Plagued by emails

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    Dharma Glimpse by Sonia

    At night, I’m plagued by emails. Ones I’ve received, ones I need to send, ones I need to reply too. The words fly around in a mounting frenzy and I just want to let go and go to sleep. I’m finding it increasingly hard to switch off these days and I’m especially annoyed because I regard this as one of the things I am ‘good’ at. So throw in some feelings of failure there too.

    Why do emails do this? I notice it happens when some part has been activated. It’s always the same thing – ‘not good enough’ feelings triggered by being condescended too. One email is really bothering me. Finding the right words to reply takes… more than anything… a pause. Their intentions, my intentions – a lot of this is flying under the surface, not visible to us. I notice in myself and in others a feeling of self-righteousness, the intention is to ‘correct’ the other person and woe if you get into that spiral. And woe if you are both insistent on having the last word. I’ve worked in lots of roles where diffusing conflict has been an important skill, where all parties leave feeling heard and perhaps with more understanding. I notice now that what made that easier was being in a position of recognised authority. It’s a bit different when you either don’t have power, or you’re taking power out of the equation entirely.

    It gets to the end of the day and the ‘pause’ hasn’t been long enough, I don’t reply to the email.

    At night the words keep coming back to me, little stings, I get angry, I remember to say the nembutsu and ask for clear-seeing. The words fly back, amplified, I get upset, I remember to say the nembutsu. The spiral again, I say the nembutsu.

    In the morning I’m grateful to wake with the knowledge I have managed to get some restful sleep.

    Later I log on, and the email doesn’t seem so bad now. I think about the person receiving my response, their complicated reactions, the daily irritations of life they are juggling, the space in which they are receiving my words. I try to understand the ripple effect, this is not just an email, but a person’s heart I am speaking to, however mundane the subject might be. I picture the Buddha’s smile, type words and hit send.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    Wellbeing Glimpse

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    Dharma Glimpse by Paul Riley

    Yesterday, I passed by a place I used to call home when the demon of addiction was living through me. A top-floor bohemian flat, shared with two people I met somewhere I can’t remember. I experienced an emotional reaction not dissimilar to that which arises when finding an old letter written by a long-lost friend. My mind re-traced my old steps; peering up at my old room, feelings bubbled up, like when the question ‘Will I ever see you again? is asked, and I walked by, strangely pining for the absent chaos I got used to. Then, I saw the hungry ghost of my old self trudging up the path, just having picked up a bottle to get it through the evening and realised how grateful I am that my life is not that way anymore.

    I was heading to a church further down the road to connect with like-minded souls who could identify with these same feelings. I am no longer possessed by that demon which formed a life by taking mine. Today, I am liberated by the power of Amida.

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    Becoming Whole

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    Dharma Glimpse by Philip Wallbridge

    The genesis of this dharma glimpse, or what I’m going to call a dharma pondering, came, as increasingly seems to be the case, at a Bright Earth practice.  I had been listening to Beth’s heart-warming and inspiring dharma glimpse about saving a cockroach.  And then Satya’s invitation to ‘take refuge’ in the following period of meditation.  It became a period more of contemplation for me.  I find practice is both calming and inspiring for me, which is perhaps why I get more glimpses, or ponderings, at them at the moment.  I’m not always so calm when I’m on my own or interacting with others in or outside work.  ‘Taking refuge’ is one of the invitations and ideas which first struck me when I started exploring and practicing.  Taking refuge.  It has a nice, if not slightly strange, feel to it for me.  Images of rain beating hard against the roof of a temple, arriving as a weary, bruised and exhausted traveller.  Maybe that’s more taking shelter than refuge.  I don’t know.  Maybe they are kinda the same thing.   

    Hearing Satya’s invitation today it gave me a sense of calm and warmth.  Taking refuge.  I could do with some, if not a lot, of it.  It made me wonder about the relationship between the spiritual path and taking refuge at the start of the meditation period of practice.  I expect taking refuge and progress on a spiritual path are a bit of a false dichotomy in my mind.  But, if you’ll indulge me, here are my ponderings!  I wonder if it is about becoming whole.  Or becoming with the whole.  The whole of nature, the universe, the Buddha, dharma and sangha.  Where the ‘I’ and the ‘ego’ disappear.  We cannot do this on our own perhaps.  We need to keep trying, with our delusions and harmful actions, to follow a spiritual path towards love, wisdom and enlightenment.  Maybe, for me, to be brave to keep moving forwards.  Understanding and accepting the truth of attachment and impermanence.  But also that we can rest, take refuge, be accepted and loved ‘just as we are’.  Without having to be kinder, wiser, or more loving.  ‘Just as we are’.  Surrendering and seeking.  Being and doing.  Arriving and travelling.  For some of us, we might need much more of the refuge.  To stop, feel safe and be sheltered.  Maybe because we have been in an endless cycle of harming others, ourselves and being harmed.  The world can be hard.  We can become hardened.  For others of us, we might feel safe and loved in the human world. Have the opportunities to experience happiness in the things we do and the people we are with.  But we are still unfulfilled and hungry in a spiritual sense.  And know, deep down, these human and material things won’t last forever.  We might need to seek more and discover more of the truth.  We might need to provide the refuge and kindness more for others.  For most of us, I suspect we need both in different amounts at different times.  Maybe different times is on a day to day basis.  And maybe we need both our heads and our hearts to know which we need.   

    I’m trying to think of a clever or profound way now to end these ponderings.  But I can’t.  Perhaps that, in itself, is a helpful thing.  Glimpses, ponderings, hearts, heads, refuge, seeking.  They aren’t necessarily nice and neat things.  They are maybe all part of the whole, where the more you become part of it and go towards it, the more the distinctions melt away. 

    Wishing you love and happiness. 

    Namo Amida Bu 

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    Flailing cockroach

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    Dharma Glimpse by Beth Hickey

    On my way to the swimming pool while on holiday, I came across a spectacular beastie. It was enormous, with massive muscular legs, spindly antenna and keen beady eyes. So thank goodness for me that it was on its back, too humongous to flip itself back upright.

    I noticed several people ahead of me had stopped and gawped, laughed and turned away in disgust… “it’s a nasty cockroach” they said.

    As I bent down to take a better look,
    I heard it ask me to; “stop staring and help please”. So I did!
    It took three attempts using a small stick to flip it back on its “right way up”.

    I had visions of it flying into my face in defiance, pinching me with its pincers or at least take a nibble out of my toe.

    But it didn’t, it shook itself off, dusted itself down, looked up at me and winked. And I’m not kidding!
    It made my day and I guess I made his too.

    How wonderfully compassionate human beings are capable of being.

    Namo Amida Bu

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    Daisies & buttercups

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    Dharma glimpse by Alex Merry

    I’ve recently been having some medical tests, which have revealed that I may have a (hopefully treatable) cancer. I’m still awaiting some more tests, a biopsy, to tell me the truth about where I am.

    I’ve been trying to keep calm and positive and I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that, on the whole. I’m a worrier by nature and an emotional person, so I’ve been surprised by how well I’m getting through the days. Fear of fear, seems more damaging than any medical condition, in terms of my mental health.

    I returned to work last week after a while away from work. I’ve been smiling and chatting and generally been hiding the way I’ve felt inside, with all the uncertainty and worry washing around, as it naturally will do.

    I work for the National Trust at a castle. Some visitors came, 2 parents and a little girl. I chatted a little with the little girl and teased her gently and then we moved on and I was chatting with the parents. After a while, we parted and they wandered off into the gardens.

    About 20 mins later, the family were walking back from the gardens, when the little girl broke away from her Mum and Dad ran towards me. She handed me a little bunch of daisies and buttercups she had found in the gardens growing wild, saying ‘these are for you’ and gave me a huge hug (from such a small person !).

    I struggled to hold back the tears.

    I don’t know what the learning is, but I know in that moment, this little girl must have sensed I was troubled and sought to help and show love, even though she didn’t know what was really happening and there was nothing for her to gain.

    There’s something in all that about just doing something lovely for someone else and helping to brighten someone’s day, even when you don’t know or understand.

    Maybe sometimes, that’s just all that matters.

    That day, it mattered to me and I will never forget.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    Losing My Voice

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    Dharma Glimpse by Sam Johnson

    Recently, my brother got married and I was his best man. It was a wonderful occasion. It also put a strain on my voice, and by the end it was gone almost entirely. It is still in recovery as I write.

    In the past few days I have been repeatedly frustrated at not being able to say the things I want to say. Not big things, just everyday comments and questions.

    ‘I lost my voice’. It occurs to me that this is literally true, but may be true in another sense too. I think back over recent times and past years to things that I could have said, but didn’t. Often, I didn’t speak because of fear. Fear that I would seem ridiculous or otherwise come across in a way I would not want to, and so be rejected. Or, fear that I would upset someone, and maybe cause an escalation. So I didn’t speak – I lost my voice.

    I suppose it may have started in my childhood, when I didn’t know how else to keep myself safe than to retreat into silence. The cost of that in the present is often feeling disconnected from those around me.

    Of course, it is still not always a good idea to blurt the first thing that comes to your head, and there are lots of times when it is appropriate to hold ones tongue, so a balance needs to be struck.

    Having lost my voice in the literal sense, I know that forcing myself to speak out loud could be harmful. But there are ways around this, such as making gestures or writing things down.

    So too in the other sense, it may be unwise to force myself to speak if there are parts of me that do not feel comfortable. But, if something feels important, I could also consider saying it in other ways.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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    Aretha Franklin & Grace

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    Dharma Glimpse by Dylan Tweney

    This past Monday was Independence Day in America, or what one of my Buddhist friends likes to call Interdependence Day. In addition to the holiday, my company also gave us Tuesday and Wednesday off, so I had an extra long weekend to rest and reflect. In theory, anyway. I had grand plans to renew myself through swimming and writing, but between chores and family obligations I made it all the way to Wednesday without having dipped into the water once, and without having written a word other than a few short scribbles in my diary.

    So on Wednesday I took myself up to Aquatic Park in San Francisco and swam for half an hour in the Bay. The cold water was refreshing and renewing, as it always is. I found a friendly vegan restaurant on Union Street where I ate veggies and noodles for lunch, then I drove north to Stinson Beach to try some body surfing. The waves were low and easy, the people I was meeting with were friendly and helpful, and I was thrilled to be able to sort of half-catch a few waves. It was enough. It was more than enough! Staring into the bright silver light as the afternoon sun lit up the sea, looking for rideable waves, I felt right at home, blissed out in the embrace of the ocean. I may have even shouted “Ocean!” as I dove into a wave once. Turning around to face the beach, the dark, fog-wreathed hills above Stinson were an almost comically gorgeous, perfect contrast to the shimmering light of the sea behind me.

    In short, I sought refuge in the sea and found it that day. I relaxed and the discontented feeling that had been chasing me all week evaporated.

    On the drive home, I listened to some random recommendations queued up by my music app. What came up as I rolled down the broad strip of Van Ness Avenue (the wide road built along the 1906 firebreak that saved half the city) was Aretha Franklin’s 1972 performance of “Amazing Grace” at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, Los Angeles.

    Now, nearly every capitalized word in that last sentence except for Aretha’s own name and the word “Amazing” are practically a foreign language to me: Grace, Missionary, Baptist, Los Angeles — these are places I don’t normally go. But this uninhibited, 10-minute exuberant praise of grace hit me hard.
    I realized that my Buddhist practice doesn’t include a lot of vocabulary (or songs) for exultation and exuberance. And that is sometimes just the mood you need. When something larger than you, something as big as the universe, catches you up and lifts you into its arms and reminds you that you are part of it — well, sometimes the right response is silent awe, sometimes it’s tears of joy, and sometimes you just need to shout and sing.

    I know this. I’m humble enough to acknowledge that I can be small minded and respond out of conditioned annoyance instead of Big Mind. I’m grateful that Big Mind (bodhicitta, shinjin, grace — call it what you will) came to me on Wednesday, carried by some gentle waves off the Pacific and by Aretha’s voice.

    So now I’m wondering: There are songs shouting praise to Jesus — are there songs like this for Amida? Can we get a nice rocking rhythm section and a choir to back us up on our joyful Plum Village songs and transform them from happy camp tunes into soaring revival hymns? Are there any good Zen gospel songs? It might take another generation or two but I am sure they’re coming. I hope I get a chance to hear them.

    To quote another song from the same album: “I want to sing, I just want to shout this evening, my soul looks back in wonder how I got over.”

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    Morning Pages

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    Dharma Glimpse by Sonia

    I’ve recently gone back to writing ‘morning pages’ – a practice that’s been around for a while but was popularised in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. The idea is to write anything at all, whatever’s on your mind, whatever comes to mind. I often think this is fruitless and am either embarrassed by the drivel that comes out or feel I haven’t got very much to write. The latter can’t be true as I know my mind is not clear! This weekend, a phrase came back to me from a wonderful mindfulness teacher I practised with, that thoughts and feelings themselves sometimes ‘fly under the radar.’ I’m always stunned to find how much is flying under the radar! So I’ve been trying to get more in touch with these underpond-skaters only to keep finding deep sea creatures. Giant ones.

    The waters are pretty rough at the moment, I’m navigating the boat with all the skill I can muster. Sometimes I feel pride in my sea-faring skills, being able to make allowances for others’ difficult behaviours, understanding that old patterns are being triggered, taking a pause, choosing words carefully, staying silent, avoiding mutiny. But I’m still getting hurt, my boat is in pretty bad shape and really I just want to get myself to my island shore.

    And so I write morning pages to try and work out how to get there, what wisdom can I draw on? Where can I go for more support with this? I rarely reach Cameron’s ‘page and a half truth’ (ie the magical moment you land on something true) but I did this weekend. I realised that I have been sailing with one goal foremost – how do I protect myself in this situation? What do I need to do to look after myself? These have been important and valuable questions in the past, but maybe it’s time to add a new skill. And a new question landed for me – ‘What positive impact can I have in this situation?’

    It doesn’t sound like much, but it was a cloud-parting, sun-break revelation for me. I don’t need the same defence barriers anymore, in fact these are holding me back and creating other problems, they are the deep creatures caught in the undertow. My jellyfish pride is a ‘poisoned act,’ my defences a school of cavefish swimming in ‘blind passion.’ ‘Dissembling ego’ was there making me feel good about myself, letting me believe I was being as wise as I could be. And for the first time, I don’t feel guilty, I can smile at my bonbu nature and be grateful for my morning pages glimpse.

    ‘What positive impact can I have in this situation?’ means I’m not just surviving now, I’ve come into a new relationship with myself – which in turn, means with everything. The light of Amida feels more real, more accessible, more possible. I can stop looking at my boat, and look up.

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    A Glimpse of Paradise

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    Dharma Glimpse by Beth Hickey

    In the distance is a silhouette of the Cretan mountains behind the twinkling lights of the little town below as the sun fades for the day.

    In my minds eye I also see the Malvern Hills silhouetted behind the twinkly lights of the little houses that hug the hills I love so much.

    I’m in awe of the Cretan mountains because they seem old and ancient. But so too are the Malvern hills and not that long ago (speaking cosmically) we were all connected as part of one land mass.

    So the fact that I feel connected is probably because I am.

    While catching up on Daymays Reading on the Gardens and Birdsong, I was lying on a sun lounger and I was simultaneously listening to both the Malvern blackbird song and the Greek birdsong, soaking up the magnificent Greek mountains and the Malvern hills. How amazing is that?

    I can do and enjoy both because I am connected to these landscapes. I am made from the same material and today I feel it acutely. The sun, the half moon, the mountains, the sea, the bougainvillea, the bluebells the birdsong, the soil, the cicadas, the wren and shrew AND the foolish human being.

    Today I embrace that I’m a foolish being. Today I let go of my craving, I don’t rush to the sun lounger with my towel and hog it for the day, I don’t wish I had a figure like the young bronzed nymph on “that” lounger, I don’t gobble as much “all inclusive “ as I can, because today I am in touch with the dharma and it’s teachings.

    Today I reflect on how i fit into the cosmos and appreciate HOW lucky I am to just be part of this truly amazing journey and if I can just stop to appreciate instead of expecting I can gain so much more… the beginnings of true enlightenment.

    Namo Amida Bu

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    Being Curious About My Attachments

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    A Dharma Glimpse by Fi Curnow

    The other weekend, I got myself some new garden furniture.  Well, when I say new, I mean new to me.  It was very second hand and cheap off Facebook Marketplace.

    Getting it home, though, and setting up the four chairs and one table in my tiny back yard filled me with a sense of joy that seemed ludicrously disproportionate.  I was immediately inclined to take myself to task.  I appeared to be experiencing a sensation of clinging to my new material possessions.  Should I feel guilty that this was making me so very happy?  In response I decided to unpick the feeling.

    Over the past 35 years since I’ve had my own homes, I’ve rarely had the luxury of being able to buy just what I wanted to furnish those places in anything like a co-ordinated manner.  But in a way, this has been a gift.  Because much of the furniture that has travelled around with me has its own story.  The chairs I bought for next to nothing from a junk shop, stripped them of their white gloss paint and stained them a beautiful shade of deep rich brown.  The pans I saved from my late aunt’s flat which reminded me of my childhood.  All the bargains I picked up from reject outlets and charity shops because I was fortunate enough to be there at the right time.  The mirrors and shelves a former partner enthusiastically dragged out of various skips and brought home (and sometimes I did tell them to take some of their offerings and put them right back in the skips where they’d found them! But that memory in itself stirred a tender feeling of affection and gratitude to an individual who was an important part of my story)

    These mismatched things have a history which makes them unique and part of my journey.  More than that, though, they represent generosity – that of friends who gifted or passed things on to me, or that of strangers who gave those items to charity shops or put them on Freecycle for me to claim.  So when I look around my home at the things that have come to me that way, I remember my gratitude to all those people.

    Back to my new garden furniture.  After examining my feelings towards some of my other possessions, I recognised that my sudden joy at these new acquisitions was more about what they represented than just ‘having new stuff.’  On warmer days I might sit outside for a while and read comfortably when I got home from work.  I would be able to sit out at dusk and watch the pipistrelles flit from the big old trees by the railway line, letting me cherish my connection to nature even in this very crowded built environment.  All those extra chairs meant I would be able to invite more than one friend round for a meal at a time.

    I know I’m a foolish being and have an attachment to my possessions that I’m not likely to outgrow any time soon.  But taking a little time to be curious about my attachments has been an interesting exercise for me in what has been important about my journey to where I am now – and that is gratitude and love.

    Namo Amida Bu.

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