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.

No Regrets

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Recently a blogger named Bronnie Wray published a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. She works in palliative care and started a blog called Inspiration and Chai where she wrote about her experiences of working with these patients. The blog created so much attention that she wrote the book.

I’ve copied and pasted the regrets for you below. They are fascinating to me.

I’m sure if you asked the question down the pub, i.e. what do you think you would regret the answers would be very different. I wish I had more sex or more money or even more power or time are NOT on the list anywhere!

What is even more interesting to me in relation to my work is that Wray noted that people grow a lot when faced with their own mortality, obviously this doesn’t mean that they get taller but rather that they grow emotionally and spiritually. I am sure this is why the ancients and mystics like Shakyamuni all taught that contemplation of death and our own mortality as vitally important to the human experience of life. From this begins a more fulfilling way to live. Rather than being morbid or depressing, it in fact allows for real spiritual and emotional growth. It’s a fact of life after all so it’s not constructive to ignore it or diminish it’s relevance to the living experience.

First study death and then study other matters

NICHIREN DAISHONIN (Gosho Zenshu)

Wary also noted that her patients would get incredible clarity of vision towards the ends of their lives and hopes that we can all benefit from their wisdom. I hope you will too.

TOP 5 REGRETS OF THE DYING

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Wray’s simple conclusion reminded me of one of my favourite quotes that I found on the “Just for today card” over three and half years ago and which was to become my spiritual practise and guiding mantra for many months in early recovery:

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be”

ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1809-1865)

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.