Claw Marks & Letting Go

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    A Dharma Glimpse by Philip

    I have been listening to a track by Jon Hopkins, an English musician and producer of electronic and piano driven music, called ‘Sit around the Fire’ recently.  I love it the track has human connectivity; it was recommended by one templemate to another, who then played it to me in his car on a trip over to the Sugar Loaf café in West Malvern.  One of my favourite places in Malvern which now has a multitude of memories connected to it.  This was one such memory.   

    The track is based around a talk, or talks, by Ram Dass, an American spiritual leader according to Wikipedia.  He has a calming, memorising voice to me.  One part which struck me, and I’ve been reflecting on, is his suggestion to quiet your mind and open your heart.  How do you quiet the mind?  He suggests you meditate. How do you open your heart?  He suggests you love that which you can love, such as a tree, a person or an animal, and keep expanding it until you reach the source behind all of it.  I start to be able to quieten my mind.  Not always, but sometimes.  Really opening my heart is trickier, but I’m working on it.  I wonder if there’s also a need to let go……..   

    I’ll tell you a short story.  I was out walking on the beautifully named, and pretty visually pleasing, Half Moon Bay in Heysham up here in the north-west recently.  There’s a strangely beautiful contrast for me between the brutalist human architecture of Heysham nuclear power station at the end of the bay (from the direction I come from anyway) and the natural architecture of the bay; it’s lush greenery, sinuous coastline, multitude of different shaped, sized and shaded pebbles on the beach, and the flat, serene (at least on this day!), slightly murky, but nevertheless mesmerising, water.  It hit me; I am causing myself unnecessary suffering by clinging on to things.  I have been thinking of something specific recently in terms of clinging, but this truth hit me like a bolt from the blue so that, for a brief moment, I could see and feel it with total clarity.   It felt like a real dharma glimpse of which I don’t have many, if any!  There is already much pain there in this case, and I could see how I’m clinging on to something that has gone, or perhaps was never really there, is adding more pain.  Attachment and impermanence suddenly came alive rather than merely words and concepts my ears hear, my brain processes, but which haven’t really gone down into the murky depths of my being.   

    Later on that day I was reminded of a saying Dayamay passed on to me a year or two back; “I never let go of anything that hasn’t got my claw marks all over it” (apparently attributed to David Foster Wallace, an American author, according to the internet – almost unintended alliteration there!).  Maybe it’s the human condition to cling on.  Cling on for dear life at different times and for different parts of us maybe all the time.  Maybe it’s our survival instinct as much as our ego, greed and stupidity.  Maybe they’ll all inter-related.  Maybe, for many of us, we’re simply petrified to sit with our minds, open our hearts, and let go knowing impermanence and suffering are inevitable.  Doing those things, I think, requires immense courage, effort and, ultimately, compassion.  And wisdom to know we’ll never do them perfectly, slipping back into old ways and habits time and time again.  Thank goodness Amitabha Buddha accepts me just as I am and that I can take refuge at any time to help me quieten my mind, open my heart and let go.  At least bit by painstaking, but beautiful, bit. 

    Namo Amida Bu. 

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    A series of haiku inspired by River of Fire, River of Water

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    Dharma Glimpses by Sonia

    Hyacinth bulbs break
    Free in darkness, seek out light —
    Dizzying blue heights.

    Dandelion clocks puff
    Pretty drift; weeds gently checked
    Make way for clover.

    Yarn pulled loose unravels
    My winter shawl: shape new skeins.
    Namo Amida Bu.

    Through flame, valley, wave,
    Cave, mount, maze, weaves golden thread —
    Namo Amida Bu.


    Namo Amida Bu —
    Touched by light, awaken now —
    Namo Amida Bu.


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    The warmth of the cup

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    Dharma Glimpse by Frankie Carboni

    Very early morning, before the sun rises, and before anything or anybody is awake, has always felt special to me. It has an intimacy, a quietness, a kind of privacy. I feel completely immersed in the solitude that I love.

    This particular morning, it must have been around 5.00am, I got quietly out of bed, went to the kitchen and made myself a cup of tea in my oversize teacup, more of a bowl with a handle really. A teabag squeezed, no milk, sugar or lemon, then back to bed. I didn’t want to wake anyone so I switched on the torch on my phone and turned it face down on my small turquoise diary – that way the light diffuses softly just enough for me to see by.

    I cupped the tea bowl in my hands, enjoying its warmth. I could hear my husband’s deep sleep breathing beside me and feel the warmth of our little dog curled against my thigh under the duvet. There were no other thoughts arising. I wasn’t thinking about the day ahead or the books I’m reading or this morning’s Wordle. I was simply appreciating the warmth of the cup, of the bed, the presence of my two companions. I wasn’t thinking gratitude in either words or images.

    And quite suddenly, as I sipped my tea, I felt the Nembutsu; I heard, but not as a voice and not with my ears the words Namo Amida Bu. I hadn’t summoned them, they spontaneously arose from – where?

    Some time previously I had been reading about the Name that Calls. I had wondered what that even meant and how it could ever be experienced. I had tried, as I recited the Nembutsu, to imagine it calling back. I had faith that it was a possibility but felt equally that I may never experience it.

    And yet….there it was, clear as a bell, sweet and warm and strong.

    I know I should be careful not to cling to this experience or try to replicate it; it wouldn’t matter if it never happened again (although it has). Because that’s not the point. A glimpse of Other Power, of the Dharma gently manifesting, was enough to inspire a feeling of such rightness and oneness, of Faith.

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    A Dharma Glimpse by Maria Trotter

    Today has been a strange day indeed. It began with snow on the hills – in March – and a slightly annoying pulsing headache as I reluctantly got out of bed. “There has been so much going on recently!” – I thought as I went though the morning routine, my cats jumping under my feet, begging for food. They say you can’t fool the cats trying to conceal your emotions and if you’re nervous, they’ll know. 

    I have resigned from my job and accepted a new one to start in a couple of months. I’ve embarked on a new spiritual journey. I have got a new harp and this has opened a whole world of musical possibilities which I’ve started exploring straight away. I’ve been getting ready for a very busy holiday, arranging transport and accommodation, packing and booking events. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Of course it does – to me.

    I have been observing my cats run around the house and try to play with the new harp. Maybe they are a bit more jumpy than normal? Maybe they are hiding under the sofa too much when the doorbell rings? Suddenly Cassie is not as keen on her wet food and Starbuck jolts when I’m trying to pet him.

    Are my cats excited about all this change – harp covers and suitcases around the house? Of course not – they are petrified! They don’t understand what’s going on, all they can see is disruption to their daily routine. As they jump carelessly under my feet, they are trying desperately to get my attention away from all of my personal worries. I haven’t been checking in with them – or with my husband for that matter – as I have been jumping myself, from one appointment to the other, one problem to the other, my inner manager taking over more and more of my personal life.

    Sometimes our lives move at pace and being aware of impermanence, we accept that change is part of the game. But change shouldn’t make us ignorant and swipe away our capacity for empathy and care for those around us. Maybe the annoying headache has been here today to remind me that now is the time to slow down and check in with my family. Maybe they are struggling with something that I have just taken for granted. Maybe they feel like I’ve been slipping away from them. Maybe “getting over it” is not always a good option. Maybe we all need to step back a bit before we move forward. Maybe I have been so wrapped up in the pace of change that I’ve sacrificed the mindfulness of moving through this change in life.

    As I’m writing this, my headache is slowly dissipating. Maybe now I’m starting to move with the right pace!

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    Blue sky, turning grey

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    Dharma Glimpse by Sonia

    There’s a regular walk I take, I enjoy it, but sometimes it’s just a tick list job, a kind of mental and physical health chore. How did these things become chores? I’ve done the walk many times without having the faintest idea where I am or how I got there. Sometimes I use the walk as time for nembutsu. Often I put on headphones and listen to an audiobook to stop the spiral of thoughts. Lately I try to stop at least once, in the middle of the park and check – have I looked at the green? The sky? The hills? Is that enough? Would I like to look again? It’s a huge pull to be able to know if I need to spend longer, if I’m enjoying myself, to understand what I need more or less of. And I suppose if we don’t understand those things, if we are so disconnected, it makes sense that everything becomes a chore.

    One of the things I hope for from the Dharma is an increased sense of joy, meanwhile the job of some thinking parts is to diminish everything. I thus find myself in a mental battleground. It’s exhausting. At some point there will be some light, some opening, some sense of worth (Freudian slip, I had meant to write ‘warmth’)—but it’s not this current point. And I also know what expansion feels like, know that it is somewhere waiting to be found. And it’s better to be in this waiting place, to remember we are always ‘becoming’ as an answer to those parts that are telling me I am being ungracious, ungrateful for all that I do have.

    So, I’ll wait it out and keep moving through my tick list. Have I looked at the green? The sky? The hills? And maybe I’ll take the time to play with words, instead of them playing with me, and beat them at their own game…

    Blue sky, turning grey—
    Below, crisp fields are waiting,
    Hopeful for the storm.

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    If all else fails…

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    A Dharma Glimpse by Paramita

    I noticed some of the usual heroic impulses arising in me on my first day of Chaplain duties in the prison that I work at. A certain energy in the enthusiasm that I felt rang some familiar bells that usually serve to alert me to the dangers of the trap doors of my ego.

    I’ve got quite powerful rescuer parts that are very keen to charge in on the proverbial white horse and snatch the needy and vulnerable from the jaws of danger. But my experience tells me that it doesn’t tend to work like that. Usually, the subjects of my crusade immediately smell a rat and put up their barriers to religion, thereby rendering them immune to the intended message.

    I have realised over the years that, what I can learn from this is to try my best not to make it about me. I’m lucky enough to get to hold a sacred space, and in that space some of them may or may not have an experience which inspires them. But the chances are that if anything good does happen, it won’t be due to the fruits of my intellectual capacity or my practice skills or my dazzling charisma, although those things can help and may contribute towards the arising of good conditions. It will more likely be because I was able to step back and allow something else to shine through me. Which is a skill in and of itself.

    A large part of the basis for my relationship with Amida is my soul deep understanding that I am perfectly imperfect – prone to attacks of self-delusion and grandiosity and, often, just downright foolish.
    When I know how vulnerable I am to the whims of my ego, and how inhibiting this can be to practice, work, relationships, etc, I am in a better position to surrender to grace; to allow Amida in rather than crowding him/her/it/them out with self-centred pretensions and personal agendas.

    It seems to me that the essence of what we receive from the Buddha, our practice and each other is often transmitted without our conscious involvement. We don’t really have to do anything. Grace shines through us as a natural by-product of being in relationship with Amida.

    And so, I am reminded of a saying, somewhat tongue in cheek, that we used to repeat to each other when preparing to teach in 12 step circles:

    “Carry a message, and if all else fails, use words.”

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    Time at home

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    Dharma Glimpse by Karmadeva

    Recently I’ve noticed that I’m spending far more time at home. Over the past few years, probably seven years I’ve spent much of my time “doing things”. I’d go to the gym and train a little, then spend hours just sitting by the pool. Meditation at lots of different venues was another of my activities. Or overtime at work, spending two or three nights a week on our helpline. 

    Whilst all of the above are enjoyable, worthwhile even,  they don’t need to be done every night. There was no time to just sit and relax at home. My home didn’t really have a homely feel to it. Most rooms nearly bare except for essential items. That would include a TV, although I don’t watch many programs. Lately I tend to be home more, I still do all of those activities but not as long spent doing them. My ex wife passed away two years ago. Although we had been separated for some time we remained friends. When you have known a person all your adult life it’s odd not seeing them, and of course we had children and grandchildren to consider. Before she died she had spent two years having treatment, a difficult time for her and our children. Three years before my ex wife became unwell my daughter and granddaughter, who had both lived with me moved out. My daughter had met someone and decided to share her life with them. Whilst happy for her I’d never lived alone. I lived with my mother and step father and went straight to my wife, then my adult daughter lived with me. Now I  realise that the activities were my way of coping. Firstly with being alone then the helplessness of my ex wife’s illness. The activities were my clinging. I missed the company of my daughter and granddaughter, although happy for them and thier new life I was distressed at being alone and so looked for things that would take up my time. This would allow me to move on. When my ex wife became unwell I hid behind the activities. Now as I get used to the idea of my daughter being happy, she has two more children both girls and beautiful, I’m tending not to cling. I’m finding my new life is okay, I’m happy to sit alone and enjoy reflecting on my day, pottering around doing bits and pieces in my home. I’ve actually purchased a number of items for my home, put up photos etc. it feels like a home, I do have a bedroom for my grandkids. It has their drawings on the walls and is decorated for them. 
    I cook more and even have my children round for Sunday lunch, and babysitting with my 17 year old granddaughter, she’s their big sister who lived with me. So different now. Although my life has changed it’s still full of beautiful people and lots to do. And lots not to do, slow down learn to relax and enjoy my own company sometimes. Most of all be grateful for what I have, don’t cling to the past and concentrate on today. 

    Namo Amida Bu. 

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    Big life, small life

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    Dharma Glimpse by Emily

    This line of thought will have no resolution since it’s new to me, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a “big life” vs a “small life.” I was talking with one of the monastics about how my first year or two in Zen was the happiest period of my life. I didn’t think about anything else. Every hour of my day was full, I woke up at 5:30, went to temple to sit, eat, and clean, went to one job, had an hour for lunch, went to my other job, had an hour for dinner, went to temple again, came home and showered and went to bed at 9 to do it again the next day. I made meal offerings with a full prayer before every meal, at the altar. During spring and fall, I wrote the text we were studying on high pieces of paper and taped them to the walls of my apartment. I was very, very happy. It’s important to know that I was very mentally unwell when I came to Zen, so I had essentially forgotten about the world as I was healing through practice. When I told this to the monastic last week, she said I had had a very small life, and it can be easier to be happy in a small life. Also that I can’t go back.

    I think she’s right, I was very happy in my small life. Over the years, I became more aware of things outside that I felt like I was missing out on. Friends outside of Zen, cute clothes that didn’t cover my shoulders and knees, TV and people to talk about it with, vices. At first, when I left I was overjoyed at feeling connection to all the people outside of Zen, life got very big. But it’s much lonelier, even though I feel every person got more accessible, it makes me a very little fish in a big pond, instead of a medium fish in a medium pond back in my little Zen world. Of course, NYC is known for this, it’s very lonely despite there being so many people. Who knows what percentage of people are just the same, living in some little 8″x8″ room with few to no connections in a city of 8.5 million?

    Anyway, my main point is, is there something wrong morally or spiritually with a very small life? I’m not sure I’m doing anyone any more good now in the big wide world than I was in my little world. But it feels like something is wrong with making a little world to be happy in? Why does it feel that way? I think because, for me, it meant disconnection from everyone “outside.” But are my new feelings of kinship with everyone actually benefitting me or them? How can I make it benefit? Am I and others better off if I just make a new little world?

    What do you do for people in a city where most people don’t want to be interacted with in public, myself included? Here, if you are crying on the train, it’s actually a kindness for everyone to ignore it. I know that seems odd to anyone not here, but you have to understand that there is no private life here, almost no one lives without roommates and everyone can hear you all the time. So it’s a kindness to give each other this pretend privacy. So, that said, what does connection even look like here? I guess it means going places where people are actually looking for it, but isn’t that making a little world then?

    I hope this counts as a dharma glimpse, if nothing else it’s a glimpse for you about this city. And to me, this is the Dharma, giving some thought to things, questioning things.

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    The spider in its web

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    Dharma Glimpse by Sam

    ‘In the corner of my room, I see a spider in its web. It’s been there a few days now – I don’t mind its company. But I wonder how the spider feels. I haven’t seen any flies lately, so I don’t imagine it has caught any.

    Is the spider hungry and frustrated? Or is it happy, just chilling in its web, in its element, doing what it was made to do?

    I suppose spiders may not have evolved to experience those feelings of frustration in the same way that humans do, because what purpose would it serve? The spider cannot do much else but sit in its web and wait. As human beings, we get frustrated and impatient because there are usually other things we can try, and the painful feelings are our mind’s way of telling us that it is time to try something else.

    But we humans are foolish beings, and our response to those feelings are not always helpful. ‘The computer isn’t working, I’ll try hitting it.’ Sometimes there isn’t anything to do but wait. Sometimes there is, but we need to take a step back and calm ourselves down before we can think clearly enough to find it.

    Recently, I have been involved with the Parts Work book group online. I wonder if I can, from the Self, Buddha nature, observe my frustrated part, and show it the same kindness I might show a small child or a close friend. Let the part be heard, and help it to see clearly.

    Namo Amida Bu

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    Finding the right community

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Sam

    I grew up as a Christian, and I was lucky enough to be part of a nourishing community of Christians. Unfortunately, this community was built around a set around a particular set of beliefs, and in the end I found that I could not believe in it, and therefore I could not continue to be a part of the Church.

    I lost an important part of my identity, and I lost community. I went in search of something to fill the void.

    I ended up finding a replacement in the world of political ideology, giving me a new identity and a new community.

    I started my time at university in this state. I talked to some clever people and it became apparent that my new beliefs didn’t stand up to scrutiny either. I didn’t want to admit this, I really didn’t. I denied it for a while, until I couldn’t.

    Now I was in crisis, having again lost an important part of my identity and community.

    I came to the conclusion that political ideology was not a good foundation, because it is not solid. No one really knows the answers, and so eventually you have to change your mind. I came to the conclusion that a more solid foundation for one’s life would be spiritual principles, more like what I grew up with.

    For me there are two essential principles. One is something like love or compassion or kindness. That I could find at Church, but the second principle is something like reason or open-mindedness or non-attachment to ideas. For me, I could not find this in Church, because I could not belong to such a community without believing in something that went against my reason.

    In the end, I did find a good example of such community living for a period of time at Bright Earth Buddhist Temple. But such community is not only here. It is, I think, fundamentally, to be found wherever Buddha nature meets Buddha nature, and Buddha nature is in all of us.

    Namo Amida Bu

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