Dharma Glimpse

    Categories: Uncategorised

    (23 Oct 2023)

    By Bobby Ahlander

    So far this year I have experienced the death of three people that were fully integrated into my life in one way or another.

    In March, my dad passed away from natural causes, just one day shy of his 80th birthday.

    In April, one of my closest friends died from heart failure, just a few days before he and I were going to be seeing each other for the first time in several years.

    And two Saturdays ago, my neighbor, a young man whom I’ve known for twenty years (since he was 13 yrs old), took his own life.

    The cause of each of these deaths was vastly different, but the result was the same.

    For a variety of reasons (that are far too numerous to name right now), over the past couple of years I have experienced a lot of grief. I’ve grown quite accustomed to what it feels like. It has become somewhat of a constant companion. And so in some ways these recent losses maybe haven’t had quite the impact on me that they might have in a previous season of my life.

    That’s not to say that I’m numb to it, it’s just that I am keenly aware of it. And as a sort of peculiar side effect, it has made me much more aware of it in others.

    I have learned, though, that just like everything else, grief is not permanent. It ebbs and flows, like the waves of the sea. In and out. If I try to push it away, the more it tends to cling to me (or I to it?). The more I sit with it, examine it, and be curious about it, the less it seems to sink me under its weight.

    One of my teachers says, “There is a divine intention behind every experience.” From a buddhist perspective, I would restate this as “There is a dharma truth revealed in every experience.” For me, the dharma truth I learn from grief is that even in suffering, there can be peace. And that peace comes when we loosen our grip on the suffering associated with the grief, allowing it to flow in and out, as it needs.


    A Journey into The Hills

    A Dharma Glimpse by Philip

    I recently returned to live in Malvern. I’m temporarily staying at the temple, where I lived for a year not so long ago, while I find myself somewhere more permanent nearby.

    The hills have always had something special for me. I used to come here by bus and train when I lived in the Black Country of a weekend. It was always worth the effort. I frequently forget how great I thought it would be to live here in Malvern. And now I’ve done it. Twice. I’m not a huge walker, but get out for at least a short walk in the hills several times a week when I’ve lived here or come down to stay at the temple for a few days or more. I waited about a week this time before going in them. I think I wanted to ground myself at the temple. I’m learning to ground myself more when there has been, or will be, some sort of change that will rattle my younger parts.

    I went on a sunny day. It was beautiful. As soon as I got to a wooded path up into the hills, memories and feelings came back of a sangha member who is no longer physically with us, but lives on through a memorial apple tree in the garden. It brought up loss and sadness. I’d bumped into him several times around this area of the hills. And that triggered other, even deeper, losses experienced whilst living at the temple the last time.

    I carried on trudging along the paths. Through woods. Gently touching the leaves and occasionally a solid, wise and kind feeling tree trunk. They have a knowing for me. The sun had been obscured by these for much of the route, but I could still feel its warmth. Maybe like the warmth of Amida; we can’t necessarily see it, but we can feel it if we try. Which, for me, seems to have a lot to do with surrendering.

    I stopped when the sun was more directly overhead. Peering through the leaves and branches that were gently swaying in the gentle breeze. Shadows flickering and dancing all around me. I consciously tried to really notice the warmth of the sun and the beauty all around me. I thought of the cross training machines I’ve started using at the Malvern Splash gym. They now have a screen showing a journey through somewhere pleasant, usually the sort of nature I was experiencing. Parts of me may not be able to distinguish these recordings from actually being in nature; both have a soothing, calming effect. But parts of me do know, and feel, the difference. And, perhaps, parts of me know and feel the reality I perceive is only one reality. And maybe not the true nature of reality. If a TV screen can deceive me, I’m guessing plenty more can. I think I had an instinctive knowing up there that a deeper reality was behind what I was seeing and perceiving. I am becoming more accepting of that. It isn’t as scary as it used to be. Just like, relatedly, impermanence isn’t. Although parts of me are still very scared and confused. I’m acknowledging them as I write and trying to send them compassion and soothing, which they have so often gone without in my life.

    My journey in the hills continued down some winding, wooded paths. There was less inspiration and more (albeit limited) physical pain from the pressure on joints from descending and gravity. This journey ended back at the temple. But my journey through life goes on, for however long that will be. The walk in the hills felt like a microcosm of that wider journey; loss, sadness, inspiration, warmth, beauty, pain. The physical distance hadn’t been so far, but emotionally and spiritually had felt much longer. Like the theory of relativity perhaps; different worlds and realms coming together on the hills that are on different trajectories. I’m trying to stay more in the present, whilst opening up more to connecting with the past. Perhaps that might relate to ‘The Shamanic Bones of Zen’ I’m reading for the current temple book group. We’ll see. For now, I feel grateful for my journey in the hills.

    Namo Amida Bu

    Dharma Glimpse by Sonia

    Categories: Uncategorised

    A few weeks ago, my oven broke. It came with the house where I have lived for seven and a half years now. The oven had been here much longer. And it had chugged along well enough for that time. I don’t know what the little gold knobs were supposed to do, one was a mysterious timer that would go off every few months at a time of its own choosing. I don’t know what it was timing. It must have been important because when it went off it was insistent and a nightmare to switch off. The other doesn’t seem to have a function. Most of the settings never worked, but it got hot and cooked things. And also, it was dark green, so you know, that’s nice.

    I’ve spent the last seven and a half years thinking about getting a new one, maybe it would be nice to have a grill function, or to know exactly what temperature it’s on at, or to not be startled by the random ringing. But, it felt kind of wasteful to consider a new one, because ultimately it got hot and cooked things. And it was dark green.
    When it finally broke, I contemplated getting it fixed. The fan still works. It probably just needs a new element. But the seal would have needed replacing too, and there would still be that high pitched noise to deal with… I gave in and bought a new oven.

    The installation guys said ‘Wow, that is old!’ I was pleased to impress them with my ancient electric oven. It’s gone now. My new one has a light so you can see what’s happening in there, a special pizza setting and a digital timer. It is not dark green, but a standard, clinical silver. It has an impressive booklet to tell you which settings and shelves to use for particular foods including Viennese whirls.

    I’m sorry for talking for so long about my oven. I’ve actually been talking about it for seven and a half years, so this is the short version. I can’t pretend that making this oven last til the last was ethically motivated and to avoid being a consumer of new shiny things. Honestly, I think I just have trouble letting go. It’s easier to stay with the status quo, it’s easier to carry on doing what I’ve always done. Even when it no longer serves. Jobs, people, activities, responsibilities – I’ll just cling on, keep going, even though I’m too tired and know that I want to stop. I’ll let go when circumstances force me to, not because I reach any insight or show compassion for myself. Attachment shows up in all sorts of ways, harmful ways, and some innocuous ways too (it was dark green).

    Since my oven broke, I’ve made my peace with giving up a few things – responsibilities and roles I was starting to resent, and even relationships that have run their natural course. I know that I am making space for new things. Did I mention this one has a pizza setting?

    No Comments


    Categories: Uncategorised

    Dharma Glimpse by Frankie

    Serendipity – by definition good luck; coincidence; fortuity.

    I also define it in my own loose way as a coming together, a falling into place.
    In the last week I had been thinking about a question posed in a book by secular Buddhists Stephen and Martine Batchelor – What is This? It’s a question that has drifted through my practice over the years, and one that is common in Zen. But I found myself thinking it quite out of the blue about something I was experiencing. The next morning I read an interview with poet Jane Hirshfield in which she talked about having a question to practice with when she first started out in Soto Zen – she mentioned What is This in passing.

    A seed started to germinate. In the past I’ve had words to practice with, what would it be like to have a question. What if that question were What is This?

    A day later I was curious about an Italian Zen priest I’d noticed amongst teachers I know and respect – I looked his page up on Facebook as was shocked to find that he held very strong political opinions, almost anarchistic, and was a supporter of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I reacted but thankfully not with the keyboard. I then paused, took three sacred breaths of reflection, and asked myself What is This? That question covered all of it, his held views, my own views – also tightly held – my strong reaction.

    I found that What is This went a long way to getting ‘Me’ out of the way, taking ‘My opinions’ with it. I could see the situation in its entirety, both of us holding onto views, through our own suffering and our suffering for others. What is This, while taking ‘Me’ out of the equation, also forced me to see myself not as ‘other’ but part of What This Is, both of us, all of us.
    This is the practice, this is the work, and What is This will now be a valuable part of my life’s toolbox

    No Comments

    Dharma Glimpse

    Categories: Uncategorised

    By Maria Trotter

    The other day I was on the phone to my mum and we touched upon the topics of gender identity. In particular, I was trying to explain the concept of non-binary to her. There was a lot of cross-cultural work going on of course – my mum was born and grew up in the Soviet Union, only to watch it break down and dissolve into chaos when I was very little still. She then had to adapt to the new Russia, a completely different entity yet again, never ceasing to go through rapid changes. I have only witnessed a part of this journey and trust me, it is quite hard to keep up!

    As I was struggling to describe the non-binary concept in Russian, I suddenly realised that it wasn’t just the cultural barrier that I was experiencing – the language itself became a barrier and a constraint. Russian is in itself very gender-centric, similar to German and French but even to a stronger extreme; for example, we would assign genders to inanimate objects such as a table (“he”), a plate (“she”), but then a window would be “it”. It occurred to me that as we grow up within this linguistic environment, it must be having some kind of an effect on our psychology and our way of thinking. I know it from personal experience as I have learned a few languages and have observed just how much my barriers have expanded as a result. Being aware of this kind of constraint, I started thinking how hard must it be for a person to suddenly realise just how much they don’t fit within the environment they live in, if even the language itself refuses to give them any frame of reference to who they are and how they relate to the world around them. And how equally hard it can be to reach out of the cultural dogmas you grew up in and take a leap to accept a new concept or way of thinking – which is what my mum was trying to do on a call with me. 

    This conversation stuck in my head for a very long time; I remembered my own struggles when I was growing up and trying to find my place in the society that tended to be quite judgemental of that which is different and unusual. What is universal though, be it Russia or the UK, is our human nature and instinctive fear of something different. We like stability, we do not like our lives to be disrupted, we like to close our eyes and ears when the world around us is screaming change. But what we need to be is brave, what we need to be is kind and empathetic, what we need to be is accepting of the people as they are, without labelling or judgement. And also a bit curious and eager to learn, even if your own language tends to stand against you.

    No Comments