Luna Fish

LunaFish. She wasn't always looking this grumpy!

LunaFish. She wasn’t always looking this grumpy!

One of my cats had been suffering with an illness that was not going to get any better. She was slowly starving to death and my wife and I decided that we should not let her suffer any longer. What a horrible position to be in, to decide in taking a life. What a worse place for my cat to be in.

Luna-Fish was her name. She was born in Woodstock, New York and flew over when my wife and I moved to England. She was your typical ‘scared-e-cat’. She got spooked by any abrupt noise or movement. Plastic bags and guitars were the worse!

Now, I know cats can’t speak, lol, but she was telling me it was her time. She asked in her own way. She knew. The day the vets came to the house (She was such a gentle and skittish kitty, that we wanted to put her to sleep at her home, to be as comfortable as possible), that day, I had her on my bed. My wife and I took turns sitting with her while the other watched our kids. Luna had spent the past few weeks living under the bed. She loved under there, but it had become the only place she stayed. I crawled underneath to pull her out. She wasnt happy about it, but she also didn’t really stop me either. I put her on top of the bed. And we just sat. And sat. I cried, oh bucket loads of tears. Luna understood.

My mother-in-law took over watching the kids, so my wife and I spent some time together with Luna. She was in constant pain, but now, at that time, she seemed to let go of her suffering, she was, well, relieved. And she was so strong, so brave. She laid up against my leg and rested her head, her chin on my thigh. It was complete gratefulness and love. She was ready. It was horrible yet beautiful. My wife reminded me to be happy for Luna, not sad, but my heart poured tears.

I miss Luna. Where did she go? I don’t know but I wish her well and thank her for being part of my family. She was such a special cat.

 

Boats

I like this boat!

I like this boat!

Living with an ‘invisible’ illness can be difficult to manage sometimes. Sometimes, I feel fine, sometimes not so fine. On the outside, i look fine and i usually act fine, so its hard for other people to know what I am going through. On support group websites and the like I see lots of things like ‘what not to say to someone who has chronic illness’.. .and it will say things like ‘don’t tell me to change my diet or to be positive or i need to exercise more or tell me you are tired too’…. Sometimes i can relate to why these things could be upsetting, but usually they are said with an air of compassion, of trying to help. However, sometimes they are said with blame attached, as if it is all my own fault and if I just exercised and ate more fruit I would be healed. It is the same as telling someone with clinical depression that they just need to snap out of it and just be happy.

I try not to tell anyone how exhausted i am or what pain i may be in (Except my wife and well, i guess everyone reading this,lol!). Everyone has something invisible they are dealing with, and has to work with and might never go away. We are all in the same boat, sometimes the waters are calm and smooth, sometimes they are choppy and scary. But we are all in a boat. And we all have the same destination.

Buddhists are encouraged to meditate in groups…. it is like sailing all our boats together, tying them up and make the stability and direction stronger than the individual boats alone combined. We are social animals, we work best as team-mates. We all experience suffering of one kind or another, so lets join together to end each others suffering. How? Love and understanding. Understand that every person, every being you interact with, has something they are working through, or will have to work through at some time, and that everyone passes away.

A zen teacher once gave a talk about his work in prisons.. with inmates on death row. It was a sobering talk. Then he said something I will never forget… ‘We are all on death row.’ Yeah, of course we are, and we all know that… we will all die someday…. but for me, those words hit home…. and I carry that with me….. So, what do we want to do with our lives?

We are all in the same boat.

The Sun shines after a drizzle filled morning while birds fly passed majestic rainbows. A dead mouse lies on the path and a puppy gives it a good sniff.

How did we get here?

Buddha

Buddha

How did we get to where we are? Sometimes we may wake up one day and realize we are in a situation we never expected or planned. Sometimes thats a good realization, sometimes it might be a nightmare. We might rehash in our minds decisions we made, and get upset with ones we feel were very bad ones. Why did I do that

It doesn’t matter. Only through the good and the bad of our past are we where we are now. Maybe we hate where we are now, maybe we love it. It doesn’t matter. 

Pema Chödrön has taught: “Start Where You Are.”

I love this teaching. Where else can we start? lol. We can’t have a do-over with our past. We can’t act in the future. Starting right here, right now, is all there is. So, lets drop all our baggage, both good and bad, and start here, right now. 

This is why a drunk man who wants to hear the Dharma, with a pure heart, is already more advanced than someone who has studied all the Sutras. 

“Oh, i will start meditating tomorrow, oh, i will wait until my flu is gone.. oh, i will wait until all my bills are paid….”.. Right now, even if in debt, drunk, filled with flu or disease, surrounded by chaos and being pulled by different people in different directions… what better time to practice the Dharma? Or not even Dharma, just to practice living our lives, not putting them on hold. Sure, there is suffering, and Enlightenment doesn’t pay your bills or rid you of bad influences, but if we accept our lives, good or bad, and accept ourselves, to ourselves, in our heart, we can start to feel some freedom, and tears may flow down our cheeks from the release .. the release of the grip on our hearts, the grip we hold ourselves. Lets let go our our grip, our hearts will pump fuller, free-er and sing our own song. 

Listen to your song, it is absolutely beautiful, glorious and only wants to make you smile, along with all beings.

Mindfulness in pain

Your next move? Push the pain away? Move towards it? Is there not another way? The Middle Way.

Your next move? Push the pain away? Move towards it? Is there not another way? The Middle Way.

It is always easier to focus when we are in a good place, both physically and mentally. Sometimes we aren’t in that place, perhaps we feel we are never in that place!

We may sit to meditate and then the neighbors decide it is time to drill holes in the walls to put up shelves, or the traffic outside gets really noisy, or the birds are fighting outside…. “Oh, only if everyone would just shut up I could actually focus my mind and meditate properly!”

Sometimes it is not even things outside our body’s… maybe we have a bad headache, or a migraine. “Oh, i simply can’t focus, my mind is under attack and I need to lay down!”

Well, in Zen, it is said that a good situation is a bad situation and a bad situation is a good situation! lol. So, when we are in these bad situations… can we not find out how come this is actually a good situation? Surely a noisy drill pounding into your head, with a migraine no less, is not good! lol. But, it is good, in a way, a ‘zen’ way…. what can we learn from this situation? Bodhidharma got clonked on the head with a rock.. OUCH! but BAM.. he realized his inherent nature in that moment. When we are suffering, weather in a minor way or in a major way, this suffering provides us with the opportunity to explore it, to kindly and gently, with tenderness, to ask ourselves why it is we suffer and where it is born from… When we get past answering this questioning with “I know where it comes from, it’s from that stupid drill!”, we can begin to truly explore it… with love for ourselves.

Laying down, because the brain is ravaged with a migraine attack, does prevent us from doing sitting meditation, sure, but we can do better meditation! It is like when a person is facing death and all of a sudden they start praying to God…. their love, their heart, is true in those moments, and they beg for help, and become open to help. Prayer has the power to transform ourselves, it opens our heart-minds and allows Truth to flow into our sight.

Buddhism is not about escaping pain, but it is also not about seeking pain. The Middle Way. When pain arrises, we can explore this, or we can rest, whatever we choose, if it is with deep love for ourselves, then all will be OK.

Seeing clearly

IMG_2348

Big Ben’s tower

Seeing clearly is something one may hear when studying Zen. This is not just simply vision with our eyeballs, but being clear-minded.

Seeing clearly involves living without using our mental attachments, our models of reality.

I have a great Zen teacher inside me, when i get ‘brain-fog’. This is when, due to ailments I have, my brain simply doesn’t fire on all cylinders, if you will. Memory, trains of thought and cognition are difficult. It comes and goes, sometimes not so bad, others times, not so good.

When my mind is cloudy, and I feel this ‘brain-fog’, I have a great teacher. Seeing clearly is something, when studying Zen, that I feel should be sorta like it sounds…. crystal clear perception, seeing into the heart of all things. When I have brain-fog…. it is like being drunk in a dark forest in dense fog… how is clear sight possible then?! lol. But, it is possible, and this is what it teaches me. ‘Seeing clearly’ is beyond thinking clearly…. One doesn’t need to think clearly to see clearly!

So, things that may seem a hinderance to the Way, are, of course, our allies, and all things lead us home, we just need to see that clearly.

Escaping Pain

You can run, and you can hide, but always right arounf the corner you will be staring right back at yourself, or a sheep!

You can run, and you can hide, but always right around the corner you will be staring right back at yourself, or a sheep!

Having lots on your plate to get done while having chronic fatigue is difficult. When this extends over an extended period of time with minimal relief on the horizon, it can be more than mere deflating. Being mindful of each moment, as that’s all there really is, certainly is the best mode of attack, if you will. However, one thing I have noticed, is that it is times like these, where difficulty can be safely predicted to be constant for the foreseeable future, that being mindful of the present can be experienced as unrelenting stress and pain. This is certainly one of the birthplaces where ‘escaping reality’ takes place. Now, i don’t want to give the impression this is how my life is, because whilst individual moments may be experienced in this way, many other moments are magical. Such as holding my wife’s hand, or flying my 4 month old daughter around the house like Superman, or rather Supergirl I suppose! Last night my 3-year-old son wanted to help me get stuff from the attic, but I explained it was too dangerous. Then, as I was finished, and about to move the ladder back outside, I took him up the ladder to show him the great mysterious unknown above. The look on his face was of pure amazement and exhilaration! He felt like the luckiest kid on Earth I think! lol.

Back to ‘escaping reality’ … Sometimes people use booze or drugs. Many people use television or surf the internet. Perhaps more dangerous are the subtle escapes, like, for example, reading books. Things that have positive connotations, such as reading, can remain forever hidden as a possible obstruction. We all know watching too much tv or drinking too much booze isn’t really good for us.. but how many people think that reading too much is bad for us?! Only nutters! lol.

If we do feel the need to escape, to have a stiff drink, or a good read, perhaps we can try to be mindful of those moments, and, when we are, something magical happens, the escape drops away and we are where we started, where we always have been. Sure our problems will still be there after the next chapter or the next episode, but if we can face our escape head on, then we learn to not be so afraid of our problems and feel we can live within them. Over time, the need to have a stiff drink or a good novel fades away and our problems and pain are best ‘solved’ head-on, with loving compassion for ourselves.

Sarcoidosis

Is this the tree's cone or the Universes?

Is this the tree’s cone or the Universes?

 

Sometimes our bodies seem to let us down. But whose body is this? Sometimes you hear how a persons body is just a vessel for the soul, for one’s inner spirit. This way of thought can provide benefit, as it is a form of non-attachment, which is central to Buddhist teachings. However, it also ultimately falls short in the end. It creates an attachment to the ‘soul’. In Buddhism, sometimes you hear or learn the idea of non-self or that there is no soul. 

How soulless! lol.

Image

Vessel

Of course there is a soul. But what the Buddha taught is that there is no unchanging self. This is called ‘anatta’ and just as ’emptiness’ does not mean ‘nothingness’
, non-self does not mean we are nothing! This understanding can be used to realize how, in Buddhism, the belief of past lives exists. How could a Buddhist believe in past lives if there is no soul to be passed along?! lol. From my understanding, Buddhism speaks of rebirth but not reincarnation. Although they seem to be the same thing, there is a subtle difference. Some would say it is a Buddhist get out clause! lol. 

But, whose body do we have? ‘My’ body has sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease, which sometimes hides and pretends to not exist, then sometimes it engulfs my body and makes life difficult. Of course I feel many different emotions, we are all human, and I feel sad, mad, sorry for myself, think ‘why me?’ and lots and lots of thoughts! 

Speaking of thoughts, I can feel how my brain chemistry gets affected by the disease, misfiring neurons, and creating floods and droughts of neurotransmitters. Perhaps thats just my mind making a model of what really is happening, but the model fits. It doesn’t really matter, but what is important is being ‘aware’. 

Sueng Sahn, a Zen master, once said that a good situation is a bad situation and that a bad situation is a good situation. What he meant, in short, was that if your life is good, you may become complacent and get lazy in realizing your inherent enlightened nature. All that good food and that big house hides the Buddha that you already are! But, a bad situation creates desperation to end the suffering, and they say that neccecity is the mother of invention. Many non-religious people will pray to God when their life is in danger.

Sure, I wish my body was in a better condition, I worry about the demands it places on my family, the limitations of interacting with my 2 year old son. Sure, I wish my body was in a good situation and also my realization of my inherent nature was also in a good situation! lol. Sometimes, of course, people are ‘lucky’ to have the double positive. But, sometimes people have the double negative… bad situation and bad realizations. It can be a self-feeding vicious cycle. 

So, it is easy to be sad and mad with my body, but it is empty and I try to think the Universe really does know what it is doing, so it makes my body suffer to help end the suffering of all beings by helping me realize my true nature. So, it is a painful blessing, not something for me to condemn, but also not something to be praised. 

Once it has been said that no one became enlightened without circumstances, and for the Buddha himself, this took the form of Venus.. once he saw the planet in the sky.. BAM! He got it. 

So, all circumstances can birth enlightenment, so it can happen at any time. Just as a radioactive atom can decay at any moment, only the correct conditions inside the atom will allow this to occur. Some atoms have a greater chance of decaying than others, just as some circumstances in our lives give a better chance of realizing our enlightened nature. 

This is why Zen is so very strict and disciplined. It says ‘Hey, the Buddha figured out a good way to see Venus, so lets do that! .. sure you might see Venus if you stare at the ground, but it is unlikely… you would need perhaps a puddle to reflect the night sky or something, but if you look directly where Venus pops up on the horizon, you have a better chance to see it! so lets go!!

We are already perfectly enlightened

see what grows!

In times of difficulty, the message from the Buddhas can help us through… We are already all Buddhas. Starting where we are is not only the best place to begin, it can be the only place to begin. It is also where we end. Starting right here, right now, we are all Buddhas. Clear-minded, drunk, diseased with dementia… are all included. Nothing is seperate from Universal Enlightened nature. Though we may not understand, and even if we do conceptually, we may not realize how it can be true. Here is where faith lives. Deep faith that we are already 100% a buddha, with nothing more to add and nothing to take away. Here we are, right now. Lets start here with our faith and trust this is truth and see what is allowed to grow in our hearts.

Just as mud may hold numerous seeds of all types of plants, we don’t know what may grow until the conditions are correct… warmth, air and water… let’s see what seeds are hidden inside our souls, our hearts. We always will be surprised yet never in doubt that it never was there.

Overwhelmed.

Dragonfly, dragonfly, fly me up to the sky, drag down the Moon, bring her to me, in our hearts we shall sing.

Its been a stressful time in my life, on many fronts. Some very positive, some not so positive. I am moving house soon, and this is a welcome event, though wrapped with stress and complexities. My health has been sub-par recently and I find my brain sputtering, like a car engine with bad spark plugs. My glands are painful and I am very run down.

I am an American living in the UK and I am recently experiencing feelings of being a foreigner due to some restructuring at my employment. Although I have permanent residency here, I am still technically an alien and this might cause some issues in keeping my job. I have verbal assurances it wont but nothing in writing yet.

So, in times like these, where I have to be very focused and attentive and keep track of multiple highly important things going on, I have been keeping a quote from Pema Chodron in my mind: “Start where you are”.

I love this saying. It is so obvious, so simple, yet so full of wisdom. I am frequently feeling overwhelmed and lacking the necessary cognitive tools to navigate through this phase of complexity; however, keeping this phrase in my mind’s eye has proved very helpful and calming. Centering.

This, and also lists, many many lists!!!

Most people have times in their lives like this… very complex, very busy and feeling more than just a bit under the weather… During these times, meditation is very interesting to say the least. We see how fast our minds are racing, for me, my thoughts seem to be a collection of many many dogs, all of whom are chasing their tails…. All these thoughts going circular, never settling and just creating more stress . Clearly seeing our situation, whether calm or chaotic, is very important. My ‘vision’ is very hazy right now, due to my brain’s sparkplugs needing cleaning, so to speak, but I can see clearly that I am foggy, and that’s ok. I still know the moon is up there, behind those clouds, beyond my foggy ground and its pull, its gravity, can always be felt and I can never be separate from it, even if I tried!

My deep faith in the Universe’s love makes me smile, that, as well as coming home to my wonderful wife and my little boy, 2 years old, who now regularly is calling me ‘papa’. How wonderful!

Living with Disease and Living with Zen

Sometimes, it feels like the light is only shining on part of ourselves, yet we must remember that we are always fully present, even when we have craters damaging our body.

I have two chronic diseases, sarcoidosis and also CFS/ME. The first one, sarcoidosis is an auto-immune disease. No one knows how people get it, what causes it and there is no cure. It can range from being mild all the way to deadly. It can affect various organs in the body, from the lungs, the heart, brain, skin, lymphatic system, eyes… basically anything in the body. My case of the disease is a chronic form, which basically means I have it for the long haul. (Although there is no cure for it, some people have an acute form, whereby all symptoms fade away after a little bit of time). My lungs have been effected the most, though other symptoms blur into my other disease.. CFS/ME is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Basically, I constantly feel like I have just run a marathon, my body feels wiped out of energy.

These are crude simplifications, and I have a host of various symptoms, but my point is simply that I live in a constant state of discomfort. Sometimes it is quite bad, sometimes though, I feel perfectly healthy. It is a strange way to live, as I usually am feeling very run down. Sometimes, walking up some stairs is a huge effort. Even during those times when I am bad, it is strange, because, I know, if I had to, I could run/sprint in an emergency. I know I can muster up the energy to do explosive physical action… so it is a very strange feeling… It sorta feels like I am lying to myself! ‘Oh, I am not that sick if I can run and jump up and down’ ‘Oh , I am just a lazy person’.

They used to call CFS/ME ‘yuppy flu’. I totally understand this. People can (and I am sure some people probably do) make this up. So, I understand why people are skeptical…. Even I am skeptical of my own illness! Lol.

It is always very easy to make excuses for not practicing. ‘I don’t have time’ ‘I don’t have the right space’ ‘I don’t have the right cushion’ ‘I am too ill’. What happens when we have all the things we think we need to practice ‘properly’? No excuses… so if we ‘fail’, we can only blame ourselves… People don’t like this! Far better to be able to blame being ill, or blame the noisy neighbors, or to blame the uncomfortable cushion!

There is a saying about how a good craftsman never blames his tools.

The Universe has provided us with the tools. Sometimes the tools seem like the wrong ones! ‘I wanted a hammer, not a screwdriver!’ lol . However, in Buddhism, we must have deep faith and trust that the Universe knows what it is doing. It has been doing it for billions of years, so it has a good grip on how things work by now! Lol.

This also ties in with the saying about God.. How he never gives us more than we can handle and gives us what we need.

When I sit, sometimes I feel my lungs not working 100%, sometimes I feel my lymph glands screaming in pain in my armpits. Sometimes I feel my brain mis-firing, thoughts get lost being transferred around the processing centers in my head. Yeah, my diseases have made me stupider at times. So, I sit, and I feel my body not functioning properly.

In Buddhism, ‘proper function’ is a very important thing. Realizing Enlightenment is realizing our proper function as human beings.  So, is my body really not functioning properly? Do I need my brain to always fire properly to realize my inherent nature? Enlightenment can not be realized through rationalization, so my mis-fires are not a problem. In fact, I must embrace them as my teacher… Hey, they help me lose attachment to my thoughts by destroying them! Lol.

But in all seriousness, practicing the Way whilst ill presents itself with certain challenges, but also with certain opportunities.  Most of the time, I find myself not thinking of my illnesses and simply have accepted them into my life. However, there are some times when I do get fed-up with being ill. I get tired of being tired! This is because of my attachment to a life when I was healthier. This attachment then makes me suffer. But this is a great teacher. I can use this awareness of being attached to my former self to help break the attachment.

Sometimes, I ignore my illnesses, and pretend I do not have them. This is not healthy, because ultimately I will let myself and other people down… I need to accept the limitations I have placed upon myself. It is a fine balance though.. It would be unhealthy to totally ‘give in’ to my diseases, yet it would also be unhealthy to totally fight my diseases. Fighting them is different from trying to get healthy. So, a balance is required.. I must accept my situation, but also work hard to try to change the situation… So I try to exercise and eat well, I try to think and act well. I try to listen to my body and react accordingly. Sometimes I fail but sometimes I find a good balance.

All this said, I ask: Who is not in this situation? Are we all not confronted with some situation that we must find a balance? If it is not illness that affects our practice, does not something else come into play? Do we not all have multifaceted things effecting our practice?

It has been said that there has been no Enlightenment that has occurred without circumstances. I think this is a very very important thing to realize. No one becomes enlightened in a vacuum! The Buddha’s circumstance was seeing Venus…. And BAM! He realized in an instant his true nature.

The Universe has been unfolding circumstances since the beginingless beginning. It unfolds buddhas, who then unfold more buddhas… more and more circumstances unfold into more and more buddhas.  The Universe is very clever! I know it is cleverer than me and I will always trust it fully. I know I will not always understand it, but I know it has my back, even when it makes my lymph nodes stab into my lungs, when it loses my train of thought and when I am completely out of breath from walking up some stairs.

I like to sometimes think fun thoughts… like The Buddha has unfolded the Universe so that he is poking my chest via my glands via the disease.  A direct connection to me over thousands of years… Like a ‘butterfly effect’, the buddha knew what the Universe was doing and he poked the air 2500 years ago or so and he knew it would help more unfolding… and it is like a knocking from him on my chest. So, I try to take the pain as a pleasure, in a way, a teaching tool, a motivational prod! This is a fun thought, my heart-mind likes it too, and it helps me remember the Universe has got my back, is on my side, even if how I got to that conclusion is maybe flawed, yet fun.