came to see beauty in the litter blowing in the street.

A good friend is heading off for a big adventure tomorrow. I hope she experiences the kindness of strangers, and chooses the fastest route to return by. I'm still not sure if it was the fastest or the shortest route I took to Harrogate but it certainly gave me enough time and space to contemplate my friends adventure. In the end I chose not to say goodbye. Just good fortune.

To Leeds tomorrow for a day retreat and then back to the moors.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

May We Within the Temple of Our Own Hearts Dwell*

At some time in the past our local village, Allendale, was dubbed the centre of England. But that honour has now been claimed by Haltwhistle. It is a fairly ordinary looking place, neat with a couple of places to drink tea, a couple of shops for groceries, a revamped post office. Under the surface however more is going on.

Back in the summer a couple of our monks were invited to set up a publicity stall with photographs and leaflets of the monastery. This was part of a larger event put on to inform the judges of the Calor Village of the Year Award about what's available in the area.

Only recently did I hear that Allendale won!

Here is what they say: “The Calor Village of the Year competition is a great opportunity for rural communities to celebrate their vibrant and dynamic community spirit. This year we were privileged to visit five villages across England that did this in spades. I was so impressed by the energy, passion and leadership of these rural entrepreneurs – they love their communities. They managed to pack their village halls with literally hundreds of different people, activities, societies and community groups; at times there was hardly enough room for the judges. These villages successfully demonstrated their huge wealth of community spirit and determination to make their communities confident, cohesive and special places to live. The Plunkett Foundation believes in dynamic, vibrant and inspiring rural communities. We need to support the wealth of talent and local leadership that is still thriving deep within our rural villages and towns, as so ably demonstrated by the finalists in this year's Calor Village of the Year competition.”

Mean while over on Teeside, Middlesborough has a claim all of its own. "the worst place to live in the UK". At least one reader tells me he is glad the place of his youth has some kind of claim to fame.

And as if this isn't enough over at Lonely Planet they are talking about the North East as one of their must visit, must-see destinations in England and have dedicated a chapter about us: The book praises North East England, describing it as "the most exciting, beautiful and friendly region in the whole of England," with the region's rejuvenated cities, fascinating history as well as the dramatic Northumberland wilderness identified among the region's biggest draws.

Which all goes to show that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and entirely dependent on who is looking, why, and what at!

*This is a line from a scripture we sing in the evenings. Just a reminder of where to live, and make ones home.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bright Spirit

Lunch in Newcastle with a retired Chinese female paramedic from Malaysia. But before that a visit to an English funeral directors to deliver an empty ash urn. My companion took a healthy interest in our funereal arrangements, briskly scouting out the chapels of rest and the hearses. Modern sleek and shining, we have those. Horse and carriage with black feather plumes, humm. Motorbike and coffin side-car? No comment. Total incomprehension!

With the bemused secretary escorting us out my friend spoke matter-of-fact about ambulance driving and the one time she took out the fire engine. Because there was nobody else to drive it, and then fighting the fire too. Might as well help out.

The day continued in a free flowing, free wheeling way. In and out of Chinese supermarkets. Thankfully no mournful fish eyes gazing out of crinkly packets. A pit stop for lunch and chop stick practice. Then onwards to shop for an early Chinese New Year present. It was an exhilarating day out, she'd say we went outstation. Just one of the many expressions I reconnected with from my time in Malaysia, June 2005.

Best of all was reconnecting with the energy and bright spirit of Chinese Buddhism.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Light on Broken-ness

Ring the bells that still can ring,

forget your perfect offering,

there's a crack in everything,

that's how the light gets in.

Pictures taken today at Fountains Abbey. There is more information on the official web site too.

The Leonard Cohen poem came on a card from somebody who recently fell and broke her foot. ...and while I wouldn't have directly chosen this time of broken-ness, I am learning so much through it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Food for the Sick and the Thirsty

The altar set ready for the Feeding of the Hungry Ghosts ceremony held yesterday in Edmonton, Canada.

Nearly everybody has left after the retreat here at Throssel. This email arrived just now with news of a returning friend:
Dear Rev Mugo, Yes she arrived safe this afternoon complete with streaming cold. I have packed her off to bed with inhalations, chest rubbed with essential oils, lem-sip and hot lemon and honey so hopefully she will sleep well.

Thankfully I still have a supply of ColdFX, Edmonton's own answer to fighting off colds. It really works too.
Many thanks to Michael for the photograph.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Old Friends

Taking a trip
down memory lane.
Many old friends
gathered together.

These are the people
who I'm responsible to.
My heart is gladdened
to see so many again.

Crutches, a cast
fresh faces, liquid eyes.
Deep smiles and
sad tales to tell.

For a long week-end
together to sit.
To yarn and then...
they are gone home.

Uma who died about a month ago watches the snowy hillside from her vantage point.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Knock 'em Over

Jazzy the pug. In her youth, a couple of years ago, she had a modeling job. She trotted up and down at a dogie fashion show wearing the latest in dog attire. Mostly these days it's on with the red harness and out to amaze and amuse the world on Whyte Avenue, Edmonton. Jazzy, always the show stopper.

Overheard in a large store in Telford last week. Come on, let's knock 'em over Jim. A young father encouraging his small boy to leave behind the engaging toys. Parents as mates, parents as big friends and parents who protect. Parents who parent in a radically different way. Gone the authority figure, or only brought out when really needed. No better no worse a way, just different. If there is love and respect and tenderness parenting works, not and there is a struggle.

Knock 'em over Jazzy. No struggles and be careful out there this winter.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Robes Are For Life

There is quite a lot of wear and a huge tear in the robe I'm mending for one of the monks at the moment. I really enjoy the challenge. The cuffs, hem, collar and under arms are the most vulnerable areas for fraying and ripping. Sometimes material from a hem can be cut out and used to make a new collar thus giving the robe literally years more usable life. But one can only go so far. A hem can only be mended so many times before the whole thing is too short, cuffs likewise. Then there are stains to deal with. Oil, grease of any kind and paint are the worst although bleach stains, in the wrong place, can spell the end without any question.

When one wears the same thing day in and day out it's hard to retire it. My late Master would say with a kindly chuckle, You can take loyalty too far you know, when she'd see a monk walking about in robes well past retirement age. As a young monk I'd mend and patch for the senior monks who were too busy to do it themselves. I knew they would wear what they had into threads and when caught early enough I could extend its life considerably. However those older monks would take a lot of convincing when the moment really had come to hang up that robe for the last time. The one I'm dealing with at the moment will be good for a few more years when I've finished with it. Hurrah!

I'm thinking of robes because they are so closely associated with their inhabitants. After my Master died, eleven years ago to the day, I inherited one of hers. Having remade it to fit me, I wear it. Sometimes I think I wear it for her. When it's time has come though I'll be washing windows with it. You can take loyalty too far!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

All is Well Here

I left Telford Buddhist Priory at 9.00 am yesterday and arrived at Throssel around 4.00 pm. That's travelling by car then train and car again. This morning I felt like I was under a train, at least! The impact of covering distances at speed, even slow speed in yesterdays case, cannot be ignored any longer. Perhaps there has always been this pain, this road/rail lag as I think of it. Now with a few extra years on the clock, and hopefully less of a tendency to bash on, I'm giving myself permission to stay with it. That's to stay with the basic pain and allow all systems to re-calibrate, which happens in due time and with adequate rest.

All the same, and in spite of the pain, it is good to be out and about. In Germany a lay woman asked a question at a gathering about a certain consciousness of being around monks and her noting the difference. She was wondering aloud if one was 'better' than another, while at the same time knowing in her gut that there wasn't. This is a conundrum that frequently befalls the seriously minded, lay and monastic. There's many ways to answer but all I could come up with was that most of the time I don't have an awareness of being a monk. Also I don't think, 'I'm now talking to a lay practitioner', or a monk. The contact is more direct than that. What ever exactly I said it seemed to strike home. There is a difference in appearance of course. Robes and a shaved head are still how a monk appears in the world. However there is something deeper than how any of us appear.

Yesterday I travelled in what we call town clothes. We do that when it seems wise to be incognito. From Manchester to Carlisle the carriage, the quite coach in fact, became markedly rowdy. Then at Preston the P.A. announced, due to staff shortages, that the buffet car was now closed. The flow of beer slowed, the mood took a decided dip and turned a bit nasty as well. At times like this I'm glad of trousers, tops, hat and coat to sit inside of.

Alighting (a lovely train term), alighting at Carlisle and leaving the station I came exceptionally close to the whiskers of a mounted police mans horse! There were perhaps four or five in all along with a wall of policemen and women on foot. That's the closest I'd ever been to a police horse in my life. Even in demonstrations in the 1970's the most we ever saw was a truncheon. No guns and horses, if there were any, would be hanging back in a side street. What about us? I announced to an officer on foot as we passengers were being ushered firmly towards awaiting coaches, parked in readyness to transport the visiting football fans. The police ranks broke and I popped out into Carlisle town and was soon loaded into a waiting car and driven home

Just 24 hours later and I'm sensing that systems are close to being back to normal and my ability to string words together is returning, somewhat.

A kind monk had left a welcoming card in my room. Welcome back home Rev. Master Mugo, All is well here. Yes, all is very well here, within and without.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Images from Germany 1

I had a plan. Unfortunately it hasn't worked. So here are random photographs, rather than organized ones. They were taken while visiting one of our temples in the Black Forest in Germany. It is good to be back on the blogging trail once again.

This was too hard to resist. Bad means bath, this is a spar town, with baths.

Black Forest Gateaux.

The autumn colours were at their height and the forest was easily accessible. I was able to amble in the afternoon sunshine.

Bad Teinach

In this part of the Black Forest there are small wooden huts everywhere. A hut fanciers paradise if ever there was one. This hut next door to the temple is in poor repair, most are immaculate.