When Metta Comes Calling

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    Dharma Glimpse by Kusuma

    As part of a multi-faith open day I recently visited a children’s hospice for the first time in a number of years.

    There is a heavy price to pay for working in a palliative care environment with Compassion Fatigue a major contributing factor in staff being off sick or leaving the profession. After listening to the staff I came away with a little fire burning inside me! There must be a way to remain a compassionate carer and not burnout? Metta I thought might just be the answer.

    Metta comes from the word ‘Mitta’ meaning friend and is used to describe a practice in meditation known as ‘loving kindness’ or ‘loving friendliness’. With Metta practice we send loving energy inwards to ourselves, and with time and practice, we can then radiate this love out to others.

    Since my visit to the hospice, Metta has become an all consuming passion; researching, writing, and talking about Metta. As a neurodivergent person, it’s not hard to find focus for the things that put a fire in my belly. But writing about Metta is not the same as really living with Metta and it takes courage to step in to a Metta practice and give yourself permission to trust the process.

    But how does sending love inward to ourselves help us to become compassionate carers you might ask? People often choose caring professions out of a desire to make a difference in society. The process of caring for another human being can help us to feel better about ourselves, but this kind of care and compassion is exhausting. Too much of yourself is invested in this type of compassion and you are left constantly feeling like you should do more.

    When we practice Metta and develop a healthy, loving, unconditional relationship with ourselves, we no longer feel the desire to do more, or be more for others. As love radiates from within, the compassionate care flows from our true nature and not from our ego self. Cultivating kindness creates the opportunity for the heart to be more open; this of course is not without its challenges in a world where people tend not to talk about feelings.

    I have been an unpaid Carer for 13 years and in that time I have had my fair share of compassion fatigue. Sometimes I long for a duvet day but for me everyday is a work day. The pressure of keeping another human being healthy and alive is immense and there are times when I have been hard on my self; for example if an infection seemingly appears out of no where or when the side effects of a medicine take their tole on an already fragile body. “I could have done more” becomes the running negative narrative at times like this. Metta does not come easy to me, if I soften my heart, can I really become a more compassion carer? Inviting Metta in might mean that I have to give myself a break! And as any carer will tell you, we rarely think of ourselves.

    This week I returned to Metta for the first time in a long time. I chose the safe space of our beloved shrine room at Bright Earth to share the experience of Metta Meditation. Myself and a Dharma friend sat together and worked on bringing Metta in to our own hearts. The words circled around us, be gentle, be peaceful, hold a tender heart. I felt my chest become warmer as I gave myself permission to be loved unconditionally. Metta meditation invites us to become free from anxiety, fear, worry and restlessness, these are all emotions that most Carers, paid or unpaid feel with great intensity on a daily basis.

    This first Metta experience in a while, left me with tears in my eyes, there was no hiding from the fact that I felt something shift inside me and I heard the words “Stop being so hard on yourself”.

    Metta feeds the heart and soul, it creeps inside and brings forth an awareness of the emotions you need to learn from or let go of. I have heard Metta described as “the nature of the universe and our true nature”. My Metta practice feels like a homecoming to a place I had thought impossible to reach yet it is right here, in my heart.

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    Proceed to Checkout? No, not yet!

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    Dharma Glimpse by Frankie

    This isn’t a meditation on death and my preparedness or otherwise for it, but about the lessons I am taught as I go about my every day mundane life. Shopping!

    I do a lot of my shopping on Amazon. Yes I know for many people this is objectionable but perhaps those people live in priviliged areas, near big cities in privileged countries and have access to big one stop supermarkets, enormous discount white goods retailers, all manner and style of household accessory suppliers, furniture shops, internation food stores, art supply discount stores, chainstores for just about everything – not to mention the infrastructure of public and private transport to access them. Blessed are they.

    However not having much of any of the above by choosing to live on a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean with barely functioning public transport and no car, I thank every deity there is for Amazon.
    The one-click button is a wonderful thing – when I’ve finished a book on my Kindle at 2.00am, I can access the Kindle shop immediately and buy the follow up – but there’s also a great lesson to be learned from putting stuff in the trolley. And leaving it there.

    I have a rule. I leave it at least three days before I proceed to the checkout. And what happens? At my leisure I can look at the contents of the trolley again and what I find is that after that three days of a sort of sacred shopping pause, I am better able discern the difference between want and need. What is in that trolley thanks to dissatisfaction and grasping, monkey mind, someone else’s greener grass? What is there as a result of windowshopping, fleeting pleasure, fantasy? What do I really need? And what do I already have that I am not making use of?

    I’d say that at least 90% of what I might have accumulated goes back on the shelf. Some of it will go in the ‘save for later’ pile, which will also eventually get weeded through in the same way.
    I see this not so much as an exercise of willpower or a triumph over capriciousness, but dharma in action right there in the midst of life. It’s about response rather than reaction. It’s about that sacred pause; those three days are like the three sacred breaths we can take before speaking or acting carelessly or in anger. It’s about discernment and clarity. It’s about grasping and dukkha. It’s about learning to be content with what I have. It’s about everything!

    Today I have two items in my trolley – I’ve just removed one to the save for later list, and I’ve also removed two items from that list. The one remaining item is a book on Japanese Calligraphy, I’ll let it stay just a little while longer…

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    Dharma Glimpse

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    By Elizabeth

    Some of you know that my daughter was found to have a shopping addiction this year, with its attendant lying, stealing and gaslighting.

    It was an effort to get over the shock and disbelief at first and then how to practice?

    It took time and hence my gratitude for the Dharma seal of impermanence, because it slowly did change.
    In those early days I threw that second arrow at myself many times, wanting my anger, mistrust and unforgivingness to be over already!

    Practices like the one I copied to you helped in the dark days, giving my pain to the Buddha, ancestors and Mother Earth. As I got lighter, I was then able to do practices on self-compassion, self-forgiveness and then compassion and forgiveness for Lena.

    I do these practices regularly as I see how easily I can get caught up in doing and lose the tender open connection with myself. If I lose it towards myself, I lose it towards everyone and I so want to learn who this new daughter is now! I watch my expectations, Buddhism calling this my attachment to having it a certain way.

    Self-compassion, befriending myself when I make mistakes in communication, seeing my goodness and that of my daughter’s. These have been my keys.

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    What I Can do!

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    Dharma Glimpse by Paramita

    Last weekend I missed out on the Bright Earth Pureland Buddhist Convention, which was held in my hometown and hosted by my home Temple.
    It was not my fault and neither can I blame anybody else for this unfortunate state of affairs.
    I suffer with Fibromyalgia, which is classed as a “chronic illness” and can prove to be extremely debilitating. Especially while trying to manage low energy levels and high vulnerability to illness in the cold and flu season. In the end I had to choose between spending my energy earning much needed money, or hanging out with my friends and colleagues and discussing important faith related topics.
    My condition also inhibits my capacity for being around large crowds of people, especially when they’re all highly competent and successful, which can trigger my sense of lack and intensify the psychosomatic symptoms that come along with lifelong trauma issues.
    I’m aware that this all sounds quite heavy and tragic, but I am these days quite well trained in spotting and nurturing the positive embers that glow warm and bright amid the darkness of misfortune and loss.
    I knew that my presence here in the Temple could potentially be more of a burden than it usually is, in the give and take sense, or, I could attempt to engage in the communal  activities as much as possible, whilst looking after myself compassionately and managing my depleted energy levels realistically.
    I was due to cook for the community and so put my heart and soul into the task of feeding my fellow Buddhists as well as I could manage. This was, as usual, partly enjoyable and partly stressful, as I wrestled with the usual obstacles of timing and quantity, which, in my experience, as well as being the most tricky parts, also present the key to a successful meal and happy, well fed people!
    I instantly felt better when the meal was received gracefully and gratefully by all, and my guilt and shame about not being able to attend the convention receded somewhat.
    The next day I was pretty poorly and barely managed to finish my shift at work before collapsing in a heap and spending the rest of the day horizontal – reading and watching depressing youtube content(I do not recommend the latter!).
    I managed to get out for a walk with a friend later that evening, which proved to be just what I had needed.
    In the morning I managed to muster up the energy to get to the special Sunday practice session, where I acted as Bellmaster and then took part in reciting a key Pureland text with the Sangha, which once again made me feel connected and, in some way, functional.
    The point is that there is always something that we can do to contribute towards the unfolding of the Dharma in and around the drama of our lives. Buddhism is a causative power! Our hearts and minds are intricately embedded in complex systems, which we will influence in one way or another, regardless of our perceived place within them. The attitude that we take towards our suffering can determine the experience that we have with it and also the effect that it has on others.
    In Pureland Buddhism we partake of a Great Love, that emanates from and through us, just as a result of being connected to Amitabha Buddha. This means that we all have a place in the great enlightenment experience that constitutes the Pure Land. Whether we’re expounding the wisdom of the Sutras and texts, or making the dinner for our hungry friends!
    Namo Amida Bu!

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    When Things Fall Apart

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    Glimpse by Philip Wallbridge

    I’ve learnt sometimes things fall apart in life.  It happened to me recently.  Things built up I couldn’t let go of or process, so there was an inevitable falling apart. 

    A few days later, as I was piecing myself back together, I was walking towards the Malvern hills.  I was more present now.  Things felt fresher and more vibrant.  As I walked on to a wooded path, I noticed how many leaves were lying gently there in a beautiful mosaic.  I realised a tree is always shedding its leaves each year.  It does it quietly and gracefully.  It doesn’t seem to cling on to its leaves.  And those leaves are essential for the ecosystem.  The system needs things to fall apart and be let go of.  Just as, perhaps, we do.  Things are impermanent.  By letting go and opening up, new things can enter and grow.  The wound is where the light enters as Rumi said.  I used to think it sounded clever so I would say it.  The depth of its meaning is starting to dawn on me more and more. 

    I won’t be the same as I was a few weeks ago.  Maybe I’m never the same as I was a few weeks ago.  And things falling apart sometimes can, perhaps, be a positive thing.  It reminds us we aren’t infallible and inviolate.  We are vulnerable, constantly changing creatures with bombu (“ordinary person”) nature. Perhaps I’m learning to embrace that vulnerability and ordinary nature, rather than fight it.  It’s ok to fall apart sometimes.

    Namo Amida Bu   

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    Dharma Glimpse

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    (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.


    Dharma Glimpse by Sonia

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    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?

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    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

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    Dharma Glimpse

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    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.

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    Dharma Glimpse by Paramita

    Some months back, as I was considering my next career move after an unexpected complication had uprooted me in my then current employment role, I experienced a moment of synchronistic alignment that influenced my decision about how to proceed.

    The sudden interruption to my life plans had sent me into a panic. I didn’t feel ready to start a new job or venture into a new, or indeed, old and familiar line of work.

    I was working long hours in the care industry, and had felt quite settled. Steady work, decent money and reasonably predictable working relationships.

    On a regular night shift that I was working I would often listen to podcasts or watch videos of interesting spiritual teachers unpacking esoteric concepts and tying them into everyday living scenarios.
    On this particular night the speaker was making predictions about the near future effects of climate breakdown and when they might begin to seriously impact on our day to day lives.

    As I was putting an entry into the company communications book and writing the time as 20.35, the speaker was making his prediction of the year 2035 being a tipping point, beyond which normal life would change unrecognizably. The exact moment that I wrote the time, was the exact moment that he said the date.

    Now, this might not seem like a big deal on face value but, to me, this was quite a shock. I had had similar experiences in the past, whereby my attention had been drawn to something important in exactly this way. Like a poke in the back or a tap on the shoulder, intended to nudge me into a new train of thought. Which it certainly did.

    I can’t really do justice to the moment here but can say that I felt inspired to investigate the significance of 2035. Eventually I found myself scouring the Bible, as I knew that scripture was organised in this numerical way in the Testaments, in fact I had some personally significant ones memorised for the purpose of spiritual sustenance.

    Eventually, I put it into the search engine on my phone and it came up with a variety of different translations of the passage: Acts 20:35, which states:

    I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, it is more blessed to give than to receive. (King James version)

    This sent a shiver down my spine and even now gives me goosebumps, and a sense of warmth and comfort, like I’m being guided in quite a specific way, towards quite a specific purpose.

    The instruction to “support the weak” could surely never be better fulfilled than in the day to day activities of a care worker, who helps elderly people do all the things that they can no longer do for themselves. And quite obviously, in this way, it surely is “better to give than to receive”.

    This moment of religious inspiration informed my decision to remain in the care industry and I am now working for a different company, under more reliable conditions.
    I can’t say that I understand the deeper or wider meaning or reason for the shift that led from one care job to the next, but I definitely felt the hand of Amida at play here. And the importance of inter-faith resources has not entirely escaped my attention either. I do, and have always, drawn great nourishment from the teachings of other religions and faith systems, which invariably, in my experience, point us towards the same benign principles and a unified spiritual purpose.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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