The Bucket List

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There’s a hole in this bucket?

Last night I watched a programme on Channel 4 called 24 hours in A&E. It’s compulsive viewing and filmed in Kings College Hospital in South London where I was treated on more than one occasion during a previous ‘career’. In last night’s episode one of the senior nurses was talking about his reaction by being confronted by people who are close to death every day…he said something like “you can’t help but think about your own mortality and try to wring as much out of life as possible while we’re here”. Not all of us work in environments where we are confronted by death in a way where “the message is repeated” as this nurse put it “over and over again”.

And it’s not just about being busy, not just about the bucket list, sure fulfilling ones dreams and ambitions in life is a great and positive way to approach the world, but being fulfilled doesn’t end at ticking things of a list…what about supporting your family, being there for a friend in need or just putting a hand out to a complete stranger in distress? Anyone who has ever done any one of these things (and of course it’s not an exclusive list in any way) will know how fulfilling helping, thinking and acting for others can be. Who does our life belong to anyway apart from the community in which we live, grow, flourish and die?

I suppose that’s where the motivation for this blog came from, because it doesn’t really matter what you believe happens after death, the important thing is to fully understand that you will die, that it is an inevitable part of life…the loss of a loved one is hard and sad but thinking about death (ours or anothers) is not morbid unless your perspective is one that  only understands life as good and death as the end of that goodness…well no-one knows what lies ahead so it’s not constructive to think that way, indeed for most of us life itself is a battle…and why? Largely because we see death as the end…and that’s the paradox. If death were the end doesn’t it seem bizarre that for the infinitely small period of time (compared to the eternity of death) that we’re alive that we spend most of our time on this beautiful and bountiful planet fighting one another and struggling to compete for something we are not even sure is real…on the other hand if life is ongoing in some form, where’s the rush…? Why bother when you have the next million lifetimes to enjoy?

As the Buddha came to realise neither of these views is useful, they serve neither to inspire or enlighten, they simple deepen delusion or create stronger attachment.

“Based on the concept or dependent origination – one of the truths to which Shakyamuni became enlightened – the sufferings of age and detah are seen as arising from the innate ignorance within the individual. The Buddha teaches that these sufferings can be overcome by extinguishing this inner benightedness.

The wisdom or insight that enabled Shakyamuni to attain enlightenment represents the wisdom for conquering delusion and suffering concerning death. Based on this wisdom the Buddha rejecetd the two most commonly prevailing views of death – two extremes – both of which he considered errouneous because they could not fully enbale people to transcend the fear and uncertainty of death as the annihilation or complete cessation of self (the view of annihaltion), while the other was the view that death as the self continuing in the form of an unchanging immortal soul or spirit (the view of permanance)”.

DAISAKU IKEDA

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Have we been here before?

Buddhism teaches that life and death comprise the great and eternal rhythm of the universe itself, neither ending with death nor beginning with birth. Both life and death are impermanent.

That might be worth contemplating if you’re writing your bucket list.

5 Inspirational Quotes about Death

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Despite what appears to be a morbid and perhaps nihilistic title, this blog is all about inspiration. How can death be inspiring I hear you ask? Well, it’s all about perspective. We’ve largely been brainwashed (yes I do mean that) into believing that the material aspects of life are the most important..global economic crisis, war, famine all find their root cause in this and what can be defined in Buddhism as the three obstacles: anger, greed and stupidity. Obstacles because they block our path to our true state of enlightenment (or Buddhahood). We ALL suffer…that is what it is to be human. So these events don’t just happen, there are people, individuals like you and me that make decisions alone or together to create these effects. This focus on materiality; money, shiny things, even the body beautiful all anchor us in fear….fear of loss, and fear of ‘not enough’. All, however, is very much impermanence and in this way a focus and attachment to material is not constructive. This physical impermanence is the very nature and essence of life and that is why death ironically can be so inspirational. Through contemplating our own mortality we begin to see that all we really have is this moment and each other. Death is not called the ‘great leveller’ for nothing. If there were a bit more thought given to our infinitely small amount of time on this planet perhaps there would be less interest in foolish things, less anger and as a result perhaps, less suffering?

Anyway here’s some quotes from people far wiser than me, hope you enjoy and please share and like (if you like).

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Life’s a beach

1) “Death is more certain than the morrow, than night following day, than winter following summer. Why is it then that we prepare for the night and for the winter time, but do not prepare for death. We must prepare for death. But there is only one way to prepare for death – and that is to live well.” – Leo Tolstoy

2) “Death is our constant companion, and it is death that gives each person’s life its true meaning.”  – Paolo Coehlo

3) “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?” – Richard Dawkins, 1998

4) “There is no place on earth where death cannot find us – even if we constantly twist our heads about in all directions as in a dubious and suspect land … If there were any way of sheltering from death’s blows – I am not the man to recoil from it … But it is madness to think that you can succeed … Men come and they go and they trot and they dance, and never a word about death. All well and good. Yet when death does come – to them, their wives, their children, their friends – catching them unawares and unprepared, then what storms of passion overwhelm them, what cries, what fury, what despair! … To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us, let us adopt a way clean contrary to that common one; let us deprive death of its strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind that death … We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere. To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” – Michel de Montaigne 1533-1592

5) “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.” – Isaac Asimov

The Crossroads

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Tunes from the devil, suite from Saville Row…

I suppose it’s an indication of my age that recently a few good friends have all independently of each other confided in me that they feel at a crossroads in their lives. This came as no surprise as I too have been feeling the same way recently. It seems the universe was showing me that I wasn’t alone. This blog is in fact part of that change; a way for me to explore my interest in Buddhism, and spiritual practise(s) in general and I’m also using it as a basis for a book I have started writing about happiness and a film project that will explore death as a visual meditation…so where were we….ahh yes standing at the Crossroads.

Now when someone talks about crossroads I immediately think of two things. The first is a character called Benny from a terrible British soap opera based depressingly in a Motel called the Crossroads Motel. Imaginative. Amazingly the show ran for over 20 years from 1964-1988! I don’t remember much about it at all (I wasn’t a fan) except for this character Benny who always wore a beenie hat whatever the weather (mainly raining). He was a likeable character always getting into trouble and being manipulated by others as he was slightly mentally retarded. (I have just checked this and according to Wikipedia the character was “a simple-minded bumbling semi-rustic handyman”). Well I thought the show may be dealing with cutting edge mental health issues but then I have never lived in Birmingham. Apparently the show did  in fact deal with some story lines that were considered controversial for the times: A single parent working at the motel (hugely controversial in the mid-1960s); And the first paraplegic regular character in British soap opera, ever. So I’m not sure whether the Crossroads writing team were in fact tackling the important issue of mental health in UK’s road side businesses with the character of Benny or whether it’s just my imagination enhancing the experience of the character – either way, he was quite memorable.

The other thing I think of is Robert Johnson the legendary Blues musician. Johnson is widely considered to be the best blues musician who ever picked a guitar. Robert Johnson the “King of the Delta Blues”grew up dirt poor in Mississippi over 100 years ago. He left home and learned to play the guitar and sing the blues; an African-American in the deep South and all that meant… never had the sorrow and hardship of the world been transformed into such poetry never had a voice conveyed in such an accessible way the loneliness and suffering of an entire people. Not much detail is known about his life, as Martin Scorsese pointed out “he only existed on his records” and it’s perhaps because of this that one of the most enduring legends surrounding his story came into being; Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads for fame and the ability to play the blues.

According to legend, as a young man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi, “Robert Johnson was branded with a burning desire to become a great blues musician. He was “instructed” to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery Plantation at midnight. There he was met by a large black man (the Devil) who took the guitar and tuned it. The “Devil” played a few songs and then returned the guitar to Johnson, giving him mastery of the instrument. This was in effect, a deal with the devil mirroring the legend of Faust. In exchange for his soul, Robert Johnson was able to create the blues for which he became famous”…after the deal was done Johnson was apparently able to play the guitar like never before and like no-one else and simply plucked songs out of thin air. He also disappeared for about 18 months. According to Doktor Snake (a UK Voodoo Priest) during this time Johnson who was pretty shaken up  by what he had done and took a passage to London in the hope that the devil wouldn’t find him there (!) This by the way, is apparently where he picked up his natty dress sense for which he was also famous.

I could talk more about Johnson because his life was so fascinating…about how he supposedly practised in a grave yard and how the devil may refer to the voodoo God, Papa Legba but you can find all this on Wikipedia if you want to. What is widely accepted is that without Johnson there would be no Rock and Roll. For me though what’s more interesting (apart from this) is the symbolism at work here…

So to me the crossroads really symbolise a time of profound change in life and the choices available, inevitably this comes with a healthy dose of fear; fear of the unknown and fear of making the wrong ‘choice’ (or of not being enough in Johnson’s case), if only we could be certain that our choice of path would lead to what we want and that there would be no unpleasant feelings or outcomes. The devil may let you have it (certainty) but only if your soul is his….by the way there are a number of versions of Johnson’s tragic death but what is known is that he was poisoned near the Three Forks juke joint outside Greenwold MS where he was playing….so called because of the crossroads (here we go again) it stood near  and not the limitation of its cutlery drawer…apparently when they looked inside the suit on Johnson’s lifeless body, the good folk of Greenwold were all amazed to see the label “Saville Row”….

So the devil could be seen as the ego which needs to be fed and bargained with and offers the illusion of security and permanence and will perhaps get you what you want in the end but only at the cost of your soul…your own eternal and divine spirit.

Which way now?

The thing is in life the crossroads are really nothing but an illusion, or rather what is promised along each path is really only an illusion; It’s really only the intention that matters. In its simplest form, happiness is the attitude we travel with not the destination, therefore it should not matter which turn we take as it’s not a matter of right or wrong but rather of cause and effect. Nothing in life is certain or ‘promised’ even if it was what would the price paid have to be for this ‘knowledge’?

Better it is to live one day seeing the rise and fall of things than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the rise and fall of things“.

SHAKYAMUNI BUDDHA – DHAMMAPADA

Johnson spent his whole life running from the devil in fear….in order to be truly happy we need to be able to move forward and accept the challenges and struggles we face and indeed turn them to our advantage somehow…for me that somehow is encapsulated in the Lotus Sutra. Without that faith in the mystic truth…a perception of the true aspect of all phenomena…I would really only have (like Johnson) a reliance on self-will and the doubt that brings and the fear of the devil.

This may make me a great musician but the as the saying goes “the devil will always get his due”.

Interplanetary Funksmanship

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Mothership Connection

“Let the vibes flow through, funk not only moves, it can remove, dig? The desired effect is what you get. When you improve your Interplanetary Funksmanship”

BOOTSY COLLINS

I’ve always loved music. Especially Parliament and Funkadelic, even as I child I loved the way that Motown, Classical music and even pop would make me feel. It had power. It could change my mood immediately. Even today Pachelbel’s canon in D Major can move me to tears and hearing Aretha gets my foot tapping just the same.

Nietzsche famously said that without music “life would be a mistake” and I would have to agree. He goes on to say that through music the passions can enjoy themselves. This, I think is where music’s power lies: in it’s ability to speak directly to the heart, the spirit, the soul. In this way music is timeless, it’s of culture but not defined by it and it is always evolving and unlike other art forms it has a directness, it needs no filters to be understood or interpreted. Music is truly a universal language with an infinite number of variations to express, describe and colour the human experience. Krishnamurthi said that life is like this. He described it in one of his talks like a symphony and that our job is like someone listening to the symphony and learning to appreciate ALL of it. The sound and the silence, not just the timpani or the string section but all of it together and how it speaks directly to us with immediacy and without the need of thought especially and in a moment without force. great way to describe the movement of life.

Life however is fragile, perhaps more fragile than the music it can create, our bodies are mostly water and water evaporates at room temperature. That’s how fragile. We know that at a sub atomic level particles are vibrating at certain frequencies, in fact all that appears to ‘separate’ us according to science is our vibrational frequency; at the smallest level there is no separation and the ‘reality’ of all ‘things’ is one.

A human being is a part of the whole called by us “the universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical illusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

ALBERT EINSTEIN

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a Full Moon Singing bowl ceremony. It was the second time I had experienced it and tucked away in the middle of an empty Kennington Park we meditated, ‘played’ crystals bowls and offered healing vibrations to each other and to the universe while the Honey Moon* watched over us. It was a powerful experience, the impact of the sonic resonance of seven large crystal bowls (all aligned harmonically with the seven major Chakras in the body) is really unique. In an instant you are surrounded by the healing wall of sound, it envelops the mind and takes it somewhere quite abstract and yet familiar as if the experience of ‘being’ is just pure energy.

The word Chakra derives from the sanskrit for wheel or turning and in the Hindu metaphysical tradition (and also Tibetan Buddhism) the chakras are centres of Prana or life force or channels of energy. The systems are not precise and vary, however I was interested to note recently that the seven major chakras correspond with the major gland systems in the body, glands which secrete the hormones that pretty much control the functions of the body and therefore our life states. Not quite as arbitrary as I had once thought.

The experience can affect each participant in different ways, last night I couldn’t stop smiling from beginning to end. The experience of the sonic bath seemed to ignite every cell in my body creating a deep feeling of joy and stimulation which caused an uncontrollable desire to smile. Thank you.

During the ceremony each of us channelled our voices to support the receiver, to offer them our love so that the whole process was one of giving and receiving. In this way we were reminded that none of us stands completely alone. This a key concept of Buddhism and other spiritual practises and was illustrated by Shakyamuni by the image of two bundles of reeds leaning against each other. He described how the two bundles of reeds can remain standing as long as they lean against each other. In the same way, because this exists, that exists, and because that exists, this exists. If one of the two bundles is removed; the other will fall. This is a simple way to explain the deep interconnectedness of all things.

Once we understand this deep web of interconnectedness like Indra’s Net we understand our lives only become truly meaningful through interaction with and in relation to others.

As Nichiren Daishonen put it “If you light a lamp for another, your own way will be lit.”

Our lamps were shining brightly in Kennington Park last night as the heavenly sounds of infinite energy connected us. I’m very grateful for Huna Bear for organising the event (every month) in this way helping me to develop a deeper understanding of how I can grow and be conscious of how my vibrational energy can help to connect the dots in my daily life and create the change I hope to see for this world.

We’re all human beings who, through some mystic bond, were born to share the same limited life span on this planet, a small green oasis in the vast universe. Why do we quarrel and victimize one another? If we could all keep the image of the vast heavens in mind, I believe that it would go a long way toward resolving conflicts and disputes. If our eyes are fixed on eternity, we come to realize that the conflicts of our little egos are really sad and unimportant.”

DAISAKU IKEDA

I’m already looking forward to next month. We want the funk!

*Traditionally the full moon in June is the best time to harvest honey. As most couples traditionally marry in this month that is where the term honeymoon derived from. Now you know.

A Divine Union

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Fighting crime and Cortizol

I’ve recently started a regular Yoga practice again. Up at 06:00 for the 06:45 class. I feel totally reborn. I think it was the chanting that did it. It reinvigorated my interest. I love Yoga. For the past few days i’ve been feeling focused, relaxed and sleeping really well. I’ve been practicing on and off for many years now and have tried a few different flavours in that time. As I’m sure some of you will already know, there are many definitions of Yoga. The word is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’ which essentially means to join or unite. The union referred to is that of the individual self uniting with Cosmic Consciousness or the Universal Spirit or God. Yoga is a means to achieving this goal; Samadhi or ‘Divine Union’.

“Who am I who speaks, walks, stands and functions on this elaborate stage we call the world? I should find this out”.

YOGA VASISHTA

The postures or asanas (there are literally hundreds) are chosen by a teacher for a student to improve this mind body balance. These days a teacher will normally take a whole class of students through a set of postures one after the other (depending on the style of Yoga). However this is only one aspect of the ‘Eightfold path’ – it’s more than just mastering postures and increasing your flexibility and strength.

“The traditional purpose of Yoga, however, has always been to bring about a profound transformation in the person through the transcendence of the ego”

In Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism the word actually means “spiritual discipline” hinting at the wider philosophy. People often only associate yoga with the postures and stances (Asana) that make up the physical activity but there are other aspects of yoga including Pranayama (control of life-force or Prana) and Pratayahara (interiorisation of the mind). Essentially the Yoga we practise is not for ourselves alone but for the Divine. It’s aim is to work out the aim of the Divine in the world and to effect a spiritual transformation. It’s been practiced for thousands of years, and it’s something that’s evolved and changed overtime of course and now (like religion) different factions have developed with Bikram or ‘Hot Yoga’ being the latest and possibly most controversial (for the copyrighting of asanas in a sequence not the girls in bikinis).

Most scholars believe that Yoga originated in India thousands of years BCE (Before the Common Era apparently). However there is also some evidence that in fact Yoga was practiced in Ancient Egypt for a very long time. Some research has indicated that the philosophy of ‘personality integration’, was in fact practiced in North East Africa for about 10,000 years. Apparently this teaching of ‘yoga’ was derived from the meditations and insights of the early sage priests and priestesses. The original inhabitants of the country called it Kemet, meaning black or the black land, because of the yearly flooding of the Nile which caused the rich silt to overflow its banks. In the Kemetic teachings this process of yoga is called Smai Tawi which means union of the two lands, this doesn’t refer to Israel and Palestine of course, but the higher and lower nature within the human entity.

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Has anyone seem my Chia seeds?

Whatever style or definition of the word you use, the physical practise of Yoga is all about the breath. In the asanas it’s the focus on the breathing that helps one improve by ignoring the resistance of the grasping ego mind and it’s the breath that energises the body and deepens the practice. In this way one doesn’t do Yoga, in the same way that one doesn’t do Meditation…Yoga is a way of being.

I have found that this is also a pretty great tool outside of the yoga studio. On how many occasions do I just need to breathe (or remember to breathe)? The more you do it, the easier it becomes. This is the mindfulness meditation at work throughout the day that the Buddha spoke about. There have been many occasions where the outcome would have been very different if I had simply been able to count my breath and work through the unpleasant feelings. Progress not perfection. What being conscious of the breath is really doing of course is bringing me back to the now, it simply connects me with what is really important right now, the mind at rest. In this way Yoga is like a physical or moving meditation. Chanting works the same way. Studies have found that the rhythm of mantras are similar to the heart rhythms, helping the practitioner to tune the mind to the frequency and beating of the heart whether resting or hard at work. The breath controls the heart.

A lifetime of unconscious living can lead to a lot of deterioration in the body, while a life of conscious living means we are actually able to learn to control certain aspects of our bodily functions. One of the other amazing benefits of Yoga is improved posture. I think i’ve literally grown about an inch taller over the last few years…

In fact the union between mind and body is so strong (why do we even think of them as separate anyway) that recent studies have shown that just by standing in powerful postures (hands on hips, hands raised for example) we can in fact increase testosterone and decrease anxiety hormones like Cortizol. Try it next time you have a job interview or important event; stand with your hands on your hips like Wonder Woman (I would suggest doing this somewhere private) and see how your attitude changes. It really works. It’s all about tricking or training the mind and it’s simpler than you think.

Or is that just because my mind is so simple?

The Fear 1.0

I’ve been pondering what to write over the last few days. This feeling of not knowing what to do is one I’m used to. It seems to get more powerful the older and further into recovery I get which is strange. In fact I haven’t been pondering at all, the real word is procrastination. However, it has taken some time to understand what it truly is; Fear. We possibly over-complicate fear so a simple and useful definition is:

An anxious feeling, caused by our anticipation
of some imagined event or experience.

For as long as I can remember this feeling has reared up when an opportunity comes up or I have stopped doing something for a while (social stuff, running, writing, working) etc. Even with personal projects, if I manage to start them, I can work up a great head of steam and then half way through lose motivation. I could list hundreds of examples from training, to running, to business plans and trips abroad.

Now I realise that sheer laziness may also play a part, however the thing with laziness is eventually I get around to doing it and the feeling is different. When I haven’t been to a Yoga studio for a while I am actually anxious about going back. I don’t think I’m alone in this hell of procrastination. It certainly hasn’t improved as I’ve grown older. I wanted to say matured but that sounded, well, a bit cheesy.

So what is this inertia and this half finishing things or losing focus about? Yes, I’ve read hundreds of self-help essays and books, a fair few inspirational tomes and more than my fair share of ‘Top 10’ motivational tips or ‘easy steps to achieve your goals’ type manuals. They have all been helpful in their own way, however none of them helped me with the root of the condition and quite frankly they were all (of course) simply further distractions from getting on with the real job in hand…doh!

‘Small steps’. Next. ‘Simple goals’. Next. ‘One goal at a time’. Next. ‘Get inspired’. Next. Almost there..by jove I think I’ve got it! Oh no, here we go, here comes that feeling again…I know maybe I’ll read that article on self-improvement instead or look on e-bay for sneakers.

Anyway most offer really useful practical advice and perhaps that’s all you need, unless like me you have a pathological desire to look under every stone and deconstruct every crime scene…

I haven’t been for a run for a few weeks (I’ve been ill) but it’s exactly the same feeling. I know it’s good for me, I know it’s as easy as putting on the sneakers (trainers is a dull word don’t you think?) and opening the door, but…BUT. Something gets in the way. The procrastination – and I think I know it’s fear now.

So what am I afraid of exactly?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s about death, or more precisely ego-death. Defined neatly as ‘Fear of humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the Self; fear of the shattering or disintegration of one’s constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness”. Yep you read it correctly.

I’m laughing as I write that because it sounds so ridiculously grandiose and dramatic (unlike me of course). However the more I think about it the more I see there is real truth in it. Bear with me.

I had this kind of minor revelation last year when considering whether to commit to practicing Nichiren Buddhism. There was no money involved, no heavy responsibility as such, no serious infringement of my time or liberty, just a decision to be made that would impact on precisely no-one but me. And what was this terrible decision exactly? An undertaking to being happy in my life, and to revealing my full potential as a human being.

I didn’t want to do it.

I didn’t. That’s when it hit me I wasn’t afraid of the result just the idea of commitment. Luckily I was in a good place to discuss this very private feeling and guess what, I wasn’t alone.

I described how I felt to the bodhisattvas present like this: There are twenty doors in front of me and I know I need to go through one of them (like put on the sneaks and hit the road) but I don’t because from where I am sitting I can still see ALL the doors and that means I’m free. If I go through the door I’m not sure what’s behind it, it may just be a big drop into some endless ocean. PLUS, I never get to see what’s behind the other doors. You get the picture.

Now I said this in front of a bunch of (mostly) females who practice Nichiren Buddhism. No psychiatrists, no specialists but when I revealed this dark secret one of the group said she had always had a crippling fear of dying ever since she was a child, (Terror Management Theory?) She would get hysterical at the sight or mention of anything remotely associated with it. So she therefore embarked on a course of self-help therapy in later life which included a stint in a funeral parlour to overcome her terror (I’m not making this up). She also said she had read more than a few books (most of which were crap) but that in one book there was a chapter about the fear of death relating to a fear of commitment. This was interesting.

In my mind I thought that it was the fear of annihilation initially, in the sense that committing to a door would mean moving forwards inexorably to the ultimate conclusion of life. This makes sense, however the conclusion is the same whether I’m moving through a door or not. Then it occurred to me that the real difference is surprise.

It’s the not knowing. In all of these situations my greatest fear was really of experiencing some unpleasant feelings. This was beginning to make sense from a psychological perspective and from a spiritual one…

TBC

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‘In delay there lies no plenty’
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Pavement Universe

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The famous ‘Mini Roundabout’ Galaxy

Although I can’t remember the title, I remember a book I was told to read once at junior school in which the heroine (a young girl) would see worlds and cities and even universes in the walls and the flowers that she saw in her daily life. It was a simple book and I don’t remember paying too much attention to it at the time. That’s nice for her, I thought. If you recognise the book please let me know what it’s called, i’d be interested to re-read it. Years later I would connect the story with the following verse by William Blake, it’s too good to edit so here it is in all it’s mystic and symbolic glory:

Auguries of Innocence

To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A dovehouse fill’d with doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions.
A dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
A Horse misus’d upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.
A Skylark wounded in the wing,
A Cherubim does cease to sing.
The Game Cock clip’t & arm’d for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright.

Every Wolf’s & Lion’s howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul.
The wild deer, wand’ring here & there,
Keeps the Human Soul from Care.
The Lamb misus’d breeds Public strife,
And yet forgives the Butcher’s Knife.
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that won’t Believe.
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbeliever’s fright.
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belov’d by Men.
He who the Ox to wrath has mov’d
Shall never be by woman lov’d.
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spider’s enmity.
He who torments the Chafer’s sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night.
The Caterpiller on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mother’s grief.
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly,
For the Last Judgement draweth nigh.

WILLIAM BLAKE

‘Auguries’ are signs or omens and in the poem Blake basically describes a natural world that is a gateway to a lost vision of innocence…here the word innocence refers to the unfallen state. As I mentioned in a previous post this would have been a state in which human beings perhaps had no fear of death and saw themselves less as material or physical beings but part of the greater infinite spirit consciousness. That’s one theory anyway. The poem was written in about 1803 and was apparently a collection of couplets that were later grouped together for printing. The theme, clearly, is one of universal interdependence – the idea that all things are connected, even if they exist on different planes.

Blake wasn’t called Mystic for nothing and like the Buddha and spirit guides from other cultures and civilisations thousands of years before him, he too was able to instinctively comprehend what scientists are now beginning to understand about the universe at the Quantum level; everything is connected. It’s also a principle concept in Buddhism known as dependent origination.

For me the imagery of the verse is haunting and almost cinematic in it’s intensity and clarity.

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The Heineken Nebula

For a while now i’ve taken the odd photo of the street and the pavement with my phone. Normally I don’t see much; just the usual shit, litter and  tarmac, vomit if I happen to be anywhere near Dalston. Here and there however I get a view of something else. It’s not exactly Blake but it puts a smile on my face as I stroll on down the road.

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Tarmac Star System

The Elephant’s Footprints

Yes. I know what you’re thinking. Well probably thinking, I thought exactly the same thing, and why would I think my confabulations poured forth in this manner might be any more appealing or insightful than the millions of blogs already taking up cyber space? I’m not famous, I’m not a prostitute and I’m not an expert in anything that I can think of. I am passionate about things like music and art. Some days. On other days? Not so much.

The honest answer is I don’t know. Anything. And I certainly don’t know where the idea of a blog was conjured from. Maybe it’s the fact I’ve been stuck in doors with a terrible cold for the past few days. Who knows. I guess the truth is I need to write this down (or more accurately write it out) and if you, dear reader, get something from it or enjoy it for any reason (which I hope you do) then it will perhaps serve some higher purpose than just providing me with an outlet for my vanity and a forum for my less than cogent thinking and general musings on this wonderful, complex (that’s where I come in – life itself is pretty straightforward after all) thing we all call life. My aim, at least, is not to pollute the internet with more rubbish so I hope you’ll enjoy the experience in some way.

The title of the blog, by the way, is not meant to be dark or depressing. All great philosophers (not trying to suggest that I’m one of them) have emphasized the importance of contemplating death, how it gives meaning and value to life:

“Of all footprints

That of the elephant is supreme;

Of all mindfulness meditations

That on death is supreme.”

SHAKYAMUNI BUDDHA

I think we could do with a bit more of this in the West. In the West death is largely seen as a full stop to the paragraphs of our lives. Life is to be extended at any cost and yet very little is said about the process of Death itself or what we feel may or may not happen after it. Whatever your beliefs happen to be, the fact is, that on this side of the planet* death is not public anymore, it’s become a dirty word – a hidden word and a hidden process largely tucked away inside hospitals. We are ashamed of death, because it completely refutes the illusion of everlasting life and youth that we seem hell bent on propagating in order to sell more stuff. I for one, think that’s pretty morbid; the refusal to acknowledge death. Death should be celebrated or at least accepted and contemplated. It’s important to remember that in the midst of life we are always in death, in fact they are two ends of the same pencil, not opposite even; one is the other and this is where any true evaluation of life must begin.

I really don’t think it matters what you believe in but it’s useful to contemplate death and the possibility of life after death at some point.  Who hasn’t? And when you think about it (which is what I am suggesting here) it shifts your awareness and sense of identity from the idea of being a separate, isolated, limited individual to a far more timeless, settled sense of Self. This shift changes your energy, attitude and beliefs in relationship to your entire life and all that it contains, hence its value.

It helps tune you into the very value of life and that’s the important word. Value.  Becoming aware that this is the last moment before your death is powerful and transformative. Tuning in to this energy has one other major benefit; helping to overcome the fear of death. Once life is perceived as part of something larger, something perhaps infinite then death is simply part of the process. The Ancient Egyptians didn’t even have a name for it, they simply called it ‘Westing’ as in heading West – like the setting of the Sun. The Egyptians were a very spiritual bunch (mostly) and of course the whole civilisation was based on spiritual grounds. The Sun as we all know is born again in the East, transforming darkness into light and marking another day (the time of light between one night and the next).

So with contemplation of death and what happens next, everything begins to change and it’s almost impossible to reap the full fruits of any decent and genuine teaching of Life, without getting to this understanding in some way shape or form.

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Supreme

So there we have it. Stayed tuned for other fun musings, abstract pictures and prizes. Okay so there won’t be any prizes – you can’t have it all. Just count your lucky stars. Really. Think about it…how extraordinary to be living- that we have a life? The odds are stacked against us. Think of all of those ancestors who had to kill with their bare hands, live off the land, survive wars, famine and plagues so that you can breath oxygen? Well worth contemplating the next time you’re getting angry in the queue at Tesco’s.

So thanks for joining me on this cosmic journey so far. As we travel together I hope we’ll find inspiring insights into time, consciousness and eternity shedding new light on the meaning of existence and our desire to make peace with Death. If not we’ll also hopefully have time to share some biscuits and a nice cup of tea (in a virtual way) as well.

*I have always had a problem with North/South East and West…earth is floating in infinite space and I just can’t get my head around a top or a bottom