Swimming into the Light

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Chris Earle-Storey

    In an attempt to improve my fitness I joined the local leisure centre last December. As well as attending gym sessions, I’ve also started to swim again after a 30-year break from the pool. I’m not a strong swimmer and to be honest have found swimming quite hard work after such a long time, but I have been improving gradually with each visit and was starting to feel quite pleased with my progress. Until this morning, that is.

    The pool is divided into three sections for lane swimming depending on one’s ability: easy, medium and fast. As I am very definitely in the “easy” class, that’s where I am to be found. I have worked up to doing 24 lengths in half an hour and that is my aim this morning. As I set off on the first length I am feeling good, but within a couple of lengths I become aware of another swimmer coming up on my left and beginning to overtake me: a middle-aged woman with grey curly hair and a determined expression. I observe her swimming action which seems very similar to mine, so how come she is going so much faster? A few lengths later and the same thing happens, this time with an elderly chap sporting goggles and a shiny bald head. I start to feel slightly despondent as he pulls away from me.

    When I have finished my 24 lengths I pause for a rest before leaving the pool. My gaze is drawn up to the pool guard sitting atop his tower; my eyesight is not so good these days so I can’t see his face in detail, but I am sure he is observing me. “Look at that old woman – she’s really pathetic at swimming. I wonder why she bothers coming at all,” I imagine him thinking.

    As I climb the steps out the pool, my dodgy hip protests at being lifted out of the weightless comfort of the water and my whole body suddenly feels much heavier. I head towards the changing area and pass two young women on their way to the pool, all toned limbs and flat stomachs. They are deep in conversation and do not acknowledge me as I pass. I am painfully aware of my own ageing body as I limp into the shower cubicle.

    The warm water is soothing as I stand in the shower. As I soap myself with shower gel and shampoo, my mind takes me back to the pool – but instead of being watched over by a muscled pool guard I imagine Amida Buddha is sitting on the tower, looking down on me as I swim my lengths. Amitabha is not thinking “Look at that Chris with her flabby thighs and bingo wings. Everyone else is putting in some real effort but she’s really not trying at all. She is pathetic!” No: Amitabha is looking down on me with love and compassion, accepting me just as I am, with all my faults and failings, my tendency to self-criticise and to measure myself against others. Amitabha’s light falls on me just as it does on everyone else.

    As I sit by the exit to put on my shoes, an elderly man, one of the regulars I’ve got to know over the weeks, sits beside me on the bench. “You looked as if you were enjoying the swim today,” he says. I pause before answering. “Yes,” I say. “Yes, in a strange way I think I did enjoy it.”

    The sun is just rising as I leave the leisure centre. I walk out into the light with the light of Amida in my heart.

    Trust in the Tathagata

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Barbara

    It was around 3 am and I was wide awake again, on full alert, for the 3rd night running One of my anxieties being that I was returning to a familiar pattern of insomnia that had plagued me in bouts since I was a teenager. I tried a new strategy; imagining that I was on a walk. But I was barely in the woods when up popped another worry and I was off chasing it and escalating anxieties. After a while I decided to get up and do something useful. The house was bitterly cold but I returned from downstairs with a hot drink, water bottle and December Fan, by Manshi Kiyozawa, the book we are studying in our book group.

    I groaned inwardly at the title of a new chapter. My Religious Conviction. I was sceptical and had adamantly denied having any religious conviction despite having assiduously meditated for over 15 years. I longingly cast eyes on my new novel, but began reading the chapter.

    Kiyozawa wrote ‘Religious conviction refers to the mind that trusts Tathagata.” In his mind they refer to one and the same reality, not two different things.
    Oh dear, is this like the Holy Trinity? I thought.
    He asks. ‘What is my religious conviction? It is to trust Tathagata.’
    And, ‘What is the Tathagata that I trust? It is the fundamental reality underlying my existence.’ What a lot to digest, I thought, especially at 3 o’clock in the morning.

    As I continued reading, I became increasingly immersed in his reasoning.
    Firstly, that if we trust in Tathagata we are relieved of distress and suffering. Therefore, there can be no room for my anxieties; my what if’s and should haves and if only I’d done this or that. These benefits only follow if there is trust.
    Secondly, after much searching within himself, Kiyozawa reaches the conclusion that our intellect is limited and that the meaning of life is inscrutable. He entrusts all matters to Tathagata being aware of his own total ignorance, the most essential point of his religious conviction.
    Thirdly, he emphasises that his religious conviction is the fundamental reality in which he cannot help but trust.
    Captivated by now in the whole chapter of Kiyozawa’s humane reasoning, he writes that Tathagata’s Infinite Compassion, Infinite Wisdom and Infinite Power is limitless.
    I thought deeply as I reread and mulled over sections. It made real sense and was so sensitively written, allowing us into his thoughts and struggles. But I was tired now and perhaps it was time to let go of my own worn-out defences over religious conviction and consciously trust in Tathagata.

    I turned off the lamp, snuggled under my duvet and ,with a feeling of diving into the unknown, felt great calm as I sank into a deep sleep.

    Half Glimpse

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    By Izzy

    It’s Friday morning and I’m accompanying visits on my first day of work today. I was slow to sleep at 11pm last night and woke up at 6am sharp, feeling alert, my mind racing, my stomach churning. I do what I do every morning. I lie there for a while before getting up and slowly making my way down to the shrine room to sit with the Buddha. Today is a bright day and beams of golden sun shine in streaks through the window, the Buddha shines back, looking beautiful. I sit. This is my daily practise at the moment. There is nothing to do. Just sit. As my mind wonders, I am taken back to yesterday and the struggle I had with writing my dharma glimpse. I sat down to write it a few times throughout the day, every time my attention getting pulled away. I allow myself to feel into the fear. Let it wash over me. Fear of not writing a worthy dharma glimpse. Fear of starting a new job today. Fear of being late. Fear of the unknown.

    Then, I am taken back to Monday and my class on the Introduction to Counselling course. The topic this week was empathy. It was something I thought I knew what it meant and now I’m not so sure. Something that came up was the idea that to be truly empathetic can be frightening. I thought about how, as I listened, I felt myself opening up to the speaker’s experience. There was a sense of letting go and for the first time I felt some fear. Where will they take me? Where will we go?

    Homecoming Dharma Glimpse

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    by Angela

    Today, my dog Aine and I went out for a soggy November walk. I was on the 1st day of my bleed and my body was in the mood for warmth and softness and nothing too physically demanding. I enjoyed hearing the sound of the rain and noticing some of the daily changes in the environment of my familiar walking route. But the wet leaves on the path were slippery underfoot, my wet hair kept blowing into my eyes and Aine kept sitting down to remind me that she doesn’t like getting cold and wet!

    As we turned to loop back homeward, there was a tangible shift in energy; Aine’s body language became playful and bright again, my hands suddenly warmed up and my body echoed Aine’s and felt lighter and looser.

    Something that struck me, was the shift in the felt sense when the walk became a homeward journey in mine and Aine’s minds, rather than a walk out into slightly uncomfortable conditions. It reminded me of the sense of ease and relief that can come when viewing spiritual practise as a ‘homecoming’ rather than ‘climbing the mountain’.

    That said, there have been times when my existential / spiritual longing has led me away from the comfort of where I was living and into the wilds… although interestingly there was still a sense of homecoming within those experiences too. And I have found that there are times for drawing on the tough, warrior part of myself and embracing discomfort… just not so much today

    Holding it Lightly

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    A Glimpse by Dayamay

    As another New Year comes racing around, and the last one feels like one big blur, I notice that I’m very aware of how much older and fragile I am. Youthful resilience seems to be fading a bit, at least in the physical sense, and I’m much more sensitive to the world. Almost as if I’ve shed some skin, and the rawness and unpredictability of life feels a bit closer. My limitations are more apparent, the relevance of the incessant drive towards accomplishment and success, a bit more distant.

    This is not an uncommon occurence in the life of a religious practitioner. In fact, it can actually be taken as a positive sign of progress that some of the protective layers of our social conditioning have fallen away. The hard, uncompromising edges of who we thought we were, melted in the crucible of suffering, love, experience and practice.

    We are left with a central core of vulnerability, sensitivity and latent spiritual potential. Face to face with our authentic selves, naked in the presence of the light and grace that we call Amida.

    The benefit of being closer to the Buddha counterbalances the drawbacks of being more exposed and sensitive. And I find that the weight of inevitable suffering is easier to hold in the context of the unconditional Love that I feel from Sangha. I’m less reactive, more curious and generally more accepting of the way things are.

    One of the most important teachings that I received, in the earliest days of my journey, as I squared up with the prospect of life on its own terms – was to hold myself more lightly. This sounded a bit obscure at first, but once I got my head around it, it became clear that the general gist was to not take myself too seriously or my suffering too personally. There is a way of being with pain and difficulty that allows it to be what it is, and me to feel it and heal through it, whilst sparing the rest of the world from having to wallow in it as well – as if they haven’t got enough of their own.

    Holding it lightly may sound a bit too easy, like making light of an impossibly difficult task. It might seem like aiming at a small target on a distant horizon. Something to be aspired to in the future – for the new improved me, which, actually, might never come. But my experience has been that when I call on Amida and feel the inspiration that informs change, much of the heavy lifting is done for me, and the burden is lightened, making it possible to function on an even keel and freeing me up to continue the important work that comes with being truly present in an ever changing world.

    Namo Amida Bu.

    Less is More

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Alison

    Written on 8th Dec

    Today is the anniversary of Buddha Shakyamuni’s Enlightenment and I’m writing my First Dharma Glimpse.  During this morning’s Nembutsu, I began chanting then suddenly started to laugh.  I don’t really know why, or at least I didn’t.  I looked up at the Buddha and said a rather silly, “Sorry.”  The Buddha smiled back and reminded me that it’s fine to not always take the practice too seriously.  We can bring lightness and humour into what we do.  I said, “Thank you,” and started laughing again, as I realised that on the one hand this seemed really silly, but that this was an important insight and that, at the same time, my Glimpse had been seemingly gifted to me.  I was relieved to have had this inspiration and could use it as my Glimpse.  A little later, the thought that this wasn’t the kind of Glimpse that I’d wanted to write about entered my mind.  I had wanted to write a serious Glimpse, a clever Glimpse, incorporating a message from Manshi Kiyozawa’s book, which I am currently studying, ‘December Fan.’  This ‘gifted Glimpse or insight’ was too short and too simple, not to mention too silly.  It wasn’t enough to meet my high expectations of myself, satisfying my need for perfectionism, especially for my Very First Dharma Glimpse.  Yet the Buddha had taught me that it was enough.  I was reminded just recently, in the aftermath of an intensely stressful move from London to Malvern, that I’d made the decision to adopt a mantra, being ‘Less is Enough.’  I need to go more gently.  I had been partly successful:  my bread not rising for Bodhi Day was enough;  my not saying too much during the Listening Circle was enough;  my stopping after 30 minutes of cleaning the kitchen was enough and my not having been able to prepare responses on others’ book reflections last week was also enough.  So, maybe, writing a short and silly Glimpse, that nevertheless conveyed a good message, that had ‘dropped into my lap’ this morning, would also be enough.  I have typically spent my life with large agendas, requiring me to meet my high standards.  Perhaps my new life at the temple could be a gift of an opportunity to relax, let go, laugh, lighten the load and accept that Amida is smiling at me and has my back.  Amida doesn’t mind if I’m silly and if I do less.  Amida accepts me as I am.  I can simply trust in the process that all will be well, even with less.  Less is Enough.  

    I now remember Kiyozawa implying that responsibilities and commitments (meeting extrinsic demands within his Japanese culture) wasn’t as important as trusting in the ‘Power Beyond the self.’  So, perhaps in future, when I feel inclined to do more and more, I will sit with the Buddha and know that ‘I am enough,’ even when I start to laugh during Nembutsu.  When I can only do less, that the Buddha will still smile at me and I can relax, knowing that Less is Enough.

    “The only thing there can be is gratitude to the Buddha for guiding us….  The Buddha has the sole initiative for whatever we do or do not do.” (Manshi Kiyozawa, December Fan, Chapter 4, page 32).

    “There is no failure for one who trusts in the wondrous working of the Infinite.” (M. Kiyozawa, December Fan, Chapter 5, page 38).

    How The Light Gets In

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Dayamay

    On a black background, a heap of different coloured glow sticks - activated and glowing: blue, orange, purple and green
    public domain image from Wiki commons

    A few years ago I attended a special Christmas Eve Mass for children with my niece and nephew. I wasn’t expecting much, as, in my arrogance, I had sort of written off contemporary Christian preachers and teachers, as part of my lifelong resentment with the church. They couldn’t possibly have anything useful or interesting to say. As if to prove me wrong, this bubbly yet humble priest held up a luminous green glow stick – she had provided the whole congregation with identical ones – and snapped it in half in order to activate the chemicals inside that make it light up. After instructing everyone else to do the same, she explained how this related to Jesus’s story. She offered the slightly oblique perspective that “it doesn’t work unless it’s broken”. I was immediately struck by the analogy and the paradox; I had never heard it spoken about in this way before.

    It was Jesus’s brokenness(torture, humiliation and crucifixion), death and subsequent resurrection that were instrumental in proving him to be a genuine prophet, and eventually clearing up much of the scepticism that had surrounded his ministry. His persecution, death, resurrection and the mystery that made it such a powerful story, were the very things that gave Christianity its special influence in the world.

    It’s a story that we hear again and again in ancient cultures, religious traditions and folktales from around the world.
    Deep human suffering and subsequent defeat – surrender to the unchangeable forces of life, heartbreaking loss, transformation and profound spiritual power.

    I immediately knew what she meant and identified strongly with the concept. I considered how my own brokenness formed part of the basis through which understanding of my journey and spiritual destiny became possible. And how, throughout history, the world has witnessed the breaking and making of people, countries, economies and so on.

    One of the things I love most about the story of Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment is that he had to be broken by his own Self Power efforts before he could fully understand the significance of his predicament as a human, the nature of awakening and his destined place in the spiritual scheme of things. When he hit that place of unquestionable self-defeat, somehow, he suddenly knew what it was that he had to do and set about realizing his immense potential. And then, the morning star shone…just for him.

    I’m certainly not going to compare myself with the likes of the Buddha – or Jesus, but I do know that a degree of brokenness is central and fundamental to my functioning as a spiritual practitioner and relatively useful member of society. And I don’t feel as if I can possibly write a piece like this without at least acknowledging Leonard Cohen’s genius assertion – again, born out of hardship and anguish – that “there’s a crack in everything, it’s how the light gets in”.

    Namo Amida Bu.X 

    No Comments

    Self Care

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Khemashalini

    I’ve had yet another busy week mostly of my own making I might note and this Glimpse was triggered by my comments at practice on Saturday morning regarding brushing my hair. Why did I feel I needed to tell the world I’d done it?

    I’ve been trying to practice better self-care. As a nurse I really should know better but ive always found it easier to look after everyone else first before myself. Didn’t Buddha tell us that “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
    I’m still working long hours and working from home so it’s easy to fall out of bed and be in front of the laptop where I spend many hours every day. I no longer get dressed for the office and many days I’ve definitely not brushed my hair although I’ve always brushed my teeth. That’s a definite must do. I’m thankfully not working 7 days a week anymore, but the threat of a bad winter looms and I know I must have more resilience and create better patterns of behaviour if I’m going to get through this one. COVID pretty much broke me and I have felt like I was in a fog at times just going through the motions. It has taken some time to recover but I’m finally feeing like the old me although at times I’ve forgotten what the old me looked or felt like.

    Self-care isn’t a onetime thing though – It’s the constant repetition of many tiny habits, to regularly include in your life a little bit of love and attention for your own body, mind, and soul. which together soothe you and make sure you’re at your best — emotionally, physically, and mentally.

    I was thinking about what self care practices I’d like to do as we walked around the temple garden as part of morning practice. My wish list as such. The fact I’ve made it here is a good start. I’d definitely like to do more walking meditation as this is one of my favourite practices and always helps me feel better. Having a good walk every day feels important too- some of that walk being mindful although I do like to get up on the hills, to feel I’ve also had a work out- get out of puff by briskly walking up a hill or two. There is plenty of opportunity for this in Malvern. Prepare a healthy vegan meal- eat at a reasonable time – not 10 pm or even later, get to bed before 1 am, spend less hrs looking at a screen, read more, hang out with friends more, go to yoga, dance , sing, be still, BREATH….. I realise as I write this that im very good at writing lists but maybe not so good at putting them into action.

    I’m reminded of a quote by Brian Andreas
    “There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling leaves and remember that it is enough to be taken care of by myself.”

    So with a little bit of attention to my own self-care, the fog will lift. I know I will feel more connected to myself and the world around me and nothing will seem quite as hard as it did before.

    No Comments

    Not a Dharma Glimpse

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    by Jenn

    I have been sitting here typing for ages. And I’ve deleted a lot of things. I guess I am feeling a bit self critical tonight, and also sad and angry. I’ve been feeling worried that will be obvious in my writing so I keep deleting it as a way of staying private. Or writing something that’s mainly made up as a way of providing what I have been asked for and also staying private.

    I haven’t had any experiences over the past few days where I feel like I have understood or seen some greater wisdom.

    So my glimpse today is about not getting a glimpse. I think tomorrow or some time soon I will be able to meet all this wildness I am experiencing in myself – a lot of anger and frustration and contempt (and underneath those, sadness and grief and fear and powerlessness) – with some compassion. I am ‘coping’ today, which means telling all my angry and sad parts they are being ridiculous, and hiding them underneath some other parts that are really good at being addicted to work. Coping is okay, and maybe tomorrow I will stop coping.

    I just had a picture in my mind of a house being battered by very strong winds. (As I write, I am in bed in the top floor of my tall house and it is windy – I can hear it shaking the trees outside and the sea will be wild out there in the dark). I have shut all the doors and windows and battened down the hatches and that makes the house this strong solid thing that shakes and creaks. Eventually perhaps it will fall down. That’s coping. And there’s another image coming to me – of opening all the doors and windows wide and letting the bad weather blow right through. That doesn’t feel possible today but today on my day of not getting a glimpse, I will just bear in mind that it might be possible some other time.

    No Comments

    Spider Dharma Glimpse

    Categories: dharma glimpse

    By Izzy

    a long legged brown and black sider in a big web. Behind the web is a chainlink fence, and behind that green foliage.
    Image by Pixabay

    I’m back from a weekend away staying with my brother in Bristol. It was non-stop from the moment I walked through the door, briefly meeting housemates and then straight out, setting off on a walking tour of the city. I was led along pavements, through residential streets, along bustling high streets and around the harbour side.
    It was Saturday night and the city had a buzzing, frantic energy to it. At 7pm, people stood in a drunken haze, looking vacant next to pools of sick. We saw a couple of people crouching behind a warehouse container by the side of the road. They were shooting up. Their slight, skeletal frames were silhouetted in the fading light.
    I was struck by how creative and destructive energy seemed to coexist in the city. I thought about how these energies, the impulse to create and to destroy, both exist within me.
    A moment of stillness came the following day when we walked past a student house and I spotted a spider making a web between a bin and a stone wall. The spider had the foundations secured and was now meticulously working its way around in circles, spiralling into the centre.
    The spider was speckled brown with a big round body. It moved with speed and accuracy, dancing with silk, absorbed in its task completely. A pang of sadness struck me as I thought about the bin being moved and the web being destroyed. The fine silk strands breaking.
    I admired the spider. It made me think about an idea that’s come up in The Center Within, a book I’ve been reading in one of the book study groups at the temple. The idea that you should act because your life force commands it.
    The bin might move, a gust of wind might break the web and yet the spider continues spinning its web because it’s life force commands it. Something in the deep focus, single-pointed attention and devotion of the spider in amongst the noise and chaos of the city struck me as Buddhist.
    The spider was just being a spider, doing its spider thing, but in that moment, to me, the spider was a perfect Buddha.
    After staring in awe at the spider for some time, I glanced up and spotted someone at the window looking out at me and my brother. They were laughing, probably wondering what it was in the space between the bin and the stone wall that had us both transfixed. I laughed too and gave a little wave before carrying on walking.

    No Comments