Diary: The Fox On The Kymin

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An ecstatic walk up The Kymin. For the first time in a long time, I have experienced joy in being completely alone. One is never alone in the woods. Everything here conspires to occupy your senses – bird song wreathes you in melodic clusters, and you feel the complete fullness in the emptiness of existence. The air is fresh with flavour, medicinal pine sweeping into my lungs – you just want to grasp every protruding piece of bark in your hands, like Mayan hieroglyphs, that are actually secret keys to organic space stations.

“I pause for a while by a country stile” opening onto a meadow, where, in the coming summer, one’s eyes will be blinded by bluebells. I see the visions of a century’s old boy perched on that stile, and feel impelled to access my own inner child, walking along the stile as on a bucolic tightrope, limbs wrapped around the wooden vine-posts overhead. I look down on a friend’s hilled mansion and marvel at the power altitude can lend to perspective.

I feel happy standing here – all else ceases to matter; no interruptive thirst for conversation, or brooding desire to be touched, when I am already touched by the penetrative essence of the wood. Everything glistens – every rock is a jewel – and the trunks of old trees are the gnarled faces of old men; sylvan spirits that find beauty in the grotesque.

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There are wood nymphs, too, of course – a whole panoply of fair folk, dancing in ecstatic procession behind The Spring Queen of the wood, somehow still gentle, even in the maddest of their March-mad antics.

But the view on top of The Kymin beside The Round House is unrivalled – it is addictive; you look at anything else, and it only makes you want to look at it more. There is a beauty to the cluster of town houses in that expanse of free landscape; and I pick out all the places I am used to experiencing at insect-level: the row of path-lining aspens down Vauxhall Fields – the single oak that stands as an Axis Mundi in its centre – the spire of St. Mary’s – and the many Welsh mountains beyond.

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Families chatter around the railings – unappreciative parents stuck in irritable protection mode – imagination-led children – and people picnicking in a square field circumscribed by electric wire.

It is interesting to hear how birdsong develops this time of year. Robins, who whistle so thinly, sadly, in winter, become full-throated. Blackbirds, who began singing at the end of February, uninspired, and repeating the same half-meant phrases, as though cleaning the cobwebs from their syrinxes, have now really taken to their theme. You can hear the languor-suppressed passion and excitement in every phrase they sing, occasionally taking the best-loved phrases of their combatants, and then striving to make them better, like duelling saxophonists and trumpet players in a throbbing bebop band. I have occasionally heard the explosive rapture of the blackcap, but I do not think they are in full-concerto mode quite yet.

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But, until The Universe grants me more longevity in love, Nature will remain my First Woman. I shall cling to her – hide myself in the verdancy of her bejewelled clothing; loving getting to know even smallest parts of her – the flowering of wood anemone – the perfect meditation mats of mineral-encrusted boulders – the primroses, common speedwells, forget-me-nots – the effortless affability of daffodils – the duelling riverine currents of The Monnow and The Wye.

There’s something deeply therapeutic about the sun in spring and summer; the way it penetrates your skin and sinks inside your soul, chasing even the weediest of your dark thoughts away.

But now for the crème-de-la-crème: while still sat on my woodland stile, without either of us thinking of it, a fox sauntered unexpectedly by. His coat was faded from dirt and hunger – but I was so awe-inspired, honoured, majestified at having this prince of creatures stood so near to me, that I sat there, slack-jawed, unable to look away.

But, once we’d both gotten over this little spell, as though returning to the normal rules of things, he scampered over the new-grassing meadow, intermittently looking back to see what I was doing – a fox looking back at a fox. Sylvan muse indeed!

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***

There is something very shocking about spring now. I am so much impaled on the point of every moment, that each moment seems eternal. Like laying on the slope in Chippenham Park yesterday, nailed to the ground by the rays of the sun. I felt like I would always be there – and, in the intensity of mixed joy and heavy pain, I had little to prove me otherwise.

And now, sat here, blue tit and great tit beeping out to one another in crystalline Morse code, I can feel the light heaviness of that eternity again – just page and pen, page and pen – on and on into the sunset.

I’m definitely feeling healed now.

Coming up here is one of the best things I could have done.

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Meditation: The Thingsness of Things

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After finishing my meditation lesson yesterday, one of my students noted how they always felt they experienced reality differently after a deep meditation. While reality usually felt quite bland or flat to them, after a good meditation, he said everything felt richer, deeper, more three-dimensional and solid. As we had just done a meditation on the nature of emptiness, I was quite surprised to hear him use the word ‘solid,’ until I realized he was talking about The Thingness of Things: a phrase I use which describes experiencing each thing and phenomena exactly as it is, at its utmost blistering intensity.

Most of the time, we only relate to things and phenomena in a very half-assed and dispirited way. We pass a tree we walked past yesterday; we greet a person we see every morning; we unknowingly hear a birdsong that follows us everywhere we go. Because these things have become habitual for us, we treat each of these things – the tree, the friend, the birdsong – as though it is something static, stuck in time, that can never satisfy or delight us. Because we have seen it a thousand times, it has become dull, mundane, and humdrum according to our benumbed senses, always looking for new pleasures, new experiences, new desires.

The tragic thing about this view is that it is incorrect. Every moment is new, every moment is unique, every moment has its own special character that well never be repeated ever again, not even if infinity were to bend over, poke its head between its legs, and eat its own scrotum. Newness is the fundamental nature of each experience – always new, always shocking, always vibrant.

So why don’t most us feel that vividity and uniqueness? It is because of our habituations, and how we have allowed our insecurities to mute the palette of these rich, vibrant moments. We claim we want new, exciting experiences. But most of us are terrified of change, and of anything that threatens the illusory security of our habitual routines. To really experience the uniqueness and freshness of each moment would mean being open, vulnerable, receptive, insecure – it would mean letting down the barrier of our cold comforts, erroneous certainties, and beliefs, and instead just letting things be as they are.

Shine/shamatha meditation teaches us to do this. By mindfully resting in the uniqueness of each moment, without weighing it, analyzing it, or assessing it, we no longer fear being afraid of the startling shock of every moment. This, in turn, effects how we experience reality, post meditation. Each moment, each second becomes like a new century, a new epoch, which disturbs and delights us with its instantaneously known unknownness. Colours become more colourful. Every touch becomes more erotic. Sounds become more soundy. Even things that usually annoy us suddenly become palaces of wealthy delight that cause us to loosen with fertile appreciation.

All this spell-binding depth and luxury can be returned to your reality, just by learning to be still, and rest with all of your feelings and thoughts.

Squeezing the Breast of Death

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In a world where death is an absolute certainty, we will all inevitably have to face what we fear the most. This certainty and fear lurks behind just about all our neuroses, delusions, and obsessions in this life.

We are obsessed with fulfilling our desires as quickly as possible, because we know we might die at any moment, and are afraid that, if we don’t seize them now, we will never get a chance to again. Because desires such as these are born of fear, they generally do little but generate more fear in the process, by making us obsessed with reaching for things that are beyond our current experiences.

The same can also be said of all our ambitions. We know our lifespan is limited, and so we want to do something meaningful with our lives, even though we’re often seldom certain of what shape such meaningfulness should take.

Even though we know we will all die, we still act as though we will not, and put it as far outside our perception as possible, coddled by comforting articles about how everyone will live to one hundred, and cryogenic freezing will make it possible for us all to live forever.

When someone dies, or something comes to an end, we often remark on what a ‘shock’ it is. But given the statistical certainty of it, how shocking can it be? Really, the truly shocking, miraculous thing is to wake up every morning and discover that anything is still here –that anything still vaguely possesses the same form! That is the miracle! That is the fragile delight we should celebrate and be amazed by!

Instead of ignoring death, the Buddhist approach is to embrace death and impermanence, and to factor that awareness into everything we experience. However lovely or painful something is, we remind ourselves that it too will pass, and so we cherish and appreciate it, whilst not making things more difficult for ourselves by foolishly clinging onto it, thinking it will last forever.

In this sense, meditation is very much like practising for death.

In meditation, we rest our attention in nothingness, and dissolve all our senses and perceptions into one. Unlike in our day to day activities, when our mind is usually focused on a set of specific sensory experiences, in meditation our consciousness rests nowhere in particular.

Because our consciousness rests in emptiness, it is experientially closer to death. This is why The Tibetan Book of the Dead is praised as a manual for both living and dying. By teaching us to prepare for and experience death whilst still living, it fundamentally enriches our sensitivity to life.

With enough experience, death and life no longer appear to be starkly contrasted poles, but instead a seamless continuity. We see death in life and life in death. We are aware that we are already dead whilst living, because we were never truly born to begin with.

When such an awareness becomes crystalline and informs our daily life, death truly loses its sting, and becomes something to rejoice in.

 

 

Bum Appreciation Day

People pose during a performance at the Ernst Happel soccer stadium in Vienna

It just occurred that toilet paper, one of our most used necessities, is all just to feed our bums, and keep them nice and clean and happy. How special our bums should feel at having such attention and commodities showered upon them! Isn’t it great having a bum? Let’s celebrate having bums. PARTY!

By extension, whilst I realize I’m often aware of my own bum and how delightful it is, I do not feel I spend enough time acknowledging other people’s bums, and telling them how delightful they are. Perhaps we should have a Bum Appreciation Day, and go around telling everyone how nice their tuchises are. Everyone would be so happy. It would be such a great way to make everyone feel loved and included. Isn’t it nice to share?

Groundlessness

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One of the most important teachings in Buddhism is the Mahayana doctrine of Shunyata. This doctrine teaches us that everything we experience – right down to the senses we use to experience – is nothing more than pure, radiant, empty space.

This notion is very difficult for most people to grasp. To us, experientially, most things appear to be physical, tangible, graspable, almost fixed in their solidity. But, even quantum physicists proved that reality is fundamentally empty – that the atoms and particulates that seem to comprise reality are largely constituted from empty space.

In this regard, reality is no more than empty space masquerading as solidity. It is like watching a film at the cinema. The figures on screen may look very real, as though you are literally watching this scene unfolding in the flesh in front of you. But, on investigation, we find that it is nothing more than an arrangement of lights being projected onto an empty screen.

Empty light.

And a blank screen.

So, behind all displays of multiplicity, color, and movement, there is always that primal, simple, changeless empty awareness lurking beneath.

Physicists were very disturbed when they discovered this about reality, because it seems to go against our most basic experiences of the world.

However, Shunyata is not just an esoteric doctrine – it is something we can directly apprehend and experience through meditation.

But, Shunyata is no less troubling when we experience it, than when we merely conceptualize it. In the same way that Quantum Physics troubled scientists and caused them to question everything they knew about reality, Shunyata has very much the same effect on the meditator who experiences it directly.

Realizing there is nothing but empty space, we become profoundly uprooted. Everything that we had relied upon, thinking it to be solid, fixed, and permanent, we soon discover to be fluid, impermanent, and ever-changing. There is nothing for us to grasp or take refuge in any more.

Everything become groundless.

Even though this groundless empty space is so essentially healing, loving, nourishing, relaxing and aware, it is such a shock to the system to discover it is everywhere, that it can actually trigger a sense of terror and panic in us. Where can I go? What can I cling to? Where is the safe house I can hold onto to keep me safe from the vagaries of the world?

The answer is nothing, nowhere, and no one.

Life is dangerous, perilous, and can be extinguished at any possible moment.

This knowledge should not be a cause for sadness – rather it should be something we rejoice in, and take delight in. Instead of fleeing the fear, we should embrace it, and learn to feel grounded in groundlessness.

This groundedness is not based on anything we are attached to or reliant upon – instead, it is grounded in the confidence of our awareness of the indestructible nature of ultimate reality.

For that ultimate reality is emptiness, and it is indestructible.

It is this groundlessness which we should be grounded in.

Knowing this can give us a great sense of bravery and pride at living at all. Even the solid earth beneath us is like shifting sand that could break or give way at any moment. And yet, here we are, courageously still living, defiantly still living and experiencing in a house filled with traps and beauty.

Through embracing this impermanence and uncertainty, we find that all things we love and cherish in life are also the most fragile. The flowers we love to see and smell die after they’ve barely bloomed; all our love affairs, friendships, and relationships could end at any moment, whether from death, distance, an ill-timed argument, or any number of other circumstances. A baby can be born from a sexual union so brief, it couldn’t even be measured as a wink in the fullness of infinity.

Everything is always coming together, falling apart, and then coming back together again.

It all comes and goes from that emptiness.

So what is there to be afraid of?

Ground yourself in groundlessness – face everything you fear to fear – and your fears will go away.

 

Mindful Love

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The Chaos of Love

Everybody wants to experience love and loving relationships in their life.

But, very few people question their true motives for wanting a relationship, or contemplate just how deeply and violently love will impact every level of their life.

In wanting love without fully understanding it, we are like people who want to sail in the middle of a dangerous ocean, without first learning to swim – we will very quickly find ourselves overwhelmed.

This is why love is so powerful. Because it is so overwhelming, and can seem so chaotic, yet harmonious, it forces us to radically face who we are. Love is the ultimate leveller of the playing field. It strips all the certainties and illusions out of life, and forces us to face what we have always hidden from – ourselves, and the nature of reality itself.

We may think we are all different. But, in love, we are all the same. Once in love, we all have the capacity to experience the highest of happinesses and the deepest sorrows, as well all the jealousy, madness, passion, tranquillity, self-grasping, and self-losing that comes in-between.

Because love makes us all the same, it helps us to disentangle from the bondage of our egos which always want us to be better than everyone else. Love empowers us by making us humble. By lovingly placing the importance of all beings before us, we become important to all beings.

A Question of Love

So, we have two choices when faced with love:

  1. We can be self-grasping, and flee from it, not having the bravery to face our own vulnerability.
  2. Or we can be self-losing, and completely surrender ourselves to love. We allow it deconstruct and destroy us, so we come out the other side, selfless, gentle, and fearless.

This is why I ask you to be mindful in Love, and to always question your own motives. In loving someone, and wanting to be intimate with them, are you willing to be completely honest, open and free with them? Or is it just a subtle case of manipulation, in which you use that person in order to increase your own gratification?

Many of us do the latter, without even realizing it. We want relationships that promise to resolve all our problems, and make our lives luxurious, easy, and comfy.

Taking the clothes off your Heart

But love is not easy. It is most difficult and challenging thing we can ever face. It uproots every illusion we’ve ever held about life, and gives us a chance to confront and come to terms with our most selfish aspects.

In this respect, our lovers or partners are not cushions against the blows of life. Instead, they are like warrior teachers, who constantly test the depths of our selflessness. They challenge us to commit to being completely authentic in absolutely every situation, regardless of how terrifying and groundless that may feel.

In the same way that we must take off our clothes off to make love, we must take the clothes off of our hearts in order to be love.

A naked heart is a brave heart, and the only one worth having.

And if you are brave enough to do that, than you are brave enough to love.

Animal Blog: Wild Robins and Domesticated Humans

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I was just in the garden, watching two robins fight, and fend off one another against their territories, when I was struck by a crucial difference in which animals relate to their world.

When observing wild animals in nature, we seldom see any genuine displays of clumsiness. Even though the fight must have come as a shock to both of the robins, and adrenaline must have been pumping, because all wild animals are thoroughly grounded in living states of constant vigilance and alertness, even shock is beautifully embraced and perfectly responded to as one of the perfect vicissitudes of nature.

After the initial explosive contact of the robins, both of them scattered on either side of my pool, and flitted about, upright and proud, ready for the next move. Everything in this display was so perfectly arranged and harmonized, it was almost like the whole thing had been pre-choreographed by some Grand Harmonizer, and the two fighting birds were following the dynamic of this pre-set structure.

The reason the two birds were able to respond with such agility and dignity, is because they have The Way. They live in accordance with the principles and methods of nature. They know their environment with an alarming and effortless thoroughness. They simply know how to respond to things, because their sense of involvement and integration with the world is exceedingly refined.

We do not see this refinement in domesticated animals, who have usually been separated from their environments, and been subject to such comfort and docility, that they begin to become clumsy, because that sense of relating to a living environment has gone.

We especially do not see this in Domesticated Humans who live in environments that have purposely been rendered null and dead. There is no sense of responding to what is in our environments, because most of what is in our environments is automated and man-made. It is expected to respond to us, and not the other way round.

Because of this, our sense of organic responsivity has become desiccated. Everything shocks and stresses us, because out artificial environments have tricked us into thinking that everything should be soft, comfortable, and capable of ordering and managing at the press of a button. Without the hardships of a living world to test and challenge us, our hardships become softships, which only render us winy, irritable and feeble. Comfy sofas, cinema-sized TVs, and mechanized espressos have taken all the physical and mental training out of life.

This is why the two things that people complain about the most are the weather and other humans. Amongst our world where we have ignorantly deceived ourselves into thinking we control all the variables, other humans, and the natural forces of our environment, are two things the majority are incapable of manipulating or controlling. We cannot change the attitude or actions of those around us just by briefly pushing a button. We must interact with them fully in order to understand and transform them, simultaneously transforming ourselves in the process, because there is no self and other. Other humans are the only things that still test our responsivity.

And, for this, we should always be grateful to them, no matter how belligerent, difficult, or challenging they are. Because, in a dead environment, interacting with other humans is the only thing that keeps us human. They are constant tester of our Integrity and Authenticity.

Thus I thought as I saw two robins fight on the edge of my pool.

TAO TE CHING TEACHINGS: A MOTHER’S HEART

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“Engendering and nurturing

Creating life without owning it”

These lines describe the maternal aspects of the Tao that we must work to practice in ourselves. In Buddhism, there is the quality of Bodhicitta – a heart filled with compassion and wisdom, driven to attain happiness and libertation from suffering for all beings.

When we develop this quality, we become as a mother to all beings. We regard all beings as if they were our children; looking upon them as Buddhas and wish-fulfilling jewels, always willing to bow to the divinity within them. This practice is the supreme way of feeling true love for all beings, and eliminating any of the negativity or attachment we might otherwise feel towards them.

Ultimately, it about cultivating Selfless Love – love that is  – not love that has. This is the distinction of the line ‘Creating life without owning it.’ If we love something, and expect to get something out of it in turn, then we have fallen into a pit. Merely feeling love for any being is a gift in and of itself – such a love does not need to be actuated or reified in anyway.

But, as soon as we expect something from the thing we love – expecting it to give something back to us, even though it has already given us the insurpassable gift of experiencing love – then this is like taking a shit on a shooting star. We have taken purity, and debased it, by making demands of it. Never ask how the thing you love can serve you – only how you can selflessly serve it.

Tao Te Ching Teachings: Shining Forth

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“Shine forth

Your pure enlightenment everywhere

Without doing a thing”

When we first set forth on the Way, helping and benefiting people is something that we have to actively try and do. It’s something that takes effort, and which has to be forced due to our conditioning. But, as we progress, and we become more and more enlightened, we find we help people not through doing, but through being. Our mere cultivation and vibrational rate benefits people – we do not have to consciously direct it.

There are plenty of stories like this in the biographies of holy men. Paul Ekman, the leading expert in body language, had long suffered from problems in anger management. But, after holding The Dalai Lama’s hand for several minutes during a Buddhist-scientific dialogue, his daughter reports that his temper was almost completely curtailed following the experience.

Striving soon becomes non-striving – benefiting through action eventually turns into benefit through non-action.

TAO TE CHING TEACHINGS: Opening Heaven’s Gates

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“Opening all of Heaven’s gates

Become like a female bird

Incubating her eggs”

Heaven’s gates refers to many things. It does refer to the energy channels within us, our chakras or dantian, and how they interact with the rest of the universe, but, ultimately, the biggest gate we find is the one that opens when we become willing to throw our limited human mentality away. The third eye and crown chakras in particular are often referred to as heavenly gates.

How do we open these gates? Meditation, internal alchemy, visualization, chanting, music, honesty in expression and life, healing, and perseverance in practice. These heavenly gates are also influenced by the movements of the stars, as well as other types of interactive energetic phenomena.

When these gates open, and energy flows naturally as it should, without being blocked or obstructed, a sense of wholeness is produced – the myriad parts of our being, life, and awareness all become a concerted unity. Taoist alchemists were very fond of saying that this precious orb, the sense of full round perfection should be carefully managed and nurtured at all times, like a chicken guarding her eggs, or an oyster enclosing its pearl. It is something precious, and should never be squandered or compromised. An egg is a source of life. Let go of this sacred pearl, and you will be letting go of life.