A World of Difference

Before I get down to a few moving-related tasks today, such as notifying various official bodies of my upcoming change of address and packing a few more things, I want to write about something that came to mind a few days ago: there is a world of difference for me in whether I approach a situation by sitting still and asking what is being called for from me, than if I approach it with an attitude of something is wrong and it must be fixed.

The former way, of listening for what I am being called to do in response to the situation, is far more likely to keep me open to any possibility and it is more probable that I will think and behave compassionately.

If, however, I look at the particular circumstances as being wrong, I am immediately in a judging, blaming, closed-down state of mind with very limited possibilities available to me. And what is wrong, after all? We generally use this word to describe something we don’t like, don’t want, didn’t expect, is causing harm to me or others or that we judge to be unethical or incorrect. Something perhaps that arouses fear or disquiet in us. But labeling the situation as wrong feeds into the mind of aversion and I am then mostly concerned with rectifying the situation so that I can feel at peace again (though I might not see that at the time). In other words it is all about me.

It is hard to let go of blame, but I see more and more that it doesn’t help things. And I’m not denying that we sometimes have to deal with circumstances that are a cause for deep concern. Recognising and accepting our own fear and distress is a necessary step in becoming still. Allowing skillful action to be called forth from us, it is more likely that we will do what is of most benefit to all beings, and that, of course, includes ourselves.

Sitting Buddha Hermitage

I am naming this new place of Buddhist practice Sitting Buddha Hermitage. The community at Throssel are making a very appropriate gift of this outside sitting Buddha statue – thank you all so much!


I plan to place it on the wall around the lake, just in front of the building, with a bowl for incense offerings. I have decided not to burn incense or candles inside the building so that those who have allergies to smoke and perfumes will not be troubled, and also to help keep the building clean and fresh. Fortunately there are many good looking electric candles available for inside use – I saw one I liked at Ikea recently, but didn’t buy it in case I found something I liked better, but now I wish I’d bought it!

And instead of incense indoors, I particularly like the water offering that I saw at Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple in Ventura, California. Rev. Master Phoebe had a beautiful glass decanter and bowl on the altar, and an offering is made by pouring water from the decanter into the bowl. There is much teaching in Buddhism around water and it is often used in iconography as a potent symbol for compassion.

The Bodhisattva Kanzeon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is particularly associated with water, usually being depicted sitting on a rock by a river and holding a vessel from which she pours out the water of compassion to suffering beings. I think the summer house would be an excellent place to put a shrine to Kanzeon, don’t you think? 

The Non-Ferocious Way

Soft spring snowdrops

Soft spring snowdrops

There is only one thing
To train hard
For this is
True Enlightenment.

Taken from Rules for Meditation by Zen Master Dogen

We set great store by being sharp, being focused, being brightly alive. In short being THERE or better, HERE. In Zen practice and any other kind of practice for that matter being one who trains hard is better than being known as a slacker! But what does it mean to train hard, in practice. Are there particular times or circumstances when training hard is what’s asked of us or is the instruction itself a bit of a red herring? Did the intended meaning get lost in translation?

I had an email from somebody this morning who reflected that with a number of people in our sangha diagnosed with serious medical conditions, and one who had recently died, the call is to train hard while you can. Yes, I can understand that response in a certain kind of way and I also question it too. In my view meditation, be it formal zazen or throughout-the-day meditation, is essentially an internal movement, a movement to reflect within. How one does that ‘harder’ is less to do with visible effort and more to do with the growth of internal conviction, faith and a steady commitment. That cannot be measured nor should it be. Not at any time in one’s religious life and certainly not measured by oneself. Faith cannot be measured yet known none the less.

When people become sick they quite often become distressed because they are not able to do what they once did. I’m not sitting zazen regularly, I’m not practicing…etc. A woman on the phone today said, through her tears, that she was an utter failure because of the thoughts and feelings which were overtaking her at that moment. I advised her to take a walk to her altar, a pilgrimage in itself, and pause there for a few moments. This she did. Her voice changed becoming softer and once again she’d returned to touch something deeper in her being. A place of refuge and of faith. At whatever age the mind may not be as strong or as disciplined as we’d like. Emotions can rise up out of nowhere and become overwhelming as was the case of the woman this morning. As I pointed out to her at the time. All that has happened in your life, all the pain and suffering and disappointments and the seeming failures point you back to your altar. The non-ferocious way is simply and softly and continuously returning to the altar of our own heart/mind.

Now thinking of those who will join Rev. Alicia on retreat. Extra meditation invariably points out the very human tendency to hurl ourselves at the edifice of ourselves. On retreat we come to realize the futility of that approach and in the process discover by accident the rock-solid-softness within our being.

Moving Date – 25th February

Thank you so much for all the congratulations and messages of support for the new property in Wirksworth, Derbyshire. Thank you also for asking what items will be needed to furnish and equip it: I have put up a list in the Alms Bowl and have already been offered some of the things needed. I am really so grateful to everyone for helping to make this possible.

The moving date has been fixed for 25th of February. I am hiring a transit van, which Rev. Mugo has kindly offered to drive as she has plenty of experience of driving such vehicles. I will be very glad to have her along with me on the moving day.

I’ve done a little checking into public transport and was pleasantly surprised to find out that there is an hourly bus from the end of the road, going to Matlock and Derby, so it will be very possible for people to get here by train and bus, as well as by car.

And I will be giving this place a temple name. I have something in mind but can’t reveal it just yet!

A Property Found!

Great news – and the reason why this post is later than usual – Rev. Mugo and I went to view a property on Saturday and I have decided to rent it.

The property is on the edge of the town of Wirksworth in Derbyshire, just south of Matlock, with fields behind it and yes, the small lake is included. There is a large room, looking out on the lake, which is a lounge/diner/kitchen – pictures below (you can click to enlarge them).


There are two bedrooms, bathroom and a utility room, and space to park a retreat caravan. And there is a summerhouse which would make a very pleasant little shrine/meditation room:

We both had a very good feeling about the place – I think it will make a wonderful place of retreat. There are still a few formalities to complete, but if all goes well I am hoping to move in at the end of February. I still can’t quite believe that we have found such a delightful and suitable property so easily! I’ll publish more details in future posts.

Appreciating the Known

1Going on
For some reason this image keeps calling me back this afternoon, unfortunately why this is so is difficult to put into words. There is a tension between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the known present and the future pregnant with possibilities. Perhaps it is that the bark of the Silver Birch which is familiar and close at hand is stabilizing me in the here and now while the path draws me on into the unknown with the ever-present challenge to let go and step forward. The strongest message of this image is the reminder that however comfortable life has become there is always the going on, going on, always going on, always becoming Buddha. Which is the teaching found at the end of the Scripture of Great Wisdom.

To return to that tension mentioned above. Yes, there is the call to ‘go on’ and ‘let go’ of the familiar, while at the same time there is wisdom in not rushing on precipitously and fail to appreciate that which has held and sustained and is the stable rock from which to rise from. It is all too easy to believe that the ‘gold’ of life is over there buried under the end of the distant rainbow when it is set beside the path where we are right now. And still the pregnant road beckons, as it always must.

This ‘going on’ while appreciating what’s here and now is very much the teaching coming from the current unfolding of the Field of Merit project. I’d imagine that any time of transition is like this for everybody, a bitter-sweet time when it is both easy and difficult to move. Both at the same time. Good fortune to Rev. Alicia as you step out and forward.

Online Donations

Just thought I’d let you all know that I have added an online donation facility to the website. It is on the Appeal for Funds page and it looks like this (you can click on this one too):

I chose MyDonate because they don’t take any commission – most other online donation services do.

Holding the Space

This tree at Mount Grace Priory holds space beautifully

This tree at Mount Grace Priory holds space beautifully

Recently I was talking with a friend and she used the term holding the space. I have heard it before, but this time it really struck me because it so closely expresses what I see as my role when Field of Merit is established as an actual place of retreat. My understanding is that holding the space means to create a space, a safe environment, both physically and spiritually, for another person, or oneself, to be fully present with whatever is arising in the moment.

It is about being present without judgment, giving your complete attention to the situation you are in, or the person you are with. You are in the mode of listening deeply and accepting all that appears in front of you. You are not trying to change or fix anything.

Holding the space requires one to embrace the silence, to drop from the head to the heart and know that there is something greater at work that you can trust to move you towards a more profound understanding and wise and appropriate action.

I very much look forward to creating and taking care of a place that will give people the safety and the space to fully enter into the experience of silent retreat in a quiet and natural environment where one can meditate, contemplate and reflect and deepen one’s practice.

The Year Ahead

Walking into the year ahead - leaving 2013 behind.

Walking into the year ahead – leaving 2013 behind.

It has taken me some time to adjust to the changing of the year. On one level moving from December 31st, 2013 to January 1st, 2014 is just the difference of one day. What’s to adjust to! However the turning of the year invariably brings up memories and events and feelings, and all the rest, from the previous year. Before you know it one’s whole life comes up for review. That’s how it has been for me these past few days. All in all not a bad thing.

I was talking to a woman yesterday on the ‘phone who is finding life difficult in the extreme. There is loneliness and loss of life’s purpose to mention just a couple of issues that are weighing her down. For anybody walking into a new year there can be a crushing sense of emptiness, a negative emptiness. When physically alone this feeling can be almost unbearable. Yet walk on we must whatever the level of emotional, and in my friend’s case, physical pain. We walk on, side by side, together and that’s a blessing.

I love this photograph of the monk bending into the snow. It was sent to me ten years ago just as I was about to fly to Edmonton Canada where I ended up living nine months later. Lots of walking into the gusting snow that winter and so much more besides. The image still speaks volumes and especially at this time of year. As you can see in the image I’ve posted, Rev. Alicia’s name is on my computer screen. We have just been typing back and forth in ‘real time’ as it is put. Using an online chat facility is brilliant on so many levels. It’s friendly, informal and in terms of dealing with business matters and checking one’s ideas back and forth one can move things along apace. And for me, living on my own as I do at the moment, having a brief interchange with Rev. Alicia is a boost on a cold dark evening. We continue to work together with me in a supporting kind of role. Very soon there will be news of a next step for the project.

Improving the Website

This morning Rev. Mugo, Rev. Wilfrid and I had a meeting of the Field of Merit Trustees. One of the items on the agenda was to agree to register with the online donation service provided by MyDonate, which is operated by British Telecom. This will enable us to put a Donate Now button on the website. One of the reasons that we chose MyDonate was because they do not take any commission, unlike other services such as PayPal.

Rev. Mugo and I are also (slowly) making other improvements to the website. You have probably noticed that we have moved this blog from the front page and created a front page that hopefully sends the message that this site is more than the blog.

We added some text at the top of the Appeal for Funds page, which says “All donations are received as offerings to the Buddhadharma and are accepted with deepest gratitude.” At the heart of generosity is the unconditional nature of the gift. It is given because one wishes to bring benefit to all beings.

Work still to be done includes taking down the Transfer of Merit page – it seems to have run its course and to no longer be meeting a need. And I think we can put some more specific details on the About the Project page, and keep that more up-to-date as the project moves towards taking actual physical form in 2014.

So please do let us know if you have any thoughts about improving the website: Is there more information you’d like? Can you find what you are looking for? Anything about the look or feel of the site that doesn’t hit the spot for you? We always like to get feedback!