Something before dawn

Strange how the body knows it is three in the morning. Like it wants to express something before dawn. It reminds of the title of a book – something about how the body remembers. As I sit here, my only companion silence – with no light yet from the east – it is on its way – the rage, on many fronts, smouldering. It is the hollow men again. Their vacuous words inflame. What sort of people do they think we are – was that Churchill? – to simply accept their lies. Mendacity on a national scale. They often take their bet on knowing most people go on with their human lives, deaf and blind or, perhaps for them, it is too much to bear. I hasten to say – sincere in trying to make their way. The obsessives, the fewer in a fever – maybe there are more – working with their outrage, some corralling it into words. Others in an anxious sweat, wondering out loud what the future holds. The bird song, the soundtrack, will land on our ears, the first aid for tired souls; and the coming rain – we have been parched for too long – greening the fields and valleys through which we will walk today.

South Coast, England, 6th June 2020


Sitting, loving what is, I am not entirely convinced.
Circling, before the dive in. The deep dive in. 
The lived life, the examined life.
If you want reality to be different than it is, she laughs, 
you might as well teach a cat to bark.
It then comes to me. The world is larger because of this.
When you walk into a room and everyone agrees on something, 
you know that someone is hiding something 
or there is something you don't see.
We don't need prophets for telling the future, 
because they are trying to change the present, he says.
With this, like the poet says, the coating of dead dust falls from the windows. The old ways of seeing - habits really - are broken.
We walk along the seafront, the meadowing path breathes with wildlife. The unexamined stories are airlifted away by 
butterflies and the thought of what the wise woman said: 
you are the one that can end your suffering.
Sitting still, loving the world as it is, making friends with the wind.

Inspired by John O’Donohue, Byron Katie, Omar Ghobash and Shane Claiborne.

Getting over

He said,
As a guide to getting over yourself,
you settle into yourself, rather than shooing away 
the troublesome things.
If it falls away, it does so by itself.
You cannot make it directly happen.

Settle. Stop for a moment.
The risk of surprise and staying present often unsticks us.
We do not, he said, have to be at the mercy of our neuroses.

And when you settle into yourself, remember:
How you talk to yourself is as important as how you speak to others.

Inspired by ‘Advice Not Given’ by Mark Epstein.

Song sung

Your best is not good enough, he lectured
Usually after several stiff brandies.
Outside, the Christmas beetles sang in chorus in
The evening African heat.
It was a life-time ago and, I suppose, to him he thought, 
meant to be helpful.
Yet, even now, it is difficult to excavate the enormity
Of what not good enough meant.
Strangely, looking back, it was
The wildness of the beetle song sung in tune to the darkening sun that
Somehow kept me safe and enough.

To begin

And to begin with myself I need a lighthouse, sunlight, daylight but I need the juxtaposition of darkness. If there was no darkness, there would be no sunset where darkness meets light, there would be no dawn chorus, no light tiptoeing into the bedroom after the long night.

From a piece I wrote ‘What do I want to give myself to’

Until now

I am mostly certain. But I see that it is okay to only understand mostly and not fully. I just want to be me. That gap between is a life-time journey of me in conversation.

The story told me. I allowed it to. And it messed with my head, good and proper. You see, it was all one-sided – from him to me. I had listened obediently for far too long. Until now.

I snatch the voice out of the teller. I have his vocal chords in my hands. His pens that he used to write me with are in the bonfire, snapping and crackling. I dance around the embers of the crayons that he drew me with. The earth falls into the night sky and yet I know that morning will come.

My voice now tells me. I tell me now.

My voice drizzles like olive oil in the early summer warmth. It is husky from emotion and being unused and unsaid. There is a depth to my soul that I thought impossible to reach – a new landscape of conversation in which I can tell of me and how I feel.

I am mostly certain. But I see that it is okay to only understand mostly and not fully. I just want to be me. That gap between is a life-time journey of me in conversation.

I have come upon myself and in my telling I laugh at the death of the old story teller. I had never thought it would have been possible. Until now.

Advice Given

Excellent advice in Advice Not Given’ by Mark Epstein. From his excellent chapter ‘Right Action’, some ideas to help with troubling thoughts.

When we help people see their repetitive thoughts as mere thoughts rather than as true stories, there is a whiff of freedom. Our narratives need not be as sure of themselves as we have led ourselves to believe. The more we examine them in an open way, the less convinced we tend to be about them.

… But letting go does not mean releasing the thing that is bothering you. Trying to get rid of it only makes it stronger. Letting go has more to do with patience than it does with release.

… [In] Right Action … You settle into yourself rather than trying to make the troubling thing go away. If anything drops away, it does so by itself. You cannot make it happen directly.

Right Action is part of the Eight-fold Path from the Buddha’s fourth Noble Truth

I met my shaman

Yes, I know, I know. It sounds weird.
You ask how could I tell?
There was nothing extraordinary - the encounter was easy simply because of the long preparation before the moment.
There was nothing trapped and hidden and instead it felt like a release. I was able talk quite openly as if I had known my shaman forever.
I am being saved differently and going into the dark fungus and inhabiting its eco system, letting go all the time
in the lines out loud where my shaman watches over me

More fathoming of the not self

This has been inspired by a talk I heard on the notion of anatta, the Buddhist idea of the not self. It is my feeble attempt to understand from someone who knows way more than me and I urge you to go to the original talk on the website which I quote below.

Martin Aylward in his teaching on the website Worldwide Insight * invites us to put aside ideas about self; we are encouraged to not take up a fixed position and instead he talks about freeing up the self. Interestingly though, he does not negate self and goes to some lengths to underline that in ordinary experience there is self, giving us examples of when self is paramount (we shut out the world) and when it plays less of a role because we open ourselves up to the senses whilst say, watching a sunrise or looking at a mountain.


The teaching centres on how we can learn to recognise, allow and make room for the sense of self and then inhabit the feeling of the hereness of ourselves. This is not about whether or not we have a self. Instead rather we begin to investigate the ambiguities and mysteries of the self because the sense of self is undeniable.

Aylward urges us to hang out with and investigate the ambiguity.

Here’s the thing. If we fill up our space with a sense of self, he says, it will become solidified; if we think about it the ‘I, me and mine, the question of how good or bad we are or how others see us’ makes us what he called ‘self-enveloped’. Robert Wright+, in the same vein, quotes Rahula, a Buddhist monk about how a focus on the self can be harmful. It is the source of all troubles in the world, he posits.

On the other hand we could experience a radical change to the idea of the self and tempt to switch the self away from the drama, the struggle and the messy old stuff of self. It is, Aylward says, very seductive to put this aside but not something we should do. He turns though to what he sees about the importance of where we are located in body, heart, mind and organs because this ground, location, this uniqueness of place is undeniable. He asks a series of questions:

  • How am I, right now, right here?
  • How is the one who appears here?
  • What’s it like to be here right now?

So we frame it in the following way. If we fixate in our thinking of how we are then we become insular but if we lose the uniqueness of our hereness then we negate ourselves. All the time though we have a willingness to doubt, to keep alive our ambiguity and keep on finding out more about the vastness of ourselves. He emphasises how we are available to experience instead of being trapped in the world of the binary existence / non-existence. Ambiguity, he suggests, allows us a certain creative engagement. This, for me, is perhaps the key point about how we widen the lens if we are open this way.

Aylward continues by posing the question which I love because it makes such sense: how is this collection of habits I am emerging with right now? What habitual reactions are being brought up right now? How can I engage with this moment, this situation?

He gets me to think differently and looks at the following sentence – ‘you are beautiful just the way you are’ and turns it upside down by saying ‘you are not beautiful and you are not ugly’. Instead he says, ‘You are just the way you are’. Absolutely! Saying it this way opens up possibilities when you consider the questions:

  • How are you right now?
  • How and where is the experience landing right now?

Camping in Dorset 028.jpg

This helps us to avoid rigid views about the self.Aylward offers practical advice on how to proceed. Naturally, he turns to meditation as the way towards a deeper insight by saying that this is the way to sharpen our curiosity about who, what, is here.  In meditation we ask ourselves – How is the experience landing right now?

This, it is suggested, is the invitation to allow any experience of the appearance of self or what I think myself to be, the myriad nature of who I am:

right, wrong, angry, happy, clear, confused

In this way we become comfortable with all our expressions of our humanity and how we are full of possibility. It provides more room and space and we are enabled and willing to include more wisdom response.

The results are a more attuned and aligned self and, in the process, we don’t need to take things so personally and we don’t have to believe that as me any more. We start to see it as an expression of the non-self and the non-fixedness of self. In making room for our non-self existence there are more possibilities as we navigate in the world, remembering we do not exist by ourselves becuase we exist in a context.

So when we consider our roles as lover, friend, employee, meditator we exist for others in our various roles. Aylward gives the example of when we show up at work which I find particularly helpful. Here, we may squash ourselves into a particular role and then experience a kind of anxiety, righteousness or defensiveness in trying to protect, sustain or feel comfortable in the role because the role becomes representative of who I am.

Certainly our various roles reflect back to ourselves our very ambiguity.

The question is asked. Is there a way we relate to the role? Is there a friction in the role? Is the friction related to how we have picked up the role and made too much of it with the result we have hardened the view of the role of who I am, of who you are? Perhaps we have used this to see how we have taken ourselves to be. And these end up to be accumulated assumptions of who we are and really does say out loud, ‘I want you to show up in a particular way’. We cannot have an idea of self without being filtered through by an other but the chance for more fluidity means we can break out of fixedness and give us space about how we see ourselves and the other.

In living in the world and dealing with stuff there is the sense that a lot of contractions happen around yourself are that you blame yourself. Or that there is a competition to be a certain way.

Flip this on its head and show up in the world with the ambiguous sense of self, remembering everything is within yourself. When we accommodate all the senses of self, we begin to have a changed relationship with feelings of anger and aggression and help us to move away from fixed positions. Wright says the same thing: with this work you begin ‘to feel a new sense of connection with your fellow creatures and a new sense of generosity towards them’.


Aylward’s teaching turns towards our place in the world. He provides several examples. ‘He is wrong’, we say, makes us feel right and better. Anger with another can be habitual and reactive and SELF making. These destructive urges mean that we are locked into being a SELF and the other into a SELF.

If we flip this on the head and are more ambiguous and open to a full kind of experience and all those senses of selves we will no doubt have a wider view: all people are trying their best. We stop making them into a SELF that is wrong and bad because we are connected to the nature of self and aware that we are standing on the same earth. This is powerful stuff.

Appearances of senses of self allows room for a greater awareness that we are all experiencing and all feeling the same things like love and fear. Then – and this is an important then – when we do this we can stand up for ourselves and stand up for all the company of beings. Even those, yes, even those who are drawn into a rigid sense of self share the same earth.

Wright argues that we should think of ourselves as having the power to establish a different relationship with our feelings on the road to understanding our not self and, in many ways, Aylward says the same thing although, to my mind, he says it differently.

Aylward talks about the heart of our being which is knowing our non-difference and knowing ourselves in the company of everyone, making room for a myriad of selves.

This is important stuff as we go deeper and understand the way in which we exist in the world and how we relate to the other. I love the way he ends by quoting something from Ram Das, who acknowledged the difficulty of loving some people: do what you need to do with people, but never put them out of your heart.

This is called liberated activism and we now it seems we are grounded to be where we are.



Why Buddhism is True

The alchemy of anger

I am looking at ways to turn anger into something that does not harm and debilitate. What I am writing is provisional. I am not quite yet there with my thinking.

It is true to say that grief not dealt with, despair that has no where to go and a fear that sits with us by brooding and corroding us – all three can end up as anger.

What happens to anger that has no place to go? It turns on itself, leading to depression. In the wrong hands it can become uncivil, possibly violent and massively painful.

Anger and fear are on the same side of the coin. Maybe they are on the opposite sides but they are part of the flight or flight.

Too much fear can shrivel us, make us lose our sense of self. Equally, not feeling any fear is problematic. Without fear we become manic, self-destructive or even hubristic. The key is being self-aware of the feeling of fear or the lack of it. The same thing with anger.

Anger that has no self-awareness becomes self-righteous or self-loathing. Anger that is not looked after and not dealt with can become depression. It can go underground and can seep in the places where it becomes toxic and kills the goodness of the person.

Pema Chodron and others argue that we are responsible for creating all of our emotion. Pema refers to the work done by Jill Bolte Taylor:

“An emotion like anger that is an automatic response lasts just ninety seconds from the moment it is triggered until it runs its course … When it lasts any longer, which it usually does, it is because we have chosen to rekindle it.”

Alex Miles, writing in Elephant Journal picks up the same theme and says, quite clearly, that we are responsible for making our own emotions: “Although we may not want to admit it we are responsible for creating all of our own emotions. Every thought that we think causes a chemical reaction and that reaction causes a physical response.” Alex Myles, Elephant Journal (It’s about the Mindful Life)

Is it true to say that no one makes you angry? That you make yourself angry? Anyway it is something to reflect on and become aware of next time you have that sensation. I think that someone or something makes us angry. It does have a context.

Here’s the thing – the radical thing to think about – the emotion of anger lasts only ninety seconds and then we make up the story around that emotion and it can remain with us for decades.

At that moment of anger, be aware of what has made us angry. Give the feeling, the moment, oxygen and space to open us up. Stop there. Don’t act out. Don’t repress. Don’t blame it on anyone else. Don’t blame it on ourselves. Make it open-ended. It will pass in ninety seconds. Listen to yourself. Listen to your own suffering.


Being self-aware of our suffering gives us the gift of the chance to be kind to ourselves.

This next line has shattered my view. I always thought with anger – get it out.

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “When you express your anger you think you are getting anger out of your system, but that’s not true.” When you fan your anger and don’t stop to work out why you are angry then that’s a difficult place to be.

Attend to anger. Be aware of it. Have self-awareness. Befriend it. Sit with it. Don’t try to suppress it. Surrender to it. This is the renunciation. It is not allowing anger to control. Know that it exists.Can I let the anger open me and not try to shoo it away?

Pema suggests that we practise how to deal with such emotions in Living Beautifully. 

Acknowledge the feeling, she says. Give it your full and compassionate and welcoming attention and drop the story line about the feeling. This allows you to have direct experience of it, free of interpretation. Don’t be judgemental of it. Just be present with the moment. She also urges us to think about where it is located in our body and asks the questions, ‘Does it remain the same for every long? Does it shift and change?’

If we let the story line go around the sensation, we will be freed of it and remember nothing lasts for ever. Becoming self-aware when it comes to the emotion of anger can lead to a great sense of well-being.

Even with the clouds that float above us, we can be open and present to the beauty that surrounds us.

References – both enormously helpful in dealing with this stuff – 

Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully

Miriam Greenspan, Healing through the Dark Emotions

Elephant Journal