Butterflies and suffering

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    Dharma Glimpse by Dave Smith

    I am a very lucky man.

    As part of my job, I get to go out into the countryside and carry out ecological surveys. I get paid to look for bats, reptiles and dormice amongst other things. It’s a bit of a dream come true in some ways, but its not all skipping through meadows and sniffing flowers. The going can be really tough, you can be out in all weathers, sometimes in very inhospitable conditions and in tricky terrain.

    A few weeks ago I had to travel down to Somerset to check some nest tubes that I had put out earlier in the year to see if any dormice had made nests in them. I think it was April when I put them out, I had placed them along the hedgerows bordering an agricultural field which is going to be turned into a quarry at some point in the future.

    It was during one of our mini heatwaves that I was carrying out this check and the vegetation had grown up quite considerably since April. What was once an empty field, had now become a tall crop of corn, and the headland between the corn and the hedgerow was waist high or higher with grasses, nettles, brambles and thistles. I was struggling to travel from one nest tube to the next, and having great difficulty finding them in the overgrown and bramble covered hedges, which had earlier in the year been easily accessible.

    As it was so hot, I was dressed in a T shirt and light trousers in an attempt to keep cool, unfortunately this did not give me much protection from the stinging nettles and thistles that I was literally surrounded by. To add to this, I was being bombarded with midges and other small flying insects that seemed to be attracted to my sweaty head.

    I was hot and bothered and getting quite annoyed, desperately trying to avoid getting scratched and stung, weaving my way in and out of the aggressive vegetation flinching at every sting and scratch. After a while it dawned on me, the futility of trying to avoid this situation, if I was going to do my job I would just have to put up with it and wade in. Once I had accepted this reality and stopped worrying about my discomfort everything changed.

    To be honest the pain was not actually that bad, and as my focus shifted from avoiding my relatively minor suffering, I began to look around and take in my surroundings with a calmer perspective. As well as the annoying midges and other flying insects that I mentioned previously, there were bumble bees, honey bees, hoverflies and dragonflies, and as I got deeper into the midst of the thistles, there were more and more butterflies. Dozens of them, big ones, little ones, about six or seven different species, all brightly coloured flitting from thistle to thistle and flying around my head. Purple flower heads and butterflies for as far as I could see. Once my perspective and focus had changed I was transported from my minor personal hell into paradise!

    Buddhist teachings tell us that it is often our reaction to suffering that cause us the most distress, a secondary suffering of our own making. This was clearly brought home to me on this beautiful sunny day in my field full of butterflies.

    Namo Amida Bu

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    Traffic Dharma

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    Dharma Glimpse by Dave Smith

    I spend a lot of time driving around as part of my work.

    Driving through towns and cities can be quite stressful especially if you have a deadline to keep to. I always try to leave ten minutes early to allow for hold ups and unexpected roadworks. This takes the pressure off, and I have found that I am more inclined to keep a decent distance from the car in front of me rather than tail gating which I sometimes find myself doing if I am late.

    When I am late, and following the car in front of me too closely, I tend to spend the journey berating myself for not letting people out at junctions or for not being courteous enough. This happens because I don’t have the time to react quickly enough, and stopping to let someone out would require me braking suddenly causing everyone behind me to do the same, spreading anger and frustration.

    When I leave in good time and leave a sensible distance, I can see cars waiting at junctions and people trying to cross the road from a long way off and I happily wave them all on without even having to slow down. Everyone smiles and waves back, everyone is happy including myself. I really enjoy driving around merrily letting people go in front of me and causing a sea of smiles and gratitude.

    I have also noticed that courteous driving causes a positive traffic karma. Often when I have let someone out they will give way at the next opportunity and let someone else out in front of them. This could be a coincidence I suppose but I’m sure it happens more often when I’m not late for work.


    Namo Amida Bu

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    Trans-sea-cendence 

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    Dharma Glimpse by Philip Wallbridge

    I’m not sure if the title of this dharma glimpse works.  Bear with me.  It is a play on the word ‘transdecendence’; a concept I have been mulling over this year.  Transdecendence is about going downwards into something, in comparison to transcendence which is about going upwards, above, over.  At least as I understand it.  Transcendence is also apparently a film with Johnny Depp.  It only has a 19% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Maybe I’ll give that a miss…….   

    Anyway, here goes.  I went to the beach here in Morecambe late yesterday evening with my yoga mat.  It felt like the first fairly nice day in a while up here.  The sun was starting to go down, partially obscured by a blanket of clouds across the horizon giving it a more ethereal feel to me, the sea was about half the way out so the waves could still be heard lapping on the shore, and a near full silvery moon was gently glowing in the sky behind my left shoulder.  It felt good.  My brain and nervous system have been a bit frazzled recently you see.  Largely self-imposed stress and First World problems.  Feeling emotionally overwhelmed by interactions with family and friends recently, and decisions and changes looming ever closer.  But I’m learning not to amplify and extend the internal vortexes swirling inside by trying to just let it be.  Not judging and criticising myself.  Or encouraging the ever ready, willing and able shame and guilt to come to the party.  It will pass.  Impermanence.  Just as new difficulties, confusions and suffering will come in the future. 

    A side note here.  If I was hearing someone else share this, particularly a few years ago, my jealous, striving and cynical parts would probably be popping up.  Doing (predominately physical) yoga on the beach would sound respectively virtuous, impressive and a bit showy and pretentious to them.  Indeed, when I started trying to learn some yoga there was some of that involved.  And probably something like ‘spiritual bypassing’ too i.e. trying to do something seemingly spiritual to avoid really go into my own stuff and ‘bombu’ nature.  Nowadays, yoga has become more of a necessity than an idealism.  I’ve realised there is quite a lot of stagnant and easily retriggered trauma in my system (i.e. my body and mind).  I can feel anxious, trapped and frozen quite easily.  Yoga really helps to shake up the toxins and trauma, rebalance my energy, and get me more back in touch with body and the world.  That, in all honesty, is a blessing when I can get myself on to the mat.  I can’t always.   

    Back to the beach.  I could get myself on the mat.  I am doing some moving and stretching.  There are some children playing to my left.  Dog walkers pass by.  Some have a look.  Some make a comment.  I’ve got used to this.  It’s ok.  I probably would in their position.  Sometimes the dogs come up to me and have a sniff around.  One dog did a natural excavation, if you see what I mean, right next to me the other day.  I don’t know if it was some sort of silent protest.  His ‘owner’ (I don’t really like that term or notion of ownership) apologised.  I didn’t really mind.  I found it mildly amusing.  We had a nice chat.  I now go from a standing position to all fours, ‘threading the needle’ to put one arm under my torso and lowering my ear to the ground.  I notice my sense of the waves have changed.  Not just the sound, but the sense of them.  They suddenly feel more intimately connected to me, more a part of them.  Without having to brave their lower temperature by going in them.   

    I was suddenly, spontaneously reminded about transdecendence.  The idea of going downwards into the world – into all its pain, suffering and bombu nature, for spiritual growth and enlightenment.  Rather than trying to extricate oneself from, and transcend, the world around us.  I still don’t know which approach – transcendence or transdecendence – is right.  Maybe there is no ‘right’.  Maybe it is a false dichotomy or an oversimplified binary decision when the reality is something less clear and more fuzzy.  Such is life.  But, with my ear on my yoga mat and more connected to the beauty and calmness of the sea, it felt nice.  And maybe that in itself is all I need to know for now. 

    Namo Amida Bu  

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    I accept this Karma

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    Dharma Glimpse by Paramita

    Denial can be a very powerful thing. At times my mind edits out important aspects of reality in order to protect me from painful truths, or to keep me engaged in behaviours that numb me out, so that I can survive the waves of tumult that flare up so frequently in the ocean of Samsaric existence.

    My sister is dying. I can feel the detachment and dissociation even as I write that – which is probably a positive sign – better than feeling nothing. Unfortunately, she isn’t as lucky as me, in that she doesn’t currently possess the lucidity with which to make such observations, or engage with such processes.

    I don’t know how long she’s got, but I’m pretty sure it’s not long.

    And I’m not always numb. Sometimes when I look at her, the reality of our tragic history floods over me, leaving me, at times, ashamed, distraught and very angry. But who am I angry with? I know that myself is in there somewhere. Why couldn’t I have been a better brother? How much did my own chaotic behaviour feed into her sense of despair when we were young?

    And, as I consider this, my faith kicks in.

    Where does the blame lie? What I am looking at is the end result of an unimaginably long chain of abuse, neglect, ignorance and disease, handed down many generations with minimal resistance, culminating in acute illness and widespread heartbreak. Blame doesn’t really come into it, because in every direction I turn as I seek the truth, confusion and denial prevail over sanity and responsibility.

    So instead of anger and spite, my mind is turned more readily to understanding and compassion. “the consequences of karma are difficult to conceive” as the Buddha Shakyamuni tells Ananda in the Larger Pureland Sutra.

    So far, and unless a miracle happens in the very near future, which I never completely rule out, my sister’s karmic streams have not aligned her with recovery in this lifetime. I cannot possibly begin to understand the complexities of how they might somehow direct her towards a better life, more conducive conditions in future incarnations, but I do trust that this is slowly happening.

    One of the mantras that I have found very useful in the midst of times of extreme disarray such as this, is “I accept this karma”. I acknowledge that I don’t know. I look at my own journey and my mind boggles at how my life has turned around and presented me with a different path. Why me? Why now?

    I know that I can’t change the past and I have a minimal influence in the present. The power in my life comes exactly from accepting that I don’t know, I am not in charge. The law of cause and effect is greater and more mysterious than I will ever know. But I do feel the support that is promised from the “other side”. Amida and Quan Yin answering my call for their presence in impossibly trying times. Showing up to remind me that no matter how good or bad I think I am, I am not alone, and neither is my sister.

    In the end I have to detach with love. I’m not wise enough or clever enough to do battle with the forces that are locking her into her demise. And I know that I have a responsibility to not expose myself to too much of the poison that made me sick so many years ago. I don’t know how this all turns out, but I trust Amida and I accept this Karma!

    Namo Amida Bu!

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    No problems?

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    Dharma Glimpse by Paramita

    The first thirty seconds of Zazen meditation are where we get to sit WITH our problems. These are the words (paraphrased) of Shozan Jack Haubner, a reputable Buddhist teacher whose guidance I follow on various internet platforms. No judgement, no internal commentary, just being alongside whatever arises in a loving, compassionate space.

    As I sat in meditation this morning, right on cue, and in a fashion that I am very accustomed to, a torrent of worries and frustrations sprung up from the depths of my busy mind. Some of the usual trivialities that I would normally acknowledge mentally, and then let go, back into the river of idle thought, and some, more persistent and immanent naggings, demanding immediate resolution.


    Overwhelm began to appear and brought doubt along with it. Is it really worth me even attempting to sit for 15-20 minutes, as I normally might? Life and death family issues, deep relationship dilemmas, money, work, health…This is surely too much material – I can’t possibly call this a meditation, it’s more of a worry fest!


    And, as per the instructions that I have been on the receiving end of for 15 years now, I returned to my breath, as the central anchor, the intimate mediator. A Krishamurti quote popped up amid the receding noise; “there are no problems apart from the mind.” Yes! Simple words resonating profound truth and unlocking some philosophical faculty that embraces the turbulent contents of my fear.

    These things, that I choose to perceive and label as troubles, actually exist independently of my prejudices. And yes, they hold a particular weight that I experience as discomfort, but ultimately it is my perspective on them that gives them the power to disturb me. No problems except the mind. But the mind is a big one eh!! Or can be!?

    I managed to sit for about 15 minutes, veering in and out of the chaotic ramblings, and being held in the spacious energy that the breath seems to offer. A beautiful, gentle chant facilitates the transition from stillness and silence back into the realities of living life! They don’t have to be problems, right? We’ll see how it goes.


    Namo Amida Bu!

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    The one that got away & the art of non-attachment

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    Dharma Glimpse by Khemashalini

    I’ve written previously of the annual walking retreat or Yatra that I’ve not long returned from. A yatra means to walk or pilgrimage to a holy place/s. The walking is in silence and not usually a rush to get there so the journey is as important as the destination. I had lots of inspiration for Dharma Glimpses during this week and I’m kind of annoyed with myself as I didn’t write enough down and as the weeks pass the memories fade a little.

    One very memorable day was the one when we walked up Cader Idris- all 893 metres. We had been warned that a storm may hit at midday so we left early in an attempt to at least be at the summit before it arrived. I think we were probably 50 metres from the summit when the mist dropped and the wind and rain started. Thankfully no snow as forecast. I look back at a photo I took at this point and Caroline is standing there, her poncho blowing around her with no beautiful view, just looking out into the mysterious mist. This was like an earlier jaunt up Helvelyn in the Lake district when I too was deprived of the supposedly stunning view due to cloud. I suppose I’ll have to climb again if I am to see the view. Several days later I was on a website where people post about their mountain climbing activities, top tips, photos etc. and I was gutted to see that literally 2 days later those that climbed the mountain were gifted that stunning view as a reward. Timing is everything!!

    Having made it to the summit w ate our lunch all crowded together in the little stone hut. Not the nicest of shelters but we were all very grateful on this occasion. A small group poked their head in half way through lunch to be greeted by 30+ hungry and rather damp Buddhists all crammed in- standing room only.
    On our decent the wind was over 60 MPH (I was told at a later time), it was still raining, so I was wearing my trustee poncho to try and save my coat a little. At one point the wind got underneath this and took me off my feet. I was holding on to everything tightly whilst trying to navigate the steep rocky and slippy pathway. Caroline lost her hat, I watched it fly off into the mist, then a back pack cover. I was glad I’d tied mine on tightly. I removed my poncho to try and gain some balance and stop the wind from buffering me from side to side, I’d have to get wet. Not 2 minutes later, on a rather exposed outcrop of rocks, I felt the wind pick me up again and then a flash of luminous yellow shot past as my new backpack cover disappeared over the edge into the mist. Oh no☹ I was so annoyed with myself, had I not tied in on properly. Now everything inside my rucksack was going to get wet. I started to worry about what I’d got in my bag and what might get damaged. I thought of nothing else for about 30 minutes as we descended. I really do hate losing things – even in extreme weather conditions. How much was it going to cost to replace? I wondered where all the items that had blown off today, and other days would be blown too. Where would their final resting place be? I’d be very happy if I found an osprey back pack cover and Caroline’s lovely hat. Had someone set up an ebay account selling all the lost items claimed by the mountain? We had a little laugh about it later on once we broke our silence. I realised that I had to let go of my attachment to this belonging, it was preventing me from being in the present. I’d been preoccupied in these thoughts rather than being fully immersed in this unique experience. I needed to let go of my annoyance of the wind. After all it was my fault it blew off, I can’t have tied it on tightly enough and wind is wind. The fundamental buddhist teaching of impermanence relays that we will not find sustained happiness through clinging – only suffering. Namo Amida Bu.

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    Inviting Spaciousness

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    Dharma Glimpse by Khemashalini 

    I’ve recently returned from a short break away for my birthday where I visited family in Gozo which is a small island next to Malta. My dad lived there for many years until his death nearly 8 years ago so it’s like a second home and I soon settle into life once I land. I haven’t visited since 2019 although have always said I couldn’t live there permanently. The island is very small and I’d probably spend all my time feeding and rescuing their many stray cats. I;m not sure as a Buddhist if there is even a Buddhist community of the island. The main religion is Roman Catholicism with every small village having their own church, 359 churches in total – (313 in Malta and 46 in Gozo) so nearly one for each day of the week.

    I spent 4 nights here this time, and my holiday was sadly soon over. Id managed to catch a cold virus on the flight over so on the day we were travelling home, I didn’t feel that well. We had non priority seats and only travelled with a rucksack which I’d carefully measured and packed to make sure it fitted the airlines measurements. Let’s not rush I said. It doesn’t matter if we are last on the plane as we don’t have any luggage to go in the overhead compartments. I just need to take it slow. Normally there is a pressure to get on the plane and find space in the overhead lockers for luggage.

    So my friend Jo and I sat quietly and watched everyone else queuing, got up when called – there was a relaxed spaciousness that I’d not experienced before. Spaciousness feels like having more space in your mind. The experience of gaining spaciousness is the experience of increasingly feeling that you can choose how to interpret events and choose how to respond to emotional energy, rather than being a slave to habitual patterns.

    We boarded the last bus to the plane and got off when it stopped and walked over to the plane. I must have been a bit distracted with my streaming nose and pounding headache but to my absolute surprise I was the first person to board a very empty plane. So how did that happen? I’d let go of the habitual pattern, the urgency to board which I usually have and just relaxed into the process. No forcing things, no rush, no stress so perhaps I should try this relaxed approach more often. I was definitely being cared for that day. I sat back in my seat and had a very uneventful flight home.


    Namo Amida Bu.

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    Pause

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    A Dharma Glimpse by Paramita


    This week I was given an opportunity to pause. My regular schedule gave way to a cascade of conditions which meant that I couldn’t fulfil some of my usual duties. And, the flow of my ongoing therapy sessions came to a grinding halt, as my Internal Famìly Parts decided that they needed to build up some more trust before they allowed any more unburdening healing to happen. Which I have learned to take as being an indispensable function of the overall process, but which still left me with a sense of dissatisfaction because I didn’t feel like I was striding forward in the way that I have come to associate with success. In other words – I had to stop! 

    This, along with some other unavoidable factors, meant that a space opened up for me, which I quickly proceeded to fill with worry and fear about what I should be doing, what others might think of my perceived failure and what I could do to compensate.

    At this point, I managed to catch myself in the process and remembered a promise that I had made to my tired parts in therapy, that I would take some more time out than usual and do something nice for myself. As it happened, a friend in the community was going for a long walk and so I joined them and spent some quality time in nature, absorbing the energy of the land and connecting with the nourishing sights and sounds of the Malvern Hills.

    I recognised this as progress of sorts. At one time I might not have felt the potential for healing and reflection in the situation. I may have just slogged onwards relentlessly and then paid a higher price somewhere down the line.

    Unboundaried and compulsive perseverance is written into our social contracts in small print. It serves the system of haves and have nots, and the agendas of the controlling elite. In some ways we are expected to keep going no matter what, to keep up with the pace of life, even if it’s obviously detrimental to our health and wellbeing and the best interests of others as well. I feel this as a sort of collective defense against our accumulated wounding; if we just don’t stop we won’t have to face the pain.

    But pain is not the only thing that arises in these fertile spaces. Just the act of relaxing the grip of our white knuckled fingers on the steering wheel can bring great relief, peace and spiritual perspective.

    My day off became 2 days off and I now feel refreshed and revitalised. Once again I have been shown that I do not always know what is best for me. That my human strategies have weak points and blind spots, and that there is another power operating in my life, that shows me a different way, if I can just keep the door open to it.


    Namo Amida Bu.

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    Morning meditation

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    Dharma Glimpse by Dave Smith

    I don’t really have a regular routine for my meditation, but when I have the time in the mornings I go down into the garden and sit in the early morning sun. I take my phone with me and set it to “Do not disturb” and then set a timer for twenty minutes. I have a nice gentle ringtone to end my meditation rather than an intrusive beeping sound.  This is something I have been doing for several years now. The other morning I arrived at my usual spot and then realised that I had forgotten my phone. Rather than go all the way back up the steps to get it, I thought I would just sit and meditate without a timer and just see how it went.

    The difference was quite noticeable. One of the many unwanted thoughts that usually pop into my head when meditating is ”I wonder how long I’ve got left?”, or sometimes if I feel like I’ve been sitting there a while “ did I remember to set the timer?”

    This time something felt distinctly different. I hadn’t previously realised it, but having a time limit set for my meditation somehow made it into a task that I had to complete, it had taken away the enjoyment and freedom to a certain extent. This time the anticipation of my alarm going off was not there and I found it easier to relax, there was no pressure to become calm and still within a twenty minute time frame. It was up to me when to stop, not some arbitrary time limit that I had decided to set myself.

    As I began to emerge from my deep stillness, I decided that I wasn’t ready yet and went back to meditating, this happened a number of times until I felt that I had sat long enough. When I finally opened my eyes, I felt so much more refreshed, it was like the difference between waking up in the morning to an alarm clock or waking up gently in your own time.

    This is now the new norm for me and I enjoy and appreciate my morning meditation so much more. I don’t know if I’m sitting for longer or not and it doesn’t really matter. I am sitting for as long as I need to. I have also noticed that since not timing my meditations I seem to be forgetting my phone a lot more during the day which is definitely a good thing

    Namo Amida Bu

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