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.

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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.

The Fear 2.0

“Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand—and melting like a snowflake.”

FRANCIS BACON, SR, 1561-1626

If I could I would get this tattooed on my eyelids. Okay, I wouldn’t but you get the idea.

The spiritual and psychological perspective are very similar on this topic. The source of all our fear comes from our own uncontrolled minds or “delusions”. This, to me, sits perfectly with the fear of death. It’s not constructive for me to fear what is inevitable after all?

So okay there’s a bit of a difference between heading out in the rain for a run and having that talk with your partner that you’ve been dreading but the root is the same, because the fear is always about the feelings. We can make a decision to do something but the action that is required to follow it through can get bogged down in the fear…and the greatest fear is that we are going to feel something unpleasant.

It’s more comfortable to sit and look at the doors than to walk through one of them and yes I believe this also applies to something as straightforward as getting back in the gym or the dojo. The result is the same in the end, both lead to the same conclusion so it can only be the uncertainty and the element of surprise that creates the anxiety. The ego stuff.

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Looking at the doors can become boring..

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”.

ANAIS NIN

There are many kinds of fears of course, such as the fear and anxiety of not finding or being separated from something or someone we feel we need for security or happiness (attachment). There is the fear that arises from anger and hatred. Some fears are instinctive and natural such as the fear of annihilation and some are directly proportional to our feeling of being threatened which is the reason we get angry and mentally or physically try to push people away.

In particular, there are fears that arise from the mind of ignorance, and this is root of all other delusions, and thus the source of all fears. As Shantideva says in ‘The Way the Bodhisattva’:

“Buddha, the Able One, says,
‘Thus, all fears
And all infinite sufferings
Arise from the mind’.”

The reality is I will never  know what’s behind the door until I make the decision to open it and walk through. The rest is my ego’s manufactured bullsh*t. The humiliation, the chorus of disapproval and most importantly the possibility of failure, all of this is just a fabrication of my grasping monkey mind. What about the feeling of loss? What have I lost exactly? Nothing. Sitting and looking at the doors isn’t choice, it isn’t freedom; it’s bondage and looking at a row of doors is boring after a while!

So what if I took more risks?  So what if I fail? What exactly is failure? It’s just another fabrication of my mind in the end.

Think about it: In all those situations where we procrastinate and delay making a decision or having made the decision, procrastinate further; our greatest fear is that we will feel something unpleasant. What if you have that scary conversation you’ve been avoiding and it ends the relationship? It would hurt. What if you follow through on the business idea and lose money? It would feel terrible. What if you submitted the proposal and you were rejected? It would feel awful.

The thing is that most often our fear doesn’t help us avoid the feelings; it simply subjects us to them for an agonizingly long time. We feel the suffering of procrastination, or the frustration of a stuck relationship for example.

Taking risks, and falling, is not something to avoid. It’s something to cultivate. But how?

Practice; by getting up and doing it again.

“fall down seven times, get up eight”

JAPANESE PROVERB

The more we ‘fail’ the more we realise it isn’t failure (or death) at all and the more we can accept the projections of the mind for what they are; negative products of an ego shell that needs feeding to have any power.

The other way, of course, is to practice Meditation. For we can never control whether things will go our way or not, but we can learn to control our own minds, our responses, and our own conduct, and in this way gradually find a genuine liberation from all fear.

“.. it is not possible
To control all external events;
But, if I simply control my mind,
What need is there to control other things?”

When we let go of our notion of fear as the welling up of some unknown perhaps archetypal, paralysing force (procrastination) – and begin to see fear and its companion emotions as basically information, we can think about them consciously. And the more clearly and calmly we can articulate the origins of the fear, the less our fears frighten us and control us.

Sorted. That makes sense to me and usual it all comes down to practise, to experience itself.

“Even if things don’t unfold the way you expected, don’t be disheartened or give up. One who continues to advance will win in the end.” 
DAISAKU IKEDA

This winning, from the Buddhist perspective, is not necessarily the successful achievement of these goals but rather our state of mind; the state of mind created by not being afraid to open the door and move forward. If we can acknowledge that the fear is simply an illusion (unless the door happened to be perched on the edge of a cliff ) and knowing whatever the outcome our feelings are also an illusion (even if they seem justified). If we can keep on pushing the sky away we will find an indestructible state of mind that knows no such thing as irrational fear (or failure).

Proof of Heaven

I spent Saturday evening with a friend at the Alchemy Center in Camden. I’d been meaning to go for months and this particular event was ‘a night of sacred sounds and meditation’. What’s more it was free. Smashing. Now I’m used to a bit of chanting as I practise Nichiren Buddhism (I’ll talk more about this in due course) but I’ve never been to something like this before. Interestingly this was not a passive type of event but a ‘kirtan’ (call and response chanting) our ‘kirtankar’ was to be  someone called Sarab Deva Kaur who was launching an album called ‘Uplifting Mantras for You’ sarabdeva.bandcamp.com/album/uplifting-mantras-for-you

Most of the mantras originated directly or indirectly from Sanskrit (spoken as Tibetan, Hindi and Gurmukhi) although some were Arabic (Sufism) and one was Japanese. I really enjoyed the evening and was able to join in with most of them. The one I remember specially is ‘Om Sri Rama Jaya Rama, Jaya Jaya Rama” which Ghandi apparently used to chant and was chanting when he liberated India. There was a really great energy and I’m sure everyone present (and not present) benefited greatly from these seeds of higher consciousness. After each mantra was sung by Sarab (beautifully I must add) we sat in silence. No clapping.  This was strange at first but then I enjoyed the space it left; freedom from the normal addiction of praise and reward we are so used to in daily life. Just sitting in the healing power of the mantra was enough. Mantra literally means ‘to liberate the mind’ after all.

Another amazing thing that happened was I saw on the desk of the receptionist a book called ‘Proof of Heaven’. The title of the book was ringing some vague bells and speaking to the owner it turns out that the book tells the true story of a neurosurgeon who fell into a deep coma after a serious illness and was effectively pronounced dead by all the doctors and specialists. Somehow though he made a recovery but upon awakening things had changed, this once rational scientist was now completely certain of the infinite reach of the soul, and certain of a life beyond death. The book had popped up on my radar when I was doing some research into a project previously.

Okay so what, there are lot’s of these near death stories right? Well, what makes this story so interesting is that as a neurosurgeon, the author is able to explain in depth why his brain was incapable of fabricating the journey he experienced…

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was an eminent Swiss American Psychiatrist who spent her life studying near death experiences like this. She wrote the book ‘On Death and Dying’ in which she theorised for the first time the five stages of grief as a pattern of adjustment for the dying and the survivor that we have become familiar with (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance).

Kubler-Ross believed that after one’s death, we continue to live on because consciousness doesn’t die.  She reached that conclusion after studying 20,000 cases of dying experiences from all over the world, her work is still being published. What was her conclusion?

“Once people understand that they have to be responsible for what they have done when they are alive, people will change their lifestyles.”

So what has this got to do with chanting? Well the First Law of Thermodynamics states that all energy is conserved. It is neither created or destroyed. Interesting isn’t it?

So something that has always puzzled me is where do songs and music go when they have been sung? Do the sound waves just fade away? Where do the sonically charged atoms bounce off too? Probably they get surrounded by heavier atoms of oxygen or hydrogen? I’m sure the scientists can tell me. I like to think though that somewhere in the universe they still exist, like the mantras I chanted on Saturday night. Yes the effect of these sacred sounds is internal, creating psychological transformation, but the mind and the environment are one. This world is simply a product of our conscious minds after all. I like the idea that these little parts of my liberated mind are still out there somewhere floating melodically in the infinite consciousness. Little proofs of heaven.

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Ice Cream…Ice Cream…a favourite mantra for me

After the chanting we went to one of my favourite Ice Cream parlours, Marine Ices, which has been around since the 40’s for waffles and gelato for some further proof of heaven.

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